Monthly Archives: January 2012

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

Title: Atlas Shrugged: Part I
Director: Paul Johansson

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Much as I hate to admit it, I have to say I’ve never read Ayn Rand. But if this modern rendition is any indication, I need to remedy that — and soon. While many disagree with its message and have slammed Atlas Shrugged, I have to say I really enjoyed it.

It was great to be alive, once, but the world was perishing. Factories were shutting down, transportation was grinding to a halt, granaries were empty–and key people who had once kept it running were disappearing all over the country. As the lights winked out and the cities went cold, nothing was left to anyone but misery. No one knew how to stop it, no one understood why it was happening – except one woman, the operating executive of a once mighty transcontinental railroad, who suspects the answer may rest with a remarkable invention and the man who created it – a man who once said he would stop the motor of the world. Everything now depends on finding him and discovering the answer to the question on the lips of everyone as they whisper it in fear: Who is John Galt?

I’m more familiar with  Rand’s Objectivism from Terry Goodkind. The Sword of Truth, as bad as some of the later books are, follows many of her ideas, particularly in Faith of the Fallen (one of my favorite in the series).  The basic idea is that the socialist tenet  of  “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is unsustainable and ultimately counterproductive. As Margaret Thatcher put it: “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money.”

That’s a message Atlas Shrugged, Part I sticks to very faithfully. And it’s not shy about it. The film just manages to avoid being ham-fisted about it, and isn’t quite as brutal as Goodkind’s series. I happen to agree with much of what they say, which may be why I enjoyed it as much as I did. But even without all that, the acting is, for the most part, first rate (even if the cast is mostly B-list and lower). The production values are wonderful — much better than I expected given that it’s a more or less straight-to-video film.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems aside from the heavy-handed moral. Atlas Shrugged  is a doorstopper of a novel. This movie only covers about a third of it, and the ending is a bit abrupt. It feels more like an intermission; another half hour or so to wrap things up and improve the cliffhanger would have been nice (take a lesson from The Fellowship of the Rings movie). Dagny Taggart comes across as a calculating ice princess at first, but somehow develops emotion without any plot lines that indicate thawing.

Still, I think most of this will be helped by Parts II and III, and I, for one, will eagerly await their arrival.


Movie Review: TrollHunter

Title: TrollHunter
Director: André Øvredal
Rating: **** (out of 5)

The Blair Witch Project was original. Not everyone liked it, but it was original. And it’s been a style other people have tried to copy, with varying success. Some, like Paranormal Activity, have achieved box office success even if they’re not all that great from a story point of view. Others, such as Cloverfield, manged both a measure of popularity and decent storytelling. I know it’s the box office filmmakers are shooting for, but personally, I’d rather see a good movie than worry about whether it made big bucks or not (sometimes, it’s better if they don’t because if they do, we’re subjected to fifteen more, even lamer, versions). And such is Norwegian TrollHunter.

A group of students investigates a series of mysterious bear killings, but learns that there are much more dangerous things going on. They start to follow a mysterious hunter, learning that he is actually a troll hunter.

I’m not saying André Øvredal has created a celluloid masterpiece or anything. But TrollHunter (original title: Trolljegeren) is decent piece of filmmaking that takes the Blair Witch mode and creates a fun, if campy, film. I have seen reports that an American company is working on a remake, but I think I’ll stick with this version. The effects are top-notch, and the plot and acting are well-done.

Of course, one of the problems with any movie of this type is that you know going in that it’s not going to have a real happy ending. It ruins a bit of the mystery along the way. But Øvredal and team have done a pretty good job of putting a few curveballs in there that make up for it, especially the reason for all the trolls acting weird. I did not see that one coming.

With few exceptions, the dialogue is all in Norwegian, so if you don’t like subtitles, this movie may not be for you. Personally, I prefer the subtitles over dub-overs (nearly ruined Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for me). And if it’s a good, fun picture that rises above the general “popcorn flick” you’re looking for, I’d reccomend going hunting for trolls.


Never underestimate the need for a good editor

I’ve finally forced myself to begin editing Jennings Grove for its (hopefully)* upcoming publication. It’s obviously had a couple of thorough edits already; now I’m working from someone else’s notes. Now, I’ve always considered myself a pretty good editor, but that does not mean I’m perfect. Not by a long shot.
I’m no novice here. I’ve spent too long as a professional editor not to know my way around a red pen. I’ve worked on newspapers, newsletters, Web sites, short stories, poems, papers and novels. I have dealt with highly polished material, and I have helped people who could barely string two words together. And sometimes none of that matters. No matter how good you are, two things will always be true: 1. Somebody somewhere is better.
2. Editing your own work is hard.
This is something I talk to my students about all the time. You know what your own stuff is supposed to say. That frequently leads you to overlook mistakes or mentally fill in plot holes and other issues. A second pair of eyes is always helpful. They’re even better when they are sharp eyes.
I owe a great deal of gratitude to Myrryam Davies. As one of her last hurrahs for Graveside Tales, Myr read through Jennings Grove with a critical eye that was admittedly painful but also helpful. Anyone who’s creative will (if he’s honest) admit he likes people gushing over the work rather than criticizing it. But what we want and what we need are often two different things. I got a some pretty good kudos for my story, especially in the originality department. But I also got a good list of things to fix, which I am working through now.
Will I take all of Ms. Davies’ suggestions? Probably not. That’s another one of the hard lessons you have to learn as a professional writer: What advice to take and what not. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s your story. A lot of what people offer is helpful, but it doesn’t always mesh with your vision. Take what makes the story stronger and use that.
But don’t try to go it alone if you can help it. No writer is an island unto himself.

*I do not mean the qualifier as a slam on the publisher. Times are tough for everyone, especially small businesses. And most especially for small publishers. Graveside Tales is no exception. GST has become a one-man band with a pair of instrumental setups. The publisher is busy with his company and a demanding new job. I appreciate the difficulties. I also understand the realities.


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