Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shtetl Days

Shtetl Days by Harry Turtledove is a fascinating short story set in an alternative future where the Nazis have won WW2 and conquered the world. They succeeded in exterminating the Jews but have set up recreated shtetls as tourist destinations. Actors play at living the daily lives of the long destroyed Jews to the delight of on-lookers snapping photos. They even re-enact pogroms! Nevertheless, the law of unintended consequences kicks in and some of the actors begin to wonder which part of their life is just a role being played.


It is free online, but only $0.99 as an ebook.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Atlas: More! Again!

I am not a movie reviewer or a movie junkie. I don’t have the skills to recognize good editing from great editing, or good acting from great acting, etc. I can tell when things go badly because they interrupt the enjoyment and experience of the film. And I can tell when a film reaches a level of greatness because of the sublime reaction I have to it. But in between these extremes, I don’t have much to go on except my visceral, emotional response. Does it make me laugh, cry at the right points? Am I moved? Do I get the chills? Do I want to see it again? Do the characters and story stay with me for some time after the film ends? Do I get absorbed into the movie so that the world around me falls away and no thoughts of my outside life arise in my consciousness?

In this regard, Atlas Shrugged Part 1 passes with flying colors. Sure it has some technical weaknesses that even a film idiot like me can pick out. Sure there are things in the characters and the story that are missed or could have been done way better. But once the film started, I didn’t look at my watch once. I didn’t think about what papers I needed to grade or classes I need to prep. I didn’t once think to myself: “where is this going? why are they doing this?” I didn’t have one “WTF” moment. There were several moments that I wanted to cheer. When it was over, I had two thoughts: “More!” “Again!”

What this tells me is that, in the essence and for the most part, the filmmakers got the story right, they got the characters right, and they got the sense of life right. Whatever flaws the film has, they never rose to the level of disturbing the experience of the film for me. Moreover, I didn’t think about these flaws until after the movie was over and I started thinking more analytically about the film. Such flaws are not as significant as the ones that pop up while you are watching the film. These more serious flaws disturb the experience, break the absorption. I didn’t experience any such flaws while watching Atlas. There are flaws, to be sure, and these do keep it from being the truly great movie it could have been. But it is still a good, exciting movie.

Some other thoughts:
  • I have no sense of how some one who has not read the novel would react to the movie. I read Atlas first when I was 13 or 14, and several rereads over the years. It is too much a part of my mental DNA for me to look at the film except through the lens of the novel. My suspicion is that most new to Atlas will have some trouble following things or miss the motivations for various scenes and actions. I am sure that I filled in a lot subconsciously.
  • I wonder what the meaning of the fact that (almost) every lover/fan of Atlas that I know either liked or loved the movie; while the critics almost universally pan it. (Rotten Tomatoes has the critics liking it around 10% while the audience liking it around 85%). Surely a large part of this discrepancy is that the critics have an ideological (political or aesthetic) axe to grind. But it doesn’t explain all of it.
  • For what it is worth, I thought the acting and casting were very good. Grant Bowler as Hank Rearden and Graham Beckel as Ellis Wyatt were fantastic. Taylor Schilling was a very good Dagny.
  • The scenery was gorgeous. I think the special effects were as good as they needed to be: the running of the John Galt Line over the bridge was thrilling.
  • I hope to see it again soon. I’m sure a second viewing will give me new perspective on the film's virtues and flaws. I’ll be sure to update or post a new blog with any new thoughts.

Some Changes

I'm going to be making a bunch of changes to Philosophy Blog over the next few weeks and months. The design needs some updating, but I also want to try to set things up better so that I blog more.

The first change, effective immediately, is that I am shutting off the comments. One of the things that sometimes holds me back from posting blogs is knowing that I am going to have to deal with comment. I often don't have the time or the will to moderate and answer comments. I don't want to just open the comments up because of spam, but also because, as my blog, I don't want repugnant or obnoxious ideas posted or left unanswered in the comment areas.