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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Atlas Sucked: Atlas Shrugged Part One (2011)





Screenplay by Brian Patrick O'Toole and John Aglialoro, based on the novel by Ayn Rand
Directed by Paul Johannson

Taylor Schilling:  Dagny Taggart (Mark I)
Matthew Marsden:  James Taggart (Mark I)
Grant Bowler:  Henry Reardon (Mark I)
Jsu Garcia:  Francisco D'Anconia (Mark I)
Paul Johannson:  John Galt (Mark I)

With Jon Polito, Michael Lerner, and Armin Shimerman at least making a car payment or two out of this

If this goes the way I'm expecting it to, all three Atlas Shrugged movies are going to be reviewed in the Atlas Sucked roundtable between Cinemasochist Apocalypse and this blog. We asked several other B movie sites if they wanted in on this sweet action, and got two "I'll have to think about it"s, one "Oh HELL no" and dead silence as responses. When I mentioned this plan to other people the kindest comment was "You've made a horrible mistake". So this isn't going to be so much a roundtable as it is Brother Ragnarok and I at a diner booth hating on the movies. So be it.

It also turns out that it's the fourth anniversary of the first film's release, which I may or may not have known when Bro Rag and I were floating the idea for this gimmick. Releasing the "what have the Romans ever done for us" movie on the day people have to pay their membership dues for living in America is actually pretty damn clever. Too bad so much else about this film fails to entertain or enlighten, even in a "so bad it's good" way. This film's just so bad that it's bad.

We start in the distant future of September 2016; this means, among other things, that the first volume of the Atlas Shrugged adaptation could also be called 2016:  Obama's America if that title hadn't already been taken. Rest assured, if you're making a movie for the teabaggers and you're setting it at the end of the current Presidential administration you're calling out to all their fears (about what's going to happen to America) and their hopes (about what they, personally, can do about it as brave revolutionaries on the front lines of the struggle for the destiny of their society). Of course, it's just a crappy movie and the target audience for it is probably not going to run out and man the barricades during the revolution--for one thing, they'd need some barricades. And a revolution.

It's par for the course, though--I'm partway through a book called Wrapped in the Flag, written by a woman whose parents were the first John Birch Society cell leaders in Chicago. In 1960 the hard-core right wing was viciously against the concept of labor unions, brutally in opposition to any kind of welfare for the poor, and screaming about Communist infiltration in the education system, entertainment world and political structure up to and including the Presidency. In 2015 the hard-core right wing is viciously against the concept of labor unions, brutally against the concept of any kind of welfare for the poor (their own Social Security and Medicare payments excepted) and screaming about Communist infiltration in American society and politics, up to and including the Presidency. Even some of the phrasing is the same--the Birchers in 1960 were talking about taking their country back; so were the teabaggers in 2010. Half a century gone by and they couldn't come up with anything new.

I should probably point out that this movie is the first of a trilogy adapting a 1957 novel from Ayn Rand, the atheist Russian Jew whose work provides the social and political framework for the current flavor of Republican Party policy (while we're enjoying the irony of the cracker Taliban looking to someone they would despise for all three of those reasons, plus her status as a woman, let's also remember that Rand herself made a career for decades attacking "moochers" who parasitically burrowed into the capitalist system and took handouts, crippling the greatness of America, and then went on Social Security and Medicare herself when she ran out of money). What I'm saying is that this work and Rand's life appear to be fractally hypocritical. The books themselves amount to self-insertion fanfic about economics; if Rand happened to have been born a few decades later she probably would have contented herself writing about Ensign Randynna who was totally awesome, saved the USS Enterprise lots of times and got to fuck Spock whenever she wanted because she was so beautiful that even a Vulcan with no emotions went crazy for her.

The film itself had a decades-long journey from page to screen (I can remember hearing rumors that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were going to make this movie at one point, which went on to not happen); the film under consideration today got made because the option on it was going to expire if cameras weren't rolling by a certain date. Rather than let someone else make what was undoubtedly expected to be a massive hit and cultural shockwave, the filmmakers got things done as quickly as possible in order to massage an 1100-page book full of leaden dialogue and a plot that hinges on industrial metallurgy into a usable screenplay. It turns out that it took three entire movies to tell this story (at this point I haven't seen the second or third films but apparently the budget got noticeably lower with each installment).

It's not completely unprecedented to roll the dice like this--the three Lord of the Rings movies were filmed before the first one was released, because getting that massive of a cast and crew together once for a long time was considered easier than doing it three times in a row. If the first film had been a flop New Line Cinema would have gone under; as it turned out, audiences responded to the first film well enough that the production budgets of the entire trilogy were recouped just in theaters. The marketing and distribution costs for all three were also a respectable sum, but there would not be three Hobbit movies now if there was no market for Tolkien films. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Atlas Shrugged would have been a gigantic smash; after all, the Tea Party movement was on the news every night for several years, and science fiction is a genre that has been known to make some money for people. Of course, if it turns out that the insurgents from Glennbeckistan aren't actually all that prevalent and that the rest of the country doesn't care about the movie, it's going to lose a hell of a lot of money and flame out.

So. On to the movie. It's the distant future of 2016 (a year and a half from this writing, but a full half-decade from when the film was released). There's a news montage at the beginning that sets up the dystopian world the film will be taking place in, and how it got that way; instead of Jaegers and Kaiju it's stock market crashes, infrastructure collapses, social unrest and gas shortages. Somehow the lack of oil from the Middle East means that rail travel is the only way to transport people or things in Future Economic Dystopia Shrug World, despite the fact that in the year this movie came out, Amtrak needed more than a billion dollars in government handouts to stay operational. Scenes of a train rolling through blue-for-night landscapes are intercut with bits of unsourced news footage (the filmmakers didn't even fake up a Global News Network or NBS logo for them) and audio clips of what I guess are supposed to be talk radio performers or audience members. The final straw in the destruction of America is a bill passed by what would have been the Republican-controlled congress of 2016 in which it's illegal to fire anyone who works for a profitable company, and to institute price controls for all consumer goods. Sounds legit.

Then, right before the narrative begins, there's a train wreck. Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

The scene shifts to a rainy night in some city somewhere; as required by the Urban Scene-Setting Act of 1974, a homeless man is using a trash-barrel fire to keep warm. Meanwhile, Jay Knight, a television host, welcomes James Taggart, the CEO of railroad company Taggart Transcontinental, Ellis Wyatt (played by the dude who was Dick Stensland in the masterful L.A. Confidential), an oil entrepreneur (whatever that entails) and Wesley Mouch, a lobbyist, to his show. He asks Taggart what the company plans to do about the dozens of derailments on their rail lines, and the corporate titan says everyone must act to benefit society as a whole, just as a billionaire CEO on a news show would be expected to say in the real world in 2015. At a diner, a man in a suit buys a piece of pie and leaves; another man accosts him in the rain. The mystery man is wearing a trenchcoat and fedora, meaning he is either Ben Grimm or Godzilla.

A brief, cryptic conversation about living off one's own efforts and not letting people leech off your profits ensues and then the screen freezes and goes to black and white, superimposed text (with two different sets of sound effects--one of digital blips as each character appears on screen and one set of computer-key clicks) revealing that the pie purchaser was a banking CEO who mysteriously vanished. Considering what people like Midas Mulligan did to the American economy in 2008, I'd say one disappearing is an excellent start if the economy is ever going to be expected to recover. For that matter, I'm not sure what a banking CEO would do for money if he was working solely for himself. One assumes he won't be running to man the teller windows at every single branch of his bank personally. That's what non-CEO employees exist to do.

Then we get the opening titles for a few seconds, and somewhere else a phone rings. Dagny Taggart, the real power running Taggart Transcontinental (her doofus brother is an incompetent figurehead, as it turns out), answers the phone and turns on the TV, getting a plot-specific news broadcast about another Taggart derailment in Colorado. I will give the movie this--she had to change the channel to get the news story she cares about. Monster movies generally have the bulletin start the second someone turns on the TV or radio and it's always exactly what needs to be heard or seen to keep the plot grinding along. Anyway, two walking-past-homeless-people-without-giving-them-anything sequences and a subway ride later, Dagny shows up at TT HQ. Things are bad. The Rio Norte line is in such bad shape that Wyatt Oil is shipping tanker cars on the Phoenix / Durango line. OH, SHIT!

Dagny and James have a conversation in which the hard-charging Dagny is completely right about everything that has to be done and James just wants to make sure everyone company in the world gets a fair division of the money Taggart will be spending. Dagny has also placed an order for new rails from Rearden Steel in an attempt to keep the trains from falling off the tracks of the Rio Norte line and blowing up. Rearden apparently has some new kind of totally rad railroad rail steel that's going to get used for the repairs. James scoffs at this in dialogue worthy of Infra-Man:  "The consensus of the best metallurgical authorities are highly skeptical." I bet they are, if anyone can actually figure out what the hell that means. Dagny, like the honey badger, doesn't give a shit. She's off to Philadelphia (hopefully on a Taggart train that won't be exploding) to talk to Henry Rearden to finalize the order.

Dagny and Rearden talk about what it'll take to do a quick nine-month overhaul of the entire Rio Norte line; Dagny offers half of the premium rate to get everything done quickly because that line will be the first showcase of Rearden metal's capabilities. There's some politically charged dialogue about the right to make a profit from one's labors (though I notice Rearden, as CEO, wasn't actually out on the pour floor tipping the slag buckets himself). Rearden walks Dagny to her car after their conference, which is odd because gas is supposed to be too scarce and expensive for private motor use. Dagny points out that Rearden metal could make air transportation economically viable, which would mean trains wouldn't be as valuable any more. This is either dialogue from 1957 not updated for 2011 or just another symptom of the screenwriters not particularly seeming to know what transportation systems are actually in place in ShrugWorld.

Rearden returns to his mansion, where his wife, two men--his brother and a dude named Paul that seems to work for Rearden, maybe--and a woman I assume is his mother-in-law have been waiting for him for hours (and, presumably, putting a dent in his liquor cabinet). They're all whiny and judgmental because he works so hard to provide them with material comfort. Speaking of material providence, he gives a bracelet made from the first commercial-grade Rearden metal production batch to his wife, who fails to appreciate his scientific genius. Everyone bitches about this gift (I think it's pretty cool, myself, which puts me in the queasily uncomfortable position of agreeing with an Ayn Rand protagonist about something). Henry's brother Philip hits him up for a contribution to Friends of Global Awareness and when the selfless CEO industrialist immediately offers $100,000 to the group Philip gripes that Henry doesn't really want to help the underprivileged. He also asks for a wire transfer rather than a check so that the wrong Rearden's name isn't on the contributors' list. The dialogue in this sequence is possibly even more on the nose than anything out of Streets of Fire, but it's nowhere near as knowing about its own phoniness.

Rearden walks off to eat steak delivered by a butler while the guy who I don't know who he is tells him that the liberal media is casting him as a ruthless capitalist who only wants to make money. It turns out that it's all right to be profit-driven, as long as one doesn't admit it openly, I guess. And the acting between Grant Bowler and Patrick Fischler as Paul in this conversation is nice and understated. As a special added bonus, the dialogue actually sounds like something people might say to each other in a real conversation, too. At least up until Paul asks a few useless questions, wrapping up with "Who is John Galt?".

Paul, that treacherous little shit, is next shown having dinner at some big shmancy restaurant with Wesley Mouch, underhanded tycoon Orren Boyle and James Taggart. (It is probably a complete coincidence that the actors playing the three forces of economic and political corruption, including the one working from the inside to bring down the heroic capitalists, look incredibly Jewish.) Mouch says, and I quote, "It's not in the public interest to let one man destroy an entire industry," which means that the villains in this movie make a hell of a lot more sense than the heroes. It isn't actually in the public interest for one dude to wipe an entire economic sector off the map, whether through deliberate action, simple incompetence or bad judgments. Anyway, there's another liberal law meant to destroy the ability of honest capitalists to make money coming along, and Mouch and Boyle need James Taggart and Paul to help them get it passed. Also, naming your evil socialistic politician "Mouch" is pretty excessive. I wouldn't be surprised if Jewy McJewerson was the first-draft name.

It also appears that Wesley Mouch is supposed to look a hell of a lot like Barney Frank in this particular movie. I'm sure that was completely unintentional, since the target audience for a feature length right-wing screed wouldn't associate a non-religious, openly gay left-wing representative synonymous with campaign finance reform with villainy.


Barney Frank.


Michael Lerner as Wesley Mouch.



While they're discussing their sinister plot to end capitalism, the quartet of conspirators spots billionaire heir Francisco D'Anconia. Boyle and Taggart talk about a Mexican ore-mining operation that D'Anconia has invested in (which will be used to supply iron for a Taggart line down in that country that James believes will pay off handsomely); this is a brief introduction to the character and I'm sure the scene here will pay dividends later on. Or the director's just wasting everyone's time.

Back at Taggart Transcontinental HQ, Dagny and James have an argument over the Mexican situation. It turns out that Dagny has moved all possible Taggart assets out of the country so that when the industries are nationalized by the looters and moochers they won't lose anything. After James stomps out of the office, executive Owen Kellogg shows up to resign, refuse an offer from Dagny to name his own salary, and ask "Who is John Galt?" as a response to her rather justifiable request for a reason that he'd be quitting out of the blue. Then the screen goes black and white and we get the "disappearing person" text with the redundant character-generator sound effects again.

A jump cut to the Rearden bedroom and Hank's wife asking "All done, then?" after lovemaking later, the titan of industry leaves to go do work stuff. He gets a phone call from Dagny, who wants to complain about Owen Kellogg quitting out of nowhere. She also references the repeated question about who John Galt is, and gives the first in-story indication that anyone's noticing the disappearance of various titans of industry. Rearden reassures her that everything's going to work out okay, because people of their social class are the levers that move the world. Donald Trump might have told him to tone the ego down a touch.

Another quick CEO disappearance occurs, and then there's a phone conversation between James Taggart and Orren Boyle; they're working on a piece of legislation called the Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Rule, where individual corporations in a given industry will work together for mutual benefit. That actually sounds like an okay idea but Taggart says it's about the collective needs of each industry, so it's got to be a moocher / looter plot to destroy innovation. And speaking of looters, moochers, and statists, Mexico gets around to nationalizing that ore mine that Francisco D'Anconia had planned out and there's no ore in it. I actually found this part of the book funny and interesting, because the aristocrat had figured out a way to make the government forces arrayed against him steal something valueless and then complain about it. You have to take your entertainment value where you can get it in this work.

In the wake of this devastating setback, Dagny's personal assistant Eddie Willers tells James Taggart that there's an emergency board meeting. At this meeting, James takes credit for Dagny's decision to move equipment out of Mexico. In a private meeting, Boyle and James Taggart decide that D'Anconia is too smart to lose all his money to a nationalization scheme and plan to find out how they can profit from whatever it is, once they find out what the forthcoming plan is going to be. D'Anconia finds James Taggart to be a bore, and won't set up a meeting or even take a phone call from him.

Meanwhile, Dagny Taggart takes a call from her assistant while riding in a limo (that is supposed to be too expensive to use with gas at $37.50 a gallon--although I'm not sure a diesel engine would be getting good enough MPG to make trains a winning proposition); another person that was supposed to be facilitating the Norte line vanished, leaving behind a note asking who this John Galt dude is, anyway. I can't imagine that one executive was going to lay thousands of miles of track on his own, but the movie treats this as quite the setback. During a brief discussion between the Taggarts, James is treated (by Dagny and the film) as a fool for thinking the Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Rule will help his company and he suggests his sister asks D'Anconia what's up with the Mexican ore mine nationalization fiasco. There's an exposition bomb here that Dagny and Franscisco used to have a thing going, but don't any more.

In her office, the head of Wyatt Oil is there to chew Dagny out for the destruction of the other railroad company that runs the Phoenix / Durango line; Taggart promises him that the rail line will do everything he needs it to so he can sell his oil--then she makes a dinner date with Francisco D'Anconia even though she's already got one with Henry Rearden. I had visions of batshit crazy sitcom plots (or the scene in Superman IV where Clark Kent and the Man of Steel both have a date at the same time in the same restaurant), but it was not to be.

At the Rearden date, the two colleagues talk about diesel engine manufacture and maintenance; Rearden knows of a company in Wisconsin that made super great train engines but went out of business. If they still have any parts or machine tools lying around it might be a way to get more trains on the line in Colorado and get oil tankers moving. They segue to Dagny's invitation to the Reardens' anniversary party and another missing executive; according to Hank if all the innovators and businessmen get Raptured at this rate, soon it'll just be yes-men, incompetents and political hacks running the economy and that could be disastrous for the economy (MBAs and tycoons running corporations with an eye solely on the bottom line, to the exclusion of any other factors,  could never work out badly).

Then Dagny goes to meet Francisco at a restaurant (and incidentally, as clunky as all the names are in this movie--I haven't even mentioned the pirate Ragnar Hammarskjold yet--I can't really hate on the novel or the film for having goofy names. I loved Pacific Rim, and there's no way anyone on the planet named their kid "Stacker Pentecost"). Dagny throws a drink in her former squeeze's face and accuses him of setting up the Mexican mine deal to fail so that he could swindle money from the various investors, including her brother. D'Anconia implies that he set the deal up to fail to punish people for trusting him blindly, leading to an exchange that could only have come from the mind and pen of Ayn Rand:  "They rode on my brain and the premise that I wanted to make money." "What happened to you, Francisco? Where is the man that I used to love?"; scripts don't get any sudsier than this (although usually the woman asking that question isn't lamenting the loss of capitalist desire). There's still two movies to go in the series, so Dagny doesn't get any answers here but she does get her hand fondled all creepy-like and a promise that she'll eventually put the pieces together. And, of course, the only answer she gets from D'Anconia is "Who is John Galt?".

That's enough sizzling romantic tension; now it's time to visit the Reardens in the back of a limo (that is supposed to be too expensive to drive) as they go to their anniversary party. A plot-sensitive TV in the limousine tips Rearden off that the Equalization of Opportunity Bill is coming up for a vote and he places a call to Mouch but doesn't get through (and doesn't leave a message). Now it's time for soft jazz and people drinking cocktails at a banquet! Also, to give the film credit where it is due, the party scene is filled with extras in appropriate clothing and the camerawork glides around like an eavesdropper to follow some characters and move past others. It's nicely handled, as is most of the technical craft of filmmaking (I've seen movies that are so badly made they're not in focus; this one doesn't have any gratuitous lighting errors or anything similar that would make it look shabby). There's also lots of quick closeups of the party attendees, which makes me think either the director and editor are being far more generous to their extras than one would expect for an Ayn Rand film (they don't deserve a closeup if they aren't the stars, after all) or possibly that the producers got coaxed into getting cameos in this scene.

Dagny and James arrive and there's some subtle bitchery from Lillian Reardon about Dagny's dress being passe and her Rearden metal bracelet as a clunky, ugly thing. Dagny and Hank gather together, united in their dislike of social functions. I'm always glad when I find someone who has opinions about the Lannisters in a crowd, myself, so I understand. Someone named "Balph Eubank" is mentioned as an attendee, giving us a new gold medalist for Goofy-Ass Name in the film. D'Anconia sidles over to Hank Rearden, who is offically having none of it (he has no desire to lose tens of millions of dollars on a dry mine). D'Anconia asks Rearden why he's willing to carry so many people who would be helpless without his money and talents. There's a brief cryptic conversation between the two that wouldn't have been completely out of place in the Village, and then D'Anconia politely takes his leave. Right around that time Dagny trades her jeweled necklace for the Rearden metal bracelet, then leaves the party.

Time for a jump cut to Colorado, where Rearden steel rails are being laid down for the Rio Norte line; rather than Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden putting all the track down themselves, they're forced to rely on the common laborer. And, worse yet, I bet the people actually putting the tracks down are expecting to get paid for doing so. Shit, they might even be in a union, which means the work will have to be done while trying not to maim or kill them.

After that interlude, the Taggarts in the back of their own too-expensive-to-use limousine going to a function where Dagny is expected to address the National Council of Metal Industries and defend the new material being used for the Taggart line in Colorado. James tells his sister that her speech is going to actually be a debate against someone named Bertram Scudder. Waiting until she's in the car going to the event to spring this one on Dagny? Dick move, Jimmy. Dagny instructs the driver to pull over so she can leave, since she's not interested in getting ambushed at a press conference when she thought she was going to have a private dinner. Getting out of the limo, we get a shot that encapsulates the Rand ethos pretty perfectly. Dagny walks past a homeless man at a trash barrel fire without noticing him.

The rail construction continues, and Hank Rearden refuses to stop making his new metal even when a slumming Armin Shimerman drops by to offer a government buyout (they apparently want to benefit from his privately financed R&D, or possibly just refuse to issue manufacturing licenses for the new material--I'm not entirely sure which). The government flunky won't answer the question "Is Rearden metal good or not?", so Rearden won't do anything he likes. Because behaving like a petulant child when you don't get your own way is sound governing practice. I did enjoy seeing the actor behind the main Ferengi argue for fairness and economic redistribution though.

One newspaper-and-magazine montage later, public opinion has been shaped against Rearden metal, even though it hasn't been proven to fail yet. Or proven to work, for that matter, but Dagny makes the justifiable point that the people using it to make rails and switches know more about its capabilities and flaws than someone writing for a magazine. When the State Science Institute warns people away from using it, though, things are getting real. At the SSI, Dagny talks to their head science person. He tells her that a philosophy prof made a bet with him when they tried to influence three brilliant students. One turned out to be Francisco D'Anconia, one was the pirate Ragnar Dannaskjold and one vanished completely. Also, it turns out that Dannaskjold's acts of piracy steal from the poor and give to the rich. I wonder if his name is Norwegian for "Dennis Moore". The science institute guy also looks like he's about ten or fifteen years too young to have taught D'Anconia during his college days.

Somewhere on the Colorado rail line, Dagny accepts the praise from Ellis Wyatt for staying on time and getting the tracks laid on schedule (naturally, it's assumed that she's doing all the heavy lifting, rather than the construction crews who are literally lifting the heavy things as part of the project). Hank Rearden is there; they talk about replacing an old worn-out bridge with one made of Rearden metal. He thinks it can be done in three months, and then asks Dagny to dinner. She declines, because he's married and it's only the first movie.

Back in NYC, Dagny's limo drives past a food handout truck from the Ministry of Welfare (hiss, boo) and gets a brief update from Eddie, her personal assistant. The stock price of Taggart is plummeting and it looks like using Rearden metal in the face of government orders and rigged public opinion is going to kill her corporation completely if nothing is done. She tells her brother that she's going to leave the family business and start her own company to take over the Rio Norte line with her own financing; once the line is running and Rearden metal is proved to be the best of all metals, Taggart Transcontinental will take the line back over and everything will be awesome. Maybe it's because my degree is in film studies instead of business or economics, but that sounds like Three Card Monte with stocks and ownership. She makes a quick deal with her brother--he gets to be CEO of Taggart in exchange for Eddie going over to her company, as well as a promise that he'll use his influence in Washington to make sure her new company won't get bogged down in red tape and regulation while she's off being awesome. James says he can't let her damage the family name with her scheme so she decides to name the new company the John Galt Line.

Dagny's plan hits a snag pretty much immediately when she asks Francisco for financing and he says there isn't any money to give. She offers to sleep with him in order to make the deal, and he still turns her down (I hear that the Columbia House record company went out of business under similar circumstances). She gets turned down by a lot of small-minded idiots who don't recognize a great rail transport opportunity when they see it, but eventually sells plenty of shares in the company to a consortium of other tycoons; Hank Rearden buys the last portion of available bonds himself when Dagny stops by to commission that bridge from a few scenes back. He's also got a folder with some schematics and photos of a new engine type that he got from the shut-down manufacturing firm in Wisconsin he knew about (the "20th Century Motors" logo doesn't sound all that impressive or futuristic in 2011, by the way). Hank and Dagny decide to take a trip to Wisconsin to catch a Tommy Bartlett show and also investigate this further, but before anything else happens Hank gets a phone call telling him the Equalization of Opportunity Act got passed so nobody can own more than one company any more. Rather than consolidate all his holdings into Rearden International he says he'll sell off everything but the steel mill. Paul, the guy whose relationship to Hank I'm still not entirely sure of, gets the ore mining company. Various other people who haven't shown up in the movie before wind up with ownership of other Rearden companies; I'm pretty sure this gets explained a touch better in the book.

Rearden is left alone with his one true love, a robotic steel mill. And plenty of Rearden metal tracks have been laid now; it's a shame the CG effect to change the color of the rails doesn't quite work, because it's important that the new rails don't look anything at all like any existing ones. They look periwinkle, and I wouldn't trust periwinkle to hold up a freight train. A union delegate comes into Dagny's office and says nobody from the Engineers Association will run an engine on the new and untested rails, which honestly a genius captain of industry should have thought of. Dagny busts the union by saying she'll use scabs to run the engines after the successful test of the rails, and the representative backs down. She then says she'd never force a man to do anything, which kinda contradicts the scene she was just in.

Soon enough it's time for the maiden voyage on the John Galt line, which is covered live by cable news because absolutely nothing else is happening in the world that day. The train speeds along on the new rails in a slightly-below-average CG effect. The new bridge holds (there's a series of shots of the train going over the bridge that are edited together choppily; I'm guessing there was only so much time and money for the CG effects and they just had to use all of them, whether or not the virtual camera placement made any sense or not), and Dagny and Hank hug in triumph. There's also lots of gorgeous Colorado scenery utterly ruined by a lack of a train going through the wilderness.

It's a triumph (though there's only about ten or fifteen people meeting the train at its endpoint and there didn't appear to be any passengers other than Hank and Dagny, which raises the question of how exactly the John Galt Line is going to make any money whatsoever). The oil tycoon made dinner for the steel tycoon and the rail tycoon, but the shadowy forces of Jewish-looking character actors conspire to wreck the pair of them for the sheer evil of it.

Meanwhile, over steak, vast quantities of wine and champagne and awkward dancing, the Tycoon Dinner Party proceeds. Ellis Wyatt says he's got a way to extract oil and gas from a hitherto unreachable deposit in his territory (which means that Atlas Shrugged anticipated fracking, I think). He leaves to go make some phone calls and Hank and Dagny are told that there are several guest rooms upstairs. Turns out they're only going to need one, because marital fidelity is for losers--though to be fair Dagny is single. It's just that Rearden isn't. A shadowy figure lurks outside and knocks on the door. Like most billionaires, Wyatt doesn't have a security staff or a butler so he answers the door himself. The next morning he is nowhere to be found, but he did leave a brief note for his guests.

Hank and Dagny decide on the spur of the moment to go check out that abandoned machine shop in the deserts of Wisconsin. According to Hank the company collapsed because it paid its worthless, parasitic employees too much money. In the decades-abandoned but spotlessly clean and dust-free company headquarters Rearden makes his Spot Secret Doors check and uncovers a small room where the mystery engine was developed. Dagny finds the engine and identifies it as a particle accelerator the size of a cocktail shaker. It's pretty impressive, but TONY STARK BUILT ONE OF THEM IN A CAVE! FROM A BOX OF SCRAPS!

A bit of sleuthing leads the pair to the last owner of the factory, and from there they follow a chain of previous owners to track down the inventory of the engine (while utterly neglecting their existing businesses, it looks like). The inventor died years back, but his wife says his assistant was the real genius, and that the assistant kept in touch with Professor Akston of Patrick Henry University. And, in a line of dialogue the expositionary actress successfully delivers without laughing, "Mr. Akston was rumored to have opened a roadside diner near Cheyenne". How profitable a roadside diner would be in a world where nobody is supposed to be able to afford to drive would be, I'm not sure. Maybe Akston likes the quiet. Or maybe the movie forgot gas is supposed to be almost forty bucks a gallon.

At the diner, Akston refuses to answer any direct questions and tells Dagny (trying super hard to be portentous) that she's stumbled over one tiny corner of the big mystery and then walks home (leaving the diner open; maybe he's not a very hands-on manager). The shadowy trench coat and fedora wearing guy is already there, proving Daryl Zero's maxim that people don't know you're following them if you get where they're going first.

A convenient news bulletin tells Dagny that the Wyatt Oil fields in Colorado are on fire (which might be sabotage or it might be the kind of thing that regulation of industry exists to prevent). Special points for the reporter on the scene saying the hill behind him is engulfed in flames while the insert footage does not feature a reporter or a hill on fire. Dagny drives off to Colorado (I guess to try and help with the fire?) while Mouch gives a speech about all the pointless wealth-wrecking restrictions he's going to place on businesses as the new MFIC of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. He says he's going to "equalize the national economy" through taxing and business restrictions, which makes as much sense as "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" to me.

Dagny breaks past a couple of not particularly effective cops to run inside the Wyatt mansion looking for Ellis, but doesn't find him. A voiceover plays of the shadowy dude telling Wyatt that he's the head of a Libertarian paradise, a city of heroes where all the geniuses are free to be awesome producers and be freed from pointless government interference or regulation (meanwhile, the cops and firefighters trying to save Ellis' mansion are paid for by the taxes he undoubtedly loathes). A sign at the edge of the burning oil fields implies that Wyatt torched the place himself before leaving for Tycoon Valhalla Atlantis. Fade to black and roll credits.

The credits, by the way, reveal that this was a movie made with a union crew, crediting the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO specifically. And the copyright protection covering the film and allowing the artists to realize the profits from it (if there were any; this one lost about three and a half million dollars according to figures on the IMDB) are part of that pointless government regulation the movie just spent its entire running time attacking. I think the real secret ingredient to Rearden metal has to be irony.

The real problem with Atlas Shrugged as a portrayal of anything is that neither Ayn Rand nor the filmmakers seemed to ever realize that the protagonists are being described in exactly the wrong terms. The CEOs and billionaires that want to sulk in their douchebag clubhouse and destroy society are not Atlas holding up the world. They're Pharaohs in gold and jewels screaming from the top of a pyramid that they're living gods and they'll wreck the world in a fit of pique because the sweating, starving masses don't love them enough. And there's no position less analogous to Atlas' than a mortal god-king on top of a stone monument built by slaves. The top of a pyramid couldn't be farther away from the position that the 1% say they're in (both in this movie, and, occasionally, in real life).

Atlas Sucked: Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike (2012)




Written by Duke Sandefur, Brian Patrick O'Toole and Duncan Scott, based on the novel by Ayn Rand
Directed by John Putch

Samantha Mathis:  Dagny Taggart (Mark II)
Jason Beghe:  Hank Rearden (Mark II)
Esai Morales:  Francisco D'Anconia (Mark II)
Patrick Fabian:  James Taggart (Mark II)
D. B. Sweeney:  John Galt (Mark II)

With appearances by Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, Robert Picardo, Diedrich Bader, Patricia Tallman, Michael Gross and Teller

Man, I'd love to know exactly what happened in between Movie Number One and Movie Number Two. The entire principal cast has been swapped out for different actors (I can understand Taylor Schilling not wanting to return; she had Argo and Orange is the New Black waiting for her in the future and she might have been priced out of the producers' range with a Best Picture winner under her belt). But how did they wind up having to recast even the secondary parts? I don't think Jon Polito and Michael Lerner would have minded coming back. One hypothesis:  The check bounced. Actors like to act, but they don't like to do it for nothing. A second one:  The filmmakers didn't realize they needed to put sequel appearances in the contracts of any of the actors, and missed out on a chance to get them back.

The first hypothesis would mean the filmmakers were liars (and would easily get caught; I'm sure actors tell other actors what to expect from different production companies). The second one would mean that they literally did not know how to make a movie. At the time this movie was being filmed, Samuel L. Jackson had been in four different Marvel Studios films as Nick Fury and had given interviews saying he'd been contracted to appear in almost a dozen of them. The Lord of the Rings movies were well-known in cinema dork circles for the unconventional production strategy of filming the entire trilogy in one huge sequence so that all of the nine actors portraying the Fellowship could have their schedules synchronized and delays would be minimized over the decade-long process of getting the films made. None of this was secret. If the Atlas Shrugged filmmakers were willing to pay attention and change their plans based on other things that actually worked for other artists, they could have done the same things. But--for whatever reason--they chose not to do things that way.

According to the IMDB and Wikipedia, this movie cost more than the first film in the series--but had a shorter production schedule--and made less money at the box office (despite opening in three times as many theaters as Part One). If one follows the Randian edict that the free market establishes the value of any work of art, that would mean this film is worse than the competently made first one (though nothing could have helped the clunky dialogue that ran the full alchemical range from wooden to leaden). If Ayn Rand was right about anything at all over her lifetime, if A is A, if things are always what they are and cannot be anything else, if the market is the only way to determine the value of anything, then this movie--along with the other two in the series--are gigantic heaps of rotting dogshit. I wouldn't go that far for the first movie--it was competently made and had some decent camerawork during the anniversary party scene, at least, and the actors did what they could with some really, really awful dialogue. Taylor Schilling should be singled out as singularly effective at showing Dagny Taggart's drive and ambition. But we're not looking for my opinion here, we're looking for Ayn Rand's.

Speaking of that shortened production schedule, there's an extra space in one of the titles at the beginning setting up the world (it's the near future; 2016 is not specifically mentioned). Commercial auto and air travel are greatly decreased, and only the tax funded subsidy sponges known as "trains" move people and goods around the country.

Then the first shot of the movie is a jet plane being followed by another jet plane. It's a good thing the new model Dagny Taggart is wearing her Rearden metal bracelet, because I wouldn't have known the pilot of one of the jets was supposed to be her otherwise (there wasn't anything in the first movie about her having a pilot's license). She's pursuing another plane with an unreadably dead expression on her face. The movie takes the intriguing step of not telling the audience who is in the other plane or why Dagny is following it; in fact, there's no dialogue in this sequence at all. The lead plane vanishes in a blip of energy and it looks like Dagny's going to ruggedly and individualistically pilot her bird straight into a mountain while asking "Who is John Galt?"; the first sentence spoken in this movie. The second one, too, for what that's worth.

Nine months earlier, Dagny is driving her Dr. Evil go kart down a secret underground  tunnel on rails (and I call bullshit--a REAL Randian hero doesn't follow the path some government functionary set down on rails!) while Dr. Robert Stadler (Robert Picardo) explains that the free-energy motor she discovered at the end of the last movie in the deserts of Wisconsin could instantly revitalize the global economy and permanently end American reliance on foreign oil. She's got the motor in a secret underground lab behind two different keypad-controlled doors and under a tarp; Stadler checks it out while the dialogue establishes that nobody filed a patent for the world-changing Wonder Thingy. Also, according to the doctor, there's a part missing from the motor. He also takes time to declare that Dagny is awesome for building a railroad even when the State Scientific Institute said it would be unsafe, because the chief personality characteristic of the heroes in this film is narcissism so massive and dense that it should have its own event horizon.

While inspecting the motor, some clunky exposition gets batted around by Dagny and Stadler--the piece of technology is so advanced and awesome that the SSI should have known about it, but they didn't. Nobody alive could have made it, and all the really great minds in America have been disappearing (which neither the tycoon nor the government weasel have any answers for). Stadler wants to check the engine out at a government lab, but Dagny just shuts it away in its secret compartment. Stadler also says he knows he isn't qualified to figure out how to make the engine work because whatever's behind the vanishing one percenters, he's been left alone.

Outside of Taggart Midtown Station in NYC, a group of protesters who represent the 99.98% are waving signs outside. I don't know if the tiny group is supposed to mean that nobody really agreed with the Occupy movement or that the filmmakers didn't have enough money to get more than a dozen or so sign-wavers. An expository newscast mentions the Fair Share Act, which was meant to get goods and services in the hands of Americans equally but has resulted in massive business shutdowns and closures. Wesley Mouch (upgraded from the Mayor of New York in the terrible American Godzilla to the guy in RoboCop who takes a bath in toxic waste) is behind the new law and says it's just a temporary setback.

In the back of her limo, Dagny asks her personal assistant Eddie Willers what happened to all the men of vision that could have reversed the decline of America (he, because his job depends on his boss being happy, says he's in the car with someone who could do just that). Apparently everyone who would have been working on electric or solar cars is among their number, incidentally, because this near-future dystopia doesn't appear to have any hybrid cars, let alone full-on electrics. That might have been something the filmmakers didn't want to include, since Randian politics are slightly to the right of Genghis Khan and hybrid or electric vehicles tend to be a more left-wing kind of thing (here in Ann Arbor, for example, there are charging stations in several public parking lots).

Another expository newscast brings up "Wyatt's Torch", the burning oil field from the very end of the first movie. Oil billionaire Ellis Wyatt was one of the disappeared; before he left for wherever it is he went, he set fire to his own oil fields, causing at least tens of millions of dollars in damage as well as destroying the livelihood of every single one of his employees--not that the film ever seems to notice that Wyatt wouldn't have been capable of drilling every well himself. He also left a sign saying he's leaving the fields as he found them, which is pretty unlikely unless he put out all the oil well fires that were there when he moved in (I like to imagine him shoveling dirt on one well fire until it's out, drinking a glass of ice water, and moving on to the next like the Paul Bunyan of petroleum extraction). Dagny believes the fields are still burning because everyone capable of putting the fires out has already gone missing. She laments that everyone that could save the country has gone. The limo (burning gas at over 40 bucks a gallon) passes by knots of homeless people, including a guy selling gas by the gallon on a card table; I'm not entirely sure what people are going to do with half a gallon of gas unless they want to follow in Wyatt's footsteps and get into the arson business.

At Taggart Transcontinental HQ, Dagny looks over the Colorado route--the one where the rails are made of super awesome Rearden metal, and finds that they're running about one sixth as many trains as they used to, and with all of the Wyatt Petroleum products they used to haul currently on fire and turning into greenhouse gases, there aren't enough products and commodities to make even the single biweekly run profitable any more. This is blamed on further CEO disappearances; however, it's important to note that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs no longer have anything to do with their iconic corporations but software still gets released and Apple just came out with a Dick Tracy watch. I'm not entirely sure that the one person at the top of the org chart is capable of bringing their entire enterprise to an immediate halt by going missing. Dagny also says that under the government's control of a coal company, not a single lump has been mined. I realize that 2015 isn't 1957 and I have a different perspective on things than Rand did, but certainly Ayn Rand had to have noticed that when the government decided to split the motherfucking atom a decade and change before she wrote Atlas Shrugged it got done, even without Henry Ford's help. Or possibly "especially", because Ford--the archetypal American man of industry--was a Nazi and probably wouldn't have wanted to help defeat the Third Reich if he could possibly avoid it.

While the soundtrack plays the kind of gentle piano noodling that usually gets laid down over a scene of visiting a child in the hospital, Dagny shuts down the 93 line since it's not profitable, even if it was the one she most wanted to succeed. She sits in her office and reflects while the piano music tinkles onward, and then we get Sean Hannity yelling into the camera about how great Rearden metal is, and how Hank Rearden is an American hero for developing it. Juan Williams and two other people I didn't recognize are in this segment as well (I don't believe the woman in this group got a single syllable of dialogue), and then there's a jump cut to a crucible full of molten metal being poured. Did I just see fan service for teabaggers? Yes, I think I did.

Hank Rearden is in his office setting priorities for orders, as CEOs do because there's nobody else in the entire company that could possibly manage that. Dagny calls and tells him she's shut down the Rearden metal line. They set up a meeting / date and as soon as Rearden hangs up, a pencil neck from the State Science Institute shows up for a long-delayed meeting of his own. Rearden declares that the functionary is the most dedicated looter he's ever seen (he defines "looter" as someone who acquires something he didn't make himself; I wonder how Hank Rearden feels about restaurant food or supermarkets). Rearden wants to know what the SSI wants with 200,000 pounds of his new steel before he'll sell it to them (which makes him the rare right-winger who puts his own principles above making a shit ton of money). He's willing to let the government take as much Rearden metal as they can, but says he'll never accept payment from them for any amount.

Back at Taggart Transcon HQ, it turns out that James Taggart, useless layabout and company president, needs to sign an order shutting down the Colorado line; he's nowhere to be found when he's needed, but turns out to be surrounded by the poors, having his driver hand out money to the lazy freeloaders so he can rent their love. He goes to buy a few neckties in a scene that probably was supposed to be filmed someplace more impressive than a Big Lots, and the cashier recognizes him on sight, as most hourly retail employees would--after all, he's the CEO of a train company! She also credits him with building the John Galt train line (which, as all of us remember from the last movie, was actually done by his sister Dagny). He accepts her advice on which tie to buy from the rack by the magazines but not near the CD players and asks if she's ever had a limo ride before. In the previous movie James was a snot but in this one he's an Olympic-class creeper.

James takes her to a solo concert where Richard Halley is playing his own compositions. I expected to see her in the Save & Spend employee shirt but she happens to have an evening gown handy. I don't know shit about shit when it comes to contemporary classical piano, so I'm recusing myself from commenting on the piece performed here. The audience gives it a standing ovation, for what that's worth. And then a mysterious man the viewing audience cannot see asks the performer if he's ready. When the curtain comes up for an encore, there's nobody on the stage an a note on the Steinway's music stand asks "Who is John Galt?". I'd say the inevitable reveal was handled pretty nicely.

Back at Taggart Central, a security guy in the lobby (played by silent conjurer Teller, if you'd like to hear his voice) has a quick cameo while trying to steer Dagny away from some protesters outside. He gets a closeup, in case audience members didn't realize it was him. I was hoping there'd be a silent cameo from Penn Jillette in the same scene, but it was not to be. Rearden and Dagny Taggart are off on their vacation jaunt talking about Richard Halley's disappearance, and I'd suspect Teller, cause that guy is used to making things and people vanish on stage. Anyway, the pair of tycoons discuss the slow collapse of the American free enterprise system and Rearden makes sure to mention that they'd earned their successes. Which kinda flies in the face of Dagny mentioning that her great-grandfather founded the rail company she runs how; sure, she won the birth lottery and appears to be a capable CEO, but it's not like she worked her way up from the mail room if three previous generations of Taggarts were running Taggart TC.

Hank takes her hand and meets her gaze in a scene that made me wonder why the hell he wasn't watching the road. They leave New York City on an empty Brooklyn Bridge that does look pretty spooky-cool when there's only one car on it. Courtesy of an ominous musical sting and a jump cut, three days later Dagny and an egghead named Quentin Daniels are looking at the mystery motor, but this time one of them has a magnifying glass so they'll figure out how to make it work, I'm sure. And Daniels figures out that it's a working model because it's got scuff marks on it; he refuses to be paid for coming up with a way to make the wonder motor work and build more of them but tells Dagny she'll need to give him whatever equipment or gear he needs to do whatever the hell it is he's doing before he starves to death because food costs money and he's working for nothing. There's a bafflingly weird exchange between the two of them where Dagny agrees to let him skin her alive if he makes the motor work. I have absolutely no idea whether the characters are serious or not thanks to the limited thespian talent on display.

In a hotel room conference, Hank Rearden and coal mine owner Ken Danagger work out an informal deal to get mine props made of Rearden metal to keep tunnels from collapsing--and when Rearden mentions that he needs coal to make steel so that trains can run on tracks to ship things to market, neither the actor nor the filmmakers seem to realize that he's cutting the entire premise of awesome genius badasses doing things as individuals off at the knees. Atlas might be holding the entire world up by himself but Hank Rearden just declared that nobody can go it alone even in the high-stakes world of Business Smartology. After the handshake deal to work around the Fair Share Act, the coal mine owner leaves and Hank settles down to take a nap in a chair, only to be surprised by his wife Lillian (played by a different actress, just like everyone else in the film). It's disorienting to realize I'm supposed to know who these characters are because it's an adaptation of the same work, but nobody reprised their roles. It's like a macro version of "you're just like Peter, but you're Steven" from The Room. Anyway, Lillian Rearden reminds her husband that James Taggart is getting married that night and they're going to the wedding. She also thinks he's having an affair because there's lunch leftovers from his business chat with Danagger.

Hank doesn't want to go to the wedding--more out of a distaste for James Taggart than anything. His wife basically tells him he should go to make her happy and he grudgingly agrees, but informs Lillian that she needs to get her own hotel room. The hell? The wedding reception is another big crowd scene, and I wonder if this is a way to get investors to kick in for production--promising them they can be in the movie if they pony up enough money. James' bride, who turns out to be the woman he met giving him a necktie recommendation at Big Lots, says she'll be protecting him from Dagny, who has taken credit for all of his achievements. They look daggers at each other and part.

Hey, Francisco D'Anconia's back! And he's chatting with Dagny, which appears to be making Hank Rearden jealous (because she's only allowed infidelity with him, I guess). They have an elliptical conversation about who John Galt is (and whether or not there really is a single human individual who is John Galt, or if he's just an idea). D'Anconia asks what Dagny would do if she "held the motor of the world" in her hands, and then walks off. Which gives Lillian Rearden a chance to show up and offer to swap Dagny's necklace (from the first movie) back for the bracelet of Rearden metal (ditto). The props in the movie are the same, but the actors aren't. It's distracting. Although not as distracting as James Taggart's epically shitty wedding toast about economic barriers. And it gets much worse when Francisco D'Anconia hijacks it to talk about how it's really important how someone makes their money because only by creating something of value can one's bank account be filled honorably.

An array of straw men are set up and knocked down during D'Anconia's monologue; he also claims that making money through sheer awesomeness and genius is better than making money by using political clout and that society is a step away from slavery because people aren't using dollars earned the right way to keep score any more. His speech made, James Taggart asks him to leave the wedding (which is the first sensible thing Taggart's done in one and a third movies). Rearden pursues the departing man, who tells him that he's destroying the value of his corporation intentionally (burning down docks and burying his ore mines under landslides) so that he can wipe out people who don't deserve to be rich--and who also own stock in his company. I'm sure nobody's going to get hurt trying to fight the inferno-level fire and that nobody's going to be standing where the avalanche hits, either, because those are things you can predict and control. It's also a certainty that none of the miners whose livelihoods will be ruined would know how to dig a hole in the ground and go back to mining ore.

In her hotel room, there's a lingering pan across Dagny's body as she sleeps, reminding a generation of men why they liked the ending of Pump Up the Volume. Hank Rearden joins her in bed (having taken off his suit jacket, but with his shoes still on) and says he's dropped his wife off at the train station so they won't have to worry about a surprise visit. Hooray for the Nietzschean morality of the super rich! Also hooray for the cleverness of Lillian Rearden, who waits for her husband in his hotel room. She's pissed, which is pretty justifiable, and Hank says she's entitled to one (1) remark about his infidelity and that he'll be generous enough to allow her to divorce him now. She tells him that she'd rather stay rich, famous, and connected, thank you very much. But it doesn't really sting until she tells her husband that he actually owes lots of people for his success.

Time for a news report! The anchor shows explosions at a D'Anconia mine (which means someone knew enough to get there with a camera before things went kaboom) and mentions that the stock has plummeted and the two-century-old company is not expected to recover. The newsreader also says there were no casualties from the devastating blasts, which--coupled with the rather dinky explosions matted in to the stock footage of a mine--makes me think that either the damage isn't as bad as people are saying or the F/X guys did the best they could with insufficient time and resources. And D'Anconia appears to be another person who benefits from eight or ten generations of wealth but has convinced himself he earned every penny on his own merits. If your six-times-removed great-grandfather was a billionaire and you're also a billionaire, it just means your family had so much money it doesn't matter how much of a fuckup you are. Or, to put it another way, I don't think what America needs is ethical and moral lessons from Paris Hilton. But Atlas Shrugged sure as hell does.

Meanwhile, at Rearden Steel, a higher-up from the SSI is telling Hank Rearden that he can either sell his awesome steel to the government or face a ten year prison sentence for violating the Fair Share Act (while openly saying that the Act was passed specifically to force awesome business tycoons to do what the government wants). He's also installing his flunky Mr. Small, who Rearden had already thrown out of his office, as an overseer of the Rearden facility, because OSHA is just another way to force the natural Ubermenschen to bow to the will of the collective. Rearden tells the SSI man that he isn't worried about keeping his job so he doesn't have to obey any restrictive government rules. There's another news report (with "NEWS" but no channel logo in the lower left corner of the screen) saying that Rearden and Danagger are looking at ten years behind bars, because rich people get pushed around by the government all the time.

Dagny busts into Danagger's private office after being kept waiting for hours; when she gets there he's just closing a door as if seeing a mysterious person who has shown up in the previous movie out. He's taking the indictment and potential ten year prison sentence pretty well, all things considered, and Dagny notices two cigarette butts in his office ashtray rather than the expected one (a neat clue, handled rather deftly--especially for a movie that has been subtlety's antimatter counterpart). She asks if Danagger's quitting (without seeming to put two and two together that geniuses of art and industry and vanishing all over the place) and he gets a monologue about how his coal is part of a triangle of trade where value is traded for value and everyone benefits, just as it has throughout history. Danagger says the system is set up to deny him his birthright as a man of industry and that he's "fought for every chunk of coal I've ever pulled up from the ground", as if he is the living avatar of his company rather than a guy in a suit who pays other people to get black lung and make him rich. He rants about how the government won't let him pick who to sell to, as if there's a principle at stake other than "I can make more money doing things some other way". He tells Dagny to take as much coal as she wants because it's not important--after going on about how important his coal mining business and the ability to sell coal was for a solid minute--and leaves his office. Danagger's name is added to the rolls of missing industrial geniuses.

Over at Rearden Steel, Francisco D'Anconia has dropped by to decry the state of affairs and points out that without coal and copper, it's going to be increasingly hard for the businesses of America to accomplish anything. He also uses "looters" and "moochers" again, which makes me wish that if Rand was going to write an 1100 page novel, she'd think of more than two terms for people she didn't like. D'Anconia tries to sell Rearden on blowing up his steel mills and going on strike like the other tycoons and captains of industry, and right after he refers to Atlas shrugging there's an explosion on the shop floor. There's a break in one of the furnaces and glowing molten metal is pouring out. Rearden personally hauls an unconscious employee out of the path of the metal and barks orders to the foreman about how to fix the problem while a bunch of guys shovel sand around the pool of white-hot liquid metal, then pushes D'Anconia out of the path of a collapsing roof beam while Leonard Small looks on impotently, unable to do anything.

At the Utah Institute of Technology, garbage bags fill the streets (apparently the sole genius billionaire of trash collection has gone on strike as well, which means nobody is running trucks and hauling away refuse). Quentin Daniels has something to share about the Awesome Motor Thingy and Dagny is there to see what it is. Daniels has gotten it to turn into a cheap replica of the arc reactor from Iron Man and also turn magnetic and make the lights in the room (but not the computers two feet away from the motor) flicker. If I were standing near that thing I'd want a lead apron, but apparently Daniels and Taggart don't consider the possibilities of whatever it's doing to their chromosomes while enjoying the tawdry special effects. Making the motor do anything else is beyond Daniels' abilities so he recommends Dagny find its inventor and ask him politely how the heck to make his Oxygen Destroyer looking thing work.

Some time later, Hank Rearden is starring in a show trial by the Unification Council; he's charged with violating the Fair Share Act. Which means it's time for another tedious speech about just how awesome Hank Rearden is and how he won't go along with the tyranny of the one-world government who wants his stuff. The audience applauds after a few lines from Hank; I think he's supposed to have won them over by the sheer force of his correctness (and by living in a world that reflects Ayn Rand's views rather than the one my readers live in). He gets a standing ovation later on in his rant, although only about a third of the audience gets up--either the extras weren't directed well or the camera setup was off. The judges are too scared of Rearden's awesomeness to let him keep talking and they're terrified of making him a martyr to the cause of not sharing, so they pronounce him guilty and sentence him to ten years in prison and then immediately suspend the sentence. This time the entire audience gets their cue to stand up and clap.

During a late-night stroll, Hank and Dagny talk about the Awesome Motor and how it's something the shadowy forces of collectivization and public benefit won't be able to stop. The tycoons are people who make things work, see, and the governments of the world hate and fear them because they're so effective. So they have to make sure that free energy (which would disrupt every aspect of the industrial society) is a thing they can use, although I guess they're only going to use it for their own benefit, or something. Because every time any of the protagonists talk about the common people in this film or the first one in the trilogy, they sound like they're talking about something they can't wait to scrape off their boots.

The audience is then treated to the Taggart Transcontinental Board of Directors walking down a hallway in slow motion like the Reservoir Dogs (though the camera operator isn't quite up to the task of keeping them all in frame at the same time). It turns out that the railroad company is losing money because there aren't enough clients paying to haul freight. James Taggart says they've got to raise their rates and one of Wesley Mouch's underlings says that's impossible, because the greater good of the common people demands that the prices stay fixed. As if that wasn't bad enough, the politician and some other guy on the board suggest that Taggart TC reach out to unions and pay their workers more money, because that means they'll vote Mouch in the future. The board decides to terminate service on the John Galt line and use the rails from there to shore up rail lines that don't go from a flaming oil rig to nowhere. Dagny makes a grandstanding speech about how she won't be the one who murders the line (which cannot ship anything anywhere since Ellis Wyatt decided to have an early Fourth of July with his oil rigs) and blames government policies for ruining her railroad. She walks out and the board decides to go ahead with Operation Maybe We Could Ship Some Things That Are Not On Fire. The crews start to work dismantling the matte painting of the Galt line forthwith.

At a shmancy restaurant, James Taggart and Lillian Rearden meet for dinner and problem drinking. Taggart wants Lillian to get her husband to shut up in public and not be so "vocally anti-social" and reveals that the forces of Big Government have given him the job of making Hank Rearden toe the party line. Upon being promised enough clout that she won't have to depend on Hank for her social position any more, Lillian eagerly joins the conspiracy to destroy Hank. There's a transition shot of a Tea Party rally in support of Rearden's performance at his show trial, and then a cut to Wesley Mouch in his office talking about how capitalism doesn't work and Rearden needs to be brought to heel to demonstrate that. He says that sure, they're going to violate the hell out of the Constitution, but some times you have to break a few eggs to make that societal omelette.

Suddenly Mouch and his hangers-on get a Skype call from the President, played by Ray Wise! I'm not sure if he's supposed to look like any particular Democratic president (or presidential contender), or if he's just the sort of generic older white guy office-holder you get in movies. He says they're going to implement Directive 10-289 immediately, for the public good. Thankfully the movie then explains just what the hell Directive 10-289 is, so that we know just how much shit has hit the fan.

So what the hell is this directive? It's a several-point plan meant to save the deteriorating American economy by making it impossible for anyone to quit their job by Presidential fiat; also, business owners are no longer allowed to retire or sell their companies. The patent office is suspended and nationalized, with the U.S. government taking over the patent rights to all industrial processes and the invention of anything new is officially forbidden. All companies will be required to make just as much stuff as they did in the previous year and all citizens will be required to spend as much on consumer goods and services as they did in the previous year--also, everyone's wages will be frozen nationwide. (The movie omits the directives that guarantee employment for every American so they can buy things; possibly because in the country living through the post-2008 economic collapse that might have sounded like a pretty okay idea.)

Oh, and Wesley Mouch is put in charge of the Unification Board, who will be enforcing the Directive. There's a montage of different groups of people watching the Presidential broadcast (my favorite are the factory workers watching it on the shop floor TV, as you undoubtedly would see in real life) that wraps up with Dagny stomping off after James lets it slip that he knew this was coming. Then there's a montage of protesters, homeless people, cop cars and a dude whittling a wooden gravestone for America.

Over at Rearden Steel, a government functionary has shown up to politely request Hank Rearden sign over the rights to Rearden metal. Once he does that, the manufacturing process will be given to all steelworks in the country and the name changed to "miracle metal", apparently just to hurt Hank's feelings. Hank refuses to sign, of course, so the bureaucrat brings out the blackmail folder--photos of Hank and Dagny on a date. He unwittingly points out the double standard in American life where Hank's reputation will not suffer while Dagny's will for the same transgression (I had no idea Ayn Rand was such a progressive!). Hank caves instantly and signs over the Rearden processes. Dagny flips out when she sees a convenient news report and goes to yell at her brother and then quit (which is, of course, also against the Directive). Because when the going gets tough, the tough bail out.

Speaking of bailing out on difficult situations, after a call from Dagny Hank decides that he absolutely needs a divorce from Lillian. So that's gonna happen too. At the office, James Taggart looks at the big control board and realizes that he's not up to the task of running the railroad, and only now that it's too late does he realize how awesome Dagny was. He installs the first person he sees as the new COO and (in the only line of dialogue that displays any measure of wit) tells the poor sap that he doesn't get a raise because of Directive 10-289.

The scene shifts for a matter of seconds as Dagny throws furniture out of a cabin in the woods of New York, piling it on the lawn. Then it's time to hang out with Quentin Daniels again as he does math and tries to figure out the static electricity motor some more. And the Westbound 22 is late as all getout on the Colorado line! OH NOES! Kip Chalmers, one of the people from the earlier boardroom scene, says he'll make sure to nationalize Taggart Transcontinental if he's late for a campaign stop and his effete, heavily drinking British companion says that's the only way to make the trains run on time, as proven by past train nationalizers in Days of Yore. And yeah, that means the movie's finally gotten around to calling its political targets Nazis. It's actually kind of reassuring; a right-wing screed without Hitler Tourette's is like a day without sunshine or a conspiracy theory without the Vatican. The mediocre CGI train screeches to a halt in a shower of sparks and the engineer sasses Kip about how easy or difficult it is to fix something like that. Which means that Chalmers calls up James Taggart and demands a quick ride to his campaign stop in California or all hell will break loose. Taggart calls the recently promoted operations chief and tells him to use an old coal-burning engine to tow the disabled train through Taggart Tunnel and get Chalmers where he wants to go (over the new guy's protests, saying it's not safe to use a coal-burning engine in an eight-mile-long tunnel). Taggart threatens the new guy's job, too, which seems to me like something that wouldn't be possible in the post-Directive 10-289 world, but probably we shouldn't think too much about it.

The train continues onward, with Kip Chalmers patting himself on the back for having enough clout with Taggart to get the train moving again and whoever the hell the British guy is makes a literal toast to political pull. But there's a freight train approaching on the same track, and at the same time smoke from the coal-burning engine suffuses the passenger compartments; the woman Kip was bragging to about his mad political skillz panics and pushes the emergency brake and the switch that's meant to shunt the freight train to another track doesn't work (I guess because looters and moochers installed it). Which means we get another train wreck in the second movie, and the tunnel appears to collapse from the explosion (maybe--there's some falling rocks and soil but it's a dimly lit and brief shot).

Back at Dagny's cabin, Francisco D'Anconia shows up to congratulate Dagny on packing up and riding out instead of continuing to keep Taggart Transcontinental working out of a sense of obligation, and to the benefit of the government looters who wanted her to use her unique genius to inadvertently keep the country functioning a little bit longer. He also tells Dagny that he destroyed his own mines in order to walk away from a system he hates. Seconds after that confession, Eddie Willers calls Dagny up to tell her about the train wreck and the complete destruction of the tunnel. She decides that the family business is too important to leave in her dipshit brother's hands and pledges to go back to Taggart HQ to start fixing things. Francisco tells her not to.

Back at the control room at Taggart headquarters, the entire rail map is red and everyone Dagny names as people she wants on her crisis team are missing in action. She looks at old route maps and sketches out a workaround to keep things moving, even at a reduced pace and capacity. Wesley Mouch calls in on their command screen, which is a thing I guess he can do, and Dagny tells him it was government interference that caused the train wreck because safety for the public is the overriding concern of all corporations. Mouch offers a special exemption to the Directive 10-289 rules if Dagny fixes things, and she tells him to get bent (I am paraphrasing). He smiles and thanks her for her service, then hangs up. Dagny leaves for Colorado via train because she wants people to trust her company.

Back in Utah, Quentin Daniels gets the arc reactor to work (I think by charging it up by hooking it to power lines, but this scene is indistinctly blocked so I don't really know--it could be that when he got it to work it started making the power transformers outside throw sparks). The motor stays on and an offscreen voice asks him if he's ready and then the screen cuts to black.

The train that Dagny was riding on has stopped, and the Taggart repair dude who shows up to fix it recognizes her on sight because she's a business legend who needs to be praised ceaselessly. He's wearing a beat up old 20th Century Motors cap and implies that he used to have a great job working for them until the company went under. He asks "Who is John Galt?" when Dagny queries about why the company went under and then says he probably started the phrase himself when the plant went under. Because, you see, John Galt worked with him at the auto plant in the cactus-dotted deserts of Starnesville, Wisconsin. When Old Man Starnes died his offspring took over the company and organized it along Communist principles (as second-generation business tycoons would naturally do). John Galt quit in disgust, the auto company fell apart and one of the line workers eventually showed up to provide vital third-act exposition in this movie. The last tidbit that the track worker supplies is a vow from John Galt to stop the motor of the world. Which makes him sound a bit more like Dr. Doom than a hero of the oppressed business-owning class, honestly.

Dagny arrives at some conclusion or other after hearing the story of the real John Galt and takes the Taggart company truck from the track worker. While gassing it up (and the shot of the price skyrocketing on the gas pump is another very welcome sign of wit from the filmmakers) she calls Quentin Daniels to tell him she knows who created the magic engine he's been futzing around with. He says he was just about to call her to resign, and hangs up the laptop. Dagny drives off to buy a plane and try get to Utah and track him down, coincidentally enough seeing him run to a futuristic VTOL plane at the dinky airport she wants to land at. Pursuing him brings us to the very beginning of the movie again (though the F/X shots of her plane in flight are executed poorly enough that they'd be noticeably bad on an episode of "M.A.N.T.I.S."). She flies through some kind of hologram of a mountain or force field or something that disrupts the jet's controls and manages not to die as she sets the plane down in a field. She's concussed and trying to crawl from the wreckage when someone backlit by the sun (obscuring his face) shows up to assist her, and announces himself as John Galt. She takes his hand just in time for part II of the story to end.

Well, if the IMDB hadn't told me that this movie cost about one and a half times as much as the first one I would never have guessed it. Everything about the film oozes Cormanian cheapness, from the cut-rate cast made up of people who weren't in the first movie to the tiny crowds of protesters and supporters in the big payoff scenes to the visible green-screen lines around people standing next to a train or in the flying scenes at the beginning / end. And the repeated scenes of grandstanding billionaires whining that people don't love them enough are much more grating in this film than in the first one. John Galt's vow to destroy progress is the kind of thing a Bond villain would threaten to do rather than a heroic act. Other than the admittedly fun "spot the character actor" game that's easy to play during this film and the previous one, there's not a lot to recommend for a casual viewer. And the target audience didn't go for it in any great numbers either; Box Office Mojo reports its take at three and a third million dollars against a production budget of ten million; they spent more on this film and made less than the first one.

I can honestly applaud the drive and talent that go into making a dream project; I remember going to see the Dungeons and Dragons movie on its opening weekend because the director was someone who spent eleven years trying to get that film made (I was quite disappointed by that one as well, as was anyone else who spent money to see it).

John Aglialoro, the executive producer of the Atlas Shrugged films, spent nearly two decades working to get the story on movie screens, including a version in 2007 that reportedly would have featured Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart (Lions Gate passed on it and the project fell apart). When the time on his option was running out he decided to finance and produce the movie himself rather than wait for Hollywood to work with him. He got three movies put together in four years, and also got them in theaters. He also was dedicated to the project enough to put twenty million dollars of his own money into the films, a mark of absurd dedication. And he got about a third of that money back, which is a real shame because he had to have sweated blood for half a decade to produce these films, not counting the twelve years where he attempted to put deals together but nothing jelled.

But if he'd made more interesting movies they would have at least recouped their costs. Michael Moore made a film just as politically active and relevant in 2004 with Fahrenheit 9/11, and that one brought home $191 million worth of bacon in theaters on a six million dollar production budget. The difference is that Moore knows a great deal about the presentation of a cinematic image and he's a filmmaker with a political axe to grind. Aglialoro has a political axe to grind first and made the movie to service that. There's a massive, massive difference there and one that unfortunately people can detect. If the invisible hand of the free market is the arbiter of artistic success, it gave Aglialoro and his movies the finger.

Atlas Sucked: Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt?




Screenplay by James Manera, Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro (based on the novel by Ayn Rand)
Directed by James Manera

Laura Regan:  Dagny Taggart (Mark III)
Greg German:  James Taggart (Mark III)
Joaquim de Almeida:  Francisco D'Anconia (Mark III)
Rob Morrow:  Henry Rearden (Mark III)
Louis Herthum:  Wesley Mouch (Mark III)
Kristoffer Polaha:  John Galt (Mark III)

With STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKI! as Dr. Hugh Akston

You can't keep a good terrible idea down. Despite the fact that the first two movies adapting Ayn Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged lost several million dollars between them, John Aglialoro went ahead and made a third movie to wrap up the story. This one made $846,000 in its theatrical run, which means that even the audiences that showed up to the first two ignored this one. That's got to sting--it can be taken for granted that critics are going to take a shit on this particular magnum opus. If Aglialoro and the other filmmakers thought they had a massive hit on their hands the first two times, the reception with the general public had to have cured that misconception in 2011. Looks like every single cast member declined to return also as well, so there are three completely different casts for three movies.

And I have to say I harbored a suspicion that this movie was going to be the barn-burning 65-page, one-paragraph speech from the end of the novel, delivered in real time by whoever was going to play John Galt this time. I was hoping they went with that, because eight or ten months later the best Bad Lip Reading that would ever be possible to make would come out, and it would have John Galt talking about how alcohol and its influences were a big part of the background with Chicken Beak Boy.

On to the film. An onscreen title announces that it takes place "the day after tomorrow", which means we're going to get massive flooding, Jake Gyllenhaal running away from cold weather and dire CGI wolves (not, sadly, CGI direwolves). Oh, no, wait, we're not getting that. We're getting a flashback to a 20th Century Motors workers' meeting narrated by a voiceover dude, with dialogue by characters as well. So it's a flashback to the future. Sort of like the beginning of Plan 9 from Outer Space that announces CRISWELL PREDICTS and then gives the viewer a rambling monologue in which Criswell does not actually predict a single thing. Turns out the children of the car company's owner took the reins after his death, and set up a Communistic salary structure (as hereditary billionaires often do). Everyone was supposed to work as hard as they could, but the people who said they needed the most money got paid a larger share than other workers.

One beefy-faced middle-aged line worker stands up to say he doesn't accept this newfangled way of "sharing" but we don't actually get to hear his no doubt awesome and persuasive speech. We do get to hear the vow to "stop the motor of the world", revealing that this man of courage and action who bravely walks off the job can be no other than John Galt himself. There is general consternation from the assembled workers as he leaves, and then the narrator says over the next twelve years lots of businesses collapsed. There's also a recap of the back story of the first two movies wherein gas is so expensive that planes and cars are no longer economically viable, but somehow trains are (this is a sop to the fans of the novel, since updating Taggart Transcontinental to be an airline would be a betrayal of Ayn Rand's defining moral principles.

The narrator continues, letting the viewer know that all the geniuses of business and finance who toiled endlessly to keep the country working have vanished and how Mister Midnight's John Galt's plan to wreck society because people share too much might actually be working. I'm positive the director didn't plan for it, but I found the start of the movie to be nostalgically comfortable. Stock footage of semi-related things? Portentous voiceovers? It's like I'm watching a Universal monster flick from 1958 instead of the third part of a failed literary adaptation.

And incidentally, for those of you who were wondering why on Earth the filmmakers would burn five minutes of precious running time with a recap of the first three movies (because there is no person alive who would watch this movie without already having seen the prior two entries in the trilogy):  It does happen. I've seen Death Wish 3 more than half a dozen times, but never watch part one or part two. Prologue over, it's time to revisit Dagny Taggart's plane crash (using some footage from the second film and some new material because we've got the third actress in three films playing the same part). I imagine there's a discount rack of James Taggarts and John Galts at the movie parts store right next to the shelf where the new model James Bonds are kept.

Anyway, the newest regeneration of Dagny Taggart has crashed her plane following a mysterious other plane, and John Galt his own damn self comes to the wreck to tell her not to move. Then he picks her up, making sure to move her neck and spine as much as humanly possible while taking her to get medical treatment. Totally awesome philosopher Dr. Akston shows up to get Dagny's luggage from the plane crash and cheer me up because it's always great to see Stephen Tobolowski in anything. Akston also tells Dagny that John Galt is the man who invented the arc reactor magical static electricity motor that she spent the last movie searching for. "Midas" Mulligan, a bank CEO, is also in this mysterious hidden valley ranch, and says hi to Dagny when she gets loaded into a pickup truck so she won't have to walk all the way to a doctor. Mulligan says that only Dagny and Hank Rearden were missing from the collection of unique billionaire tycoon geniuses who singlehandedly kept the American economy from collapse through their unappreciated efforts.

A neurosurgeon famous enough for Dagny to recognize his name even with a serious head injury shows up to make sure she's not going to die or anything. He's got an X-Ray tricorder that he invented himself, and wishes every doctor could have one but there's just too much regulation from the government to make that feasible (not mentioned:  Who would be paying for all the diagnostic iPads that every doctor in America should have?). Dagny doesn't have any serious injuries, though bathing her body in hard radiation for the diagnosis means she either won't be able to have kids or if she does, they'll look like melted Pokemon. Dagny demands to pay the medical bill herself, which at least means she has the iron-willed resolve and self-determination that Ayn Rand demonstrated in her own real life. Galt carries Dagny up to a bedroom and says it's her choice whether she's going to be a guest at his house or a prisoner (presumably in his sex dungeon).

Then it's time for more stock footage and narration. To sum up:  Rumors spread of Dagny's disappearance, people are in a bread line, the sun sets, a boat has partly tipped over and a still picture of a guy in a fisherman's cap stands in for pirate Ragnar Danneskjold's daring sea raid on a government relief ship. (Also, I should point out here that Part III appears to have been shot on video, while the first two movies looked more like they were filmed on real film.) Dagny and Galt go to a dinner party held at Midas Mulligan's (where the vanished-tycoon attendees are overwhelmingly white with the occasional Asian or black person in the background in a nonspeaking role). Dagny gets a standing golf-clap ovation from the assembled partygoers. Mulligan mentions that he fled from America when his banks were forced to make loans to people who couldn't pay them back (because the evil government forces wanted him to lose money, I guess). If that dialogue is taken directly from the novel, then consider just what kinds of loans banks would have to be forced by government action to make before the civil rights marches of the early 1960s. I'm guessing that the 1957 version of Mulligan's bank had "NO JEWS NO DOGS NO COLOREDS" signs on every teller window.

The neurosurgeon says he had to opt out of American society completely because politicians with no medical training were making decisions about medicine. Galt says all the genius CEOs that made America strong and productive went on strike, punishing the country with their absence. I'm pretty sure that if the CEO of McDonalds disappeared in the Rapture tomorrow, the various stores would still be able to sell McNuggets without his guidance and wisdom. Galt gives a speech about how charity is fine and all, but only if the person giving out the money gets to decide what people do with it. He also says he doesn't feel guilty about his success, and he shouldn't. But that haircut? Yes, he should be consumed with shame. The feathered half-mullet is a style whose time shall never come.

Ellis Wyatt, the oil tycoon who set his wells on fire before going on strike, introduces himself to Dagny (and the audience, because this version of the character looks like a background extra from the Grand Ole Opry's salute to Deadwood rather than the previous two movies' CEOs). Dagny chides him (she sounds kind of stoned in this scene, and the doctor from earlier says she didn't have a concussion) and Wyatt says he couldn't keep supporting a system that was trying to destroy him. Because billionaires have to put up with just so much shit. Then Mulligan joins in on their pity party and congratulates Dagny for running away from everything she ever knew because she wasn't appreciated enough.

Oh, cripes, it's another stock footage / still photo montage. Ragnar Dannaskjold doesn't even get a single picture in this one, but another picture of a boat represents him sinking a copper shipment, which means that power outages continue in America. Back at Galt's cabin, Dagny is told by her host that she should stay for a month to decide whether or not the outside world has anything for her to return to, but then (over breakfast, no less) Galt also tells her that nobody eats for free in his magical capitalist utopia. Also, while he's dropping news on her, he says they use gold for currency exclusively, not the corrupted statist construct known as "paper money". Dagny offers to work as Galt's personal maid and housekeeper for room, board and spending cash--which is actually pretty sensible, because it's not like they have a crying need for railroads in Galt's Gulch. I wonder who grew the oranges for their breakfast juice (and raised the pigs that became their delicious bacon, and grew the cotton that their fashionable blue-collar jeans and flannel shirts were made from, and so on and so on).

While driving Dagny around (did Ellis Wyatt personally refine the oil that Galt's Land Rover is burning?) they pass Francisco D'Anconia's swinging bachelor pad. Also, he's driving on a paved road with a double yellow line down the middle, which makes me wonder if Paul Ryan's family got the paving contract for the freeway there. A giant wad of striking tycoons hang out at a farmer's market exchanging gold coins for goods and services (and everyone's dressed like they're hoping for a callback from the L. L. Bean catalog people, which is how billionaires dress in the real world all the time). The elusive Ragnar Dannaskjold is there buying free-range antibiotic free chicken and he explains that he only stole from ships carrying things paid for by governments. He also doesn't pay for the apple he snagged from a picturesque wooden basket, the thieving sack of shit.

Speaking of shitbags, the third regeneration of James Taggart shows up in another montage to say that just because there's a shortage of copper wire, there's no reason to expect late shipments of Minnesota wheat via Taggart Transcontinental freight trains. I didn't know the trains needed copper wire, but I'm not a CEO in a movie. James also declares that his sister is dead following the disappearance of her plane--which I'm not entirely sure he knew she bought, or was flying. But roll with it.

The "Head of State", Mr. Thompson, is talking to his cabal of yes-men and ass-kissers about science, and how people shouldn't own science just because they invented a thing. He also says that it's a public right to share in scientific advancement, even if that means scientists don't make money off their achievements. The Ayn-Rand-didn't-want-to-call-him-the-President then alludes to a forthcoming speech that should be carried on "all the networks", mentions the ominous sounding "Project F", and says that drastic future measures will be necessary to protect the public.

But enough of that ill-defined political horseshit, let's go back to Dagny and Galt! John Galt praises Dagny's great-grandfather, who was in charge of the railroad back when Chinese slave labor daring innovation led to massive expansion. He also explains the history of Taggart Transcontinental to Dagny, who naturally wouldn't have known about the century-old family rail business that she used to run singlehandedly. They both talk about the still-standing Taggart Bridge that connects the two halves of the country, which means it's probably going to collapse by the end of the film. The only way they could make its demise more certain would be to mention that it had only two weeks to go until retirement or point out that it knows Charles Bronson. Galt says he personally invited everyone living in the Gulch other than Dagny, who got there by accident (but also by following leads on the clever people he'd invited there earlier). Galt tells Dagny that she's got to choose whether or not to stay, and we get a wonderfully flat line reading from Laura Regan:  "But I love the railroad my great-grandfather built". What's the exact opposite of selling a line? Because that is what just happened. Galt abruptly says good night and leaves Dagny to conk out in the guest room. The wood-beamed ceiling has carved encouragements from all the other tycoons and geniuses that stayed in Galt's guest bedroom, one of the rare examples of human sentiment to be found in any of the films.

The movie pauses for an interlude to tell the audience that Francisco D'Anconia destroyed the copper mines that had sustained his family business for centuries; with all the tunnels caved in there was no way to extract any more copper over the whole entire world. We get footage from the second film for this scene rather than just a picture of a gravel quarry standing in for an exploding copper mine.
Francisco himself shows up at Galt's rustic country cabin the next morning, He and Galt talk briefly before the strike's mastermind takes Dagny out to look at the super awesome free-energy motor he built to run the Gulch. Instead of "Speak, friend, and enter" as the passphrase to unlock the indestructible shed door that protects the valley's power plant, there's a phrase that's probably the Orange Lantern oath. Once Galt recites it the door opens automatically. He won't let Dagny in unless she swears the same vow of eternal selfishness, so she (and the audience) don't get to see the bigger version of the mystery engine from the second movie quite yet.

More driving and state-park scenery follows; the cinematic equivalent of sawdust in the bread flour. Dagny and John Galt get to know each other in a silent montage of routine power equipment maintenance and canoe-polishing. Both actors seem quite a bit more charming when we don't hear anything they're saying. Their candlelit dinner features Akston Vineyard wine; I don't know how long the strike's been going on but doesn't it take a while to grow grapes, stomp them into pulp, let it ferment and become wine, and then bottle the stuff? Or is Akston--who, remember, is a philosophy professor and not a viticulturist--just printing up labels and sticking them on bottles full of boxed wine? We may never get the true answer to this question. It does seem to be one of Rand's axioms that someone who is effective in one field (hereditary control of a corporation) is supposed to be fantastic at others (jet piloting); perhaps all of her super awesome runaways in Galt's Gulch are just supposed to be inherently great at everything they try to do. That's actually one of the most realistic parts of the film; after all, actors make great singers every single time they try it.

Back at the brand new D'Anconia mine (I do not know what the Gulch needs with a copper mine, but there is one), Dagny plans for a three-mile rail line that will help her ex-boyfriend's copper mine produce more ore more efficiently; I don't know who she's going to get to make the rails and lay the track, but she sure does have a little notebook with a sketch in it. She says the track can be laid down in ninety days; I guess Rand really does think anyone who is rich can automatically do anything they decide to do.

Over in the Akston vineyards (a bottle says 2012 on it, but the movie takes place in the future, so I guess it's a future 2012 just like the future dystopia of 1994 from The Apple), the professor explains to Dagny that society is run by incompetents with too much power because they believe you can take from one man and give to another. Akston believes that individual achievement is more important than what anyone can do for other people, and to prove it he has left the Gulch to live a life of total solitude and avoidance of the contaminating influence of doing anything near anyone else. Oh, wait, he didn't do that at all. Anyway, Akston talks about how people aren't entitled to be alive unless they earn it, and how all the CEOs and movers and shakers need to accept that they can't just keep doing things out of the goodness of their hearts to save all the peons that would be lost without guidance. Akston says the system only stays propped up because the achievers and builders want to keep producing (which is kind of odd, because Taggart Transcontinental doesn't actually produce anything--they don't make their own rails, they don't mine the coal that some engines use or refine the fuel that other ones do, and they don't build their own engines).

It's great seeing what a world-class "that guy" can do with this material, and Stephen Tobolowsky was worth twice his paycheck for this film. It's amazing what a competent actor can do with material that sounds like it was written as the prologue for the Robot Holocaust, and Tobolowsky is far, far, far too overqualified to be saying any of this garbage. But because he is a genuine trouper he commits to the role and sells the hell out of it. I hope he got a new car out of this.

Hey, time for another still photo and narration interlude! The President is still planning to give a speech. Hank Rearden is still looking for Dagny Taggart. The pine forests of wherever the stock footage was shot are green. Rearden does a flyover of the Gulch (hidden by a cheap special effect that looks more than a bit like the forcefield in The Cabin in the Woods); Ragnar Danneskjold recognizes the pilot from 9,000 feet below on the ground; that night, Galt and D'Anconia decide they need to move ahead with Operation:  Hank Rearden Needs To Be In Our Clubhouse while drinking moderately heavily. Later that night, Dagny and Galt talk about when he first started stalking her while eating cake.

The State Science Institute builds lethal crowd control weapons (illustrated by stock footage of existing weapons systems intended to be used against unarmed American civilians who get ideas above their station). And the Taggart Tunnel, still blocked by a landslide, is the only way to get from one side of the country to the other (apparently none of the moochers figured out how to take a train to the nearest depot on one side of the tunnel and drive over the mountains on existing roadways, then get on a train on the other side of the tunnel. It's inelegant, but it works much better than not doing anything). Then we go back to the John Galt Encounter Group Conversation Pit where everyone present wants to know if Dagny is going to go on strike with them or not.

Galt is planning to go back to New York City for some reason or other; Dagny has another day or so to decide whether or not she's joining the strikers (the movie does not raise the issue of whether she'll be allowed to leave if she wants to go back to the world, since she knows the location of Galt's Gulch and the evil forces of socialism and government control would sure like to get all its geniuses back--I imagine Galt, D'Anconia, Mulligan, Wyatt and all the others would be perfectly capable of living with themselves if they had to shoot Dagny in the back of the head eight or ten times and then throw her off a cliff). Anyway, Galt says if he returns to the world it will be so he can retrieve the only thing he wants for himself (which is probably the last Twinkie in existence). Mulligan predicts nationwide riots, food shortages, rolling power blackouts and--worst of all--a railroad bridge collapsing. When she hears about that last item on that list, Dagny realizes she can't let the world fall apart so badly that a railroad bridge will fall down and she has to go back to American civilization.

Galt makes Dagny pinky swear that she won't tell anyone about Galt's Gulch, and that she'll come up with some kind of explanation of where she's been for the last thirty days other than "I know who John Galt is now and he's living under a cheap effect of a hologram in Colorado"--she also isn't allowed back except by invitation. That night, Dagny and Galt converse through a closed bedroom door about whether or not it's a good idea for John Galt to go anywhere out of the Gulch since he's got to be an enemy of the state by now. He says he'll leave so he can stalk Dagny again in case she wants to return to Sulktropolis with the other billionaires in jean jackets.

Galt flies Dagny out of the Gulch after blindfolding her so she can't find the place again (although she found it the first time, so I'm not certain how much use that will be). There's some more foresty-mountainy travelogue footage at this point. I think the movie would be about half an hour shorter if all the re-establishing shots of houses, stock footage, and scenic views were excised. Add in the driving, flying and locomoting scenes and there might well be forty solid minutes of padding in a ninety-nine minute film.

Dagny's departure from the plane when it lands is shot in a manner that almost disguises that her departure and arrival were filmed on the same day, probably about ten minutes apart from each other, at the same location. She gets on a Taggart train and leaves for New York City; apparently none of the employees on the train recognize their CEO and she doesn't pull the "Do you know who I am?" routine to get a first-class seat. She gets back to the Big Apple and her brother plans to announce she's back; meanwhile, in a scene too thrilling to actually show, loyal Rearden Steel workers are killed by violent, government-sanctioned union thugs that try to take over a plant (as often really happened during the history of organized labor in the United States). And wheat from Minnesota is not getting shipped to the East Coast because there aren't enough working trains to get it there. Could things get any worse?

There's a lot of "meanwhile" in this movie, and here's another one. Meanwhile, the head of the State Science Institute takes a forced meeting with one of the Head of State's political operatives. The politician tells the science guy that the Head of State is expecting full cooperation with the new political order. Project F turns out to be about eight pieces of paper with some typing on it in a single folder; the scientist immediately recognizes a cheap prop depicted therein as some kind of torture device and is incensed that his research was used to build it. He buckles like a Pilgrim shoe when threatened by the government stooge and signs off on whatever Project F is supposed to be. I'm not entirely sure why the Head of State needed a science bureaucrat to approve of whatever was going on, or why the public would be okay with it if some grant proposal writer said it was okay, but whatever.

Back at Taggart HQ, the wonderfully named Cuffy Meigs (with a mandate from Washington) is ordering route cancellations and re-routings of existing Taggart lines. He wants something called the "grapefruit special" sent in while the recently returned Dagny wants that Minnesota wheat sent to market, damn it! Her brother James explains the Railroad Unification Act, which is meant to nationalize the railroad industry and make them redistribute their profits. Either James doesn't actually know anything about the act or he's dogshit at explaining it; either way, Dagny wants no part of it. Meanwhile, in California, a lineman for Taggart notices a bad signal on the line and calls Eddie Willers (Dagny's personal lieutenant for overseeing Taggart TC) to warn him that something's going to happen somewhere soon but not to give any information that might make it possible to prevent the catastrophe. Thanks, guy!

Back at the office, Dagny tries to make some profit and ship some wheat to market, but the government regulation makes this impossible. Jim made plans for the Taggart duo to go to a dinner at a shmancy hotel in New York City and pitch a plan to the Head of State to move some wheat to market; Dagny relents, grudgingly. All of the government apparatchiks are tuxedo-wearing white men smoking cigars and talking about how important it is to let Minnesota die to save the rest of the country--which doesn't even make sense in the world of the film; Minnesota is doing fine! They have tons of wheat and will be eating wheat and wheat byproducts for the next thirty years. It's everyone else who was hoping to get some grains in their diet that's looking at a future without hot dog buns and pizza crust. And considering the "share and share alike" government that the movie's railing against is likely to distribute Minnesota's wheat relatively evenly to everyone, nobody in Fictitious Abandoned Minnesota will be starving to death (though they're likely to want something other than wheat after some time).

Meigs also lets it drop that the real reason for keeping the rail lines open is so that peacekeeping troops can be moved around easily (which they couldn't do if there was wheat involved). Meigs talks about being courageous enough to kill thousands to save millions; other people at the table say that California wants to secede from the country and that two tax collectors were killed by the roving gangs that have taken over Oregon. All the tuxedoed government goons raise their brandy snifters in salute when they decide to let Minnesota fall while Dagny leaves, having gotten a call from Eddie Willers about a bunch of broken switches and immobile trains. Dagny's the only one awesome enough to figure out how to get the trains moving (by having people hold up individual signal lanterns along the affected parts of the route). She's giving orders to the crowd of track workers when she spots John Galt in the crowd and flees after dispatching her retirement-age white men to save the day.

Dagny runs down to a maintenance room in an underground tunnel; Galt pursues. They gaze into each others' eyes by the high voltage switches and their lips meet as they stand by an office table. Their soft-focus love scene consists of numerous dissolve shots of them kissing and / or embracing while someone noodles on a piano. Criminally, the movie does not show a train going into a tunnel in the one scene where it really, really should have. Sated, Dagny goes back above ground and has a giggle fit when an Alan Moore impersonator asks her who John Galt is.

Rearden's had all he can stand with this "taking care of other people" bullshit and joins the strike. Head of State Thompson promises that the economy is turning a corner, and that with hard work everything will turn out exactly like he planned. And Eddie Willers tells Jim Taggart's wife that he's an empty suit who took credit for all of Dagny's achievements. We don't actually get to see Rearden join the strike, hear the Presidential speech or watch Mrs. Taggart's realization; it's just another narrated segment meant to glue parts of the film together that they actually had the money and time to produce. Mrs. Taggart apparently took it really hard, because the chief economist for the Head of State, Dr. Floyd Ferris, is reading a newspaper during breakfast where her death is front page news. He calls Taggart in order to fail to extend his condolences and also extract a promise from James that his sister Dagny will be there for the Head of State's big speech.

James, for his part, has a flashback to all the cruel things he said about his wife's background as one of The Poors and how he was a genius who deserved all the money he had (which is the dialogue that makes him sound the most like Dagny or Hank Rearden or any of the characters on strike). Dagny has a flashback to Cheryl Taggart begging forgiveness for not knowing that Dagny actually ran the railroad and built the John Galt line while soap opera piano music tinkles on the soundtrack. I like to think that Cheryl immediately ran into traffic so she could die in a state of grace, having been granted absolution by Dagny for her sins against capitalism. We don't see anything of the sort; if I didn't know this was adapted from a novel I would have assumed the actress quit or got fired and they just cobbled together a scene to explain her absence without showing why she was gone.

Next it's time for the Head of State's big speech; Dagny realizes that her political enemies only love her for what she can do for them, and not for her innate genius. She walks off seconds before Thompson's big announcement. It's a moot point because the big speech is pre-empted by John Galt, who hacks into the airwaves to give a speech of his own. The "revolutionary gets his message out" scene is one of my favorite science-fiction tropes; after all, it was Telstar I that made it possible for the world to see what was going on below the Mason-Dixon line when cops used attack dogs on children.

A parenthetical note, here:  Mass communication kills fascists. My friend over at 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting once told me that the Soviet-era Red Army had three photocopiers for the entire organization, because the political structure was terrified of people being able to communicate with each other easily. Nicolae Caeusescu's regime in Romania was one where people needed a government permit in order to own a typewriter. So this future socialist dystopia would have to shrivel and die upon contact with the truth as Galt delivers it. This is the climax of the novel, the 68-page, one-paragraph rant about the virtues of selfishness. And with less than forty minutes to go in the running time it seems likely that Galt isn't going to be able to deliver the full tirade. But this would be the very moment that everyone in the audience was looking for--the insane bravery of the first striker hitting back at the decadent and useless government and showing people the way forward.

It's not a terrible speech, either, although it has to be delivered in an utterly unrecognizable world because Randian Bad Future America is one where CEOs are supposed to feel bad for being at the top of the heap, whereas here in the actual world Steve Jobs gets to be on the cover of Newsweek while a nation overlooks the Chinese slave labor that builds the gadgets that his company sells. Even if Donald Trump was capable of feeling shame, it wouldn't be the American government that wanted him to feel it. I'm also disappointed that the speech shows John Galt in a shadowy room where you can't see his mouth--I was hoping for a genuinely epic Bad Lip Reading video a few months after this film hit DVD. Sitting through all three films would have been worth it to see John Galt say "I think due to the presence of alcohol and its influences that had a lot to do with Chicken Beak Boy". Alas, it is not to be.

We get another fiction trope that I really like seeing as Galt gives his speech--the crowds of people in different locations watching it together, united by the message. It's hard to mess this up, and the filmmakers actually pull this off rather well. Galt wraps up his speech by telling the proletariat to rise up against their oppressors, which is a touch ironic coming from Ayn Rand, and dares them to be great in a world that respects achievement. They the film cuts to Sean Hannity talking about how awesome John Galt is for telling the truth. And when I think of courage in media and the willingness to tell the truth instead of a politically convenient and financially rewarding lie, Fox News would be the first and only name that would ever come to mind.

Also, I wonder if Hannity is jealous of Bill O'Reilly for getting a cameo in Iron Man 2 while he was stuck in this. On the one hand, the superhero film was loved by audiences as opposed to ignored and tolerated by critics instead of being reviled, but on the other hand the entire point of Bill O'Reilly's cameo in the Marvel flick is that the viewer is supposed to think he's a complete asshole. Half a dozen of one, six of the other.

Anyway, the people have heard Galt's message and they all want out of the doomed and corrupt system. And Glenn Beck shows up for a choppily edited cameo where he praises the hell out of Galt's message, calls himself a lunatic, and wears glasses that are way, way, way too small for his face. There's an (unseen and barely heard) crowd outside the White House chanting for Galt; the Head of State decides that something must be done. In a meeting with Dagny Taggart, Thompson says he's willing to cave in to Galt's demands--not that Galt has issued any--and Dagny tries to make herself understood as she says she doesn't know where to find the elusive revolutionary. And we get the third entry in the Cameo Pile-Up as Ron Paul talks about how sick the country is of endless war, government spying and economic doom. He doesn't get a chance to blame Jews for a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center before the clip ends, but they might have just run out of tape.

I'm not sure how to tie in the continued existence of Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and what certainly appeared to be a Fox News show in Liberal Socialist America; one would assume that at the very least the Fairness Doctrine would have been reimposed or that equal time for non-insane commentators would have been required. That's if the Head of State didn't take the easiest route and just jail anyone who disagreed with him (which is what real tyrant dictators do with their political enemies). It's one more element that cries out for some kind of explanation in a movie not particularly interested in giving any.

Back in her office, Dagny finds John Galt's name and address from the Taggart Transcontinental employee files and writes it down, then breaks the flash drive she was using to store the info. It's still in Taggart's central files, which means that one Head of State executive order later, the jackbooted government thugs would have it. Turns out Galt is living in a crummy inner-city apartment (according to the exterior shots) or a building with immaculately clean hallways and rooms (if you go by the interiors). Or the federal thugs could just follow Dagny when she finds where Galt is living and land on him with both feet, which Galt is expecting and planning for. He also tells Dagny she just signed up to be a double agent, because the Head of State knows that if he won't cooperate, they can threaten Dagny to ensure his compliance. They make a quick plan to keep Dagny safe and we get one little shot at a brand new (and significantly less impressive) prop of the magic static-electricity motor before the cops arrive. I understand that they needed to replace the cast twice (because the filmmakers literally did not know or try to find out how to cast a movie before doing the first sequel, and because they had so little money for the second one) but surely someone must have hung on to the arc reactor prop after the second movie was made! Well, I guess they didn't do that, because we get a few seconds to look at some kind of science-fair project with spinning tinfoil fan blades in a plastic cylinder before the cops show up.

John Galt is white, so they knock on the door before they break it down. Dagny lets them in and asks if she's going to get paid for turning Galt in; he sets his magic electric motor thingy to self-destruct and when the cops use a battering ram to get into the closet where he had it stored, there's nothing but ash (although the walls are not even lightly singed, which means Galt is smart enough to make an ecologically clean way to wipe out his invention, or the set dressers were told that they couldn't mark up the walls without losing the damage deposit on the room).

Over at the meeting with Head of State Thompson, Galt uses his cell phone (which the Head of State Security Service did not confiscate) to call Dagny and let her eavesdrop on the conference. Galt says he's open to a deal, which Thompson takes to mean that they can work together. Galt, naturally, wants to know what he's going to get out of the deal and Thompson is too oily to give him any actual information. Galt says the only thing he really needs or wants is for the government to get out of his way and stop holding everyone back with laws and regulations that interfere with business. Thompson offers Galt what he thinks the genius billionaire tycoon wants--Wesley Mouch's job running the country's economy. Galt, who just flexed his power by singlehandedly destroying the American system, says that's too much power for anyone to hold and spits on the offer. Thompson responds by having Galt dragged off to the State Science Institute (rather than someplace like, say, Camp X-Ray).

Before we can find out what happens to Galt, we need the narrator to interrupt by saying that the long-foreshadowed collapse of the Taggart Bridge has happened. It's too expensive to show in the movie, so we just get a still frame and voiceover explaining that regulation finally brought the majestic structure down. I'm not sure how a series of federal inspection standards can corrode metal, but that's why I'm not a striking tycoon taking my country back. Francisco and Dagny meet up when she takes a taxi to somewhere or other; she swears the Galt Youth Women's Auxiliary oath and they get back in the cab to go to stock footage of a helicopter and get back to their clubhouse (with a freshly painted NO PROLETARIANS ALLOWED sign on the front door, I'm sure).

Back at the SSI, they've got a visibly bruised John Galt chained to a wall and they're going to use that Project F torture device on him (free hacky joke:  Just show him this movie on a loop! He won't just break--he'll shatter!) in order to break his will. James Taggart wants to watch Galt's will get broken, which sounds a little petty and extremely creepy. But he's had a bad week, so I'll let it slide. Oh, and Galt is handcuffed to the torture rack in a crucifixion pose, in case nobody out their understood that he's the good guy being unfairly brutalized by an evil government. Some sparks and lightning bolts cover Galt when they turn the Project F device on but he completely fails to get super powers.

Outside the SSI office (on the roof at first, but also on the ground floor), Dagny pulls a gun on a security guard who has been so weakened by society's moral training that he says "I'm not supposed to make decisions about my life" when given the option of opening the door for her or taking a bullet. That's what I like about Ayn Rand's dialogue--it's so real and naturalistic. Anyway, she murders him and it turns out the door he was guarding wasn't even locked. D'Anconia, Ragnar Dannaskjold and Dagny make their way inside to rescue Galt. The guard's body evaporates between shots, as if the budget wouldn't cover the extra lying down on the ground for another scene.

In the torture chamber, Cuffy Meigs vapor-locks the torture console and it won't keep hurting Galt. James Taggart has a complete mental breakdown when Galt diagnoses the problem and tells them how to fix it; it turns out that the evil government can't even torture John Galt without his awesome brain telling them how to do it. The functionaries drag Taggart out of the room and Galt apparently wills himself to die while they're gone. Dagny kisses him when she shows up in the room and he gets rescued, which is an act so altruistic I was expecting him to excommunicate everyone in the assault party who got him out of the torture chamber. Ragnar and Francisco run off to pick up Eddie Willers while the chopper leaves (they have Midas Mulligan waiting to extract them; I now like to imagine real world CEOs doing action movie stuff. Maybe Bill Gates has sniper training or Roger Smith was a world-class kickboxer).

The terrorist conspirators make their way back to Galt's Gulch as the lights symbolically go out in the White House, and then the entire countryside. Dagny says it's the end, but Galt is a man, and therefore correct when he says it's the beginning. The last image is of the Statue of Liberty, torch still lit, as the helicopter with Galt in it flies away to escape the deaths of tens of millions of Americans as the society collapses. But the score is triumphant, so let's be happy. In that spirit, here's the end title card from Destination Moon, a much better science fiction film from the Fifties.


Granted, I don't have twenty million dollars of my own money to sink into a movie trilogy, but I'm appalled that John Aglialoro couldn't come up with anything better than this. There's only so much anyone could do to polish a turd, but some kind of visible effort towards that end would have been much appreciated. The director and crew had so little knowledge of filmmaking technique demonstrated that they might as well have been members of a cargo cult replicating the actions they'd seen other people doing to end up with a movie. The dialogue is wretched (and straight from the source, I'm sure) and the performances ranged from tolerable to histrionic to visibly bored (sometimes from the same actors in the same scenes). Other than the occasional smartphone showing up in someone's hands there was absolutely no effort made to think about what it would mean to set a 1957 work of politically motivated speculative fiction in 2016 (or ten years after that, or something).

And even better (or worse) than the filmmakers' lack of artistic talent, the film and their efforts to make it didn't live up to their own politics. After failing to recoup their money on the first two films (proving, in Randian terms, that their films were worthless pieces of shit) the producers turned to Kickstarter to beg money off of strangers via the internet in order to make the third one. Because what better way could one possibly demonstrate the value of their own stated personal and artistic principles than to stomp on them like a bright red Allosaurus when it became obvious even to the most deluded of souls that they were throwing good money after bad for another attempt at making a film?


Happily enough, that's exactly what I wish could happen to the DVDs I bought. I have learned who John Galt is, and he is a giant moron with a political and economic system that is utterly unworkable as long as human beings are involved. But don't take my word for it--I'm a nobody from nowhere who just wrote about 20,000 words on his low-readership B movie blog. Take it from former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who was also a first-wave Objectivist and former lover of Ayn Rand herself; he was in a position unique in human history to demonstrate to a mocking world that Galtian self-interest and markets freed from regulation would bring about prosperity unparalleled in human history. And even he said he fucked up when he expected that to happen. After the fact, and after the economic collapse of 2008, but you can't have everything.

At least some poor son of a bitch is going to leave B Fest 2016 with the DVDs. Although, with my luck, I'll be the one who winds up winning them and I'll have to take them back home with me on the Drive of Shame.

And anyone who wishes to tell me how wrong I am about this; I'm afraid you can't use the internet to do so. DARPAnet was indeed funded by the yahoos of the American government who can never get anything to work; it's now the communications network that has changed everything about world society, one cat picture at a time. You'll have to send a letter (but not by the USPS) or call (although not over the federally-funded lines or via cell phone, because those calls are sent on the public-use band of the electromagnetic spectrum that the FCC oversees). I think you're stuck with smoke signals or yelling. Good luck with either.