Monday Morning Critic 4.11.2011 – Atlas Shrugged & Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

Political films as a rule generally suck. Any time you tackle politics with film it generally doesn’t handle it well. No matter which side of the aisle one happens to be on the actual film always panders to whichever side of the aisle the film-makers come from. You can’t help but notice that with Bobby, An American Carol, Fair Game, Rendition and any number of politically oriented films always suffer from that same problem. This leads me to the latest one to come out: Atlas Shrugged.

The first part of a planned trilogy adapting the acclaimed novel by Ayn Rand, this is a film getting into 200 theatres or so on a do it yourself basis it seems. Raising $10 million, this is a film getting little attention outside of the usual places. Most likely to get panned, mainly because many critics tend to overindulge films that appeal to their politics as opposed to their aesthetic sensibilities, the film intrigues me on a certain level because of this. It comes down to two questions for me. “Can the newfound “Tea Party” movement that has inspired many Americans bolster up the grosses of this film?” is the first one, and the easier one to discuss but the one I’m more fascinating with is the following.

Can this be a good film despite its ideological basis? The trailer left me fascinated and wanting to see this film quite a lot.

That’s the thing that intrigues me. There was a great film in Bobby, waiting to come out, but instead it devolved into big talking points that were either preaching to the choir or antagonizing its audience. It was supposed to be about a bunch of people and the impact of Bobby Kennedy’s last day on Earth. But unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. Who really thought it would, though? Not too many people, as the film’s middling box office grosses proved, and that’s because audiences are conditioned to avoid films with any sort of overt political bent. People don’t go to films for that. They go to escape, to be able to forget their problems for two hours. We don’t want to be reminded of them by some preachy actor in any fashion.

Escapism is a powerful thing, especially during dark times like we have now. It’s why schlock like Transformers is a license to print money. It’s also why Hollywood will never have a $300 million grossing blockbuster about a woman’s choice to have an abortion, with some evil man trying to “force” a crib midget on her. One can only imagine the big uplifting moment at the end when she walks out of a Planned Parenthood clinic, triumphant over the evil forces trying to prevent her from going to graduate school to get a degree in Feminist Studies.

People don’t want to have to think about big issues that inspire the worst in human relations in how we handle them in a movie theatre. And “Atlas Shrugged” the book, as well as the movie, are filled with and most likely going to be filled with them respectively. This is why the film intrigues me.

Can a relatively unknown cast and a director who is making his feature film debut overcome this tendency to preach as opposed to tell a story? The only time I’ve seen a film really do this well was Thank You for Smoking, which spoke of responsibility but without preaching about it. It also was a ridiculously funny and quite excellent film. Atlas Shrugged is being crafted by a guy with a defining moment as a thespian being a villain in a multiple episode arc of Beverly Hills 90210. Can he give a film that will resonate with more than a target audience? Or is this just the other side’s use of the Hollywood Screenwriter’s Plot SledgeHammer to beat Rand’s viewpoint into the audience?

The key to this film is whether or not “Atlas Shrugged” can be adapted into film, albeit a trilogy. Plenty of film makers and actors have been attached over the years to this project with no luck. Yet a bunch of relative unknowns and minor character actors managed to get $10 million because Ayn Rand’s book has grown from being the opus of a brilliant mind to one of the most read books in human creation.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Before he was a Pulitzer-prize winning film critic, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Time was a wannabe screenwriter who turned out some schlocky sex comedies. I know it’s hard to fathom but even Ebert has no problem discussing his brief career as a screenwriter. Thus comes Beyond the Valley of the Dolls from the hands of Russ Meyer, the “King of the Nudies.”

Following the tale of an all-female rock band that moves to Los Angeles to get rich and famous as rock stars, they wander into a world of sex and drugs with their rock and roll. What they get is a lot different, unfortunately, and what we get is a lot sex and rock & roll. And a ton of nudity, even by today’s standards, as you can’t go like 20 seconds without seeing full female nudity.

And that’s the thing that totally stands out.

It certainly isn’t the acting, the story, the dialogue or any other number of things. It must’ve been a different time but this is just pure schlock, an excuse to see boobies and sexual situations, and is kind of painful to watch. It’s not a bad film that you watch inherently because it’s bad, the “bad movie” bit that people love to trumpet for crap, but is just bad.

Recommendation to avoid at all costs.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Rio – A bird doesn’t that doesn’t like to fly is kidnapped. Wacky shenanigans ensue.

Skip It – It’s Alpha & Omega but with birds.

Scream 4 – Wes Craven goes back to the franchise that gave him immense popularity in the 1990s.

Skip It – What else does Craven have to say about modern horror films that he didn’t say already? This isn’t going to be a rebuke of torture porn … it smacks of a cynical cash in to me.

Atlas Shrugged (Pt 1) – The first part of a planned trilogy adapting Ayn Rand’s book of the same name. In limited release.

See It – So far the trailer looks really good and quite professional despite its DIY mentality and the low budget.

The Conspirator – A woman (Robin Wright) goes on trial for helping to conspire to kill Abe Lincoln. It’s up to a plucky attorney (James McAvoy) to defend her. In limited release.

See It – Redford’s usually money when it comes to films he helms.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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