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Book Reviews: Boys, Quakes and Cooking

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Michael Gurian’s The Purpose of Boys (Jossey-Bass, $ 26.95), because the author completely endorses the view that the purpose of boys—and presumably girls—is, of course, service to others. Self-denial runs throughout this thoughtful book, which appealed to me because the author, a family therapist, focuses on the development of boys in an often anti-boy culture. Dr. Gurian encourages parents and boys to embrace heroism—a rare advocacy these days. Here, too, Dr. Gurian’s definition falls short of man as a rational and selfish human being. He writes that he advises patients to think of the term HEROIC as an acronym for Honorable, Enterprising, Responsible, Original, Intimate, and Creative. Excellent ideals but check out what he means by being responsible: “a boy who cares about others’ needs, and becomes a man of service.” That means the boy must put others first—and himself last—in service of … whom? What? Why? Dr. Gurian’s right that boys are being seriously neglected. Sacrifice of boys (or girls) is not the cure.

A good beginner’s book for kids who want to understand earthquakes—which we’ve been experiencing here in southern California lately—is Earthquake! ($ 3.99, Aladdin Paperbacks) which is part of Simon & Schuster’s Natural Disasters series. The large print, 32-page edition by Marion Dane Bauer, with color illustrations by John Wallace, is scientific about how the earth moves, with facts about the earth’s movement presented in sequence with the three major types of fault movements. A few pages cover various myths about quakes, correctly described as “made up” stories, and the book includes a note to parents and teachers and sound advice on what to do during a quake. Earthquake! is Level One of the four levels in the publisher’s Ready-to-Read series, which means longer sentences and increased vocabulary for the beginning reader.

The Family Chef ($ 27.95, Celebra) by sisters Jill and Jewels Elmore contains very healthy soup, salad and family meal recipes for adults, babies and kids and it’s a well-organized cookbook for those who seek to replicate the food consumed by shapely actress Jennifer Aniston, who hired them and wrote the Foreword. Short notes are personal, fun, and sometimes educational, though the print is too small so use eyeglasses or contacts while cooking if you wear them. With a table of contents with chapter titles such as “Go, Fish!”, lots of white space and color photographs for each recipe, this is a handy kitchen reference for making relatively simple, light meals (assuming the reader is already familiar with different types of lettuce such as mache, Grenoble, and Parella) in international styles. I like the resources section, which provides addresses, Web sites and telephone numbers for the Elmore ladies’ favorite grocers, utensils and ingredients. Also included in The Family Chef: an index and a listing of their favorite food and cooking books—and movies (No Reservations, Ratatouille, and Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat, all highly recommended by me, too, especially Chocolat!)

Screen Shots: ‘Angels and Demons’

After seeing director Ron Howard’s sharp Frost/Nixon—and his Cinderella Man (a movie for these times)—I admit I had higher expectations for his new picture, Angels and Demons. I have not read the religious mystery novels by Dan Brown, and I do not plan to read them, upon which this sequel to Mr. Howard’s The Da Vinci Code is based.

Both pictures star Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon, who apparently hasn’t learned much since he took on the Pope in tracing Jesus Christ’s ancestry in the first movie, a middling whodunit that made a mint. The plot here is more focused, notched to a time-sensitive conspiracy to destroy the Catholic city-state known as the Vatican. But Angels and Demons sounds more exciting than it is.

Adopting the same agnostic theme that essentially sanctions faith over reason in a Catholic-themed crime thriller, the Sony picture—opposed by the Vatican like the first movie—is another slog.

After the Pope dies, Dr. Langdon, an instantly forgettable female Italian scientist, and various Roman and Vatican policemen race against time to solve the puzzle—never mind why the perpetrator leaves a trail—save the most likely men to become Pope, and stop the supposedly secular villains from blowing up the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square and everything nearby. The powers that be call upon the professor to help amid shifty, cigarette-smoking cops and cardinals (this is Rome after all, where it seems like everyone smokes). By the time it’s over, the plot has had it every which way—going back and forth between condemning and condoning the Catholic Church, which has denounced and persecuted men of reason for centuries.

The Hanks character is reduced to spotting symbols without providing intelligible context and observing the obvious, such as a statue pointing east as the clue to head east. That he risks his own life without so much as a nickel—let alone access to the Vatican archives to finish his latest work—strains credulity and undermines his status. Without much of a protagonist, despite a thrilling church shootout, an exciting climax and good turns by Stellan Skarsgard, Ewan McGregor, and Pierfranceso Favino, Angels and Demons is in dire need of action and a reason to exist. Watching people, including the prof, preach that faith is a gift amid a string of interesting but unrelated facts—such as the secular origins of Christmas and English as the language of “radicals”—is ultimately neither angelic nor demonic enough to engage the imagination.

Epics Coming to DVD: ‘Benjamin Button’, ‘We the Living’

Paramount releases last year’s best picture, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, on a special, two-disc DVD tomorrow. Though I have not reviewed the DVD (I reviewed the 2008 movie here), the product, which includes printed material, looks promising and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in this beautifully evocative movie again.

The slip-cased Criterion Collection package is presented in widescreen with the following features: a documentary called The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button; director David Fincher’s introduction; scoring, special effects and visual effects bonus bits and an audio commentary by Fincher. It’s also being released on a single disc DVD and on Blu-Ray. I plan to add DVD notes to my original review.

Another three-hour epic, We the Living, which was recut from an Italian pirate film released in fascist Italy and Europe as two separate pictures in 1942, is finally coming to DVD sometime this summer, according to reliable sources. This memorable movie version of Ayn Rand’s first novel (1936) premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 1986 and was released theatrically in 1988. I’ll have more to report about this exciting news—watch for my exclusive articles about We the Living—for this outstanding motion picture. If you haven’t read the exceptionally haunting novel, a new paperback edition is due out soon (first reported here).