Screen Shots: ‘The Hangover’, ‘Land of the Lost’

It will probably make tons of money, and be highly popular in today’s tasteless culture, which is steeped in South Park, The Simpsons and professional TV cynics who ramble and rant—Stewart, Colbert, Conan, O’Reilly-n-Olbermann—but The Hangover is pure trash. The heavily marketed crude comedy is bound to tickle at some point and that does not mean it is good humor.

The story of four uncivilized males going to Las Vegas for a bachelor party is the same old thing: like the subversively anti-abortion themed Knocked Up, the jaunt is a thinly disguised excuse to trot out traditionalism as man’s highest potential. Find a woman—and this movie is as anti-female as it is anti-male—for birthing babies, conform to society, and fit in with others while suppressing one’s baser instincts. In the meantime, since we’re all louses deep down, go ahead and make jokes about Nazi extermination of Jews, and the physical and sexual abuse of infants and children. Only Justin Bartha (National Treasure) fares well while an unkempt Seth Rogen/Jack Black type deadpans throughout the disgusting affair, which is so repulsive it’s sure to be praised as ingenious. Bradley Cooper plays the same lecherous guttersnipe character he did in He’s Just Not That Into You.

The Hangover is, as its title suggests, a snapshot of man at his lowest—urging us to believe this is the best a man can get. At one point, someone rationalizes the vulgarities with the line that “that’s what guys do.” Maybe, but it is not what men do. This is Beavis and Butthead with a bigger budget—strictly for the glazed over types that do not want to think. Also in that camp, and opening this Friday, Will Ferrell in Land of the Lost, an adaptation of an asinine Saturday morning TV show of the same name (it aired in the 1970s). As with everything Ferrell does, it is anti-conceptual. The absurdist comedy may appear harmlessly goofy on the surface, and the funniest bit is a joke on Cher, but Land of the Lost merely amounts to yet another example of human self-degradation. This weekend, stay away from the movies, and Tivo or Netflix real comedy—anything with Cary Grant, Doris Day, the Marx Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Mae West. At their worst, they put today’s crass cutups to shame.

Comment: the Death of Dr. George Tiller

Police have announced an arrest in yesterday’s murder of Wichita, Kansas, Dr. George Tiller. Apparently, the shooter is an anti-abortion Christian who approved of assassinating abortion doctors (sources: New York Times, Kansas City Star). If true, this is yet another act of religious terrorism in the United States.

According to a 1995 article in the Washington Post, a rundown of recent attacks match the tactics in an Army of God manual that police officers found buried in the yard of the Oregon woman convicted of shooting Dr. Tiller the first time in 1993. The manual states: “Annihilating abortuaries is our purest form of worship” and it gives explicit instructions for home-brewing plastic explosives, fashioning detonators, deactivating alarm systems, and cutting phone, gas and water lines.

From 1983 to 1995, there were 123 cases of arson, 37 bombings in 33 states, with over 1,500 cases of stalking, assault, sabotage and burglary (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and medical clinics). Of the 49 people prosecuted, all expressed anti-abortion views.

At the Women’s Pavilion Clinic in South Bend, Indiana, someone hacked holes in the roof with an ax, shot out the windows and sent repeated death threats to a staff gynecologist. A group called the Lambs of Christ regularly barricaded the doors and blockaded the driveway, despite repeated arrests. According to the Post, on Mother’s Day 1993, “someone connected a hose to the clinic’s outdoor spigot and fed it through the door’s mail slot, flooding the clinic’s entry room. The person or persons then poured in butyric acid, a nearly indelible substance that smells like feces and vomit and becomes more potent in water. The clinic had to shut down for 7 1/2 weeks to get rid of the smell.” The gynecologist told the Post that, after he was shot at as he drove home from work: “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I’m realistic enough.”

An anti-abortionist fired 23 shots at the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, Virginia in 1994. The clinic had been damaged by arson ten years earlier and bombed in 1985.

In 1993, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a clinic which does not perform abortions, was attacked by an arsonist.

That same year, a Brooklyn, New York, clinic was targeted with two Molotov cocktails, and a Bakersfield, California, clinic sustained $ 1.4 million in arson damages.

In 1994, Paul D. Hill shot two people to death at a Pensacola, Florida, clinic.

A nurse and clinic director in Little Rock, Arkansas, arrived home to find her neighborhood was papered with fliers calling her a “death camp worker.”

Remember, that information was reported in the Post in 1995. The violent religious crusade against a woman’s right to an abortion is likely to get worse under the religious President Obama, who waffled on abortion in yesterday’s statement on Dr. Tiller’s murder, describing a woman’s right to abortion as a “difficult” issue. The President, a Christian who opposes gay marriage, invited an anti-gay, anti-abortion preacher to speak at his inauguration in January.

For an excellent primer on the legal philosophy of a woman’s right to an abortion, read this examination by The Association for Objective Law (TAFOL) which specifically addresses the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. In the meantime, it remains unknown whether Obama’s Catholic Supreme Court nominee, self-described “latina” Sonia Sotomayor, supports the right to abortion.

A Voice of Opposition to Sonia Sotomayor

With a link to the text of her controversial speech, lawyer Tom Bowden of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights (ARC) provides the best argument against approving Judge Sonia Sotomayor as a member of the Supreme Court. His thesis, presented in a post to ARC’s blog, is that Judge Sotomayor is unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court because she rejects the concept of objectivity.

I agree with him. Since President Obama nominated Sotomayor—and it is still early in the Congressional nomination process—the press has fawned over her, repeatedly citing her race and gender, as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews disparagingly pointed out on Hardball. With populists like Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, who fell over himself praising Obama’s nomination as a political master stroke and wrongly stating that her nomination is a done deal—a Supreme Court nomination is never a done deal, at least not for several weeks, if at all—it’s left to those new intellectuals like Mr. Bowden to argue against the Obama administration’s nominee on principle. His excellent post should be widely distributed.

Screen Shot: Disney/Pixar’s ‘Up’

Up might have been called Down. It’s like that, really, more in line with Pixar’s post-apocalyptic Wall-E than with its delightful Ratatouille. Though I arrived late to a recent screening, the protagonist is Carl (voiced by Ed Asner), an old widower who ties balloons to his house and lifts off—with a stowaway on board. The trailer looked fine, but what Disney did not show is that the old coot’s up for assault and battery and he’s in for a grim future. There is adventure, as the pair head for an exotic locale, but much is missing from this movie, starting with a sense of wonder.

Aside from being predictable, ordinary and modern (in the worst sense), Up lacks the chemistry to pull off its theme that letting go beats lifting off as a means of acting in accordance with reality. The obese kid, who lacks personality, and crusty Carl are as lovable as a pair of dirty, old shoelaces—and about as involving. They’re not bad, and they have their moments. But the script is cynical, jokey and it borders on absurdism—balloons are gussied up offscreen overnight, one thunderstorm and they’re instantly in South America, an aviator villain trains flying ace dogs—all of which chokes character development and undercuts the man/boy relationship. To top it off, the poor old man’s future is pretty bleak. His big moment centers upon saving a bird, which as a climax is as exciting as it sounds, and Up suffers from these tired platitudes throughout. Instead of being a lone man who stands against, say, seizure of his property, he simply seems to stand in the way of progress because he doesn’t know any better and Up‘s idea of uplifting is saving an endangered animal or mentoring a child. Fine, but more appropriate for a Sierra Club film or a piece of National Service propaganda than for a studio that used to punch out clever, touching little animated gems. Incidentally, its ultimate point that material possessions do not matter is, I think, an absolute and total lie. Losing a loved one often means treasuring a cherished piece of private property for its meaning and memory.

An interesting postscript came across my desk: an Up publicity stunt went awry up in Seattle, Washington. The whole incident is a sort of real-life demonstration of why the otherwise innocuous movie does not fly.

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!)