Scenes That I Love: Audrey Hepburn Says Goodbye to Buddy Ebsen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Wow.  I am really running behind!  I nearly let this day come to an end without paying tribute to the amazing Audrey Hepburn.  Hepburn was born 91 years ago, on May 4th, 1921 in Belgium.  She went on to become one of history’s best actresses, as well as a role model for us all.  It’s not every actress who could say that she was also an active member of the anti-Nazi Dutch resistance during World War II.  After she became famous and could have very easily gotten away with turning her back on the world, Hepburn continued to make a name for herself as a humanitarian, working as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.

In honor of her birthday, here’s a wonderfully acted scene from 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

2020 SXSW Reviews: Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business, Hiplet: Because We Can, Quilt Fever

Tonight, as I continued my viewing of all the SXSW films that are currently available on Prime, I watched three short documentaries.  Each one of them dealt with real people seeking their own artistic truth.

Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business (dir by Christine Turner)

Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business is essentially an interview with the legendary artist Betye Saar, with some archival footage worked in and, of course, some footage of her artwork.  It’s a simple format but that’s okay.  It’s a fascinating documentary because Betye Saar is a fascinating artist.  Saar has been creating art for over 70 years and, at the age of 93, she’s still working in her Los Angeles studio, creating works that can make people angry and that can make them think.

The film delves into Saar’s civil right activism and how, through her artwork, she has taken the stereotypical images that were once used to demean African-Americans and has weaponized them in the fight for equal rights.  As we see in the documentary, one of Saar’s most acclaimed pieces features Aunt Jemima with a rifle and a grenade.

It’s a short documentary.  Betye Saar is such a lively and outspoken subject that you find yourself wishing that the documentary was a bit longer.  You also wish that the documentary had spent more time on the briefly mentioned “occult” influences on Saar’s work. Still, by the end of the film, you’re happy for the time that the filmmaker did have with Saar.  She’s a fascinating artist.

Hiplet: Because We Can (dir by Addison Wright)

This likable 8 minute film is about the Hiplet Ballerinas.  (Hiplet is a mix of classical ballet and hip hop.  It’s pronounced Hip-lay.)  Though there is a black-and-white sequence where the dancers talk about themselves and what hiplet means to them, the majority of the film is just made up of footage of the Hiplet Ballerinas performing.  They are amazing dancers and exciting to watch.  If you love dance, as I do, you’ll not only enjoy this documentary but you’ll also be excited about it.  This is a documentary that reminds us that dance is for every one.  As many of the dancers point out, they may not be stereotypical ballerinas but it doesn’t matter because stereotypes were made to be destroyed.  As this documentary shows, dancing is beautiful and dancing is for all.

Quilt Fever (dir by Oliva Merrion)

Quilt Fever was a real surprise.  This documentary deals with a subject (quilting) that I don’t know much about and it’s almost exclusively populated by people with whom I don’t have much in common but I still found it be enthralling and ultimately, rather touching.

Quilt Fever follows an annual quilting competition that takes place in the town of Paducah, Kentcuky.  It’s known as the Academy Awards of Quilting and it attracts quilters from all over the country.  The film not only shows us the competition but it also features profiles of a few of the people who are competing.  As you might guess, they’re all a bit eccentric.  For the most part, they’re all older women, the type of people who living in “fly over country” and who are usually looked down upon by the coastal elitists.  They may not be celebrities but they’ve found fame in the quilting world and they’ve also found a welcoming (if competitive) community.  Quilt Fever is an even-handed and nonjudgmental look at that community, one that never indulges in the type of condescension that we far too often see in documentaries about people in the middle of the country.  It’s a sweet-natured documentary and definitely a treat to watch.

Missile to the Moon (1958, directed by Richard E. Cunha)

At a secret laboratory located just a few miles from the local prison, scientist Dirk Green (Michael Whalen) is working with Steve Dayton (Richard Travis) to build a missile that’s capable of flying to the Moon.  Dirk’s obsession about traveling to the moon is not just scientific.  Dirk is secretly from the Moon himself and is desperate to return.

Dirk gets his opportunity when two convicts escape from the prison and hide out in his rocket.  Dirk agrees not to turn Gary (Tommy Cook) and Lon (Gary Clarke) over to the authorities but only if they agree to help him fly the rocket to the Moon.  It turns out that it doesn’t take any special training to fly a rocket.  According to this film, you don’t even have to worry about oxygen in space.  Anyone can travel to the Moon, even two escaped convicts who have only had about an hour’s worth of instruction in how to pilot a rocket!  Gary and Lon agree because dying in space is preferable to serving out a prison sentence.

Once Dirk, Gary, and Lon are in space, they discover that Steve and his fiancee, June (Cathy Downs), have stowed away on the ship.  Gary takes a liking to June but Steve tells him to back off.  After a journey through a meteor field, the missile finally lands on the Moon, which is ruled over by The Lido (K.T. Stevens), a beautiful woman who enforces order through the help of a giant spider.

This afternoon, Lisa and I watched Missile to the Moon because today is May 4th, which is also known as Star Wars Day.  (May the 4th be with you, get it?)  Since every Star Wars film has already been reviewed on this site, I had to find a different science fiction film to review for today.  And because Lisa claimed Starcrash for herself, I got stuck with Missile to the Moon.

Missile to the Moon is science fiction with an emphasis on the fiction.  In this film, space travel is easy and certain parts of the moon have a breathable atmosphere.  Not to mention, of course, that there are all sorts of creatures living on the Moon.  It’s easy to laugh at Missile to the Moon today but this movie was made before anyone had ever set foot on the Moon so, for all people knew, there could have been aliens and giant spiders living underneath the surface.  In fact, maybe there still are.  It’s been a while since anyone went up there and checked.

The main thing I liked about Missile to the Moon was the implication that anyone, no matter how dumb, can learn how to fly a spaceship in under an hour.  That’s what we all believed when we were kids.  Want to go into space?  Just put me in the pilot’s seat, show me where the booster button is, and let’s go into hyperspace!  The other thing I liked about the movie is that the Moon was populated by attractive belly dancers.  That’s exactly what you want to find on another planet.  The paper mache spiders were pretty cool too.

It’s a dumb movie but I enjoyed it.  I’d rather go to the movie’s Moon than the real Moon.

SXSW 2020 Review: Broken Orchestra (dir by Charlie Tyrell)

In the 13-minute documentary, Broken Orchestra, a camera glides through a deserted high school in Philadelphia, moving down hallways and up stairwells and occasionally entering into classrooms that are full of broken-down instruments.  Throughout the high school, there are television sets and, on each television, a different persons talks about being a part of the Broken Orchestra.

At a time when the schools of Philadelphia (which, we’re told, is the poorest big city in America) were struggling, budget cuts were leading to the cancellation of music programs.  Those programs that managed to survive often had to make due with damaged instruments.  Because students were having to use damaged tools, they often couldn’t play the type of music that they wanted create.

When a huge amount of damaged instruments were found in an abandoned high school, the Broken Orchestra was born.  The all-volunteer orchestra played on those instruments and proved that even a damaged instrument could be used to make unique music and, in much the same way, greatness can even come out of a damaged school or a damaged city.  Even a damaged instrument still has something to say.  Even a damaged instrument is still worth listening to.

It’s certainly in inspiring story and one that also makes a good argument for funding music and other artistic programs.  Everyone who discusses their part in the Broken Orchestra was obviously touched by the experience and it’s impossible not to get swept up in their emotions.  If I do have a complaint, it’s that I wish we had heard a bit more of the orchestra but still, it’s an inspiring story.

May the 4th Be With You: Star Wars Thoughts

Today is May 4th, which is known to some people as being Star Wars Day.  (May the 4th be with you.  Get it?)  I love the original Star Wars movies, even if Return of the Jedi deserves its less than stellar reputation.  The first three prequels I could do without, even though Revenge of the Sith was actually fairly good.  Of the three sequels, The Force Awakens was good.  The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker were both overstuffed and forgettable.  Solo was adequate.  I liked Rogue One.  It was the only one of the new films to really seem to get what Star Wars was all about.

If I had to rank them all, I think it would go something like this:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. Rogue One
  3. New Hope
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Return of the Jedi
  7. Solo
  8. The Rise of Skywalker
  9. The Last Jedi
  10. Attack of the Clones
  11. The Phantom Menace

I’m not going to rank the two Ewok movies or The Holiday Special.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

Looking over the franchise as a whole, I think Star Wars shows the danger of overexplaining.  In a New Hope, it didn’t matter whether or not we actually knew what the Kessel Run was or the exact details of The Clone Wars.  They just sounded cool and they sparked our imaginations.  We also didn’t know how the Empire came to exist or how Darth Vader could be both Luke and Leia’s father.  We didn’t know how the Force worked, exactly.  Nor did we know the exact details of how the Jedi were wiped out.  We really didn’t need to know.  We just accepted what the films told us and then let our imaginations fill in the missing pieces.

Then the prequels came along and suddenly, we discovered that everyone in the Star Wars universe was obsessed with trade routes and suddenly, The Clone Wars lost all of their mythic grandeur as we learned, in pain-staking details, every reason why the wars began and how they ended.  They just became another collection of CGI space battles.  And then Solo showed us the Kessel Run and we discovered that it really wasn’t anything that special.  Probably the only prequel (and sequel) that didn’t diminish the other films was Rogue One.  In fact, Rogue One brought some of that epic grandeur back to the films.  With its scenes of Death Star destroying entire cities and planets, it actually made A New Hope more effective.  After watching Rogue One, it’s not as easy to mock the Empire’s super weapon.

Today’s big news is that Taika Waititi will be directing the latest Star Wars film.  Waititi was the first director to actually understand what to do with Thor (who, up until Thor: Ragnarok, had been Marvel’s least interesting hero) and, of course, he also directed JoJo Rabbit.  My hope is that Waititi will be given the freedom to bring some new life to Star Wars.  I think he’s capable of bring some wonder back to a universe that could definitely use it.

May the force be with him.

SXSW 2020 Review: Blocks (dir by Bridget Moloney)

I have to admit that, when it comes to people spitting things up, I’m kind of a wimp.  It’s something that I typically have a hard time watching.  It’s one reason why, in college, I usually left the room if someone had too much to drink.  I seriously didn’t want to be there when that person started throwing up a combination of beer and nacho cheese.  I mean, bleh!

So, Blocks was not always easy for me to watch.  Blocks is a 12-minute comedy about Ashleigh (Claire Coffee), the mother of two young children who, one day, starts to vomit up toy blocks.  Now, fortunately, the film doesn’t get particularly graphic when it comes to the vomiting.  Usually, we only see the aftermath, which is often Claire lying on the floor, exhausted and surrounded by toy blocks while her children (and sometimes, her husband) knock on the bathroom door and demand to know why she’s not spending time with them.  Ashleigh can’t tell anyone about the toy blocks, of course.  She just pretends like the family has always owned the toy blocks that are mysteriously appearing around the house.  Her children refuse to play with them.  Eventually, Ashleigh finds a use for them.

As I said, I’m a wimp when it comes to people vomiting but still, Blocks was a well-done and frequently funny film.  In her introduction to the film, director Bridget Moloney says that the film was based on her own feelings and experiences as a mother and I think anyone who has ever been stuck in a house with two hyperactive, inquisitive kids will be able to relate to Ashleigh’s feeling of being overwhelmed.  Before I watched Blocks, I was going through one of my “I really want to start a family now!” phases.  Having watched it, I now think that maybe I should wait a year or two because, seriously — if I can’t handle someone vomiting legos, I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle all of the disgusting stuff that toddlers do.

Blocks, like many other films that were going to be shown at this year’s SXSW festival, is currently available on Amazon for a limited time.