Walking Across America With Just $217

Posted on February 4, 2009 at 8:00 am

Alex Charwick sits down at a table with two microphones and a sign that says “Interviews 50 Cents” and talks to everyday Americans about their lives. The results are enthralling. In this interview, he talks to an Algerian-American man who spent five and a half months walking across the United States and speaks very movingly about the generosity and hospitality of the people he met along the way.

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Documentary Shorts

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Posted on February 2, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking; characters get drunk
Violence/ Scariness: Some mild suspense, and Holly's hysteria when she receives the telegram about her brother may be scary
Diversity Issues: Mickey Rooney plays a Japanese man in an exaggerated style that is very insensitive by today's standards
Date Released to Theaters: 1961
Date Released to DVD: January 13, 2009
Amazon.com ASIN: B001HPP2XW

The combination of beautiful new “centennial editions” of two Audrey Hepburn classics and the prospect of Valentine’s Day in just two weeks inspired me to lead off February with two Hepburn DVDs of the week. This week, it’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s, based on a novella by Truman Capote, a glossy but sometimes bittersweet love story between two people who have made many compromises who find the courage to build a relationship that will make them be honest with each other and themselves.

Paul Varjack (George Peppard), a writer who is being supported by a wealthy woman (Patricia Neal), is intrigued by his upstairs neighbor, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn). Holly is an enchanting combination of breathtaking elegance, glossy Manhattan sophistication, and an engaging willingness to confide in Paul because she says he reminds her of her brother Fred. Still, she doesn’t really tell him anything about herself, except that she likes to go to Tiffany’s when she has “the mean reds” and needs to be surrounded by something comforting. She has a very active social life, but no particular job, and she picks up money in a number of odd ways from men, the oddest being getting paid to visit an elderly mob figure in Sing Sing prison once a month.

A man seems to be following Paul, but when Paul confronts him it turns out he was following Holly. He explains he was once Holly’s husband, and that he took care of Holly and Fred when their parents died and married her when she was 15. He has come to take her back home to rural Texas. But she tells him that she is a “wild thing” and cannot be kept in a cage, and sends him home alone.

Holly’s plan is to marry a wealthy man, so she can take care of Fred when he gets out of the Army. She is almost successful in becoming engaged to a millionaire, but he is scared off when it turns out that she has unknowingly been carrying messages back and forth in her visits to Sing Sing. Paul comforts her when her brother is killed, and he realizes he has fallen in love with her. She will not admit to loving him, and he accuses her of being afraid to let herself become too close to anyone, even her cat. She realizes that she wants to be with someone she can really love and runs after him and the cat in the pouring rain.

Discussion: Holly says, “I can’t think of anything I’ve never done” and “I’m used to being top banana in the shock department.” This might sound tawdry from most people, but she manages to make it seem as though she found it all a delicious adventure. She tries hard to protect herself from her feelings, categorizing all the men she considers possible partners for her as “rats and super rats,” planning to marry a man she does not love, refusing to give Cat a real name, trying to create a world for herself that is a perpetual Tiffany’s, where “nothing bad could happen to you,” but it does not work. Holly’s carelessness about forgetting her keys and imposing on others to get in, about her apartment decor and about Cat, and about her means of support, all hide a core of pragmatic resolve, as we see in Doc Golightly’s story about her, and by her devotion to Fred. They also hide her vulnerability, as though she feels that if she does not float above her emotions she will give way entirely. She does give way entirely when Fred is killed, an outpouring of real emotion that scares away the man she is cultivating.

Paul sees this because it parallels his own experience. He once cared about writing, but as the movie opens he has given up any notion of personal or artistic integrity to allow himself to be kept by a wealthy woman. Her grotesque over-decoration of his apartment makes him just another ornament for her collection. His relationship with her is his way of protecting himself from taking the risk of feeling deeply, as an artist or as a man. Paul and Holly understand each other, and that understanding makes them ashamed of the hypocrisy of their lives.

Holly describes “the mean reds” as “suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” Everyone has this feeling from time to time, but it resonates particularly with teenagers, who are experiencing more volatile and complex emotions than any they have known before, and who tend to conclude that since they are new to them, they have never been felt before. This movie provides a good opportunity to talk about those feelings and strategies for handling them.

Parents should note that on their day in New York together, Paul and Holly steal two masks from a dime store for fun. Although it is probably not a good idea to make heavy-handed references to this as a moral failure, in discussions with teenagers, parents may want to voice their concerns. Families may also want to talk about the portrayal of the stereotyped Japanese upstairs neighbor by Mickey Rooney, insensitive by today’s standards. The DVD extras include a short film exploring this issue.

Questions for Kids:

· Have you ever felt “the mean reds”? Why does Tiffany’s make Holly feel better when she feels that way? What makes you feel better?

· Why did Holly marry Doc? Why did she leave him?

· What makes Paul decide to break up with the woman he refers to as “2-E”?

· What did O.J. mean when he called Holly a “real phony?”

Connections: Author Truman Capote is portrayed as a child in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Christmas Memory.” “Moon River,” one of the most memorable songs in the history of the movies, was written around Hepburn’s sweet, but limited, range and won the Oscar for Best Song.

One of the DVD extras has some of the actors from the memorable party scene in this film reminiscing about it. Blake Edwards enjoyed that scene in this movie so much that he went on to make an entire movie about a crazy party called, not surprisingly, “The Party.” It is not as good as some of his other movies, including this one, “The Great Race,” “The Pink Panther,”and (for mature teenagers only) “Days of Wine and Roses,” and “Victor/Victoria.”

Activities: Visit Tiffany’s. The novella, by Truman Capote, is worth reading for mature teenagers, but his Holly does not have the elegance and class that Hepburn brought to the role, and his Holly does not have the Hollywood happy ending of the movie. The DVD extras are excellent, especially the “style icon” exploration of Hepburn’s fashion sense and influence and the commentary from the movie’s producer.

I have one DVD to give away to the first person who sends me an email with “Breakfast” in the subject line. Good luck!

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Based on a book Classic Date movie DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Romance

Wall Street Bonuses — Re-calibrating My Outrage

Posted on February 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

When I’m not being the Movie Mom, I am editor and chair of a small company based in Portland, Maine that evaluates corporate behavior and performance. I’ve had a lot to say recently about the billions of dollars paid out in bonuses to employees at the bailout companies on Wall Street.
On Friday, I appeared on the Lehrer Newshour on PBS, debating the wall street bonuses with a lawyer who specializes in executive compensation. The transcript and video clip are available online.
On Saturday, I was quoted in a Washington Post article about the reaction to the bonuses.
And I was also quoted in an Orange County Register article about the prospects for getting some of the Wall Street bonus money back.
Today I will moderate a panel discussion about the future of financial regulation at the Russell Senate Office Building and I am sure the issue of the bonuses will provoke an especially lively conversation.

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Media Appearances

The Secret Life of Bees

Posted on February 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

The beloved best-seller by Sue Monk Kidd has been brought to screen with great care, deep sincerity, and a perfect cast. Unfortunately, it is so careful, so lovingly burnished, so deliberate that it becomes sluggish, never finding the distinctive voice of the book’s narrator. Dakota Fanning, coltishly adolescent, plays Lily, who runs away from her abusive father T-Ray (Paul Bettany), after their housekeeper Rosaleen (Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson) is beaten and arrested for trying to register to vote following the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act.

They are taken in by three sisters named after months: August (Queen Latifah), May (Sophie Okonedo), and June (Alicia Keys). They live in a bright pink house and keep bees for their Black Madonna honey. August is strong, patient, and wise. June is impatient and angry. May is sweet and so easily brought to tears that she has a special wall for crying, like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. She writes down what worries her or makes her sad and folds the paper up to slip it between the rocks in the wall.

The three sisters have managed to create a quiet life of dignity, independence, and culture in part because they keep to themselves. They know that taking in a white child who has run away could give the bigots in their community an opportunity to make their lives difficult, but like Rosaleen, they believe that giving in to racism in order to get along is “just a different way of dying.” And Lily and a new friend explore some personal and societal boundaries that involve some serious risks.

Lovingly made, the film is beautifully performed, especially by Queen Latifah and singer Keys. It gently but honestly addresses the difficulty of relationships made more complex by mingling the ultimate equality achieved through selfless love and the ultimate inequality of pervasive bigotry. But it is too neatly constructed. The hair of the three sisters telegraphs their roles on the continuum of feeling and of where they are in time, May with her little-girl braids rooted to the past and June with her Afro and NAACP t-shirt reaching for the future. August is the bridge between them. T-Ray will come back for Lily, who will find that there is a reason she feels so much at home with the sisters. Everything falls into place, but it all takes just a little bit too long — do we really need three separate transitional montages? A little less respect would have opened it up for the livelier sensibility of the novel. It would have been less pretty, perhaps, but more fully engaging.

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Based on a book Drama
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