Monday, September 29, 2014

Film Review: The Audrey Hepburn Collection on Blu

Audrey Hepburn has always held a kind of magic for me.  She’s one of the classic actresses that tended to play herself in all her roles, but since I love the person she was, I find nothing to criticize.  She always had a disarming charm that made me wish I could be like her.  In movies like Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Charade, she possessed a delightful confidence and unassuming candidness rarely seen in contemporary films.  I envy her these traits.
Warner Brothers releases the Audrey Hepburn Collection on Blu Ray, containing audio and visual transfers of three of Hepbun’s most iconic films: Sabrina, Funny Face, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Sabrina is the story of a chauffeur’s daughter (Audrey Hepburn) obsessed with the youngest son of her father’s employer. She gets shipped off to a quality cooking school in Paris, where her father hopes she will not only learn skills to help her gain employment, but also that she will get over David Larabee (William Holden), a notorious playboy.
Sabrina, however, returns a transformed creature.  No longer awkward and girlish, she steals David’s heart with her sophistication and charm, right out from under his workaholic brother’s nose.  Afraid that his plans to marry off David to seal a twenty million dollar merger will go awry, Linus Larabee (Humphrey Bogart) attempts to dissuade, then distract Sabrina from her heart’s desire.  In the process, however, he discovers he has a heart as well as a brain, and Sabrina begins to waver in her certainty of her love for David.
 I saw the Julia Ormond/Harrison Ford Sabrina first, many years ago, and LOVED it, but I had no idea it was a remake until a friend of mine rented the DVD (remember those days?) and brought it over.  I remember watching in and mentally comparing it to its more recent counterpart, and I concluded in the end that the original Linus did not love the original Sabrina.  Why?  Because the way Bogart played him felt more like a calculating charlatan, while Ford’s version clearly transitioned from callous seducer to altruistic suitor.  The change was more obvious, genuine, and above all, believable.  Yet I didn’t understand why until I watched Sabrina again in this collection.
It wasn’t so much the story itself, but rather Bogart’s tendency to act the same precise way with certain lines.  I’ve seen enough of his work between my first viewing of the 1954 Sabrina and now to conjecture that in particular parts where Linus tells Sabrina some sad story of his past, it’s not that Linus is making it up to gain her sympathy like I first thought; it’s the way Bogart delivers, “Oh, yeah,” as if being recalled to something he mentioned previously is somehow an unexpected surprise.
Don't get me wrong.  I love Bogart.  I love him in Casablanca, and I love him in To Have and Have Not, and I love him in this.  I suppose my bias toward Harrison Ford is partially rooted in my love for Han Solo, and partially rooted in my dislike of the generally accepted condescension toward women during Bogart's era.
Hepburn, however, is far superior to Julia Ormond in her performance of Sabrina Fairchild.  While Ormond held her own acting with Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear and had her own characterization of Sabrina, she didn’t have the same illumination in her face, nor the same confident grace for which Hepburn is renowned.  And, of course, Hepburn added to all this her singing a lovely little French ballad, La Via En Rose.

Funny Face
This isn’t your normal opposites-attract love story.  When a fashion magazine executive Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) and her head photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) barge into a bookstore without permission to use it for a photo shoot, bookseller Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) catches their attention with both her vocal assertiveness and unique face.  When the same magazine executive decides the world needs a representative of the “ideal woman,” the same old models just won’t do, and she decides that Jo is different enough to make it work.  Jo, however, has no desire to model, and it takes an appeal from Dick to lure her to Paris to both model for their magazine and meet her favorite living philosopher. 
Funny Face is one of my least favorite Audrey Hepburn movie.  It follows the same general direction of all musicals – songs and dances are stuffed into scenes wherever possible, regardless as to whether they ought to fit there.  I think perhaps sometimes a composer is so intent on squeezing a song into a scene that they sacrifice quality and character believability. 
For example, the modern dance number in the Paris café – was there a revealing character point that needed to be mad?  No.  We already know Jo is independent, willful, and naive.  The dance does nothing to augment or clarify that.  It might be construed as demonstrating the “accepting” or perhaps “indifferent” mindset of the café patrons, as they studiously ignore Joe’s antics no matter what she does.  However, had the film would not have suffered in the slightest if the number were cut.
Also, the song about what reporters would ask Jo as the representative of the ideal woman.  In no other scene do reporters ask anything of Jo, so why it is there? Again, we know the characters’ traits and history from previous scenes, so there’s no development needed, and the song doesn’t forward the plot or reveal anything necessary to the climax or resolution.  It might have been added to help show what the fashion industry tries to shove down women’s throats about how to “be lovely;” unrealistic standards, all of them, since loveliness as defined by this song is possessing an endless supply of happiness, charm, know-how, jolliness, and cheeriness.  Ridiculous.  However, despite this clarification, the song has no useful function.  Thus, the film, again, would not have suffered by its absence.
The story, however, can be viewed as rather compelling.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek battle between the superficially beautiful and the self-righteously intelligent.  The two war against each other, saying their way is the single definition of value, the true way to happiness.  Each detests the other for their lack of understanding and acceptance, for their disrespect and mockery.  But the representatives of these worlds, Dick and Jo, somehow manage to connect, appreciate, and eventually love each other.  Dick is the only one in the fashion world that treats Jo with any modicum of respect, and Jo is much more than the usual glamorous-yet-vapid models with whom Dick usually works.  Unfortunately, they still step on each other’s toes in surprisingly realistic dynamics: Jo forgets an appointment in her excitement at spending time with fellow philosophers; Dick reacts badly when confronted with jealousy; Jo’s naiveté about men’s motivations put her in a dangerous situation; and Dick insults Jo’s beliefs in a fit of frustration.  They apologize, forgive, miscommunicate, resonate, and, ironically, manage to overcome their differences by exercising the one trait Jo prizes so highly, yet fails at applying: empathy.  Moral of the story: It’s never either/or, but a balance of both/and.
Rant on the video quality: There are two scenes where the director chose to make artistic changes, the most annoying being glaring over-exposure.  The edges of everything are softened, and anything white catches the light so intensely it gives the picture a hazy shimmer.  It’s hard to watch despite the lovely location and pretty song, so much so that it gave me a mild headache.  All other scenes noticeably lack this little flare, and are the better for it.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s 
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the most celebrated of Audrey Hepburn’s films.  She plays Holly Golightly, the carefree ingénue searching New York for her perfect dream millionaire.  One morning, Paul Varjack (George Peppard), a disillusioned young writer, moves into her building at the behest of his “patroness,” and he gets caught up in Holly’s hectic yet captivating lifestyle.  She calls him Fred because he resembles her brother, and the two of them form an affectionate bond, one that survives personal drama, drunken insults, and romantic entanglements.
I feel sorry for Holly Golightly.  She spends the whole movie not knowing who she is or what she wants, scared to pieces that she’ll be trapped in a life she hates, all while pretending to be glamorously eccentric.  Charming she is, for sure, but even within the first ten minutes, we see her admiring wealth, fleeing aggressive suitors, manipulating men, and confessing to have moments of inexplicable terror – what she calls “the made reds.”  But then, she is also so darling and innocent and child-like all at the same time you can’t help but enjoy her when she’s lively, or feel protective when she’s scared or grieving.  I think that’s Holly’s universal appeal, the timeless draw of Breakfast at Tiffany’s:  We see pieces of ourselves in Holly, and Hepburn has such a way of taking any character she plays and making her endearing.
Paul is also an interesting character.  I’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s three times, but only during this last did I pay attention to his character story.  I always felt him too forgiving of Holly, but there are aspects of him I didn’t notice before – how he people watches instead of interacting, his constant “saving” of Holly (though she often forces it on him), his acceptance of being “sponsored” by a married woman, and his resentment at the lack of success of his first book.  He transitions from a passive-aggressive protector to an active rescuer to a demanding lover, ultimately refusing to accept Holly’s stubborn pursuit of easy wealth and challenging her on her notions that everyone else is seeking to put her in a cage – she’s already in one of her own devising. 

I enjoyed my little foray into Audrey Hepburn’s most celebrated works.  She’s spunky, affectionate, and guileless, with a lovely singing voice and long, dramatic eyelashes.  From the glamorous Sabrina to the unconventional Jo to the whimsical Holly, Hepburn is always a delight.

Okay, fine, I'll say it - she's damn adorable. :)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Life Lessons in RPG's

Nerd time.

I'm playing Dragon Age: Origins again (sporadically, but it still counts).  This is my fourth campaign - I've played a female elf warrior (actually played twice from one early save point, so I count it as two campaigns), a female human warrior, and now a female human rogue.  I've got a male elf mage waiting in the wings.  I hadn't played as a rogue or mage before, so why not?

Having said that, I'll confess that I play this game, or any RPG, really, multiple times because of the romance options.  Yes, I know; I live vicariously through my video game characters.  This is true for DAO, DA2, all the ME games, and for NWN, KOTOR and KOTOR II.

I never actually finished NWN2....

Point being, I discovered something about myself, and consequently human nature, through my "relationships" in Dragon Age: Origins.

The sincere, awkward guy (read: nice guy) is endearing, especially since he comes across as guileless and affectionate, but the suave, seductive guy knows how to appease my vanity, tells me things I want to hear, flatters me, which makes me feel special, and he KNOWS it makes me feel special.

This is not far from real life.  I've met many, many variations of these two types and always have the same debate: choose the nice guy who would be more likely to stick it out for the long haul, even if clumsily, or the guy more likely to turn out an asshole, but wow, does he make my hormones dance RIGHT THIS FREAKING MINUTE.

Three related things about this paradigm:
1. There's always a need, or in the case of games, a pre-programmed requirement, to CHOOSE.
2. In the choosing, we must weigh immediate gratification against future promise.
3. The less sure we are about how the future will turn out, or the more cynical we are about it, the more likely we will choose the immediate gratification, OR we will try to have both.

I found that I've pursued this "both" route EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Any time you play DAO, your character meets Alistair first.  You can gain BUKU approval points from him from your very first post-Ostigar conversation, assuming you exhaust all the options and pick the correct response.
Approval points are the key to triggering a romance, and therefore, a romance with Alistair is both the quickest and the most readily available.
However, after I got the romance achievement with Alistair, I met Zevran, the slutty bad-boy elf who bends everything.  And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING.  Rules, sexuality, himself... ;)  Flirting with him is way more fun that being all awkward-cute with Alistair.  He teases, compliments, makes suggestive comments, even outright offers to stay the night in your tent (after enough approval points).  There's a thrill that comes with such interactions, and it's the same kind of intoxicating as alcohol - goes to your head, makes you say and do things you normally wouldn't, gives you one hell of a hangover, and you often have to do a walk of shame afterwards.

Infatuation is a kind of madness, isn't it?

Anyway, I found that during that first DAO campaign, I wanted SO badly to have them both; I didn't want to have to commit to just ONE.  Each satisfied a different need.  However, the game forces you to choose.  If you hit a certain level of approval points with both characters, one of them will confront you.  You go to talk to one of them and BOOM.  There's no way out of the conversation.
There's a variety of ways to navigate your responses, but ultimately it's either "yes, I love you," or "sorry, we're done."

And that pissed me off so much!!!!!

Then I started wondering why games would come pre-programmed like that.  My hypothesis is that it would be too much work and money for the game makers to make a story arc that let you have both, but if that were NOT a driving factor for the creating companies, would they do it?

I think it comes down to the human tendency to have a favorite.  God knows the reason something is your favorite something, and it really doesn't matter.  Sometimes it takes only a short time, though often it takes a long time, but people eventually find one thing more than another satisfies their need.  This blanket keeps me warmer than that one.  That cat pays more attention to me than the other.  This woman "gets" me more.  That man dotes on me more.

It's all based on what gives us the most satisfaction for the longest time, and knowing the future of it is what helps us decide.  How many of us would not have chosen a particular person or job or pet or house or activity if we had known how it would go?

I'm sure at this point, some of my readers will bring to mind folks they know that date multiple persons who also date multiple persons.  "What about them," they object.  "They don't have to choose."

Don't they?  In my experience with the folks I know, they do to some degree.  I've noticed that there is always a "primary," someone with whom they resonate most, or share the most in common; one they stay with while others come and go.  And then those "others" are chosen based on.... *waits for it*... degree of satisfaction in the relationship for the foreseeable future.

In DAO, you can only rely on what the narration tells you will happen after the game.  In most cases, the romance of your choice stays with your character.

But then I found out what happens AFTER the after-game narration.  DA 2 kindly gives the gamer a synopsis for each character that cameos from the first game: Alistair, Zevran, and Liliana.  In Alistair and Liliana's case, your character from DAO leaves them for mysterious reasons, and they set about finding you.  In Zevran's case, however, HE leaves YOU.

That totally clinched it for me.  Flirt with Zevran, but end the game with Alistair.

But life isn't a game you can reload if you choose the wrong response, or go back to a previous save if you decided to explore the result of every choice available, and then choose the "best" one for your character's "official" campaign.  How I often wish that were the case.  It would make some things easier, yes?  "Well, I didn't like how that interview turned out; I'll reload to the beginning and try another answer."  Or maybe, "Shit, I didn't mean to say THAT.  Do over."  Or, in the case of some ME missions, "That was timed?!  I'm going back and trying again."

As much as I wish it were otherwise, my life is not a reload-able RPG.  People are not stock characters that will react predictably depending on the wrong or right answer.  They are human beings with their own thoughts and feelings and means of processing information.  Lack of respect for that is horribly detrimental.  I've seen it.  I've done it.  I know exactly what day I would reload to if I could.  I'd not make the same choice; I'd spare someone the pain of my selfishness and idiocy.

I find that all aspects of life are fickle, corrupt, decaying, and sometimes downright malicious.  All... but one.  God is the only one free of those qualities, the only one who declares Himself as something and actually IS; the only one whose promises are actually kept.
The only one who declared He loved me while I still hated Him, and most definitely not because of anything I did to earn it.

And all those mistakes where I would have reloaded and tried again until I got the "right" answer?  Those are even now being used to shape me as a person, to make me kinder, more compassionate, less resentful, and more insightful to my own inner workings.

I'm shown how God keeps his promises, and keeps on keeping them, which then increases my confidence in His other promises so that I feel less pull toward the things that give only temporary respite and more pull toward Him, the only guaranteed satisfaction in ANY future.

Monday, September 22, 2014


I've heard two main camps when it comes to regrets, missed opportunities, life-changing decisions, etc.

  • First camp: Don't compromise your dreams, because anything less is just settling.
  • Second camp: Life doesn't go the way you plan - but that doesn't mean you won't have fulfillment in something that never occurred to you before.

I've gone through periods believing each one of these, and both at the same time.

But I've discovered something that has made the "regrets" issue easier to address: the longer I'm alive, the more myself I become, and therefore the more insightful into what I truly want.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be an actress.  I wanted to dress up, pretend to be someone else, have people praise me and love me, and look just like all the pretty girls I watched in my favorite movies.  I even majored in Theatre during college.  Then life happened - I had a professor tell me I'd hit a learning curve with my acting; I fell in love and got married; I couldn't get my body to shape to the Hollywood ideal; I moved to Tucson.

Then I thought I would get into modeling.  Look beautiful, wear fabulous clothes and jewelry, have people praise and love me.  Then life happened again - I got suckered by an agency; I couldn't get my body to shape to the Fashion ideal; my husband lost his job; I got stuck in a job I hated.

Have we noticed any themes yet?

A few years later, I finally did get into acting again, for a local Shakespeare company, in fact.  I met lots of lovely people.  I landed a lead role after my first audition in six years.  I discovered that life experience was the dimension I was missing in my acting.  I met more lovely people.  Then I met not so lovely people.  I learned what co-dependency really means.  I discovered that praise is fickle and admiration fleeting and the pursuit of either more harmful than helpful.  I hurt my husband and my friends.  I found that God is the only constant in my life, and the only one worth suffering for. 

And after a period of selfish indulgence and wasted time, God called me out and showed me that neither acting nor modeling would have satisfied me - the dreams I wanted so badly would have made me miserable.  He showed me the personality I've always had, the strengths He gave me, and how He has worked everything out for my ultimate good.

I'm an introvert.  I hate conflict, whether it involves me or not.  I hate gossip and drama.  I want to feel appreciated and cherished.  I write better than I speak.  I love positive interactions with people.  I like clean and orderly and pretty.  My body is beautiful the way it is, plus size or average.  My heart determines the type of person I am, not my fashion sense or my weight.  I still love dressing up, whether in a costume or in formal attire; I love reading more than watching television or movies.  I love creating stories - ALL the characters and their adventures, not being limited to just one.

And that job I hated?  I still hate it, or certain parts of it.  Thank God I got laid off.  I'd most likely still be there wondering if it might just possibly get better, or if I should find something else and quit, but then changing my mind because I needed the benefits.  I'm not too much a fan of that company anymore, but my time there taught me invaluable lessons about interacting with people, writing professionally and technically, leading teams, building rapport, collaborating on projects, and not being afraid to ask questions.

It's been about 14 years since I decided to major in Communication Arts: Theatre, and every experience, uplifting or distressing, has removed the excess from my personality, refined my character, defined my strengths, and shown me more of who I have always been.

"The older I get, the more like myself I feel."  I don't regret my life.  I get frustrated with it, sure, and sometimes get resentful, and I am sorry for the sadness I've caused others, but I don't regret it.  The "what ifs" of life, what might have been if I'd never moved to this city, or what might happen if I don't do this interview just right... I can't dwell on them.  I refuse.  Such things are counter-productive.  God is ever working all these things for my ultimate benefit and His ultimate credit, so therefore I have never "settled."

I guess I just put myself firmly in the second camp, didn't I? :)