Two New Movies That I Liked A Lot: “American Animals” And “RBG”

As I’ve mentioned a few times before on this publication’s pages, I go out pretty often to the movies. So far this year I’ve caught 20 of ’em. Maybe early in 2019 I’ll do a nice, big writeup on the flicks that passed before my eyes and ears during this, our current year. But for now I’m going to limit my focus and write briefly about only two. I saw both very recently and they agreed deliciously with my delicate system. Okay, away we go.

By the time you read this essay, American Animals may be gone from the theaters. If it remains in one near you, however, I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and go to see it. Or do likewise in the comfort of your home whenever it materializes on Netflix or HBO or whatever. (But note the caveat several paragraphs below).

What we have here is an indie effort that struck me as near-perfect filmmaking. The movie is entertaining as hell. Its plot unravels tantalizingly. Its screenplay nails the way that people talk. The acting is excellent. And you’ll be sweating bullets when the going gets rough. Hey, you get the idea. I’m an American Animals fan!

American Animals tells the story of four college-age guys who, in 2004, attempted to steal rare and valuable books (including an early edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds Of America) from the special collections department of Transylvania University’s library. Believe it or not, there really is a Transylvania University. That institution is located in Lexington, Kentucky. And believe it or not once again, the story that plays out in American Animals really did happen. Writer and director Bart Layton constructed the movie by cutting between reenactments of the crazy story lines, using professional actors, and interviews with the real-life perpetrators. The latter offer fascinating commentaries on what was going through their minds at various points in the heist’s planning and execution.

It would be wrong, wrong, wrong for me to spill any more beans about American Animals. You’ll thank me, should you view the movie, for not being a spoiler kind of individual. And so I’ll end my discussion of Animals by noting that anyone who wilts and/or takes shelter from barrages of F-bombs should stay away. As for everyone else, I believe that this one’s for you.

Oh wait. There is another thing or two: I’d never heard of Bart Layton before, and knew but one member of Animal’s cast (Blake Jenner), but so what? The movie proved to me, as numerous others have, that the world is awash with very talented though hardly famous individuals. I’m totally down with that.

RBG, a hit documentary that entered a sizeable number of American cinemas in May, and is still in quite a few, was not on my to-be-seen list. I don’t know why, but I decided that I wasn’t all that interested in learning about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest (age 85) of the nine justices who comprise the USA’s Supreme Court, the highest federal court in the land. But my wife Sandy badly wanted to see it and, peerless spouse that I am, I capitulated. Off we went on a miserably hot day to watch the film in downtown Philadelphia.

I’m here to report that I was wrong. RBG (directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West) is really good. Justice Ginsburg has led a remarkable life, one devoted to her family, to the advancement of human rights and to the intricacies and necessity of the law.

This movie might not be up the alley of those who, like The Donald, are narrow-minded, mean-spirited and eager to restrict and oppress. But if you believe in respect and equality, then I imagine you’ll become an admirer of Ruth. Hell, you probably already are. Unbeknownst to me, without trying in the least she became a cultural icon and a judicial rock star over the last 10 or so years. This was quite an unexpected phenomenon, since Ginsburg is a quiet, unassuming sort. But millions of Americans have become captivated by her steadfastness, by her support of abortion rights and of gender rights. And by the slight twinkle in her eye and shy smile on her face that she often wears. She’s endearing. No other justice on the high court has a devoted fan base like hers.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is smart as a whip. She graduated from law school in 1959 and began to make her name in the legal world in the 1970s, co-founding The Women’s Rights Project and ultimately arguing six gender-rights cases before the Supreme Court. Little did she know that she herself would become a member of that court in 1993, after Bill Clinton nominated her for the job.

Now, I’m anything but a jurisprudence expert, but I’m being more than decently accurate, I think, by describing Ginsburg’s philosophy on the high court as liberal but cautious, common-sensical and mindful of people’s needs. She has taken her job extremely seriously, as well she should, working enormous numbers of hours. And she has no plans to retire. As she says in the film, she won’t step down until she feels that she is unable to keep up her full-steam-ahead pace. She’s a source of hope and pride for many in these right-wing crazy, Trumpian times.

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Three Movies: The Fast, The Really Fast, And The Nice And Slow

“Hey, Neil,” my wife Sandy called to me a little while ago. “Pull your thoughts together. Your legions, or should I more accurately say handfuls, of readers are depending on you to digest and configure and explain our cinematic encounters from two weeks ago. C’mon, boy. You can do it. I’ve got faith in you.”

Oh yeah? She’s got to be kidding. I’m moments away from throwing in the towel. I feel my eyes tiring, my attention being directed elsewhere as if by a sorcerer’s hand. But I won’t give in. I know what I have to do, and it involves pain. WHACK, WHACK, WHACK. There, I’ve slapped myself in the face. Works every time. I’m feeling better. On with the show.

Very recently Sandy and I went to the movies on three consecutive days. After that streak ended I figured I ought to try and bang out a story about the trio of flicks for my insatiably content-hungry blog. It wouldn’t do, I decided, to focus on only one of the films, examining it from all angles like a jeweler ogling a precious stone. No, ambitious me would strive relentlessly to find and then analyze the thematic threads woven between the three movies. And believe me, I’ve been looking. Real hard. And so far here’s what I’ve come up with: zippo and bupkis.

But there’s got to be an angle. There always is. And so I’ve decided to throw connective threads to the winds and pull something out of my wazoo in a desperate attempt to create a blog story. Speed . . . yeah, that’s what I’m going to look at. The degree of rapidity of the movies’ action. And speaking of speed, I notice that it has taken me over 300 words to get around to naming the movies that Sandy and I watched. Oh well, my incredible slowness ties right in with what now is this article’s subject. And I suppose that Sandy’s faith in me possibly has paid off. In any case, the movies in the order that we saw them are The Big Short, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and 45 Years.

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Respectively, those movies overall are, in terms of pace, fast, really fast, and nice and slow. And in terms of how much I liked them they are, respectively, very much, eh, and quite a lot. I’m amazed that I didn’t get big kicks from the newest Star Wars, the seventh in the franchise. Entering the theater I thought I would. A thousand years ago (in 1977) I loved the first in the series. It seemed cool as can be to me, action-packed and stocked with a fabulous menagerie of characters, human and otherwise. But, unlike 95% of the world’s population, I didn’t see any of the next five SW vehicles or do any reading over the years to keep up with the SW storylines. Watching The Force Awakens I was surprised to learn that Darth Vader no longer is on the scene, and I barely remembered what a Jedi is. But I was glad to see Harrison Ford on board playing the wisecracking and fearless Han Solo.

Most importantly, I was expecting an exhilarating ride. For sure, The Force Awakens often moves like lightening. I lost track of how many times Good was battling Evil on one planet or another, and seemingly only moments later the fight had shifted to an orb millions of miles away. I enjoy that kind of zooming sometimes, but after a while it wasn’t doing the trick for me. I began to feel that the screen was filled with too much of too much, that the plot almost was losing itself. I became bored. A healthy dash of better dialogue and believable human dynamics wouldn’t have hurt. Not that the film’s writers didn’t try to bring emotions into the proceedings, but the results of their efforts, probably purposely, are pretty cardboardy. The occasional hug and goo-goo eyes don’t meaningful human relationships make.

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Unlike SW:TFA, The Big Short doesn’t suffer from underdeveloped characters, though it contains plenty of characters, as in people with strong ways of expressing their inner selves. And its propulsion is mighty chipper, though it avoids the warp speed of many scenes in SW:TFA. The Big Short takes on a most unlikely candidate for a cinematic story, the worldwide financial catastrophe of 2008. The film tackles the subject inventively and with energy to spare. Basically, The Big Short rocks. Fast-thinking denizens of the investment world, some of them motor-mouthed (played by Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and others) make for a heady and dizzying trip. Add snappy editing to that and you’ve got a really winning movie.

What’s more, you very well might leave the theater thinking you’ve finally begun to understand who and what caused calamity to shower the Earth eight years ago. And hopefully you won’t be like me, dumb as dirt once again in financial matters by the time you arrive home.

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Within the low range of the miles-per-hour spectrum stands 45 Years, replete with a top-notch screenplay and realistic portrayals by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay of a married couple, the Mercers. This duo finds themselves with emerging marital problems on the cusp of their 45th wedding anniversary. But if you’re thinking of catching the Mercers’ predicaments, be prepared for a slow and deliberate adventure. Everybody takes their good ol’ time doing things and vocalizing. The most intense action in the movie occurs when Rampling struggles with a pull-down attic ladder. Yup, eventually she conquers the beast and makes her way upward to where a revelatory discovery awaits her. You go, girl!

What’s my point about all of this? Good question. Luckily I have an answer or two. A movie’s pace is important and should fit the circumstances of the plot. Movies with mucho scenes that rip along wildly can be terrific (think His Girl Friday and the version of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig), and so too can be those that mosey (think Hud and Nebraska). Velocity is only part of the equation. Whatever its pulse rate, a film usually will rise only if its story is strong, its dialog solid, its characters believable, its actors on top of their game and its director in firm control. The Big Short and 45 Years meet the criteria beautifully. Not so for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which comes up a bit short in the plot, dialog and character development departments in my puny opinion. Shows what I know, though. SW:TFA to-date has grossed almost one billion smackers at the domestic box office, let alone the rest of the world. I bow before the power of the dollar.

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(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

Anomalisa: A Review Of An Oddball Movie

My well-worn Fruit Of The Loom crew socks always are knocked off when I think about the number of really creative people sharing space with me and the rest of the less-gifted on Planet Earth. And I think about this fairly often. I mean, worthy musicians and visual artists and novelists and comedians and you-name-it form an eye-popping total. Part of that is due to the insane volume of humans (over seven billion) inhabiting our orb. Still, body count aside, I’m pretty certain that the percentage of seriously creative humans today is higher than ever before in our species’ long and unsettling history.

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That inspiring notion was trotting through my mind last weekend as I watched a most unusual movie, Anomalisa. As the final credits rolled I wasn’t certain exactly how much I liked the movie, but I sure as shootin’ was immensely impressed by its meticulous construction and idiosyncratic pilings, by its very existence to tell you the truth. Who the heck except those with non-standard orientations would decide to have the story of a depressed and lonely man represented on screen by stop-motion puppets instead of by humans? And be able to pull it off? Well, it happened, and Anomalisa, quirky and profound, was the result. And yet, the credits still rolling, I remembered the words of my excellent friend Dave last year in the lobby of the movie theater where we had just watched Clouds Of Sils Maria. “This one’s not for everyone,” he wisely had observed. I would say the same for Anomalisa.

Last year I bravely composed a review of Clouds Of Sils Maria, fully admitting that my teensy level of brain power had penetrated only a fraction of Clouds’ wonders (read it by clicking here). I found Anomalisa far more comprehensible than Clouds. Here’s the set-up: Michael Stone, a celebrated self-help book author, flies from his home in Los Angeles to Cincinnati, where he is to address, with words of wisdom, a convention of customer service workers gathered there from around the USA. His job is to instruct the tribe how to become more productive, how to relate better with customers. Michael has a problem though. A really big problem. He, a guru to many, is desperately in need of help, and he knows it. Life has lost its meaning to him. Everyone, everything seems homogenized and bland, boringly repetitive and predictable. He is irritable and teetering on the edge. Things have gotten so bad in Michaelville, he can’t differentiate anyone’s voice. Male or female, all voices sound the same to him. And yet he plods on, a drink and/or a smoke never far from his hands.

In his hotel, the day before his scheduled speech, Michael meets Lisa, a sweet youngish lady with no special talents. Lisa, a customer service rep, has driven to Cincinnati to attend the convention. Michael immediately takes to her. Why? Miraculously, her voice is the one and only in the world that is distinctive to him. And thus he considers her to be unique, an anomaly. And possibly his salvation. He pet-names her Anomalisa: Anomaly + Lisa = Anomalisa.

If you end up seeing the movie you’ll thank me for what I’m about to do now, for here is where, for the most part, I will stop giving details about the storyline. But don’t hang up yet. There are a few things that I can’t hold back. Let’s start with sex. Hey, it might be limited to one scene, but man, it’s raunchy. Pretty weird seeing puppets going at it with gusto. Maybe kind of creepy too, though in an intriguing sort of way. And definitely not something you come across every day.

And I dare not overlook the larger implications of Michael Stone’s circumstances, or my credentials as a pseudocritic might be withdrawn. Charlie Kaufman, the writer of a few out-there movies (Being John Malkovich; Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) authored Anomalisa. Not that I’ve discussed Anomalisa with him (C’mon, Charlie, take my calls. I’m harmless), but I think that Charlie is commenting on what he sees as the modern world’s dehumanizing nature, the result of which is a fair number of people who don’t know themselves and don’t know what to do about that. Michael Stone, for example.

When doing my spotty research into Anomalisa I found an article that went into the movie’s genesis. For me, Anomalisa’s puppetry by far is its most head-turning aspect. Turns out, though, that Charlie Kaufman, for all his unusual takes on life, didn’t birth the puppet idea. Kaufman originally had written Anomalisa for the stage, where it ran in Los Angeles in a very limited engagement about 10 years ago. Dino Stamatopoulos, a writer/producer/actor and a pal of Charlie’s, saw the play and concluded that it would translate handsomely to the silver screen. With puppets. I’m guessing that Dino often doesn’t drive on the proper side of the road. Kaufman, at first resistant, eventually agreed to the splendid suggestion. Charlie ended up directing the flick with stop-motion animation virtuoso Duke Johnson.

Anomalisa was a labor of love. The puppets, the sets, were beautifully fashioned and filmed. As far as I can gather, nearly everything we see on screen was hand-made. Whew! I can’t imagine how many hours of puppet-molding and fabric-stitching and carpentry went into Anomalisa. Gazillions. Not to mention the time needed to move the puppets’ bodies incrementally and film each new position to present the illusion of movement. The work paid off. The puppets had me believing in their human personas, and the sets are realistic, subdued and glowing in an Edward Hopper-like way.

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How much, then, did I enjoy Anomalisa?  I saw the movie in Philadelphia with my wife Sandy and our wonderful friends Cindy and Gene. They all might have liked Anomalisa a little more than I did. I thought it was good but not great, primarily because the plot dragged here and there. On purpose, for sure, because life’s ordinariness is part, but hardly all, of Anomalisa’s stew. Has any other movie presented mundanity with such unnerving precision, though? I doubt it.

 

Aomalisa is odd, a curiosity with a strong human face. And it’s just up some folks’ alleys. Cindy used the word compelling to describe Anomalisa, and I don’t disagree. To those willing to take a plunge I say “go for it.”

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(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

The Pretty Good And The Great: A Look At Burnt And Room

On a recent weekend my wife Sandy and I added to one of the biggest lists we maintain. Namely, the list of movies that we have seen. We watch far more movies at theaters than at home, and the two I’m about to talk about were viewed from comfortable chairs in suburban Philadelphia cinemas. We went on a Friday with our excellent friends Barbara and Fred to see Burnt. The following night, unaccompanied, we took in Room.

I hadn’t thought of Burnt as a must-see, but I was more than happy to give it a go when Sandy informed me that she and Barbara had decided upon it. I like Bradley Cooper and I like food, and Burnt not only stars Cooper but is set in the world of high cuisine and celebrated chefs. Leaving the theater I was fine with Burnt. Then the next day I started to think about it a bit more, a dangerous thing to do, and downgraded my opinion. It’s an enjoyable movie, but nothing beyond standard. It’s pretty good at best.

Now, Room was another story. I had been under the impression that it is highly disturbing, with tough-to-watch violent scenes. I was reluctant to see it because of this. Sandy, however, told me that, from what she had read, I was wrong. Right she was. I didn’t have to close my eyes at all during the movie, as nothing bloodily horrific occurred. What did take place unfurled seamlessly, a heartwrenching and heartwarming tale that felt authentic. Room is a great movie, one of the very best that I’ve seen so far in the year 2015.

Seems to me that most movies, in one way or another, are about the human condition. Well, uh, duh. And the human condition, needless to say, is complicated, far too variable and malleable for an amateur observer like me ever to understand particularly well. I came away from Burnt and Room, though, with the idea that, vastly different as they are, they address some of the same questions: What does it take for a person to become well-oiled and smoothly-functioning and goodhearted? To fit in the world healthily?

We saw Burnt in Warrington, PA.
We saw Burnt in Warrington, PA.

In Burnt, Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, once a top-of-the-line restaurant chef who imploded and burned his bridges several years before the movie’s opening moments. Anger, unhappiness and the subsequent drugs and drink did him in. Early in the action we find him doing self-imposed penance as an oyster shucker in a New Orleans restaurant. He has been clean and sober for a couple of years and has decided that he will take his place as an elite chef once again, but only after he has shucked one million oysters. That milestone reached, off he heads to London, where associates from his past are in the culinary game.

Aggressive, fast-talking and manipulative, Jones magically in no time is at the helm of a fancy fancy eatery in a fancy fancy hotel. You go, bro! Though recognized as a maestro in the kitchen, Jones for some reason feels obligated to treat his boss and kitchen staff in a bullying and disrespectful manner. And he gets away with it. Apparently the stoppage of substance abuse didn’t stop Jones from being an asshole. How come? — go ask the screenwriter. But what really got me was that so many people, despite Jones’ obnoxious ways, have an underlying deep affection for him. Made no sense to me. Go ask the screenwriter.

But Adam Jones is not all bad. Hints of decency peek through. And he owns a degree of self-awareness. If he is to morph into the person whom others, remarkably, are rooting for him to become, he will need to drop his defenses and allow their good feelings to reach him, and allow his blood to warm. We’re talking here about love, the key to life.

Yup, high-speed and breezy Burnt is a flawed production about a flawed human being. But there are two good reasons to see it, Bradley Cooper for one. He is a fine actor. Adam Jones is a complex guy, and Cooper draws a complete picture.

And then there’s the food. I’m a sucker for beautifully filmed looks at the preparation and downing of gorgeous and delicious meals. A good one-sixth of Burnt has the camera focused on this tasty stuff. Thinking about it now is making me hungry.

We saw Room in Ambler, PA.
We saw Room in Ambler, PA.

Speaking of flaws, stay away from Room if you’re looking for them. It is one of those movies that gets everything right. The screenplay, cinematography, pacing, acting. Brie Larson and child actor Jacob Tremblay perform astonishingly in the lead roles. The rest of the small cast also is outstanding. I see a bushel of Oscar nominations in Room’s future.

Room’s examination of how best to grow in the world, unlike Burnt’s, is profound, multidimensional and moving. What, though, is the world? When Room commences, it is a one-room shed for 24-year-old Joy Newsome (Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Tremblay). They have been held prisoner there by perverted Old Nick, a middle-aged loser. Old Nick never has allowed Jack to leave the shed. Joy, kidnapped by Old Nick when she was seventeen, hasn’t been outside the room since then. Old Nick began using Joy for sex right from the start. He is Jack’s biological father.

The shed is habitable and sits behind Old Nick’s home in Akron, Ohio. It has running water, electricity, heat, a tiny kitchen and bathroom, a bed, a television and a few books. It has no wall windows, only a skylight. Its one door is thick and equipped with a passcode-protected lock for which only Old Nick knows the numbers. Old Nick visits the shed to deliver food and to have sex. Escape? Little chance — Old Nick is crafty and scary. This is a bleak set-up, one in which only the strong-willed and resilient, such as Joy, would survive.

Jack knows of no existence beyond his prison. To Jack, the room and his mother have been reality, nothing much else. He doesn’t realize that the people and other images that he sees on television have a connection to realms beyond the screen. Yet he is a happy and playful child. Joy has done miraculous work nurturing Jack under cruelly limiting conditions. Raising him with love is all that matters to Joy. And shielding him from Old Nick.

I’m not spoiling the plot by saying that Joy begins to explain their plight to Jack when he turns five, and that light bulbs slowly brighten in his mind. I won’t say more about the directions the story takes. Giving away too much about such a quality movie wouldn’t be fair.

But I will say this. Room examines the human plight fastidiously. Burnt doesn’t, which is sort of OK because it never meant to. But Burnt would have been a better movie if it had tried a little harder. Somewhere in the middle of Burnt one of the characters throws out a line or two about Adam Jones having had a very rough upbringing. Nothing more is made of this in Burnt, but probably it’s the root cause of chef Jones’ discontent.

I’ll say it again. Love, the key to life.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

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You Gotta Like These People: A Review Of Meet The Patels

A few nights ago my wife Sandy and I went for the umpteenth time to the Ambler Theater, an art house cinema in the Philadelphia suburbs that I’ve praised often on this website. We were accompanied by our excellent pals, Cindy and Gene. They are Philadelphians understandably loathe to drive to the burbs, or anywhere, for fear of the nightmare that sometimes awaits them hours later when they return to their congested neighborhood and attempt to find a parking space. I hope they are not still circling their surrounding blocks these several days later. If they are . . . well, that’ll learn ’em.

We saw Meet The Patels at the Ambler Theater.
We saw Meet The Patels at the Ambler Theater.

The movie we went to see was Meet The Patels. It is a delightful concoction, a documentary so breezy and cheerily assembled that I urge all of good spirit to take it in. For those not of good spirit, watching it maybe will help them find a better path in life.

 

 

Nonetheless, I left the Ambler Theater not at all sure if I would comment online about Meet The Patels. Sure, I enjoyed the documentary very much. Sure, it’s worth writing about. But: 1) Hundreds of reviews of this movie already have been penned. 2) I didn’t seem to have any wondrous insights to disseminate. 3) Etc.

On the other hand, my blog is a voracious master, compelling me to keep it fed.

Words of wisdom attached to a wall at Randazzo's Pizzeria.
Words of wisdom attached to a wall at Randazzo’s Pizzeria.

Fresh out of ideas and inspiration, I sauntered into Randazzo’s Pizzeria the day after watching Meet The Patels. It’s a decent joint a mile or two from my abode. As I waited for my pizza slices to heat in the oven I took a look at one of the walls. It was covered with knick-knacks and photographs. One of the knick-knacks caught my attention and got me thinking. It was a depiction of an Italian chef standing next to a chalkboard on which were written very sage and pithy statements: “A pinch of patience; a dash of kindness; a spoonful of laughter; and a heap of love.”

Those are words not to be taken lightly. They truly are meaningful. They are a good recipe for life. And they illuminate what, to me, Meet The Patels is all about.

And thus a pizzeria inspired me to sit down and type this report. Meet The Patels concerns a family of four, the Patels. Natch. Husband and wife, India-born Vasant and Champa, moved to the States decades ago for better opportunities than they saw available at home. They became accustomed to the American Way, but hung on strongly to their native customs and values. Stateside they produced two children, Geeta and then Ravi. Now young adults, the siblings are highly Americanized, yet cognizant and appreciative of the Asian culture that undeniably runs through their veins.

All four Patels, as best I could tell, reside in California. Mr. and Mrs. P occupy a roomy home. Geeta and Ravi, touchingly, share a comfortable apartment. How many adult siblings live together? Few, by my experience. In this documentary, Geeta and Ravi seem to pull it off easily.

On to the plot. Meet The Patels spins the tale of Ravi’s search for a wife. Having recently broken up, after a two year romance, with a white girl named Audrey, 29-year-old Ravi somewhat reluctantly agrees to allow his parents to try and find a suitable match for him. Only thing is that Mom and Dad never knew about Audrey. Ravi was too embarrassed ever to tell them that he had dated a female of the non-Indian-American persuasion. Mom and Dad, successful products of an arranged marriage — arranged being the norm in India — were under the impression that their 29-year-old son was kind of a relationship tyro. And that his unstated goal was to settle down with someone who shared his ethnic background. Coolly they convince Ravi to allow them to employ slightly updated versions of traditional Indian matchmaking methods to identify and locate a mate for him. Said mate is to come from the large pool of well-educated and fine-tempered Indian-American and Indian females that Ravi’s parents are confident exists. Let the games begin.

Meet The Patels is a movie that originally wasn’t meant to be a movie. As a lark, Geeta began filming Ravi’s wife-seeking adventures. After a while she and Ravi realized that fun and wisdom were to be found in the raw footage. Light bulbs went off in their heads and a project was born. They are credited as Meet the Patels’ directors, and along with two others as the writers. The movie doesn’t mention this, but it turns out that the story and filming took place about seven years ago, after which various snags held things up big time. Last year, finally, the movie was completed and became a darling of the film festival circuit. It’s playing now in a modest number of theaters. Ravi was an actor landing a handful of movie and TV roles while Meet The Patels was filming. These days he is a pretty big presence on the small screen. He’s currently in two series, Grandfathered and Master Of None

Meet The Patels moves fast and furious, Geeta handling most of the camerawork in an engagingly amateurish home movie mode (she claims she never learned how to operate her camera, or frame scenes, properly). The film intersperses animated sequences, scripted and nimble, to explain and give oomph to the plot. The plot doesn’t require more elucidation from me. No spoiler alerts here. What really matters are the lessons about human behavior and relationships to be gained from the flick (and from the Italian chef’s chalkboard). To wit, the four principles in Meet the Patels are endearing, warm and loving. They respect each other and get along famously. They are open (excepting Ravi’s concealment from Mom and Dad of Audrey’s place in his life, but we’ll forgive him that) and open to change. They smile a lot, laugh a lot. These are folks you’d want to be friends with.

Sandy, Cindy, Gene and I all left the theater feeling good. Amen.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

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The End Of My Long Affair (With Turner Classic Movies)

When I moved to Philadelphia in 1974 I became a film buff of sorts. It all happened very naturally and wasn’t anything I thought about. There were fewer options for movie lovers back then in Philadelphia than there are today, but there were enough. In addition to first-run theaters, Philadelphia had various venues that specialized in lesser-known flicks — some were foreign, some not. I had never before seen many foreign or cult movies and found myself liking them. My cinematic diet, consisting of the mainstream, the obscure, the subtitled, has remained consistent ever since.

My wife Sandy, whom I met in 1990, is a big movie fan too. Each year she and I leave the house 40 or more times to take in movies. Chez us, together we catch an additional 25 or so flicks on the tube. We like doing things together. For a span of eight years in my married life though, I also viewed hundreds of films on my own. I watched them on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. I became addicted to TCM, but I’m not anymore. Here’s the story:

In 2006 my thoughts and activities were less-focused than they should have been. My father had died the previous year and I think my restlessness was partly connected to his passing. He had lived with Sandy and me, and we spent a lot of time caring for him. With him gone I had trouble finding ways to fill up my days fully.

I began watching TCM movies on this TV in 2006. This is a recent photo of the TV.
I began watching TCM movies on this TV in 2006. This is a recent photo of the TV.

Sandy had been suggesting I might do well to add some prime time television viewing to my regimen as one way to get my mind off of things. But I couldn’t decide what to watch, didn’t think I’d  be happy devoting a bunch of hours to the small screen. Somehow though, I heard the call of TCM. Our meeting must have been preordained. And so a few months into 2006 I began descending the stairs on many evenings from our kitchen to finished basement, a place I hadn’t visited all that much since moving into our house the year before. In the basement’s den area sat an old bulky TV that had traveled from our previous home.

The Letter was the first movie I watched on TCM in 2006. I took this photo recently.
The Letter was the first movie I watched on TCM in 2006. This is a recent photo.

I began the affair gingerly. The first TCM movie I watched in 2006 was The Letter, a Bette Davis melodrama. It was pretty good. “OK, let’s try another,” I thought, and not too many days later Tender Mercies passed before my eyes. I had seen it when it came out in 1983 but didn’t recall it too clearly. I gave it two thumbs up in 2006.

Turner Classic Movies is quite the amazing broadcaster. Movies in their unedited versions 24 hours a day with no commercial interruptions. TCM’s core is English-speaking productions from the 1930s through 70s. Once in awhile the station throws in a foreign movie or a silent or a post-1970s film such as Tender Mercies. Despite the station’s name, however, hardly every TCM movie is a classic. There are plenty of clunkers. On many occasions I turned off a movie within its first 30 minutes and made the long climb upstairs.

And yet, duds or not, I became very comfortable sitting in a recliner in front of the basement TV. By 2006’s end I had watched 61 movies on TCM. The next year’s number was 103, and the year after that I reached the 87 mark,  my two highest totals. Since then the counts have descended, from 64 in 2009 to seven in 2014. I’ve managed merely one movie so far in 2015, The Great Santini, a good one that seemed a tad better to me when it made its initial rounds in 1983.

Why the dramatic falloff? Well, after cutting a slew of notches into my movie-watching belt I discovered that my TCM motor was running out of gas. Eventually, many of the movies I contemplated watching didn’t seem, upon investigation, good enough to spend time with. And the slim pickings of films from 1980 onward began to bother me a little.

But I tip my hat to Turner Classic Movies without hesitation. You see, to Sandy’s amazement somehow I’d made it into my late 50s and early 60s without having witnessed On The Waterfront, West Side Story, Singin’ In The Rain, From Here To Eternity and others that the general populace would deem to be true classic films. TCM rectified that situation. Contrarian that I sometimes am though, Singin’ was the only one of those that I felt was completely worthy of wearing a crown. And, besides Singin’, at least 15 more offerings that I first caught on TCM are now on my list of elite movies: In A Lonely Place, Odd Man Out, The Misfits, Darling, Sweet Smell Of Success, Hud . . .

Hey TCM. you’re a great station and I thank you for all the entertaining hours that you bestowed on me. Add some movies from the current century and maybe once again you and I will become pals.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

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