Those of us who have paid more than a bit of attention over the years to the American film and TV comedy scene are well aware that former "SNL" Weekend Update anchor Chevy Chase is known far and wide as a royal jerk when the cameras are not rolling. Detailed anecdotes have circulated for decades about his diva-esque demands, aggressively rude temper tantrums and general unpleasantness to both castmates and crew members.
However, all that nasty, backbiting tumult which courses reliably through the improv actor's veins has one redeemable by-product: he is often blisteringly funny to watch onscreen.
Though my own personal taste in Chase vehicles leans hard in the direction of playwright Neil Simon's 1980 fugitive-on-the-run farce "Seems Like Old Times," most Chase enthusiasts find plenty to love about his recurring role as the patriarch of the dysfunctional Griswold family in National Lampoon's enormously popular "Vacation" films of the 1980s and 1990s. 1989's third installment, "Christmas Vacation," has become a perennial holiday season classic of low-brow, vaguely raunchy silliness through decades of cable TV airings, which is why Tybee Post Theater will present the original, uncut theatrical version on Dec. 7.
This may be one of the last chances you'll ever have to watch Randy Quaid - Chase's co-star in the film - on the big screen, as that real-life fugitive-on-the-run has reportedly parlayed his recent public bouts of emotional instability into a low-rent, career-capping reality TV series chronicling a forthcoming no-chance Vermont Senatorial run against Bernie Sanders. Seriously. 7 p.m. showtime, with beer or wine and a piece of chocolate included in your admission price (details can be found in our adjacent sidebar listings).
One week later, Dec. 14, the Post Theater will kick off a three-day engagement of the newly released, Christmas-themed CGI feature "The Star," which boasts the voice talent of a diverse cast of big names, including "The Walking Dead" alum Steven Yeun, comedic actor Keegan-Michael Key, pop singer Kelly Clarkson, Broadway sensation Kristin Chenoweth, "The" Oprah Winfrey and beloved stand-up comic Tracy Morgan.
A re-imagined version of the Nativity story, it's told from the story of a young donkey named Bo, who winds up playing a key, unexpected role in the birth of Jesus. The movie's gotten pretty mixed reviews since it hit theaters a few weeks back, but children (its target demographic) likely won't know or care about such critical quibbling. They just dig on talking donkeys. 7 p.m. showtimes on Dec. 14, 15 and 17, with an added 3 p.m. matinee Dec. 17.
Shifting backward one week to Dec. 7, the newly renovated and expanded historic Mars Theatre in the nearby community of Springfield celebrates its reopening with a six-day engagement of the critically praised new family drama "Wonder," which stars Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as the parents of a fifth-grade boy who suffers from a rare form of facial deformation, which leaves him susceptible to being bullied and ostracized by his uncaring schoolmates.
It's a tale of emotional growth and inclusion that has been described as ultimately inspiring and heartwarming, while simultaneously being one of the most incredibly sad motion pictures released by a major studio in recent memory. Which is to say, if you don't like movies that masterfully move you to tears, be prepared: many are calling this the "Citizen Kane" of tearjerkers. "Wonder" shows at 7 p.m. each night from Dec. 7-9, and again at the same time the following Thursday through Saturday.
Four from Fathom
Looking to the world of special screenings at corporate multiplexes, Fathom Events has four different programs on tap for the next seven days, starting with a Dec. 7 encore of "Star Trek" actor George Takei's well-regarded Broadway musical "Allegiance," based on his own personal recollections of the horrendous treatment his family (and 120,000 other innocent people of Japanese ancestry) faced while imprisoned in our country's shameful Asian-American internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at both the Regal Stadium 10 behind the Savannah Mall and the Cinemark in nearby Bluffton, S.C.
Two nights later, on Dec. 9, the same two venues play host to an encore presentation of the Metropolitan Opera's 2008 staging of Engelbert Humperdinck's 1893 German adaptation of the classic and highly creepy fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel." This version was produced by Richard Jones and boasts a recent English translation, which makes it ideal for younger viewers for whom reading subtitles would likely be an onerous task. This high-definition film of the show screens at 12:55 p.m., and runs right at two hours in length.
Then, on Dec. 10, the TCM cable network sponsors a special two-night-only 50th anniversary re-release of director Stanley ("Inherit The Wind," "The Caine Mutiny") Kramer's groundbreaking race-relations dramedy "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," starring Sidney Poitier as a Nobel Prize-nominated doctor whose African-American heritage takes the upper-class parents of his white fiancÃ©e by surprise.
This provocative box-office smash is now regarded as a true classic of American cinema, and features the final onscreen pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, who had starred alongside each other in eight prior pictures. Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar for this role, and the film itself took home the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. As a special bonus, an hour's worth of commentary on the film by two of TCM's hosts will be shown following the film, bringing the total running time of this expanded program to almost three hours. Showtimes are 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., with encores at the same time Dec. 13.
The last Fathom Event in this week's lineup is an encore presentation of the recently released "documentary" known as "Genesis: Paradise Lost," which will be shown at the same two venues listed above, plus the Savannah AMC 11 right next to the Regal Stadium 10. According to its advertising campaign, the film utilizes impressive visual effects and "the latest in scientific research" to bring the biblical tale of Creation "to life right before your eyes!" It will be shown in 3D, for added realism. 7 p.m. showtime, with reduced admission prices at some venues if you choose to view it in only 2D. But really, if you're gonna see the miracle of Creation, wouldn't you want it to have as much depth as possible?
Moving to downtown for our final two entries in this week's column, on Dec. 8, the Lucas Theatre offers the latest in its ongoing series of National Theatre Live high-definition streaming broadcasts of top-shelf British stage plays. This time around, it's "Young Marx," the just-opened play about the early life of revolutionary socialist philosopher Karl Marx by the writing team of Richard Bean and Clive Coleman.
This is the first production at London's new Bridge Theater, and has only been performed since Oct. 27. It closes at the end of this month, and this special cinema event will actually be a completely live document of the show as it occurred onstage in the U.K. As with all National Theatre Live events at the Lucas, this venue is offering this worthwhile cultural programming for a fraction of the cost most other cinemas around the U.S. charge for these same shows. Take advantage of this great value for one show only, at 7 p.m.
And finally, on Dec. 13, the Psychotronic Film Society's long-running weekly series of neglected and/or undervalued international cinema continues in the cozy confines of its DIY screening room at The Sentient Bean with an incredibly rare public viewing of one of the strangest "faux documentaries" ever made: renowned experimental filmmaker Wheeler Winston Dixon's feature-length oddity "Amazing World of Ghosts."
Released on an unsuspecting public in 1978, this bold, head-scratching mÃ©lange of disparate chunks of assorted - and often unrelated - found and stock footage (tied together extremely loosely by a mesmerizing voice-over) purports to be a factual investigation of the expansive worlds of the paranormal and the supernatural, yet quickly reveals itself to be an almost inscrutably poetic riff on misdirection and balderdash.
At times ponderous, at times wondrous, at times laugh-out-loud funny and at other times quietly profound, this unapologetically surreal, strung-together proto-mashup plays ultimately as a bewildering and slightly diabolical cross between a self-indulgent Terrence Malick rumination and an episode of Leonard Nimoy's hokey syndicated 1970s TV series "In Search ofâ€¦" Hypnotic and perplexing, it is not believed to have been released officially on DVD anywhere in the world, and must be seen to (not) be believed. 8 p.m. showtime, with discounts on craft beer and organic wine during the show.
That's it for alternative cinema events in our neck of the woods this week. Until our next issue, see you at the movies, be kind to those around you and don't forget to turn off that cell phone.
Jim Reed directs Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Email email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
What: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 7
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 7-9 and Dec. 14-16
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St.
What: "George Takei's Allegiance on Broadway"
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7
Where: Regal Savannah Stadium 10, 1132 Shawnee St., and Cinemark, 106 Buckwalter Pkwy., Bluffton, S.C.
What: National Theatre Live: "Young Marx"
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 8
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
What: The Met Live in HD: "Hansel and Gretel"
When: 12:55 p.m. Dec. 9
Where: Regal Stadium 10 and Cinemark Bluffton
What: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"
When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 10 and Dec. 13
Where: Regal Stadium 10 and Cinemark Bluffton
What: "GENESIS Pt. 1 - Paradise Lost"
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 11
Where: Regal Stadium 10, Savannah AMC 11 and Cinemark Bluffton
What: "Amazing World of Ghosts"
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 13
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
What: "The Star"
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 14-15 and 17 and 3 p.m Dec. 17
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.