Those readers not old enough to remember the 1960s and 1970s (and, for that matter, the 1990s!) may only know Frankie Avalon as the mysterious character “Teen Angel” in 1978’s feature film adaptation of the musical “Grease.” However, long before he played that home run of a cameo role — which was itself meant as an homage to Avalon’s longtime peer/rival Fabian Forte — Frankie was a massive movie and music star in his own right.
His career really hit its stride in the mid-1960s via a series of cheaply made, low-brow, youth-oriented musical comedies produced by trendsetting Hollywood studio American International Pictures, which often paired the Italian-American heartthrob with the comely singing actress Annette Funicello. The studio is also responsible for such oddball drive-in sensations as “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and “Attack of the Puppet People.” Wholesome and wacky, these summertime “beach party” flicks offered up an idealized, hijinks-filled version of Southern California pop culture that enchanted teenagers and pre-teens nationwide.
1965’s “Beach Blanket Bingo” is generally considered the most enjoyable of the many films in this series, and on May 17, the historic Tybee Post Theater will host a rare public screening of that beloved, retro oceanside rom-com. Watch for the late, great comics Don Rickles and Paul Lynde in key roles. Showtime is 7 p.m., and admission includes your choice of beverage (beer, wine or soft drinks) and chocolate candy. Ticket prices to all Film Scene listings can be found in the accompanying sidebar.
Tragedy of ‘Macbeth’
That same night out on the Southside of Savannah, Fathom Events (which streams a wide variety of special high-definition digital programming to participating cinemas) presents a recently shot live-on-stage performance of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “Macbeth,” as produced by Great Britain’s prestigious National Theatre Co. The venue? Regal Cinemas Stadium 10 multiplex behind the Savannah Mall, which routinely presents some of Fathom’s offerings.
Directed for the stage by Rufus Norris, this new interpretation of the spooky, wartime tale of familial conflict is the exact same high-def film that showed at the Lucas Theatre last week, it just costs quite a lot more to see it at the Regal than at that historic downtown movie palace. Showtime is 7 p.m., and this program will also be screened simultaneously for the same price at the Cinemark multiplex in nearby Bluffton, S.C.
Those same two venues will also present a three-day engagement of “Porco Rosso,” the 1992 animated comedy-adventure-fantasy from the late, iconic Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, whose name and production company Studio Ghibli have been essentially synonymous with exceptional quality animé features for decades now. There’s been more top-quality animé shown on big screens in our area over the past year or so than has ever been the case since I moved to Savannah in the mid-1980s. That’s mostly been because of Fathom Events partnering with Studio Ghibli to routinely present titles from that organization’s estimable back catalog for short, exclusive re-releases like this one (as well as SCAD adding classic and influential anime titles to its increasingly popular Cinema Circle series at Trustees Theater).
“Porco Rosso” is something of an odd duck in the Ghibli oeuvre. The plot is, on its face, quite nonsensical and bizarre, as is often the case with animated films in general, but particularly with Japanese entries into the genre. A Mediterranean tale set in and around the scenic Adriatic Sea, it concerns an ace WWI fighter pilot from Italy who has since become a bounty hunter for hire, chasing down and eliminating evildoers and “sky pirates” who are wreaking havoc in the skies above these sleepy villages and towns. What’s so odd about that, you might ask? Well, the pilot is also suffering from a strange supernatural curse that has transformed him into a talking pig.
That’s right, he’s a talking pig that wears men’s clothing and can fly an airplane.
Eventually, his enviable aerobatic skills and feats of derring-do wind up infuriating some airborne ruffians, and he’s forced to band together with a teenage girl and a female lounge singer to try and overcome his enemies once and for all.
Financed by Japan Airlines, the film is one of the very few animated features by this director that is mostly grounded (see what I did there?) in historical reality, as opposed to a completely imagined realm, and is also notable for an obvious anti-fascist message. The No. 1 film in Japan during its year of release, it is not widely known here in the States, but some critics believe it to be the single most underrated film Studio Ghibli ever produced. “Porco Rosso” will be shown once daily during its three-day run. For those who care about such things, the 12:55 p.m. show May 20 and the 7 p.m. show May 23 will be screened in the original spoken Japanese with English subtitles, while the 7 p.m. show May 21 will be the version dubbed into spoken English.
The final Fathom event taking place over the next seven days occurs May 22 at the Regal Stadium 10. “Godspeed: The Race Across America” is a two-hour and 15-minute Christian-themed, message-oriented documentary that follows two devoted athletes who compete 24 hours a day for a solid week to raise money for Haitian orphans. One is an author and sportscaster who moonlights as a motivational speaker. The other is a four-time Ironman triathlete. Together they bicycle over 3,000 miles of varied terrain, including mountains, deserts and plains in what has been called “the world’s most difficult cycling race.”
How difficult? Well, it’s 168 hours of “non-stop” pedaling across 12 states from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. Sleep-deprived and wracked with mental anguish and extreme muscle fatigue, their journey is as much about the faith they place in their mission as it is about their athleticism and focus. After the main feature is finished, a special short interview with both bikers will be screened. Showtime is a 7 p.m.
Mr. T birthday salute
Heading downtown, on May 23 at The Sentient Bean coffeehouse on Forsyth Park, the award-winning Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah’s weekly series of overlooked, underappreciated and just plain weird feature films from around the world continues with a special 66th birthday salute to the one and only bouncer, bodyguard, actor and rapper, Mr. T.
He is best known for his 1982 role as the vicious boxer Clubber Lang in the smash hit “Rocky III,” and as the flight-averse mechanic B.A. Baracus in the iconic TV action series “The A-Team,” which ran from 1983-87. Mr. T is a one-of-a-kind larger-than-life character who has overcome tremendous disadvantages and difficulties in his early life to become a beloved international superstar and somewhat campy icon of self-actualism and brute force strength.
In honor of his life and career, the PFS will present a rare public screening of “The Toughest Man in the World,” the first feature film Mr. T ever starred in (as opposed to being featured as a supporting actor). This first-ever lead role was as Bruise Brubaker, a gruff but kindhearted nightclub bouncer who finds himself forced to work alongside a ragtag group of inner-city kids when he is tricked into assuming management of a run-down youth center.
Made for television, it was directed by veteran C-grade filmmaker Dick Lowry, who is also responsible for, among other things, a full-length “Alf” movie and the infamously dire “Smokey and the Bandit Part 3.” It was written by “The” Jimmy Sangster, a British screenwriter who penned everything from classic Hammer horror flicks to episodes of such cult TV series as “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” “Banacek,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Concrete Cowboys.” It also stars Dennis Dugan, a terrifically underrated character actor who appeared in dozens of films and TV shows before becoming one of the most successful directors of episodic TV (such as “NYPD Blue”) and low-brow comedy movies (such as “Happy Gilmore”).
Showtime is 8 p.m., with discounts on craft beer and organic wine during the show.
Movies back at the Mars
And finally, Film Scene is pleased to announce that the historic Mars Theatre in nearby Springfield, Ga. has finally begun screening movies again after an extended hiatus. This lovingly restored multi-purpose venue (very similar in size and scope to the Tybee Post Theater) will kickstart its next batch of both first-run titles and older, popular favorites on May 24 with a six-day engagement of “Avengers: Infinity War,” the latest installment in the blockbuster Marvel Universe superhero franchise.
The second-most expensive motion picture ever made (it cost more than $315 million), in the weeks since its release, it has already grossed over $1 billion, making it the second-highest grossing film of this year. At more than two-and-a-half hours in length, it’s bound to be a tough slog for anyone not mesmerized by extended CGI battle sequences and pithy comebacks, but for those who keep up with the increasingly convoluted Marvel Universe, it should be just the ticket. Showtime is 7 p.m. each night, from May 24 through 26.
Until 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 the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah.