Greetings, adventurous film lovers, and welcome to another week's worth of area alternative cinema previews. If you're looking for something other than standard corporate multiplex fare, think of this column as that one particular telephone pole where you long ago learned you could find all the event flyers that matter to you most.
Only the original
First off, if you attended last week's SCAD Cinema Circle presentation of the 1988 sci-fi anime classic "Akira" (in spoken Japanese, natch), good on you. I could not make it myself, but I am told the 1,100-seat room was only about 50 seats shy of a complete sell-out crowd. Now, calling it a "near sell-out" is a slight misnomer, as anyone with a valid SCAD ID gets in free to all Cinema Circle events, and I hear about two-thirds of the audience members that night enjoyed that perk. However, that means about 300 folks from the general public took in the cyberpunk cult classic, which is certainly heartening.
"Akira" was the first anime film SCAD has ever shown in that beautiful venue, and it's also the first of three Japanese animated features to be presented by the organization, which always includes live introductions and post-show discussions moderated by members of the school's faculty as well as grad students from SCAD's cinema studies department (and the occasional special guest).
The second of these three events takes place May 4. That night, for one show only, they'll screen the original 1995 animated version of "Ghost in the Shell," which has recently been remade as a live-action feature that left both critics and audiences underwhelmed and pining for the original effort.
As with "Akira," this film will be screened with its original Japanese language track intact, abetted by English subtitles. Based on the manga comic of the same name, this dazzling anime was created via a collaboration between both Japanese and British filmmakers. It is set in 2029, and centers on the search for a notorious computer hacker against a backdrop of political corruption and espionage. By mixing traditional hand-drawn cel animation, computer graphics and dramatic lighting and perspective effects in an extremely innovative fashion, it served as a technologically revolutionary film that continues to wield a heavy visual influence over a wide swath of modern sci-fi, superhero and action films, including live action motion pictures.
Critics adore this film, and it has been mentioned alongside Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris" as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. It is also notable for taking an unexpected approach to issues of sexuality and gender identity, years before such themes were commonplace on the big screen - even in works of futuristic sci-fi. Showtime is 8 p.m., with $8 admission ($6 for seniors, students and military or free with valid SCAD ID). Get there early, as this one may just draw as large a crowd as "Akira."
Backtracking a few days, out in neighboring Springfield, the historic Mars Theatre celebrates its third anniversary with a three-night engagement of the newly released high-energy action flick "The Fate of the Furious" from April 27-29. True, you can see this film at any number of corporate multiplexes, but why not support an independent venue just a short drive from Savannah? In honor of their anniversary, the Mars is including a small popcorn with every ticket to each night's 7 p.m. show, and the first 20 people who enter each night will receive a free souvenir T-shirt as well. Admission is $6.
'Pushing the Limits' finale
Heading out once more from the confines of Savannah's city limits, on April 28, the public library in the tiny nearby town of Pembroke hosts the final monthly installment in its four-part free dinner and a movie discussion series known as "Pushing the Limits." Closing out this unique, entertaining and educational series of acclaimed feature films centered around universal concepts will be director Ron Howard's 1995 docudrama "Apollo 13," about NASA's ill-fated third moon mission.
Nominated for a whopping nine Oscars (including Best Picture), the well-regarded film stars Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and - of course - Kevin Bacon as real-life U.S. astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, who are forced to grapple with a severe malfunction during spaceflight that threatens not only the mission, but also their own lives. Praised for its historical and scientific accuracy, "Apollo 13" grossed more than $335 million at the box office when first released, and has since been viewed as one of the best American motion pictures of its era. As with all previous installments of this community-oriented series, free pizza, soft drinks and cookies will be provided before the film itself, and there will be a Q&A afterward co-hosted by yours truly. The event begins at 6 p.m. sharp. We hope to see some of you there.
Then, on April 29, downtown's lovely, historic Lucas Theatre is the setting for a special, one-show-only fundraising screening of 2013's smash animated Disney musical "Frozen," starring the voice talents of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. Based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale known as "The Snow Queen," it's a finely crafted adaptation with a little something for everyone, from young kids to senior citizens. That unusually broad appeal and heartwarming storyline helped it earn more than $1.25 billion at the international box office. Yep, you read that right. More than $1 billion in ticket sales.
This one is of course already on home video. However, Alison Harris, who's been nominated for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's 2017 Woman of the Year, is hoping folks will still appreciate a chance to see it on the big screen, as its filmmakers intended. This screening is free to everyone, but you must reserve your tickets in advance online. Then, once you arrive, the organizers are requesting voluntary donations in any amount, which will go toward Harris' goal of raising $100,000 for this charitable organization in honor of her late grandmother, felled by leukemia in 1975. Reservations to this 5 p.m. screening can be made via the Lucas Theatre's website.
The next day, both the Regal Savannah Stadium 10 multiplex (behind the Savannah Mall) and the Cinemark in Bluffton, S.C., present a one-show-only high-definition screening of highlights from upcoming TED Talks. The "TED2017 Cinema Experience" is an exclusive compilation made just for theaters, and offers a sneak peek at various TED Talks that have not yet been released - including appearances and insights from such major figures in the world of, like, brainy pontificating as Tesla's Elon Musk. 4 p.m. showtime, with $21.40 admission in advance online (through fathomevents.com) or at the door.
Into the whale
Fathom Events stays busy this week, with a couple of other notable pieces of programming coming to local screens. On May 2 at the Regal Savannah Stadium 10, they present the "hit musical" known as "JONAH: On Stage!"
Filmed - as always, in high-def - in front of a live audiences at Sight & Sound Theatres in Lancaster, Pa., it's billed as a technically impressive stage adaptation of the biblical tale of a man, a whale and a really big stomach ache. This family-friendly show is geared to find humor in this story of "the lovable yet stubborn prophet." 7 p.m. showtime, with $13.38 admission for all ages via Fathom's website or at the venue itself.
Then, the next day, May 3, at the same location, Fathom screens the brand-new biographical documentary "I Am Heath Ledger." This well-reviewed, feature-length look at the life and legacy of the beloved, doomed Australian actor who passed away in 2008 from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs is based around private, previously unseen footage that Ledger himself shot with his own camera. Following the film, there will be an additional documentary based around exclusive interviews with the friends, family and colleagues who knew him best - including such recognizable names as Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Emile Hirsch, Ang Lee, Catherine Hardwicke and Ben Harper. 7:30 p.m. showtime, with $16.05 admission ($13.38 for children) online or at the door.
A nugget of weirdness
And finally, a half-hour later that same night at The Sentient Bean, the Psychotronic Film Society's ongoing Wednesday night series of obscure, forgotten or underappreciated features continues with a special memorial salute to the bizarre cult filmmaker Ron Ormond timed to coincide roughly with the 36th anniversary of his death. A former stage magician, Ormond became a criminally unknown writer-producer-director specializing in sleazy, ultra-low-budget exploitation films before converting to born-again Christianity after surviving a deadly 1968 plane crash.
From that point forward, Ormond's peculiar and often disturbing films carried explicit evangelical Christian themes, and were often financed by ministers and their congregations in hopes they would serve as an unorthodox method of saving souls (by scaring folks into converting to fundamentalist Christianity).
However, before his conversion, Ormond made a number of hideously campy, misguided features rooted in matters of sex and violence. "Teenage Bride" aka "Please Don't Touch Me" is just such an infamous nugget of high weirdness. It stars washed-up Western film star Alfred "Lash" Larue as a psychiatrist who teams up with a hypnotist to try and cure a young wife of her "mental problem" - namely, that she is not interested in having sex with her husband, who subsequently forces her to have her head examined in hopes of enjoying more favorable treatment from his spouse.
Unintentionally hilarious for its blatant misogyny and outdated attitudes toward male-female relations, the overall tone of this movie might be described as "Edward D. Wood Jr. (of 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' infamy) directing an early John Waters film." In other words, it's gloriously awful in most every regard, and geared toward viewers with an affection for guilty pleasures. 8 p.m. showtime with $7 admission, and discounts on organic wine and craft beer during the show.
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 Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the time Walt Disney Productions released "Frozen" in 2013, they had been attempting (at various times) to make an animated feature based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen" for more than 70 years - having first explored the possibility in 1940. However, the company reportedly found the story too difficult and vexing to properly translate to the big screen, and spent time and money attempting to do just that many times over the intervening years, to no avail.
At the time of Heath Ledger's death, he had completed his final screen role, that of the Joker in the Batman film "The Dark Knight." After that film was released, he posthumously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, a Best Actor International Award at the Australian Film Institute Awards, the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.
Besides "Teenage Bride," other Ron Ormond films beloved by collectors of unhinged, D-grade cinema rarities include such provocative titles as "Mesa of Lost Women," Untamed Mistress," "White Lightning Road," "40 Acre Feud," "The Burning Hell," "If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?" and "The Grim Reaper."
IF YOU GO
What: Mars Theatre's third anniversary: "The Fate of the Furious"
When: 7 p.m. April 27, 28, 29
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St., Springfield
Cost: $6, includes free small popcorn
What: "Apollo 13"
When: 6 p.m. April 28
Where: Pembroke Public Library, 1018 Camelia Drive, Pembroke
Cost: Free, includes pizza dinner
What: "Frozen" fundraiser screening
When: 5 p.m. April 29
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
Cost: Free; RSVP in advance online; donations go to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
What: "TED2017 Cinema Experience"
When: 4 p.m. April 30
Where: Regal Savannah Stadium 10, 1132 Shawnee Ave., Cinemark Bluffton 12, 106 Buckwalter Pkwy., Bluffton, S.C.
What: "JONAH: On Stage!"
When: 7 p.m. May 2
Where: Regal Savannah Stadium 10, 1132 Shawnee Ave.
What: "I Am Heath Ledger"
When: 7:30 p.m. May 2
Where: Regal Savannah Stadium 10, 1132 Shawnee Ave.
Cost: $16.05 Adult, $13.38 Child
What: "Teenage Bride" aka "Please Don't Touch Me"
When: 8 p.m. May 3
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
What: "Ghost in the Shell" (original 1995 anime version)
When: 8 p.m. May 4
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: $8, $6 for seniors/students/military, free with SCAD ID