A dude, a dragon and a hungry dame
This upcoming week's selection of special local film screenings is an almost perfect display of everything that makes such things great.
The beauty of one-night-only "event engagements" of movies is that it singles out specific titles for a trumpeted introduction, or (in many cases) a careful second look. Over the next seven days, Savannah audiences have the opportunity to take in three incredibly different films. They are all considered standouts, yet each has achieved varying levels of critical and commercial success.
The Lucas Theatre continues to hit its cinematic stride with a weekend of beloved features that will appeal to wildly different crowds, while the Psychotronic Film Society unearths another obscure gem of low-budget exploitation filmmaking that's about as under-the-radar as it gets - but which is revered by aficionados of gloriously bad movies.
This celebration of celluloid kicks off with a bang (or should I say a tinkle?) at 7 p.m. June 21 when the Lucas presents one of the most iconic and revered cult films of all time, the Coen Brothers' 1998 masterpiece of nihilistic absurdity, "The Big Lebowski." Considered a flop upon initial release (it grossed only $2 million more in the U.S.A. than its $15 million budget), this Arid Extra Dry comedy has since inspired a fervent worldwide legion of diehard fans, who adore the movie not only for its droll, dark humor, unpredictable, Raymond Chandler-esque neo-noir script and iconic, sharply drawn characters, but for its wondrous production design and pitch-perfect soundtrack (courtesy of score composer Carter Burwell and acclaimed music archivist T Bone Burnett).
In fact, Jeff Bridges' personification of Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, an oddly charismatic and perpetually intoxicated Venice Beach slacker, is so flat-out mesmerizing it has even inspired a religion (called, naturally, "Dudeism"). Founded in 2005, The Church of the Latter-Day Dude has reportedly ordained more than 130,000 mail-order "Dudeist Priests" worldwide. Seriously.
If you've never seen this marvelous mashup of retro kitsch and stoner humor, just know that it's much more than the sum of its parts. A legitimately great mystery that's also a surprisingly touching drama about the meaning of true friendship, "The Big Lebowski" also stars John Goodman (in a career-defining role as Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak), Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and the reliably awesome Ben Gazzara. If that cast can't sell you on this film, then nothing will. $8 admission, or $5 for students and seniors with ID. For mature audiences only.
On June 22, the Lucas offers the 2010 Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature, Dreamworks Studios' "How To Train Your Dragon." Based on the popular British children's book series, this computer-animated feature was a worldwide smash, earning close to a half-billion dollars at the box office. The breathtaking fantasy-adventure about an awkward young boy who befriends a rare dragon and uses it to defend his village from monstrous foes stars the voice talent of Jay Baruchel ("Undeclared"), Gerard Butler ("300") and late-night TV talk show host Craig Ferguson. Two sequels to this family-oriented hit have been announced, but now is your chance to catch the original once more on the big screen (in its standard 2D format). $8 admission, or $5 for students and seniors with ID.
Finally, the Sentient Bean turns into more of a Grindhouse on June 26 when the PFS pays homage to one of the strangest low-budget horror comedies ever made: director Nick Millard's fever dream "Criminally Insane." Also known as "Crazy Fat Ethel," this hilarious slasher flick was shot on 16mm for barely $30,000 and only seen at drive-ins and sleazy independent cinemas. Shot in 1973 but not released until 1975, it's the tale of Ethel Janowski, an obese woman with serious mental problems who is released from an asylum into the care of her grandmother. Soon she develops an eating disorder which compels her to obsessively gorge herself on all manner of food, and when friends and family attempt to stop her binges, she'll stop at nothing to get her grub on - including murder!
Imagine a Z-Grade John Waters knock-off that's shot with the production value of an old stag loop and you'll come close to the unforgettable mess that is "Criminally Insane." This screening coincides with the 74th birthday of the film's lead actress, Priscilla Alden. A rare collection of 1970s grindhouse trailers precede the feature. $6 admission, for mature audiences only.
Thanks for supporting indie cinema, and don't forget to turn off your cellphone.
Jim Reed directs the award-winning Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more from Jim at filmsavannah.com.