Greetings, area cinephiles.
It's my pleasure to inform you that this next week finds a a bevy of noteworthy film screenings held outside of the confines of the standard local multiplexes, with enough variety in subject matter to truly earn the oft-bandied description "something for everyone."
First up is the historic Lucas Theatre's 2014 yuletide season benefit weekend. Something of a tradition, this annual event finds a selection of beloved, family-oriented Christmas movies presented on the 1,200-seat venue's estimable screen at no charge to the public. Well, no financial charge, that is.
While admission is completely free to all, the Lucas kindly asks that all attendees voluntarily donate non-perishable food items to America's Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia and/or pet supplies to the Humane Society of Greater Savannah. It's a great deal for all concerned, and a wonderful way to reinforce the concept of charitable giving to young children.
So, what will those cans of chunky beef soup and organic catnip-filled chew toys get you in to see?
The trio of features kicks off Dec. 12 with 1990's blockbuster "Home Alone." Directed by Chris Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire," "Rent," Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone") and written and produced by the late John Hughes ("The Breakfast Club," "Planes, Trains & Automobiles"), this smash deftly balances heartwarming holiday sentiment with "Itchy & Scratchy"-style violent slapstick comedy, making a star out of future emaciated, D-grade performance artist Macaulay Culkin. He plays an 8-year-old boy who's mistakenly left behind in a Chicago area house while his parents and siblings fly off to Paris.
Pressed into defending the otherwise vacant home from two bumbling robbers (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel "Blue Thunder" Stern), and petrified of a mysterious, elderly neighbor (played by none other than Roberts "Deranged" Blossom!), Culkin's clever-beyond-his-years protagonist constructs all manner of "Looney Tunes"-worthy, Rube Goldberg-ian traps to prevent the miscreants from harming him or looting the building, to increasingly dizzying heights of absurdist hilarity.
Juvenile and cathartic, it's about as close to a live action cartoon as you'll find, and plays much better in a theater than on the small screen. Showtime is 7 p.m.
The following day finds the Lucas showing "Miracle on 34th Street." Although this perennially popular holiday tale has been remade numerous times, this original, 1947 theatrical version starring Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood is heads and tails above the rest.
Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, it won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, Best Writing (Original Story) and Best Writing (Screenplay). Taking place in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day in New York City, it's the somewhat magical tale of a department store Santa who winds up attempting to prove in a court of law that he is, in fact, the real Santa Claus. But let's be honest - you knew that already, didn't you? Showtime is 3 p.m.
Finally, that same night, Dec. 13, the benefit winds up with 1989's ribald, contemporary take on holiday angst and misfortune, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
Initially panned by many critics, but now considered a bona fide classic of holiday-themed filmmaking, it too was written by John Hughes, and was based on his own original short story. The third cinematic peek at the humorously beleaguered Griswold family, it stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo - not to mention Randy Quaid, long before the Hollywood Star Whackers set their sights upon him - along with cameos by Bill's brother Brian Doyle-Murray ("Caddyshack") and iconic curmudgeon William Hickey ("Prizzi's Honor," "The Maddening").
The plot is a comedy of errors centered around a tense family visit, and again, this is one most folks have caught on cable or home video but not on the big screen. Now's your chance, and for a good cause, as well. Showtime is 7 p.m.
In the mood for a more intimate and less "egg nog" oriented viewing experience?
If so, this week at The Sentient Bean, the Psychotronic Film Society offers up two of its trademark "mystery screenings" in rapid succession. In keeping with tradition, the exact titles of these features will not be announced ahead of time, and adventurous viewers are encouraged to buy a ticket, take a chance and prepare to be pleasantly surprised, for while the the PFS often revels in movies that are "so-bad-they're-good," for such mystery screenings they endeavor to find underrated or legitimately acclaimed titles to showcase. In other words: No duds here.
First up is a memorial tribute to the late, great Joan Fontaine on Dec. 15. The Academy Award-winning British-American actress (she took home the Best Actress Oscar in 1942 for Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion") was fellow Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland's younger sister, but enjoyed an enviable career of her own in film, TV and radio.
Joan starred in such classic features as "Gunga Din," "Rebecca," "Jane Eyre," "Ivanhoe" and "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt."
She passed away in her sleep at the age of 96 exactly one year ago to the day of this screening, and in her honor, the PFS will show one of her least-known and most peculiar films - one that can truly be termed "psychotronic." Showtime is 8 p.m., with $7 admission.
Lastly, on Dec. 17, the organization celebrates the life and career of none other than Kiefer Sutherland.
Why Kiefer Sutherland, you may ask? Well, since Dec. 17 is the first night of Hanukkah, it seemed like a good time to engage in a little Judaic numerology.
A couple of days later, Donald Sutherland's son will turn 48. Now, that's exactly twice as much as the title of his most famous project, the TV action series "24." Believe it or not, "24" is also the total number of books in the Tanakh, the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text (which includes the fabled Five Books of Moses).
Which is all to say that I'm not telling you which Kiefer Sutherland film the PFS will show that night at The Bean.
But I swear on a stack of yarmulkes that it's easily the greatest feature film he's ever made.
Showtime is 8 p.m., with $7 admission, and trust me, you really don't wanna miss it.
Until next week, see you at the movies, and don't forget to turn off that cell phone.
Jim Reed directs Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more at www.filmsavannah.com.