As the year winds to a close, holiday parties, charitable functions and family obligations tend to monopolize most folks’ free time. That all adds up to a lot of stiff competition for an afternoon or evening out at the movies. Which is why, generally speaking, there are fewer high-profile specialty cinema screenings scheduled at this time of year in the greater Savannah area.
However, that does not mean there are no worthwhile options for folks who either crave something outside the realm of mainstream motion pictures or prefer to support independently run theaters over their standard-issue, corporate-owned competitors. In fact, there’s a handful of such options available over the next seven days, starting with a trio of bookings out near the beach at the historic, single-screen Tybee Post Theater.
On Dec. 20, the Post offers a one-show-only screening of the classic, beloved MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland, June Lockhart and Mary Astor. The storyline of this box-office smash focuses in part on an elegant Christmas Eve ball, and its bestselling soundtrack includes versions of several traditional Christmas songs, plus the debut of the original composition “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is now an entrenched holiday standard.
Set in 1903 and 1904, it’s constructed as a series of seasonal vignettes — a now-familiar structural device that has been utilized in more than one subsequent holiday-themed feature — and is now recognized as one of the most breathtakingly beautiful uses of the Technicolor film process, which was at that time a relatively new technological advance in movie-making.
This is also the picture where iconic singing entertainer Garland met director Vincente Minnelli, who would become her future husband and the father of her daughter Liza Minnelli, later an iconic singing entertainer in her own right. A universally praised film that helped to define the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, it screens at 7 p.m. Admission info on all Film Scene events can be found in the accompanying sidebar.
A few days later, on Dec. 22, the Tybee Post begins a two-day run of the much talked-about 1960s period dramedy “Green Book.” Based on true characters and events, it stars Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali as a black classical and jazz pianist who undertakes a tour of the American Deep South in the midst of the societal tensions surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, as well as Oscar-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen as the white, racist Italian-American nightclub bouncer who agrees to travel with the pianist as driver and bodyguard.
It was directed by Peter Farrelly, one half of the immensely successful filmmaking duo The Farrelly Brothers, responsible for the bawdy romantic comedies “Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary” and “Kingpin.”
One of the most discussed American pictures of the year, it has divided both critics and audiences. Some view it as an extremely well-made and touching presentation of the complex dynamics that can exist between people of different races, temperaments and backgrounds who are thrust together under unusually trying conditions and the unexpected emotional growth that can occur in such situations. Others view it as an overtly simplistic and disappointingly predictable variation on the “White Savior” trope, which winds up trivializing a nuanced story for the sake of laughter and platitudes aimed at assuaging the guilt and awkwardness some viewers experience when digesting dramatizations of systemic bigotry.
Regardless, the performances of the two main stars have been consistently praised — which is not entirely surprising, as both are known as masterful thespians who reliably elevate even the most mundane projects. “Green Book” was one of the buzzworthy sneak preview screenings at the most recent SCAD Savannah Film Festival, and was warmly received by that crowd of cinema lovers and movie biz insiders. This is a great chance to catch it at one of the most charming film venues in the area. Showtimes at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23.
Then, on Dec. 27, the Post offers up a three-day-run of another current box-office hit that was also one of the most talked-about sneak previews at our local film fest: director Steve McQueen’s intense, female-led heist/revenge flick “Widows,” starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson. This British and American co-production is essentially a remake of an early 1980s British TV series of the same name, and was in the works for over three years. The plot concerns a group of women with little or no criminal background who are forced against their will by an aggrieved crime boss to pull off a complicated, high-stakes robbery to pay back the money lost when their deceased husbands (career criminals all) lose their lives and the boss’ money in a heist gone wrong.
McQueen, a British director best known as the first black filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (“12 Years a Slave”), has crafted a popcorn movie that is rather relentless in its pursuit of moments designed to induce the audience to root for the film’s underdog protagonists.
It’s a slickly crafted feature that alternates between the glitz of crime-fueled opulence and the grime of the crime-ridden. However, I could not help but feel the film’s script, co-written by McQueen and best-selling “Gone Girl” novelist Gillian Flynn, was too clever for its own good. I enjoyed the visceral experience of watching the film unspool on the big screen, and expect most viewers will as well, but never truly sank into that blissful state where one is transported into the story’s espoused reality. So, it’s well worth catching, but your mileage may vary. 7 p.m. shows Dec. 27 and 28, with a 3 p.m. matinee Dec. 29.
The governess returns
Heading out to the nearby city of Springfield, the Mars Theatre launches an extended run of the new, massively budgeted sequel to the adored 1964 children’s musical fantasy “Mary Poppins.” “Mary Poppins Returns” is, like its predecessor, a Walt Disney production and its long-awaited debut marks the longest span of time between the release of a feature film and that of its official sequel.
The top-notch ensemble cast of this new installment in the saga of a magical British governess includes Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, Ben Whishaw, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, David Warner and Angela Lansbury, plus an appearance by the 93-year-old comedy treasure Dick Van Dyke, who memorably starred in the original film. 7 p.m. showtimes Dec. 20-22 and Dec. 27-29, with 3 p.m. matinees Dec. 23 and 30 as well.
Farewell, Ricky Jay
And finally, on the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah’s weekly Wednesday night series of underappreciated or otherwise marginalized motion pictures from around the world continues at The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on Forsyth Park with an unusual program. Instead of a feature film, the PFS pays a heartfelt tribute to the late, great magician, author and actor Ricky Jay, who sadly passed away Nov. 24 at the age of 72.
While not a household name by any means, Jay was a legendary figure in the world of magic whose face will be instantly recognizable to far more people from his supporting actor roles in such dark dramas as David Mamet’s “House of Games,” “Homicide” and “Redbelt,” as well as features like “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Boogie Nights” and “Mystery Men.” However, it was in the world of illusion where his reputation loomed largest.
Considered by many to be perhaps the single finest “close-up” sleight-of-hand artist of his time, Jay was an ardent historian of prestidigitation and in addition to performing numerous sold-out one-man theater shows over the years where he displayed his bewildering talents, he also served as a consultant on a wide variety of films and TV shows, sharing his expertise in and understanding of the world of confidence tricksters and swindlers, helping screenwriters and directors to accurately portray the types of hustles and con games employed by meticulous, brazen criminals throughout the centuries.
In fact, Jay’s acumen of the inner workings of swindles, cons and the cheats who perpetrate them for financial gain was so impressive that he was paid by major police organizations to lecture and educate them on the history of such crimes. In honor of his unique life, the PFS is diverting from its standard policy of only showing feature films or made-for-TV movies, and will instead screen a specially curated 90-minute compilation of rare clips featuring both Jay himself performing and discussing magic, and those friends and associates who knew him best discussing his importance in that field.
None of these clips have ever been commercially released, and many have not been widely seen in decades, if ever. Even folks who are not already familiar with his career, but simply appreciate amazing feats of magic, should find much to enjoy in this one-time-only screening. 8 p.m. showtime, with a full vegetarian menu available and craft beer and organic wine discounted 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 the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah.
IF YOU GO
What: “Meet Me in St. Louis”
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 20
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: $10-$35 (with dinner reservation)
What: “Mary Poppins Returns”
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29; 3 p.m. Dec. 23, 30
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St., Springfield
What: “Green Book”
When: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 22, 23
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
What: Memorial tribute to magician Ricky Jay
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 26
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 27, 28, 29; 3 p.m. Dec. 29
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.