By the time most folks have a gander at this column, Christmas will have come and gone. If that’s the case for you, dear reader, allow me to say that regardless of your religious or spiritual persuasion (or lack thereof), I hope it was a lovely day for you and yours, free from undue stress and strife.
That’s something of a tall order these days, when nastiness, pettiness and self-centeredness seem to rule our public discourse, and — despairingly often — bleed over into our private moments as well. However, I firmly believe that the power to be aggressively civil and fiercely caring is still within each and every one of our individual grasps.
Provided, of course, that we commit ourselves to “live a life others throw away nightly,” as the late, great Lou Reed once said of the late, great “Doc” Pomus.
My resolution for 2019 is to live this life as fully and as fearlessly as I can. That’s no small task for someone like myself, who is habitually beset with self-doubt. Yet, I am determined to wring as much joy and inspiration from this wicked world as my strength will allow. Perhaps you are feeling the same pressing compulsion to roll away stones (even if your hands seemed tied) in search of the beauty which can always be found hiding half-buried in muck and mire.
If so, good on you. And make sure not to forget the time-honored wisdom of Dale Bartholomew Cooper: “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a cat nap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.”
For me, a present I never tire of, and one which reliably leaves me rejuvenated and reaffirmed in bemused wonder at the marvels of human cultural achievement, is the simple act of watching a feature-length motion picture.
Documentary or narrative, simple or complex, stunningly well-made or head-scratchingly inept in its concept or execution, movies reflect society’s best and worst elements like no other art form. Inherently team efforts designed to speak to viewers on a multitude of levels (especially subliminally), they can soothe, enrage, titillate, comfort, perplex and disturb — sometimes all in the course of 90 minutes.
See slideshows and red carpet interviews from the SCAD Savannah Film Fest here.
The handful or so of local cinema venues, organizations and festivals that are independently owned and operated (as opposed to national or regional corporate-run and profit-oriented chains) provide the widest variety of challenging, thoughtful, memorable, diverse and inclusive big-screen programming in our area, and are greatly deserving of your patronage and support.
My wish for this new year is that folks who already avail themselves of such unique entertainment and educational events do so with greater frequency, and that those who have never attended such a screening try the homegrown options by these established groups and venues: Psychotronic Film Society, CinemaSavannah, SCAD’s Cinema Circle, Mountainfilm on Tour Savannah, The Look Back, SCAD Savannah Film Festival, Graveface Records, the Lucas, Mars, Tybee Post and Trustees theaters and the Jewish Educational Alliance.
There are specialty engagements and annual festivals throughout this area to suit most any taste and age group. Best of all, the money you spend at such locally run shows stays right here in our community.
Being that it’s the end of the year, the next seven days offer an unusually small number of such screenings, but even with just three titles on tap, there’s still a broad variety of programming to choose from.
Mary at the Mars
First up is the brand-new box-office smash “Mary Poppins Returns,” which is showing at the restored, historic Mars Theatre in nearby Springfield. This big-budget Disney-produced sequel to their beloved 1964 musical fantasy stars “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Blunt, David “Time Bandits” Warner and Angela Lansbury — not to mention a featured appearance by comedic legend Dick Van Dyke, who’s now 93 years old and starred in the first “Mary Poppins” 54 years ago!
Sure, it’s playing on thousands of screens around the country, and is about as mainstream of a title as one can imagine. However, the Mars Theatre is an unexpected gem in this small Effingham County city, and their ticket prices are unusually low, so why not see it there? Showtimes are at 7 p.m. Dec. 27-29 and Jan. 3-5, with a 3 p.m. matinee Dec. 30. Admission info on this and all other Film Scene listings can be found in the accompanying sidebar.
85th birthday tribute
Heading back downtown, on Jan. 2 at The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse, the Psychotronic Film Society’s ongoing Wednesday night series of underappreciated or downright obscure feature films from around the world continues with a special 85th brthday memorial tribute to esteemed Italian-American character actor (and occasional leading man) Joseph Bologna, a Brooklyn native who, alongside his wife and creative partner, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the 1970 film “Lovers and Other Strangers.”
Bologna passed away in August 2017 and would have turned 85 on Dec. 30. He was not a household name, but his face and voice are instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with 1970s Hollywood movies and American network TV from the 1970s through the time of his death. Blessed with a knack for comedy as well as a flair for intense drama, he worked steadily for decades, appearing in such films as “My Favorite Year,” “The Woman in Red,” “Big Daddy” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” as well as small-screen fare such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “The Nanny,” “Superman: The Animated Series” and HBO’s “Citizen Cohn.”
The exact title of the PFS’s theatrical “mystery selection” will not be revealed until showtime, but here are some clues: It’s one of Bologna’s earliest roles, and one that is essentially known only to devoted film fanatics; it received high praise from critics when first released, before falling into almost complete obscurity; it’s shot in an unusually realistic fashion, which renders it a marvelous time capsule of the major metropolitan city in which it was made; and its screenplay was written by one of the most respected crime and mystery novelists of his time (whose books served as the basis for at least a dozen standout suspense and action films made between 1967 and 2013.
Think you know the name of this criminally underrated film? Buy a ticket, take a chance and perhaps be pleasantly surprised. 8 p.m. showtime, with craft beer and organic wine on special during the film, plus a full, award-winning vegetarian menu.
Neil Armstrong biopic
And finally, on Jan. 3, the Tybee Post Theater begins a three-day run of Oscar-winning Best Director (for 2016’s retro-nouveau romantic musical “La La Land”) Damien Chazelle’s latest motion picture — and his second to star Ryan Gosling — “First Man,” a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong that focuses on his early days as a test pilot and the preparations for his historic 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission. The film has won near-universal praise for its execution and for the performances of both Gosling (as Armstrong) and Claire Foy (as the astronaut’s first wife Janet).
Variety Magazine said of the lengthy (141-minute) film that it was “so revelatory in its realism, so gritty in its physicality, that it becomes a drama of thrillingly hellbent danger and obsession.” By all accounts, it’s a picture whose scope and subject matter demand that it be seen in a true theatrical environment, which makes the cozy, 200-seat Tybee Post a wonderful spot to catch the picture. The film, which was released in October, has grossed over $100 million to date at the box office. 7 p.m. showtimes Jan. 3-5, with a 3 p.m. matinee Jan. 5.
That’s it for me until 2019. Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve. 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: “Mary Poppins Returns”
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 27, 28, 29, Jan. 3, 4, 5; 3 p.m. Dec. 30
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St., Springfield
What: Tribute to actor Joseph Bologna
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 2
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave. Savannah, Ga.
What: “First Man”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 3, 4, 5; 3 p.m. Jan. 5
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.