Salutations, adventurous movie lovers. Everyone here at Film Scene (who am I kidding — it’s still just me) wishes you a most Happy New Year.
To the best of our knowledge, there are six different specialty film screenings taking place around our area over the next seven days, and below is where you’ll learn all you need to know to decide if, when and where you might like to avail yourself of the opportunity to catch them on the big screen.
Let’s turn our gaze first to lovely Tybee Island, where that community’s beloved, 200-seat historic and restored single-screen movie house, the Tybee Post Theater, has two distinctly different features coming up. On Jan. 3, the Post kicks off a three-day engagement of “First Man,” the recently released stranger-than-fiction biopic of famed American naval aviator, test pilot and iconic astronaut Neil Armstrong, starring Ryan Gosling as the almost insanely courageous explorer who stands as the first human being to ever set foot on the moon.
Acclaimed director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land,” “Whiplash”) crafted this loving, period-correct portrait that focuses on Armstrong and his first wife Janet (played by Claire Foy) and their relationship throughout his fate-tempting days as one of the most fearless, boundary-pushing individuals on this planet. It’s said to be an accurate account of the long, hard road that led up to manned space travel, but it’s also said to be a lengthy and at times boring look at that long, hard road.
However, in truth, the majority of the work that went into those accomplishments was boring. It’s the brief minutes in the upper atmosphere or the short hours in outer space that everyone fixates on. So, that extreme accuracy on Chazelle’s part seems to have resulted in a film that is more concerned with getting the feel of the events right than pandering to attention-deficit-disordered audiences.
Most all critics and viewers agree that the recreations of Armstrong’s exploits in flight are as realistic and white-knuckle as can possibly be imagined, and the fact that he was well-known for being a fiercely private and rather taciturn individual makes Gosling’s portrayal of the man — who has been routinely described as distant and aloof — likely far more on the money than most filmmakers might have allowed for the sake of dramatic flair. 7 p.m. showtimes Jan. 3-5, with a 3 p.m. matinee Jan. 5. Admission pricing for this and all our featured events can be found in the accompanying sidebar listings.
One night for a classic
A week later, Jan. 10, the Tybee Post offers up another one-night-only screenings of a bona fide Hollywood classic. This time it’s the universally adored 1952 MGM musical comedy “Singin’ in the Rain,” starring Gene Kelly (who also co-directed the film with Stanley Donen, as well as handled the choreography), Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. It’s a lighthearted, fictionalized take on the difficult transition Hollywood was forced to make in the 1920s when silent films were replaced by movies with synchronous soundtracks (“talkies”).
No less than the American Film Institute ranked this feature as both the Greatest Movie Musical of All Time and the fifth-greatest American movie ever made. Suitable for all ages, it’s a family-oriented gem that benefits greatly from being seen in a truly theatrical setting like the Post. Showtime is 7 p.m., and the $10 ticket price includes your choice of a drink (hard or soft) and a Hershey’s Kiss. No word on whether or not those Kisses will have their iconic tips intact ...
Movies at the Mars
Moving out to the restored, historic Mars Theatre in nearby Springfield, they’re still showing Walt Disney’s just-released box-office smash “Mary Poppins Returns,” starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Angela Lansbury. It’s been playing there for a couple of weekends now, and seems a perfect fit for that family-friendly venue.
As I have mentioned in this column before, yes, this picture is playing at plenty of cinemas in our area, but it’s always best to support independent, nonprofit theaters like the Mars when you can. They usually have lower ticket prices — and often a more attentive and polite staff! Showtimes are 7 p.m. Jan. 3-5.
A few nights later, on Jan. 10, the Mars presents a three-day run of the brand-new dramedy “Instant Family,” starring Mark “I really hope people forget about my disgusting history of violent hate crimes and attempts at murdering people because of their race” Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as two parents who wind up taking in three foster care siblings and are forced to bring themselves up to speed on proper parenting at a breakneck pace. You know, kind of like the pace at which an unprovoked Wahlberg tried in 1988 to break a random Vietnamese man’s neck by beating him in the head repeatedly with a large wooden stick.
Though some of the humor in the film has been called silly and downright corny, it’s received generally positive ratings from critics, most of whom found it a charming, if lightweight, take on tried-and-true familial struggles. Look for the reliably solid character actors Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”), Margo Martindale (“August: Osage County”) and Tig Notaro (“In a World…”) in supporting roles. 7 p.m. showtimes Jan. 10 and 11, plus a 3 p.m. matinee Jan. 13.
Moving back toward midtown, local independent film organization CinemaSavannah offers yet another exclusive, one-show-only engagement of a high-profile first-run arthouse picture on Jan. 6. That afternoon at 4 p.m., they’ll screen “Shoplifters” in the auditorium of the Jewish Educational Alliance. Written and directed by the esteemed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, it’s described as a mesmerizing, ultra-naturalistic look at a surprisingly happy and loving low-income Japanese family whose members are all bound by a shared history of petty crime.
Praised for Koreeda’s masterful approach to presenting emotional and psychological melodrama onscreen, the film won the Palme d’Or at the most recent Cannes Film Fest (that festival’s highest honor and one of the most prestigious accolades in the entire movie-making industry), along with more than a dozen other major international awards for excellence. “Shoplifters” has been hailed as a “soft-spoken” and “quietly devastating” gem of compassion and poignancy — which is to say that its approach and style are not for everyone. If you need big explosions and flights of fancy to enjoy a movie, you may want to skip this subtle and nuanced character study.
Or, better yet, don’t skip it and instead try breaking out of a safe pattern and try something new for a change. It’s widely seen as a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Feature, and this is likely your only chance to see it publicly in our area. The film is in spoken Japanese with English subtitles. Be aware that CinemaSavannah accepts cash only at the door for tickets, so grab some bills before making the drive.
Laugh at 'Mom and Dad'
And finally, on Jan. 9, the Psychotronic Film Society’s intimate, award-winning weekly series of underappreciated or forgotten feature films from around the globe continues at The Sentient Bean coffeehouse with a rare public showing of the infamous 1945 sex-ed docudrama “Mom and Dad,” in commemoration of the 74th anniversary of the film’s theatrical premiere. One of the craziest success stories in the history of motion pictures, “Mom and Dad” cost next to nothing to make (about $65,000), yet wound up grossing more money at the box office than any other film of its decade — including huge hits like “Casablanca.” In fact, it beat them all by a ridiculously long shot.
How long a shot? Well, “Mom and Dad” raked in at least $70 million. Think about that return on investment for a moment.
How did such a half-baked, low-budget exploitation flick with no-name stars generate that much interest and ticket sales? Through sex. You see, this picture tells the heavy-handed tale of a young high school-aged girl who foolishly engages in premarital intercourse because her parents were too embarrassed to explain the birds and the bees to her. The result? She gets pregnant (of course), and, much like other vice-oriented “scare pictures” like “Reefer Madness," the film then not only details the errors of her ways, but helps to provide a service for squeamish parents of the 1940s by explaining the moral and physical risks of sex before marriage in great detail.
How great? Well, the film famously concludes with actual footage of a real live human birth — something most folks weren’t used to seeing at all, let alone at the movie theater.
And how did that ever-shrewd producer Kroger Babb get away with such graphic subject matter and imagery in the more prudent times of 1945? By marketing “Mom and Dad” as an educational film, rather than a crass exploitation picture. In fact, they hired actors to portray “doctors” and “nurses” who would introduce the movie with great seriousness at every theater that showed it, which fooled most everyone in the crowds.
Directed by the legendary, mediocre talent William “One Shot” Beaudine (so nicknamed because he kept the budgets of his approximately 500 feature films so low by usually shooting only one take of every scene to save both time and raw film stock), it’s a guaranteed hoot that played for years all over the world, raking in money, but is hardly ever seen or talked about today. Now’s your chance to see what all the fuss was about. Come prepared to chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all. 8 p.m. showtime, with craft beer and organic wine on special during the film, plus a full, award-winning vegetarian menu.
Until next week, 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: “First Man”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 3, 4, 5; 3 p.m. Jan. 5
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
What: “Mary Poppins Returns”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 3, 4, 5
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St., Springfield,
When: 4 p.m. Jan. 6
Where: Jewish Educational Alliance, 5111 Abercorn St.
Cost: $10 (cash only)
What: “Mom and Dad”
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 9
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
What: “Instant Family”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 10, 11; 3 p.m. Jan. 13
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St., Springfield,
What: “Singin’ in the Rain”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 10
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.