Buckle up, folks, because over the next seven days, the greater Savannah area has more noteworthy alternative cinema events scheduled than you can shake a stick at. Or maybe the exact right number to shake a stick at, I’m not certain.
I do know one thing, though: there is one film in particular that you might feel compelled to shake a stick at, but more on that later.
Visit to Mars
First up, let’s head out to Springfield, which is home to the restored, historic Mars Theatre — a lovely multi-purpose venue that was once an aging, abandoned movie house, but which is now a beautiful and up-to-date facility which regularly presents first-run and classic movies as well as live musical shows by country, bluegrass and blues acts.
Starting on Jan. 17, they’ll screen the latest superhero box-office smash “Aquaman” for a four-day run. It’s only been in theaters for a few weeks and is closing in on $1 billion in box-office receipts and receiving generally positive reviews to boot. Sure, it’s playing at many of the other corporate run multiplexes in our area, but you should consider giving your business to the Mars because every dollar they bring in makes a big difference in keeping this small-town venue afloat. Plus, their ticket prices are cheaper than those big chains. It’s only $6 to see this film, for all ages at all times. Shows at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 through 19, with a 3 p.m. matinee Jan. 20.
That same night in downtown Savannah, SCAD’s Trustees Theater kicks off the latest series from the SCAD Cinema Circle. This particular series, called "The Silent Winter," is designed to showcase important feature films and short subjects from the earliest days of the commercial cinema age. No microphones were used in creating these movies, folks. They were shot, edited, marketed and projected long before it was physically possible to synch up soundtracks with celluloid film. Most folks of a certain age have never seen any real-deal silent movies, and if they have it was likely not on a giant screen in a beautifully restored 1940s theater like Trustees.
This 8 p.m. show centers around a restored print of the 1926 feature film “The General,” directed by and starring the iconic Buster Keaton. It did poorly when first released, but this incredibly well-made action-adventure-comedy, which was based on a true Civil War-era story of train robbery and sabotage right here in Georgia, is now routinely described as one of the greatest American movies ever made.
Academy Award-Winning sound editor and SCAD professor David Stone is a huge fan of this era of motion pictures and will not only introduce the picture with fascinating background info on its creation, he’ll moderate a live audience Q&A afterwards on the film’s legacy. As a special bonus, “Number, Please?,” an early Hal Roach short starring the infamous comic actor and stuntman Harold Lloyd will be shown immediately prior to “The General.” Don’t you dare miss them.
On Jan. 18, the Lucas Theatre continues bringing in top-quality new and/or recent art house fare with a one-show-only presentation of the documentary “Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki,” which chronicles the living legend of feature-length Japanese animé whose mid-1980s production company Studio Ghibli was responsible for such global box office and home video hits as “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Spirited Away.”
Miyazaki is held in great awe and reverence by fans of his unique, phantasmagorical hand-drawn works, and this 70-minute doc follows the aging filmmaker as he decides, just before his retirement, to investigate the potential of using computer graphics for the first time. This film was made in 2016 for Japanese TV, but never broadcast here in the states, so this is the first chance many of his fans in the USA will have had to see or even hear of it. The Lucas and Trustees have both drawn large crowds for animé screenings over the past couple of years, some of which were Studio Ghibli titles. I’d expect a strong turnout for this feature as well. Showtime 7 p.m.
Heading out to the Southside of town, on Jan. 21 the AMC Classic 10 multiplex on Stephenson Ave. is offering two encore screenings of “They Shall Not Grow Old,” the recently-released and universally-praised WWI documentary directed by New Zealand’s famed Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson (“The Frighteners,” “The Lord of the Rings Saga”). The movie, which offers lovingly restored, never-before-seen footage and photographs set to actual, BBC-recorded archival audio interviews with British WWI soldiers, allows audiences to experience the realities of that conflict in a manner unimaginable even a few years ago.
Jackson, a director intimately familiar with the latest technological advances in image restoration and digital enhancement technologies, has utilized the latest breakthroughs in image capture and colorization to create a three-dimensional recreation of the Great War. In fact, both of these screenings will be shown in High-Definition RealD 3D. These shows will also feature a newly-shot personal introduction from Jackson. A few weeks ago, when this doc first premiered around the country for two-shows-only, it broke all attendance and box-office records for a digitally simulcast theatrical event, so do not be surprised if there are a ton of folks who show up for these additional screenings. Showtimes 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Admission to the 4 p.m. is significantly cheaper.
Tybee Post nights
Two nights later, Tybee Island’s Post Theater begins a three-night engagement of one of the best films of 2018, visionary Greek director Yorgos (“The Lobster”) Lanthimos’ pitch-black dark period comedy “The Favourite,” starring Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult. Based carefully on early 18th century events that may seem at times to be utterly ridiculous yet which historians have verified as quite true, its plot concerns an ambitious young British aristocrat who has fallen from favor and finds herself politically shunned. Until she methodically charms and schemes her way into Queen Anne’s innermost circle, backstabbing and diminishing all who might dare to stand in her way.
The film is at turns uproarious and depressing, at turns glamorous and trashy. It is anchored by a quartet of astonishingly assured and believable performances, abetted by stunning set, production and costume design and capped off by some of the most gorgeous and daring cinematography ever seen in a bedroom drama of this sort. If you missed the sneak preview of this terrific motion picture at the last SCAD Savannah Film Fest, run, don’t walk, to one of these three showings near the beach. Anyone who appreciates bold and risky moviemaking cannot help but appreciate the work and dedication that was poured into every frame of this film and which practically radiates off the screen. Showtimes 7 p.m. Jan. 23–25.
And finally, on Jan. 23 at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on Forsyth Park, the Psychotronic Film Society’s long-running weekly series of obscure or underappreciated feature films from around the globe continues with a rare public screening of a forgotten gem. “Venom” is a British-made thriller from 1981 starring Oliver Reed (“Tommy”), Sarah Miles (“The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea”), Klaus Kinski (“Nosferatu”), Nicol Williamson (“Excalibur”) and Susan George (“Straw Dogs”).
It’s the taut tale of a child kidnapping gone wrong that evolves into something much more treacherous, when an extremely poisonous and highly aggressive African Black Mamba snake gets loose in the house during the crime. Before long, the police have surrounded the house, trapping the criminals and the young boy inside with the deadly animal.
“Venom” was originally set to be directed by Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Poltergeist”), but he left just a couple of weeks into shooting over creative differences with the producers. He was replaced by Piers Haggard, who’d previously directed the cult classic of occult horror “The Blood on Satan’s Claw” and a 1979 adaptation of the adored British sci-fi TV serial “Quatermass”).
The finished film received mixed reviews on initial release, but has acquired a devoted cult following since, as it’s hard to tell whether the film is surprisingly good or surprisingly bad. It seems to hover somewhere in between at all times, while never failing to be anything other than quite entertaining to most viewers. Showtime at 8 p.m., with a full, award-winning vegetarian menu available and discounts on craft beer and organic wine during the film.
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:
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 17-19; 3 p.m. Jan. 20
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St. Springfield
What: “The General”
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 17
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: $5-$8 (Free w/SCAD ID)
What: “Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 18
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
What: “They Shall Not Grow Old”
When: 4 p.m., 8 p.m. Jan. 21
Where: AMC Classic Savannah 10, 511 Stephenson Ave.
What: “The Favourite”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 23-25
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave. Tybee Island
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 23
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave. Savannah, Ga.