When I was a kid, one of my most favorite books was a delightful, fantastical children’s story called “My Father’s Dragon” by Ruth Stiles Gannett. First published in 1948, it won the coveted Newbery Medal in 1949 and spawned two sequels.
Whenever I come across parents who are looking for something fun and captivating for their young kids to dive into, I recommend this one, as it has fallen somewhat into obscurity compared with other fantasy-oriented trilogies that remain ubiquitous.
I had no idea until I did some research that in 1997, the book was adapted into a full-length Japanese anime film, and that there is actually a big-budget, Netflix-financed animated feature by a respected Irish animation studio in the works right now. The fact that the author and/or publisher forgot to renew the book’s copyright decades ago means it has since fallen into the public domain and neither Netflix nor the animation studio has to pay even one dollar for the film or merchandising rights. Which probably means it will become a nice payday for them both, when all is said and done.
I mention this because for very young people of this generation, the 12-volume, Viking-themed book series known as “How to Train Your Dragon” by British author Cressida Cowell seems to have become the go-to reading experience for fans of hefty, flying, fire-breathing critters. That success has resulted in three different CGI features based on the books, each of which has grossed boatloads of cash worldwide.
The most recent installment, “How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World,” features the voice talents of such esteemed thespians as F. Murray Abraham (“Amadeus”) and Cate Blanchett (“I’m Not Here”) and in less than two months at the box office has already grossed almost $150 million. It screens this week at the lovely, restored historic Mars Theatre in nearby Springfield. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Feb. 21-23, plus Feb. 28 and March 1 through 2. Check the accompanying sidebar listings for admission info on all the programming mentioned in Film Scene.
Heading out to Tybee Island, the Tybee Post Theater continues screening a handful of this year’s most critically acclaimed and award-nominated features.
First, they’ll show director and actor Bradley Cooper’s recent smash remake of the music-filled “rom-trag” (I just made that genre up) “A Star is Born,” which boasts a uniformly excellent cast including Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot and Andrew “Dice” Clay. In many respects a by-the-numbers rags-to-riches saga, there’s no shortage of intensely emotional moments on display in this undeniably well-made picture that Sean Penn can’t stop drooling over. Bring some Kleenex. Showtimes at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 through 23, with a 3 p.m. matinee Feb. 22.
Best actor nod
A few nights later, this series of standout recent motion pictures continues with “Vice,” the latest feature from Oscar-nominated director Adam McKay (“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “The Big Short,” HBO’s “Eastbound & Down”). A darkly comedic biopic of former Vice President Dick Cheney, this satirical flick has drawn mixed reviews. However, Christian Bale (“The Mechanic,” “The Dark Night”) has won universal raves for his lead performance as Cheney, and within a few days of this issue hitting the streets, we’ll all find out if Bale takes home the Best Actor Oscar for his troubles. Showtimes at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 and 28, plus a 3 p.m. matinee March 1.
Moving downtown, on Feb. 21, Trustees Theater presents another installment of SCAD’s Cinema Circle, one of the coolest ongoing film series in our area. As part of their “Silent Winter” series of influential and classic examples of early cinema before the advent of synchronized sound, they’ll screen fabled auteur Charlie Chaplin’s 4K digitally restored 1972 director’s cut of his 1921 box-office smash “The Kid.”
This unusual picture broke all sorts of rules in the Hollywood of its time. For one thing, it brazenly upped the ante of what was considered possible in the realm of cinema, by refusing to brand itself as either a drama or a comedy. In fact, Chaplin — who also gives an unbelievably empathetic onscreen performance in the film in the guise of his iconic “Tramp” character — fearlessly blended moments of extreme, internalized pathos and despair alongside the film’s side-splitting segments of slapstick physical comedy.
This was Chaplin’s first full-length directorial effort and helped to cement his international reputation as one of the creative and risk-taking giants of early motion pictures. In addition to “The Kid,” SCAD will also screen Chaplin’s 22-minute 1917 short film “The Immigrant,” and both will be introduced by filmmaker and Professor Michael Chaney, who will then moderate a post-show audience discussion on Chaplin’s influence and legacy. How cool is that? 8 p.m. showtime.
Tip of the hat
A couple of days later, just around the corner from Trustees Theater, the lovely Lucas Theatre for the Arts continues its recent series of “Musical Matinees” with the 1935 Oscar-nominated musical rom-com “Top Hat,” starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and the reliably terrific comedic character actor Edward Everett Horton.
Easily the most popular and enduring of all the onscreen pairings of dance and acting partners Astaire and Rogers, the film made more money than any of their other films and came in second place in worldwide box-office receipts for the year of its theatrical release.
This lighthearted tale of flirtation and mistaken identity is set in the world of stage performers, which allows for plenty of astounding footwork and dialogue-driven levity by Fred and Ginger. Simply put, if you enjoy beautiful choreography, screwball comedies and the glorious days of old Hollywood, you haven’t really lived till you’ve seen “Top Hat” on the big screen — where it is rarely seen these days. Don’t you dare miss it! 3 p.m. showtime.
Dark Finnish comedy
And last, but certainly not least, the Psychotronic Film Society’s long-running and award-winning weekly Wednesday night series of underrated or little-known feature films from around the world continues Feb. 27 at The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse. This time around, the PFS will show the almost completely forgotten Finnish film noir dramedy “Hän varasti elämän,” or, as it is known in English, “Stolen Life.”
Not to be confused with the 1946 American film “A Stolen Life” starring Bette Davis, this very dark and comedic B&W crime film was made in 1962, and is essentially unknown outside of Finland, Sweden and Russia. The tale of a government official who steals a massive $25 million worth of employee payroll funds and absconds to a remote, rural village to start a fresh life under an assumed identity is believed to have been greatly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” That masterpiece of a thriller was released only a little over a year before production began on “Stolen Life.”
The Finnish film industry is incredibly small to this day and was significantly smaller in the early 1960s, with the vast majority of films made in that country remaining virtually invisible to viewers in other parts of the world. However, their directors were quite cognizant of trends in world cinema, and their interpretation of U.S. and British film noir tropes and stylized production design is sadly underrated. For this special presentation, the PFS will screen a fully uncut, widescreen print of this minor gem, in spoken Finnish with English subtitles. 8 p.m. showtime, with discounts on organic wine and craft beer during the show and a full vegetarian menu available.
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: “How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World”
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 21, 22, 23. 28, March 1, 2
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St., Springfield
What: “A Star Is Born”
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 21, 22, 23; 3 p.m. Feb. 22
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
What: “The Kid”
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 21
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: $5-$8; free with SCAD ID
What: “Top Hat”
When: 3 p.m. Feb. 24
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
Cost: $5-$8; free with SCAD ID
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 27, 28; 3 p.m. March 1
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
What: “Stolen Life”
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 27
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.