There’s plenty of interesting alternative cinema events taking place in our area over the next seven days, so let’s just jump right into them, shall we?
Out on Mars
The Mars Theatre in the nearby Effingham County city of Springfield will screen “Vice” at 7 p.m. on Feb. 31 and March 1, and then offer a 3 p.m. matinee on March 3.If you have yet to see Christian Bale’s transformative and mesmerizing performance in this “who-woulda-thunk-it?” role, this will likely be your last chance to catch it on the big screen for a great while to come.
A few days later, the Mars launches a four-day run of “On the Basis of Sex,” the brand-new dramatized biopic on the formative years and important trial cases of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, long before her ascent to the Supreme Court of the United States. The first big-screen release by director Mimi Leder in almost two decades. She grew up in a filmmaking household, as he father was the mastermind behind such sleazy, low-budget psychotronic gems as “I Dismember Mama” and “My Friends Need Killing.” The film stars Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”) as Ginsburg’s husband Martin and Felicity Jones (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) as the Notorious RBG herself.
By the way, don’t confuse this narrative flick with “RBG,” the recently released and extremely well made feature-length documentary on Justice Ginsburg’s life and career, which was a the darling of most of the festivals that it played. This fictionalized account has received mixed reviews which skew positive, but most critics have criticized the overly formulaic structure of its script. Showtimes at 7 p.m. on March 7 through 9, with a 3 p.m. matinee on March 10.
Double feature No. 1
Heading back into the city limits, the Savannah Arts Academy in midtown is hosting another of their increasingly common double-feature movie nights. This public high school is dedicated to the performing arts and boasts a creative filmmaking program. For the past several months, under the direction of John Cook, the SAA’s Communication Arts Department chair, the school has raised needed funds for necessary electronic equipment by throwing these movie nights, which are open to the general public and take place in the Arts Academy’s auditorium.
Each of these events has been conceptually themed, and this latest one is no exception. Billed as “Kung Fu Night,” it consists of two popular, PG-rated, Asian-made martial arts flicks – both of which are designed as action comedies, and which are not only enjoyable for adults but suitable for young teens. First up, at 6 p.m. is director-star Stephen Chow’s 2001’s “Shaolin Soccer,” which swept the 2002 Hong Kong Film Awards, taking home Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound Design and Best Visual Effects. It’s the story of a martial arts disciple who reunites with his brothers to use their shared fighting skills to excel at playing competitive soccer.
Then, at 8 p.m., the iconic action-star Jackie Chan is featured in his 1994 classic “The Legend of the Drunken Master,” which won Best Action Choreography at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Revered by many Kung Fu film fans as one of the most enjoyable movies of its sort ever made, this tale of a talented martial artist—played with uncommon vigor and athletic prowess by a nearly 40-year old Chan—who must choose between honoring the pacifist beliefs of his father or battling a group of foreign criminals who are stealing valuable and sacred artifacts from his homeland is seen by some as the height of Jackie’s long and storied career as one of the bravest, and most daring martial arts movie stars of all-time.
There will be teachers from the school and a resource officer on-site, so parents can feel safe in dropping their kids off to enjoy the movies, or they are certainly welcome to attend. Pizza, popcorn and other concessions will be available for purchase during the event. Tickets will be sold at the door, but you can save $2 on admission by purchasing them in advance online.
Double feature No. 2
A few nights later, on March 4, another local arts school is offering a special double-feature that is open to the public. In this case, it’s the Savannah College of Art and Design, whose Cinema Studies students, under the instruction of Professor Chad Newsom are learning about the business of film programming. As a project, he’s having them organize and host an evening which pairs two notable documentaries—both of which were released theatrically in 2018 and subsequently nominated for Academy Awards. Neither film has ever screened publicly in our area, so this event at the SCAD Museum of Art, downtown on MLK, Jr. Blvd., will serve as their local premieres.
The first selection of “Oscar Docs: New Voices in American Documentary” will be director RaMell Ross’ “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” which has been hailed as one of the most unique and powerful docs of its generation. An emotionally-driven film designed to offer an intimate and candid view of the lives of the black inhabitants of Hale County, Alabama, without heavy-handed narration or a predetermined storytelling arc, it won the 2018 Sundance Film Festival award for U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision, and has received near universal praise for its open-ended, dreamlike perspective.
The second selection, which screens at 8 p.m., is “Minding the Gap,” a doc directed by Bing Liu about three young men from Rockford, Ill.—also home of the illustrious power-pop band Cheap Trick! The men’s shared love for skateboarding serves as the backdrop for a motion picture which, according to The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, is substantially about “domestic trauma, systemic racism, and economic dislocation.” These themes, he claims, and the intimacy with which Liu presents them, grant the movie “vast scope and political depth.” It’s no wonder then that President Barack Obama named it as one of his favorite films of this past year. It currently holds an amazing 100 percent positive rating at RotenTomatoes.com. It also won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival.
As if a chance to see these intriguing films wasn’t reason enough to consider attending this double-feature, admission to both movies is completely free to the general public. How can you beat that?
Speaking of free screenings of acclaimed documentaries at local institutions of higher learning, on March 5 in the Ogeechee Theatre of Georgia Southern’s Armstrong Campus’ Student Union building, that school’s ongoing Education Exposed Film Series will sponsor a free showing of “The Cartel,” a doc on educational reform that looks at a variety of issues pertaining to that goal – including teacher unions, charter schools and administrative waste. “The Cartel” is said to utilize multiple vantage points to move beyond jingoistic talking points and generalizations that are used by advocates on all sides of this hotly contested debate to instead take a measured and fact-based look at a major national crisis which threatens the continued viability of our society.
The film looks at the vast amount of money which are spent on public education in this country and the disappointing results which are often seen in the achievement levels of our students. Immediately following the film, a live panel discussion will commence featuring an audience Q&A session with local education experts. If you have never attended a screening in the Ogeechee Theater on the Armstrong Campus, please be aware that the layout of said campus can be a bit confusing to those unfamiliar with it, so allow some extra time to find the correct building and take you seat before the 6 p.m. showtime.
Heading back downtown to Trustees Theater, on March 6, SCAD will present a very special, one-night-only film screening. It’s called “The Pages of Destiny,” and it is billed as a “Live Concert Event.” A collaborative short film which is said to involve the creative and artistic contributions of over 400 students from SCAD, the University of Siena in Italy, and the Savannah Arts Academy, it has taken approximately one year to complete. The result? An original script was created, an immersive 360-degree set was built, an entire city was designed and animated using CGI technology, and an original orchestral score was composed and recorded.
This was all done with the assistance of a Kickstarter campaign which raised over $10,000. SCAD student Emily Dillard, who produced the film, says this is “the first event held at a university in the United States in which an orchestra will perform an original score live, in sync with parts of a short film.”
Immediately prior to the screening/concert, from 5 to 7 p.m., a pre-event dinner will take place a few blocks from the venue at Zunzi’s Restaurant. This will allow folks to meet and greet some of the many artists who worked on the project. The screening takes place at 8 p.m., and while it is free for anyone with a valid SCAD ID, the public is invited to attend as well. General admission tickets are available at the door.
PFS: Black Cougar is here!
And finally, that same night, a few blocks from Trustees Theater at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on Forsyth Park, the Psychotronic Film Society’s ongoing Wednesday night series of forgotten, obscure, unreleased or just plain underappreciated feature films from around the world continues with a rare public screening of the infamously strange and misguided 2002 superhero action-fantasy “Black Cougar.”
Definitely not to be confused with the Oscar-winning superhero epic “Black Panther,” this ill-conceived dud was made on a shoestring budget in an around the Yonkers, NY neighborhood where its creator, the aggressively self-promoting Bronx-born businessman Silvio DiSalvatore lived with his wife and family. (Imagine rock singer Eddie Money if he drank a case of Red Bull and became disoriented, believing himself to be playing a walk-on role in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mob drama “Goodfellas”). Some of his family star in the film as well.
The harebrained plot of this “so-bad-it’s-good” straight-to-video turkey has something to do with a Gepetto-like toymaker who creates a hand-made boy whose job is to protect the children of this middle-class neighborhood from being kidnapped, or, well, I am not sure what else. Regardless, this robot boy (who looks like a reject from a D-grade 1990s boy band) finds himself on the run from nefarious characters who keep children locked in underground cages.
But have no fear – Black Cougar is here! Wearing a custom-made mask that looks suspiciously like a racing motorcycle helmet, this anonymous crusader for justice takes on the bad guys with ease. Sort of. Anyhow, this almost laughably inane vanity project is four steps above a home movie and about four steps below a real superhero flick, and must be seen to be believed. It was all designed to sell tons of tiny Black Cougar action figures, but that just didn’t work out, and it now resides alongside Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” as one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies of that era. Craft beer and organic wine will be on special during this show, and I’m certain alcohol of all varieties pairs well with this cringe-worthy mess-terpiece. 8 p.m. showtime.
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. Feb. 31, Mar. 1; 3 p.m. March 3
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St. Springfield, Ga.
What: “Kung Fu Night”
When: 6 p.m. March 1
Where: Savannah Arts Academy, 500 Washington Ave.
Cost: $8 - $10
What: “Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
When: 6 p.m. March 5
Where: SCAD Museum of Art, 601 Turner Blvd
What: “The Cartel”
When: 6 p.m. March 5
Where: Ogeechee Theatre / Ga. Southern Armstrong Campus Student Union, 11935 Library Dr.
What: “Minding The Gap”
When: 8 p.m. March 5
Where: SCAD Museum of Art, 601 Turner Blvd.
What: “The Pages of Destiny -- Live Concert Event”
When: 8 p.m. March 6
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: $5 - $8 (FREE w/SCAD ID)
What: “Black Cougar”
When: 8 p.m. March 6
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
What: “On the Basis of Sex”
When: 7 p.m. Mar. 7, 8, 9; 3 p.m. March 10
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St. Springfield, Ga.