Greetings, Film Scene readers.
First up, all apologies for accidentally leaving the Lucas Theatre’s April 16 screening of writer-director Paul Schrader’s masterful 2017 religious psychodrama “First Reformed” out of last week’s column ̶ it just slipped my mind. That worthy entry into their terrific, ongoing Arthouse Series of acclaimed first and second-run features claimed an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay and was also one of the very best movies I saw last year. Hopefully many of you took advantage of that opportunity to catch it on the huge screen in that lovely, historic cinema.
With that said, let’s dive right into the next seven days of unique projected entertainment in our neck of the woods, shall we?
We begin out at the beach, where on April 18, the restored, historic Tybee Post Theater offers up a single showing of the 1989 fan fave “Steel Magnolias,” starring Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Tom Skerritt, Olympia Dukakis and Sam Shepard. You’ve probably caught at least part of this filmed adaptation of the popular play of the same name on cable at some point in your life, but can you say you’ve seen it on the big screen?
It’s the melodramatic tale of a very tight-knit clique of women who reside in a small Southern town and lean on each other in times of extreme emotional distress. In case you feel overcome with tears of either laughter or sorrow during these proceedings, admission price to this 7 p.m. show includes a pack of Kleenex to dab your eyes and your choice of any beverage (either alcoholic or not) to wash down all those emotions.
Heading about a 35-minute drive from downtown Savannah to the small city of Springfield, Ga., their restored historic Mars Theatre will screen the brand-new blockbuster superhero flick “Captain Marvel” on April 18 through 20, at 7 p.m. each night. The most recent installment in the Marvel Comics Universe, it’s the origin story of the titular character, who first appeared in 1968 as the female “Ms. Marvel,” and stars Brie Larson (“Room”) as Captain Marvel, who must stand firm amidst an all-out galactic war between rival alien factions. It’s already generated over $1 billion in box-office receipts, which makes it the very first female-led superhero movie to accomplish that feat. ‘nuff said.
Then, on April 25, the Mars opens a four-day engagement of visionary director Tim Burton’s latest effort for the folks at Disney. It’s a live-action reboot of that famed studio’s 1941 animated feature “Dumbo,” about a baby elephant whose unusually massive ears act as wings, giving it the unexpected ability to fly. This huge production took almost five years and almost $180 million to bring to the screen, and while it has received mixed reviews so far, in just a couple of weeks in theaters, it’s already generated enough at the box office to almost cover its expenses. The impressive cast includes Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell, Eva Green and “Simon” himself, Alan Arkin. 7 p.m. showtimes on April 25 through 27, with a 3 p.m. matinee on April 28.
Now, for the rest of the column, we’ll head into downtown, where SCAD’s Trustees Theater hosts two separate screenings this week. First up, on April 18 is “Grave of the Fireflies,” a beloved anime feature from the vaunted Studio Ghibli—known for decades worldwide as Japan’s premiere animation factory. This unusually dour and tragic animated adaptation of author Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical 1960s short story of the same name is set in Japan amidst the horrors of WWII. It’s the tale of a young brother and sister who battle malnutrition and other dire wartime conditions in order to survive.
While “Grave of the Fireflies” is often mistakenly interpreted as an anti-war message movie—its director denied that was his goal—there is no getting around the fact that this film’s mood and tone present that grand scale of human conflict as both despicable and unforgivable. The poignancy of the film’s setting and plot is enhanced by the fact that it’s animated rather than live-action. That has doubtlessly played a role in critics worldwide naming it one of the finest “war films” ever made.
As this feature is being presented by the SCAD Cinema Circle, it will be introduced by faculty members from the esteemed art college’s Film Animation department, who will also moderate a live audience discussion afterward on the merits and legacy of the movie. Showtime is 8 p.m.
Short and sweet
A few days later, on April 23, Trustees once more plays host to one of the coolest annual cinema events in our fair city: the Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival. This touring version of one of the most prestigious festivals of its kind in the world has been going for 38 years, and for close to two decades now, it has made a stop in Savannah, courtesy of SCAD, and facilitated by the school’s longtime Film and TV Professor Michael Chaney, who acts as liaison to the Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium Inc., which runs and presents this traveling showcase.
What is the Black Maria? Well, every year the New Jersey-based Arts Consortium selects what its organizers deem to be the absolute finest short films, running 10 minutes or less, in every genre and style imaginable. They partner with local organizations to assist in crafting a 90 to 120-minute compilation reel of winning entries they feel would be of the most interest to their market’s audience members.
Think of it as the celluloid equivalent of eating dim sum blindfolded.
Despite its somewhat low profile, in its own way, the Black Maria is one of the most eagerly anticipated, one-night-only movie events in the area for folks who appreciate never knowing what’s gonna hit the screen next. Trust me, you’d have to be a pretty sorrowful person not to enjoy this. The show starts at 8 p.m. General admission is $8; $5 for seniors and students; and free for those with a SCAD ID.
The following night, April 24, at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on Forsyth Park, the Psychotronic Film Society’s long-running, award-winning series of overlooked or marginalized feature films from around the world continues with a special 105th Birthday Tribute to the late, great writer, producer, director and actor William Castle. He was known in Hollywood as the “King of the Gimmicks,” for his uncanny knack with marketing his crowd-pleasing films with crazy, provocative promotional schemes.
The genial, innovative movie impresario, made or helped make numerous box-office successes from the 1940s through the 1970s (“The Tingler,” “Mr. Sardonicus,” “House on Haunted Hill,” “The Lady from Shagnhai,” “13 Ghosts,” “Homocidal,” “Strait-Jacket” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” among others). He also frequently appeared in cameo roles in his own macabre productions, and/or introduced the films himself, on-camera - which led to him being dubbed “The American Alfred Hitchcock.” In fact, it was Castle’s immense success with grisly, terrifying fare that led Hitchcock to make what many feel is his signature motion picture, 1960’s portrait of a serial murderer “Psycho.”
The exact title of the William Castle film the PFS will sow remains a closely guarded secret right up until showtime. However, this much can be said: it was commercially unavailable for decades, and stands as one of the more divisive titles in his estimable oeuvre. Many of his fans have never even heard of this title, let alone seen it. However, there are also some folks out there who saw it during its brief theatrical release and adore it to this day, despite being basically unfamiliar with the rest of Castle’s career.
Adventurous movie lovers are encouraged to take a chance, buy a ticket and be pleasantly surprised by this restored, widescreen print of a truly odd rarity that must be seen to be believed. Showtime is 8 p.m.
And finally, the following night, April 25, the Lucas Theatre plays host to another beloved traveling cinema event that has been making stops here for years now: the BANFF Centre Mountain Film Festival World Tour is currently in the midst of what it calls its 2018/2019 season. Each fall, following the annual festival itself in Banff, Alberta, that organization takes a rotating selection of amazing short films drawn from the hundreds submitted to that year’s event and screens them in more than 500 communities across 40 countries. It takes until well into the following year to complete such a daunting mission and Savannah is one such lucky community.
If you relish the opportunity to see and experience locations and sensations far from the norm, then this one-night-only presentation has your name written all over it. The Banff Mountain Film Fest has been called “the most prestigious mountain film festival in the world.” It’s dedicated to honoring, presenting and promoting standout short films that celebrate the beauty, majesty and importance of the most picturesque, and oftentimes the most remote and inaccessible. places in our great outdoors.
You should expect there to be elements of extreme sportsmanship on display, as well the promotion of the basic concept of environmentalism. In other words, these films are inspiring and uplifting closeup looks at the kind of adventure and exploration most of us will never, ever, ever have the ability or opportunity to experience firsthand. These films are often white-knuckle-inducing, adrenaline-fueled snapshots of death-defying behavior in breathtakingly beautiful locations.
What more could you ask for of filmed entertainment? Showtime is 7 p.m.
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: “Steel Magnolias”
When: 7 p.m. April 18
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave. Tybee Island
What: “Captain Marvel”
When: 7 p.m. Apr. 18, 19, 20
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St. Springfield, Ga.
What: “Grave of the Fireflies”
When: 8 p.m. April 18
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: $5 - $8 (Free w/SCAD ID)
What: “2019 Black Maria Film Festival”
When: 8 p.m. April 23
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
What: “Mystery William Castle Movie”
When: 8 p.m. April 24
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
What: “2018/2019 BANFF Centre Mountain Film Festival World Tour”
When: 7 p.m. April 25
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: 7 p.m. Apr. 25, 26, 27; 3 p.m. April 28
Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St. Springfield, Ga.