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Get on the good foot with these films

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BY THE time most of you read this column, it will be December 25. That most sacred of annual occurrences.

A holy time of rejoicing and goodwill towards men and women the world over, when untold millions of children (and adults) across the globe contemplate whether they’ve been naughty or nice these past 12 months and how, if in any way, said behavior may affect the amount of peace, tranquility and pleasing gifts which the universe (and other human beings) might bestow on them in the coming year.

I’m speaking, of course, of James Brown Day: the 13th anniversary of the passing of the perhaps single most influential black musician who has ever lived.

Why? What did you think I was talking about?

My wish for all those who follow Film Scene from week to week –and even to those who may be perusing it for the first time– is that you have plenty more goin’ on than just the rent; that you keep it on the good foot; that you stay away from that ol’ King Heroin; that you don’t take no mess; that you get up, get into it and get involved; and –most importantly– that for goodness sakes, you take a look at those cakes!

With that said, let’s take a look at all the noteworthy alternative cinema events taking place around our area over the next seven days. The busy holiday season always conspires to reduce the number of such happenings for a bit (things will pick back up in a week or so), but just because there are a smaller number of options for adventurous movie lovers does not mean said options are any less worthwhile.

Most of this upcoming week’s selections are showing at just two locations: Tybee Island’s historic Post Theater and Springfield, Ga.’s historic Mars Theatre, both of which are vintage, single-screen movie houses of a similar size (holding approximately 200 and 240 patrons, respectively) which, after decades of disuse have been restored, outfitted with state-of-the-art A/V equipment and re-envisioned as multi-purpose venues which not only host screenings of first-run and older, classic films, but also present live music, comedy, dance and theater productions as well.

They’re operated as non-profits for the benefit of their small communities, and usually boast cheaper prices for both tickets and concessions than corporate-owned multiplexes.

Plus, every time you patronize one of these establishments, you’re helping to keep them afloat, which is very much in the giving and charitable spirit of James Brown Day, don’tcha know.

From "Pavarotti."
  • From "Pavarotti."

We start out on Tybee, where on Dec. 26, the Post Theater kicks off a three-day engagement of the action-packed race car docudrama “Ford v Ferrari,” starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon. It’s based closely on the real-life rivalry between the American Ford Motor Company and the iconic Italian sportscar manufacturer Ferrari which in 1966 resulted in a fabled head-to-head competition at the famed Le Mans sportscar endurance race.

Critics have given the film high marks for both the recreation of the time period and the consistently nuanced and believable acting on display from all involved. Audiences are praising it as well.

As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to give it a chance, portions of the film were actually shot here in the Savannah area. 7 p.m. showtimes on Dec. 26 through 28, with 3 p.m. matinees on Dec. 27 and 28.

The day after that film closes, the Post Theater offers up two screenings only of the 2019 documentary “Pavarotti,” which celebrates the larger-than-life career and legacy of the Italy’s controversial, immensely talented operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. Produced and directed by Ron “Opie” Howard in coordination with the estate of the late, great vocalist and international cultural icon, the film features tons of well-known, rare and previously unreleased archival footage of the singer both in performance and in private.

While it is said to be a somewhat revealing portrait of a mercurial man of all manner of extreme appetites, and includes information on the numerous affairs which wrecked his longtime marriage, it has also received no small amount of criticism, as many feel the film (which was authorized by his descendants) simultaneously downplays some of the more unsavory accusations of lewd conduct which dogged Pavarotti in his later years.

Regardless, it’s packed with phenomenal vocal performances, and should prove to be an eye-opening introduction to anyone curious as to what the fuss was all about when it came to this unique and enduring legend of fine art music. Showtimes at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 29.

Heading out to the Effingham County Seat of Springfield, Ga., on Dec. 26, the Mars Theatre begins a four-day run of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which dramatizes the eye-opening relationship between an investigative journalist and the late children’s Public-TV show host and educator “Mister” Fred Rogers.

The film, which stars Tom “The Modern Jimmy Stewart” Hanks as Rogers, is said to be a much different sort of movie than its advertising campaign might suggest, and one with the ability to touch and resonate with a far broader range of viewers than those with a lifelong interest in the wholesome, self-empowering message espoused by Mr. Rogers to generations of young people. 7 p.m. showtimes on Dec. 26 through 28 with a 3 p.m. matinee on Dec. 29.

A few days later, the Mars launches an extended run of “Knives Out” the unabashedly retro-styled murder mystery dramedy from acclaimed writer-director-producer Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “Looper” aka “The Movie That Blatantly Ripped Off ‘Timecop,’” “The Last Jedi” and TV’s “Breaking Bad”).

It stars Daniel “James Bond” Craig in full Louisiana hambone mode as fabled detective Benoit Blanc, who’s hired to privately investigate the seemingly accidental death of elderly best-selling crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (played by Christopher Plummer), and in doing so must navigate the emotional minefield of Thrombey’s greedy, bickering extended family (played by a star-studded ensemble cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Chris Evans).

A self-aware and winking throwback to the glory days of 1970s and 1980s, when similarly paced and humored whodunnits like “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Murder by Death,” “Deathtrap” and “Clue” were all the rage, “Knives Out” may not be the equal of some of those timeless slices of scenery-chewing schtick, but it’s clearly a labor of love for auteur Johnson, and all involved look like they had a blast making this old-fashioned mystery flick.

Special recognition must be given to rising female star Ana de Armas, a Cuban actress whose work in this picture earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical.

If you wind up going, be prepared to pay very close attention to even minor plot details if you want any hope of solving the crime before Blanc does! 7 p.m. showtimes on Jan. 2, 3, 4, 9 and 11, with 3 p.m. matinees on Jan. 5 and 12.

Dec. 27 finds local organization CinemaSavannah continuing its ongoing series of notable, first-run foreign and independent feature films at downtown’s recently opened Savannah Cultural Arts Center (in the shadow of the Civic Center). That evening they’ll present another sneak preview of an outstandingly well-reviewed festival favorite that has not yet been officially released in the USA (and won’t be for another two months).

It’s the darkly humorous Icelandic thriller “A White, White Day,” which won the Rising Star Award at the most recent Cannes Film Fest, and also nabbed the Best Actor Award at that same prestigious showcase. Set in a remote, frigid Icelandic town, this tale of a veteran police officer haunted by fears that his late wife was once unfaithful to him has been described as a “distinctly Nordic” take on the universal themes of grief, revenge and unconditional love, and one of the finest dramatic films released this year.

The movie’s inspired camerawork and expert scene composition alone is earning high praise from cinema enthusiasts around the globe, and as it currently enjoys a 100% positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com (no small feat), this single screening (which will likely be its only regional engagement on the big screen) would seem to be a can’t miss experience for adventurous area film fans.

In spoken Icelandic with English subtitles. 6:30 p.m. showtime. Don’t forget there is no onsite parking at this venue, so factor in a bit of extra time to find a spot on the street or in a public parking garage nearby.

Please note: for those of you who routinely check this column for word of upcoming selections in the Psychotronic Film Society’s long-running Wednesday night series of underappreciated feature films from around the world which takes place at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on Forsyth Park, please be aware that due to Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays this year, there will be no PFS screenings on those nights.

That organization’s next event at the Bean takes place on Jan. 8, when they’ll present a rare public viewing of the sleazy, darkly comedic 1977 black exploitation flick “Fight for Your Life!”, which stars beloved character actor William Sanderson (best known as hotelier E.B. Farnum on HBO’s groundbreaking series “Deadwood,” or as the backwoods oddball Larry on the smash 1980s network TV sitcom “Newhart”), and which balances violence and disturbing scenes with sardonic, politically incorrect humor.

Until next week, see you at the movies, be kind to those around you, and don’t forget to turn off that cell phone.

cs

Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah.

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