AS I write this column for the print edition, with the fear of contracting the newest iteration of the Coronavirus gripping communities across this nation in varying degrees of fear, panic and concern, it remains to be seen just how the greater Savannah area will be affected by both this pandemic and the paranoia (which many would deem completely justified) it has begat on the world stage.
That said, let’s take a look at all the notable alternative cinema events taking place in our area in the upcoming week.
As always, things can change without much advance warning. You may want to consider phoning the venues to make certain all systems are go.
First up, at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on the southern end of Forsyth Park, the Psychotronic Film Society’s long-running and award-winning weekly series of overlooked and/or marginalized feature films from around the globe continues with not two, but three special presentations over the next seven days.
First up, on March 11 is a rare public showing of the “so-bad-it’s-great” 1989 supernatural-themed action-romance “American Tiger” (aka “American Rickshaw”), starring 1984 Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Mitch Gaylord (!) in one of the only starring movie roles he ever had. Directed by the infamous Italian exploitation filmmaker Sergio Martino (“Hands of Steel,” “Your Vice is a Locked Room, and Only I Have the Key”) under a pseudonym and show in Miami, Fl. using a mostly Italian crew, it’s a hoot from start to finish. 8 p.m. showtime.
Next, on Sunday, March 15, the PFS offers a special Memorial Tribute to the late, great Brazilian writer-director-actor-cult-sensation José Mojica Marins, who recently passed away from bronchial pneumonia at age 83. Marins was better known to his legion of worldwide fans as “Coffin Joe,” a character he originated in 1964 with his lead role in the micro-budget B&W horror gem “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” (which he also wrote, produced and directed).
In honor of his idiosyncratic life and legacy, the PFS will screen the restored version of that groundbreaking classic “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul,” for the first time in ten years (it was last shown at their 2010 Psychotronic Film Festival at the now defunct Muse Arts Warehouse). 8 p.m. showtime.
Finally, on March 18, the PFS continues a St. Patrick’s Day tradition: showing an Irish-made feature film that is essentially unknown in the USA, but which enjoys a strong cult following in the U.K. and Europe. They used to call this event a “Mystery Irish Cult Film,” but in all honesty, most folks understandably assumed that meant the film itself was a “mystery film,” when in reality, it was simply the exact title that was a mystery to the public.
So now they’re calling this event a “Surprise Irish Cult Film.” Hopefully that can help avoid any unnecessary confusion. It can be revealed that this dramedy was released almost 20 years ago, is set in Dublin, boasts a killer ensemble cast and won a handful of prestigious awards at International Film Festivals. Movie lovers are encouraged to take a chance, buy a ticket and be pleasantly surprised. 8 p.m. showtime, and, as with all PFS events at the Bean, there’s a full vegetarian and vegan menu available and discounts on craft beer and organic wine during the films.
Shifting gears drastically, on March 12, the Holy Spirit Lutheran Church on E. 37th St. is offering a free screening of the acclaimed 2017 documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor.” The true (and truly hideous) story of Taylor, a 24-year-old black sharecropper and mother from Alabama who was kidnapped and gang raped by a half-dozen white boys in 1944 and bravely identified her rapists – only to see two different grand juries fail to indict any of the accused perpetrators, it was released in 2017 and earned widespread acclaim from both critics and audience members alike.
Richard Brody of New Yorker Magazine called this doc “Essential viewing, not least for its emphasis on the crucial role of women in the civil-rights movement,” while critic Linda Marric described it as “A prescient and important film about the civil rights movement and one woman’s fight for justice, which is told honestly and respectfully.” 6:30 p.m. showtime, with no admission fee advertised.
Looking to the nearby city of Springfield, Ga., on March 12 their restored historic Mars Theatre opens a lengthy engagement of the brand-new Christian-themed biopic “I Still Believe,” based around the life story of well-known modern Christian singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp. His wife Melissa Lynn Henning-Camp fought a hard battle with ovarian cancer which –as one can only assume– made a profound and difficult impact on the musician’s life. Showtimes at 7 p.m. on March 12 through 14 and 19 through 21, with a 3 p.m. matinee on March 15.
Heading back into Savannah, on March 12 the Foxy Loxy Café on Bull St. near the Starland District hosts another of its “courtyard movie nights” in the enclosed, open-air rear of its building. This time around, they’ll screen the phenomenally successful South Korean horror allegory “Parasite,” which recently took home several Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture (which really stuck in our esteemed President’s craw). A universally praised dark comedy which finds a novel way to comment on issues of class division in South Korean culture, it has enjoyed engagements at several area venues, including a sneak preview screening at the most recent SCAD Savannah Film Fest months before its release, a sold-out show presented by community organization CinemaSavannah, and blink-and-you-missed-them runs at the Tybee Post and Lucas Theatre as well.
Admission is usually free to these events, but I notice that the restaurant is now suggesting people who purchase a ticket will be afforded preferential seating of some sort as well as popcorn. No mention of how much those tickets cost, however. 8 p.m. showtime.
Moving out to the Southside of town, the AMC Savannah 11 multiplex behind the Savannah Mall has three special events taking place this week. First up, on Mar. 14, the Metropolitan Opera will debut it’s latest High-Definition digital simulcast of a new stage presentation. This time, it’s “Der Fliegende Holländer,” otherwise known as German composer Richard Wagner’s beloved and extremely eerie 1843 opera “The Flying Dutchman.” This three-act work is Wagner’s interpretation of the well-known legend of a cursed “ghost ship” that is doomed to sail the seas for eternity, never docking but bringing destruction and bad luck to all who see or hear it. Showtime of this live simulcast is 12:55 p.m., but if you can’t make it don’t fret: they will screen an encore presentation of the same performance at the same venue on March 18 at 6:30 p.m.
On March 15 at the AMC Savannah 11, Fathom partners with Turner Classic Movies for a one-day-only rerelease of the original 1933 adventure movie “King Kong,” which has inspired a handful of official remakes (and countless unofficial knockoffs) over the past eight decades, yet which never fails to captivate, enchant and terrify – despite outdated visual effects and less than naturalistic acting styles. This iconic tale of the emotional connection forged between a young, beautiful blond Caucasian woman and a monstrous, prehistoric gorilla (and the destruction and mayhem which ensue when her fellow humans conspire to not only keep the two lovebirds apart) holds up surprisingly well in a number of ways that other fantastical motion pictures of that era do not, and it remains a treat for all-ages to see on the big screen as its creators intended. Ten minutes of commentary on the film’s impact from TCM’s hosts is included as additional “bonus” content. Showtimes at 1 and 4 p.m.
And then on March 17 and 18, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Fathom presents the premiere of a new docudrama on the life and times of St. Patrick himself, starring John Rhys-Davies as the Saint in his old age, and Seán T. Ó Meallaigh as the Saint in his prime. Billed as the “true story” of the man who in the fifth century felt a calling to bring Christianity to the inhabitants of Ireland (where he had once been enslaved as a young man), this story is told through interviews with biblical experts and academics of history.
As with many of these faith-based message movies, it is being released without advance screenings of any kind. So, caveat emptor. Showtimes are at 6:30 p.m. on both March 17 and 18.
And last but not least, the historic Tybee Post Theater hopes to engage young school-age children who are looking for some family-oriented fun during their Spring Break with a brief engagement of the recently-released take on Jack London’s classic 1903 novel “Call of the Wild,” starring Harrison Ford as an adventurer in the Yukon during the fabled “Gold Rush” of the late 19th century who builds an intense relationship with a large, smart sled dog that’s been abducted from his home.
This is a story that’s been told many times before, but the main selling point of this version is that many of the dogs are either entirely created by CGI animation, or enhanced by it. This is being promoted as a cutting-edge method which imbues the canines with much more relatable characteristics. In other words, instead of spending a ton of time and money trying to train dogs, the filmmakers instead can spend a ton of time and money having an animator draw a fake dog that does whatever the director wants it to do, and then inserts it into a previously shot scene.
The only problem is that many reviewers are saying these CGI dogs fall too deep into the “uncanny valley” – a peculiar realm where computer-simulated living organisms appear creepy and off-putting to humans rather than believable. So, once again: caveat emptor. Showtimes 3 p.m. on March 19 and 20, plus 7 p.m. March 19-21.
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.