The Reel Less Traveled – December 2018


The Christmas Spirit?

    Irreverence prevails in this year’s last column. In it, you will not find heartwarming films highlighted that tell tales of errant misers learning about the errors of their ways, nor will you be taken to the colder extremities of this planet to watch tales of “that jolly old elf” and his annual journey around the globe. Absent, too, will be any of the mythos so prevalent during this time of year: No Jack Skellingtons, Grinches, aerodynamic reindeer or talking and/or singing and/or dancing snowmen. Many of you, doubtless like this Humbug, consider avoiding such things. To you, then, what follows might just come as a welcome relief from this most sugar-coated of holidays.
    We’ll lead off with something for which there is not really that much information available at press time, but for which our overarching theme of this month noted above was seemingly made: The Holiday Psychotronix Film Festival. (see Now to anyone unfamiliar with the word, Psychotronix refers to that genre (and I use that term very loosely) of film that has, to put it gently, aged so poorly as to become parody.
    Films like Reefer Madness or The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (This is actually the title of the movie! It was made in 1964. Look it up if you don’t believe me.) provide two prime examples. It is important to point out, though, that this type of “aberration” is not limited to full length movies. It can also include commercials, educational films and even some television shows. Most of them are in the 16 mm format and need to be seen to be believed. Since it’s December, you can bet that the holidays will play a major part in this program, though with festivals like this, unpredictability is the only constant. With that in mind, I urge you to keep checking in with the website noted above where you can click on the events tab for possible changes or further details. It will take place at the Rheem Theatre, Dec. 1.
    On a slightly more conventional (and classical) note, the Rheem will show The Three Tenors Christmas. There are many ways to get into the Christmas spirit, but it’s hard to imagine one more joyous than to have Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras serenade you for 90 minutes or so. And what music! Every sort of seasonal music is represented here from ancient to contemporary. It’s a near certainty that this concert will play on your emotions in much the same way a well-constructed screenplay would. It will have three showings: Twice on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. and again at 8 p.m., and once more on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.
    Next, the Orinda Theatre is presenting a Christmas movie that holds a special place in the hearts of many, mostly because it doesn’t pander or cloy like so many Christmas movies. Another reason for the affection shown is because of a strong nostalgia factor. Light on fantasy and with just the right amount of cynicism, A Christmas Story deals with the holidays in a way that closes the gap between the film and the viewer. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, there is much that is relatable. Here, Christmas (I often call it the Superbowl of holidays) is still idealized but not so far removed as to be looked at as if it were happening on some other planet or time (even though it takes place in 1940) and the desires and awkwardness that always happen during this time of year can easily be transposed into our own lives. It also helps that many of the actors are not common household names (with Darren McGavin being the possible exception), making this story, rife with predictable parental behavior and unusual living room furniture, easier to believe. It will be showing at the Orinda Theatre on Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m.; admission absolutely free! 
    Finally, we have the International Film Showcase, which usually doesn’t show films during this time due to all of the mainstream films that come out. We’re in luck this year though, mostly due to Showcase’s move to the Rheem Theatre, itself a wise move as it increases awareness of that sometimes beleaguered movie house. This time, there will be a week-long showing of The Gold Seekers (Los Buscadores). Paraguay is this film’s country of origin, and there’s much about this movie that, on the surface (at least if you go by the trailer), is deceptive, including the title. One might think there’s a strong Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade flavor to this, but that would be an inaccurate assumption. What this is, more than anything, is akin to a caper film filled with well-drawn and unforgettable characters. Light in tone but without the fantasy, it will be screening starting the week of Dec. 14. Make sure to check the website ( for tickets and times.
    So now, all that’s left is to mark your calendars and start with the decorating. For good or ill, the season is upon us, and though many might chose to ignore it, I, for one, would like to extend all the best to you and yours. Also, make sure to stay in the dark for that’s where the reel magic lies.

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