The Reel Less Traveled – September 2019


Balloon from Germany, Doris Day and, oh yes, the Rheem

    I’ve called it embattled, endangered, troubled, threatened and even closed. What I’ve never been able to call the Rheem Theatre, however, is settled and/or safe. It’s always been on the precipice – and such is it again.
    Derek Zemrak and crew have performed miracles and done hero’s work to keep this building open and functional but even heroes fail occasionally and, what is more, sometimes heroes need to know when enough is enough.
    It’s been sold again and thus far I’ve only heard rumors about what the new owners plan for it. But I whole-heartedly believe that no small amount of attention should be paid to the Rheem’s historical importance, specifically when it comes to its association with William Randolph Hearst.
    History, in general, is seldom strictly a cause-and-effect thing. There are numerous side roads, footnotes and digressions that, when put together, make for a more compelling and interesting whole. The Rheem is one such footnote.
    The theater was built, as I understand it, as a result of a long-standing friendly rivalry between Hearst and Donald Rheem. A long time cinephile, I am kind of thrilled to be living so close to it, not only because of the aforementioned but also because of the “Citizen Kane” connection. (It would be a bitterly ironic thing if that movie ever played there.) With that said, I urge the new owners to find out more and find a way to preserve the Rheem. One should never put a price on history, nor should it ever be destroyed — for any price.
    Now back to what’s playing this month. In the International Film Showcase, Germany brings this month’s entry, simply called Balloon. This is primarily a movie about escape. Taking place in 1979, this is a story about two families who attempt to leave their present, oppressive situation in a most unusual way.
    Whereas most would try to drive or, like the Von Trapp family, walk out, the main characters of this story use the titular hot air balloon. I won’t be giving too much away by telling you that their first attempt is met with catastrophic failure. It’s what happens after when the real suspense takes place. 
    The film is a stirring example of the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed…”
    Though based on a true story, there’s enough cinematic flourishes and additions that not only make this an edge- of-your-seat adventure but a wholly satisfying movie-going experience. For more details, go to It will be having a one-week run at the Orinda Theatre starting 7 p.m. Sept. 6.
    The next feature may come out of left field but is strictly a middle-of-the-road affair. (What a clever turn of phrase.) Please Don’t Eat the Daisies is a movie that many people might not even knows exists.
    You may have a vague recollection of the TV sitcom of the same name that lasted two seasons but this is the movie the TV series was based on. Starring the unlikely pairing of Doris Day and David Niven, this is a mild, sweet little comedy that is sure to offend no one and please those who are sick and tired of the bombast that defines so much of modern cinema today.
    Day and Niven star as the heads of the Mackay family: He a theatre critic and she a playwright and mother to four obstreperous children. Together they move out of the noisy city into a large ramshackle house in the suburbs. What follows is a combination fish-out-of-water scenario and domestic drama, albeit a light one. Of course, Day graces us with a musical number or two.
    Being that this is the standard Classic Film Showcase, you get to see the movie for free. It screens 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Orinda. 
    Check for updates. As always, remember to stay in the dark for that’s where the reel magic lies.

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