Reel Less Traveled – December 2020

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Tidings Of Comfort And Joy

    I have set for myself a challenge of sorts, not mentioning or referencing the single most notable thing about this month (save for the above title and this introductory paragraph). What I would like to do, however, is holiday adjacent. Simply put, I will recommend a trio of joyous films, pieces of filmic art, the final frames of which will see you ready to leave the theater (or, during these times, your living room) with a dance in your step, a song in your heart and a smile on your lips.
    But first, I would like to let you know about a significant milestone having to do with two people I have had the pleasure of mentioning in nearly every column. They are JoAlice Canterbury and Efi Lubliner. Together, they have run the International Film Showcase (I.F.S.). For as long as I can remember, I have had the privilege of touting their monthly contributions toward widening our cinematic horizons. Scouring film festivals for the very best in foreign films, they have always brought us the best from overseas. Most notably, they’ve been doing this for 10 years!
    In celebration, I.F.S. will present yet another great film not born of this continent. Even better still, it’s a film that has taken some of its inspiration from a great American film that I have mentioned in columns past. Even better, this offering will be presented absolutely free of charge! Starting early this month, JoAlice and Efi will be presenting The Weasel’s Tale.
    This is one of those movies about movies, and the people who make them, and, as I intimated earlier, this film references another movie about movies, Sunset Boulevard, insofar as it deals with celebrities of the faded past. But unlike Sunset, Weasel’s Tale is played for laughs – mostly (could there be a movie with “weasel” in the title that isn’t?). This film will be made available via the I.F.S. website, (internationalshowcase.org) but this time, in observance of this auspicious occasion you’ll be able to enjoy it gratis.
    So now, on to the recommendations. It should not come as any great surprise that two of the three films I’m championing are musicals. They are Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris. Of the two, the former almost always gets the majority of attention, with good reason. It’s a wild, glittering, enthusiastic piece of filmmaking that can leave you breathless. The colors are vibrant. The songs are infectious, the dancing is unparalleled and the “Make ‘em Laugh” number alone will exhaust you.
    For my money, however, Paris is the better film, mostly because it’s tethered, just a little more than Rain, in the real world. That said, Gene Kelly is in both of them, and he dominates every moment he’s on the screen, whether he’s a threatened silent film star or an ex-patriot artist. Moreover, special mention should be given to Donald O’Connor and Oscar Levant. Their roles are meant to provide the comic relief, but that should, in no way, lessen their contributions to either film. Levant’s Gershwin fantasy (Another reason I prefer his movie over Rain), for example, is astounding.
    Before I get to my final recommendation, I would be remiss if I did not remind you about the Orinda Theatre. The theater is still a player in the Lamorinda area with its virtual cinema, but I still urge you to check out the iconic Orinda site’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/orindatheatre) and main site (www.orindamovies.com). All donations are welcome to ensure the Orinda Theatre will still be a community asset post-COVID.
    Now, my last recommendation might seem a little incongruous with all I said before, but I was so struck by this film, as well as the lasting impression it left on me, that I have to pass it along to all of you. Zootopia, a 2016 Disney release, is far more than a CGI (computer generated imagery) “funny animal” movie, mainly due to its underlying attitude, filled with optimism and hope. Even the central mystery has certain real world echoes, propelled by characters which are flawed but still relatable – even though they’re animals.
    I do wish to extend warm and fuzzy sentiments your way and encourage you to veer towards those wonderful images made from light, since that is where the reel magic lies.

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