San Francisco Film Festival Preview, Part 3: Funny Nazis, a damaged rodeo rider, Hal Ashby, James Dean, and a pot-selling old man

Here’s my last batch of San Francisco International Film Festival mini-reviews before the festival actually gets underway. As usual, they’re in order from must-see to must-avoid.

A+ To Be or Not To Be (original, 1942 version)

The Nazis conquered Poland with frightening speed. But they prove no match for Carol Lombard and Jack Benny in Ernst Lubitsch’s World War II comic masterpiece. As a married pair of egotistical stars of the Warsaw stage, Lombard and Benny lead a theatrical troupe of slightly lesser egos as they outwit the gestapo. The rare screwball comedy that’s willing to get serious when the story demands it. Read my Blu-ray review.

This screening is part of the Mel Novikoff Award ceremony celebrating Columbia University film professor Annette Insdorf. The event and screening will happen at SFMOMA on Saturday, April 14, 1:00 in the afternoon.

A The Rider

Brady, barely an adult, has already seen his once-bright career on the rodeo circuit destroyed. An accident in the ring left him with brain damage and another bad fall will probably kill him. Yet he wants desperately to get back in the saddle. Performed entirely with non-actors, this beautifully-shot film puts you in the place of a young man who desperately wants to keep on doing what he loves, but knows that he can’t.

  • SFMOMA, Thursday, April 5, 3:30
  • SFMOMA, Saturday, April 7, 6:30

B+ Hal,

I was just becoming serious about cinema when Hall Ashby started directing. He was never respected as a major auteur like Altman or Scorsese, but his director credit was on many of the important films of the 1970s’ New Hollywood, including Harold and Maude, Shampoo, and Being There. Amy Scott’s enlightening but conventional documentary celebrates Ashby as a constantly stoned, humanist rebel fighting the front office to make films with important messages.

C- My Life with James Dean

A young director comes to a small, beautiful, coastal town for a screening of his new, independent film (which is also called My Life with James Dean). A young projectionist falls puppy-like in love with the director, who’s having problems with his boyfriend. Several other people come into their orbits, with their own professional and romantic problems. But none of these characters are believable enough to care for. I think writer/director Dominique Choisy intended this to be a comedy, and it contains some charming, quirky humor, but not enough for a 108-minute film.

F Boundaries

This formulaic road movie proves that the formula doesn’t always work – even with a stellar cast. Vera Farmiga plays a single mother going on a long drive with her troubled son and her pot-selling father (Christopher Plummer). The characters are types, not real people. The jokes fall flat. And the feel-good ending makes you feel good only because you’ve survived the ordeal of watching the movie.

Boundaries plays only once at the Festival: Sunday, April 15, 2:00, at the Victoria Theatre.