SFJFF37 Spotlights: The Boy Downstairs / Mr. Predictable / A Classy Broad / Bombshell

by Carrie Kahn on July 30, 2017

The 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, showcasing over 60 films from more than a dozen countries, opened on July 20th, and runs until next Sunday, August 6th. This year, the Festival boasts over 15 West Coast premiers, and more than 40% of its films are directed by women, including both its opening and closing night films. 

With a full week left to go, there is still plenty of time to catch some great new films. Below we spotlight four Fest titles (two documentaries and two features) that you may want to check out. Complete schedule, tickets, and more information are available here.

The Boy Downstairs
(USA 2017, 91 min)

Diana (Zosia Mamet)’s life grows complicated when she inadvertently moves into the same building a her ex (Matthew Shear).

With this lightweight but sweet romantic comedy, writer/director Sophie Brooks makes her feature film debut. While somewhat cliché, the picture is not a bad first attempt, thanks in large part to warm performances by Zosia Mamet and Matthew Shear. The two play exes who unexpectedly find themselves living next door to each other several years after their break up. With its New York setting, romantic travails, and the casting of Mamet, the film may remind some viewers of Girls, but Mamet is much more likable here as Diana, a struggling writer forced to confront old feelings and past decisions as she begins to reconnect with an initially reluctant Ben (Shear). New York-set romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, and Brooks hasn’t exactly rewritten the playbook here, but her winning cast and some sharp observations about post-break up awkwardness make for a pleasant, enjoyable addition to the genre.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Saturday, August 5th, 6:50pm, Landmark Albany Twin, Albany

Mr. Predictable 
(Israeli Title: Yeled Tov Yerushalyim, or Good Boy Jerusalem)
(Israel 2016, 103 min. In Hebrew with English subtitles)

Natalia (Meytal Gal) tries to cheer up Adi (Amos Tamam).

If you’re willing to suspend a little disbelief and buy the somewhat far-fetched premise of Israeli director Roee Florentin’s charming new film, you’ll actually warm up to it. Milquetoast Adi Levi (Amos Tamam, The Wedding Plan) is accidentally given the wrong medical diagnosis because of a government health services administrative error (a plot point that won’t help the cause of health care proponents looking to foreign system models). That Adi accepts without question (and, presumably, without having received any tests) that he has stage-4 pancreatic cancer and only a month or so to live begs credulity, but as the story entertainingly spins ahead, the ludicrous plot device is soon forgotten, as the film becomes an appealing “seize the day” romantic comedy. Always the staid, responsible one, Adi begins to loosen up when, after receiving the diagnosis, he meets quirky dog walker Natalia (Meytal Gal, convincingly channeling Rosanna Arquette circa Desperately Seeking Susan), who urges him to “unleash the wolf.” What happens when the truth comes out – for Adi, Natalia, and Adi’s family – makes for a pleasing and surprisingly thoughtful look at self-perception, life choices, and personal fulfillment.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Wednesday, August 2nd, 6:00pm, Landmark Albany Twin, Albany
– Saturday, August 5th, 8:55pm, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

A Classy Broad
(USA 2016, 93 min)

Former United Artists Vice President Marcia Nasatir stays on top of industry news.

The daughter of a Russian immigrant, Texas-raised Marcia Nasatir worked her way up from a low-level publishing job to become the first female vice president of United Artists, at a time when the film industry was almost entirely male dominated. Responsible for helping to bring to fruition such classic films as Carrie, Chinatown, Rocky, Coming Home, Star Wars, and The Big Chill, Nasatir had an uncanny ability to read a screenplay and know instinctually whether it would be a big hit. Nasatir’s story is as intriguing as it is inspiring, and documentarian Anne Goursaud gives the 90-year-old Nasatir plenty of screen time to tell her often funny, often maddening tales of life as a Hollywood trailblazer. Watching this film is like having an intimate chat with your grandmother, who has incredible stories you’ve never heard before about life back in the day. A great storyteller in her own right, Nasatir makes for an ideal documentary subject, as she regales us with engaging tales from her personal and professional life. Goursaud’s film is sure to delight lovers of both history and cinema, and shouldn’t be missed. 

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Sunday, August 6th, 12:15pm, Landmark Albany Twin, Albany

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
(USA 2017, 90 min)

A still of actress Hedy Lamarr from 1941’s Ziegfield Girl.

Another debut by a first time writer/director, television producer Alexandra Dean’s Bombshell is a fascinating look at one of the most iconic actresses from Hollywood’s golden age. But, as Dean’s film tells us, the beautiful and magnetic Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr was so much more than a stunning actress; she was also a highly intelligent inventor, holding patents that are the basis for technologies we still use today, including cell phones and secure wi-fi. Dean fills her film with dishy tidbits: Lamarr was the model for Disney’s Snow White; she later cried to gossip columnist Hedda Hopper about her nude scene in the infamous Czech film Ecstasy; she gave Howard Hughes an idea he used to build his “world’s fastest plane.” The documentary also incorporates old footage, still photos, and current and past interviews with family, contemporaries, and scholars, allowing Dean to vividly bring to life a woman ahead of her time, whose beauty allowed her financial success, but ultimately prevented her from using her brilliant mind to the fullest. “She might have been a scientist,” a UCLA film archivist muses in the film, but “she was derailed by her beauty.” Dean’s film goes a long way towards rectifying the slights Lamarr suffered during her lifetime, as her personal and professional triumphs (and set backs) are finally recognized here, in a well crafted, well told, and engrossing story.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Sunday, July 30th, 8:00pm, Castro Theater, SF (Director Alexandra Dean and Anthony Loder, Hedy Lamarr’s son, will appear for a Q&A). 
– Saturday, August 5th, 4:45pm, Landmark Albany Twin, Albany  
– Sunday, August 6th, 4:15pm, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

 

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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