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SFIFF 55 Reviews: 'Goodbye,' 'Robot & Frank,' 'How to Survive a Plague,' 'Fourth Dimension'

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood April 22, 2012 at 3:52PM

Only two films into the day and I’ve already been confronted with political repression, abuse, Down syndrome, and Alzheimer’s. I go to see “The Fourth Dimension,” a trilogy of films created around a set of instructions that sound Dogme-esque but more specific (stuffed animals and bad jokes must be included) by Harmony Korine...
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Next up is “Robot & Frank,” a modest American indie with an impressive cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden. It’s set in the near future, delineated by only a few touches, some deft – such as an oddly thin car, and the relentless process of  de-accessioning the physical books of  the local library -- and some not: the baroque, lacquered upswept hairdos on stylish women. The aging and increasingly forgetful Langella, once a cat burglar, is provided with a predictably adorable robot (voiced by Peter Saarsgard) to aid him in his daily tasks.  

I find the film sweet but predictable. Afterwards, the pitfall of seeing a film in a festival context arrives: the young first-time director, Jake Schreier, is personable and charming, and who could not fail to re-evaluate the movie you’ve just seen once you learn it was shot in only 20 days, in hundred-degree heat that nearly asphyxiated the small woman encased in the robot suit? I am not unmoved. But it doesn’t ultimately change the good-natured but slender movie I’ve just seen (due to be released next fall by Samuel Goldwyn Films). A questioner in the audience proves to be a geriatic psychiatrist, who politely doubts some of the film’s internal logic. Who goes to the movies expecting reality?

Only two films into the day and I’ve already been confronted with political repression, abuse, Down syndrome, and Alzheimer’s. Among a plethora of choices I’ve decided on seeing “OK, Enough, Goodbye,” because I have never before seen a deadpan comedy about a Lebanese pastry chef, but I am waylaid by film buff and Sundance regular Janet, who is going to see “The Fourth Dimension,” a trilogy of films created around a set of instructions that sound Dogme-esque but more specific (stuffed animals and bad jokes must be included) by Harmony Korine (who I find generally terrible sans l'enfant), Alexy Fedorchenko (the terrific “Silent Souls”), and Jan Kwiecinski, a Polish director and unknown quantity.

I follow Janet into the theater because (a) the movie was on my list anyway; (b) it’s being shown on the biggest screen in the complex, one of my favorite places to see a film in the entire Bay Area; (c) they’re giving out free beer and popcorn; (d) it’s the first film from the beer company Grolsch’s new film arm (!), and I’m curious as to why a beer company has a film arm, anyway.

Onward and upwards with the arts. Korine’s segment, “Lotus Community Workshop,” stars a Sam Kinison-esque Val Kilmer (long hair, doughy face, black beret, but without the compelling intensity) as an addled motivational speaker. An extended, uninvolving inside joke. I’m ready to be charmed by Fedorchenko’s “Chronoeye,” in which a cranky would-be time traveler is seduced by a noisily dancing neighbor, but ultimately I’m not.  Kwiecinski’s “Fawns” looks bright and beautiful on the big screen, but again its apocalyptical narrative, initially intriguing (four punk kids rampage around a deserted Polish village about to be inundated by implacable floods) fails to grab me.

Oh well.  You take your chances. I am still mystified as to the hopes and dreams of Grolsch’s film arm, even after listening to most of the gnomic pronouncements issuing forth from the stage afterwards, laden with directors, filmmakers, and the creative head of Grolsch, who bears coincidentally another famed beer name, Moretti. He is the one who came up with these filmic rules in concert with Korine (which should in itself have been a good reason to stay away).

This article is related to: Festivals, Festivals, San Francisco International Film Festival, Reviews, Reviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.