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

Photo of Meredith Brody 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...

All day I have been looking forward to seeing “Wu Xia” (aka “Dragon”): two hours of martial arts set in 1917, although from a Chinese director, Peter Ho-sun Chan, of whose varied output I’ve seen “Comrades: Almost a Love Story,” and the American “ The Love Letter,”  romantic comedies, neither of which demonstrate the skill set of an action director. But it’s said to have broken box office records in China, where they know a thing or two about action movies. (Ou sont les Hong Kong films d’antan?)

But reality sets it: it’s not due to start for an hour, and I can walk right in to documentary “How to Survive a Plague,” which is about the political group ACT UP and how its actions influenced the creation of the drug cocktails that turned AIDS from a death sentence into a somewhat manageable disease.

Footage from the 80s and 90s (i.e. before cellphone video) and contemporary talking-heads interviews with many of the protagonists has been skillfully assembled into a moving narrative of the power of activism. I only quibble with the film’s end credits, which might lead the viewer to think that the AIDS drug cocktail has saved the world from the scourge of the virus: the 6,000,000 alive because of protease inhibitors are highlighted, rather than the many more millions who do not have access to the drugs. They’ve erred on the side of triumph. Even Larry Kramer, whose angry letter mentioning “at least 75 million infections and 35 million deaths” was handed out outside the theater when I saw the revival of his “The Normal Heart” in NY last year, seems uncharacteristically warm and cuddly in his closing onscreen moments.

The Q-and-A is long and involving. I finally exit the theater at the same time as the audience of “Wu Xia” (easily identifiable by the martial arts moves they’re trying out on each other).

So much for trying to be pragmatic. Ah well. I can see “Wu Xia” on Monday afternoon.

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

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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.