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Weekend Viewing: Two Films from Local Boys

Frank stares into the loving visor of VGC-60L. Photo Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films and Stage 6 Films

Jonesing for a quality cinematic experience or two? We've got just what you need.
Robot & Frank

Doing double duty as a buddy caper movie and a soft-news indictment of the entitled smugness of post-everything Tech Boomers, where else would a story like Robot & Frank have come from but the Bay Area? San Francisco proper can’t lay sole claim to it but the City is surrounded at all points by the film’s architects—writer Chris Ford grew up in Marin, where he attended Marin Academy, and first-time feature director Jake Schreier hails from Berkeley. Though it’s set in “the very near future” in a tech-heavy world that seems all too close to those of us with one eye perpetually on the Googleplex, Robot’s charms are strictly old-school, from lead Frank Langella, right down to the there’s-a-person-in-there sized robot of the title.

The film opens with a stocking-capped Frank rummaging through his own house with flashlight in hand, before an alarm triggers and startled recognition leads him to realize that he’s broken into his own home, half due to his growing dementia and half to how clearly bored to tears he is by his solitary sun-downing in a sleepy cabin in the woods. Living a lonely existence punctuated by naps, bowls of kids' cereal and weekly visits from his city-dwelling son, Frank appears as many young boys imagine their grandfather: As an adventurer in his twilight years. Being that this is a movie, of course, Frank really is an adventurer of sorts, a burglar to be exact, albeit a retired one. When his son’s compassion (and his patience to make the weekly 10 hour drives which Frank seldom remembers) reaches a breaking point, Frank gets a new friend: A robot caretaker programmed to put his health back in order and his life back on the straight and narrow.

Reprising the late-career streak of vulnerable prickliness that made Frost/Nixon such a painfully (and rewardingly) human endeavor, Langella’s Frank is beginning to show signs of dementia, but is by no means slow—as attested by the endless string of disparaging one-liners he hurls at his son and his robot caretaker at first. He slowly warms to the robot when he learns that it really is there for his health—and nothing more. Impressed by the cognitive benefits that planning a robbery has on Frank, the robot soon becomes his partner in crime, for… health reasons. That’s just the beginning of the story but why spoil a yarn that’s this much fun? Playing at Sundance Kabuki and Embarcadero Cinemas starting today.

Big River Man Benefit Screening


Film Society Cinema spends one if its final Fridays screening local filmmaker John Maringouin’s astounding Sundance-awarded 2009 documentary Big River Man. The Kinski-level paradox of wine-swilling, horse-burger-crushing environmentalist-slash-distance swimmer Martin Strel is more than enough to fill two films, let alone two tiny sentences. All proceeds of the screening go to a surgery fund for director John Maringouin, who, like many, does not have health insurance. Anyone interested in donating directly can do so here. Plays Friday at Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post St @ 7:30.