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Robot Stories
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by Jay Seaver

"A good anthology"
4 stars

Writer/director/co-star Greg Pak must like it up here in Boston - he came up in October to show Robot Stories at the Boston Fantastic Film Festival, again in January to present it at the Arisia convention, took the train up from Manhattan so that he could conduct an 11pm Q&A after the showing at SF/29, and will be returning this weekend (27-28 February 2004) for the movie's premiere at the Brattle Theater.

Happily, his enthusiasm is matched by most of those who see the movie. Robot Stories is four vignettes superficially about man's relationship with machines, but also with each other. The stories tackle bigger science-fictional ideas as they go on, but are always rooted in human relationships.

The first, "My Robot Baby", features Tamlyn Tomita as a young executive who, with her husband, is about to adopt a baby. First, though, they must care for a robot simulation, which rapidly becomes more than she was expecting. It's a simple enough story, recycled ad nauseum on sitcoms as teenagers must keep an egg from being hurt as part of a health class project, but the character's uncertainty about her readiness for parenthood makes it work, and the baby robot, though clearly done on a budget, manages to display a surprising amount of character by the end.

"The Robot Fixer" is also well-done, though its sci-fi content is non-existent. Wai Ching Ho plays Bernice, the mother of a man in a coma from which he will probably never awaken. She never really understood him, and still doesn't, but when her daughter finds his collection of toy robots while they clean his apartment, she decides to complete the collection, in hope that something he considered important will bring them closer together and, maybe, entice him to wake up. Bernice is an interesting character, and Wai Ching Ho plays her well (with a fine but easily overlooked supporting performance by Cindy Cheung as the daughter), but while this segment may be the strongest as a conventional drama, it feels somewhat weak in comparison to me. It just doesn't have the nifty idea that the others do.

Pak himself stars in "Machine Love", a lighter piece that examines an interesting situation - as we make machines more sophisticated, we will likely give them more ability to learn and interact, both to make them more useful machines and to show that we can create an artificial intelligence. That's not always wanted, though (remember "Microsoft Bob"?), and it's likely that even as machines become more human, we will continue to treat them like machines. Here, Pak plays an android programmed to be social whose operators look at him as nothing more than a tool; the irony being that only another machine will understand his all-too-human needs.

"Clay" takes it a step further, positing a future where human beings' minds are "scanned" and uploaded into servers as they near death. Sab Shimono plays John, a sculptor whose wife Helen has already passed on but who regularly visits him. He now finds that he's dying, but refuses to be scanned, fearing he'll lose the ability to create as a mind stored in a machine. The movie is fair enough to present John's obstinacy as perhaps a little old-fashioned and hurtful to his loved ones, but Eisa Davis's portrayal of Helen subtly asks whether John may have a point - she's warm, friendly, and not mechanical at all, but also rather distant. Her appearance is young even though John is an old man. As much as she still cares about her husband and son, she's become something different.

It's worth noting that Robot Stories is not just four short films pasted together; a couple characters from other segments appear in "Machine Love", there's a progression from birth to death in the stories, and the animation and music to the opening credits are nifty, as well. It's a solid collection, worth checking out.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6799&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/03/04 20:04:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Slamdance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/01/07 fools♫gold Hard to rate, but how daring it was made me smile and shiver. 5 stars
4/09/05 kabir love 1 stars
1/26/03 Danielle The second story actually made me cry. 5 stars
1/24/03 Mr Math A lot of fun. 4 stars
1/23/03 Joe Just saw it at Slamdance. Great movie - deep and moving. And it looks awesome. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Greg Pak

Written by
  Greg Pak

  Tamlyn Tomita
  Sab Shimono
  Wai Ching Ho
  Greg Pak
  Vivian Bang
  John Cariani

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