Robot Stories

From birth through death, writer/director/star Greg Pak examines man's relationship with the machine in his award-winning omnibus "Robot Stories."

Laura's Review: C+

Pak has assembled an interconnected anthology of shorts, each approximately twenty minutes long, which explore themes of motherhood, romantic love, and death with subtext on the workplace and art. Each film presents a simple concept with varying emotional results. The biracial Korean American director has cast his stories as he envisioned them - with Asian actors - and states that this decision aids the emotional reticence of his second story. In the first film, "My Robot Baby," a successful marketing VP, Marcia (Tamlyn Tomita, "The Joy Luck Club"), and her husband Roy (James Saito, "Love the Hard Way") are thrilled to be receiving a baby, but the adoption turns out to be of a large plastic ovoid which whirrs and whistles like R2D2. Turns out this is a test run for the real thing. While everyone assures Marcia that she'll be a great mother, she has deep insecurities because when she was 6 years old her mother, reacting to a fight with her father, had huddled with in a closet and advised 'Never fall in love, never get married, never have kids.' Then the worst happens - the 'baby' responds to Roy but rejects Marcia and Roy must depart on an urgent business trip for one week and Marcia must face her parenting fears. Although this episode goes over the top into "Prey" territory (a famous Karen Black starring horror short from a 1975's "Trilogy of Terror"), Tomita makes the wrapup work. "The Robot Fixer" (which began filming on 9/10/01 in lower Manhattan) also deals with motherhood and is the most effective piece of the four. Bernice Chin (Wai Ching Ho, "Happiness") with her adult daughter Grace (Cindy Cheung) arrives in the city when her young son falls into a coma. They go to his apartment to stay and find a bachelor pig sty, but in cleaning it Grace discovers Wilson's childhood collection of microbots. Bernice has no recollection of the toys her daughter tells her were her son's consuming passion, but she becomes obsessed with fixing and completing the collection. When Bernice remembers that she was responsible for the loss of the part she is seeking, we realize that her disconnected relationship with her son is due to their very alike, noncommunicative natures. In letting go of her son, Bernice becomes more aware of others. "The Robot Fixer" is a well acted, subtle piece. It's followed by "Machine Love," the most banal chapter which explores the well worn idea that when machines are modeled on humans, they develop human emotions. In 2007, Sprout computers has developed its G series of software into the iPerson G9, a coding work droid which will interact and learn in the workplace. Archie (writer/director Greg Pak) delivers himself to an office who finds his presence 'freaky.' Only IT tech Bob (Bill Coelius) has any empathy for Archie, whose ability to complete all his assignments has freed up manager Bernice (Ching Ho again) to play video games secretly in her office. When Archie is shoved in a corner and left operating all night, he begins to observe a female droid in an office across the way enduring more active abuse. Recognizing Archie's agitation, Bob allows him to pursue Lydia (Julienne Hanzelka Kim) to the amusement and embarrassment of both offices. Pak and Kim effectively portray the droids with Coelius following in the path of such characters as "Silent Running's" Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern). Finally, "Clay" strays into a cerebral version of "Soylent Green." It's 2027 and scientists have created a digital brain that stores all human experience via a scanning process which occurs before a person dies, making their memories immortal. John (Sab Shimono, "Come See The Paradise") is a sculptor who works with clay (a metaphor for The Book of Genesis' sixth day) who has just discovered he has about one year left to live. He lives with his digitized wife Ellen (Eisa Davis) who describes 'life' in four concurrent places and urges him to join her via scanning, but John does not believe in her reality and resists becoming part of a digital collective conscience. Interesting concepts are introduced in "Clay," but Pak's decision to make John a self-described bastard who does not deserve a false reality he has not earned drains the piece of emotional resonance. "Robot Stories" wears its low budget on its sleeve with locations limited to stark rooms and offices and simple, hackneyed sound effects in lieu of visual effects. Pak relies on the basics of writing and acting to express his ideas, but only "The Robot Fixer" fully makes up for cinematic shortcomings.

Robin's Review: DNS