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In the four-part anthology film "Robot Stories," writer/director Greg
Pak examines the role that technology plays in modern life, pondering
the age old quandaries of what is real and what is synthetic and
whether or not technology can truly enhance our lives. Knowing a good
thing when he sees it, Pak has chosen to utilize many of the same cast
members - largely Asian - for each of the unrelated episodes.
The first story, entitled "My Robot Baby," takes place in the not too distant future when couples who are looking to adopt a child are first sent home with a fully computerized and monitored, "simulated" baby that they have to take care of for a brief period of time (this is a more elaborate version of what many high school Health teachers do with their students to convince them of just how much work caring for a newborn can be). How the participants do on this "test" helps to determine their fitness as parents and their eligibility for getting a "real" child in the future. This segment is both creepy and witty in roughly equal measure. In the well acted and touching second episode, "The Robot Fixer," a young man lies brain dead in a hospital after he is run over by a car. His mother and sister, who have long been estranged from the man, spend their time reconstructing his collection of beloved toy robots as a way of coming to terms with who he really is. This is the only section that deals not with futuristic technology per se but with the part technology plays in our imaginations and fantasies. The third installment, "Machine Love," is probably the most conventional of the quartet, about how even two robots - in this case, two office "workers" - need a little love in a cold, uncaring world. It's a theme that has been explored in virtually every film involving robots since "Metropolis" in 1927. "Clay," the fourth and most thoughtful segment, takes us to a future world in which people, rather than dying, become somehow absorbed into a giant "system" that allows them to live on in holographic form. A dying sculptor is forced to choose between this kind of virtual "eternal life" devoid of tactile sensation, or taking his chances with a more natural albeit uncertain existence in the great beyond.
As with many anthology films, "Robot Stories" turns out to be better in parts than it is as a whole, with certain episodes inevitably proving to be more imaginative and more captivating than others. Moreover, the twenty-odd minute length allotted for each section doesn't allow for the kind of depth and resonance one finds in more fully developed feature length movies. Nevertheless, given the constraints of the format he has chosen, Pak has mounted an impressive little product, taking advantage of his miniscule budget to adopt a subtle, low-keyed approach to a subject that, given less limited resources, might otherwise have become top heavy with special effects. The acting - particularly on the part of the older actors in the cast - is outstanding. "Robot Stories" may not satisfy the demands of the average sci-fi aficionado, but those in search of something different may enjoy it.
You will find more depth and humor here than in most of today's big
budget sci-fi films. The writing and directing are solid throughout.
The actors also give fine performances, particularly the tremendously
talented Wai Ching Ho and Sab Shimono.
The first of the shorts, "My Robot Baby," sets the thoughtful and quirky tone for the rest of the film. "Robot Fixer" (my favorite of the four) and "Clay" ground the film emotionally. The third short, "Machine Love," provides a welcome injection of humor while also revealing many insights about human nature.
Director and writer Greg Pak has shown considerable skill in crafting these four shorts. I look forward to his future films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently picked this up as a rental and was glad I did. Like many
other people who've commented here, the overall film is a bit uneven.
However, the first two films make it really worth it.
In the first film, "Robot Babby," I believe Tamlyn Tomita's performance, really helps sell this story. Her reaction at the end is the key to the entire film.
The second story, "The Robot Fixer," is really great. You could pull this story out and show it alone as an example of what can be done with a little money and not a lot of time. With even the simplest movies today moving into 2+ hour length, it's refreshing and somewhat inspirational to see something this good come out in a short. This one will stick with me. Excellent performances, particularly by Wai Ching Ho as the desperate mother.
The final two films, "Robot Love" and "Clay," don't quite have the power of the first two. "Clay" has an interesting premise (place a scan of your brain in some Matrix-like system and have eternal life). However, the script struggles with clearly developing the internal dilemma of the main character. He's trying to wrestle with the issue of whether such a future consists of a real life. A pretty good try though.
Overall, if you want to try something a little different from the norm, this is a very good change of pace. I will keep an eye out for future work from Greg Pak.
"Robot Stories" is a collection of four thematically related short films,
written, produced, directed and, in at least one, acted by Gregory Pak.
They are humanistic "Outer Limits" episodes with the usual ending twist. The first two particularly rise above the genre with touching insight into human and machine interaction, the fourth almost succeeds, and the third just seems like the usual android of the future amidst the humans, similar to "Data"'s experiences on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
One unique resonance is the preponderance of Asian-American actors, which adds a subtle layer of commentary about "the model minority" with the pressures on them to succeed that can only be met by machine perfection, perhaps leading to the pressure to opt for tekkie, rather than artistic--like filmmaking--fields.
The movie concludes with a sweet tribute to a friend or relative of a worker on the film who died at the World Trade Center.
Great ideas for making us think about our times are the triumph of this picture. Made of four short stories, it offers us projections, realities, and premonitions. Each story ends up being very significant of some spectres of the man / machine interdependence. Slowly paced, shot on video, it looks like it's not very exciting, but still has a lot to take from it, with some patience. The two initial stories, the first about a couple that have to adopt a furby-like machine to prove that they are able to adopt a real baby, the second about a mother who starts completing his comatose son's toy robot collection, are the weakest. The two final stories (one about an android who develops human feelings and the other about a man dying in a world where you no longer die, but instead you're uploaded), are the strongest, even if at a minimal level. So, the real achievements of "Robot Stories" are discrete, and very minimal. But it still pays off.
(www.plasticpals.com) Rather than making one really good short film,
director Greg Pak decided to film all four of his robot-themed short
stories and compile them into one film.
The first story, My Robot Baby, follows a couple as they take home a robot baby to show they are responsible enough to handle a real one. It's not a bad concept for a robot-themed film, and is a plausible scenario that will be familiar to anyone who had to take care of an egg for a sex ed class. As it turns out, the robot baby looks quite a bit like a football-sized egg with cardboard eyes stuck onto it. Despite the cheesy props the story does contain some interesting ideas, like when the robot's "mother" reprograms the bot so that it automatically takes care of itself. Unfortunately the concept was better explored and in much greater detail in Steven Spielberg's A.I., and it quickly dissolves into a silly suspense film when the baby robot runs amok late at night.
The second story, The Robot Fixer, isn't really about robots at all. A distraught mother is visiting her comatose son, who has been hit by a car. While cleaning up his apartment, she and her daughter find his collection of robot toys. The mother decides to complete her son's collection in a symbolic bid to put her son back together. By the time this one was over I was ready to stop watching this turd, so I did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Robot Stories, created in 2003 by Greg Pak is his first (and so far his
only) feature film. It consists of four independent vignettes, each one
treating another aspect of our relations with the world of robots. A
couple who wants to adopt a child gets a robot-baby instead, just for
exercising. A mother tries to connect to his comatose son by sharing
his passion: fixing robot-toys. A robot-worker gets in love with a
female-robot. An old sculptor who will die soon has the option to
become a robot and live for ever in a hologram.
The movie got very controversial reviews. Some compared Robot Stories with other movies of the same kind to find out that everything that was to be said about robot stuff had already been said. Some others tried to consider the movie on its own merits. I think it should be considered also within the context of Greg Pak's creation, all his comics and very short movies (videos of less than 10 minutes, even less than 2 minutes): it is about the interactions between our universe and the universe of his comics.
Robots were created with the aim to help us: in our work, or in our moments of fatigue, when we need some kind of intelligent toys to play with. Only it happened that robots went further and created their own universe, sometimes controlled by us, sometimes with them in control, sometimes cooperating with us, sometimes competing. Contacts between our universe and theirs can be sometimes beneficial for both, while many times it is about collisions with unpredictable outcomes. On the other hand, in most cases the universe of robots offers a window for us, to look into it: what happens there, in their world, is the objective image of what we are.
If we consider now the four vignettes of the movie, we could say that the vision of Greg Pak about the matter is rather pessimistic. Babies are replaced by robots, communication between humans is possible only using robots, human sentiments are felt by robots only (and humans forgot about them), medicines cannot compete viruses any more while death sends human beings into the world of robots for ever. Is the picture too pessimistic? Well, let's put it this way: babies start being little savage robots till we learn how to communicate with them, communication between humans is ultimately possible, even if we need robots for that, and so on. Discussing this movie we can go either way. Plus think about that: the movie uses robots to describe our own world. Is it about them or about us? As I said, we can go either way.
The first vignette (My Robot Baby) is funny and witty. What are babies after all, other than little savage and absurd things you cannot communicate with? Anything you try, they keep on crying. And only when you don't know what to try anymore and get discouraged, they start understanding you. The communication channel is set when the little thing realizes you can be weak, too.
The second vignette (The Robot Fixer) is a little gem. Mother and daughter come at the bed of their son and brother: he lies in a coma, brain-dead, and the only decision to take is when to unplug him. The daughter realizes it very well, while the mother is thinking how to connect with the son in his last days. A set of little robot toys discovered in his little condo shows her that she knew the son very little. And the mother starts to learn about robots, to play with them, to fix the toys, to be at least now in synch with the boy. Is it too late? Is it useless? Maybe any human attempt is useless or it comes to late, but it doesn't matter. It has to be done.
The third vignette (Machine Love) is funny, but rather weak, in my opinion. An android worker (nicely played by Greg Pak) is surrounded at office by humans devoid of any warmth, while he discovers, step by step, the miracle of love. I saw better ones, even between robots. The standard was probably set by Data, what do you think? As for the last vignette (Clay), it has a great subject, maybe difficult to be grasped. To continue your life for ever, frozen in a hologram, or to accept the dignity of your never more? Well, when you tackle with a great subject, you should have a moment of genius, to say there the ultimate truth. I think the moment of genius came for Greg Pak in the second vignette. But all in all, you shouldn't miss these four Robot Stories. They are uneven, that is true, but Greg Pak is a very cool creator.
I remembered this film after seeing two more science fiction films
recently, NIGHTINGALE IN A MUSIC BOX and PRIMER. All three are
extremely low budget meditations on the relationship between technology
and human identity. This one is the hardest to comment on, because it's
a collection of short stories that differ somewhat in quality; but on
the whole, ROBOT STORIES deserves its place with the other two as part
of a real renaissance in American independent "science fiction"
I put science fiction in quotes, because these films are more more about the human soul and if there can even be such a thing in this brave new world we live in, than they are about the actual new forms technology might take, though PRIMER is probably the best on little science details, if you like that.
To anyone reading this comment, I'd suggest you try to see all three. They represent an exciting movement in American independent movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Robot Stories" tells four stories following the theme of isolation, and its
remedy, or lack thereof, through technology. "My Baby Robot" shows couple
seeking to adopt a child who are given a robot infant to test their
worthiness for a human child. "The Robot Fixer" deals with an
emotionally-distant mother whose son lies brain-dead in a coma. When she
finds remnants of his boyhood toy robot collection, she seeks to complete
and restore the collection. In "Robot Love," a humanoid office robot with
the ability to interact is frustrated by his human co-workers unwillingness
to do so. The final tale, "Clay," tells the story of a dying sculptor given
to the opportunity to have his mind scanned so that his consciousness can
survive after his death in huge database.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw this film. From the trailer, I expected a somewhat whimsical piece about love and robots, and the third tale with its G9 iPerson is certainly whimsical enough, but I found the overall film much more emotionally challenging and moving than I anticipated. The second and fourth stories were the best.
"The Robot Fixer" is hardly science fiction at all. The only robots are little plastic toys. The film starts with a mother, wonderfully played by Wai Ching Ho, arriving to find her son lying in a coma. It soon becomes clear her son was a disappointment to her, and that she never understood him. She later goes to his apartment and finds a collection of toy robots he saved from childhood. The mother realizes the fact that her son saved the robots all these years showed that they were important to him. In an attempt to understand him better, and perhaps draw him out of his coma, she goes to great lengths to repair the robots and bring them to his bedside in the hospital. She poignantly doesn't succeed in drwaing him from the coma, but learns a great deal about herself and her son in the process.
In "Clay," a dying sculptor is required to have his brain scanned so that his consciousness can survive in a huge database. The artist, played by Sab Shimono, resists, despite knowing that the process indeed works. His deceased wife survives in the database and visits him in holographic form. She is, in fact, a better wife to him dead than she was alive. Not only does she love him more now, she has achieved a blissful state of happiness in the database. That's one of the problems. The artist knows he has lived a selfish life and doesn't deserve the happiness he would find in the database. He'd rather take his chances on a natural death than survive in a reality he finds false and artificial.
"Robot Stories" is an excellent first feature by writer/director Greg Pak. I look forward to seeing another one.
Beautifully shot and very moving.
I found all four stories very strong and riveting. Great performances throughout in particular Sab Shimono's portrayal of the old man. Each chapter left us with a bittersweet moved and inspired kind of feeling.
Don't go looking for regular science fiction here. This is a good art film. The robots don't kill anyone, for the most part do their utmost to fit in. They are metaphors and mirrors that Greg Pak uses to reflect back into our very souls.
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