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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.
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.
*** 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.
*** 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.
*** 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.
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 ***
First of all I choose not to compare movies, I take them on their own
merit. We can compare these stories all over the place, but then again
we can find similarities everywhere we look if we really want to. Let's
empty our cup for this movie, and express from the heart for a moment,
because that's what Robot Stories is all about.
The movie starts with a tiny segment which runs during the opening credits, a cartoon short about little robots with red faces spitting out binary numbers, ones and zeroes float up the screen, at different pace... then one looks around and his face goes blue and he pops out a 2... he looks around, the rest of the little robots stop and before you know we have all the colors of the rainbow spitting out all the numbers... what a simple yet poignant way to explain the beauty of diversity... at least I enjoyed it... so I settled in to watch Robot Stories, with a smile on my face.
Story 1:My Robot Baby is about 2 parents in Japan who want to adopt a baby, they are made to practice on a robot baby first. This segment stars Tamlyn Tomita who I have always loved. You might know her from Joy Luck Club or Day After Tomorrow where she played a reporter. It's a cute story.
Story 2:The Robot Fixer begins in a hospital. The first thing you hear is a female voice over the loud speaker, "Doctor Blair..." That's actually the introduction to the song Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche, not sure why it's in there but I recognized it instantly.
A boy is in a coma because he got hit by a car crossing the street. His sister and mom come to help, and mom decides to get in touch with her estranged son by fixing all of his old toys, his prized possessions from childhood. It's endearing and an original story I've never seen anything like before. We watch the story develop as mom seeks to fix his toys and come closer to understanding him, she takes responsibility for the part she played in the distance that set them apart, it's a very beautiful story.
"There's a change that even with regret cannot be undone." -Division Bell Pink Floyd.
Story 3:Machine Love takes place some time in the near future with the Gi9 Person. A coder tech robot named Archie who delivers himself, does his work, like a clockwork orange, until he meets a female robot, and discovers something outside his parameters, love. The story symbolizes how we limit each other's capabilities, and each other, in a world without limits, without boundaries, without definitions. Too cool.
Story 4:Clay. In 2027, scientists make the first perfect digital copy of the human brain. When you die, you are uploaded into a collective consciousness where you live forever, knowing everything... kind of sounds like a pleasant yoga session to me. Very Zen.
Overall nice stories with thoughtful premises.
The film "Robot Stories" carries many of the same positives and negatives
that many films have that are, in effect, a series of thematically similar
short films tied together.
"My Robot Baby"
This film was the second least broad concept of the four and is consequently the second most interesting tale. Like a Real Life `The Sims' game, this film offers a scenario in which a couple receives a robot child as test to see if they can care for a real baby.
Of the four, this one is perhaps the most naturally acted and directed. It's a smart choice to have as the first film in the series, because it is impossible to figure out what direction it will end up going in until it finally inches to the end. There are times when it seems like it is a Twilight Zone style alternate universe tale, times when it seems like a charming family drama. While we care for the relationship between the couple, we can't figure out how we should care about Marcia after the beginning scene of her as a child. The robot child starts to act more and more berserk, and the film starts to veer off in a direction like it will become a horror movie.
While the film sometimes seemed like it would go in an obvious direction, let it be said that Pak never takes the easy way out and has a way of controlling just what expectations are made for the viewer. This Story deserves ***/****.
"The Robot Fixer"
Easily the most moving, timeless tale of the four, this story gives the film an early peak. The story is the tale of Bernice Chin and her daughter, Grace, as they visit Bernice's estranged son Wilson, who has been hit by a car and is in a coma. Bernice and Grace stay in Wilson's apartment during their stay to see if Wilson recovers.
Bernice is frustrated by how estranged she has gotten from her son in the many years previous. She attempts to make up for lost time by cleaning everything in his rooms and making them spotless and presentable. When Grace finds a brand of toy robots that Wilson collected as children, Bernice finds a new mission: She will replace all the missing pieces of the toys and make Wilson's collection complete. She believes that if she can repair his treasured toy collection, perhaps Wilson could be revived from the coma.
The direction, acting, and screenwriting give this piece a wonderfully natural, believable feeling. Because of Pak's charming simplicity, the story is beautifully relatable with just about anyone that could watch it. "The Robot Fixer" finds Pak catering completely to his strengths. The movie includes many subtle nuances and builds on its main themes quite knowingly, as when Grace tells her mom of how valuable each of Wilson's organs could be donated to many hopeful organ receivers around the country. It becomes evident how meaningful Bernice's struggle to mend her child with the toy pieces is, and we start to see there is a bigger meaning here than simply Bernice trying to mend her estranged relationship with her son.
"The Robot Fixer" is a timeless tale that moved me to tears. If this section of the film could be separated into its own short, it would certainly be one of the year's very best. On its own, it gets ****/****.
After an early peak, the film hits its lowest point with "Machine Love". This film's premise seems to be made on a series of "What if?"'s so long that a viewer either has to be with it or totally against it. For some reason, there is a requirement for computers to type up information they already know for 12 hours a day. Also, robots long to have love only to be like other people in the workplace. This premise didn't have any believability to me, and especially will not appeal to anyone that didn't buy the film A.I. (which much more confidently and thoroughly explored the same thematic issues this film does)
This film isn't particularly amusing or interesting, and the premise is thin even for a half hour short. The whole story seems like it was written by someone with lesser talents and a lot lower filmmaking vision than the previous two films, even if it is admittedly very well acted and directed. The robots actually seem and look like robots, and the little touches of the robot discovering about personal interactions are nuanced. But overall, it gets */****.
The purpose of "Clay" seems to be to transcend the previous three stories into a tale of the finality of life. If you take the aspect of substituting love for humans with love for a robot from "My Robot Baby", combine with it the futuristic innovations of "Machine Love", and the aspect of coping with death through machines with "The Robot Fixer", you could possibly come up with the film "Clay" as an ending point. The premise involves a man who is dying of a terminal illness and his potential future as a "scanned" person in the computerized afterlife. This film has the most inventive premise of the four, but...
Unfortunately, there isn't a single aspect from this film that hasn't already been explored in another film. Any of the visions of technology have been given to us before, most notably in the previous two Tom Cruise Sci-Fi vehicles, Vanilla Sky and Minority Report. They both explore using technology to recreate lives after death. Soderbergh's Solaris goes even a step further, in that it explored the psychological underpinnings of living with a false version of a past love. Anything explored here has been explored much more deeply before.
Basically "Clay" is as uninspired in its view of the material as "The Robot Fixer" was unique and powerful. It gets **
Overall, the film gets **1/2, but "The Robot Fixer" deserves to be seen by anyone interested in independent cinema.
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.
first off, this is low budget and the filming debut of this director
(or so it seems). Judge it as that... of course it's not perfect, as
the people behind it are still finding out which of their ideas work on
screen and which don't. This film then, for the most part works, and if
you think it over afterwards it works even better.
You gotta admire the vision and care that went into each of the 4 stories that each touch on a different side of the same subject: how humans relate to machines and then relate back to real life. The story about the comatose boy his mother and his action figures was especially touching, as was the one about the older man that just wants to die, both beautiful roles by the mother and the sculptor. It seems the director is at best when making a 'small' story, he does it with a tenderness and visual power rarely seen. This leaves the actors plenty of room to present their characters in subtle ways and not having to carry the weight of the story by overacting.
The acting from the predominantly Asian cast is very good, and it's nice to see asians in a non-stereotypical role in American film. The imagery shows the low budget, but the locations are well chosen and it's well directed. The only weak point is when it gets exciting the director has trouble picking up the pace and really conveying the sense of fear and adrenaline the characters must feel. These moments are very sporadic (just one in the first story..my least favorite anyway).
This is a movie to watch, if you have an open mind and can relate to the people on screen. If you're looking for more traditional sci-fi themes.. look further. Calling this movie sci-fi just because it deals with robots is missing the point. This is more geared towards drama. And it's good.. especially for a filming debut. Definitely a director to watch for in the future. A man with vision, ideas and original stories to tell.
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