The perennial joke by prognosticators of the annual Academy Awards
is that the categories of Live Action Short Film and Animated Short Film
are the spoilers in office pools. Almost no one can predict which films
will win, mostly because very few get to see the nominees. Indeed, one
might argue that short features are the Rodney Dangerfields of cinema:
They get no respect. This in and of itself is a strange idea as arguably
it is more difficult to tell a complete story in forty minutes or less. Not
only that, but several well-known filmmakers have used a short film as
a calling card for talent and skill.
If a short does get a theatrical release, it generally is packaged with
other like minded pieces. (Gay-themed films in particular have found a
successful niche in doing this.) Some make their way to the Internet or
to the small screen as filler generally on cable networks like the
Independent Film Channel (IFC) or Cinemax. Its rare for a package of
films to be by one director and even rarer to be in the genre of science
fiction, which is why ROBOT STORIES, quartet of loosely-related dramas
written, directed and distributed by Greg Pak,is so unique and exciting.
That the cast is also Asian or Asian-American adds even more frisson.
As with any anthology, the quality of the individual components varies.
Some are simply better than others and in this case, one is a
The first entry is "My Robot Baby," a drama about a high-strung
overachieving married couple, Marcia and Roy (Tamita Tomlyn and James
Saito), who are attempting to adopt a child. As preparation, they
are given a robot child to care for. Roy takes to fatherhood easily,
but the brittle Marcia has difficulty bonding with the prototype. When
Roy departs on a business emergency, Marcia must try to cope with
the demands of the mechanical child and as such must confront her
own fears and inadequacies. She eventually has the requisite moment
of realization that leads to a satisfactory climax. Tomlyn delivers a
strong turn as the workaholic who must tap into her nurturing side,
but the piece overall feels slight and incomplete.
The best of the lot is the second entry, "The Robot Fixer," about a
mother (the extraordinary Wai Ching Ho) who discovers how little she
knows about her son after he ends up in a coma. While staying at his
apartment, she discovers a box of broken robot toys that he inexplicably
has saved. Instead of dealing with her son's illness directly, she
sets out to repair and restore his precious toys in the hopes that they
will miraculously cure him. It's a heartbreaking piece that is on par with
some of the finest of Rod Serling's work.
"Machine Love" takes the idea of robots in the workplace to new
levels. In the not too distant future, iPersons will be sent to offices
to handle temporary work. With Pak playing the lead of Archie, the
latest model, the piece is cute but derivative. Archie is no more than
a Pinnochio figure longing to experience human emotions. Of course,
there's a female model in the office across the street who captures his
attention. And, of course, at some point they are brought together.
It's an interesting idea that doesn't really amount to much.
The final segment is entitled "Clay" and deals with an aging
sculptor (Sab Shimono) who is faced with the a choice of having his
consciousness scanned into a computer and thus achieving a form of
immortality or facing death on its own terms. He is tempted by his
wife (the wonderful Eisa Davis) who has undergone the process and
appears as a digitized form as well as encouraged by his son (Ron
Domingo) who is also overseeing the renovation of a public space for
which the sculptor is designing a statue. This short raises provocative
questions of memory and mortality and again calls to mind several of
Rod Serling's more notable efforts.
MPAA Rating: None
Running time: 85 mins.
Viewed at Cinema Village.
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.