On those days when you're really jonesing for a Ray Bradbury story only to remember that you've lent out all your copies, Greg Pak's "Robot Stories" will more than do.
Bradbury explored the intimate connection between technology and ourselves. We were to be afraid sometimes, but not very. Pak's collection of related shorts comes closer than any film I can think of to capturing Bradbury's mood of wariness and glee when science makes a breakthrough. In "Robot Stories," technology hasn't colonized human life, it's finding ways to make living (and loving) better.
In the opener, "My Robot Baby," two yuppies (Tamlyn Tomita and James Saito) receive a preliminary robot baby to test their parenting skills for a human child to arrive later, but the horror flick we're expecting never arrives.
Instead, we get a clever psychological drama about a woman whose cruel mother has programmed her for neglect. Here, people need to learn to love more than machines do.
This is also a place where the androids are more passionate than their cold, frivolous employers: In the third chapter, "Machine Love," a nonhuman temp awakens to love in the workplace.
Ideas and compassion drive each piece, and God bless Pak for that. (God bless him for his matter-of-factly multiracial cast, too.) We're spared the usual Luddite paranoia. So if these films seem to be set in the Twilight Zone, you should just go with it. We've been conditioned, by movies, by "Dateline," by the 11 o'clock news, to fear going too gaga for gadgets, lest we all wind up having to pack our things and move to the Matrix.
To get us to the enlightened stuff, though, Pak has to surmount some generally stale human archetypes. The mothers we get are emotionally barren careerists. Of course, the bereaved mom (Wai Ching Ho) in the mini-melodrama "The Robot Fixer" is revealed to be a slave driver in the next film; until then she's a reformed shrew. But presumably the reason behind so many frigid type-As is that the machines put them in touch with their humanity.
With "My Robot Baby" and "Machine Love," you can see how a lot of this would fall straight into satire or farce. But excusing the fact that the android (played by the director) in "Machine Love" seems like something we can expect from Apple (the iTemp, maybe), Pak isn't kidding. The big make-out scene is oddly beautiful, and the film is the work of a feeling thinker who understands how to communicate sincerity without giving you a headache, a cavity, or a lecture.
("Robot Stories": ***)
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.