Germany during World War I had Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and its human-turned-bug to make sense of mass alienation in an era of empire and industry, but in contemporary America, we've got toys and supercomputers. Billed as "science fiction from the heart," newcomer Greg Pak's film Robot Stories comes to the Bay Area this week laden with awards from places as disparate as Florida's Marco Island and Hokkaido, Japan. Admired by the New York Times, the Village Voice, and other publications for its stoic style, clever yet heartfelt devices, and strangely effective acting, the movie has clearly touched a nerve by tracing the human in the robot and the robot in the human in today's age of cyberterror.
Robot Storiesisn't out-and-out brilliant, but it does manage to hit a lot of poignant notes in its four spare vignettes. Joy Luck Clubfans will be delighted to find Tamlyn Tomita as a terrified, workaholic mom raising an egg-shaped mechanical newborn in "My Robot Baby." The other stories revolve around a mother mourning her son by completing his toy robot collection, an android programmer more human than his human co-workers, and a fatally ill clay artist forced to choose between mortal death and digital immortality. They're tales bound to spark conversations long after the screen goes dark; luckily, Pak will be in attendance tonight for some post-film Q&A. Robot Stories starts today (screenings continue through April 22) at the Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness (at Golden Gate), S.F. Admission is $6.75-9.25; call 267-4893 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com for show times.
-- Kevin Kim
The Good Bad
Creatively tweaked covers of tunes by everyone from Aphex Twin and Nirvana to the Pixies and Black Sabbath may have won the Bad Plusa wider audience than the average acoustic jazz trio, but don't write the talented threesome off as some kind of gimmick. Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King have been flooring audiences for more than a decade with their nuanced interplay and explosively loud live performances. Coming off sort of like altjazz heroes Medeski, Martin & Wood minus the patchouli-soaked hippie-groove vibe, the Bad Plus delivers an evening of dynamic, ass-kicking instrumentals starting at 8 p.m. (and again at 10) at Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West (at Washington), Oakland. Admission is $7-14; call (510) 238-9200 or visit www.yoshis.com.
-- Dave Pehling
Variety? He's got your variety right here.
"Low-rent David Letterman." No, wait, even better: "Ed Sullivan all hopped up on goofballs." The star of The Chris Karney Show answers to both descriptions, hosting, as he does, a demented variety show full of booze-happy comics, yo-yo masters, pancake jugglers, and a bikini-clad card girl who's a dead ringer for Myrna Loy. But Letterman and Sullivan are nice guys; they don't harangue, insult, or squirt water on their audiences, and they rarely cuss or toss back whiskey while hosting their programs. Then again, they're not jaw-dropping magicians, like Karney.
This show also has a talented secret weapon those famous guys only wish they had: the freaky sounds and video insanity of DJ KROB, the mad genius behind the media mixer. The Odeon All-Star Cocaine Band backs it all up starting at 10 p.m. (also next Saturday, April 24) at the Odeon Bar, 3223 Mission (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is free; call 550-6994 or visit www.odeonbar.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Cartoon fans gather for a night of glee
Looney Tunes cartoons really set me up for disappointment. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't run through a wall and leave a Joyce-shaped hole or leap off a cliff and float through the air with an umbrella. Animation impresario, toy-maker, and all-around showman Attaboy hears my pain, and has responded with the I Hate Cartoons Animation Festival, a two-hour cavalcade of indie animation paired with cartoonish antics from performers like David Capurro, the Yo-Yo King. Featured films include the comic-gore horseplay of the Happy Tree Friends (a blood-soaked takeoff on cutesy animal cartoons), work from Dan the Automator (best known for his musical turns in Gorillaz and Handsome Boy Modeling School), and faux TV commercials from Gobler Toys, starting at 8 p.m. (and again at 10) at Spanganga, 3376 19th St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $8; call 821-1102 or visit www.spanganga.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
The Metric System
Whether they know it or not, most Americans first heard the moody, evocative strains of Metric on Polaroid commercials. But don't write the band off as sellouts just yet. The Toronto-based quartet churns out dreamy synth-pop reminiscent of Air and Cat Power, creating a sound that's as suitable for dance-floor inspiration as for soothing background music. Fronted by Emily Haines -- who, along with guitarist James Shaw, moonlights as a member of the indie supergroup Broken Social Scene -- Metric is currently touring behind its latest release, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? See the act at 8 p.m. (Mellowdrone opens) at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $12; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com.
-- Maya Kroth