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Sidewalk 2006: More human than human



“Puzzlehead” isn’t much of a puzzle. This sci-fi drama focuses on an unusual triangle of lonely (but horny) scientist, his robot creation and the shy, forlorn shopgirl across the way.

The beautifully shot 81-minute feature attempts to probe whether man or machine (or both) are capable of love, cruelty and growth. But its distant tone saps it of humanity.

The film screens as part of this weekend’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival.


Trailer [Quicktime]

The time is some not-too-distant future, and the place is the crime-ridden inner city. Walter (Stephen Galaida) lives in a stately Victorian home in this slum. He plays the harpsichord; he keeps a journal; he pines for Julia (Robbie Shapiro), the manager of a run-down convenience store.

And he tinkers with robots in the basement.

This Frankenstein-esque doctor gives life to Puzzlehead, an equally creepy robot who shares Walter’s human memories and foibles. Puzzlehead moves deliberately and works efficiently as Walter’s maid and errand boy.

He may not understand why humans cry or fight. I wonder, as does one astute mugger in the movie, “What kind of an idiotic name is Puzzlehead?”


Why, robot: Stephen Galaida stars in “Puzzlehead.”

Alas, we are not meant to find answers to such nagging questions. Why does a robot move faster when he’s up to no good? If a scientist can build a robot smart enough to run a grocery, why can’t he incorporate a decent kill switch? Would a robot Julia be any more of a puppet than human Julia?

This all-too-serious exercise nearly veers into melodrama, as an unintentionally heroic Puzzlehead fends off a robber, winning Julia as Walter could never. Her curiosity seemingly becomes her undoing, as she discovers the horrible truth about the machine, the maker and the machinations to win her loyalty.

Clip: Walter gives Puzzlehead some advice on playing music.

I never found that spark of life in this plodding tale, as man, woman and robot scheme for the upper hand. Puzzlehead’s narration gives little insight as to why he wants to live, or how he masters (or surrenders to) his human flaws. Writer-director James Bai offers what should be a tragic triangle, but ends up little more than cat-and-mouse rivalry.

“Puzzlehead” is flawed because its creator seems no more alive than its creation. The movie is passionless and, well, robotic.

“Puzzlehead” will screen at 9 p.m. Saturday with opening short “Magda” at the Alabama Theatre. Writer-director James Bai is scheduled to attend.


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2 Yips for “Sidewalk 2006: More human than human”

  1. Kenn
    Monday, September 18, 2006, 1:15 am

    One thing that should be noted about this movie is the cinematography — this is a brilliant tribute to late ’70s science fiction. The film stock, processing, and choice of shots are breathtaking, which more than make up for any problems one might find with the story/telling.

    IMHO, of course.

  2. Ginny
    Monday, September 18, 2006, 3:22 am

    I totally thought Sidewalk was next weekend. I had almost psyched myself into leaving the house and everything.

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