Weekly Round-Up: February 14-20, 2016

Still chugging along to catch up with Oscar nominees. A highlight of this week was the Countdown to Zootopia programming at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA. For the two weeks leading up to the release of Walt Disney Animation Studios’s newest film Zootopia, other contemporary Disney films will be shown accompanied by Q&A with cast & crew. Amazing opportunity not only to see some modern masterpieces back on the big screen, but to hear firsthand from the talent that helped bring us these contemporary classics!

This week, I saw:

  • Room (2015) – At its best, this dark drama is an emotional tour de force with exceptional film-making. At its worst, it’s another boring family drama. There is some terrific stuff in the middle, so I’d still call this RECOMMENDED even though it runs a bit dull.
  • Meet the Robinsons (2007) – While not the critical and financial powerhouse of other modern Disney fare like Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, this sleeper hit has deservedly grown a strong following. Equal parts screwball comedy, mystery, and sci-fi, this inspirational story follows a young scientist trying to find a home. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Kid (1921) – My favorite Chaplin film. The Tramp becomes a de facto guardian for a presumably orphan boy, and a father’s love is put to the test when the state begins to intervene. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Frozen (2013) – Another new Disney classic, a twisty and stunningly animated story about a young queen who flees her kingdom and her daring sister who tries to bring her back. I’m not the first person to say this, but “Let It Go” is one of the best musical numbers of any film, animated or live-action. REQUIRED.
  • V/H/S (2012) – My friend recommended this horror anthology film (available on Netflix!). The premise is a band of hoodlums find a house full of tapes containing disturbing footage, and the bulk of this film is the content of those tapes. Some stories are pretty interesting, others boring, but they are so action-focused there isn’t much room for logical character motivation. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Tangled (2010) – Yet another contemporary Disney masterpiece, this adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale brings to life the terrific male co-star Flynn Rider, who has emerged as one of my favorite Disney characters. Like “Let It Go” from Frozen, the “I See the Light” musical sequence is captivating. As Disney’s 50th animated film, it does feel like a perfect blend of classic Disney storytelling with lush computer animation. REQUIRED.

What did you see last week?

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Meet the Robinsons is the story of a good scientist and budding inventor, who struggles to get his inventions right in a world without emotional support or room to experiment. Lewis lives in an orphanage, where his tinkering annoys his roommate Goob, and his ideas often scare off potential adoptive parents.

Growing up friendless, and with no family, each new invention is an opportunity to impress and connect with others – making the stakes, and potential failure, that much greater. After suffering an invention mishap during an adoption interview, Lewis runs away and laments, “I have no future.” For him, failure in his inventions is inherently linked to failure in finding a home.

Circumstances whisk Lewis away from his constraining present into a positive, optimistic future. At the home of the Robinsons, Lewis tries, and fails, to fix inventions several times – and each time is met with encouragement and praise. The Robinsons happily insist that you learn from each failure to build a better future: to “keep moving forward.”

meet-the-robinsons5Such is the rallying cry of Meet the Robinsons. Through various degrees of time travel, Lewis glimpses a wonderful future before he returns to the present and work to build that future, today. He looks at the potential world awaiting him, asking “so this’ll be my future?” Future Lewis replies, “Well, that depends on you.”

There are two key themes running throughout this film: first, the importance of a space where creative minds can tinker, with room for trial and error. Second, the reality that you need to work to change your own future: no one is going to do that for you. This thread weaves together the importance of family with empowerment and humanism, leaving a positive message for all kids, scientist or not.

This post is part of the Movie Scientists Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Check out the other great entries on the full roster here!

Company (2007)

The 2007 revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, and likely the original as well, is a show peppered with painful truths and emotional heartbreak, but filled mostly with caricature. The serious subject matter is unfortunately often reduced to cartoonish images of marriage, which bog down the true heart and ambition of this musical.

Company explores the lives of white upper-middle class New Yorkers and their relationship problems. The dialogue is typically blunt and up-front about this subject matter, which already sets the tone for an unrealistically ambitious musical; either Sondheim or book writer George Furth must view married people as constantly discussing their marriage, and how their lives are different relative to single people. This creates a very interesting commentary on contemporary romance, but also subverts who should be very real, three-dimensional people, into individuals who speak of themselves in the broad, sweeping strokes of marital status and love in the urban world.

The excellent score, with witty lyrics and uncharacteristically catchy music (by Sondheim’s standards), is broken down by clunky, unrealistic dialogue by Furth. There is a particular sequence towards the beginning, in which a playful ditty is broken up by a facepalm-worthy series of karate moves by one of the couples. The audience in the PBS recording ofCompany was roaring with laughter, so at least somebody liked it.

Granted, this is a show about unhappy New Yorkers meant for an audience of middle-class, likely married, and probably cynical New Yorkers. Maybe I’m just the wrong demo for a musical like this, but even as a young man I recognize there is more to marriage than the caricature it is reduced to throughout most of the show.

About halfway through, however, Company takes a sudden turn for the mature, with fantastic introspective songs such as “Marry Me a Little,” revealing the protagonist Bobby’s inability both to commit and to find someone that would even have him. This, in my opinion, is the real heart of this show, of striking the balance between wanting independence and just finding somebody who’s willing to have you. This sense of loneliness is what really hits home, for me at least, certainly more so than the bickering and unrelatable couples we deal with for most of the show.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Bobby starts out seeing his married friends as these cartoonish buffoons and he matures and sees that there is more to marriage than this ridiculous display (though that would be weirdly postmodern?). By the end of the show, Bobby and the quality of the script have both matured, hitting this emotionally tragic theme much stronger, such as in the excellent finale “Being Alive.”

My disappointment in Company is mostly from the fact that the show does hit these wonderful strong notes, and I wish this strength pervaded throughout the entire musical. It is certainly a very good play, but it only grazes the greatness that it could and should have achieved.