Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Review

middle-schoolIt might surprise you to hear it but I think the pre-teen demographic is one of the  most underserved at the movies, especially with live action films.  There are lots of films made for younger and lots made for older but rarely is something really made with them in mind. The last good film for that demographic was Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.While today’s film, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, isn’t as good, it has entertaining elements for its target demographic including humor, heart and fun animated sequences.

Based on the novel by James Patterson, Middle School focuses on a kid named Rafe (Griffin Gluck) who is starting at a new school under rule of Principal Dwight (Andy Daly). Rafe has lost a loved one in his life and is grieving, which has caused him to move around from school to school. Principal Dwight makes it clear to Rafe on the first day of class that he is living under a new regime with a strict rulebook. Rafe is a creative kid and finds these rules frustrating and unfair. Principal Dwight is also focused more on standardized testing than on actual learning.middle-school3When Principal Dwight destroys Rafe’s artbook filled with sketches Rafe and a friend seek revenge through a series of pranks that go from silly (dying the principal’s hair brought me back to Home Alone) to creative (a post-it note display is completely impossible for him to do in one night but very pretty). I think kids will get a big kick out of these kind of pranks and the actors pull off the physical comedy well.

middle-school2There was a surprising amount of heart in Middle School particularly with the family grieving over the loss of their loved one. I admit I teared up in a few moments. Lauren Graham is wonderful as usual as Rafe’s mother. I think kids will really be able to relate to what the family is going through which to me make it better than a pure slapstick film.

middle-school6The animation segments are also really cool. I wish there were even a few more of them but they pop off the screen and feel like a doodle come to life. It was a creative touch I didn’t expect from this kind of movie. It kind of reminded me of the claymation in Better Off Dead.

middle-school5Where the movie falters is in a plotline with Rob Riggle- a comedian I have never liked. He plays Rafe’s Mom’s fiance and is named ‘The Bear’ and is animated as an obese bear in several segments. He is right out of any ‘I’m sending these brats to boarding school” (literally) that we’ve seen in a million other movies. There is absolutely no reason to believe Mom and Bear would be together or that she would put up with him and it really dragged the movie down.

The thing is we don’t need another villain at home. Principal Dwight is more than enough to keep things going. If you think about Ferris Beuller’s Day Off his parents are kind of a non-entity and it is better that way. Edward Rooney is more than enough of an antagonist for the film to work. Andy Daly also has enough charm as Principal Dwight that he can stand on his own.

Middle School_CBSFilms_FrankMasi_2015_17411.RAFI also wish it was just a little bit funnier.  There was nothing that made me laugh as hard as the DMV scene in Alexander and the Terrible Day. As it is it feels like the humor you get in a Disney Channel TV show, which isn’t bad just not hilarious.

middle-school7I have a feeling critics will focus too much on the flaws of this film, so it may have a low RT score. Trust me. If you have a child in the target demographic, don’t pay attention to that.  Take them. I really think they will like it. If you don’t than it is probably a pass and maybe catch it on cable or streaming later on.

It could be better but it still was a decent example of this type of formula film. Plus, the heart and creative touches made it an engaging watch.

Overall Grade- B-  (If any of you see it, let me know what you think)

Foolishness: My Favorite Comedies

Happy April Fools!  I’m honestly not a big fan of practical jokes but I do enjoy a good laugh.  I thought given the day I would share with all of you 10 of my favorite comedies.

For these 10 I tried to pick all out comedies, not romantic comedies, dark comedies or movies like the Apartment that have comedic elements.  These are roll on the ground, laugh out loud, make me laugh every time films.  Humor is completely subjective (all films are but especially comedies) so these are just what I find most funny.  You may not and that’s cool.  Instead of just critiquing my list (easy to do) share with me your favorites and what makes you laugh.

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail- Almost everyone I know thinks this is funny. There are so many jokes and the script is so well written. Some highlights are the Sir Bevedere and King Arthur debating about the witch, the knights that say ni, the black knight with no arms and legs screaming ‘Come on ya pansy!’, The Castle of Aaaauuuggghhhh (he must have died while carving it), “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”…  So funny.

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2. Napoleon Dynamite- A somewhat polarizing movie that some either think is hilarious or it drives them nuts.  I’m in the hilarious camp.  Maybe partly because everyone involved is from my alma mater (for the most part) and I really relate to the rural Idaho setting?  Who knows?  It’s so likable and has one of the most endearing lead characters in modern movies so I love it.

If you haven’t read my character profile on Napoleon please do. When you really think about it he has a sad life.  They are obviously poor, his parents are nowhere to be seen, his brother and uncle are a mess,  his grandma has just been injured and he get’s rejected by the girl he asks out.  But you’d never know about it from watching Napoleon.  He’s walking around, looking at things and happy with his life.

There are so many great lines like “I told you! I spent it with my uncle in Alaska hunting wolverines!”, “A liger…It’s pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed”, “How was school? The worst day of my life, what do you think?”, “You know, there’s like a boat-load of gangs at this school. This one gang kept wanting me to join because I’m pretty good with a bo staff”, “No, but who would? I don’t even have any good skills…You know, like numchuk skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”

When he dances and shows the ultimate confidence it is hilarious and such a great victory.

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3.It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – The dream cast that will never be beat and the ultimate cat and mouse chase story that has every kind of humor. It’s a mad cap race to find the treasure and hilarious all the way through it. Jonathan Winters , Ethel Merman and Buddy Hackett are particular favorites. 

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It’s the kind of movie that could never be made today because the studios would be so lazy.  Movies like New Years Eve, Movie 43, and Grown Ups figure all we have to do is have a bunch of famous people and it will get folks in the theater.  They don’t have a good script or funny setups.  It’s just disgusting crass and vulgar and not funny! It’s a Mad Mad World did it right.

4.  What About Bob- What makes What About Bob one of the funniest movies ever made is it is a classic example of someone driving another human being nuts and being completely oblivious.  Bob is having a great time.  He’s happy as a clam, and he isn’t intentionally annoying, but just trying to be loving and his shrink’s biggest fan.  But the shrink played by Richard Dryfuss lets one thing get to him and then another and another until it is this huge volcano. So often in life do we allow someone to get under our skin and they are completely unaware.  That is funny and totally rings true.  Bill Murray is so likable in the role and has an innocence that makes you root for him all the while he is making Dryfuss crazy.

It is so well written with great scenes like the dinner ‘um, this corn is delicious.  Is this hand shucked?’  or “There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him”. “It reminds me of my favorite poem, which is, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m a schizophrenic… and so am I!”

what about bob

5. Clueless- My favorite comedy for many years.  Based on Jane Austen’s Emma it tells the story of rich socialite Cher and her best friend Dion as they try to do a little matchmaking with their friends in high school.  I love scenes like the Haitians and the dinner party or Cher’s description of her diet- “I feel like such a heifer. I had two bowls of Special K, 3 pieces of turkey bacon, a handful of popcorn, 5 peanut butter M&M’s and like 3 pieces of licorice”.  Ha.

clueless

Almost every line of this movie makes me laugh and yes I think it is funnier than Mean Girls although that is also great.  Amy Heckerling does such a brilliant job making Cher and Dion, who would be the mean girls, into likable endearing characters.

My favorite scene by far is when Dion ends up on the highway for the first time.  I love his scene because I remember when a similar event actually happened to me in high school and I freaked out.

6. Better Off Dead- this is an admittedly stupid movie but it makes me laugh every time.  It’s about this kid named Lane Meyers played by John Cusack who obsesses over his girlfriend. When she dumps him he doesn’t think it is worth living until he challenges her boyfriend to ski the K12.

The plot is really just an excuse for a lot of hilarious gags like the newspaper boy who menaces Lane for his $2, the taxi drivers who learned English from Howard Cossell, Lane’s stoner best friend who says ‘this is pure snow.  Do you realize the street value of this stuff?’, his brother who collects coupons before the cereal is done, his neighbor who is teaching a foreign exchange student ‘the international language’, his mother who is such a bad cook it walks off the plate.  It’s hilarious and I love it.

better off dead

7. Bringing Up Baby-  This movie starring Kathrine Hepburn and Cary Grant taking care of a Leopard named Baby is hilarious from start to finish.  Grant is the uptight paleontoglist professor and Hepburn is a rich doner’s daughter who is a massive klutz.  They have to transport this leopard and all hell breaks loose and it has great dialogue, slapstick, hijinks,  and mistaken identities.  It’s one you could watch with the entire family and all have a hearty laugh.

 8.  The General-  A movie that has to be seen to be believed.  What Buster Keaton does with physical stunts is unbelievable.  Most of this movie is shot on a moving train and all to get the gags.  It’s an adventure and incredibly funny at the same time.  Very few title cards are needed because Buster Keaton is so expressive in his eyes and face.  It’s brilliant and hard to believe they could make a movie that holds up so well with action comedies of today, if not even slicker and more polished because it is actual people risking their lives instead of CGI.

Keaton can make picking up a log and putting it on the train hilarious  It’s without a doubt one of the best movies ever made and that’s not just nostalgia.  I’m telling you it still holds up today in every way. Trust me on this one.  If you think you will never like a silent movie give The General a shot.

9. Office Space- I love movies about work and that includes laughing about work.  I so related to this movie when I was stuck in the stupefying nothingness of cubicle life.  (Cubicle Hell as I like to call it). The useless company protocol like TPS reports, the cheap attempt to replicate family celebrations like birthdays, having 5 different bosses who have no idea what your actual job is, the worst boss in movie history, the ridiculous employee reviews,  and wanting to smash the tar out of the office copier.  All of that rings true.  I watch it and thank the Lord for a job I love.  Thank you, thank you. At least this movie made me laugh when it was rough.

office space

I love the ridiculousness of the plan they come up with ‘Isn’t that in Superman 4…” and when they get the magazine guy to tell them about money laundering or the flare at the chain restaurant ‘I want you to want to wear more flare’.  It’s hilarious but it is the only R rated movie on this list and it earns the R so be forewarned.

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10. Best in Show- My favorite of the Christopher Guest troop films although they are all hilarious.  Using the mockumentary style to cover a dog show and their owners it is funny from start to finish.  The entire team is at the top of their game including Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy (literally has 2 left feet), Catherine O’Hara from Home Alone (which I could have put on this list but I already profiled it), Jane Lynch and more.  I especially love Fred Williard as the commentator who has me in near tears laughing at his frequently improvised lines.

I have yet to show this movie to someone who didn’t laugh.  (I’m sure there will be a barrage of comments saying they didn’t laugh but in my real life everyone loves it).

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