Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day Review

alexanderWhen I saw the trailer to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day I was very annoyed.  The reason is I love the book by Judith Viorst it is based on so much.

ALEXANDER_TERRIBLE_HORRIBLEWhat’s special about the book is it validates a child’s feelings.  That Alexander can have a bad day full of negative emotions and that’s ok. I feel like too often we silence children and want them to stop pouting or crying instead of listening to their concerns and feelings.  It’s the same reason I love Charlie Brown because Shultz allowed his child character to be down and depressed on occasion.

The book Alexander ends saying “Today has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  My Mom says some days are like that…even in Australia”

What a perfect and lovely message for kids.

The trailer for the movie version of Alex seemed to forget the message by promising silly slapstick and a family having a ‘cursed’ day instead of an ordinary child having an ordinary bad day.

Now I have seen the movie and I have to give it some props.  It is not as bad as I thought it would be.  (If you’ve been reading the blog it is a total Shoney’s moment).  In fact, I can even admit it is a decent live action family comedy- something not made all that often any more.

Alexander has his terrible day where everything is going wrong- nobody is going to come to his birthday because a cool kid is throwing a party, he gets gum in his hair, doesn’t get to work on Australia for the big report and more.

alexander4Alexander is played by the likable child actor Ed Oxenbould.  The whole cast is very likable including Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as Alexander’s parents.  It feels like a real family and they have a lovely chemistry together.

While Alexander’s day is rotten and nobody seems to understand him (that did call back to the book), everything is going great for the rest of the family.  Frustrated Alexander wishes on a candle that his family would know what it feels like to have a terrible day.

Then the next day comes and it is a horrible day for the family and of course everything seems to be happening on that day including a book unveiling  involving Dick Van Dyke that goes wrong, a job  interview for Carrel, prom for the oldest boy, a play for the girl and Alexander’s birthday.  That’s a lot for one day but you go with it.

I guess what makes all of hijinks on day 2 palatable is they do feel semi-realistic-  Carell can’t find a sitter, baby eats a marker, girl gets sick, boy fails driving test ect. And like I said there is a chemistry and love between the cast which forgives a lot of silly slapstick.

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The funniest scene is by far Jennifer Coolidge as a driver inspector who gives Alexander’s brother Anthony his driving test. It reminded me of the scene in Clueless when Dion goes on the freeway for the first time.

The movie ends with a sincere and sweet moment for the family which feels earned and not as sentimental as you might think.

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I wish they had been bolder like  Where the Wild Things Are and really told the darker tale hidden in the book.  It would have been so refreshing and exciting but as a pleasant family comedy it’s not half bad.

They are smart to not have a villain which would have dragged the whole thing down. (I was worried Garner’s boss played by Megan Mullally was going to be the villain but she’s just part of the overall bad day).  The bad day is the villain with perhaps a bratty high school prom girl thrown in for laughs.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayIf you are wondering the humor is kind of juvenile but aside from a kangaroo scene it is all grounded in reality and not painful to watch like a Home Alone  movie.  I chuckled on a number of occasions and I think kids will really find it funny.  There aren’t that many comedies outside of animation you can go to as a family and Alexander is such a film.

There is some cartoon style violence but not much and some vomit and other gross scenes.  The Thunder from Down Under dancers appear as a joke but do not strip which is a little strange for a Disney film.  The word penis is also used 4 times in a scene but aside from that it is a pretty tame PG.

So, I have to give them some credit.  A movie I was sure I would hate I enjoyed.  It’s not as funny or as clever as Spongebob or Penguins but it’s still entertaining and worth a rental. I’m not trying to oversell it but it was just better than I expected it to be.

I’d say give it a shot especially if you are having one of those days…

And remember “some days are just like that. Even in Australia”

That said the book is better. I recommend all parents have it and read it regularly to their kids.

Overall Grade- B  The book gets an A+

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Paddington: A Review

paddingtonLast year I went into Mr Peabody and Sherman with a certain amount of dread.  Hollywood’s track record at adapting beloved franchises from the past has not been very good.  Inspector Gadget, Yogi Bear, Smurfs, Lorax, TMNT, Transformers Cat in the Hat, Garfield are some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. But to my great surprise Mr Peabody and Sherman was clever, funny, competently animated and an enjoyable time at the movies.

I had a similar experience with Paddington which is based on the popular children’s books by Michael Bond.  The trailer was very slapsticky and a dreaded January release made me nervous.  I was expecting the worst. But then I saw some youtube reviews from England praising the film and Rottentomatoes currently has it at 98%.  So, I went to see it today with my friend and her kids and was delightfully surprised!  Paddington is a completely charming family film.

paddington-tree_3059288cIf you didn’t know Paddington is about a bear family in Peru that are discovered by an explorer and taught English and how to serve tea and the joys of orange marmalade (the perfect food for a bear!). The explorer tells the bears that if they ever come to London they will have a home and about the child refuge program of WWII where orphans were given tags and left for strangers to welcome home.

An earthquake occurs causing the youngest Paddington to stow away and travel to London with a tag hoping to be welcomed. At first the English aren’t as friendly as he had hoped but he meets the Brown family led by the always luminous Sally Hawkins as the mother and the overly-cautious Hugh Bonneville as the father.

paddington4Paddington is clumsy and there are some Dennis the Menace moments with Mr Brown losing his cool at Paddington’s shenanigans but it was never over-kill and I enjoyed the scenes.  The kids are initially resistant to Paddington which I thought was an interesting choice but it made their eventual kinship all the more endearing.

paddington kidsIn many ways I think Paddington is very similar to a Muppets movie.  In fact, 20 years ago he would have looked more like Fozzie the Bear instead of being CG.  The key in a Muppets movie working is the human actors must play it straight while acting with a pig, frog, alien etc.  That is what happens in Paddington.  Nobody is surprised to be talking to or walking with a bear just like Kermit is treated like any other character in Muppets movies.

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This helped us stay away from the ‘OMG he’s actually a talking bear’ scenes, which have been done to death and the bear getting civilized because he is already drinking tea and making marmalade to start.

He’s a klutz but pretty quickly the movie moves to the main plot trying to find the explorer and we get introduced to a taxidermist played with great gusto by Nicole Kidman (who’s face actually looked semi-normal in this).

2014, PADDINGTON BEARShe has some hilarious interactions with the Brown’s neighbor Mr Curry played by Peter Capaldi who falls for her charms.

Peter_Capaldi__Hugh_Bonneville_and_Nicole_Kidman_in_brand_new_posters_for_PaddingtonJulie Walters is also great as the Brown’s aunt who lives with them.  She looks so different from Harry Potter movies I hardly recognized her but is very funny.  She senses the weather with her knees.

paddington mrs birdThe script is so well done by Paul King and Hamish McColl and I laughed a lot. The kids around me were laughing a lot and of the 3 kids that came with me 2 really liked it and 1 said she didn’t. Not sure why but 2/3 aint bad!

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The production design is so lovely. Whimsical without being over-the-top (like Tim Burton or Wes Anderson sometimes do).  There is a tree in the Brown’s house that changes from summer, winter, spring depending on moods.  The antique shop run by Jim Broadbent is perfect and the children’s bedrooms were magical without being cheesy.

paddington antiquesPaddington reminded me of Babe.  How many terrible animal kids movies have there been?  Well, Disney has a pretty bad one with Home on the Range. But then Babe comes out which is funny, sweet, and lovely movie that for my money is one of the best family films ever made (with a very underrated sequel that is brilliant).  I wouldn’t put Paddington at that level but I though it was really strong with a nice message about family, great design, very funny script and engaging performances. It’s just a winner.

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It is also a pretty wholesome film- no innuendo or winking to the camera although some of the jokes may be funnier to adults it is never in an uncomfortable or unseemly way.  One scene a character dresses in drag but it is played for laughs and isn’t offensive in any way.

There is also a scene where Paddington is in serious peril and a moment where the crowd watching gasped but overall it is a gentle movie the whole family will enjoy.

Any of you seen it?  Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Content Grade- A+, Overall Grade- A+ (yep, I really liked it!)

This makes me hopeful for Peanuts.  Maybe Hollywood can get 3 good adaptations of things I loved as a kid? Too much to hope for? We will see.

Bonus Holiday Review: Home Alone

home aloneNow that I’m finished with Scrooge month I thought I might do a few bonus holiday reviews and tonight I watched Home Alone and boy does it hold up well.  Aside from technology changes I think it could be released today.  It’s still funny, sweet, sincere and a great family film.

I have a bit of a personal history with this movie.  When we were 10 my grandparents would take us on a trip and my trip was to go to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm and see my cousin in a choral competition with my grandparents.  It was pretty great.  Before we went down to Southern California we had a night and decided to go see Home Alone at the theater.  My parents weren’t big TV/Movie people so my movie indoctrination was fairly sparse- the occasional Disney and my recent obsession with Little Mermaid  which was released the year before Home Alone.  I certainly hadn’t seen many comedies at that point.

Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone.  I flew alone which was kind of brave!
Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone. I flew alone which was kind of brave!

So to the theater we went and I laughed my head off. It is the first movie I remember connecting with and laughing hard at.

The truth is I was a very independent kid so Home Alone was kind of my fantasy.  The idea of a kid not only getting by without his parents but defending the house and being smarter than everyone else is so appealing to kids (at least to my kind of kidlike mind). Pretty much if you want to know about me as a child watch Little Mermaid and Home Alone.  That’s the kind of independent spirit I was.  I hated to be told what to do and wanted to be taken seriously in conversation and life. My parents were wise to give me a pretty long leash.

What makes it funny is very good writing combined with the type of humor usually reserved for animation.  Road Runner or Tom and Jerry would have anvils dropped on their heads in cartoons but here is it is real people and all done by a charming little kid.

spiderI like that the movie stays grounded.  All of the stunts Kevin pulls off feel like the kind of thing a kid could do even if in reality they are not.  It’s not like he’s blowing stuff up or using chemicals a kid wouldn’t know about.  He puts ice on the staircase, puts toys and glass ornaments on the ground, makes havoc with a air rifle.   I’m sure you could tear apart things like the zipline as not being realistic but for the most part it feels plausible.  If anything it feels more grounded in reality than Columbus’ Goonies which is another child-fantasy film with heart and humor (a favorite of mine too).

home-alone-wet-banditsHe also doesn’t totally get away with it.  He comes pretty close to being hurt by the Bandits which creates a kind of nervous tension that makes the viewer laugh.

One of my favorite things about the movie is they make Kevin a capable kid.  Some of the best scenes are him going to the grocery store, doing laundry, sitting at church, meeting with Santa, and ordering pizza.  We sometimes see kids as so helpless but I bet a lot of kids in Kevin’s position would do just fine at all those tasks. They aren’t as stupid as we like to think.

home alone groceryThere is also real heart to the movie which especially for a holiday film endears the picture to all of us.  So many comedies today feel crass and then try to throw in sentiment at the end (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler).  But this maintains that kind of heart all the way through.  Even the fight between Kevin and his Mom at the beginning feels authentic to the way a family really talks and deals with one another. Again, it feels like a real family and that gives the whole crazy situation a grounding for the humor.

mom home alone 2I love the scenes with Kevin and the scary neighbor.  It’s sweet and sincere and reminds you of the fears and earnestness of children.  It could have been overly-sentimental but it is played perfectly and you have to give a lot of credit to Macaulay Culkin and Roberts Blossom who plays the old man.

home alone churchCatherine O’hara is wonderful as the Mother.  When she is pleading for help to get back to her son you wish you could help her. You not only feel her panic but her shame and guilt.  It’s very good.

home alone momI also like that Kevin does not immediately forgive his Mother.  He pauses for a second and looks at her.  You think maybe he will stomp off and then he smiles.  It is a great moment.

mom home aloneJohn Candy has a lovely cameo as a Polka band member who agrees to give Kate a ride to Chicago.  He’s joyful and sweet and wants to help a person in need, and the polka music makes it funny (of all the music I think polka is the funniest for some reason).

john candy home aloneJohn Heard feels authentic and real as Kevin’s father and the rest of the family is kind of generic Hollywood kids but it works.  My family reunions are full of chaos and I didn’t get along with my brother so those family scenes ring true for me.

1323845870Eat-Junk-and-Watch-RubbishThere are a lot of little details I like.  Such as Kevin getting his own tree and decorating it or the fact he lights candles over his mac and cheese.  It makes this little kid feel like a real person instead of a caricature.

mac-and-cheseHome Alone could have gone off the rails in so many ways but it straddles that line of slapstick, sentimentality, and a good story just about perfectly.

I give a lot of credit to John Hughes’ writing and Chris Columbus’ directing.  They both had (or have in case of Columbus) careers where they respected young people and sought to tell their stories well.

Whether it is Chris Columbus writing Goonies, directing Harry Potter movies or The Gremlins, or John Hughes with Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller they both managed to always portray children and teens as real people with their own thoughts, desires and struggles.  We take them seriously because the creators took them seriously.

In the end with Home Alone I think even if you hated all the slapstick violence you could still enjoy the movie. There is enough character development and warmth to enjoy the movie on that level alone. How many comedies can say that?

And let’s not forget John Williams’ wonderful score. He combines traditional carols, band and pop music with his own original pieces in one of the best holiday soundtracks ever.  He’s the master!

I hadn’t seen Home Alone for a couple of years and watched it last year and was really charmed by it.  So if it has been a while for you give it a watch.  Your kids will love it and you will too!