Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Posted on October 9, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Copyright Disney Studios 2014

We’ve all had them. Some days, nothing goes right. The classic children’s book from Judith Viorst is about a little boy who wakes up with gum in his hair to a day that includes a dentist appointment, kissing on television, and losing his favorite marble down the bathtub drain has inspired a sweet and gently wacky comedy about an entire family having terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, all at the same time.

Copyright Walt Disney Studios 2014
Copyright Walt Disney Studios 2014

In this version, Alexander is about to turn 12, and, as I am pretty sure everyone will agree, that is the age when the most excruciating bad days happen.

In a nod to the original, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) wakes up on his last day of being eleven with gum in his hair. He trips over the sprinkler in front of the girl he likes Becky (Sidney Fullmer), and later sets her lab notes on fire in science class. It looks like no one will be going to his birthday party because the most popular boy in his class is having a party the same night — with a trampoline and frozen yoghurt cart. To make things worse, everyone else in his family seems to be having nothing but wonderful, beautiful, all-good, very-great days. His mother (Jennifer Garner) is about to get a promotion at the book publishing company for her good work on a book for toddlers about potty training. His father (Steve Carell), a stay-at-home dad since losing his job as an aerospace engineer, has a promising job interview.

His brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette), is about to get his driver’s license and take his dream girl to the prom. “Hashtag blessed,” he smiles, telling the family there’s a rumor that he and his girlfriend will be crowned Prom Duke and Duchess. And Alexander’s sister Emily (the terrific Kerris Dorsey of “Ray Donovan” and “Moneyball”) is starring as Peter Pan in the 8th grade play (in a movie that is both cheeky and charming, the song she sings in the play is not from the stage version that starred Mary Martin but from the Disney animated version, which definitely deserves a family viewing — with one caution for some insensitive racial and gender humor). Alexander also has a baby brother who gets a lot of attention just by being adorable. Everyone’s happiness just makes Alexander feel more isolated and miserable.

That night, Alexander makes himself a birthday sundae at midnight and as he blows out a candle, he can’t help wishing that everyone in the family would know what it was like to have a terrible, horrible, etc. etc. day. And the next day, everything goes wrong for everyone. Catastrophically wrong. Cataclysmically wrong. Monumentally wrong. And, yes, hilariously wrong. Don’t think too hard.  This day would have to be about 72 hours long, and there’s no way some of these disasters could be fixed so easily.  Just go with the goofy fun. There’s a lot of silliness and slapstick, and some gross-out bodily function humor, but the kids in the audience roared with laughter and both kids and adults loved the way the family stayed — most of the time — optimistic and warmly supportive of each other. There are delightful appearances by Dick van Dyke as himself and Jennifer Coolidge as the driver’s license examiner who shares Anthony’s terrible, horrible test drive. I especially got a kick out of the way the movie pays tribute to the book version of Alexander’s wish to be far away from his terrible, horrible, etc. by going to Australia. (In a coincidence, the real-life actor who plays Alexander is in fact Australian, though his American accent is impeccable.)

It does not have the gentle lyricism of the classic book, but it is a warm-hearted story that is less about bad days than it is about good families.

Parents should know that this film includes some bodily function humor and schoolyard language, comic peril and violence (no one hurt), accidental ingestion of too much cough syrup with attendant consequences, family chaos

Family discussion: Which family member had the worst day? What was your worst day and why? What’s the best thing to do on a bad day?

If you like this, try; the book by Judith Viorst and the two short DVD versions, and all three versions of “Freaky Friday”

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Based on a book Comedy

Draft Day

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Copyright Lionsgate Films
Copyright Lionsgate Films

How do you choose?

That is a critical and daunting question for anyone. And a defining one, too. How can we take what we know now and figure out what we will need in the future?

In this film, set in the course of one taut, tick-tock of a day, Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner), manager of the Cleveland Browns football team, has to decide. Should he trade all his future draft picks to get this year’s number one? If he picks the one everyone else thinks is this year’s most valuable choice, will he have to forego the one only he believes to be the most valuable?

Weaver is under a lot of pressure. The team’s owner (Frank Langella) and coach (Denis Leary) have their own ideas about what Sonny should do.  His much younger girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), who also works for the team, is pregnant. His mother (Ellen Burstyn) thinks that this day is the best time to spread the ashes of his late father on the training field.

If that sounds like it gets pretty soapy, you get the picture.  Really, this is the day to spread his father’s ashes?  Really, the 59-and-looks-it Costner is paired with the 41-and-looks-31 Garner?  And even though she works for the organization and lives and breathes football, this is the day she decides to tell him she’s pregnant?  Really?

Nevertheless, the mechanics of the arcane (to non-fans) system are fascinatingly put in place by screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph and then played like a musical instrument by director Ivan Reitman.  As Sonny trades future picks back and forth with other managers who are doing the same kinds of now vs. future and salary cap vs. budget calculations, the plot pings back and forth like a pinball machine.  Like the “Moneyball” scene where Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill trade phone calls and players in a masterfully orchestrated round robin of bluff and strategy, this gives us a look at off-the-field maneuvers as suspenseful, as skillful, and as intense as anything we will see on the field.  Unlike “Moneyball,” this is not about the metrics.  Sonny is acting on old-fashioned judgment.  He knows that skill matters.  Everyone knows that.  But Sonny also knows that character matters, maybe more than anything else.

That’s true of movies, too, and Costner’s shaggy integrity is what makes him this movie’s MVP.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and crude references.

Family discussion: What does it mean to say the battle is won before it is fought? Should the draft rules be changed? Who should decide, the manager, owner, or coach, and why?

If you like this, try; “The Replacements,” “The Damned United,” “On any Sunday” and “North Dallas Forty”

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Drama Sports

Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day — A New Live Action Feature Film

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 3:59 pm

One of our family’s favorite books is the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, with illustrations by Ray Cruz.  We all identify with poor Alexander, who has gum in his hair, loses his marble down the bathtub drain, lima beans for dinner, a trip to the dentist, and the wrong shoes and pajamas.  There have been two nice movie shorts, one live-action, one animated, with songs by “Annie’s” Charles Strouse.  Now, a feature film is in the works from Disney, reportedly with Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as Alexander’s parents and Lisa Cholodenko co-writing the script.  That all sounds very promising!

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Based on a book

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Posted on August 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Profanity: Brief mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some sad losses and references to loss of parents
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 20, 2012
Date Released to DVD: December 3, 2012 ASIN: B005LAIIKS

I have one copy to give away to the first person who sends me an email at with “Timothy” in the subject line!  Don’t forget your address!

One of the biggest surprises — and greatest pleasures — of being a parent is learning how different your child is from the one you dreamed of, and finding out that the reality is so much better than you could have imagined.  That is the theme of the endearing fable, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”  Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy (Jennifer Garner) meet with an official from an adoption agency to explain why they are fit parents, and it turns out to be the story of Timothy, who came to be their son after they had given up.

“You couldn’t have tried harder or done more,” they are told as the movie begins.  All of their time, money, and energy has been focused on trying to become pregnant, but nothing has worked and they are devastated.  They decide to mourn their loss by writing down a list of qualities and talents they would have wanted in a child.  Honesty, of course.  Musical and artistic talent would be good and he should have a good sense of humor.  He does not have to be a star athlete, but it would be nice if just once he made the winning goal.  They bury the list in the garden and prepare to move on.

But then, he is there, a 10 year old boy covered with dirt.  He says his name is Timothy (CJ Adams).   He calls them by the words they had hungered for: “Mom” and “Dad.”  And he has leaves growing out of his legs, leaves that can’t be snipped off, even with gardening shears. They decide not to question it, just to enroll him in school and be a family.  They agree that it puts him under too much pressure to say, “Have a great day!” before school, so Jim just says encouragingly, “Have the day that you have.”

Jim works in the town’s struggling pencil factory.  Cindy works for the pencil company’s imperious owner (Dianne Weist) at the local museum devoted to the company’s founder.   As they cope with problems at work and with their extended families (an ailing relative, a competitive sibling, a distant and judgmental father), Timothy inspires many people because he seems to understand and appreciate the world around him.  He forms a friendship with an artistic older girl.  And he manages to fit every item on the buried list, but in his own way.

As someone once said, “I used to have four theories about children.  Now I have four children and no theories.”  And as someone else once said, “Adults don’t make children.  Children make adults.”  The great gift of parenthood is the way it makes you jettison so many assumptions — about who you are and who your children are.  When you meet your children, you begin to meet yourself as well.  This whimsical, bittersweet tale is one of the summer’s nicest surprises.

Parents should know that this film deals with infertility issues, sad losses and references to death of parents, bullies, and includes some brief schoolyard language.

Family discussion:  Where do you think Timothy came from?  What would have been different if he turned out the way Jim and Cindy expected?  How did they learn to be better parents?

If you like this, try: “The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao”


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Comedy Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Fantasy
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