Macdonald Hall Series Review

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When I was about 12, my mom attended a reading conference where Gordon Korman was a guest speaker. She was so impressed, she brought home a bunch of his books. We read This Can’t Be Happening At Macdonald Hall! out loud together, and my sister, brother, and I have been Korman fans ever since.

The incredible thing is that Korman wrote the novel in 7th grade English class, and it was published in 1978, when he was just 14. Although not as polished as his more recent works (the man is ridiculously prolific and has written more than 85 books total), This Can’t Be Happening At Macdonald Hall! is shockingly good for a novel written by a kid, and absolutely hilarious.

The Macdonald Hall series revolves around two roommates at an all-male boarding school in Canada. Melvin “Boots” O’Neal is the more studious and well-behaved of the two; his friend Bruno Walton might best be described as a hurricane in human form. Despite their differences, the two are inseparable friends, but in the first book, the school’s headmaster Mr. Sturgeon (aka The Fish) decides that Bruno is a bad influence on Boots and decides to split them up. Wacky hijinks ensue as they try to get back together.

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It is exactly as bromantic as it sounds, up to and including sneaking out at night to meet up, but despite the powerful central bromance and the single-sex setting, the series also does have several fun female characters, including Diane Grant and Cathy Burton, two students at Miss Scrimmage’s Finishing School for Young Ladies across the road, the grandmotherly Mrs. Sturgeon, and Miss Scrimmage herself.

None of the characters in the Macdonald Hall series is especially well-rounded or complex. In fact, many of the secondary characters are little more than a single characteristic come to life. For example, Sidney Rampulsky’s personality is “clumsy” and Wilbur Hackenschleimer’s is “obsessed with food.” However, the different personalities bouncing off each other make for lots of hilarious dialogue and misadventures, and despite their simplicity, you get attached to all the characters, from Bruno and Boots themselves to crazy old Scrimmage.

Although the series is currently out of print, copies of the books can still be purchased on Amazon and other websites. My favorite novels in the series include:

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This Can’t Be Happening At Macdonald Hall!

The book that started it all. I recommend starting with this one, but the rest of the series can be read in pretty much any order.

Go Jump in the Pool!

Macdonald Hall keeps getting creamed in swim meets, so Bruno and Boots decide to raise enough money to build the school a pool. Wacky hijinks ensue.

The Zucchini Warriors

A wealthy former student donates the money for a fancy new football stadium, but unbeknownst to him, his star quarterback is secretly a girl! More wacky hijinks ensue.

Beware the Fish!

Bruno and Boots accidentally set off a police investigation into the activities of an operative known only as “The Fish.” Seriously, this series is basically the embodiment of “wacky hijinks ensue.”

Have fun!

My rating: (4.5 / 5)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Movie Review

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I don’t think of myself as being a big fan of Westerns in general, but ironically enough, two of my all-time favorite films are Westerns. Since they both happen to be written by the same guy, it might be more of a William Goldman thing than a Western thing, but even so, I probably shouldn’t discount the genre quite as much as I tend to do.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my parents’ favorite movies and is probably second only to My Cousin Vinny in the frequency with which it’s quoted at family get-togethers. Based loosely on the lives of real-life outlaws Butch Cassidy and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, it’s one of the greatest buddy comedies ever made, and is loaded from start to finish with laughs, mainly from its witty and memorable dialogue. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are in their prime, both as actors and heart-throbs (luckily, the film is color, so you get the full effect of Newman’s incredible baby blues), and there are also some enjoyable action sequences.

A well-deserved classic and must-see film.

My rating: (5 / 5)

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The Emperor’s New Groove Movie Review

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My second favorite of Disney’s (otherwise pretty mediocre) offerings of the early nolls. (Lilo & Stitch is #1.)

Like Lilo & Stitch, The Emperor’s New Groove is not a “typical” Disney film, which I think has led to it being overlooked and underappreciated by many Disney fans, and by Disney itself. There’s no beautiful heroine or charming prince, no significant romance, and no singing. In fact, the titular emperor, Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), who rules over a land that appears loosely based on the Incan empire, is probably Disney’s least likable hero ever. He’s spoiled, selfish, bratty, and vain. He’s so unlikable that it’s hard to care that much about his ultimate redemption, which is probably the biggest flaw of the film.

At least his sharp, sarcastic, and often downright nasty wit is good for plenty of laughs. In fact, the film is probably Disney’s funniest animated feature thanks to its generous blend of witty dialogue, sight gags, and tongue-in-cheek asides (it breaks the fourth wall more than any Disney movie since George of the Jungle.)

It also benefits from a host of great supporting characters, including one of my favorite Disney villains: Kuzco’s advisor Yzma, spectacularly voiced by the late, great Eartha Kitt. Yzma is an even more unpleasant piece of work than her boss, which says a lot, but like Kuzco, she’s also hilarious. Many of her best moments come in interactions with her big, dumb bodyguard/henchman Kronk, the film’s most memorable character thanks to his unexpectedly diverse skillset (he’s a master chef! he speaks squirrel! he studied interpretive dance!) and repeated conversations with the angel and devil that live on his shoulders. I also love the interactions between the kind-hearted peasant, Pacha, and his clever and outspoken wife Chicha – one of Disney’s best married couples.

The plot itself is a somewhat thin and predictable buddy comedy, but the fun characters and mile-a-minute laughs make The Emperor’s New Groove a pretty enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes of your life.

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My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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