Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween – Film Review

The scariest part of this film was spit balls.

“People respect us around here,” states Sam (Caleel Harris) as a saliva drenched portion of paper smacks into his face.

The projectile has been shot by the head jock and his cronies, who are now sniggering to themselves while referring affectionately to Sam and his offsider Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) as the ‘Junk Bros’.

“Spit Wads! What are you, nine?” retorts Sam.

And he raises a pertinent question. What is an appropriate age to begin using these phlegmy missiles?

I’m sitting in the darkened cinema surrounded by eight, nine, ten and eleven-year-old students, who luckily do not have the ingenuity or skills to engineer a ben into a missile launcher. But nothing turns my stomach like spit balls – or ‘wads’ as the American appears to phrase it in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Let’s be honest, they weren’t great as a child. I recall some of our classrooms having high ceilings, which allowed for a large target space above the whiteboards in each room. There was always some layer of encrusted paper framing the top of the board in an avant-garde papier-mache design.

As with all fads, there were long periods of time where nerd or vulnerable teacher would be free from onslaught in the creation of these paper-pulp pastiches. But when the trend was at large, you’d be living on a knife’s edge (probably the same edge of the knife used to dismantle the biro being used for the gun barrel).

Despite Sam implying it is a juvenile activity best suited for children in the single digit age bracket, students as old as seventeen have been known to assemble artillery from the art-supplies graveyard in pursuit of oppressing the weaker of the schoolyard species.

So, although this film features razor-toothed gummy bears, pick-axe-wielding garden gnomes, a jack-o-lantern-headed humanoid and the menacing ventriloquist doll Slappy, there is nothing that raises the hair on my back more than the inclusion of the loaded spit wad shooter. I’m glad to have avoided falling victim to its wrath.

Kid #29 – Mommie Dearest

The twenty-ninth kid I hated had a name that sounded like an alcoholic beverage spelt backwards.

She was the real ‘Regina George’ of the playground. Nine years old and a real piece of work. It was scary enough encountering her as a teacher. I daren’t like to think how the other students in my class dealt with her hysteria.

Worse than the student herself, was her mother. The apple had not simply fallen close to the tree, but appeared to have been cloned.

My first encounter with the mother was as I brought the children into the playground on my first day of teaching that class, and had the pleasure of being sworn at, a walking stick waved in my face and a fair amount of shouting – not ‘raised voice’ but shouting. Apparently, another student was in tears because I’d told them to stand in line quietly. The child I was being accosted about, didn’t even belong to this raging lady.

Mostly due to shock, I can’t remember the rest of the encounter. But I most likely did my silent ignoring, head-shaking, frowning and general retreating-behaviour that happens when I’m faced with confrontation. There was no polite smiling and nodding. I let her be on her merry way, thinking to myself that if this was how she defended someone else’s child, I didn’t want to be in the crossfire when she defended her own daughter.

It turned out that crossfire could not come too soon. Her daughter would intimidate other students, steal their stationery, swear at them when no one was looking, pinch them, punch them and spread malicious lies. She was a class A ‘b’-word. However, she was equally cunning and could never be pinned for any wrong doing. She had become so expert at her subversive tirade on other students and her pathological lying that her coating of Teflon was beginning to form an entire suit of armour. Additionally, when her mother arrived to discuss any misgivings the school had about her daughter, she would begin ranting again, waving her pretend walking stick and inevitably leave a receptionist or manager in tears.

Now perhaps I empathised too much with Janis Ian and friends in Mean Girls, or perhaps I had been watching too many detective programs at the time (namely Wildside, which is an Australian series set in the gritty underbelly of Sydney’s suburbs and often sees rogue detective Tony Martin – the actor, not the comedian – slamming down his hand on interrogation tables); but I found myself making it my mission to catch this monster out.

The usual method was to accept any accusations the other children made. I’d take their side 99 per cent of the time to see if she’d crack. But she held tight, accepting no blame. This approach would lead to another complaint by the mother.

Sometimes I’d go with the more nurturing approach of sitting quietly and talking about the right thing to do, in an attempt, to check whether her conscience would kick in. It did not. Instead it further affirmed our suspicions of her sociopathic tendencies. Also, this approach would lead to another complaint by the mother.

And finally, the crème-del-a-crème was when beyond doubt she had caused another ruckus amongst her friends by gossip-mongering and – this is where my behaviour management style became a bit too much bad cop bad cop – I knelt down to be at eye-level and repeatedly asked “Did you call such-n-such a such-n-such?”

She didn’t crack.

The insistent repeating-of-the-question technique had worked in the televisual law enforcement programs when the detective was trying to get a confession from the ring leader of an international drug cartel. Why had it not cracked the nine-year-old?

And again, this approach led to another complaint by the mother and a meeting with the father, mother and daughter.

I would later find out that this pattern of complaint had repeated itself every year. Other staff would give me long lists of colleagues who had momentarily caught the ire, of these parents and their offspring, for months or a year at a time.

“Oh, you’re teaching that class,” they’d say. “Look out for that girl’s mother.”

“Oh, thanks for the heads-up,” I’d say. “It’s too late.”

It can’t quite be captured with words the level to which she and her mother terrorised the other staff and students. But the mere utterance of her name would normally trigger a fleeting spasm in the eyeball of whoever heard the name mentioned.

After that final meeting and a precarious understanding was met, the mother became almost polite, when collecting her child in the afternoons. The strained attempt at being decent was perhaps more unsettling than the reckless abuse she was more used to wielding. Nevertheless, all our careers felt less at risk of being destroyed on the whim of one of her outrageous accusations.

There was of course the complaint that I’d tried to strangle another student.

“Now, I know this wasn’t my daughter,” said the heinous mother, “but my daughter did see you pull on the backpack of another girl and almost choke her around the neck.”

More than likely that other girl had barged onto a bus, knocking over a senior citizen, and I’d reacted by loosely grabbing the top of her backpack as she continued to lunge forward self-inflicting her own asphyxiation.

Either way, I nodded politely, she made her complaint, I noticed she wasn’t using her walking stick anymore and then she wandered off into the distance for another day. At least now she was complaining about my mistreatment of other people’s children again, and not her own demonic offspring. We’d come full circle.

I headed back to the staffroom where we put our feet up on the desks, knocked back a strong cup of coffee, crossed another suspect off our watchlist and laughed heartily about how tough life on the beat was.

Or did that happen in an episode of The Bill? I can’t recall.

Film Review – Night at The Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Let’s talk about the parenting skills of Larry (Ben Stiller) in the film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

His son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) is completing his final exams and about to apply to universities. So when Larry returns home at 3am from a work event, he finds his son holding a house party with over 30 of his mates. It’s a family film, so the debauchery extends to a few polite greetings when Larry enters and the consumption of non-alcoholic punch. But it is still 3am in the morning. You would think Larry should have at least sent his son to stay with his mother for the night, or kept tabs on his son earlier than 3am.

It doesn’t get much better once Larry shuts down the party. Instead of accepting a stern talking to from his father, Nick approaches the situation of cleaning up the apartment by asking his father to fund his gap year and saying, “Let’s call it a night. Let’s not even clean up, right. Let’s come back tomorrow. Let’s reboot the whole energy; the whole tone of this puppy. And we’ll kill it man.”

Far be it for me to tell Larry how to raise his child, but you would think this might be a good time to cut Nick’s allowance off and ground him for a couple of months until his exams are complete. Instead Larry suggests that Nick clean up the mess and they’ll finish the conversation tomorrow.

He doesn’t finish the conversation tomorrow. He takes his son with him on a work trip to London to assist in returning the tablet of Ahkmenrah to its rightful place at the British Museum. Obviously Larry and company didn’t do much research about how the British Museum historically garnered its worldly collection of artefacts, otherwise he’d have questioned why the rightful place for an Ancient Egyptian magical rock was in a class cabinet in the middle of London.

Then, as if the makers of this film haven’t demonstrated enough average parenting skills, the film begins to depict a substantial amount of untruths about the British Museum. These incorrect facts are not just a couple of under-researched history notes, but substantial redesigns to the layout of the museum and the addition of a number of items that do not appear in the museum. The most notable being the inclusion of dinosaur bones, which are housed at the Natural History Museum, not the British Museum.

The British Museum has dedicated an entire page of its website to clearing up some of the confusion. The most damning point made relates to Sir Lancelot being an entirely fictional character. Yet in this film, Lancelot is portrayed as an armoured Downton Abbey dropout – a most racial generalisation. It’s no wonder he aims to sabotage the entire operation.

The redemption, for what is actually quite a comedic jaunt, is the concluding scenes with Larry and Nick, where the son explains that he’s going to Ibiza to pursue his career as a DJ. They both state their love for each other, hug and walk off into the snow. It’s heart-warming to know that when you’re losing direction in life, you can always convince your parents you’ll find meaning by DJ-ing a seedy nightclub until 6am on a Spanish island.

Film Review – Paper Planes

The fresh faced naivety and optimism of a student teacher is soon beaten out. There is a flashing neon target on their head asking for students to cause them no end of grief. Idealistic aspirations of ‘making a difference’ and inspiring children to ‘follow them dreams’ soon become incinerated by the inferno generated for the mere self-preservation required in the classroom.

Despite this, Paper Planes insists on providing a fancifully functional classroom environment in this coming of age piece about aeronautical origami. If we begin by looking at Pete Rowsthorn’s portrayal of an enthusiastic classroom teacher, we get a picture of how good communication with children works. He is creative and fun, while still remaining aloof and being a disciplinarian. Case in point is his collection of mobile phone devices in a sombrero. In contrast Rowsthorn’s student teacher Jethro arrives from Melbourne with too much smiling going on. This is not to say I didn’t go into my first classroom with a big enthusiastic grin on my face. The difference was the grin was smeared off within minutes as my students misinterpreted my expression for weakness.

Paper Planes 2

In this film, the students continue to respond positively to the student teacher’s elated mood. They are cooperative and show no sign of cutting this inspirational nincompoop down at the knees. Then, in a most unconvincing portrayal of pedagogy, he introduces his first lesson with the immortal lines, “Today I’m going to teach you how to make the perfect plane”. I mean what lesson was this? Where was the educational value? Why was he using fresh paper from the packet, instead of recycling scrap paper?

If a real teacher was to pull this kind of stunt on their first day of practicum, they’d be lynched by the class, and marched to the principal’s office by their mentor. Additionally, and I say this from experience, you would not want to demonstrate to students how to fold something that could become a major disruption to your class. A sheep at the abattoir would not show a butcher how to sharpen a blade; a mouse would not invite Mr Tibbles around for tea; and a priest would not invite a convicted felon to give a guest homily at mass.

Perhaps it would have been more convincing for the paper plane session to have been conducted by a touring group of plane enthusiasts, rather than the student teacher who should have been conducting a handwriting lesson.

The message of the film is positive. And if we suspend disbelief in regards to the lacking nature of behaviour management strategies, the film certainly has adult characters who encourage children to dream big. I only wish the students I have taught had been as compliant as those in the film. Maybe I’d have produced a few more high achievers who ended up competing in international competitions.

Paper Planes was certainly a good reminder that every now and then it may be worth going back to my original doe-eyed views of education and how a little bit of honest enthusiasm can affect massive change.

Kid #17 – Compromising Contraceptives

The seventeenth kid I hated walked into my classroom unannounced and offered me a condom.

There was no context; no provocation; no boys. It was an all-girls school. Why were they carrying around condoms? Perhaps a question better left unanswered.

It was my first day teaching in a British school. So it’s a wonder I didn’t pack my bags then and go back to where I came from. My only error on that particular day was perhaps envisaging that all English schools were like Hogwarts, where the vilest female student you may come upon would be Pansy Parkinson; and I don’t imagine she ever waved a contraceptive in Dumbledore’s face.

There was a lot of expectation hanging on this first day. I’d spent at least a week living in a hostel, waiting for the call from the job agency to provide me with my first day of work as a supply/cover/relief teacher. You needed to be ready by 7am each morning to sit by your phone and wait to be sent to whichever far corner of London needed you for the day. Every morning I had woken up early, waited by the phone, headed down to the basement (with no phone reception) for breakfast at 8am, waited in line with 60 plus French students queuing up for their camp breakfast of jam on toast, finally got my own two slices of jammed toast, headed back up from the basement to find three missed calls, returned the calls only to find the jobs were now taken, eaten breakfast, and by 9am realised that I wouldn’t be working that day.

So when the call to work finally came, I was ready for action. My first big day of work in the big old city of London!

Onto the Jubilee line I went, heading on what I assumed would be a five minute journey – everyone who visits London tells you how efficient and fast the train system is. I was expecting the Underground to be some sort of TARDIS, so was rather confused when twenty minutes later the train was above ground somewhere in Zone three or four, and I was alighting into the leafy London suburbs.

Wandering down the road to the school, I couldn’t help but notice a large population of Muslims pottering about their business. I had not realised at this point how many people in London seem to cluster together with their own countrymen. The French hang out in Chelsea; Australians drink anything but Fosters in Clapham; English people drink Fosters everywhere else; Jamaicans enjoy Lambeth; New Zealanders complain about coffee in Kilburn; Indians keep everyone well fed in Harrow; and so forth.

Seeing so many pleasant looking Muslim families put me at ease. Many of the women were wearing headscarves and if they were like my Muslim friends back home, they’d have a good heart and moral compass. And so it was, that I erroneously let my guard down. I had already learnt in Australia that students at Catholic schools can rebel just as strong as non-religious students. I don’t know why I thought the Muslim students would be any different.

The school itself was not religious. But there was such a high percentage of Muslim students that the entire school menu was Halal and good value to boot. I remember being quite excited that it was a mere £2 for a full plate of curry. In light of this my optimism naively continued.

When I entered the school I was asked to teach five sessions of Mathematics. Walking into the first class it became evident that I should not fall back on any assumptions that the children with nice religious upbringings would be any more respectful than the rest of them. Their headscarves were all akimbo, they slouched in their seats and wore a variety of scowls on their phizogs.

I began the lesson. Students began talking over me asking questions about why they had to work when their normal teacher wasn’t there; where was my accent from; and how long until the lesson finished. This was going to be a long day with a discount curry somewhere in the middle.

Most of the day went along smooth enough. I went for the ‘make sure nobody leaves their chair or get injured’ approach, which is not strong on learning time but big on survival. Students responded positively and there was no animosity. I started to relax again. Four lessons down and one to go. Then the real clincher came.

It was a group of Year 11 students – presumably the ones who had lofty aspirations of sponging off their parents into their mid-thirties. You could tell this was the case, because of the vacant expression behind their over mascaraed eyes, their overuse of the word ‘like’ and their cheap costume jewellery (I realise that’s an oxymoron – but I want to emphasise the cheapness). Their superficialness was only surpassed by their subtlety in sending text messages to each other without being noticed. Normally you can spot the kid who’s holding their phone just under the desk, dropping it into their lap or with their hand permanently fixed inside their pencil case. Initially they’ll look around the room a bit and engage in trivial questioning to put you off the scent. Then eventually they’ll surrender to the need for self-validation through social media and begin fiercely punching away at their screen, thus giving up the charade.

These Year 11 girls, however, were stoic. I had no idea they had been messaging each other until three girls barged their way into the classroom and sat down at one of the desks to begin gossiping with their friends. When asked where they had come from and why they were there, they rudely ignored the question and continued on. I’d never encountered such a blasé attitude and disregard. I genuinely was unsure what to do. There was only 20 minutes left of my day at the school, but it was going to be a long 20 minutes if I didn’t do something about it.

One of the other students kindly volunteered the information that girls from another class had been messaging the girls in my class to let them know that they too had a relief teacher. This explained why they had so easily escaped from the room where they should have been. I at least had managed to contain my students within their classroom. The problem was I now had students I didn’t need contained with the classroom.

After the revelation of this information and another student informing me that there was a school security officer who could remove them, two of the three girls got the scare and scampered back to the other room. The final girl remained.

I offered her the chance to leave peacefully and began walking towards the door to open it for her. My plan being to stand at the doorway with a kind hand gesturing towards the hallway for her to leave.

Just before I got to the door, she jumped from her seat. Flying across the room, she flung herself between me and the door, then stood with her spine hard against the exit. I should have opened the door before telling her what her options were. Now I was stumped. I didn’t know how to contact the school ‘security officer’. It also seemed unfair to prompt the other girls for any more information about it, because they were already becoming the target of some mild ridicule from their peers for ‘snitching’.

I was starting to work up a sweat; and not from being unused to the mild heatwave of a London summer. The girl then pulled from her pocket the square foil packet containing the birth control device. She waved the condom in my face so all the other students could see.

“Do you want a condom?” she cackled.

It was the cackle teenage girls give to older men when they think the male they’re talking to spends most of his time residing in a monastery carving wooden toys and ordering take out with other monks. They have that condescending tone where they presume a man, who is simply doing his job by teaching arithmetic, is completely asexual and wouldn’t know a pharmacy from a porn shop let alone know what a condom is. They hope by being overtly sexual that the gentleman will surrender himself to her and leave him wide open for litigation.

Or maybe the girl simply had a condom in her pocket and didn’t know what to do with it.

Either way, this was not an interesting problem solving exercise to undertake on my first day of teaching in a new country. It was a headache. Not to mention the ramifications for getting embroiled in some sort of lawsuit while working overseas.

Luckily the problem was solved for me. The security officer arrived and made some light hearted joke with the child in question. Whether or not that joke was appropriate, I don’t recall. But that is by the by. The main thing was he managed to remove her. Easy of course for him to deal with behaviour management in a laissez-faire manner; he didn’t need to teach them how to find the square root of anything.

The main thing taken away from this whole experience was to guard the door and don’t let anything get between you and the door.

There was no malice behind what the girl did; she was just a jovial juvenile with a Johnny in her jacket. But if we met again in a sex education class, I doubt I’d get her to demonstrate the sheathing of the banana.