Halloweentown (1998)

Halloweentown. Directed by: Duwayne Dunham. Starring: Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown, Judith Hoag. Runtime: 1h 24 min. Released: October 17, 1998.

Truly, Halloweentown is the classic Disney Channel Original Movie. It was the fourth to premiere on the network as a DCOM, but it feels like the one that started it all. I’d watch it every Halloween when I was a kid. Watching it now, I don’t know why I stopped that tradition.

The story’s simple. On her 13th Halloween, Marnie Cromwell (Kimberly J. Brown) learns from her grandmother Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds) that she’s a witch. Well, Aggie wants to tell her she’s a witch but Marnie’s mom, Gwen (Judith Hoag), wants her to live a normal human life.

Marnie really finds out she’s a witch by eavesdropping. In teen rebellion, Marnie and her brother Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) stow away on a flying bus when Aggie goes home to the titular Halloweentown. Their little sister Sophie (Emily Roeske) also tags along, unbeknownst to them. There, they help their grandmother against a dark force that’s threatening Halloweentown.

First of all, the settings are great. I hadn’t seen this film for… a while. The last time I watched this was at least before 2012. Anyway, the sets in this are great and revisiting Halloweentown is such a cool thing. The way they dress up the real town of St. Helens, Oregon, really makes it become Halloweentown. It’s believable they’re in another world where everyday is Halloween.

The monsters here also look pretty good. I know none of them are real, but it’s about convincing the audience, mostly kids, watching that they could be real. There are a couple costumes that look bizarre, like half-human, half-dog people in an aerobics class. There’s also a brief glimpse at a Cyclops character. It’s literally just a person with a papier-mâché head on with an eye painted on it. It’s great for the laugh, and all the Halloweentown characters look really good besides them. One notable one is a skeleton, Benny the Cab Driver. He’s just animatronic, but he looks good and he’s still funny.

The Mayor, Kalabar (Robin Thomas), is one of the more interesting human characters. He’s also trying to make sense of what dark force is threatening Halloweentown. Citizens become evil, like how monsters were perceived in the “Dark Times,” and then they disappear altogether. When we find out what’s doing this, it’s a shadowy figure who looks like a mix between a goblin and a scarecrow looking-thing.

By the way, the made-up history of why Halloweentown was made and why these monsters were essentially exiled to another world is interesting and well-written by Paul Bernbaum, Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson. Aggie explains that in the Dark Times, humans and monsters lived together but hated each other, as the humans tried to destroy the monsters and the monsters tried to make the humans’ lives miserable in response. Thus, they made Halloweentown. Aggie also explains that Halloween became a thing because the humans copied their traditions, and as she puts it, “Mortal see, mortal do.” Watching as a kid, that made-up history is so believable and really cool. Now, I’m an adult (well, arguable) and that history’s still cool to me, and the themes of classism is really interesting. The way that history works into the main conflict is also very smooth.

Speaking so much of Aggie, Debbie Reynolds is great as the character. She’s a legendary actress, but I really know her best as Agatha Cromwell. And revisiting this now, it’s nice to see that pretty much all of the acting is surprisingly good for a TV movie, and it’s so nice to see that the actors are actually passionate about this, especially Reynolds. Kimberly J. Brown is always great as Marnie, too. She’s the most excited one of the kids learning that she’s a witch because she’s always been interested in the occult and now it makes sense why. As much as this is just a Halloween story, it’s a coming-of-age story for Marnie.

Dylan and Sophie are good characters, too. It’s Marnie’s show, but Sophie’s there for the cuteness factor and Dylan has a few good moments, too. The story line is well-structured and moves at a quick pace. I usually have problems with these Disney Channel Original Movie endings, but this feels more eventful than most of them. The budgets just don’t allow for a big climactic battle with big effects.

Most of the effects look pretty good, actually, like Aggie floating down from the bus looking like a Halloween Mary Poppins, and the magic in general looks fine. Flying buses, on the other hand, don’t look as good but that’s expected for a TV movie. The make-up for the monsters look good. As for any horror here, there’s more of a focus on the comedy but the main villain looks pretty creepy. Also what’s happening to the characters when they disappear is eerie.

Amazingly, I don’t have a lot wrong with this and I’m trying not to be biased with all my nostalgic love for this film. There are some cheesy moments, and I think a character named Luke (Phillip Van Dyke) is the cheesiest thing about this. Also the main sub-plot of Marnie’s mom, Gwen really wanting her kids to be humans is murky. She’s caught between two worlds because she married a human, so the kids are half-human, half-witch/warlock, so in that way it’s a bit interesting. But the motivation for shoving it down their throats that they have to be human isn’t clear.

I think it just lends to a message of kids being able to make their own choices. Marnie puts it well. “If you want to give up your roots, that’s fine. I don’t and it’s not right for you to try and make me.”

Other than that, I honestly think it’s the best TV movie I’ve seen. The production value is great, the actors don’t phone it in, and everyone looks like they’re giving it their all. I just loved this as a kid and I think it’s really cool to know that I love this nearly as much watching as a 24-year-old. It’s time for me to start watching this every Halloween again.

Score: 80/100

The Rugrats Movie (1998)

Rugrats movieReleased: November 20, 1998. Directed by: Igor Kovalyov, Norton Virgien. Starring: Elizabeth Daily, Christine Cavanaugh, Kath Soucie. Runtime: 79 min.

Tommy faces responsiblity when Dil, his new baby brother is born. As with all newborns, the child becomes a bane to Tommy and the rest of his gang. Even Phil and Lil don’t like them. So they decide to return Dil to where he came from, the hospital. But they get lost along the way, REALLY lost, and get into even more trouble with a circus. Can they find their way home and can Tommy and Dil just get along? And to top things off, Angelica goes out to find them and has little luck.

This is the movie event of 1998 for anyone who likes snot jokes. Everyone else: Keep your distance. It’s not so bad, but I don’t really like it. There’s little for older folks to enjoy; it opens with a homage to Indiana Jones, but that’s mostly it.

David Spade voices a bit role. That’s enjoyable. Tommy feels neglected because of all his parents’ attention is on Dil. It’s a bit poignant and real. The music numbers are lame. I forget them already. The movie is just forgettable, silly and boring, and I don’t remember chuckling all that much.

Score50/100

The Wedding Singer (1998)

The Wedding SingerReleased: February 13, 1998. Directed by: Frank Coraci. Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Christine Taylor. Runtime: 95 min.

Apparently, more mediocre comedians should release their movies on the unlucky Friday the 13th, when they’re down on their luck. Maybe they’ll have a decent hit on their hands. That’s the truth with Sandler’s “The Wedding Singer,” an entertaining and predictable romp from beginning to end.

The story follows wedding singer Robbie Hart who enters a deep depression after he’s dumped at the alter by his bitch of a girlfriend Linda (Angela Featherstone). Then he meets the stunning waitress Julia (Drew Barrymore). She is about to be married to a total idiot Glen Gulia (Matthew Glave), who is so dumb, he doesn’t see what’s funny about the fact that Julia will know be Julia Gulia. Robbie thinks she deserves more, and, well, you know the rest.

This movie teaches that the only person you should plan a wedding with is the person you’re getting married to, otherwise, you’ll probably fall in love with the person you’re planning it with. It’s a traditional romantic comedy, with Sandler’s antics and a lot of angry and/or depressed singing.

The characters are funny. That’s mostly Robbie Hart and the nympho best friend of Julia, Holly (Christine Taylor). Allen Covert’s pretty good, too. There are some characters that are both creepy and funny. That’s most notably George (Alexis Arquette), the back-up wedding singer who only sings “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” It’s funny because the crowd turns on him every time.

These performers aren’t phoning in performances – you’re probably going to root for Robbie and Julia the whole way through. No one deserves to be married to a jerk right?

The movie’s really just a predictable ’80s styled movie. It’s entertaining, sometimes hilarious and always chuckle-worthy. Even though you’ll be rooting for Julia and Robbie, they don’t pass the Character Name Test; since Sandler’s characters seem to be all the same. You’ll forget half of the characters’ names within minutes. This is a movie where I’d rather refer to the characters by the person who’s portraying them. Even though Sandler has big hair in this movie, it doesn’t mean this character will be distinctive or stand out in any way.

Score75/100

The Truman Show (1998) Review

The Truman Show

Release Date: June 5, 1998

Director: Peter Weir

Stars: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris

                                             Runtime: 103 min

Tagline: On the air. Unaware.

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is a friendly and charismatic simpleton. He’s also the star of a reality show that he was born into. The show he’s on is the most popular show in the world, The Truman Show. It’s a 24-hour drama that chronicles his every move. Everyone that he thinks are his friends is really just actors put there for the show; and Truman is the only genuine person in the fictional town of Sea Haven that he calls home.

Once Truman starts to wonder if there’s something going around this town, he really just wants to get out and explore the world. Though, Truman has never been that exploratory after an incident that caused a phobia of water; a childhood experience when he and his father went out to sea and they were attacked by a thunderstorm and his dad fell off the boat and supposedly drowned.

The Truman Show is actually such an original and intriguing plot. The character that is Truman Burbank is so simple too, that you can’t help but sympathize with the guy. He is probably one of the most intriguing characters since Forrest Gump. The film uses the aspects of drama, comedy and fantasy which make such a wonderful blend.

The Truman Show is an interesting and entertaining ride that cannot be missed. It also has great performances from a lot of the cast. The only thing that I did not like about the movie was the fact that Truman’s wife was quite annoying and fake. Granted, in a way it was good that she was extremely fake. I guess the film’s only flaw was that it was a little slow in some areas.

The film is directed wonderfully by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society), written by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), stars Laura Linney as Truman’s wife, Noah Emmerich as Marlon, Natasha McElhone as Truman’s lost love, Lauren; Holland Taylor as Truman’s mother, Ed Harris as the show’s creator, Christof; and Paul Giamatti as a Control Room Director.

This film is an absolute treat, with a magnificent performance by funny man Jim Carrey in a great dramatic role.

As Truman would say, “Good morning, and if I don’t see you; good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.”

90/100