Quick Movie Review: Under Wraps (1997)

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It’s hard to find solid Halloween films that the whole family can truly enjoy. And because most of them are from the ’90s, it’s also hard to find ones that holds up well enough.

Under Wraps has always been able to give me belly laughs. And after not seeing it for quite some time, I can honestly say that it’s just as enjoyable now as it was when I saw it as a kid.

The story follows three friends who accidentally bring an ancient Egyptian mummy back to life. They befriend him, name him Harold, and introduce him to modern society. The results are pretty hilarious.

With children’s movies, the goal isn’t to escape the formula–since kids don’t care either way–but to be entertaining within those confines.

In Under Wraps, the dialogue is snappy and actually quite edgy considering its audience. The child actors deliver it all pretty well too. They’re not cringey, setting it up so that the film is likable even before the mummy comes to life. Then, once Harold enters the picture, the narrative is able to build upon an already-solid foundation.

The film does get cheesy once or twice towards the end as it wraps things up, but it’s not enough to ruin anything. Prior to that, it shows heart in much more organic ways. What’s more distracting, perhaps, are the few fairly obvious plot holes throughout. You can chalk it up to being a movie for kids, but I can see how it might bother some older viewers. Though it’s not nearly as bad as others.

Under Wraps is a great movie to watch during the Halloween season, as the adventure is fun for both kids and adults almost equally.

It takes some pages out of the notes of 1992’s Encino Man, which has a similar concept–albeit more adult oriented. The filmmakers of this kids movie prove that they can get just about as many laughs with a film targeted at a younger audience. Very well done.

Twizard Rating: 87

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Quick Movie Review: H-E Double Hockey Sticks (1999)

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Shockingly enough, H-E Double Hockey Sticks still aired on the Disney Channel back in the early 2000s. I guess it makes sense if you consider the source material. But a film that partially takes place in hell? Very odd choice.

But I guess it’s less surprising when you realize how badly it wants to be a kids’ movie. Most of the references and puns will definitely go over children’s heads, yet it’s constantly talking down to them anyway–sticking itself in an awkward position of being a film for neither adults nor kids. You could say it’s their way of trying to appeal to both. But for adults to enjoy it more, it can’t compromise its dialogue.

Will Friedle plays Griffelkin, the devil’s apprentice. He’s sent to Earth to sway professional hockey player, Dave Heinrich (Matthew Lawrence), to sign over his soul in exchange for his team winning the Stanley Cup.

The plot is mostly stretched thin–even for its short runtime–but it picks up once its main objective is reached nearing the 3rd act. But then the film ends abruptly without the entire theme ever becoming fully realized for the audience.

The first two acts coast along on Friedle’s talents and improvisations, relying on him too much to carry the film. It allows him almost too much freedom, preventing the movie from taking itself seriously enough. It’s almost too goofy for its dark premise. But then again, if that’s the case, it should be funnier.

Friedle is at his best when playing off of Lawrence’s straight-man–much like their dynamic on Boy Meets World. Fans of the TV show will undoubtedly enjoy seeing the actors together again–especially if they’ve never seen this film before. Because watching it a 2nd time may be a chore no matter how much you like them.

The film is far from perfect. Though the acting is passable, the script is marginal at best. It’s not too porous, but the holes that do exist are distracting.

Plot holes don’t always make or break film. Many times they go unnoticed in a truly entertaining one. The worst kinds of holes are the ones that are so distracting that they prevent you from enjoying the rest of the story.

Griffelkin has this device called a flip fork (pun on flip phone), which is a magical tool that can make anything do what he wants it to do. He has supernatural powers that assist him in obtaining his goal. Yet, he spends about 15 minutes towards the beginning trying to find Dave and getting into the same room as him. Are we just supposed to accept this frustrating inconsistency? It is a kids movie after all–but then again, not really, because it takes place in hell and has jokes about flipping people off.

The ending isn’t quite as dark, but the lessons learned don’t really come to light, and we’re stuck remembering this as a film about a guy selling his soul to the devil–not about a devil’s apprentice finally seeing the light.

It’s an odd movie. At its best, it’s original–considering the context. Although it’s still entertaining enough to watch, and may evoke enough nostalgia that it doesn’t matter.

Twizard Rating: 62

Quick Movie Review: Tower of Terror (1997)

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Fun Fact: This is the first film based on a Disney theme park ride.

I remember watching this movie on TV as a kid and loving it. But I’ve discovered, upon recently rewatching other Halloween movies from my childhood, that many times they’re not as good as I used to think. So naturally, I had the same concerns with 1997’s made-for-TV movie Tower of Terror.

And at first, I thought my worries were coming true. The film does a poor job when trying to force character depth. The dialogue gets clunky and self-aggrandizing. The film doesn’t truly shine until it happens organically.

Steve Guttenberg plays Buzzy, a former newspaper writer, who has lost all his credibility after a story he published turned out to be fake. So he turns to writing tabloid stories instead. He’s approached by Abigail Gregory, an old lady who claims to know how child actress Sally Shine (Lindsay Ridgeway), and others, disappeared one night back in 1939 at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. She claims that Shine’s nanny used dark magic to trap the young starlet’s soul in limbo. Guttenberg thinks he might have a story on his hands and visits the abandoned hotel to investigate.

Guttenberg lacks a convincing performance, but he still gives us some nice wit. As the movie’s lead, he’s affable enough. But it’s the others around him that shine a little more. Kirsten Dunst as his niece, Anna, provides solid support, but the five actors who play the hotel’s ghosts give us some of the film’s best moments.

What the movie does best is craft a fine mystery surrounding the strange 1939 accident and makes us care about its victims–who are all minor-to-supporting characters–but it just fails to keep us interested in its actual leads.

However, it’s truly a fun Halloween movie. One of my favorites for this time of year. Kids will love it. It’s not too scary, but eerie enough to pique their interest. And it holds up pretty well, giving adults a very cool story to follow with blindsiding twists. It’s definitely as entertaining as I remember.

Twizard Rating: 89

Ranking Every ‘Even Stevens’ Episode Ever!

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I’m a huge Even Stevens fan. Perhaps the biggest ever. Growing up I wanted to be Louis Stevens more than anything. I dressed like him, laughed like him, and even talked like him. I would set my clock every evening for when the show came on and would be quoting the episode the next day at school to my classmates’ and teachers’ eye-rolling. To this day, I still watch it almost every night. It makes me happy and keeps my life filled with joy and fun.

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Quick Movie Review: Don’t Look Under the Bed (1999)

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I’ve detailed in previous posts my feelings about the current state of children’s television. And while the Disney Channel is the main culprit, I do long for 1999 again when Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs) were at their peak. Sure, they were cheesy and full of head-scratching character decisions, but we loved them anyway because the protagonists were just like us.

Don’t Look Under the Bed follows Frances (Erin Chambers), a teenage girl living in a small town where, one day, strange things start happening. Dogs are on the roof, the high school’s pool is filled with gelatin, and the letter “B” is spray painted all over town. Everyone is convinced that it’s Frances who’s pulling these pranks, but she befriends Larry Houdini (Ty Hodges)–an imaginary person who only she can see–who informs her that the Boogeyman is framing her. So she tries to figure out why he seems to have a bone to pick with her.

The film is full of twists and has some fun scenes that actually hold up fairly well considering the age of the movie and the target demographic.

Not that it’s not without a little schmaltz, but believe it or not, compared to its counterparts, Don’t Look Under the Bed isn’t terribly cloying at all–possibly due to the fact that it’s directed by Kenneth Johnson–the creator of The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk TV series. Whatever the reason, if you saw this movie as a child, chances are it stuck with you.

It’s Disney Channel’s only PG-rated DCOM–and for a good reason. The scenes with the Boogeyman are seriously creepy. They still haunt me to this day. However, they never make the film lose its youthful essence. Rather, it may be more appealing since it fails to insult its young audience. There’s a good enough balance between the macabre and the jovial to maintain its fun nature.

The issues it deals with may not be the deepest, but it’s no Dude, Where’s My Car either. The themes include deep-rooted denial and growing up too fast. It gets its point across without feeling overly preachy. And even older audiences will find the intrinsic emotions relatable and may cause them to conjure up fond memories of their own childhood–much in a Toy Story type of way.

In the last 15 minutes, the characters venture into Boogeyland, which is a real highlight to this movie. The world that the filmmakers create is so spooky and detailed that we feel like we’re there too. We wait throughout the whole story to find out where the Boogeyman goes when he’s not creating chaos, and the answer definitely lives up to our expectations.

The film’s biggest pitfall is its lead actress. She’s alright when she’s just conversing with other characters, but as soon as she shows any kind of grand emotion, her conviction is nowhere to be found.

But the plot holes are scarce and mostly towards the beginning, so we grant it forgiveness during its final act–which may the single greatest ending to any DCOM. In Don’t Look Under the Bed the characters have a lot to lose, and while so many others of its kind take the easy way out, this one really works for it.

Twizard Rating: 84

Quick Movie Review: Phantom of the Megaplex (2000)

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Nowadays children’s television–not the least of which, television movies–are targeted to kids in a very different way. We see kids having extraordinary abilities and powers that set them above normal kids, and much of what’s available now creates unrealistic goals for the children watching it. Gone are the days where they can watch TV and see people just like them–people who dress like them, act like them, and have similar problems. Everyone’s world on TV is perfect now, which heightens kid’s expectations for their own worlds.

With that rant aside, Phantom of the Megaplex came out on the Disney Channel in 2000–still running off the fumes created by the ’90s children’s television boom. At that time, the Disney Channel was now a network available in non-premium cable packages and had been coming out with quite a lot of original programming to compete with Nickelodeon, Fox Kids, and the like. That year, they peaked their Disney Channel Original Movie–or DCOM–production at one movie per month–the only year to date with that frequency. The years before and after gave us 8 and 10, respectively, but compared to recent trends of releasing as little as 1 DCOM in a year, even 8 gave us plenty of options. We weren’t seeing the same couple of films all year long, and we were appreciating the ones we saw when they were broadcasted.

Amidst the plethora of releases in 2000 was a Halloween-themed movie Phantom of the Megaplex, which follows a 17-year-old movie theater employee who is about to experience the craziest night of his life as the megaplex he works at is having their first red carpet premiere. Meanwhile, everything seems to be going wrong and he, along with his two younger siblings, must try to figure out who or what is causing the chaos in order to save the premiere.

Within the movie, there are several “movies” talked about and shown intermittently inside the theaters. It creates its own meta world of movies within the film universe, along with acknowledging a few masterpieces of old cinema.

This movie is far from being a technical masterpiece itself, but if you take it for what it is you will see a different experience altogether. It never tries to be perfect, which considering the alternative is fine by me. Once you get past the corny tendencies that were so common in low budget post-’90s TV movies for kids, you get a pretty entertaining film.

The pacing is a little slow in the beginning, but carries on just fine after about 20 minutes in. It provides us with a fun mystery to solve, along with the characters, and does a good job of masking who the actual phantom is.

The main issue this movie faces is that there’s never really anything at stake other than the ruining of a film premiere and maybe the fate of the characters’ jobs. Nobody’s life is threatened, or even feels threatened. It’s all just really mysterious more than anything else.

Also, the motives of the person responsible for all the mayhem don’t make much sense and are brushed off once explained.

But this film is filled with some really good messages and pays great homage to the classics of the silver screen, as well as to cinema in general–a theme that is seldom, if ever, delivered to this demographic.

Phantom of the Megaplex sparked my own love and passion for movies when I first saw it in 2000 when I was 11. It inspired me to want to see all the classics and watching it again now helps to remind me of why I started loving movies to begin with. It’s a movie I think of often whenever I may doubt my passion. Although I feel lately that film has undergone a lot of change and while I’m not a fan of modern trends in cinema, Phantom of the Megaplex rekindles the spirit of what movies should be–magic. It romanticizes cinema for me every time I watch it, and making it available to kids now will hopefully do the same for them and make them yearn for the days gone by.

“If you pay attention, movies can teach you about life.” –An actual line from a made-for-TV movie for kids.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge (2001)

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As opposed to the first installment, which had a much more meandering pace, this one moves along quite nicely. The premise is well conceived and has a much better structure.

But with a more appealing narrative comes more distracting plot holes. Why would they ever take a bus to Halloweentown when they can just walk through a portal every time. Also, some problems could have obviously been solved earlier, but weren’t addressed in order to stretch the script to fill the runtime. For instance, if Gort had told them much earlier about his time portal it would have saved Luke and Marnie all that trouble trying to find a way to get back to the future. And then you introduce the time-travel element, which has no set of rules whatsoever, avoiding all explanation as to how the characters are defying the laws of physics. As a pedant for these kinds of details, I found myself getting a headache from a movie that is really easy to follow.

Of course we have to realize that it is a film targeted towards young adults. Although it’s not without a porous script, it’s more engaging than its predecessor and much funnier too. It’s a bigger and better movie, and closer to what the previous film should have been.

Twizard Rating: 82

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Quick Movie Review: Halloweentown (1998)

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The 1990s. Back when children’s television was at an all-time high, child actors weren’t hired for their looks, and Disney Channel Original Movies didn’t talk down to kids. In 1997, Disney rebranded their TV movies under the Disney Channel Original Movie marquee and their style of films also changed. They started featuring younger kids as main characters and had them dealing with their own issues. In 1998, Disney released their 5th DCOM, Halloweentown. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but as a kid it invoked our imagination. The script is full of wit, and the talent here is really impressive too–especially the lead actress, Kimberly J. Brown, who went on to also star in another DCOM, Quints. Debbie Reynolds is also fantastic here as the adventurous and crazy grandmother that every kid wants.

Being a really fun live-action film for kids, Halloweentown doesn’t come without its faults. The dialogue can be a bit cheesy on occasion, and the little brother’s cynicism and the mom’s stubbornness get tiresome after awhile. Also, as great of a movie this was as a child, as an adult I realize that the concept is underutilized. There’s this magical place that we still dream about as grownups, however we’re left wanting to see more of this world. Much like Back to the Future Part II when we get enveloped by futuristic Hill Valley to the point where we can fill in the gaps in our minds. With Halloweentown there are too many gaps to fill in that we don’t really feel like we’ve experienced this universe enough. Don’t get me wrong, I still can appreciate this film as an adult. The sets, the costumes, the few buildings that we do see are great. But it would be ten times more entertaining if we got a little more. In theory, Halloweentown is amazing, but we leave feeling cheated. I guess that’s why they made 3 more movies.

It’s easy to just say that the plot was stretched too thin here, but that’s saved for movies that have concepts that can’t be expanded upon. With Halloweentown it’s more of a case that the plot simply wasn’t as thick as it should have been. Because it should be able to get stretched for days and days and never even show signs of thinning. Let’s just hope that they fix this in the sequels.

Basically, as a kid, this film is exactly what you want. Watching as an adult I just yearn for it to reach its potential.

Twizard Rating: 76

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