Movie Review: The HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS

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The House With A Clock In Its Walls movie posterUniversal Pictures
2018
PG

“Be a dear. Fetch a knife and stab me in the ears.”

Ten-year-old Lewis goes to live with his oddball uncle in a creaky old house that contains a mysterious `tick tock’ noise. He soon learns that Uncle Jonathan and his feisty neighbor, Mrs Zimmerman, are powerful practitioners of the magic arts. When Lewis accidentally awakens the dead, the town’s sleepy facade suddenly springs to life, revealing a secret and dangerous world of witches, warlocks and deadly curses.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls was a young adult Gothic mystery that was written by John Bellairs and published in 1973. I’ve never read anything by John Bellairs. I even went through his bibliography to make sure I didn’t inadvertently read one of his novels in grade school and just didn’t remember doing so. I was a voracious reader, even back then, and gravitated towards mysteries with a solid spooky supernatural feel to them. Weird as a kid, weird as an adult. But, no, I hadn’t read any of his fiction, which is odd, as they would have been right up my alley.

Anyway, The House with a Clock in Its Walls was the first in a series of books staring protagonist character Lewis Barnavelt, and proved to be a hit with the readers. It was adapted once before as one of three segments in the television anthology Once Upon A Midnight Scary, which was hosted by none other than Vincent Price back in 1979. Then, it was adapted into a full-length feature film in 2018 staring Jack Black.

The first thing I want to point out about this adaptation is that, this is directed by Eli Roth. Yes, that same Eli Roth who gave us the movies Cabin Fever and the Hostel series. He also did the cannibal horror film The Green Inferno, helmed the Death Wish remake, and stared in Inglorious Basterds. I’m not criticizing his movie choices; I’m merely pointing out that Eli Roth’s name isn’t exactly in the Top Five of names that pop up when we’re discussing family friendly fantasy films.

Also, I didn’t mean to use alliteration like that. Totally unintentional.

Second, did we really need to use the lettering style in the title to be a rip-off of the Harry Potter film series titles? Derivative, smacks of desperation, shows a lack of confidence on the studio’s part for letting this movie stand on its own. Ultimately, a pointless gripe. Moving on…

As a movie, I believe that Eli Roth has a bright future with young adult family dark fantasy films, if The House With A Clock In Its Walls is any indication. This movie is right up there with personal favorites like the Addams Family movies and the classic Tim Burton flicks. Jack Black is his usual fantastic self here, playing the roll as the eccentric warlock uncle Jonathan Barnavelt kind of subdued to his normal manic style. He plays off well with Cate Blanchett’s Florence Zimmerman character, the longtime neighbor and friend who is constantly trading barbs with Jonathan. Owen Vaccaro is also rather good as the child character of Lewis Barnavelt, the nephew that is brought into the world of magic, starts to learn magic himself, and then resurrects the dead to impress his friends. As you do.

It’s dark, it’s whimsical, it has some great visuals as well as a good Gothic atmosphere, and it doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the story. The House With A Clock In Its Walls is a great movie, thumbs up all the way. Check it out if you haven’t done so already. Recommended.

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Movie Review: The DARKEST MINDS

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darkest minds20th Century Fox
2018
PG-13

When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby, one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking a safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and thy must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.

So, back in April of 2018, we were supposed to have an X-Men spinoff movie, one that wasn’t necessarily tied into th franchise proper, but promised to be more of a horror movie with its story of mutant children being terrorized by the normies. I couldn’t wait to see this movie. But then, news came that the studio decided to pull that movie and push it for over a year later, because…reasons. Whatever, no X-Men horror movie. So, instead of that movie, that same year we got a movie that has nothing to do with the X-Men franchise, but is totally an X-Men story: The Darkest Minds.

Or, more to the point, X-Men Lite. If you want to be kind of jaded about it. For a more, shall we say, optimistic spin, this would be X-Men for th modern YA crowd. Meaning, we have a story here that requires very little investment in thinking about, stock characters we’ve seen before in other YA sci-fi action movies like this, plot beats you could see coming from low space orbit…but, despite all that, I did find myself enjoying this on a certain level.

Keeping in mind that I probably wasn’t the target demographic The Darkest Minds was aiming for, I realize that this could have been far more worse than what we ended up with. The Darkest Minds is a decent movie; it did keep my attention, the effects were pretty good, and the way it was shot was gorgeous.

Overall, The Darkest Minds is what it is: A movie about teenagers with powers going up against adults who misunderstand and fear them. There might be a hamfisted metaphor there, I think. Anyway, not a bad way to kill some time on a rainy afternoon. One and done viewing, for me.

Book Review: DOCTOR WHO – City Of Death

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doctor who city of deathJames Goss
ACE Books
2015

The Doctor almost wished that for once he could sweep aside all the reversing the polarity of the death ray nonsense and just sit down for tea and natter over macaroons. If it wasn’t for the Count being a homicidal maniac, the two of them would get on famously. What a pity.

Back between September 29th and October 20th in 1979, the BBC broadcast one of the serials that sci-fi author Douglas Adams had a hand in writing; in that Adams heavily re-wrote an unfinished script that was originally titled “A Gamble With Time”. What resulted was a Doctor Who serial where the Fourth Doctor and is then-companion Romana run into an ancient alien while on holiday in Paris, an alien who inadvertently kick-started life on Earth due to an accident millions of years prior that killed off the remainder of his race, and is working to go back and prevent said accident. Also, there’s an Inspector involved. British wackiness ensues.

Over time, “City Of Death”, despite it being one of the more popular Doctor Who serials, was never given the Target Books novelization treatment initially. This was due mainly to Target offering the standard advance price to Adams for adapting the story, with Adams retorting, “I don’t want to be embarrassing but I do have a tendency to be a best-selling author,” and refusing to allow anyone else to write one.

It wasn’t until after Adams’ untimely death and long-time Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts doing a bonny adaptation of Adams’ “Shada” script when we finally got an official novelization of “City Of Death”. Yeah, it was also supposed to be written by Roberts, but eventually the reigns were given to James Goss.

There. That takes care of the Obligatory History Portion of this review. Let’s get on the novelization, shall we?

As mentioned previously, the Fourth Doctor and Romana are on holiday in 1979 Paris, France, enjoying and relaxing in an outdoor cafe’, when the Doctor notices a lady scanning the security setup around the Mona Lisa with alien technology. So, along with an Inspector, they follow her back to a chateau owned by Count Scarlioni. There, they find equipment used in time experiments, along with several copies of the Mona Lisa. Romana and the Inspector continue to investigate things, while the Doctor zipps off in the TARDIS to visit Leonardo da Vinci, about the Mona Lisa copies. Romana and the Inspector are captured by Scartioni, with Romana pressed into building a working time machine by threatening to destroy all of Paris if she doesn’t; meantime, in the past, the Doctor is captured by an earlier iteration of Scartioni, who then explains that he is the last of an alien race that was wiped out by their ship exploding on Primordial Earth 400 million years ago, give or take a century. This explosion had the inadvertent effect of sparking life on the planet, which also created the concept of irony. Through the eons, Scartioni had been manipulating history to where, by the time the 20th Century rolled around, the technology was such that he could feasibly begin working on a time machine to go back to the beginning and stop the ship from ‘splodin’, funding the entire thing with selling off the several copies of the Mona Lisa he had commissioned da Vinci to paint. Of course, this plan doesn’t sit well with the Doctor, so he escapes back to 1979 Paris, which leads to a confrontation and showdown with the alien Count.

Like with the other Doctor Who serial novelizations I’ve read, I hadn’t seen the televised show this was based on before reading City of Death. I still haven’t gotten around to watching it; but based on this novelization, I probably will do so sometime shortly.

As a Doctor Who story in book form, City Of Death is written in that same kind of style that typified works by Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams…mainly Douglas Adams, probably because he wrote the script of the show itself, so it would make sense that James Goss would imitate his style. I haven’t really read anything of Goss’ outside of this and his other Doctor Who adaptation The Pirate Planet (also originally scripted by Adams), so I don’t know if that’s his natural writing style, or if he’s just imitating what he would think Adams would write, had he actually did the novelization himself. I might have to rectify that.

Regardless, reading this novelization of City Of Death was a blast. I recommend picking this up and checking it out.

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 30: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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halloween'ing 2017bram stokers dracula

I realize that it seems odd that I’m recommending the Francis Ford Coppola-directed remake of the movie Dracula that came out in 1992 for a Halloween movie viewing, rather than the original Bela Lugosi classic from 1932. And believe me, it’s not because I think that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is superior to the first one. Far from it. It’s just that, this iteration of the big screen Dracula was the first movie I watched straight through, and ignited an interest in the character that has lasted for decades later.

Comparisons to the source material aside, as a movie itself, Bram Stoker’s Dracula still holds up as a Gothic romance movie, complete with great period visuals, breathtaking scenes, and some great performances…and also Keanue Reeves. Who, I think, can be forgiven his performance, as he was still trying to shake free of being pigeonholed as Ted “Theodore” Logan at this point in his career.

Greatly atmospheric, a nice slow and dark buildup, and a first part that actually references Vlad Tepes, aka the inspiration for the character of Dracula. And let’s face it, there are way worse Dracula movies out there.

Bram Stoker’s DRACULA

::END TRANSMISSION::

Book Review: DOCTOR WHO and the Revenge of the Cybermen

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doctor who and the revenge of the cybermenTerrance Dicks
Target Books / Pinnacle Books
1978 / 1989

One by one, their limbs became diseased—they were replaced by plastic and steel! Little by little, their brains tired—computers worked just as well! Locked in a battle once again with these dreadful Cybermen, the Doctor is caught between desperate Vogans, determined to save their planet. Voga, and the Cybermen, determined to destroy it. But the Doctor has one last trick up his sleeve: it is a poison—powerful, plentiful, and deadly. And it is the only weapon humans have against the Cybermen, and the only reason the Cybermen must destroy Voga—the planet of Gold.

This is one of those novelizations of a serial from the classic Doctor Who run, this one being the 12th season four part story Revenge of the Cybermen. The 12th season was the inaugural season for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, and “Revenge of the Cybermen” takes place right on the heels of one of the more classic Dalek stories: Genesis of the Daleks. As a matter of fact, we come in right after the events from “Genesis of the Daleks”, finding The Doctor and companions Harry and Sarah Jane appearing on the deep space Becon station Nerva, apparently a bit earlier than the arrival of the TARDIS (long story, involving Time Lords and stuff). That doesn’t necessarily concern them as much as all of the dead bodies of what is presumed to be the crew of the Nerva Becon littering the corridors from what appears to be some kind of space plague. Seems there are only four survivors on the station, not counting the Doctor and his companions, the only ones to warn other ships from approaching the mysterious asteroid that appeared orbiting Jupiter. Turns out, that’s all that remains of the planet Voga, a planet of gold that was instrumental in the battle against the dreaded Cybermen (gold being the Cybermen’s kryptonite, if I may mix my geek medias, here). Turns out the Cybermen aren’t as extinct as everyone presumed, especially when the Doctor spots and deactivates a Cybermat, the source of the “plague” everyone was dying from in the first place. It also turns out that one of the crew members was acting as something of a double agent between the Cybermen and the Vogans, hoping to pick up some of that sweet, sweet gold for himself. Of course, wackiness ensues when they discover that the Vogans are what you would call distrustful of any other kind of alien being, and the Cybermen decide to put their own plan into motion of blowing up the rest of Vogan.

My particular copy of Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen is the 1989 reprint that Pinnacle Books released here in America, from the original Target Books in the UK. Hence the odd cover and logo style, as I like to use the artwork of the copy that I own/have read. As to the adaptation of the story, I found it to be a rather nifty tale of the Doctor outwitting the Cybermen in classic fashion. I haven’t seen the actual serial that this is based on—yet—but as a Doctor Who story, this one’s a classic. And at only 139 pages, it’s a quick shot of sci-fi goodness. My only real beef is the fact that the back cover blurb refers to the Doctor as “Doctor Who”; I don’t know if this was the decision of clueless American publishers, as I don’t have access to the Target book itself, but I took the liberty of fixing that little faux pas when reproducing that blurb for the purpose of this review. I mean, otherwise I would have been all kinds of fanboy twitchy, here.

You’re welcome. Four out of five TARDISes.