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: BE KIND, REWIND

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be kind rewind movie posterNew Line
2008
PG-13

“The past belongs to us, and we can change it.”

 

Amateur film director Mike must find a way to save the local video store business after his magnetized friend Jerry erases every movie in the store. Using an outdated video camera and their own special effects, the two embark on an adventure to remake all the movies, from Ghostbusters to Driving Miss Daisy, turning the two town misfits into local celebrities.

I recall watching a preview for Be Kind, Rewind that was stuck at the beginning of another movie I rented. DVDs used to have this annoying thing where they made you watch the previews before getting to the main movie menu. The preview for this movie was on there, ad it did pique my interest. Though, what the preview showed made Be Kind, Rewind seem like a wacky comedy where Jack Black gets the super power of accidentally erasing videotapes. So, a few months later, I see this title at the Family Video store, and I decide to pick it up to check it out.

So, here we have another instance where the preview is rather misleading. It happens more often than not, especially when you mostly delve into independent type movies like I do. The distributing company needs to catch the eye of the potential customer, you know. Here, while Jack Black’s character of Jerry does get into a bit of a mishap where he’s temporarily a human electro-magnet, something that understandably doesn’t come in handy when you’re working at a VHS movie rental shop, that is just the catalyst for the main premise of the movie itself. Namely, the two friends banding together to try and replace the entire stock of VHS format movies in the store the only way they know how: by filming no-budget versions themselves, and passing them off as the “sweded version” of the otherwise better-known Hollywood flick. Somehow, this actually works, and the customers actually end up preferring the sweded versions over the originals. Of course, the big Hollywood suits catch wind of this chicanery, and they step in to stop what they’re doing, and now it’s one of those Little Guy Vs. The Big Corporate Jerks type of movie.

Really, as an indie quirky comedy flick, Be Kind, Rewind works pretty well. Of course, if you’re going into this expecting one of those low-brow type comedies that Jack Black’s been in previously, you might not get it at first, like I did initially. But, once you realize this movie was made by the guy who brought us Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (another movie starring a comedian playing an unconventional role), things begin to click, and you can enjoy Be Kind, Rewind for what it is: A movie about imagination, heart, and creating something with what you have. Also, this is a movie with Sigourney Weaver. Mmmmm, Sigourney Weaver. Recommended.