Jack Black and Cate Blanchett star in a film that is well-suited for the Fall. But Rick Brough, with the Friday Film Review, says, Don’t expect the Great Pumpkin.
A new film called “The House With a Clock in its Walls” definitely wants to put you in the mood for Halloween. It’s aim is good-natured Goosebumps, if I can steal from R. L. Stine.
The central character, Lewis, (played by young actor Owen Vaccaro) is an orphan sent to live in a small Michigan town with his uncle, Jonathan played by Jack Black. A warlock who has a yen for chocolate chip cookies and who keeps pumpkins in his yard all year long. Jonathan’s neighbor and platonic companion, Mrs. Zimmerman (played by Cate Blanchett) is eccentric and elegant, and a witch but basically warm-hearted.
It’s the mid-1950’s, with alien monsters at your neighborhood theater and space rangers on TV -- the favorite kids treat is Ovaltine (Millennials, have your grandparents explain it to you.)
Lewis is nervous about staying in his uncle’s creaky old mansion, but for the Harry Potter-fied kids in the audience, it’s a wonderland. There’s a magical over-stuffed arm chair that has the personality of a slobbery canine. A hedge animal outside, a cross between lion and griffin, is basically the family cat—though be warned it isn’t house-broken. The production designer on the film ran riot here, throwing in strange, silent mannequins, gnarled pieces of human anatomy under glass, a constantly-morphing stained-glass window. And clocks. Lots and Lots of clocks. But one particular clock, with its loud ticking is hidden within the house.
Jonathan is hunting for the clock, which was left behind by the house’s previous occupant Isaac Izard, the uncle’s old magic partner, who let us say, turned to the Dark Side. As played by Kyle MacLachlan, he’s a rotting corpse who hates the Universe and doesn’t like cookies.
The film also spends some time with Lewis at his new school, where his first friend, a Fonzie-in-training, isn’t the buddy that he appears to be.
It’s a sign that the film is willing to take on some emotional issues, in a kid-friendly way. Lewis’s feelings and actions are motivated a lot by the ache he still feels for his dead parents. Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman have losses to cope with too. And there’s even the suggestion that World War II, just a decade previous to this story, is the root of the Evil menacing our heroes.
Oh, and another Life lesson is—don’t trust hysterical fat ladies.
The film, based on the book by John Bellairs, is written by Eric Kripke a veteran of the TV series Supernatural. Director Eli Roth who made grisly pictures such as “Hostel.” Is not bad with a gentler kind of spooky movie.
The film is fun and constantly quirky. But it’s not inspired. Two talented stars, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, are given roles that they can’t really sink their teeth into—evidenced when Black constantly refers to something as creepy—when it’s really not all that creepy.
All I can do is consult my Magic Eight Ball, which rates “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” at about a three and a half out of five. For the Friday Film Review, sponsored by the Park City Film Series, I’m Rick Brough.