Cast: Owen Vaccaro (DADDY’S HOME  and 2 , MOTHER’S DAY , and the upcoming TEAM MARCO ), Jack Black (DON’T WORRY , JUMANJI 2 , KUNG FU PANDA 3 , GOOSEBUMPS , and upcoming films GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN  and Jumanji 3 ), Cate Blanchett (OCEAN’S 8 , THOR 3 , CAROL , HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 , and upcoming films HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD  and WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE ), Kyle MacLachlan (INSIDE OUT , and the upcoming HIGH FLYING BIRD ), and Renee Elise Goldsberry (SISTERS )
Director: Eli Roth (DEATH WISH )
Writer: Eric Kripke (3 episodes of REVOLUTION [2012 – 2014])
Composer: Nathan Barr (FLATLINERS )
Cinematographer: Rogier Stoffers (DEATH WISH, THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM , and the upcoming A DOG’S JOURNEY )
Editors: Andrew S. Eisen (SUPERHERO MOVIE , and the upcoming ROMANCING BRAZIL ) and Fred Raskin (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY  and VOL. 2 , HATEFUL EIGHT , and FAST & FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT , FAST & FURIOUS , and FAST FIVE )
This is my honest opinion of: THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS
Set in Michigan, circa 1955. Ten year old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) recently lost his parents and is now off to live with his estranged, but kind-hearted and loving uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), who lives next to his best friend Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), who both secretly practice the magical arts. Though his stay is fine for the most part, Lewis begins to suspect that there’s more to his uncle and his house with all the clocks. Strange noises that makes him act weird and the like, but it’s not long before he acknowledges the magic and begs Jonathan to teach him, to which he happily agrees. However, the more he learns, the more the more secrets that are revealed about Jonathan’s past, the previous owner of the house, and the importance of finding a clock that is hidden within the walls of the house.
Not that I’ve seen a whole lot of Roth’s work in the past, but I have to say, I have a hard time believing that he’s made anything better than this. I had fun with this movie. I think it had heart, it was funny, creative, likable, and all around a good time.
Is it just me, or is Jack Black on a roll? While he’s certainly not as big as he used to be, he’s made some surprisingly quality films and made small appearances that showed how good of an actor he can be. I’ve been really digging what I’ve seen and this is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like his brand of goofiness has “evolved,” but it certainly feels more organic. Jonathan is an obviously caring man who means well. He has his fair share of secrets, but he keeps them from Lewis with the best of intentions. He’s clearly out of his element as a caretaker for a child, but he definitely tries his best to make Lewis feel welcomed and comfortable with mixed results. Ultimately, you know he’s harmless and has enough of a familial instinct to protect Lewis from danger, and not in the sense of keeping him in the dark, but teaching him magic to protect himself.
But if there’s anything that steals the show, it’s the way Black and Blanchett bounce off of each other. Every scene they share is so much fun and the hub of the comedy in this movie. All they do is give each other crap, playfully insulting each other. And Florence is a solid character as well, being the more… competently parental of the two adults Lewis is exposed to. She’s very caring toward him, but not quite coddling. She’s doesn’t like that Jonathan keeps the few secrets he does from Lewis and always advises him to be more honest than he is. So despite their close friendship, they don’t always agree. Having said that, she knows that she’s not the legal guardian and allows Jonathan to handle certain situations his way, regardless of her personal reservations. She also doesn’t do magic anymore, but is pretty effective at helping teach Lewis magic.
Vaccaro may have a pretty unbalanced performance at times, occasionally overacting (though I blame direction and writing, not the kid), he churns out a pretty engaging performance. Despite Black and Blanchett being the bigger names, Vaccaro does a good job carrying this movie. Lewis isn’t quite written like a “fish out of water” character, but he is written like a brainy kid with no friends. A bit of a cliché, but I’ve seen it done worse. He’s not quite spouting statistics left and right, though he does show off his knowledge of definitions. I admit, that’s kind of annoying when he throws in “noun” or “adjective” and then the definition of the word in question. With that said, because his mind is a sponge for new information, when he’s given study material to become a warlock, he learns that stuff pretty quickly. He’s not perfect at the execution of the spells he learns, thankfully, but he’s not without talent.
Other fun elements are the living sofa that sort of behaves like a pet, the house itself is like a fun haunted house that you would find in an amusement park, and while the effects may not be top notch, they’re at least fun to look at. Actually, now that I’m thinking back on it, the “magic universe” bit in the yard during Lewis’ training was absolutely stunning. Oh, and can someone please explain to me why this Eli Roth-directed kids fantasy movie has “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard in it, but THE PREDATOR doesn’t?! How is this a better Predator movie than an actual Predator movie?!
With all my praises, however, the movie has its fair share of flaws.
Not all of the humor lands. The worst of it all being the poop jokes from the living topiary lion. Those were the most groan-worthy. There’s also a bit where Jonathan’s body is turned into a baby, but his head remains the same. That was terrifying and not in a comedic way.
Also, I’m not entirely sure why Lewis was so uncertain about the existence of magic in the house when he’s seen the magic firsthand. He’s sitting at a table playing a friendly game of poker with the adults and literally watches his cards turn into a flush. Was that scene supposed to happen later, or something? He had absolutely no reaction to the change either. Or at least, not a normal one. His eyes widen in mild surprise… then he plays the hand he’s dealt and carries on with his day, acting like nothing happened. Even when he starts learning magic, there’s little bits where he’s giving Jonathan attitude. Yeah, sure kid, show a lack of gratitude to the dude that’s showing you how to do MAGIC!!! The logic… I’m following it. *sarcasm* Also, there’s a sequence where he’s trying to win back Tarby’s friendship by hoping to demonstrate magic, but… no, he needs to break the one rule in his uncle’s home to use the dark magic book instead of, oh I don’t know, levitate a chair off the ground. The kid has learned a few basic spells that would have sold Tarby on that stuff, so why did Lewis make the situation so much worse than it needed to be?
I also don’t always agree with certain character choices. Like, why does Jonathan not tell Lewis why the cabinet with the dark magic book can’t be opened? If it’s the one rule in the house that Lewis must follow, why not take extra precautions and, A, tell him that it has a super dangerous book of magic that could spell complete disaster, and B, not leave the key to that cabinet inside the cabinet where a brain dead monkey could have access to it?
Overall, the movie is a lot of fun and I quite enjoyed it. Yes, there are some problems. Some of those problems are frustrating. But the complete package is certainly something that kids will get a kick out of and adults might enjoy themselves enough as well. My recommendation is that it’s worth it. No rush, but at some point would be fun for the whole family.
My honest rating for THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS: 4/5
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