Tag: Cate Blanchett

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

8t50_d017_00131rThe House with a Clock in Its Walls is a holiday flick that neatly slides in between Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket on the bookshelf of magic and misfortune; a lengthy title, some brooding special effects, an orphan boy who learns magic, and questionable caregivers. It has become a slightly tired routine, something which I was hoping the effervescent Jack Black and brooding Cate Blanchett would breath new life into—unfortunately not.

Set in the fifties, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) after having tragically lost his parents.  Uncle Jonathan is an amiable man who is relentlessly tormented by a mysterious clock that continuously ticks within the recesses of his mansion walls. Lewis soon discovers that all is not as it seems with his uncle and his peculiar neighbour Florence (Blanchett), and that the clock Jonathan seeks holds the key to the future of the universe.

Although the film seemingly has all the accessible ingredients of broad appeal, it is hampered by two factors.  Firstly, the young’uns in the audience will most likely find it way too scary.  There are plenty of jump-scares and moments of genuine creepiness here. Perhaps Eli Roth, who’s helmed such horrors as Hostel and Cabin Fever might not have been the wisest pick to direct a family-friendly holiday flick.  Try as he might, Roth can’t keep his horror sensibilities under the bed, resulting in some fairly dark imagery; animated dolls, drops of sacrificial blood dripping onto spell books, animating the dead … you get the drift. 

Secondly, lest you think the film is pitched at an older audience, the plot seems way too rudimentary. The film gags for more complexity and humour. There are a few chuckles, but not nearly what we’ve become accustomed to from Black. As a platform for Black and Blanchett to strut their stuff, well, this renders them more Bland and Blandchett.

It’s not all bad; technically the film carries off some fairly impressive set pieces and the young talent, Owen Vaccaro, seems destined for greater things. Ultimately though, the timing of The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ is a little confused.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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Ocean’s 8

oceans 20386.dngIt’s been over a decade since the Ocean’s trilogy planted the then “it” men George Clooney and Brad Pitt firmly within the heist genre. Now director Steven Soderbergh has handed the reigns over to Gary Ross and instead of Clooney and Pitt, we have the “it” chicks Bullock and Blanchett to head up an all-female crew of eight; including Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, and the delightful Anne Hathaway.

For fear of spoilers I won’t dive too deep into the plot details—suffice to say that Ocean’s 8 does have its twists and turns, but on the whole plays it fairly safe.  Fresh out of jail Debbie (Sandra Bullock) seeks revenge on the man who sent her there in the first place.  As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold and five years in the clink has given her plenty of thinking-time to come up with a really cold one.  It is a plan that involves an elaborate heist to rob the multi-million-dollar Cartier diamond necklace right from under the nose of Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at New York’s glitzy Met Gala ball.

Aside from a few head-scratching moments, which are eventually explained by the obligatory “how it was all done” flashback, the plot is fairly water-tight and explained with such mechanical precision that there is little time left to flesh out its many characters. The end result is a soulless film that attempts to inject some warmth with a few chuckles and an emotive soundtrack.

But the biggest disappointment is that it is far too tentative in its feminist agenda. More should’ve been made of eight kick-ass women who’re played by some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters. One might argue that the very nature of women occupying roles traditionally reserved for men—and doing so without shouting to the rafters—goes some way to normalise such roles. Yes, a good thing, but here it feels like the potato becomes too hot to handle for its male director.  Sure Ross does an acceptable job of swinging a camera kinetically around a set; he gets the job done, but he doesn’t come close to tapping into the charisma of his ensemble cast.  Ultimately, Ocean’s 8 is clinical, mildly entertaining and carries you along—but could’ve been so much more.
 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald and NZME here.