Tag: Jack Black

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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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

jumanjiThe body-swap gag has graced the silver screen many times over the years. The Hot Chick, The Change-Up, Freaky Friday, 13 going on 30—the list goes on and what is common to most are their tendency to be b-grade comedies.  Here, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle attempts a slightly different angle as it blends the body-swap trope with the 1996 Jumanji original.

Jumanji tells the tale of four high-school students and one fateful afternoon on school detention.  The four students occupy various extremes in their school’s social pecking order; the football jock, the “selfie” valley girl, the nerd, and the loner. The premise is ripe for some Breakfast Club styled soul searching and frat-boy high-jinx. Although that’s as far as Jumanji has in common with any John Hughes film, as here the four become entwined by the fickle finger of fate and a magical video game. Unwillingly sucked into game’s world, they come to terms with each occupying a fictional avatar quite different to their real self.  They must also work together to save Jumanji from the evil villain, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Plot, for the lack of a better word, is not this film’s strength as it navigates a very linear narrative in search of the next comedic moment … of which there are, thankfully, enough giggles to maintain a mild semblance of interest.

Kevin Hart offers his usual “go to” brand of loud and brash humour which has become a tired cliche since the days of Eddie Murphy.  Likewise, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson operate well within their comfort zone and offer little more than their norm.  The big surprise being Karen Gillen (Guardians of the Galaxy), who steals the show. Externally she’s a kick-ass Lara Croft styled martial arts vixen. Internally, she’s a painfully shy loner who has to come to terms with what’s required of her—hilarious scenes involving Jack Black teaching her how to flirt are the film’s high point.

Putting the humour aside, Jumanji briefly touches on issues of adolescent identity, however, director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) seems uninterested in exploring the topic with any depth. Alas, Jumanji does feel a little lightweight and while my expectations for this film were fairly low, it somehow still managed to mildly disappoint.  If all you’re after is average adventure thinly draped over a collection of chuckles, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will be a perfectly serviceable holiday block-bluster … but beyond that, it will fall out of your brain soon after you leave the theatre.

You can see my published reviews here.