THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS FILM REVIEW
Watching it in IMAX I enjoyed much of The House with a Clock in Its Walls based on John Bellairs’ 1973 fantasy novel, although seeing and listening to it did give me a slight headache. Starring Jack Black as the warlock Jonathan Barnavelt and Cate Blanchett as his bewitching gal pal Florence Zimmerman, this 104-minute, special FX-powered big screen extravaganza full of spooky (and sometimes gross - I could have lived without the scatological sight gags tastelessly pandering to immature viewers) visuals and a plotline dealing with death, Walls seem more for young adults than children per se.
After his parents die, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) moves to New Zebedee, Michigan, to live with his uncle Jonathan, whom he’d never met before, in what seems to be a haunted house that resembles Hollywood’s Magic Castle, inside and out. The orphan quickly discovers his new digs is a lair for the supernatural and like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an academy for magic, which he studies under the tutelage of his uncle. (The Cronin House in Bellairs’ actual hometown of Marshall, Michigan, is the inspiration for the Barnavelt’s magical abode.) Meanwhile, Lewis embarks on the mystifying process of trying to make friends and acclimate himself as the new kid at school.
Since Lewis’ uncle is portrayed by the slyly irreverent, irrepressible Jack Black of School of Rock, one could alternately title this flick School of Magic. I always enjoy Black’s zany, energetic persona and performances, and even though he’s pushing 50 now I still got a kick out of his wacky zest for life. Two-time Oscar winner Blanchett is an excellent actress, but is wasted here in the cookie cutter kooky cutesy role as Mrs. Zimmerman, who frequently trades insults with Jonathan in what’s supposed to be witty banter. Alas, Walls is no Blue Jasmine, which offered this gifted Aussie thesp a role more worthy of her expansive talents.
The character of Lewis Barnavelt appears in about a dozen novels by Bellairs and others, so like Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter film franchise, Vaccaro seems off to a promising start on his career path. Although set back in 1955, just as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to stir, Walls also perpetuates a screen trend currently glimpsed in TV commercials, series, etc., of interracial relationships. At his new school Lewis befriends Rose Rita Pottinger, portrayed by the nonwhite actress Vanessa Anne Williams.
Recommended for You
There is an interracial married couple in the movie, too, played by Twin Peaks and Sex in the City veteran Kyle MacLachlan and Renee Elise Goldsberry, a Tony Award winner for Hamilton. I won’t disclose their characters’ names because this would be a plot spoiler. However, miscegenation and integration aside, the fact that the only Black adult in the movie is a villainess may be troubling and eyebrow-raising for some.
Colleen Camp, who played a Playboy Playmate visiting the troops way down yonder in Vietnam in 1979’s Apocalypse Now plays the frumpy next door neighbor Mrs. Hanchett, a scold annoyed at Jonathan’s eccentricities, such as saxophone playing at 3:00 a.m.
As a student of cinema, observing the technical wizardry of the special FX, the Dolby Digital, IMAX 6-Track in Eli Roth’s often eye-popping concoction was intriguing to behold. The titular timepiece in The House with a Clock in Its Walls represents something truly terrifying: The passage of time all beings must eventually succumb to. But this film franchise, with Owen Vaccaro at the prow, may be around for years to come - at least until its child star grows up. For time waits for no man - or boy.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls opens Sept. 21.
L.A.-based critic Ed Rampell is co-author/author of four movie film history books, including “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” (see: https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/ ). At 7:00 p.m., Sept. 27 Rampell is co-presenting a screening of Neruda and a poetry reading to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Pinochet coup in Chile at the L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019.