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Review: “The House With a Clock In Its Walls” Ticks With Messy Magic

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Eli Roth’s The House With a Clock In Its Walls has a lot going on to be the type of haunted house horror perfect for the Goosebump-loving kids. It has warlock lore, a spooky house of surprises, a plucky young magician in training, and a sinister plot by a zombie to activate a magical doomsday device. And though Roth keeps his giddy gore desires in check for a PG picture, he may have toned himself down too much for a film that feels docile and messy when it has all the elements to be fantastical and exciting.

It’s a somewhat familiar staging of the underdog kid, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), being taken under the wing of a master of mysticism. Well, maybe not a master. Lewis’s uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) isn’t exactly the greatest wielder of magic given his residence of a creepy old house in 1950s Michigan. He can’t even hold an accent. What he can do is teach Lewis his ways of performing the fascinating tricks of harnessing energy, achieving floatation, and making your bed in the morning with a mere flick of the wrist. He also has a magically astute neighbor by the name of Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), a witty witch that seems to have more problems with confidence than conjuring.

There’s certainly a lot going on inside Jonathan’s house of odd wonders. There’s a mysterious clock ticking in the walls that Jonathan hasn’t found since he moved in. Many inanimate objects become living characters, including a chair that acts like a dog. The ghosts of Lewis’s dead parents haunt him at night, pushing him towards clues to their revival. A book of dark magic remains locked away, never to be spoken of or used by Lewis, too irresistible for a curious kid to resist. And there’s a sordid history within the house of an evil magician (Kyle MacLachlan) and his magical doomsday device! Oh, and there are cookies that are apparently eaten at every meal.

And yet it all ends up being a mess that struggles through some very predictable scenes to get to the next set piece. So many gears are turning that the story hardly has time for the arcs of Lewis’s school friends of the bully Tarby (Sunny Suljic) and the insect-loving girl who could end up being Lewis’s crush. It’s rather a shame that Eli Roth’s family-friendly horror picture has to stay on such a rigid track considering how well the many dozen elements do on their own. The highlight of the picture is undeniably the chemistry between Jonathan and Florence. They’re so sharp and hilarious one wonders why the two of them even need Lewis in the picture

While I don’t want to be too hard on child actors, Owen Vaccaro has a handful of scenes that simply don’t work with his delivery, namely his tearful pleas which are so overblown I had to wonder if his character was faking the sadness. Another strong actor is Kyle MacLachlan when in the form of a sinister zombie, but his voice is given a demonic twang with electronic manipulation that makes him sound more like a robot with his lesser lines. Anyone who has seen him play the vessel of Bob on Twin Peaks knows that Kyle doesn’t need a deeper voice to be intimidating.

I was very torn with The House With a Clock in its Walls as a scary kids’ fantasy that sometimes has fun and other times going through the magical apprentice motions. Kids seeking some Halloween thrills will no doubt get a kick out of the presentation, especially with the lowbrow gags of a topiary lion that can’t stop pooping. There’s some pluck and plenty of whimsy so much of it comes through a rather standard storytelling design that I almost wished Roth would break the monotony with a head explosion. He comes close in a scene where Florence starts using her wand as a shotgun to turn demonic pumpkins into piles of orange mush, but it’s still not quite enough to make the movie anything more than decent entertainment for kids seeking silly scares and a timid affair for adults seeking more.

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Izzy

Movie Magic: The De-Aging Technique of The Irishman

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Have you read Izzy yet? If so, you know that Izzy makes the apples that give the Gods their youth and immortality. It also seems Robert De Niro discovered one of Izzy’s apples too… In Martin Scorsese’s upcoming biographical film, he stars as Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a labor union leader and alleged hitman for the Bufalino crime family. The trailer for the movie, which will premieres NEXT WEEK (!), also features a “de-aged” De Niro. “We’re so used to watching them as the older faces,” Scorsese said in an interview on the A24 podcast. “Does it change the eyes at all? …If that’s the case, what was in the eyes that I liked? Was it intensity? Was it gravitas? Was it threat?…How do we get that? I don’t know.” Some might consider this magic and I for one can’t wait to see the impact of Izzy’s apples on screen for myself. 😉

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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