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Tue03192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The House With a Clock in Its Walls feels like a mishmash of family-friendly Halloween tales—and it’s a messy mishmash at that. It wants to be Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket and Goosebumps all rolled up into one wacky movie. It’s all a little too much, and it falls apart in its final act.

Granted, it’s based upon a novel published in 1973, so perhaps the aforementioned tales were actually inspired by author John Bellairs. As for the cinematic punch, however, this movie adaptation definitely pulls a lot of style choices from films that came before it.

If your kids go to this one and then request permission to watch other films by the director, beware—for it is directed by Eli Roth, frequent purveyor of gross-out torture porn like Cabin Fever, Hostel and The Green Inferno. While Roth shows he can conjure enjoyable elements within the realm of a PG rating, he can’t quite wrangle the story together to deliver something that makes sense. While the film does contain some genuinely creepy stuff, many of its attempts at frights with living dolls and scary pumpkins feel recycled.

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett deliver fun performances as a warlock and semi-retired witch, but much of the film rests upon the young shoulders of Owen Vaccaro as Lewis, an orphan sent to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Black) in a creepy house. Jonathan and neighbor Mrs. Zimmermann (Blanchett) eventually start coaching the misfit Lewis in the powers of witchcraft—an offense that would get child services on their asses, even back in the ’50s, when this film is set.

Vaccaro looks like he’s a capable actor; for much of the film, he’s good and quirky. However, there are moments when he’s called upon to really emote, and some of them go way over the top. Keep in mind that Roth hasn’t worked much with kids in his career (although one must give him props for the action he got from the cool karate-kicking kid in Cabin Fever). Perhaps a director who has worked more with kids might’ve found a way to pull Vaccaro back a bit.

Black delivers a quintessential Black performance, featuring manic glee spiced with warm smiles and occasional glimpses of rage. It’s like Black performances before it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I especially liked the whistling ode to Tenacious D. Blanchett does admirable work, too, although her character is a bit underdeveloped.

Kyle MacLachlan co-stars as a magician responsible for putting a powerful clock in the walls of Jonathan’s house—a clock that could contribute to the apocalypse. MacLachlan doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and he is usually under heavy makeup, but he does well in his shots. There’s an evil underbelly involving his character (including an encounter in the woods that pushes the PG rating, because it is legitimately freaky), and it had me wishing more of the movie was about him. There’s a terrifyingly dark and intriguing movie to be made based on his character’s backstory, which is mostly glossed over.

Much of the film looks dark and under-lit. While some of the visual effects are good-looking, including animated stained glass, some of the practical effects are a little too goofy to gain true scares.

Black and company occasionally make the movie watchable, and even enjoyable. Unfortunately, things go flat in the second half, and you’ll find yourself checking the clock on your wrist more than worrying about any clock in the wall.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

As I write this, David Lynch is apparently in France, awaiting the reactions to his final episodes of Twin Peaks.

After a 26-year pause, the story of Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer continued this summer with 18 otherworldly episodes—and the series concluded in a way that was just as perplexing as that moment when Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) stared at his Evil Bob reflection in the mirror all those years ago.

Peaks fans, let’s face it: Whether or not this is the final bow for Peaks, the story will never be tied up in a neat little package, even if it does come back again. Lynch loves his puzzles—see Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway as proof—and Twin Peaks has proven to be the ultimate Lynch puzzler.

You can approach the series in so many different ways—all of them making perfect sense—or you can look the whole thing as a failure of narrative, and a script writing copout. I choose the former; in fact, I think Twin Peaks: The Return is an absolute masterpiece.

The show wrapped up with two hour-long episodes aired in succession. Dale Cooper—truly awake for the first time this season after many hours in a happy stupor—returns to Twin Peaks for a final confrontation with Bob. I won’t spoil too much, especially if you’ve yet to dive into Peaks, but the confrontation provides the closest thing to closure that Peaks fans will get.

The final hour displays the heroic intentions of Cooper, still trying to rescue Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) from an eternal, hellish existence, and that’s all I will say. Things don’t resolve in a typical, narrative faction. That’s simply not the Lynch way.

Does the final episode leave much to interpretation? Yes, but I believe most of the questions that fans have been asking can be answered in the 18-episode series, along with the now-invaluable and formerly maligned 1992 film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. (Hey, that movie sort of makes sense now!)

Does the final episode leave things open for a continuation of Peaks? Sure it does, and I hope there are more. I will always hope for more Peaks; I’m a junkie when it comes to this show.

This new cliffhanger, as opposed to the one Lynch put in play at the end of Season 2 back in 1991, is much different. Lynch was sort of toying with ABC executives back in the day, almost making it impossible for them to cancel the show—yet they did. Lynch had every intention of continuing the story, but ABC cancelled the show, and the first Peaks film was a flop—so the story went into limbo.

This time, the cliffhanger is more of a statement—that the Peaks universe is a never-ending dream/nightmare, just like the universe around all of us. Many stories don’t get a tidy resolution, and it just might be the case that Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer are eternally fucked in one universe, while having a decent time in another.

If this is the end for Twin Peaks, it’s a solid, fitting one. Thank you, David Lynch, for giving the summer a sinister, funny, puzzle of a series—the best work you have ever done.

Please make more. Or stop. It’s entirely up to you.

Published in TV

Some 26 years ago, ABC did a very, very bad thing: The network cancelled Twin Peaks after just two seasons, without telling David Lynch the season finale would be a series finale. This resulted in the most unholy of cliffhangers.

That cliffhanger that would last 26 years.

Thanks to Showtime, Twin Peaks fans finally get some relief with the return of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), the Black Lodge and Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz).

As of this writing, I’ve seen the first four hours of what will be 18, all directed and co-written by Lynch. The first two hours play like the latter-day Lynch films (Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway), and have more in common with the dark, horrific Peaks movie Fire Walk With Me than the comparatively bright original TV show.

Episodes 3 and 4 take on a funny, goofier tone at times, reminiscent of the odd humor that propelled the original series. Even with the laughs (chief among them a moment involving cell phones and a run of casino jackpots), the new Peaks is a dark and sinister place—a fascinatingly brilliant, dark and sinister place.

There’s no sense in me going too far into the plot. Those who remember the show know that it ended with Dale Cooper stuck in the Black Lodge, with his evil doppelganger released upon the Earth, possessed by Killer Bob. Well, this series provides the long-awaited answer regarding Dale Cooper’s fate. MacLachlan is afforded all kinds of opportunities to go crazy as an actor.

The Showtime show is as good as the ABC show was when Lynch was directing it. Lynch directed all the episodes we will see this year—and as a die-hard Peaks fan, I can’t believe I got to write those words just now. I’m in heaven.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Animation directors don’t get a lot of kudos. Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) is probably the best-known and most-celebrated director in the lot, and he deserves the accolades. John Lasseter gave us the first two Toy Story films, which earns him forgiveness for Cars 2.

It’s time to now sing the praises of Mr. Pete Docter, the director of Up, perhaps the greatest animated movie ever made—and now the man behind the wonderful, imaginative Inside Out. Docter (who also directed Monsters, Inc.) has an amazing knack for conveying real emotion in animation. This is a guy who had audiences crying within mere minutes during the opening of Up, and now he’s created a film that deals specifically with emotions in a hilarious and innovative way.

Inside Out is a masterpiece, not only because it looks fantastic, but also because it generates real, genuine feelings. It also has some of that blissful, bizarre insanity that made Up such a winner. There are creations in this movie that burst with genius energy.

The movie goes inside the mind of Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), a girl who is displaced from Minnesota to a small house in San Francisco with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). Inside Riley’s mind, we see her emotions, each of which is represented by a character: Amy Poehler as Joy, Bill Hader as Fear, Lewis Black as Anger, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Mindy Kaling as Disgust.

Other amazing ideas within this brilliant film’s universe: Riley’s memories take the form of little crystal balls with life occurrences playing inside them. Different islands of her mind represent family, goofiness and, her favorite sport, hockey. Finally, there’s the subconscious/dream factory, where discarded imaginary friends and creepy party clowns hide.

Along with being very funny, the film bluntly addresses the loss of memories as we grow up; how core memories can be forever tainted with sadness; and just how important sadness is to any human being. It’s all handled in a very Pixar way—which does not mean whitewashed. At times, the film is quite brutal and startling. This is what places a Pixar film a cut above the rest, including the best of the Disney animated films: There’s a level of complexity here that you won’t find in your average family film. Parents: Expect to have some big discussions with some of your more alert kids after taking them to see this one.

Poehler’s Joy is visualized as a bright blue and green pixie akin to Tinker Bell. It’s her voice that anchors this movie—this is one of the great animated film performances. Hader’s gangly and nervous Fear joins Black’s volcanic-red Anger to provide most of the film’s comedy. A sequence in which Fear gets bored watching one of Riley’s routine nightmares is big highlight.

Sadness—a roundish, blue, bespectacled orb—seems to be a threat throughout the movie, as she tries to touch and taint memories. This proves to be somewhat of a fakeout by the film’s end, when we find out her true destiny in Riley’s upbringing.

As he did with Up, Docter has put together an animated movie that impresses during every second, and surprises at every turn. His animated work has more layers than most dramatic live-action affairs. We are only halfway through the year, but I see Docter as a top candidate for year-end Best Director honors. As of right now, he’s made the year’s best movie so far.

Hold on, because Inside Out is the first of two new Pixar films this year: The Good Dinosaur is set for release at Thanksgiving. I can’t wait.

Inside Out is playing in various formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews