“There’s A Clock In The Walls. We Don’t Know What It Does, Except… Something Horrible…”
Primarily known for being best buds with Quentin Tarantino which has helped establish a directing back catalogue which is seeped in R-rated nastiness, with Hostel and Cabin Fever being the ugliest standout releases thus far, Eli Roth returns for a second cinematic swing this year after Death Wish with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, a 12A rated adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name from American author John Bellairs which sees Owen Vaccaro’s (Daddy’s Home 2) Lewis move to Michigan in order to live with Jack Black’s (School of Rock) flamboyant uncle type, Jonathan Barnavelt, in the confines of the titular creaky, gothic inspired mansion after the sudden death of his loving parents. Mixing Spielberg-esque moments of fantasy adventure with elements of witchcraft and wizardry in the ilk of the Christopher Columbus directed entries in the Harry Potter series, Roth’s latest is a rather awkward cinematic piece, a movie which although slapped with a 12A rating seems too childish for adults but similarly too freaky for the youngest of audiences, and even with Jack Black giving his most School of Rock performance since, well, School of Rock, Eli Roth’s trip into family friendly escapism just isn’t worth shouting about.
With an opening half hour in which the audience is slowly introduced to the sparkling wonder of Jack Black’s Jonathan, a mediocre warlock blessed with magical tricks and the current incumbent of a free-spirited, spooky and clock-filled household, the opening act of the movie is fairly entertaining as the narrative balances Lewis’ discovery of not only his new residence and family, but school-time friends and foes who are eager to pick on his strange existence and penchant for wearing over-sized ski goggles. As the movie slowly shows its’ hand however, the venture into the central plot involving Kyle MacLachlan’s (Twin Peaks) aptly named Issac Izard, a evil alternative to Jack Black’s good-natured father figure, results in Roth’s movie swiftly falling into the trap of becoming yet another generic and wildly predictable fantastical ride, emphasised by a concluding set piece featuring a complete absence of threat or engagement which makes you stare at your own ticking watch as you count down the minutes before the credits finally roll. Even with the added inclusion of the always reliable Cate Blanchett as Black’s well-spoken, neighbouring witch, one bound with a reluctance to utilise her powerful abilities, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is not original enough to stand the test the time or engaging enough to be a throwaway fun ride and ultimately fails to live up to the brilliance you would expect from such a wonderfully reliable leading cast.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Welcome to Jumanji!”
Despite the fact that the Robin Williams starring, 1995 adventure romp Jumanji was somewhat dismissed by many critics when first released despite it being a somewhat successful item at the box office, the cult status and underground following of the movie since has subversively led to both a re-examination of its’ qualities by many and as per the norm of many cinematic releases in the current climate, a unwarranted sequel. Directed by comedy staple, Jake Kasdan and featuring a script co-written by Chris McKenna, whose previous credits include the likes of The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a functional if rather predictable and laborious adventure romp which utilises the star power of its’ cast to shrug off the many, many weaknesses which encompass its’ existence, and whilst many will be swept up in the wisecracking humour and electric editing pace, Kasdan’s movie is the epitome of a release which can be crammed into the genre of “not exactly my cup of tea”.
With the titular gaming sensation transforming its’ form to keep up with the popular trends of the twenty first century, our leading four youthful heroes are sucked into the jungle of Jumanji where complete control of their gaming avatars forces them to play the game and defeat the threat of Bobby Cannavale’s power hungry, insect ridden villain. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan taking over for the majority of the movie therefore, the narrative mixes the absurd nature of our heroes’ surroundings with ongoing banter style comedic quips, most of which ironically do make an appearance in the film’s trailer, and although the chemistry between the leading quartet is undeniable, the film never really progresses from its’ opening gag, resulting in endless penis and body transformation jokes which do end up becoming increasingly grating amidst one of the most self-aggrandizing performances from Johnson ever in his on-screen career. With Cannavale’s pedigree as a villain well known after his turn on Boardwalk Empire, his character is ultimately completely wasted in favour of numerous CGI-ridden action, and whilst Kasdan and the crew are obviously having a superb time, the fun only resonates for a short spate of time, and for a film which runs on for two hours, well, you can do the math.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Get Ready To Dance… With Danger!”
Where last year offered some real quality additions to the genre of animation with films such as Inside Out already solidifying itself as a Disney classic whilst The Tale of the Princess Kaguya all but continued the riveting success of Studio Ghibli, this year has only succeeded in adhering to the well-established notion that animation is on the rise with last week’s Anomalisa being yet another wonderful piece of animated-driven cinema. Rivalling the success of both Disney and Studio Ghibli is that of DreamWorks Animation, with their latest venture, Kung Fu Panda 3 being a solid, highly entertaining continuation of the highly successful series in which a wholly impressive voicing cast lead the way to a variety of laugh-out-loud set pieces in which all family members can take something away from. In terms of the film’s plot, after being reunited with his long, lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black) is required to take over the reigns of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and become the role of teacher, much to Po’s and and the Furious Five member’s bemusement. After coming under attack from the spirit warrior Kai (J.K. Simmons), Po must train under the wing of his father in order to defeat this legendary foe once and for all, training to become the teacher his master believes he can be all the way.
Of course, as with most DreamWorks Animation pictures, Kung Fu Panda is a delight to take in and admire visually, with fluorescent and vivid animation filling the screen in almost every section of the film’s incredibly family-friendly runtime. Wherein it may suitably pass the time and do wonders for the younger generation, in terms of its’ overall longevity and originality, it does seemingly go in one ear and come swiftly out the other, with the formula of the Kung Fu Panda franchise not exactly being broken to an extent that its’ third instalment could be classed as something excellent, yet for the time it is on-screen, Kung Fu Panda 3 is ridiculously enjoyable, with laughs and sniggers being constant throughout. That’s right, Kung Fu Panda is much funnier than Hail, Caesar! The kid inside me has been truly awoken. Kung Fu Panda is no mere masterpiece, but it does what it needs to and does it well. Pandas… ASSEMBLE!