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CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJack Black, Owen Vaccaro, Cate Blanchett, “The House With A Clock In Its Wall.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJack Black, Owen Vaccaro, Cate Blanchett, “The House With A Clock In Its Wall.”

Movie Review: Running out the ‘Clock’

Friday, October 5, 2018 by Paul Willistein in Focus

You’ve heard the term “clock-watcher.” It’s when an employee has his or her eye on the clock on the wall at work and his or her mind on the door. He or she is deemed a “clock-watcher.”

The clock on the wall is “in” the wall in “The House With A Clock In Its Wall” and the eyes of Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black); his nephew, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), and the uncle’s platonic friend, Florence (Cate Blanchett), are trying to watch the clock, if they could only find it. This is not from lack of trying. At one point, Lewis is punching a mantle clock, but not “the” clock.

The doomsday clock figures in a scenario sprung, pun intended, by Issac (Kyle MacLachlan), whose wife, Selena (Renée Elise Goldsberry), and he are wizards of the highest order, even more powerful that Uncle Jonathan and Florence. Lewis is a quick-learner and may give them all a run for the magic wand.

The setting is New Zebedee, Mich., in 1955, with gorgeous art direction, costuming and special effects throughout. Lewis arrives to live with Uncle Jonathan and Florence after his parents die in a car crash. Lewis idolizes Captain Midnight and wears goggles in homage to his hero. The precocious 10-year-old steps off the Greyhound bus with a suitcase full of dictionaries. Can you spell pulchritudinous, much less say it, or define it? You could look it up. I’ll save you the effort: “a person of great physical attractiveness.”. Or, how about, indubitably? Unquestionably.

“THWACIIW” (Well, that acronym doesn’t work for the film’s title.) is a mash-up of several movies and novels, as well as Disney-Universal theme parks’ attractions: “Harry Potter” movies and books (a wizard-apprentice and his mentors); The Haunted House attraction at Disney World (The “Clock” house and its production design is fascinatingly detailed.); “The Time Machine” (2002, 1960 movies based on H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel); “The Illusionist” movie (2006); “The Addams Family” movies (1991, 1993, 1998), TV series (1964-1966) and New Yorker cartoons (1938-1988), and TV’s “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” 1986-1991 (The recliner chair pet is very Chairry-like.).

It seems the producers of “The House With A Clock In Its Wall“ were going for a franchise-builder movie. They almost succeeded. However, while the special effects are voluminous and impressive, they are too much of a good thing, as is the case with many movies using computer-generated imagery. The special effects take away from rather than advancing the storyline, and are often a substitute for solid plot lines and dialogue.”The House” needs more scenes like the one where Lewis finds a Captain Midnight decoder pin in a jar of Ovaltine.

“The House,” directed by Eli Roth (“Death Wish,” 2018; “Hostel,” 2005; “Hostel II,” 2007; Cabin Fever,” 2002), is based on the 1973 young adult novel by John Bellairs.

Fans of Jack Black, who is in his usual sartorial persona, and Cate Blanchett, who is always great, may want to see “The House” for their performances.

Many scenes and characters in the movie are fun. The topiary griffin in the garden is intriguing, as are the many clocks festooning the walls, the animated stained-glass in the stairwell, and the smashing pumpkins. There are a few very effective jump-scares.

However, parents be forewarned: Some of the subject material (bodily functions, which will delight children and gross out most parents), scary characters (robotic dolls), and action scenes (the slam-dunk against the wall of a female character) may be too frightening for some age 10 and under. Quite frankly, I’m surprised the movie is rated PG. It seems as though it should be MPAA-rated PG-13.

The screenplay by Eric Kripke (TV’s “Timeless,” 2016-1018; “Supernatural,” 2005-2018; “Boogieman,” 2005), and maybe the original novel, which I have not read, never quite gets, pun intended, wound up to set in motion the Armageddon-themed plot. The flashbacks are done too quickly and add confusion rather than an amplification of the storyline. It’s just all too deus ex machina.

“The House With A Clock In Its Wall” could have been a minor classic for the Halloween season. Alas, by its conclusion, time, ahem, ran out.

“The House With A Clock In Its Wall,” MPAA rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance.” May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.) for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language; Genre: Fantasy, Comedy; Run Time: 1 hr., 45 min.; Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “The House With A Clock In Its Walls” end credits state: “No topiary griffins were harmed in the making of the film.” Cute cut-out animation of the movie’s characters, who wave “Good-bye” at the very end, are shown. Locations included Atlanta, Newnan, and Atlanta Metro Studios, Ga. The United States Imax release is preceded with a 35th anniversary re-release of a 3D remaster of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1983).

Box Office, Sept. 28: “Night School” schooled the box office, opening at No. 1, with $28 million, treading on “Smallfoot,” opening at No. 2 with $23 million, as time ran out for the No. 1 opening of “The House With A Clock In Its Walls,” dropping two places to No. 3, with $12.5 million, $44.7 million, two weeks.

4. “A Simple Favor” dropped two places, $6.6 million, $43 million, three weeks. 5. “The Nun” dropped two places, $5.4 million, $109 million, four weeks. 6. “Hell Fest,” $5 million, opening. 7. “Crazy Rich Asians” dropped two places, $4.1 million, $165.6 million, seven weeks. 8. “The Predator” dropped four places, $3.7 million, $47.6 million, three weeks. 9. “White Boy Rick” dropped three places, $2.3 million, $21.7 million, three weeks. 10. “Peppermint” dropped three places, $1.7 million, $33.5 million, four weeks.

Unreel, Oct. 5:

“A Star Is Born,” R: Bradley Cooper, in his theatrical motion picture directorial debut, directs himself, Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott in the Musical Romance Drama. A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame. A remake of 1976 (Kris Kristofferson, Barbra Streisand), 1954 (James Mason, Judy Garland) and 1937 (Frederic March, Janet Gaynor) films of the same title.

“Venom,” PG-13: Ruben Fleischer directs Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson and Jenny Slate in the Horror film. Eddie Brock merges with a symbiote, a fictional race of extraterrestrial characters in Marvel Comics.

“The Happy Prince,” R: Rupert Everett directs himself, Colin Firth, and Emily Watson in the History Drama. The last days of playwright Oscar Wilde are told from his own perspective.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes