Movie Review ~ The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A young orphan named Lewis Barnavelt aids his magical uncle in locating a clock with the power to bring about the end of the world.

Stars: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Colleen Camp, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Vanessa Anne Williams, Lorenza Izzo, Sunny Suljic

Director: Eli Roth

Rated: PG

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I was fairly gobsmacked when I saw the name of the director of this adaptation of the 1973 novel by John Bellairs: Eli Roth . The horror director of gross films like Hostel, Cabin Fever, and The Green Inferno was known for spearheading the rise of the torture porn movement and here he was at the helm of a family friendly film.  How was this going to turn out?  The answer: surprisingly well.

Released in the fall, The House with a Clock in Its Walls was a fun little PG adventure with just enough scares to keep older kids interested but not so many that it would keep them up at night.  It’s the kind of film I would have loved to have had around when I was a pre-teen and likely would now have on VHS, DVD, and BluRay had it been released in 1987.  Stars Jack Black (Goosebumps) and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) are an odd couple pairing but work like gangbusters together.  Blanchett, especially, looks like she’s having a downright ball and that energy becomes infectious.  I don’t know what drew Roth to lock away the blood, guts, and gore he was used to playing with but he’s made the transition to family fare with ease.  Keep this one in mind next Halloween.

Movie Review ~ Grandma

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy seeks help from her acerbic grandmother, a woman who is long estranged from her daughter.

Stars: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Sam Elliott, Judy Greer, Marcia Gay Harden, Lauren Tom, Elizabeth Peña, Colleen Camp, John Cho, Nat Wolff, Laverne Cox, Sarah Burns, Judy Geeson, Mo Aboul-Zelof

Director: Paul Weitz

Rated: R

Running Length: 79 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Were it not such a competitive year in the Best Actress Oscar race, Lily Tomlin may have become the 13th EGOT.  Winning the grand slam of show business means that you’ve received an Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and Oscar and Tomlin is but an EGT at the present time. Though her performance in Grandma gives the comic actress the kind of star turn chance to shine that comes along rarely for actors/actresses of any age, I fear that it will be overshadowed by performances with more commercial appeal.

Not to say that there isn’t a place for this dark comedy or Tomlin’s performance in end of the year accolades but at a scant 79 minutes the film feels like an extended short film rather than a fully produced three act structured piece.  Writer/director Paul Weitz (Being Flynn) breaks the film into six chapters, seemingly editing around potential commercial breaks as we follow one eventful day for an acerbic septuagenarian and her teenage granddaughter.

A folksy poet still not over the death of her long-time lover a year prior, the film opens on Elle (Tomlin, Admission, another Weitz film) breaking up with her much younger onetime fan-now-girlfriend (Judy Greer, Jurassic World and every other movie in 2015) in a most hurtful way.  She’s barely showered post-breakup when her 18-year-old granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) shows up needing money to pay for an abortion.  Without the available funds to help (she’s long since decided to live off the grid, cutting up her credits cards), she instead offers to track down the money by any means necessary.

That leaves the film open to explore many routes to the same destination.  The careless baby daddy (Nat Woff, Paper Towns) is solicited for money and given a harsh lesson in respecting your elders at the same time while former friends (the late Elisabeth Peña and the overrated Laverne Cox) of Elle’s are asked to make good on debts. Finally, a trip to see a mysterious man (Sam Elliott, I’ll See You in My Dreams) from Elle’s past leads to the film’s most emotionally charged sequence.  By the time we get to meet Sage’s mom and Elle’s estranged daughter (a tightly wound Marcia Gay Harden, Fifty Shades of Grey) we’ve come along on a darkly humorous journey filled with a fair share of emotional truths.

Wearing her own clothes, driving her own car, and playing a (I think) less emotionally stagnant version of herself, Tomlin breezes through the movie with a tough charm and fragile core that belies her hardened exterior.  While her scenes with Greer lack a certain kind of chemistry, the sparks fly in her interactions with Elliott.  Elliott remains one of our great underrated actors and he’s damn good here as a man burned by Elle in the past for reasons I won’t divulge.  Garner is appropriately defiant as the teenager who knows she can’t care for a baby and Harden takes a character introduced as a sweaty harpy and manages to caress it into something deeper.

Running shorter than a visit with your own grandparents, the movie actually feels longer than it is.  That’s not always a bad thing but there are some unexpected dips in momentum that stymie what could have been a film with a bit more pep.  Still, any chance for Tomlin to get some time as a long overdue leading lady (her first leading role in 27 years!) is fine by me.  She may not make it to full EGOT status, but after great success with her Netflix show and now this, her 2015 was filled with numerous wins.

The Silver Bullet ~ Knock Knock

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Synopsis: When a devoted husband and father is left home alone for the weekend, two stranded young women unexpectedly knock on his door for help. What starts out as a kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Release Date: October 9, 2015

Thoughts: Director Eli Roth first made a splash with the campy grotesqueness of 2002’s Cabin Fever before helping to coin the term torture porn for 2005’s Hostel and it’s deplorable 2007 sequel.  Briefly jumping in front of the camera for a few films, he’s back in the director’s chair for two movies in 2015 and both look like more exercises in excess.  While the trials and tribulations of The Green Inferno are legendary in Hollywood circles, Roth took on this small thriller while he was waiting for The Green Inferno to make it through some legal woes.  Starring Roth’s wife Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas (Oscar winning actresses neither appear to be) as two vixens that terrorize family man Keanu Reeves (47 Ronin, John Wick) the trailer for Knock Knock does no one any favors…least of all audiences trying to make up their mind to see the film or not.  It looks like a loud, obnoxious film…much like most of Roth’s work up until this point.  I’m more interested in The Green Inferno with its cannibalistic storyline than this cheap-o psychosexual thriller made only as a time-killer for the director.

The Silver Bullet ~ Grandma

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Synopsis: Self-described misanthrope Elle Reid has her protective bubble burst when her 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage, shows up needing help.

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Thoughts:  It’s been a good year for Lily Tomlin.  She recently scored another Emmy nomination for her work in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie and while I felt that the Netflix show had some serious problems, Tomlin’s aging hippie helped to make the series more palatable.

Even better news is that advanced buzz on her performance in Grandma has been great…though it does creep me out that some critics have called it a “career-capping performance”…yeesh…she’s not dead yet people!  Directed by Paul Weitz (Admission, Being Flynn) and co-starring Julia Garner (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Judy Greer (Jurassic World), Sam Elliott (I’ll See You in My Dreams) and Marcia Gay Harden (Fifty Shades of Grey) this road-trip dramedy could find Tomlin attending the Oscars in addition to the Emmys.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ American Hustle

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Synopsis: The story of a con artist and his partner in crime, who were forced to work with a federal agent to turn the tables on other cons, mobsters, and politicians – namely, the volatile mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey.

Release Date:  December 25, 2013

Thoughts: David O. Russell has been very, very good to his actors that are featured in his newest film.  Christian Bale and Amy Adams both were nominated for Oscars for 2010’s The Fighter with Bale (The Dark Knight Rises) walking away with an Oscar for his searing performance.  Same goes for recent Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) who starred with Bradley Cooper (The Hangover Part III) and Robert DeNiro (Being Flynn) in the critically lauded Silver Linings Playbook.  All five actors appear in American Hustle, a 70’s set crime drama that along with November’s 80’s set The Wolf of Wall Street indicate that the holidays are going retro.  Russell is an interesting filmmaker so I’m curious to see what kind of film he can craft from this material…it certainly looks like something right up his alley.