The House With A Clock
In Its Walls (** ½) PG

When you think of family films, let’s face it, Eli Roth is not the first name that comes to mind. For those who aren’t familiar with the name I’ll just say that, at least up until now, Roth made his name as the auteur behind such blood drenched gore fests of the horror genre as Hostel (and its sequel) and Cabin Fever. Earlier this year he helmed the dull remake of Death Wish, a film that was seemingly forgotten mere moments after its release.

Now, less than six months later, he’s back with a film that even goes as far as to bear the Steven Spielberg stamp of approval, in that it’s a product of Spielberg’s production company, Amblin. If nothing else, Roth should get some kind of recognition for his attempts to do a complete turnaround in such a drastic fashion. Whether or not it works is yet another story altogether.

Black, Vaccaro & Blanchett in ‘House With A Clock’

John Bellairs’ 1973 novel serves as the basis for the film The House With A Clock In Its Walls, with writer Eric Kripke doing the screenwriting adaptation honors. Roth, who normally scripts his own films, maybe should have tried his hand at the adaptation part himself because that’s where the film falters. Roth’s steady directing hand takes the film a long way and over some shaky ground on more than one occasion. Ultimately, it all proves to be too tall of a task to make something new and inventive out of story material that feels so steeped in a ‘been there done that’ vibe.

You certainly can’t fault the cast. Here you have dependable marquee talents such as Jack Black and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, giving it their all to the point that you expect to see them drenched in flop sweat at any given moment throughout the proceedings. It’s a tough task and they admittedly do give it the best shot possible.

It’s 1955. Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is a schoolboy, recently orphaned, who goes to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) and who has a neighbor, Florence (Blanchett). Lewis soon discovers that both Jonathan and Florence are well versed in the world of witchcraft; she’s a witch and he’s a warlock. Lewis duly receives his magician training from his uncle which comes in handy when he is enlisted to help put a stop to the evil plans of Jonathan’s former partner (Kyle MacLachlan) who has recently returned from the dead (yes, you read that right) and is causing all sorts of trouble. Not the least of which is a plan to reset the earth’s clock and send humanity back to the beginning of time.  The film looks great and has style to spare and all the great production design that money can buy. Somehow it never feels like there’s a beating heart underneath it all. It zips from one set piece to another with little connection to the people in the story. Style can only take you so far.

Mandy (** ½)  Not Rated

Nicholas Cage has become a bit of joke over the last ten years or so, the legend being that he doesn’t care what he signs up for just as long as he’s able to make enough money to pay for the multiple castles he owns and such. Say what you will, at least he’s not phoning in the performance in the horror revenge thriller Mandy. He screams and vents and rants and rages to the point where you wish he would dial it down just a bit. Give him an A for effort at the very least.

When you cut through the hype, Mandy is really just a standard revenge thriller that’s been gussied up with eye-popping visuals to trick sophisticated film goers into thinking that it’s something more than the entertaining trash than it is. I will readily concede that it is indeed stunning from a visual standpoint. Panos Cosmatos, whose father’s (George P.) credits, including the second Rambo film and Tombstone, directs with a nice visual flair and there’s no denying that.

Nicholas Cage in Mandy

Essentially, Mandy is just the tale of a man and woman deeply in love whose great love story comes to an end when they’re kidnapped by a drug-fueled religious cult. There’s not much more to it than that. The last forty-five minutes or so depict Cage inflicting all sorts of violent revenge on the baddies who interrupted the love story of his life, many of which probably shouldn’t be articulated here. The actor, with his face covered completely covered in blood at one point, laughs maniacally to the point where it’s hard to take the film seriously at all. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny but if it is then it’s the most gruesome joke you’re likely to see on screen this year. Mandy is available for digital download on most digital platforms.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls opens September 20 all around this area, and in Hickory.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at