BARE BONES: THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN IT’S WALLS (2018)

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THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN IT’S WALLS (2018)

Movie is based on the book by John Bellairs and tells of young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), whose parents have recently been killed in a car accident. He’s sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a creepy old house and soon finds out Jonathan is a warlock. Lewis also discovers that there is a clock in the walls of the house and one that may have a sinister purpose. Can Lewis, his uncle and their witch of a neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) find out the clock’s true purpose and stop it from whatever evil it’s intended for?

Film is directed with surprising restraint by Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno), who is most known for his over-the-top gore flicks, though it could have used a bit of those flicks’ bombasity. The script is by Eric Kripke based on Bellairs’ book and while the cast give it their all, there is just something lacking from the proceedings. The film is slower paced than Roth’s usual fare and never really ignites the spark needed to make the film more fun. There is plenty of magic and the supernatural on hand and some very spooky imagery, but the film lacks a strong sense of charm or wonder. It’s a decent enough watch and you can tell Black and Blanchett especially are having a good time with the material, but the movie itself never really takes off running as the popcorn entertainment it’s intended to be. Even the last act confrontation with Kyle MacLachlan’s re-animated warlock villain never reaches the excitement, or suspense, level it needs. Overall, Eli Roth shows he can direct with some restraint, but maybe it’s not that good an idea here, as the film is a bit too laid back to entertain more than just moderately.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

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THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Third solo flick for the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has his sister, Hela The God of Death (Cate Blanchett) returning from exile and claiming the throne of Asgard. She destroys Thor’s hammer and casts he and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into space, where they land on the anarchic planet of Sakaar. While Hela lays waste to Asgard’s armies, Thor is taken prisoner and forced into a gladiatorial arena where he finds his old ally Hulk is the reigning champion. Ever determined to save his world, Thor plots to escape with Hulk, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a Asgardian Valkyrie warrior (Tessa Thompson) in hiding, who has faced Hela before.

Marvel took a chance with an out of left-field choice by hiring New Zealand comedy director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) for this third entry. Armed with a script and story by Christopher Yost, Eric Pearson and Chris Kyle, Waititi delivers an audacious action/adventure that evokes The Fifth Element with it’s mix of over-the top, sci-fi action and a delightfully eccentric sense of humor. It’s tone also echos the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks, but while their humor was sarcastic and biting, here it’s very offbeat and sometimes downright weird. It makes for one of the more daring and fun entries in Marvel’s long running film series and it works far more than it doesn’t…and not all the humor hits the mark. The design of the film and it’s action sequences is stunning and it doesn’t quite look like anything we’ve seen from these movies so far, though not too different to alienate itself from the other films of the MCU. The SPFX are as good as it gets and there is a wonderfully 80s-esque electronic score from Mark Mothersbaugh. At 130 minutes it might be a tad too long, but it is never boring and when it’s not thrilling us with some spectacular action, it’s providing some solid laughs and gives us one of the stronger Marvel villain’s to boo with Blanchett’s Hela.

The cast all do wonderfully here. Chris Hemsworth shows he has a gift for comedy with a more jovial Thor. He’s still haughty and noble and a bit self-centered, but the actor also handles the comic scenes very well without weakening the God of Thunder’s heroic veneer. Hiddleston is also fun as Loki, who seems more reluctantly along for the ride this time than his usual in control, scheming self. Tessa Thompson is fiery and sexy as the Valkyrie warrior who once faced Hela and it frightened her so much she went into self-imposed exile on Sakaar’s nowhere land. There is still a noble quality hidden under the booze and bravado and it will draw her to Thor’s side despite her reluctance. Mark Ruffalo is again a delight as Banner/Hulk. The good doctor seems to have taken a backseat to his green alter ego and it’s fun to watch him deal with the fact that he’s been Hulk-ed out for over two years. Cate Blanchett is smoothly sinister as the God of Death, Hela. She is a great actress and makes her fierce and powerful, but not without a very dry and twisted sense of humor. She’s fun to watch as she chews the scenery, but she never let’s the character get too over-the-top, avoiding camp. In support we have Karl Urban as Skurge, a traitorous Asgardian who becomes Hela’s henchman, Idris Elba returning as Heimdall and Jeff Goldblum as the eccentric and flamboyant Grandmaster, who runs Sakaar’s gladiator matches. A great cast who deftly handle the offbeat tone and material.

This flick may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy movies like The Fifth Element, or even the recent Guardians movies, this is definitely up your alley. It’s got some spectacular action, some visually sumptuous settings and FX and a healthy, but very offbeat and eccentric sense of humor. Director Waititi delivers one of the more audacious entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he and lead Hemsworth keep Thor’s effective qualities sharp, while making him far funnier than we’ve ever seen him…and it works. There is a top notch cast of eclectic characters to back the God of Thunder up, including Waititi’s own hilarious vocalization of alien gladiator Korg and an appearance by another Marvel superhero, that won’t be spoiled here. A really fun and in many ways daring, entry in Marvel’s on-going movie series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 hammers.

 

 

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REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014)

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THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014)

Anyone who has read my reviews for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug know that while I enjoyed them to a good degree, I definitely had some problems with all the obvious filler added to pad a moderately sized book into 3 lengthy films. Thankfully the third and final installment of this trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary prequel to his Lord Of The Rings trilogy, not only never feels padded but, is a powerful and spectacular conclusion that ranks as one of the best of his Middle Earth films.

The story picks up where the last chapter left off with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) venting his rage on Lake Town, which leads to Thorin (Richard Armitage) reclaiming the Lonely Mountain. But, Thorin has acquired ‘The Dragon Sickness” and is becoming as greedy as it’s previous occupant and turns his back on his allies leaving the Lake Town survivors at his door begging for aid. The elves have come in force to also claim what is their’s and they join forces with Bard (Luke Evans) and his people to form an army to lay siege  to the fortress with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the 12 dwarves inside. And this plays them all right into The Defiler Azog’s (Manu Bennett) hands as the orc has assembled a massive army and now can crush dwarf, elf and human together, all at once. But, sometimes common foes can make allies out of enemies and all may not be lost as Bilbo and Gandalf (Ian McKellan) try to convince the former allies to reunite against the hordes of evil that are knocking at their door.

I loved this movie. After being a little disappointed at how much the first two flicks were padded and drawn-out to create a trilogy out of a single book, this… the shortest of the 3 films at 144 minutes… gets right to it and gives us a conclusion that is as emotionally strong as it is action packed and visually spectacular. The film never drags it’s feet, as the others did in spots, and none of the action scenes feel like they have overstayed their welcome like the second film’s fun but, overlong barrel chase. Jackson returns to the intense emotions of his Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the film has some powerful moments both triumphant and heartbreaking, heralding some of the Rings trilogy’s finest moments. Yes, this entry is that good and makes the weaknesses of the previous films all the more apparent. It’s amazing what 20 less minutes can do to trim the fat while keeping the meat. As with all these films they are technical and artistic marvels of top-of-the-line SPFX and design. This film looks as spectacular as it’s action and we get treated to some new creations not seen in previous films and go deeper into some of the places previously visited. The score by Howard Shore is his best of this trilogy and the cinematography of Andrew Lesnie captures everything not computer generated, splendidly.

One problem I never had with this series is the cast. It is obviously a considerably large and talented cast and Jackson has gotten good work out of all of them. Martin Freeman shines as Bilbo, again, though it almost seemed like Richard Armitage’s Thorin took center stage this time. Armitage skillfully takes his nobel warrior into a state of selfish greed and then reawakens the proud dwarf within when the story calls for it. McKellen is masterful, as always, as Gandalf and Luke Evans is thankfully given lots more to do here and makes far more of an impact with his Bard. Evangeline Lilly once again steals hearts and slays orcs as elven warrior Tauriel and she gets some nice emotionally strong moments and handles them quite well. Orlando Bloom brings back beloved Legolas to action and it was great seeing him in battle once more as it was to see Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm and the legendary Christopher Lee one more time in Middle Earth. The rest of the cast all do good work bringing their fantasy characters to life whether under make-up or CGI and it enhances the film even more.

What can I say, I had a great time here! Jackson delivers an epic conclusion that makes up for the indulgent enhancing of a classic tale in the first two parts and delivers spectacle and drama on the level of his LOTR trilogy that seemed to be lacking in the first two chapters of this prequel trilogy… though, The Hobbit is a less intense book to begin with. It’s got massive battles, incredible visuals, stunning special FX and some dramatic intensity to back it up. And if all else had failed… and it sure doesn’t… we get to see Evangeline Lilly’s enchanting elf one last time.

4 Elven hotties.

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