The House with a Clock in its Walls


The House with a Clock in its Walls  1/2 

Who knew that Newton-born Eli Roth— the twisted mind behind Hostel and R-rated trash like the recent Death Wish remake—would have a PG-rated Amblin Entertainment-branded film in him? Then again, his blood-soaked entertainments have been pretty juvenile since he debuted with 2002’s Cabin Fever, a nasty little picture that dispatched its characters with a flesh-eating virus. As such, it’s only fitting that the headliner in The House with a Clock in Its Walls is Jack Black, an actor who can sometimes make your skin crawl when he overwhelms a picture. In this film, however, he’s perfectly at home as Jonathan Barnavelt, the warlock uncle of 10-year-old orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), who takes in his nephew after the boy’s father and mother (Roth’s ex-wife, Lorenza Izzo) die. Two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett also haunts Jonathan’s old Victorian house in Michigan in her role as the purple-clad witch, Florence Zimmerman, hurling insults at her platonic pal. The year is 1955, though it may as well be 1985, given how hard Roth tries to ape the visual sensibilities of such Amblin classics as Gremlins and Back to the Future. Alas, he lacks the style or filmmaking chops of either Joe Dante or Robert Zemeckis, never quite knowing where to place his camera to best sell a gag. Still, Jon Hutman’s production design goes a long way toward enlivening this adaptation of John Bellairs’ beloved kid-lit novel from 1973, even if it lacks the perversely unsettling charm of Edward Gorey’s original illustrations. (At Assembly RowBoston Common, Fenway, Seaport, South Bay and in the suburbs.)

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