REVIEW: House with Clock in its Walls ticks off a good time
A FAMILY-friendly (ish) affair released just in time for the coming school holidays, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an endearingly odd mash-up of some tried-and-true elements.
What mostly comes to mind is a mildly Americanised Harry Potter adventure, and any old Goosebumps tale you can't quite recall.
The house mentioned in the title is pretty much a School of Witchcraft and Warlockery, run as a one-man operation by a kooky spell-caster named Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black).
The only student on the books is his 10-year-old orphan nephew Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), and the only other teacher on staff is next-door neighbour and no-nonsense enchantress Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett).
As for the clock in the walls, that's been planted there as a paranormal prank by Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), the former owner of the happily haunted home. This decidedly deceased gent may or may not be leaving the local graveyard to look up his old address soon.
With their good-natured bickering and hyper-eccentric behavioural tics, Black and Blanchett prove to be a double-act that repeatedly saves The House with a Clock in Its Walls from indulging in too much unnecessary scary or soppy stuff.
Though the story arguably focuses a little too closely on the trials and tribulations of Lewis at school - to the point where everything gets a bit dull - the moments where Black and Blanchett are free to cut loose are always worth sticking around for.
Sure, Black can do a role like Jonathan Barnavelt with his eyes closed. Nevertheless, he is exactly the right man for the job (a job that includes being followed around the house by a friendly couch that thinks it is a pet dog.)
As for Blanchett, well, I never thought I'd ever see her do a running handstand for no particular reason in a movie, let alone head-butt a demonically possessed Halloween pumpkin.
With the production duties being handled by Steven Spielberg's Amblin company, the special-effects work here is top notch whenever some magic feat needs to be performed, or the Barnavelt pad needs to show off another bizarre feature.
However, it should be mentioned that some fantasy sequences - particularly in the second half of the movie - may be a touch too frightening for some younger viewers.
THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS (PG)
Rating: Three stars (3 out of 5)
Director: Eli Roth (Hostel)
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan.
A magic residence in need of a good tocking too