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The House With A Clock In Its Walls

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Any film that features a child learning magic draws comparisons with Harry Potter. Eli Roth’s adaptation of John Bellairs’ novel – that predates J. K. Rowling’s behemoth – stakes out its own territory with a 1950s period setting, sorcery in locations adjacent to rather than separated from the non-magic world, and a young protagonist who is more precocious than Chosen. As Lewis Barnavelt, Owen Vaccaro is an engaging lead, given the right blend of social awkwardness and forthright courage. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett offer decent support as Lewis’ Uncle Jonathan and his neighbour Florence Zimmerman. One of the film’s most enjoyable elements is the amusing banter between Jonathan and Florence, every insult laced with affection. Lewis’ growing pains at school are relatable, and there is a pleasing diversity among the performers, avoiding a whitewashed American history. Several of the set pieces are thrilling and there are laughs, the loudest involving a topiary griffin. Yet despite the promising elements, overall the film proves less than the sum of its parts. The visual style is rather flat and the different pieces fit together with heavy tocks rather than efficient ticks. Roth made his name with grisly horror, and he seems uncomfortable with family fair that wobbles unsteadily from sentimentality to grand scale danger to slapstick comedy. The House With A Clock In Its Walls makes for a half-decent visit, but spend any longer there and you may start to notice the time.

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