Review: The House with a Clock in its Walls

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The House with a Clock in its Walls.

The award for worst name of a movie this year goes to… Well, probably The Meg. But The House with a Clock in its Walls is a close second.

The Gist.

10-year-old orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro, Daddy’s Home) moves in with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), whose home holds a deadly secret. It turns out Jonathan is a warlock (or “a boy witch”) and he begins teaching Lewis how to use magic as well. Their neighbor Florence (Cate Blanchett) also uses magic, so the three of them must use their skills to stop a dangerous enemy from resurfacing.

The movie is surprisingly directed by Eli Roth, known for directing the Hostel films and other horror films like Cabin Fever.

What works?

This movie is much better than the trailers would lead you to believe. This felt like an average Goosebumps type of story where the kid must save the day. And yes, that’s true here, but the movie also manages to do some things really uniquely, though it may throw you for a loop.

This movie, with Roth behind the camera, is actually pretty scary (though admittedly my tolerance for frights is very low). This felt like an homage to Crimson Peak in how it tried to deliver gothic horror, though it was through the eyes of a child. There are images that would be quite frightening for a child, I imagine. While it may be unexpected, it at least gives this movie some personality beyond its cliche story, which also manages to deliver a few dark and somewhat disturbing plot points.

If this makes the movie sound more interesting to you, this might be up your alley. But be warned, it tries to do both things. It’s gothic and dark and surprisingly morbid, but then there is a story of a young quirky boy and plenty of fart jokes courtesy of Jack Black. It’s an interesting marriage of genres but I feel like it’s a narrow scope of audiences that would relish in both worlds.

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What doesn’t work?

Often times my “what works” section doesn’t work for everybody, so I have to repeat myself here. If you’re not interested in darker subject matters, this movie likely might be too much for you. I’d also caution anyone who wants to bring kids, this movie might be too scary or too adult. Not to spoil too much, but our lead child actor does a blood ritual at one point in the movie, which is way darker than anything I expected.

Tonally the movie also misses in the comedy arena too. Most jokes fall flat, obviously aimed at young audiences. Fart and poop jokes are everywhere, very much at odds with the darker tone.

It also doesn’t do anything too unique with Jack Black or Cate Blanchett. It hints at deeper stories that the book could’ve gone into, but the movie is relatively shallow and both actors stay firmly in their comfort zones. And relative newcomer Owen Vaccaro doesn’t really have the spark to make him stand out.

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Overall…

Like my last review of A Simple Favor, this movie also tried to balance two things and missed doing both. It tried to be a family friendly adventure, though was darker than most kids might appreciate. It then tried to make them laugh with jokes that almost always missed the mark. It’s an interesting movie and some of you may appreciate what it’s trying to do, but I can’t confidently recommend it unless all of the cons for this movie sounded like non-issues for you.

2

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Review: A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor.

It’s going to be hard to beat Searching when it comes to the “someone goes missing and isn’t quite what you thought they were” genre. But A Simple Favor is going to try, leaning in to the melodrama courtesy of director Paul Feig, who has only really brought us comedies before, such as Bridesmaids, Spy, and the 2016 Ghostbusters. Will he be able to do a serious mystery?

The gist.

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a single mom and widow, who volunteers for every school event and hosts a vlog about cooking and DIY home improvements. She meets the mysterious Emily (Blake Lively), another mom who makes dark jokes and hints at her dissatisfaction with life. Emily appears to have it all, though, including the novelist husband (Henry Golding). Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school and disappears one day, triggering an investigation into her whereabouts, where everyone is a suspect.

What works?

All of our leads do a serviceable job here, mostly carried by Anna Kendrick. While she relies on her usual antics for most of the movie, we do get some more serious moments from her and it’s nice to see that.

This movie is really for people that want melodrama. This is a two-hour soap opera plot, full of dark secrets and twist reveals. It’s not for those of you that want a realistic mystery or people that want a slow series of clues that you can follow and figure out the mystery on your own. This is a nonsensical thrillride, where the twists could not be predicted from the series of breadcrumbs left for the audience. If you love that sort of stuff, you’ll likely have a great time at A Simple Favor.

What doesn’t work?

For me, the melodrama didn’t hit. I have to compare this to Searching, a movie which felt authentic and suspenseful and every twist was earned. Here, the twists felt like they existed to purposely confuse you. In the climax, I was confused by so many twists and turns and betrayals that I lost track of what was actually happening and who I was supposed to be rooting for. It felt like it was written with the sole purpose of being hard to predict.

With this comes some ridiculous plot points that ultimately go nowhere. There’s an entire subplot about Anna Kendrick’s dark past that ultimately has nothing to do with anything, which can be frustrating as you’re trying to connect all the dots.

I also struggled with the tone of the movie. Blake Lively and Henry Golding are starring in this dark mystery about murder and suspense and everything is dark and intense. And then Anna Kendrick stars in this movie where she’s a quirky mom with a YouTube channel. We even have a trio of other parents that show up regularly to give us jokes and make us laugh. This is fine until this humor gets in the way, especially in the climax. In the big finale, a few jokes ruin the intense final moments. This movie wanted to be two things but failed at both.

Overall…

If you want a crazy unpredictable story, this might do it for you. If you want a thrilling mystery with a satisfying conclusion, go see Searching (my review here). This movie tries to be a deep mystery but also tries to be a comedy, blending both in a way that doesn’t make it either and this muddled movie ends up being really dissatisfying. For some of you though, you’ll love this… but I think even you’ll agree that this is not a good movie per se, but a fun one if you relish in the absurd.

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Review: The Predator (2018)

The Predator.

The original Predator is a classic and one of my personal favorite monster films. The sequels have been a little iffy though, including the two Aliens vs. Predator movies. This most recent sequel has a lot of ground to make up for, so does it manage to make an impact?

The gist.

Military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is on a mission when suddenly an alien ship crashes to Earth. The alien is injured but McKenna takes a few souvenirs to prove that it’s real, before he gets hauled away to be questioned. The alien is being investigated by a science team (including Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, and Jake Busey). Of course, things go sideways and the Predator escapes and is trying to track down his lost gear, now in the hands of McKenna’s son (Jacob Tremblay). McKenna teams up with a bus full of veterans to fight the Predator, including Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Augusto Aguilera, and Thomas Jane. But then a bigger and even badder Predator arrives on the scene, for some reason hunting the first one that landed. Our humans are caught in the crossfire of this battle and must figure out what these aliens want.

This film is directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys). Black himself also starred in the original 1987 Predator film, so that’s an interesting little bit of trivia.

What works?

This is a fun movie. It’s fun to watch, with all the action and explosions, but you can also tell that the cast had a blast making it. Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane carry most of the humor here, delivering laughs with almost every line. This is a comedy with the occasional horrific death. This is unlike the past Predator films, so fans of the franchise might feel a little uneasy about the shift in tone.

Everyone delivers decent performances, with what they’re given. Boyd Holbrook is the next Sam Worthington, able to get a few lead parts but lacks the chemistry to really be the next A-lister. The standouts are our supporting characters, who are all a little bit messed up, but at least interesting to watch.

What doesn’t work?

Now, this is going to look like a long list but “the movie is fun” might trump a lot of these factors for you.

The story on paper for this movie is a little nonsensical. The first Predator film was amazing because one alien was such a threat that it was able to take down an entire squadron of trained soldiers. Here, our humans are just bystanders. And this Super Predator that gets introduced gave me a similar feeling as what happened in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. To make a sequel, they just created a new version of the Predator. Let’s make it bigger, stronger, scarier. That model isn’t sustainable. A simple classic Predator is still enough to carry a movie but they chose not to go that route. Because of this, we get an entirely computer-generated big bad guy that doesn’t look or feel especially threatening.

So they failed in creating a solid enemy here. They also failed by forcing the idea of sequels, which also reminded me of the Independence Day sequel, which felt almost entirely as a stepping stone to more movies. The final scene in The Predator is silly and stupid and feels unlike everything this franchise stands for.

This movie begins in some really interesting ways and I was onboard for awhile. The cast was interesting and the idea of one lone Predator trying to recoup its lost gear made total sense. The movie then quickly spiraled out of control.

I also was not a big fan of the editing on display here. Very few Predator kills are satisfying, with quick cut edits and blurry camerawork. There’s so many no-name soldiers to kill that these moments stack up but feel generic. I also can’t tell you how most of the named characters die, their deaths were forgettable or crammed into an action sequence so that you almost miss them completely.

Overall…

This is not a great movie. Its story veers even further from what made the original Predator films great and the gruesome kills that you’ve come to expect are uneventful and ruined by quick edits. However, this is a fun movie. If you want to laugh and you’re not too invested in the lore of the Predator films, this is a fun popcorn movie that you can just sit back and enjoy.

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Review: Peppermint

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Peppermint.

Jennifer Garner got her first break in the action drama Alias so it’s nice to see her returning to her badass roots. This rated-R bloodbath is quite different than her other recent outings, so does it succeed?

The gist.

Riley North (Jennifer Garner) was spending a nice night out with her husband and daughter when a car drove by, gang members pulling out guns and killing them both, injuring Riley as well. She disappears for 5 years and returns with both the skills and motivation to kill everyone involved in her family’s murder. This goes all the way from the actual men that did it, all the way up to the leader of the gang (Juan Pablo Raba), with hundreds of people in between. The police and FBI get involved but seem to always be a step behind (John Gallagher Jr and Annie Ilonzeh).

The movie is directed by Pierre Morel, known mostly for directing Taken and From Paris with Love.

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What works?

It’s great to have Jennifer Garner back in this role and she sells it absolutely. You can tell she worked hard to physically prepare for this movie, she looks jacked. Her journey to get this revenge is thrilling, mostly due to her convincing portrayal. She sells it on an emotional level, that you absolutely believe a woman can be driven to this, but she also convinces you that she’s capable of killing almost triple digits of unnamed gang members.

The action is usually pretty great, though maybe a bit choppy. It’s incredibly graphic but it’s in a rewarding context, as she gets closer and closer to her goal. The action sequences are probably the highlight of this film.

I also found the story here simultaneously simple and yet there’s a few moments that had me audibly gasp or shriek. Some of the action is so visceral that you can’t help but yelp out loud in empathic pain.

What doesn’t work?

This whole movie feels like it’s from another time and I can’t tell if it’s intentional. The soundtrack is something you’d see on the rack next to Nickelback or Breaking Benjamin. The smash cuts and stylistic edits reminded me of cheesy action flicks like Crank. If Jennifer Garner wasn’t the star, this would be straight to DVD.

It’s also sometimes unintentionally funny, to go along with its corny nature. Actions aren’t always motivated and dialogue isn’t always realistic. On more than one occasion, the crowd chuckled but there was no intentional joke.

Those are my only real complaints but they add up. The cheesy and dated style of the film docks the film a few ratings.

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Overall…

In 2000, this movie would’ve been killer, right up there with The Fast and the Furious and other kind of cheesy action moviesUnfortunately, this movie feels dated now. It’s got killer action and Jennifer Garner really delivers, but the entire movie is dragged down by stylistic choices that are often really confusing. If you can see through that constant factor, you’ll find something really fun here.

3

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Review: Kin (2018)

kin headeradam reviewKin.

I didn’t really have high hopes going into Kin. It’s based on a short film made by the co-directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, who garnered the attention of some big financiers and were able to recreate it as a full-length movie. It’s a bit under the radar, so I wanted to do you a favor and let you know if this was a secret you needed to know about.

The gist.

We follow Eli (Myles Truitt), a young boy in Detroit. He’s looking through abandoned buildings for scrap when he discovers the aftermath of an alien battle and he finds a gun that he’s able to use. He returns home to his adopted father (Dennis Quaid) and ex-con brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor). His brother owes money to a local scumbag (James Franco) and an adventure ensues that leads Jimmy and Eli across the country, pursued by humans and aliens alike. They encounter a stripper with a heart of gold (Zoe Kravitz) along the way.

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What works?

For being a relatively low-budget film, the special effects are pretty great. This alien gun has a few ways to fire and each one is pretty spectacular. There are a variety of alien weapons and devices that we get to see used and they’re across the board awesome.

The acting is also to a much higher caliber than I expected. Newcomer Myles Truitt is hopefully here to stay, he does a great job, mostly when he’s paired against other heavy hitters here like Dennis Quaid and Jack Reynor. There’s also a cameo in the climax that shocked me, though when the credits roll, you’ll see their name first as an Executive Producer, so this person was likely one of the causes for this film getting made.

What doesn’t work?

Somehow this movie fails to capitalize on its cool effects and reliable cast, turning this potential adventure into a slow sludge of dialogue. I don’t mind dialogue, but this movie was maybe mismarketed as an action film. In reality, the action is pretty thin until the climax. Unfortunately you’ll likely check out mentally long before this. It’s slow and rather uneventful. Some characters feel unnecessary (looking at you Zoe Kravitz) and the movie ultimately fails to really make much happen. Maybe a short film was a better route, instead of stretching to full-length.

In a movie about aliens trying to recapture an alien weapon, this a major disappointment. I appreciate the brother dynamics and there’s some interesting emotional moments, but 99% of you will go into this theater expecting action. The climax is great and we finally get some cool moments, but the long stretch before that will likely put you to sleep.

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Overall…

This movie is unfortunately not what was marketed and will likely be a disappointment to most of you. It has a solid cast, which is why we get some great emotional moments, but the buildup of this alien weapon is a slow burn. Our climax is great and the effects are pretty incredible, but you’ll sit through an hour of dialogue while our characters road trip across the country first. I don’t know if the destination is worth that sort of wait.

2

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Review: Searching

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Searching.

When I first saw the trailer for Searching, I was super intrigued. It’s shot entirely through computers, laptops, phones, etc. So everything we see on-screen is either a FaceTime call or a news report or someone typing and browsing the net. I was hopeful that this would be more than just a gimmick. Did it succeed?

The gist.

We follow David Kim (John Cho), a widower and father who loses contact with his daughter Margot (Michelle La) one night after a study group. It begins simple, as he tries to connect with her friends to figure out where she is, but it slowly becomes something else, as he discovers that she’s lying to him and is up to something potentially dangerous. Eventually, a detective is assigned to his case (Debra Messing) to help figure out the truth.

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What works?

Searching works in a lot of ways. As an experimental film, told entirely through new media and all the cameras we have in our lives, it totally works. It doesn’t alienate the viewer because most viewers live their lives through this medium already. It doesn’t feel jarring to have a window open for eight different things and to be receiving calls and getting notifications. It feels authentic, though some things are obviously changed for the sake of the movie (like the amount of time that our lead has his FaceTime window open even when he’s not calling anyone). It’s clever and manages to create an amazing amount of suspense. There’s no other film like it.

This would have been considered a gimmick if the rest of the movie was subpar. Luckily, that’s not the case. John Cho delivers an incredible performance, as the movie is 90% him looking at the computer screen. Relative newcomer Michelle La also delivers a great performance, subtle but incredibly effective in her brief moments on-screen.

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The actual story we watch unfold here is also pretty amazing. My experience throughout was similar to the roller coaster of watching Gone Girl. It doesn’t hit the same beats obviously but it’s the roller coaster of WHAT IS HAPPENING? over and over again. This movie does an incredible job of taking you on this suspenseful journey and yet still delivering a satisfying ending that almost demands a second viewing.

I have to say it again. There’s nothing else like this. It’s immersive, it feels like we’re the ones with our hands on the keyboard. We learn info at the exact same time as our leads. It’s a journey that has to be experienced and I’d recommend this film to almost all viewers, this should please a majority of you.

What doesn’t work?

The only people who may not enjoy this film… If you have difficulty reading text on the screen, this movie is not ideal, since so much info is given to you via text messages and search engines. If you’re also not tech savvy, there may be references to apps that you don’t know and the movie doesn’t always explain what all these things are.

Also, you diehard detectives out there may be able to put together the pieces early and call this movie “predictable” but I found its twists and turns perfectly placed.

Overall…

Searching is unique. In a summer full of reboots and sequels, this is something new and I hope you’ll head to the theaters to reward their good work. It’s a thrilling and suspenseful story, managing to deliver an intriguing mystery and satisfying payoff. The performances are top notch, but the real star of the show is the innovative way to shoot the movie, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

5

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Review: Mile 22

Mile 22.

We follow a covert team of soldiers, off the books and off the record. This team is led on the ground by James (Mark Wahlberg) and is observed from a distance by Bishop (John Malkovich). This movie takes place in a seemingly fictional Southeast Asian country, where a local cop shows up to a US embassy with news about an impending chemical attack (played by Indonesian martial artist Iko Uwais, from The Raid series). This cop says that he’ll release the information if he is safely transported 22 miles to the airstrip and flown to America. The rest of the movie follows their dangerous 22 mile journey, where they’re an open target.

Other special forces officers include Ronda Rousey and Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead).

What works?

As a premise, this is simple enough. Travel from point A to point B and stay alive. And some of this ride is really enjoyable, including high tension car chases and fight sequences. Unfortunately the movie tries to do much and squanders what potential this plot had.

This is Lauren Cohan’s first big movie since The Walking Dead and luckily she does well here, being one of the only characters that has any sort of history or backstory. She’s also the most convincing in her portrayal.

What doesn’t work?

Now it’s not a good sign that there was so little to say in the previous section. Let’s explain why.

This movie had to do only one thing right. Make this 22 mile journey dangerous and suspenseful and give us some awesome action. The plot was simple. Yet somehow, they messed this up in a couple big ways.

The first big mistake was the action itself. When you’re given an incredible martial artist like Iko Uwais, you don’t need to resort to “shaky cam” style action. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s happening. It’s disorienting, confusing, and ultimately a disappointment. There are cool moments but it’s all surrounded by blurry and indecipherable action.

They also messed this up by trying to make this plot complicated. People show up and it takes forever to reveal who they are or what they want. There’s a big twist in the climax, really just the last few scenes, that will leave you scratching your head. It’s meant to turn this film into a franchise but I highly doubt this movie will be received well-enough to actually get those sequels.

Other little things also added up. The movie is full of poor editing, I could spot multiple times when people and objects changed locations when cameras changed. There’s also plenty of dialogue problems and poor acting decisions that really drop this movie down a few pegs.

Overall…

This movie is a bummer. On paper, it sounded really exciting, but they botched it with poorly shot action sequences and an unnecessarily complicated story, turning this into a forgettable film that you shouldn’t waste your hard-earned money on.

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