Reviews: 'The House with a Clock in Its Walls' and two highly-anticipated documentaries lead films, Sept. 21
Universal Pictures, 2018.

The Fall has been off to a slow start when it has come to quality movies, despite coming off of a Summer that clocked in at about 15% higher at the box office than last year. Speaking of clocks, this weekend gives us a "timely" release of a family-friendly horror-mystery just in "time" (see what we did there?) for Halloween. But it's the two documentaries seeing theatrical release this weekend that has gained most of the national buzz.

It's a weekend full of releases, with over seven films making their way into theaters. Here are our reviews of the larger films opening this weekend, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018:

 


"The House with a Clock in its Walls"

Eli Roth is not exactly known for family-friendly fare. The director of such torture porn like the "Hostel" films and "Cabin Fever" seems like an unlikely choice for a PG-rated horror-mystery, but he flexes a different muscle-set in the film adaptation of "The House with a Clock in its Walls." It's a clunky title, based on the hit novel by John Bellairs, but it's a satisfying appetizer for those craving a little pre-Halloween treat.

Young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) tragically lost his parents and is sent to live with his crazy Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) and Aunt Florence (Cate Blanchett). Upon arriving, he discovers that they live in one of the oddest homes you will ever find: There is magic abound, with paintings that move, furniture that walks, and enough clocks on the walls to think that Uncle Jon and Aunt Flo have gone totally cuckoo. But there is a method to their madness, and Lewis discovers that they are searching desperately for a clock - hidden somewhere in the walls of the house - that holds the key to stopping a world-ending threat brought on by the villainous Isaac (Kyle MacLachlan) and Selena Izard (Renee Elise Goldsberry).

Lewis is an awkward kid, who is picked last at school, even after a kid with leg braces and crutches. But he excels at witchcraft, which he eagerly learns from his eccentric Uncle. As with most stories like this, the fate of the world rests in his young hands, as the adults in this world can only do so much.

Right out of the gate, this film felt like it had the makings of a modern-day classic. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are both great, but the witty dialogue was the real surprise. There are several laugh-out-loud moments in that first 30 minutes, and the pace was perfectly timed to keep the attention of both young and older movie-goers. But somewhere in the second act, the film loses its way, and the longer that it went on, the worse things got. Still, there is enough - just barely - for kids to like here, that it is ever-so-slightly recommendable.

For a film that deals in magic, "The House with a Clock in its Walls" possesses very little of it. But Eli Roth has created a whirlwind of CG, live-action and set-design, enough to prove that he has more to offer than just hard-R-rated movies. That being said, be warned that even though this movie is rated PG, there were definitely enough scares and creepy images in it that it could have definitely earned a PG-13 rating.

Grade: B-

Rated PG.
Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy. Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renee Elise Goldsberry.
Directed by Eli Roth ("Death Wish (2018)," "Hostel, "Knock Knock," "Cabin Fever").


"Love, Gilda"

The new documentary "Love, Gilda" is a loving portrayal of Gilda Radner, the lauded comedian who rose to fame as one of the original break-out stars at Saturday Night Live, only to be taken from us way too soon.

Much like HBO's "The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling" earlier this year, the structure of "Love, Gilda" is created by the actual writings, scribblings and musings of its subject's personal diaries and notes. Many modern comedians that were influenced by Gilda - including Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Melissa McCarthy - are interviewed, as are those that were vital to her successful career - like Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase and former boyfriend Martin Short - on SNL.

While Gilda Radner is still a beloved television icon, this doc is about as straight-forward as it gets. It goes back into her humble beginnings and draws a line through her rise to fame, and her battle with ovarian cancer that led to her death at the young age of 42. We hear about her relationships all the way through the love of her life, Gene Wilder, whom she married in 1984, and we're given a few interesting tidbits about her (she was married to G.E. Smith, of G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band? Mind blown.).

What we don't get is a real understanding as to why she was so endearing, or why her presence on SNL was so vitally important. In a way, Gilda can be compared to Andy Kaufman, in the sense that you sort of "had to be there" to really understand just what made them so popular. Sure Gilda is and was funny, but so was Jane Curtain...so what makes Gilda so great and Jane just a "featured player"?

"Love, Gilda" is a touching remembrance of a unique talent that definitely had more to give. But you get sense that the film itself isn't quite as special as its subject.

Grade: B

Not Rated.
Genre: Documentary. Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes.
Directed by Lisa Dapolito (feature debut).


"Fahrenheit 11/9"

"Fahrenheit 11/9" is the spiritual sequel to Michael Moore's 2004 documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11." That film made over 222 million dollars worldwide and is still the highest-grossing documentary of all-time, by far. At the time, Moore had hoped that it would bring down the George W. Bush presidency, but despite his best efforts, Bush was re-elected anyways. Now, nearly 15 years later, nuclear war and weapons of mass-destruction seem minor in comparison to the threats that our country faces in 2018 under the "leadership" of Donald Trump. Michael Moore is mad (and scared) as hell, and he doesn't plan to take it anymore.

There is a bit of a "the sky is falling!" factor that is hard to deny when it comes to Michael Moore, where we have been hearing now from him for decades that things cannot get any worse than they currently are. It doesn't lessen or cheapen his outrage, but in some ways his films have started to just feel like "Moore being Moore." But the majority of Americans today happen to agree that we are on the cusp of irreversible damage to the very fabric of this country. What right-leaning Americans might find shocking, however, is that Donald Trump and The Republican Party are not his only targets this time around, nor are they the only ones whom he claims is responsible for much of the blame.

Does Moore take aim at the current administration? Of course he does. But he also sets his sights squarely on Democratic figure-heads like Hillary Clinton and even Barack Obama. No one is safe when it comes to Michael Moore, and there's simply no one better at setting up an argument and then proving beyond a doubt that his take is the right one.

Even with all of the political truth-bombs that Moore sprays over the landscape, "Fahrenheit 11/9" is - surprisingly? - a film that is really about the Flint water crisis. Flint is Moore's hometown, and he uses the ongoing tragedy of the Flint crisis to underpin the film's main point: That evil such as this can only be accomplished by those that are completely out-of-touch with humanity...power-hungry and opportunistic businessmen, like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who poisoned, permanently damaged and even murdered several Flint residents who were unknowingly filling their bellies with lead, all due to a "business decision" made to line the pockets of the rich. If there is anything that both parties should be able to agree on, it's that in America, children should not be poisoned for political or financial gain...right?

"Fahrenheit 11/9" is a whirl-wind, a dizzying attack on the establishment and a loud, angry but confident cry for help. As Moore points out over and over again in his film, true change has occurred throughout American history, but only with the unfaltering bravery of people that are not afraid to take action. Michael Moore is not interesting in hope. He is interested in change. And while his latest film is a bit all-over-the-place, it sort of needs to be: There is not just one problem facing this country. And Moore is not wanting incremental change, he is demanding sweeping reform. And he's not suggesting that the two sides of our country get together and compromise...he's asking us - insisting to us - that we finally fight fire with proverbial fire.

"Fahrenheit 11/9" should be required viewing for all Americans: Left, right and center. Sadly, the mere fact that his name is attached to this film means that most Republicans will probably never see it. But even preaching to the choir can result in harmony, when sung loud enough from every roof-top, and at the very least it might help to drown out the noise that has divided us. Michael Moore is attempting to equip Democrats with a megaphone, hoping that his message is not falling on deaf ears.

This isn't a drill: The sky really is falling this time.

Grade: A-

Rated R.
Genre: Documentary. Run Time: 2 hours 8 minutes.
Directed by Michael Moore ("Fahrenheit 9/11," "Sicko," "Bowling for Columbine," "Where to Invade Next").


"The Children Act"

It takes a special kind of dull to render Stanley Tucci uninteresting, but that's exactly what "The Children Act" manages to do. Sure, it features a strong turn from Emma Thompson, as a judge struggling with a complex case where a boy's life is at stake, but the film is as lifeless as they come. There is an artificiality to it, from the set pieces to the supporting characters, and unless you're a courtroom buff, you'll find that there isn't much to latch on to, in spite of Emma Thompson's performance.

Grade: C

Rated R.
Genre: Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Starring: Emma Thompson, Ben Chaplin, Stanley Tucci.
Directed by Richard Eyre ("The Other Man," "Iris").


"Lizzie"

If the real Lizzie Borden would have known that her life story would be told in such a drab, lackluster vehicle like "Lizzie," she might have just turned the axe on herself. Chloe Sevigny is absolutely superb in the title role - as is Kristen Stewart in support - but for some reason the movie takes us back way, way before Lizzie's life got interesting. Her double-murder-mystery captivated the nation, and was one of the first examples of such a tabloid story taking hold. Why that wasn't the main focus of the film, we may never know. Yes, despite a brutally raw murder sequence that will open your eyes in more ways than one, it was a bit "too little too late" for the film, because the drama had dissipated long before Lizzie gave her infamous "40 whacks." A story this sensational deserves better.

Grade: C-

Rated R.
Genre: Crime, Biography, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Starring: Chloe Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Kim Dickens.
Directed by Craig William Macneill ("The Boy").


"Blaze"

This movie (directed by Ethan Hawke) was not reviewed and opens in limited-release this weekend.



All of these movies open Friday, Sept. 21st, 2018. Check here for show times.

Movies opening next week include: "Night School" and "Smallfoot."