The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

House with a Clock poster

Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt goes to live with his eccentric uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black). From the moment he enters his new home, however, he can tell something isn’t right… stained glass windows that rearrange themselves, an armchair that’s never where you left it, were those tentacles purple!?, and so many clocks – but not all the ticking is coming from them…

Lewis is soon learning magic from his warlock (“More than just a boy witch!”) uncle and strange neighbour (Cate Blanchett). But the ticking goes on, and Lewis’s attempts to fit in lead to some disastrous decisions.

I’ve not seen the Goosebumps movie, but kid-friendly horror starring Jack Black does sound familiar. He plays pretty much the same character he always does, but it works well with the creepy yet family-friendly vibe here – which, to be fair, is about the only level of ‘horror’ I’m okay with these days! Child star (Owen Vaccaro) manages not to be too annoying despite the character’s moments of neediness. Stand out for me (always!) is the lovely Ms Blanchett, rocking a purple wardrobe and swapping insults with Jack Black in a humorous fashion.

I’ve also not read the book this was based on, but there are many ideas here that intrigue me. The 1950s setting, the use of WWII as a catalyst for magical issues – I’d like to read more of this. The visuals are a high point of the screen version, right enough.

Director Eli Roth is not known for children-appropriate movies, being one of the drivers of the ‘torture porn’ genre. It’s an odd mix, and I think pushes the boundaries just a little in odd ways. For instance, creepy as heck puppets, and there’s a scene with a ‘baby’ that I found rather… unsettling.

My level of halloween movie, this is a decent enough younger scares kind of a flick without being particularly outstanding.

Released: 21st September 2018
Viewed: 15th September 2018
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

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The Predator (2018)

predator poster

It’s been over 30 years since Arnie first encountered the Predator in the jungle, would you believe? I’m not as huge a fan as some, but director Shane Black (who coincidentally was also the Pred’s first victim in the original!) clearly is, and this movie does a great job at following on with great nods back.

When army sniper Quinn McKenna sees an alien ship land, those in the know would rather send him to the looney bin than risk word getting out. Too late, he’s already sent some evidence home, much to the delight of his Asperger’s-suffering young son. Looking for revenge for his slaughtered team, Quinn gathers the other inmates and goes after the creature, with the help of a biologist called in to explain the strange discovery in the beast’s DNA…

This was a whole lot more fun than it had any real right to be, I think. The nostalgia vibe is strong, adding to the laughs, and it never takes itself too seriously. For daft B-movie gore, this ticks a lot of boxes. However, it does get a bit too frenetic and when the violence comes from the humans rather than the aliens then it feels a bit off at times.

I’m surprised at the number of familiar faces in the cast, too, including Thomas Jane (The Expanse), Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, Handmaid’s Tale), and Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), none of whom have particularly meaty roles but hopefully were having a lot of fun!

Also, the ‘blood splatter’ was rather effective in 4DX… o_O

Released: 12th September 2018
Viewed: 14th September 2018
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6/10

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

spy who dumped me poster

When Audrey (Mila Kunis) discovers that her ex-boyfriend (Justin Theroux) is actually a CIA spy, she and best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) are soon caught up in a deadly espionage game that leads them all over Europe and through more wacky situations than you could shake a loaded gun at. Who, if anyone, can they trust?

I went into this expecting a daft comedy and I was not disappointed. It’s not a spoof, the spy side is pretty gory and violent, but over that we have our two leads bumbling through in all sorts of humorous ways.

And… that’s about all there is to say about it, to be honest. It’s not deep or meaningful in any way. I adore Kate McKinnon and it’s great that she gets almost a co-lead billing here. I spent too much of the movie wondering where I’d seen spy Sebastian (Sam Heughan) before (he’s Jamie from Outlander, apparently).

I wasn’t rolling about laughing, and there are almost as many winces as chuckles, but actually it worked. Two ‘funs’ up 😉

Released: 22nd August 2018
Viewed: 1st September 2018
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Christopher Robin (2018)

Christopher Robin poster

Once upon a time a little boy had many adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods with his friends Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and of course Winnie the Pooh. But, all little boys have to grow up, and in a slightly heartbreaking montage (so cleverly done as the chapters of a book flicking past) of strict school lessons, and the horrors of war, then the joy of falling in love… Christopher Robin grows up.

Despite having a loving, beautiful wife (Hayley Atwell) and a smart, wonderful daughter, Christopher (Ewan McGregor) doesn’t have a particularly happy life. He’s a slave to his wholly uninspiring job as a luggage company efficiency expert, missing out on all the fun that *is* life. “You work too hard, you’re going to crack!” his wife cries. Which is one explanation when a certain talking, stuffed bear comes back into his life…

Christopher Robin (I always assumed they were both forenames, which isn’t how this film goes) is a sweet little movie, perfect for cosy, nostalgia-tastic Sunday afternoon viewing. There’s a gentle moral about appreciating what you have, and a lovely uplifting message about rediscovering the joys of childhood and life in general.

The CGI is good enough to make you forget that you’re not actually watching stuffed animals moving around, and the cast interact with them pretty well. Pooh in particular has the ‘right’ voice, although somehow I wasn’t expecting an American Eeyore – has it been that long since I saw the cartoons? I wasn’t quite sold on Ewan McGregor’s accent, but that might just be as a fellow Scot 😉

Perhaps a little fluffy for some, but I think it managed to stay on just the right side of saccharine. Overall a sweet and lovely little movie.

Released: 16th August 2018
Viewed: 24th August 2018
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7/10

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

ant man and wasp poster

Ant-Man (2015) was a bit of an oddity in the Marvel ‘MCU’ juggernaut. Following the very well-received Winter Soldier and the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy, and as we were waiting for Civil War, Marvel had a bit of a bum note with the less-than-excellent Age of Ultron. For the next release to be the new, largely unknown character of Ant-Man was something of a risk, and the film’s lighthearted tone and apparent disconnect from the rest of the series made it a little hard to love.

Looking back, however, Ant-Man is a fun movie that benefits from being rather stand-alone. The sequel picks up after the closing sting, where Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne character announces “It’s about damn time!” to her Wasp outfit – and, indeed, about damn time for a female character to be named in the title of a Marvel movie! o_O

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I think one of the reasons Ant-Man doesn’t quite work is that the story being told isn’t wholly that of the main character, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), but of the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) – certainly, as pointed out in this excellent article for writers, the protagonist is set against Pym, leaving Lang as a bit of a hanger on in his own movie. With this sequel, that dynamic doesn’t really change, and once again we get a movie where the narrative is a collection of things that sort of happen around the main character, that he gets involved with, but overall aren’t really about him.

That said, there are some really good bits here: Paul Rudd is cute and funny. Evangeline Lilly is fantastically kick-ass. The supporting cast are all excellent. The sense of humour is strong, particularly with the shrinking/expanding technology and Michael Peña’s fantastic Luis.

Overall this is a lot of fun in different bits, but never going to be all that memorable.

Released: 2nd August 2018
Viewed: 11th August 2018
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

mamma mia 2 poster

Five (movie; 10 real) years have passed since the events of Mamma Mia! It’s a year since (spoiler only if you haven’t seen the trailer!) Donna died, and Sophie has dedicated herself to her mother’s dream. As we join the run-up to the big hotel launch, we also dip back in time to see Donna’s discovery of both the island and her self – and, of course, the events that led to the big ‘who’s the father?’ mix up of the first movie.

Mamma Mia! is one of my slightly embarrassing, go-to feel-good movies. Abba’s music is wonderfully catchy, and the sense of fun the cast are having is contagious. And the gorgeous sunny location doesn’t hurt either!

I was therefore a little dubious going in to the sequel: was it going to tarnish my fun? Nope! 🙂

I still had a few mixed feelings after my first viewing. The songs are less well known, and I felt they were a lot more shoe-horned in (there are a few too many ‘performance’ scenes with the characters hitting a stage) rather than quite as organically telling the story. I also didn’t really feel the need to have Donna’s encounters with Bill, Sam, and Harry ‘justified’, almost as if there’s an apology due somewhere.

But… y’know what, I had to go back and see it again. And I did relax from the scrutinising and just bloomin’ enjoyed it! This is an utterly joyful romp of a musical movie, but also quite affecting: the message of grabbing life by the horns (so to speak) is pretty well done. There is also scope for a need for tissues: there are a few scenes that just ‘hit the feels’, probably more so because the rest of the movie is so bouncy.

Don’t think about it too much. It’s daft. It rocks. Have fun! 🙂

Released: 20th July 2018
Viewed: 24th July 2018 / 14th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

The Darkest Minds (2018)

darkest minds poster

A mysterious plague wipes out most of the juvenile population, but those who are left develop powers. Colour-coded from super-intelligent green up to deadly reds, the remaining youngsters are rounded up and put into camps – well, the greens, blues, and yellows, that is. Reds and oranges… not so much. Knowing her life is at stake, Ruby uses the power she still doesn’t understand to make everyone think she’s a green.

Six years pass (and, I mean – come on!!) and Ruby’s subterfuge can no longer go undiscovered. On the run, she meets up with other ‘rebel’ kids, seeking the promised haven where young people can live together and free.

But with bounty hunters, the army, and the mysterious League all out to get them, can the quartet – a blue, a gold, a green, and Ruby’s orange – make it to nirvana? And… what then?

I had never heard of the book this was adapted from, but while it was reasonably well made and entertaining enough, I must confess I found it all a bit of a rehash of every other YA adaptation I think I’ve seen, from Hunger Games to Maze Runner. Which isn’t an *awful* sin, but it’s not particularly exciting, either.

I thought the cast were a strong-ish point (although criminal underuse of some interesting background actors, such as Bradley Whitford and Gwendoline Christie) the premise so-so, and some of the plot holes were atrocious – if you were a fan of the book you’d fill these in with a lot of pre-knowledge, but going in cold it was just a bit clunky at times. Oh, your power has done this – but, at no point do you ever try to see if the power could undo it? I mean, just give it a go??

And big word of warning: this is the first in a trilogy. We get to a bit of a turning point by the end of the movie, but it’s clear that more is required to finish the story. Once that would have just meant ‘wait ’til next year’, but after the whole Divergent thing, I don’t suppose it’s now sure that we will get to see the next part. Meh.

Overall: it’s completely watchable, definitely going to please fans of the books/genre, but nothing stand-out for me.

Released: 10th August 2018
Viewed: 10th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10 – not that bad, but just meh