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


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

Lucifer (season 1)

lucifer poster

Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society poster

Surely a contender for the most awkward title of the year award (I asked for tickets for the “Guernsey film”; a friend refers to it as the “Tatty pie film”), this adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer’s book (which I haven’t read) is rather sweeter than the titular baked goods.

That the Channel Island of Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during World War II is sometimes a forgotten part of the conflict’s history. As one character puts it, they didn’t just have to survive the war like the rest of Britain, they had to do so while living with the enemy. And a dark and terrifying time it was too, which we see in flashbacks as writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James) delves into the locals’ experiences.

Although I’m not really a fan of the kind of sweet romance that this film ultimately is, that element was very well balanced with the darkness of the war and occupation themes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really liked the bits about the main character’s writing career – I was reminded a little of a quieter version of Aunt Izzy in Life After Life. There were also similarities to Their Finest, although Juliet doesn’t seem to have many issues that you might expect for a woman in that time period.

The rest of the cast is all excellent, from Michiel Huisman (almost unrecognisable from his Game of Thrones look!) to Penelope Wilton. The aftermath of the occupation is really well explored in their different characters, from regrets to anger and fear to hope. Mainly, though, it’s about the necessity of friendships, as well as the wonder of books and words.

Not for everyone, but if it’s even half your cup of tea then this is a lovely little movie.

Released: 20th April 2018
Viewed: 24th April 2018
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

The City and the City

the city and the city poster

When an Ul Qoman resident is found dead in the neighbouring city of Beszel, Inspector Tyador Borlú is granted rare permission to enter the sister location. Sounds like a routine murder investigation, right? But Beszel and Ul Qoma aren’t ‘neighbours’, per se: they exist in the same space. Residents must ‘unsee’ streets from the wrong city, ignore events that happen in the other place.

This deeply ingrained habit of deliberate ignorance is one thing to put on to paper – the book is suitably mind-bending – but how on earth can you put in on screen? The thing that impressed me most about this adaptation was just that: the two cities look like they exist in different decades as well as different colour-palettes.

In fact, while I enjoyed but didn’t love the book (for whatever reason), the cool ideas stayed with me in a rather ambiguous way. Are the cities genuinely ‘in the same space’ (phased, perhaps?) or are they physically in the same space, so literally sharing streets – making the mental gymnastics all the more impressive? Watching the show made that a little clearer.

However, the parts that made this more interesting as a bit of fiction were not suited to the screen, I think. Unlike the fantasy genre’s vague hand waving of ‘magic’, author China Mieville presents us with a very rationally thought-out world. His fiction is rife with border control issues, and bureaucracy – not the most thrilling thing for the screen. The story itself is perhaps a little bit convoluted, as ‘unionists’ terrorists are brought into the mix, and Borlu faces more hindrance from political corners desperate to keep the status quo.

All in all it makes for a very well-considered and well-made show, but one that I think works far better for fans of the book who already ‘get’ the concepts. It looks impressive, but the story takes a lot of attention for perhaps not quite enough ‘pow’ in the final denouement.

First broadcast: April 2018
Series: 1
Episodes: 4 @ ~55 mins each

My rating: 7/10

Altered Carbon (season 1)

altered carbon poster

Imagine a future where human consciousness can be downloaded into a chip in the back of your neck, and from there sent across the infinite expanses of space as quickly as light. This ‘digital human freight’ (DHF) needs to be uploaded into a body, or ‘sleeve’, at the other end of course – if you have the money, you buy a good one. If not, you take what’s available.

Digital or not, humans are still humans – so why use the tech just for the means it was intended? After all, once you have enough money you can purchase any sleeve you want, or clone your own. Transfer your conscious into a younger version of yourself, again and again – bingo, immortality.

I loved Richard Morgan’s book when I first read it, full of such cool ideas and a great blend of sci-fi and detective noir. I had my doubts about the transfer to screen, however – could they really capture some of the concepts here?

‘Cyber-punk’ is not the easiest to bring to screen, but this is full of just enough tech and a good mystery to carry the story along. Throw in ‘what ifs’ about near-immortal longevity and what that does to social class, plus the effect of religion, and just what it means to be ‘you’ if you don’t necessarily wear the same body all the time…

However, it’s far from perfect. There’s a lot of backstory and subtlety to the inner thoughts that doesn’t transfer. I really couldn’t get behind the Kristen Ortega character/actor, finding her flat and unconvincing. Thankfully Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) comes across a little better, his blankness reflecting military training. And James Purefoy, as main protagonist Laurens Bancroft, is always good form (hah!).

Despite these flaws, I really enjoyed the series. It probably helped a LOT that I’ve got all the background from the book, but even going in blind you can find things to like. Or to dislike, I suppose: graphic violence, sex, drug use… yeah, not necessarily an easy viewing! But I’m very pleased that a second season has been announced, even if it does mean a new set of ‘sleeves’…!

First broadcast: February 2018
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~57 mins each

My rating: 8/10

The Death Cure (2018)

death cure poster

The story that began with The Maze Runner (2014) reaches its conclusion with the delayed (after an on-set accident) final part of the trilogy. Can Thomas finally escape from WCKD’s attentions? Can a cure for the deadly Flare virus be found before the whole world is turned into zombies? Can I remember much of anything about the previous movies, or in fact the books they are based on?

To be honest, I went to see this for lack of better options, and an excuse to try out the new 4DX screen at my local cinema – that’s the one where the seats throw you about, air puffs at your ears every time a bullet is shot, and the occasional weird scent is wafted at you. Hmm. Okay, it did add a certain something to the whole experience, but striping away that novelty, the film underneath was just a bit… so-so.

I was desperately unimpressed with the middle installment of the trilogy, The Scorch Trials (2015), so there was no way I was going to rewatch it for the plot reminder – although I possibly could have done with it. Still, there’s not vast amounts that you can’t pick up – Brenda must have been bitten at some point, for instance, and Minho captured. Thus we begin with a reasonably action-packed rescue scene. Get used to it: the original movie was about escape, the second all about running away from various things, and now we have the rescuing everyone repeatedly.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s not great, either, although it is an improvement on the previous film. The acting is reasonable, it’s been made well enough and has some interesting and effective visuals. Ultimately, though, I think the story underneath just isn’t as strong as it thinks it is.

Released: 26th January 2018
Viewed: 27th January 2018
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10