Movie review: ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’

Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, and Jack Black in a scene from “The House with a Clock in Its Walls.” Universal Pictures

The most surprising thing about "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" isn't that its cast is headed by the unlikely duo of Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. It's that director Eli Roth is at the helm.

Yup, he’s the guy who brought to cineplexes the torture-porn classics "Hostel," "Cabin Fever," and "Green Inferno" — movies that skirt the farthest reaches of the R-rating. And, there’s another thing. It's rated a mom-and-pop-and-kiddie friendly PG.

So, how was it? Think Harry Potter meets Goosebumps meets Alien. The latter was listed because Roth just could not resist scaring the kiddies to the edge of PG territory.

The story set in 1955 is centered on a young boy named Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), whose folks have recently died in a car crash. Forced to move in with his only known relative, the mysterious uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Black) in the town of New Zebedee, Michigan, Lewis seems in a constant state of fear.

Mostly it’s because he’s a word nerd. He even travels with his favorite dictionary and loves finding unusual yet entirely appropriate words to use in everyday conversation, like “indomitable.” But, because he’s so odd, exemplified by his insistence on wearing the same kind of goggles worn by his favorite TV super-hero, he ends up being snickered at behind his back and chosen last in gym class teams.

Lewis’ nervousness is exacerbated by the fact that his uncle lives in a very strange house filled with clocks and things that seem to move by themselves just out of sight. At least, some of this strangeness is offset by Uncle Jonathan’s friend, a neighbor named Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett), who has, at times, a rather tart tongue.

The film is adapted from a 1973 juvenile mystery fiction novel by John Bellairs and illustrated by the great Edward Gorey. It is the first in the series of 12 novels featuring Lewis Barnavelt.

Although Harry Potter is aforementioned, Bellairs’ Lewis precedes the Gryffindor wizard by more than 20 years. But the reason he was referenced is because Uncle Jonathan is a warlock, and there’s a lot of magic in the wind. Not a very good one, mind you. But, he has managed to somewhat impress Florence, a witch, into helping him with a mystery that has plagued them ever since the previous owners of the house passed away.

Those previous owners were the evil Isaac and Selena Izzard (Renée Elise Goldsberry and Kyle McLachlan), who were dedicated to destroying the world using a magical clock they hid in the walls of the house. So, ever since they departed mortal existence, Jonathan and Florence have been trying to find it.

So begins a fun and slightly scary thrill ride filled with special effects and a few twists the kids will like. Plus, the ending is a little open-ended so maybe there’ll be a sequel down the line.

Like I said, even though it’s rated PG, there are some elements that may be a little much for small children.

Tempo grade: B

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language.

It is screening daily starting Friday (Sept. 21) at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For showtimes, tickets and additional information, call (751-4245 or visit

Also showing in Taos:

Kusama: Infinity

MPAA rating: Not rated

Taos Community Auditorium

This documentary from director Heather Lenz explores artist Yayoi Kusama's journey from a conservative upbringing in Japan to her brush with fame in America during the 1960s (where she rivaled Andy Warhol for press attention) and concludes with the international fame she has finally achieved within the art world. Now in her 80s, Kusama has spent the last 30 years living in a mental institution in Japan. Kusama and experts discuss her life and work, from her modest beginnings in Japan to becoming an internationally renowned artist.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 23) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Sept. 24-26) at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit

Life Itself

MPAA rating: R for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres

As a young New York couple goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, the unexpected twists of their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes in Life Itself. Director and writer Dan Fogelman ("This Is Us") examines the perils and rewards of everyday life in a multi-generational saga featuring an international ensemble including Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris- Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner and Mandy Patinkin. Set in New York City and Carmona, Spain, “Life Itself” celebrates the human condition and all of its complications with humor, poignancy and love.

This film is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For showtimes, tickets and additional information, call (751-4245 or visit


MPAA rating: R for strong violence and language throughout

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres

In this film directed by Pierre Morel (“Taken”), Riley North (Jennifer Garner) awakens from a coma after surviving a brutal attack that killed her husband and daughter. When the system shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerrilla. Channeling frustration into motivation, the young widow spends years in hiding -- honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force. Eluding the underworld, the police and the FBI, Riley embarks on a deadly quest to deliver her own personal brand of punishment.

This film is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For showtimes, tickets and additional information, call (751-4245 or visit

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