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Non-Review Review: The House With a Clock in Its Walls

There is something quite charmingly old-fashioned about The House With a Clock In Its Walls, which often feels like a nostalgic paean to the kind of children’s films that they simple do not make any longer.

Director Eli Roth might feel like a strange fit for the film, given his filmography to this point is effectively a whistle-stop tour of twenty-first century exploitation cinema; the director made his name with the Hostel films, but has also worked on movies like Cabin Fever, Knock Knock and the recent Death Wish remake. It seems strange that Eli Roth would be tapped to direct a family-friendly adaptation of a forty-five year old novel.

Stars in their eyes.

Then again, there is a long history of niche and exploitation filmmakers serving as unlikely storytellers of child-friendly narratives. Robert Rodriguez is perhaps best known for his work on Desperado or From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, but he is also responsible for the Spy Kids franchise. Older film fans will recognise George Miller for his work on the Mad Max franchise, while younger audience members will forever associate him with Happy Feet. There is a clear precedent here.

More than that, there’s perhaps a logic at play in these sorts of transitions. At its best, and perhaps given the most charitable reading, Roth’s filmography suggests the demented glee of a teenager bringing his feverish imaginings to life. There is a clear sense of nostalgia and yearning in Roth’s work, even beyond straight-up remakes like The Green Inferno. Indeed, that nostalgia seems perfectly suited to The House With a Clock In Its Walls, which is just a shade darker and weirder than a lot of modern children’s films, but in keeping with the tone of the film’s of Roth’s childhood.

Clocking in.

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The X-Files – D.P.O. (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

What is interesting about the third season of The X-Files is the way that everything seemed to click into place. After two years of figuring out how various parts of the show worked, the series was in a place where it worked like a finely-honed machine. The conspiracy episodes hit all the right boxes. The second season had demonstrated the show could do experimental or even humourous episodes. Even the standard “monster of the week” shows were delivered with more confidence and style.

While D.P.O. may not be the strongest episode of the third season, it is an example of how comfortable the show has become. It is an episode that move incredibly well, where the vast majority of the pieces click, and one which is fondly remembered by the fan base. There’s a very serious argument to be made that writer Howard Gordon was the best author of “monster of the week” scripts working on the show at this point, and D.P.O. demonstrates how well he crafts these sorts of stories.

Cooking up a storm...

Cooking up a storm…

D.P.O. also benefits from any number of elements that make it seem memorable, even if it is “business as usual” after a massive three-part conspiracy epic. The opening sequence – featuring Ring the Bells by James – is one of the first times the show has so successfully integrated music into its action, something that would become a memorable part of later shows and even Millennium. The guest cast features Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black. The episode also perfectly captures teen angst in an insightful manner.

The show was apparently drawn from an index card labelled “lightning boy”, which had been on Chris Carter’s white board since the first season. It’s very hard to imagine the show pulling off something like D.P.O. during its first season. While it might have worked towards the end of the second season, the start of the third season seems the perfect place for it.

Cloudy with a chance of angst...

Cloudy with a chance of angst…

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Non-Review Review: Bernie

Bernie is a gem. Reteaming director Richard Linklater and Jack Black, two talents re-energised by their last collaboration in School of Rock, Bernie is a black comedy based on a true story about a Texas mortician named Bernie Tiede. It’s a beautiful and darkly funny little film, one Linklater shoots in a mockumentary style just to add a touch of  the surreal. It’s a fake documentary (complete with staged reconstructions) of a real event, one of those bizarre slices of Americana. It’s never to harsh on its subject, but it also never pulls any of its punches, feeling very much like one of those stories that is so ridiculous that it must be true.

Mortifying...

Mortifying…

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Non-Review Review: Kung-Fu Panda 2

I think the original Kung-Fu Panda might be my favourite Dreamworks animated film. A lot of people go on and on and on about how that particular studio’s animation can be measured against that of their competitor Pixar, with arguments about intellectual and emotional maturity and sincerity. Some argue that the reason Pixar dominates their field is because they don’t treat animation as something just for children. Others suggest that they have a mathematical formula devised to break human hearts. Personally, the feeling I always got from Pixar films that I only fleetingly sensed in the work of Dreamworks, was that those creators were essentially making their dream movie – each and every Pixar film seems lovingly crafted according to a creative vision not based around the “rules” of the industry, but around good ideas and the kinds of stories those people like to tell (and like to hear). I think that is why the original Kung-Fu Panda worked so well, and also why Kung-Fu Panda 2 does such a great job as a follow-up.

They know kung-fu...

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Non-Review Review: Demolition Man

I love Demolition Man. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

Eye see you...

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Non-Review Review: Tropic Thunder

I make no apologies, I love this movie. Though it might not always hit the perfect notes, it maintains Ben Stiller’s pitch-perfect ability to just throw tonnes of stuff at the wall and if even 30% of the jokes hit, you’re at least grinning for the film’s runtime. He also has a fantastic cast full of the talented and the one-note, all of whom are perfectly chosen for the roles that they play within Stiller’s war comedy. Sure, the film may lose focus a bit, and it has a fairly short attention span, but this means that Stiller isn’t afraid to pull away from a gag that isn’t working.

Jungle Fever

Jungle Fever

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Non-Review Review: Kung-Fu Panda

There’s nothing like a nice relaxing movie that you can cuddle up on the couch and just enjoy. Another testament to what was a fantastic summer last year, Kung Fu Panda may not have been the best animated film of the year – that honour goes to Wall-E – but it was still a fun, enjoyable and lively romp which should leave you smiling for most of the runtime.

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting...

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting...

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