The Hippo


May 19, 2019








The House with a Clock in Its Walls

 Fahrenheit 11/9 (R)

Documentary director and gleeful troublemaker Michael Moore takes a broad look at Where We Are Now, politically speaking, in Fahrenheit 11/9.
If you know anything about Michael Moore, you already know how this movie aligns with your politics. And this movie being a visual op-ed, not an inverted-pyramid news story, Moore does engage in a fair amount of selective fact-stating. If that or Moore himself bugs you, this is not the movie for you and there is no extra “but the cinematography” reason to see it.
What is Fahrenheit 11/9 about? In short: Moore does not like Trump (whose election was called on 11/9 — Nov. 9, 2016). 
He isn’t a big fan of the Democratic party establishment either, which he feels has let down voters and grassroots activists. He doesn’t particularly like the mainstream media for the way it, for example, would rather show hours of an empty Trump podium than engage in reportage. He is worried about the erosion of democracy. He pulls together several examples of entrenched power (to include the Democratic party that isn’t supportive of upstart candidates, the West Virginia union that has to be dragged along by its membership during a statewide teacher strike, the Republican governor of Michigan and the Flint water crisis) depriving people of liberty in some form or another. I think his point is that Trump’s win is a symptom — a terrifying symptom, he argues — of that wider problem (and one that will create even more unresponsive-to-the-people big-E Establishments). 
Somewhere in Fahrenheit 11/9 is a solid old-fashioned, community journalism, point-of-view-having documentary about the Flint water crisis — its causes, how it was handled, the lasting repercussions and what is says about the Times We Live In. I feel like this was the movie that Moore, who got his start in film talking about the economy of Flint way back in 1989’s Roger & Me, really wants to make. And I personally would love to see that feisty, muckraking (in the best sense), information-dense documentary about Flint. As people have pointed out in all kinds of contexts (but the Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs podcast sticks out as one where I hear this often), specificity makes great art and here’s a place where the specific details would be interesting and appalling and have obvious wider significance.
I would also be interested in the argument Moore has sprinkled throughout his movies and TV shows: Moore’s case for unions in America. He clearly has thoughts about unions, their historical importance, their current state; I’d like to see his feisty examination of this as well. 
Fahrenheit 11/9 has a lot of Flint and some union and then a lot of other, just, stuff. Trump stuff, some stuff that could kind of be lumped together as “response to Trump” stuff, some Bernie Sanders stuff, some “still angry about George W. Bush” stuff — all of which, along with the movie’s title (positioning it as a kind of sequel to what Wikipedia says is the highest-grossing documentary of all time), feels like a bunch of glitter meant to sparkle up the more interesting but less sexy elements of the various topics he touches on. It’s like the Trump stuff is the cheese sauce trying to make the broccoli of the Flint water crisis enticing. Except I think Moore could make that broccoli pretty interesting all on its own and there are plenty of places to go for just cheese sauce. 
The “bag o’ stuff” feel made Fahrenheit 11/9 ultimately less interesting and less impact-having than I think it could have been. It also makes the movie feel a bit aimless, particularly in its final 30 minutes or so, which had a padding-for-time feel. If you’re in agreement with Moore or with some of Moore’s points and looking for an excuse to get white hot angry, Fahrenheit 11/9 obliges, providing plenty to get infuriated at. Personally, I would have preferred the broccoli. B-
Rated R for language and some disturbing material/images, according to the MPAA. Directed by Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 11/9 is two hours and five minutes long and distributed by Briarcliff Entertainment. 

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (PG)
Film Reviews by Amy


An orphaned boy discovers a world of magic in The House with a Clock in its Walls, a movie (based on a book of the same name from the 1970s) that I’m kind of surprised wasn’t made 15 years ago. 
Elementary-school-ishly aged Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) arrives in New Zebedee, Michigan, in the 1950s to live with his never-before-seen Uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) after the death of his parents. After a few nights listening to odd bumps and seeing assorted weirdness (including his dead mother, maybe or maybe not in a dream), Lewis gets Jonathan to tell him what’s up with the big weird house where he lives — possibly with Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), though character descriptions I’ve read subsequently identify her as a neighbor. (She’s, like, always there.) Florence and Jonathan do not, as she explains to Lewis, have anything kissy going on, to which Lewis, a lover of dictionaries and words, replies “platonic.” Why, exactly, Florence with her on-point purple wardrobe and her perfect ash-colored ‘do hangs around I don’t really get other than maybe that she’s a fixer and she wants to keep Lewis from accidentally destroying himself or possibly the world.
Because, as Jonathan tells Lewis, he is a warlock. Like, an OK warlock who mostly uses magic for entertainment purposes. Florence is a witch, a much more powerful witch although her powers haven’t worked quite right since a tragedy during the war. Another, more powerful warlock, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), once owned the house, which is perhaps why everything, from the chair to the lion-shaped bush in the garden, seems to be alive. It is also why Jonathan spends his nights listening and looking for a clock that Izard hid in the walls. 
The humanity-ending intent of Izard (by turning back time with the clock to prevent humans from ever being) is something Jonathan and Florence discuss with each other but don’t explain to Lewis. Perhaps had they done so he would have been less inclined to show off to the one kid paying him attention, Tarby Corrigan (Sunny Suljic), by attempting to raise Izard from the dead.
Lonely kid, dead parents, secret magical family — if this doesn’t have “Harry Potter’s coattails” written all over it…. Perhaps it’s getting made now (and by director Eli Roth, no less) rather than in the early 2000s because nobody could quite figure out how to switch this machine on. It has decent working parts — the facts of Lewis’ life, the world it builds, the 1950s early-atomic-age setting — and a cast that is completely adequate. The child actors seem suitable for their roles, MacLachlan is sufficiently creepy and Jack Black keeps the wilder elements of his Jack Blackness in check. Blanchett seems like she’s a remnant of some more A-list version of this cast, quality-wise, but she manages to be part of the ensemble, not stealing every scene and appearing to have mild fun. But this magic-based story never gets that magical charge, that bit of energy that can make a story pull together and feel believable within its own rules and human in its emotions and character interactions. Put another way, something’s missing but I’m not completely clear what. The only hint I got was that toward the end, Lewis embraces his specific kind of inner weirdness and it was one of the nicer moments. If I had to pick a kid-friendly takeaway from this movie it would be something like “be yourself and be proud of who you are” and the movie seemed to get the most energy in the moments when the story was focused on this idea.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a perfectly fine older-elementary-aged kid movie; I’m just not sure that it has enough sparkle to get those kids to sit through it. B-
Rated PG for thematic elements including some sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language, according to the MPAA. Directed by Eli Roth with a screenplay by Eric Kripke (from a novel by John Bellairs), The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios.

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