by Laura Kyle
Brad Silberling is probably not the first director you would think of to hire for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. He's got a resume of television drama after television drama, and then one movie drama: Moonlight Mile. City of Angels and Casper are the two oddballs he's directed, but still, Unfortunate Events is a much grander fantasy than either of those. But from the looks of it -- he was as good a choice as anyone, and he's giving Tim Burton a run for his money.Right from the get-go, narrator Jude Law (Lemony Snicket) warns that his story is not one determined to end happily. And right from the get-go, the Baudelaire children discover they are orphans, their parents killed in a mysterious house fire.
"Not a pro-foster parenting PSA, but a great movie."
The setting is enjoyably grim; dark colors beautifully overwhelm every scene. Silberling's world is of tremendous character -- exaggerated structures, costumes, and landscapes; an absorbing, cynical cartoon-like perspective of an even more cynical reality.
Silberling doesn't waste too much time expositing the three children: Violet (Emily Browning), “the inventor”, Klaus (Liam Aiken, that kid from Stepmom), “the reader”, and infant Sunny, “the biter”. The two kids and their baby sister have attitude and they could run circles around the Harry Potter troop, yet they don't even have magic, just brains and a MacGyveer-esque resourcefulness.
And if Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), their new guardian, who we instantly realize is only after their inheritance, wasn't so evil (devising ways to essentially terminate the Baudelaire children), he'd be the most likeable relative of all-time, shelling out out more pop-culture jokes, impersonations, and slapstick humor than a late night variety show.
The lanky and flexible Carrey is not surprisingly distorting his face and his body, slinking throughout Unfortunate Events like a magician, but this time his performance is sure to please every viewer demographic, not just with those who are responsible for Ace Ventura's eternal run on cable -- I’ll go ahead and be bold and say Count Olaf popped up in literature just so he could be "Carreyed" to the big screen (forgive me). Carrey's Olaf is a memorable villain indeed.
Humor isn't something Unfortunate Events occasionally passes by; it's a constant force, practically guiding the brisk adventure. Despite the seemingly action-driven approach, it's the characters and the unrelenting, yet effortless comedy that really tugs Unfortunate Events along at a smooth, pleasing pace and for this originality, it secures itself as a classic, and will leave the audience wanting more (hint, hint, this was only Chapter 1).
The casting is creative, and whoever made it happen, wasn't fearful of putting big, identifiable names in weird roles that desperately need to maintain their weirdness... for example, Carrey. But also, there's Meryl Streep, who appears to be having a riot playing foster parent #2, a former risk-taker turned scaredy-cat who is now confined to her dreary home, advising the children to stay away from the refrigerator, less it falls down and flattens them. And of course she lives in a rickety house that's about to fall off into the ocean.
And the always reliable Billy Connolly (a less recognizable name, and more recognizable face) is just right as the children's second guardian, a snake-obsessed Uncle Monty.
Unfortunate Events never takes itself too seriously, consistently winking at the audience, and it never reevaluates its intention to thrill moviegoers in an utterly comical and stylish fashion.Violet and Klaus will certainly rival Harry and Hermione for the affection of little kids and adults alike, thanks to the cool delivery by Browning and Aiken. And despite Unfortunate Events’ comfort with the Bad in the World, its strong handed message about the Good makes Unfortunate Events a wise, entertaining addition to any child's video collection.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11348&reviewer=369
originally posted: 12/18/04 15:48:17