Harry Potter!
Cinema Signal:

The Cumbersome Collection:
A Series of Unfortunate Events So Far,
Books 1-11
by Lemony Snicket

. "Lemony Snicket's
A Series of Unfortunate Events"

This film lives up entirely to its title. The events are here: death of parents by fire, 3 siblings turned into victims of their closest relative, deception, escapes, disguises, greed, murder attempted and accomplished, evil genius, egomania, abduction, forced marriage and more wickedness than we could find in a barrel of snakes.

It also has the genius of a multi-disguised Jim Carrey, the narrative voice (and silhouetted presence) of a finely articulated Jude Law, and a basis in a best-selling series of books, 18 million copies of which have been sold since 1999. The movie has seamless effects, inspired inventiveness, and a serious dramatic problem. More on that below.

The Baudelaire kids are Violet (Emily Browning) who, at age 14 is the eldest; Klaus (Liam Aiken), 12; and baby sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman). Each one has a special ability. Violet is a juvenile inventor who can come up with solutions to problems that outrival the best of MacGyver. Klaus has a photographic mind for everything he reads (like 15 books on sailing) and a curiosity that's insatiable. Little Sunny, who likes to bite on things, has the jaws of a titanium clamp.

They are rich. Very rich. They live in castle-like comfort on their parents' estate. Until, that is, it mysteriously burns to the ground. The Baudelaire parents perish; the children survive only to be placed by blunder-headed beaurocrat Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) into the care of Count Olaf (Carrey), whom he considers their closest living relative. He seems to be under the impression that this means geographical proximity and the count lives just a few blocks away.

This proves to be a blunder of potentially lethal consequences for the poor orphans with a sizable fortune. Olaf makes no bones about his true intentions, which is to eradicate the trio and claim their inheritance. His methods are as obvious as his avarice, starting with trapping the kids in his locked car, on the railroad tracks, as the train is bearing down. Ever-resourceful Violet puts a few items together from what's in the car to escape oblivion.

This attempt on the kids' lives doesn't sit well with Mr. Poe, who may now be taking more seriously their misgivings about Count Olaf's true intentions. (Duh!) Poe then places his charges into the care of python-scarved Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), weird, but a far more sympathetic relation. But when this snake-loving Scotsman dies under strange circumstances, the kids go to off-the-edge Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), a paranoidal neurotic who lives in a house with a rickety foundation on the side of a vertical cliff, giving new meaning to the term, precarious. But Olaf proves to be a relentless threat, popping up under one pursuasive disguise after another, and a series of artless stratagems to grab some spoils.

Director Brad Silberling's and writer Robert Gordon's version of Daniel Handler's first three Lemony Snicket books makes so many leaps of logic and doltish character choices, they strain an adult's ability to enjoy the tale and appreciate its source. Mr. Poe's supposed ignorance of what would be evident to a moron, for example, is a simplistically caricatured and carelessly rendered device to move the story to its various episodes. On the other hand, there are touches of humor that work well, such as the onscreen translation of infant Sunny's sweet gurglings--a language unto itself.

But such rays of sunshine don't make its dark and nightmarish fantasy go away, and it might not be such a fun time for the teens and tots in the theatre. The "problem" is that the true hero of the piece, the dominating character, is the villain. With the three underage victims' requirements to be simply to courageously escape time after time, it's the ubiquitous Count Olaf who moves the drama and demands the attention. He's the 3 ton elephant in the frame, and he's a study in undiluted, flamboyant treachery. Against this guy, Scrooge is a role model.

Bill Corso's makeup and costumes by Colleen Atwood and Donna O'Neal are part of an outstanding visual package that includes the world class work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki ("The Assassination of Richard Nixon", The Cat in the Hat), and the rich and clever production design by Rick Heinrichs. But, compared to other movies with a similar literary pedigree, say "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," this fairy tale will leave some of us shaking our heads thinking that the most unfortunate of the events is the shadowy adaptation of the author's creations and the fact that we didn't leave the theatre for a happier film when narrator Snicket wickedly advises us to do in the prologue.

It's hard to imagine that a series of episodes constructed around such an undisguised demon -- even with the Carrey portfolio of rubber faces -- will amount to record-breaking support. But long lines at the boxoffice seem inevitable, made up of the legions of Snicket book fans, the lovers of Carrey schtick, and admirers of technical achievement. For all my cautions, though, I'm not predicting failure.

[To fans of the books: This is a review of the movie only. The reviewer has not read the books and therefore judges the movie in terms of what's on screen.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
This review will influence me to skip this movie. Site rating: 8

way too nightmarish for 8 y/o. i'm not letting my kids see it because of the contents.

                                                              ~~ MJS
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 7

I agree on this reviewers opinion and will recommend reading his or her reviews to others and myself. Thank you very much. Happy Holidays.

                                                              ~~ Jay

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Jim Carrey as Count Olaf
Up the creek with his family of victims.

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