Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Worse than realtors, I fear a poor adaptation

I am so over Gawker.... I mean, sure, I still read it every day, but I'm completely in love with Defamer, now. Defamer really does a better job of mocking Tom Cruise, bless their hearts, and I'm all about that right now. They are published by the same people, though.

Anyway, on to other movie reviews. So, I saw Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events the other day. Before I go into it, I should explain that I have read several of the books in the series. Yes, I enjoy childrens' books. Yes, I am excited about the next Harry Potter book that's coming out. No, I don't care if you disapprove.

The Lemony Snicket books are written by a snarky gentleman named Dan Handler, who is, not surprisingly, pals with Dave Eggers (author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and editor for McSweeney's). His writing style and imagination have much in common with Roald Dahl, but he is very unique in his own right. Anyway. Lemony Snicket is the narrator of the tale of the Baudelaire orphans - Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. The Baudelaire parents died in a fire and subsequently, the kids, each of whom are clever and resourceful, have been shipped off to live with all sorts of bizarre and/or nasty relatives or non-relatives. Their first guardian is the sublimely evil Count Olaf, who is obsessed with getting his mits on the childrens' fortune. He does not succeed, but keeps popping up in every book with a new scheme.

Just when I think Handler might fall into a rut, he creates some new and ridiculous character - I recently read The Austere Academy (number 5 in the series, which will ultimately be comprised of 12) and was completely amused by Vice Principal Nero. Nero thinks he is the greatest violin player in the world, even though he's quite terrible and he forces the children to listen to him play every night for six hours. If you miss his nightly recital, then you must buy him a bag of candy and watch him eat it as punishment. This is funny stuff.

Indeed, the Snicket books are partially so appealing because they are not remotely patronizing to young ones. Even when the author defines his words, it is done tongue-in-cheek and meant to elicit a giggle. And while the overriding theme - that these most excellent children cannot catch a break, that they cannot seem to depend on any adult in their life, that they have experienced tremendous loss, is tempered with the comforting notion that their own wits will not fail them, and that, sniff, they can count on one another.

This is what I love about the books. And this is why I was filled with jubilation when I saw it was being turned into a film. I made Pablo, who got me into the books, promise he'd go see it with me. Alas, it wasn't in the cards, as we got the times of the movie wrong. We saw Sideways instead, and I am so happy I paid $10 to see Sideways instead of this, which I rented the other day.

First, what the movie did well. The gothic feel is absolutely dead-on and it's always a treat to see a writer's imagination so accurately converted to screen. The set design, the costuming are all perfect. Meryl Streep as super-phobic Aunt Josephine is a treat, as is Billy Connolly as reptile-loving, sweet-natured Uncle Monty. The children were middling - they looked right enough, and their bond with one another was fine. But something about them felt off - I kept getting hung-up on the fact that Klaus wasn't wearing reading glasses (pivotal in the books to later plot points)... if he had felt right in the first place, I'm not sure I would have noticed.

As for what it did wrong.... well, it irritatingly gave away major plot points from books that come much later in the series. And then there's Jim Carrey.... I should first state that I generally find Jim amusing. I'll admit I enjoy the dopey humor of Ace Ventura, even while he grows tiresome in movies like Bruce Almighty. And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorite films of the last five years or so, and I thought Jim was brilliant in it. BUT, Jim Carrey is too busy being a goofball to form an appreciation for the heinous Count Olaf. Entertainment Weekly said it best: "Carrey sells Olaf's shticky side at the expense of inhabiting the character's more deeply chilling contours. Olaf is a threat to the children, one who just won't go away; Carrey's biggest threat is that he'll never stop clowning around."

Indeed, Carrey is at his best when he is Olaf pretending to be someone else, in order to trick the orphans and their new guardians. I also agree with the EW review that Jude Law does a nice job as Snicket narrator, even while the film ends on much too upbeat of a note to be in keeping with the spirit of the books. Another review rightly pointed out that the director, Brad Silberling, (director of irritating Moonlight Mile) doesn't trust the audience to get the point of the books, and so he pats us all on the head at the end. Boo to that.

Pablo, it would enrage you, so I recommend that you skip it.


  1. Paul the Literal (which here is a word that means, "Will get supremely angry at a crappy movie."6:35 AM

    It's on my Netflix queue. I think I will go remove it now.

  2. Paul the Easterly6:36 AM

    P.S. Fix your time zone. I'm not in California.