LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
When the Baudelaire children become the Baudelaire orphans after a terrible fire that burns down their family home, the trustee, Mr Poe (Timothy Spall) leaves them with Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), not realising he is a wily villain with clever disguises and outrageous schemes, who is bent on swindling the orphans out of their family fortune. So 14 year old inventor Violet (Emily Browning), her young brother, the eager reader, Klaus (Liam Aiken) and their toddler sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) the keen biter, are thrust into Count Olaf's unloving care, from whence they urgently try to escape. But Count Olaf is a determined fortune hunter (and bad actor)...When Mr Poe sees an example of his unsuitability as a guardian, he takes the orphans first to Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) and after an unfortunate event there, to Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), where another unfortunate event leaves them back where they started. With dreadful Count Olaf.
Review by Louise Keller:
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a family film totally devoid of sweetness, but relies on fanciful whimsy for its delights. Jim Carrey heads the unscrupulously talented cast as the evil Count Olaf, who is waiting to get his greedy long fingers on the family fortune of the three Baudelaire children, recently orphaned. But through the doom and gloom, the siblings are surprisingly self-sufficient, and optimistic enough to realise that 'there is always something' around the corner. Violet (Emily Browning) is a pragmatic 14 year old, who invents gadgets when trying to solve sticky situations. Her brother Klaus (Liam Aiken) is a voracious reader, and all the information he reads is immediately absorbed and ready for an occasion when he might need it. Baby Sunny (played by 2 year old twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman) is the cutest little thing, who smiles and gurgles in undecipherable baby lingo, translated much to our amusement by hilarious subtitles. Her speciality to bite things - tenaciously - often comes in handy.
Lemony Snicket is the pen name for Daniel Handler, best-selling children's writer, three of whose books The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window have been integrated into this tale. The story is told by Lemony Snicket himself (voice of Jude Law), whose profile becomes familiar as we watch his fingers tap with great precision on the keys of his ancient typewriter.
Like stories from Hans Christian Anderson, The Brothers Grimm and other fairy tales, life is not always smooth sailing for youngsters, who for generations have had to escape from scheming witches, evil giants and wicked stepmothers. As the Baudelaire children try to escape the clutches of the money-hungry, desperate Count Olaf (a rogue you will love to loathe), they encounter a string of mouth-wateringly eccentric characters. Meryl Streep looks as though she is having a riot of a time as Aunt Josephine, the jumpy widow who is terrified of everything except grammar. She lives in an unstable state in an unstable house that teeters on the edge of a cliff, waiting for a puff of wind to blow it over. There's Billy Connolly's snake collector, Timothy Spall's bumbling executor plus there are welcome appearances Catherine O'Hara, Luis Guzman, Jennifer Coolidge and Dustin Hoffman.
All the performances, including the three children, are highly enjoyable and the mix of adventure, mystery and humour works perfectly. The pragmatic optimism by Violet, Klaus and Sunny in the grave face of adversity is the shining beacon of this delightful film. The marvelous production design is reminiscent at times of something Tim Burton might have dreamed up, and all the while director Brad Silberling (Moonlight Mile) keeps our focus and hearts in Lemony Snicket's world. It may be designed for kids, but everyone in the family will warm to this wacky, wonderful Series of Unfortunate Events.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inventive ideas catapult off the screen and characters larger than life reach out to embrace the audience in a story telling hug that lasts throughout the film's running time. I doubt that there is a child between, say, 6 and 16, or between 25 and 85, who will be satisfied with a single visit to Lemony Snicket's world, as imagined by a production team that has a rightful claim to a handful of awards for their work.
From the fantastic creation of Count Olaf's chaotic, dusty, tacky house - a mirror of Count Olaf's dark and dusty soul - to the impossible cottage gripping the lakeside cliff face with spindly timber tentacles where Aunt Jospehine lives her trepidatious life, with an irrational fear of everything, even real estate agents (ok, so that's not so irrational), the film is a myriad visual delights. The retro cars (there are only two) are fitted with black cradle phones and music comes via tapes spooling in the dashboard.
Hair and make up, wardrobe and props all combine to form a unified, recognisable and invented world that is as real as the inside of our imagination - only more so. This makes it easy to slip into this world of danger and adventure, where greed and selfishness are the baddies - and they both reside within Count Olaf. Jim Carrey is barely recognisable inside the character, or under the disguises that Olaf adopts. It's a work of masterly technique and brilliant talent; he makes it look easy and natural, but making it was an eight month routine from hell, in which a daily make up session took three hours, his fingernails weren't cut and his head was constantly shaved to accommodate the elaborately wispy wigs.
Excellent support comes from the three (actually four) child actors, who provide the focus for the children in the audience, characters with whom many will associate. Australian actress Emily Browning plays the heroine, the responsible eldest child who has to provide leadership and find the courage to keep going. It's a character whose example should help young girls to identify and value their better natures.
Meryl Streep and Timothy Spall sparkle in their small but important roles, both taking things seriously enough for all the unfortunate events to matter.
The film combines nail biting tension with various kinds of humour, from the simple to the sophisticated, from the obvious to the subtle.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is so engrossing and entertaining that it's likely to lead to even more Unfortunate Events. Let's hope so.
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LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (PG)
CAST: Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Kara Hoffman, Shelby Hoffman, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly
VOICES: Jude Law
PRODUCER: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes
DIRECTOR: Brad Silberling
SCRIPT: Robert Gordon, Daniel Handler
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Emmanuel Lubezki
EDITOR: Dylan Tichenor
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Heinrichs
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 16, 2004