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Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: banned in Decatur* Today, my wife, my home-from-college son and I went to a movie. A Series of Unfortunate Events. Neither by son nor I were familiar with the books the movie is based on by "Lemony Snicket" (Daniel Handler). My wife's an elementary/jr hi librarian, though, and has read/reviewed the books. I went primarily just to go to the flick with her. Our son? Well, he's a good guy. :-) I have to tell you, though, we all loved the flick. Of the movies I've seen i n the last year—in theaters and on video—I'd rank it easily in the top 5. Surprised me. Imagine, if you would, a kind of Gothic "Boxcar Children" (and if you don't know who the Boxcar Children were, shame on you. Look them up and read. :-) First, the good. The children. As I said, I haven't read the books, but I cannot imagine better casting of the children. (My wife agrees, and you'll recall she has read at least some of the books). Each of them were gems, and the twins who played the youngest child, Sunny, actually had me believing the subtitles that appeared over their baby talk. The staging, direction, sets, costumes: all were wonderful. And the rest of the casting? With one small exception, among the primary and secondary players, unbelievably great. Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep were particularly delicious in their respective roles. The only exception to great casting in the primary and secondary roles was Cedric the Entertainer as the detective. Completely unmemorable. Tertiary actors? Competent. (And a cameo by Dustin Hoffman was slightly fun.) Oh, and casting Jude Law as Lemony Snickett narrating the tale? Not as bad as I had feared. At least he was barely seen (and then not readily recognizable), and his voice was only an occasional distraction. The bad? Well the plot, like the Harry Potter books and movies, was utterly predictable. It just goes with the genre. Kids books, no matter how they attempt to be surprising, are almost never anything but predictable and formulaic. No matter. When you relate to the story within its own genre, the predictability disappears as a problem. An underlyinmg theme is a problem, and I might most succinctly deal with it by contrasting it with an underlying theme found in a situationally similar set of books already referred to. The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner featured a destitute family of orphaned children who set up household on their own in an abandoned boxcar. The underlying theme was one of overcoming great difficulty (similarly to "Lemony Snickett's" Baudelaire children), but often with the (usually) anonymous help of adults who admired their "pluck" and self-sufficiency. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, without exception, all the adults are stupid, dense, fearful, incompetent or evil. Some are well-intentioned, but the well-intentioned adults are all stupid, dense, fearful or incompetent—and all of them pay not one bit of attention to the children, who are all brighter and more competent than they. It's this silly Rouseau-ian view of children and adults that, of course,appeals strongly to kids, but which does nothing to aid in encouraging kids (or adults!) to mature. The really bad? On this, the third day of its release, there was only a house of 17 viewing. Counting us. Not good. That aside, great flick. Oh, the ugly? Jim Carrey, of course. Finally a role he seems made for: the evil, though thoroughly incompetent, Count Olaf. Carrey is type cast as a sock puppet of evil incarnate, and he carries the role as only a sock puppet of evil incarnate could. Of course, that his perfect role is as the paper cutout of an evil villain in a series of children's books pretty much says it all about this sock puppet of an "actor". I could wax prolix about the title graphics, the music, etc.(all terrific), but why not just go see it yourself? *OK, it's the Lemony Snicket books that've been banned in Decatur, Georgia.