The past few years have seen the resurgence of the fantasy genre. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series' have captivated audiences and brought in billions at the box office, while making household names out of actors and filmmakers that either no one has ever heard of, or could hardly be considered household names. Rings helmer Peter Jackson was a name barely heard of before he took the reigns of the Rings, and Potter helmer (of the first two flicks) Chris Columbus hadn't really been heard of since Home Alone. It seems fitting that the same pattern is coming forth with another popular book series, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Emily Browning's (Violet) two biggest movies were the bombs Darkness Falls and Ghost Ship, Liam Aiken (no relation to American Idol Clay...thank God) took a back seat to Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition and director Brad Silberling's Moonlight Mile was a critical success, though hardly a box-office success. While it's true, they all take a back seat to Jim Carrey's multiple-character performance, they are all prominent enough to make a name for themselves in this hightly entertaining flick.
The movie's opening reminded me, somewhat, of The Royal Tenenbaums. The main figures in the Baudelaire family, as in the Tenenbaum family, each have their own signature. Violet (Browning) is an innovative inventor who always has a ribbon tied in her hair when she's working on something new. Klaus (Aiken) is a huge bookworm, immersing himself in his family's massive library, soaking up information on nearly every subject imaginable. Then there's the baby, Sunny, who has a penchant for fiercly biting nearly anything and whose unintelligble mumbles can be understood (via subtitles, for moviegoers) by her elder siblings. It seems that the world is their oyster, but harsh times fall upon them when their super-rich parents are killed when their house was mysteriously set ablaze. So these minors, with a fortune they cannot attain until they're 18, are thrown into the custody of their unknown Count Olaf (Carrey) who has nefarious plans for them...and their fortune. This leads us on a wonderful voyage to find a new family, and avoid their dreaded, greedy, amateur master-of-disguise Count Olaf.
There is some very nice acting here, and some performances I wasn't quite expecting here, although most of them were smaller parts. I didn't expect to see comic Cedric the Entertainer here, as a detective, as well as Dustin Hoffman, who starred in Siberling's Moonlight Mile, in this flick, although they had fairly small roles. Meryl Streep, Catherine O'Hara, Billy Connolly, Luis Guzman and Jennifer Coolidge also weren't expected here, by me at least, in this flick. Jude Law, who plays Lemony Snicket, the movie's narrator/storyteller wasn't too much of a surprise, since he's been in 5 movies this year. While all of these smaller performances were nicely done, the movie was carried, equally, by Jim Carrey and the relatively-unknown Emily Browning and Liam Aiken. The 16-year-old Browning delivers a breakthrough performance here as Violet, undeterred by the presence of Carrey. Aiken doesn't stand out quite as much, but he still delivers a very nice performance as the photographic-memory Klaus.
In the tradition of fairly-unknown writers, Robert Gordon comes through with his script for this film. He utilizes wonderful transitions, slick dialogue as well as the ability to transform 3 books into one movie. I'm not quite sure how many movies will come of this series (which is at 11 novels), but if they retain Gordon, who has a spotty resume but seems to fit well with this series, they should be in very good shape.
Director Brad Silberling has had a spotty resume as well. His Moonlight Mile was hailed hy the critics, but flopped at the box office. This movie should ensure his ability to reach a crowd, and deliver to the mainstream audience. This movie has a look reminiscent to Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton, and it works wonderfully here. He might achieve the household status of Jackson and Co., but even if he doesn't, he's crafted a fine film here.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a movie about persistance and loyalty to your family, even under extreme circumstances. This has a Burton/Gilliam sort of look to it, with some solid acting, slick writing and direction that gives us our first taste of more wonderful unfortunate events to come.