“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Season 1 – A Good Adaptation and What Should Have Been Done in the First Place

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     Netflix continues to create gold and we finally get the adaptation of this series we’ve been waiting for since “The End.” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket was one of my favorite books growing up. I read it through Middle School and High School and truly enjoyed how it never pretended to have a happy ending while being a brilliant satire of society and how easily it is that people are selfish or allow their flaws to overcome their better natures or ignorance. I won’t give anymore away but you truly should read the series, it is a fast read and brilliant Gothic Fiction.

      How the show does it is it breaks the books in to two episodes so I’m going to review each Book and give the final score based on how each of the individual books stood all together when their scores are measured against one another.

      This series was created by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfield. I’m surprised this came through given the flop that was the original film, but I’m grateful it did.

     The premise is the Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny are given to Count Olaf, an evil actor who wants to steal their fortune and will go to any means to do so after their parents are killed in a horrible fire.

SPOILERS ahead

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Book 1 – The Bad Beginning

  The first 2 parts feel just like the book. The dark tone is fully captured, you have the ally in the Judge played by Joan Cusack and we are introduced to Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) and his troup and Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket. The story is the darkest of the four this season except maybe “The Miserable Mill.” This is how these stories should be and solid acting on the part of the child stars who play the Baudelaires make this a solid episode as like in the book each of them have their chance to shine with Violet inventing, Klause’s knowledge saving her from having to marry Count Olaf. The only confusing bit are the bits with the Quigley Parents who early on seem to be implied to be the Baudelaire parents and nothing is done to show the audience this isn’t the case.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good. True to the book and doesn’t drag.

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Book 2 – The Reptile Room

   Aasif Mandvi is wonderful as Uncle Monty, and this is the first episode the really incorporate the Spy World in. The first story doesn’t but this one makes it relevant and gives us pieces for the Baudelaire’s to put together the mystery…be it from the connection to Peru, Monty’s spyglass and his connection to their parents. Olaf is threatening in this when he has his full squad and for the fact that he kills Uncle Monty, but sometimes the comedy is played a bit too hard and that keeps it from being a perfect episode as it makes the tone of the episode a little all over the place when Olaf and his troupe are in play. Olaf’s character of Stephano is pretty weak too and didn’t feel inhabited at all. The purposeful bad acting really came out in this character.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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Book 3 – The Wide Window

   “The Wide Window” is the story that drags the most, both in comparison to these four stories and in the show as well. Aunt Josephine is never given the chance to do much, though Alfre Woodward is a favorite actress (Mariah from “Luke Cage”) so it is a shame the adaptation didn’t do more with her character. She introduces the Baudelaire’s to code like in the books and like the books is overwhelmed by fear. Count Olaf’s Captain Sham is fantastic and the threat and charm of his character never goes away (unlike the zero of both that were in Stephano). He is the strongest part of this episode besides the Baudelaire’s taking their agency into their own hands and seeking to solve the riddles as well as running away from Poe at the end so they can learn what happened to their parents and how they connect to Lucky-Smells Lumber Mill.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Neil Patrick Harris carries this episode.

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Book 4 – The Miserable Mill

      Up to this point, Shirley is the most threatening character of Count Olaf’s, largely because he has help from Dr. Orwell (Catherine O’Hara) who controls the workers by hypnotizing them. This creates an aura of threat around the mill as all of them are prisoners and Count Olaf is friends with the one with all the power and Klaus being controlled by Orwell and Olaf. Sir is just greedy and only cares about money and lets the corruption occur as he profits from the control of his workers and the Baudelaires. Thankfully he is chased away by his workers when the hypnotic trance is broken, which gives his partner Charles to give the children the article that shows that their parents saved the Mill and the town from being entirely burned down. This was the darkest episode besides the first story and returns to that same charm. I really enjoyed Count Olaf’s Shirley as a character too, as well as Count Olaf’s jealousy of Orwell for succeeding in villainy while he is still only striving to fully succeed. This is where we see the Parents reveal of them not being the Baudelaire’s or in the same time and place showing that all our heroes have to count on, is one another. This is where the Baudelaire’s courage finally pays off and luckily the next season sets up them meeting allies at the boarding school that Mr. Poe leaves them at at the end.

Final Score: 9 / 10

     This is a series that should have never been done as a film. There is far too much material to cover and it is hard to slim it down while still honoring the source material. The original film did not and though I liked some things about it, it was not like this. This is a perfect adaptation and the only flaws it has are those that exist in the source material itself. Excited for Season 2 and am looking forward to “The Penultimate Peril” and “The End,” as this is one of those series that has one of the endings I was greatly impressed with growing up. Lemony Snicket giving us his thoughts as narrator is powerful too and Warburton gives us a powerful, comedic and somber performance through the narrative. The side characters were cast extremely well as are the three actors who play the orphans. The only thing that really brings the series down is the tone sometimes has extreme shifts and the source material really didn’t give us much to go off originally and this is true to that source material so is bound by those same limitations. We get tiny answers but most of it is mystery and grey….which has potential depending on how they handle the mystery and reveals. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this series to any lover of the books as I am or if you are just looking for another amazing Netflix series.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

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Gone Girl (2014): A Dark, Gripping Thriller of Dystopian Suburbia

Gone Girl

I am a fan of David Fincher’s work, and this film continues more of that quality that I’ve come to expect from his films. The films that for me best represent his work are “Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Zodiac.” This is similar to those in some ways but is also very much it’s own thing in that the crime  mystery aspect in the end isn’t the point. The point is the characters and the relationship at the core of the film. I’ll get into more details in the assessment.

“Gone Girl” was directed by by David Fincher, Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay and the book of the same name it was based on (still need to read it), and the producers were Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon and Cean Chaffin.

The premise is it is the Fifth Anniversary of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Amy has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Due to Nick’s handling of the press and hiding of secrets he becomes a major suspect in his wife’s possible murder. From here the story unfolds as we see how broken their marriage was and the secrets they both held.

There will be spoilers ahead.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Critique of the Media – This film really shows how easy it is to turn a trial into a witch hunt, as Nick’s awkwardness in public turns everyone against him until he comes clean about his affair and tells the world what they want to hear on advice from his lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry). It shows how fickle the court of public opinion is and how cable television can create the story before the story may not be there cause all the facts aren’t in. This was an aspect of the film I really appreciated.

The Mystery – The mystery surrounding both Amy’s point of view and the intentions of Nick are really well done. When you think you have all the facts, something more is revealed that puts things into question. This is done really well at the beginning as Amy’s anniversary clues point towards guilt but something more and as we see more of how Ben is not a good person…no one in this movie is except maybe Nick’s sister Margo (Carrie Coon).

Margo – Nick’s twin sister Margo who is co-owner of The Bar with him is a great character. She is the first outside of Amy to find out about the affair he’s having with his student and her distrust of Amy is found to be genuine. She cares about her brother and does all she can to protect him and we see her good advice go unheeded by Nick in the beginning until it is too late. She really is a great character, and Carrie Coon does a good job.

Tanner Bolt – Tyler Perry is great! The guy is like one of the lawyers of Phoenix Wright and we see him manipulate the court of public opinion for Nick and give him the chance to shape things in his favor. This plays a part later and forces Amy into action. I wish we could have got more of this character. He’s cynical, funny and at the core believes he’s doing good work.

Critique of Suburbia – In this one we see the evils of suburbia and public appearances too as Amy manipulates a neighbor to make the world think she’s pregnant and that Nick killed her because he didn’t want the baby. it is the world of the fake facade that the couple wears for the neighbors and parties and in the end we see it crumble down to see the false faces and mystery underneath. It is here that gossip grows and festers and feeds the media storm.

Detective Rhonda Boney – She has the clearest head in all of this and follows the evidence. She eventually loses the chance to take out Amy though after Amy plays a bigger game and the gets the media and police force on her side after her return. Kim Dickens was good and had great chemistry with all the characters she interacted with.

Nick – Nick is not a good person and I don’t like the character, even if I find him compelling. in the relationship he cheated on Amy, never communicated with her and just assumed things on her. For this reason I actually enjoyed some of the crap that got thrown his way. He was forced to grow and be accountable, which he never had to do before. I do think Amy was in the wrong and she is the antagonist, but Nick is not really the protagonist. He’s one of the players in the false marriage pretending to be someone he isn’t.

Desi Collings – Neil Patrick Harris plays a very terrifying millionaire ex-boyfriend in this…when she comes to him for safety he locks in his Lake House and forces her to become the woman he loved in the past. He never uses violence but the threat is always there, as well as her lack of choice. When they watch Nick’s “confession” and she falls back in love with Nick he turns it off and continues to pressure her to be his. He is an extremely polite and creepy character. I thought he might be the one to kill Amy actually if she didn’t kill herself. Luckily he gets his comeuppance when Amy murders him and makes her escape.

Amy – Amy is a chameleon…whether she was born that way or shaped by her parents who pressured her and made her into their tool for making money off books is unknown but she is smart, cruel and brutal. She is a chameleon because she becomes whatever her lover wants her to be, we see her thinking about this too when she first disappears framing Nick as she sees the different women she could become now. She is a fatalist too and sees completing her revenge with a suicide until she has a way out, which first is though Desi until she finds herself trapped again, like she was with Nick and when she was robbed in the Ozarks. She returns home and has power as the story has been hers all along and she forces Nick to stay. She is the winner of this story and we don’t know her motivations beyond wanting to have others be the way she wants them to be, which Nick becomes…though they are open to one another now. Her faked death leads to relationship honesty and the marriage “healing.” What a fantastic villain she was.

Okay: Amy’s Parents – We don’t really get their motivations and they were experts of the false face. I would have liked more on them to see just how much they shaped her into the calculating, destructive chameleon she is.

The Mistress – Nick’s mistress is kind of a blank slate. We don’t know her motivations for getting together with him and she seems to be there to show us Nick has secrets he’s hiding and a motivation to get rid of Amy. She isn’t bad, but she doesn’t function as much more than a plot device to explore the character of Nick.

This is a movie I’d highly recommend. It has a great critique of relationships, suburbia, and has great characters in the mystery. If you like David Fincher’s work, you’ll like this. If you like dark mysteries you’ll like this, and if you like critiques of humanity (most characters get critiqued in this), you will like this. It is well worth checking out and added to the list of favorite films.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10. Not higher because of how the mistress and parents are handled and the fact that we never know Amy’s motivations fully.