“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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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): An Amazing Celebration of Magic, Childhood and Madness

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory poster

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” is a well deserved for a reason. I completely understand that when I did poll on which film to honor Gene Wilder should be reviewed that this was the one that won out. This film that really displays how brilliant, talented and creative Gene Wilder could be and why the world lost on of our greats. I can’t wait to continue going through his filmography and learning more about the history of this fascinating and talented man.

     The film was directed by Mel Stuart, written by Roald Dahl (who also wrote the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the film is based on) with help from David Seltzer and produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper.

         The story involves Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finding a golden ticket and winning entrance into the magical Chocolate Factory of Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) with four other children. Things are not as they appear though, as both Wonka and the factory are full of unpredictability and danger.

The Pros: The World – The world is one full of magic that is close to ours but manages to satire ours through exaggeration. It is imagination and possibility and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all.

The Writing – Dahl’s writing is brilliant. He is one of my favorite authors and he did a great job making this screenplay. He knew his characters and how to adapt them and his world screen as he worked within the limitations given and in the process created a rich story full of drama and humor.

Snapshots of Humor – A psychologist trying to use a person’s delusions to find a golden ticket, a dictator in Paraguay, the homes of each of our children that aren’t Charlie…each of these is a snapshot of some sort of corruption that in using the golden ticket as the focal point provide a wonderful satire of the different forms of corruption.

The Comedy – The comedy is brilliant! Dahl’s dry humor and satire combined with Wilder’s wit, sarcasm and energy made this film most memorable as both a drama and a comedy.

The Oompa-Loompas – The Oompa-Loompas are refugees who work at the factory. They are fascinating as we see those who lost everything teach those who materially have everything. These guys are brilliant and I really like their songs and designs. The orange face and stark colors live in the popular culture now on what an Oompa-Loompa is.

Willy Wonka – Gene Wilder owns this role. Wonka is a man who you never know if he’s telling the truth or not. He comes in limping and after walks fine, and this was done by Wilder himself to make the audience question everything Wonka does. Wonka than proceeds to let peoples’ vices destroy themselves and he doesn’t care at all except to mock. This is a man who sees himself above it all and is living in his world of madness and imagination…yet he has a good heart, he rewards Charlie for doing the right thing and it is in his relationship to Charlie we see the compassionate core underneath the lies, sarcasm and trickery. He is easily one of my favorite characters in fiction and Wilder made the character larger than life and the best part of this film.

The Take on Vices – Each of the 4 kids are different vices. Violet is spite, Mike is anger, Veruca is greed and Augustus is gluttony. At different points Charlie experiences each vice but grows beyond them by choosing compassion and courage in the end, something they all lacked and each them is destroyed by their vice in turn in the Karmatic place of the Chocolate Factory.

The Good and the Bad in People and Children – Children are celebrated in this, but they aren’t idealized. 4 of the kids are little monsters and even Charlie can be a brat sometimes. Dahl was honest about what it means to be a child and it is in this work we see how they grow and that actions have consequences that will hopefully help the kids stuck in a bad place in their actions, to grow up.

Celebrating Creativity and Invention – The core of the story is a celebration of madness and creativity. Wonka’s world is pure imagination and what he is seeking is an heir with that same madness who can see the bigger picture.

Okay/Pro: The Music – The music is memorable and good but not great. I’d never seek out this music to listen to it on my own…it works for the film though with “Pure Imagination” being the best and most memorable song in the soundtrack.

Charlie – Charlie is flawed and it makes him human. All the other children and their parents are terrible, while Charlie in looking out for his family can become like the other kids too. Charlie is greedy or angry sometimes and that’s okay. It makes the good choices he makes all the better.

Grandpa Joe – I liked Grandpa Joe but since we never learn why he became bedridden it takes away from part of what drives him to get out of bed. I like how he is a mentor and father figure to Charlie though and that he calls out Wonka for not giving them the prize at the end as promised. He’s a stand up guy.

The Other Kids and Their Parents – The other kids are alright. Augustus is forgettable as his mother but the Teevee’s have an energy about them and the Salt’s are great representations of greed, while Violet and her huckster father are entertaining in their own way. I’m not putting them as a pro though since they aren’t complex. They are interesting but lack major complexity.

Okay: Pacing – The pacing is a little all over the place at times, with the scene where Charlie and Granpa Joe take the Fizz drink as the best example. Wonka and the group just go away when before every mistake that the kids make is recognized by the group as Wonka shames their for their vice. This is the only time where he holds off on shaming until after the tour is completed.

The Cons: Certain Songs – Certain songs go on a little too long or mess with the tone a little bit. “Cheer up Charlie” definitely goes on too long as does Veruca’s song. This is made up for the fact that musical isn’t terrible but I’d only describe music as memorable and good, but not great.

     There was so much that worked in this film and managed to push it up from good to great. The greatest credit goes to Wilder with his chaotic take on Wonka whose performance was full of anger, empathy, compassion and madness. There is a reason the film is called “Willy Wonka & and the Chocolate Factory” and not Charlie. Charlie maybe the main character but the action and drama all relates to the antics and choices that Wonka makes and the gambit he puts into play to find his heir.I can’t wait to read Dahl’s original book. Dahl having power over turning his book into film was masterfully done by the studio and with Wilder’s performance and Stuart’s direction a masterpiece of art that celebrates the very nature of art and creativity was born. The three men have all passed on now but their vision, their metaphorical Chocolate Factory lives on in the lives they touched and the art they created. R.I.P. Stuart, Dahl and so recently now…Wilder. To remembering the dreamers and the dreams they made.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10