My Current Obsession: A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Yes, one week later, and I’m still obsessing over this series in one way or another. Last week, I focused on the new Netflix adaptation that premiered this month and gave a few random but mostly positive thoughts on the 2004 movie (Netflix still has the better adaptation, in my opinion). I also mentioned how I’d read summaries of the books. This is mainly due to me being both tight on money and busy with school at the time. But thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to continue this little obsession of mine. Over the last week, I found and read all 13 books in the main series. I can safely say that the ASOUE series was a fun read. Yes, these books get downright depressing at times and I can see why that would turn some people off. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love dark material, and I found myself wanting to keep reading in the hopes that the Baudelaires would get even a semblance of a happy ending to all of this. They kinda do, though it’s left ambiguous enough to let your imagination fill in the rest.

I will say that I appreciated many of the changes Daniel Handler made when adapting the books. While Mr. Poe is a moron in both cases, he does have the occasional if infuriating moments of clarity in the Netflix series. Count Olaf definitely comes across as an evil man in the books, but there are small bits of characterization beyond that near the end that the Netflix series seems to be taking notes from. And as for the V.F.D. stuff, while it doesn’t feel like it comes out of nowhere in the books, it IS shoved in around the fifth one and takes over the series quite a bit from there. The series then has to clarify their involvement during the events of the first four books, when the V.F.D. probably wasn’t even thought up by Handler yet. However, while the Netflix series includes this subplot from the beginning (albeit sometimes too blatantly at times), it feels kinda like what Handler would have added if he could’ve re-written the older books to tie them much more closely to the rest of the series.

 I did like some books slightly more than others, mostly for the situations the Baudelaires end up in. But I also didn’t think any of the books were outright bad or weak. The “Olaf gets disguised to steal the Baudelaires’ fortune” plot could get repetitive, along with some of Snicket’s narration of defining words, but there’s just a weird, morbid charm to this series. It didn’t bother me enough to stop reading, and all of these books only took about an hour to two hours each to finish. I even found myself wondering how each book would be adapted into the Netflix series, including what stuff might be changed or removed and feeling genuinely excited about the important plot moments happening with that cast. I thought about who they might get to play the new characters and how they’d handle a big sort of reunion scene that happens in the second-to-last book. I don’t even feel like I’ll have to nitpick the series for not being closer to the books as it comes out, because I love all the little touches they’ve made to separate the two.

All in all, I’m happy I finally got to read and appreciate the books for what they are. However, there is one more thing I failed to talk about in my last blog, and that was the video game adaptation of the movie. I played the Gamecube version at some point after having seen the movie. As a teenager, I thought it was alright and was mostly proud to have beaten it before my rental time was up (yep, back in those days). After having watched a playthrough of the game on YouTube recently, I can admit that it’s not very good. The graphics obviously haven’t aged all that well, the gameplay is repetitive and makes the game’s length feel unnecessarily padded, and even though they brought back Jim Carrey, Emily Browning and Liam Aiken to voice Count Olaf, Violet and Klaus, their performances all feel phoned in (Jim does get to ham it up some, though). I think the only positive I can say about it is that the narration by Tim Curry as Lemony Snicket seemed pretty good. I found out he also voiced many of the audio books for ASOUE, so in hindsight it makes sense why he has that role in the game. Overall, it’s nothing special, but I still wouldn’t call it the worst movie game out there.

Aside from continuing to watch the Netflix series, I’m thinking I’ll also find and read the spin-off books Handler released. As for the ASOUE books, I consider myself a fan of this series now more than ever. Even though I still prefer “Animorphs” as my favorite children’s series, I think “A Series of Unfortunate Events” deserves all the appreciation and praise it’s received. I’ve never seen any other series aimed at kids like it, and I doubt I ever will.

My Thoughts on Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”

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Over the last three days, I watched all eight episodes of Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Unlike their original works, this one is based on the children’s book series by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. Going in, I knew some details about the series. Back in the day, I saw the 2004 movie adaptation with Jim Carrey in theaters. It inspired me to look into the series and read up summaries of all 13 books. I even bought the first book to see what changes they made for myself. So, I was very interested to see what I considered to be a long overdue second adaptation was being made. What did I think of it? Well, before I get into it, I’ll give a brief summary of the story.

Violet, Klaus, and their baby sister Sunny live a happy, wealthy life with their parents, the Baudelaires. One day, they’re given the awful news that their parents have died in a house fire, leaving the three as orphans. Under the watchful eye of family friend Mr. Poe, the children are sent to live with their closest guardian, Count Olaf. But Olaf is out to get the Baudelaire fortune they’ve inherited and will do anything to accomplish his goal. Violet, Klaus and Sunny must evade him at every turn, all while discovering that their parents may have been leading a secret life. Will the children manage to get away from Olaf once and for all and figure out the mystery behind their parents’ death?

As I mentioned, there were 13 books in the series, so this show opted to cover the first four in two-part episodes at a time. I found this helped the pacing a bit and having two episodes per book made for some practical stopping points (I tend to spread Netflix series out). Much like with the movie, I enjoyed the bleak, almost gothic-looking sets. They fit the mood perfectly and the creators seemed to take great pains to bring the locations in the books to life. While I was a little thrown off at first by some of the more colorful sets presented here, it did offset a lot of the gloomier locales. If there’s one complaint I had about any of the aesthetics, it was the blatant use of CGI in places. It wasn’t always the best and stood out in contrast to everything else, but the worst was probably Aunt Josephine’s house being destroyed. In the movie, a lot of it looked practical and they played around with a few of her irrational fears coming to life. In the series, the CGI is obvious and the kids are clearly on wires. It also felt like it happened in the blink of an eye and just didn’t seem as destructive as the movie’s take on it. It might also bug people how inconsistent the era is. One minute it appears like it’s taking place in the 1920’s or so, but then references to the internet or Uber will be made. It can be annoying, but I found it didn’t pull me out of this world all that often.

Going in, I knew this series planned to be more faithful to the books than the movie was (especially with Daniel Handler assisting with it), and it definitely shows. Sure, movies can only be so long and liberties have to be taken, but I love how this series took its time to flesh out each story. There are repetitive elements to each story, but it was still fun to see what crazy adventures the Baudelaires would get into next. However, at times the show felt like it was pandering a little too much to its audience. They make the backstory of the parents and various references to the books a little more in-your-face than I expected, as if they needed to spell things out so people would be able to follow along. Despite that, I really like how they tied in the backstory, which is more of a subplot, with each main plot from the books. I’m crossing my fingers that this series is fully adapted, because I can’t wait to see how everything plays out.

But the biggest draw of this show for me was the characters. Whether I loved or hated them, they carried these stories and got me invested in the overarching mystery. Let’s start with the characters I loved. At first, I wasn’t impressed with Violet, Klaus and Sunny. Sunny tends to also be CGI’d due to her extreme biting habits, so it was a bit weird to get used to. Violet and Klaus came off a little too snobby to me, even as rich kids. Thankfully, once they’re sent to Olaf’s, they got to show off more range and quickly grew on me as the series progressed. The same could be said about Olaf’s theater troupe. They essentially act as his henchmen as well as comic relief to, I suppose, make him look smarter in comparison. But unlike the movie, they’re each given little quirks to set them apart. They served a purpose and actually felt like supporting characters. I also enjoyed the children’s first real guardian, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (no, that’s not a typo). I’ve always liked Aasif Mandvi, and while I had to get over the initial “Hey, that’s Aasif!” reaction from seeing him, I really liked his performance. I did like Billy Connolly in the movie as well, but Aasif has way more to do and comes across as a stronger Monty because of it. He’s likable, smart (mostly), and resourceful. I also enjoy Catherine O’Hara’s Georgina Orwell, a conniving, villainous woman who has a history with Olaf. I had already liked her take on Justice Strauss in the movie, so seeing her back in this universe was more than welcome.

Before I move on to the characters I didn’t like, I have to talk about the two characters that really kept me invested in this show: Lemony Snicket and Count Olaf. I thought it was strange at first to see Patrick Warburton playing such a somber, almost subtle role. I’m so used to him in comedic roles that it was a little jarring at first. He also spoke some of his narration a little too quickly at times. But despite all that, I loved him in this. I loved how they had Lemony show up on screen as an invisible narrator, the kind that no one in the story can see but the audience can. He presents lines from the book with a tinge of emotion but doesn’t overplay any of it. I was very impressed with him and I’d be interested to see him take on more serious roles. As for Count Olaf, I knew from the get-go that I’d enjoy Neil Patrick Harris’s take on it. I’ve always loved NPH for his charisma and talent, and I’ve wanted to see him play a full-blown villain since Dr. Horrible. I still have to give Jim Carrey props for bringing the role to life in the first place. He had a menace that often came from how he could switch from being extremely goofy to semi-serious in an instant. But having rewatched parts of the movie, I’ve realized that he’s just too comedic for me to personally find threatening. NPH, on the other hand, is able to bring out Olaf’s dark side and appear imposing. He still gets his goofy moments, as Olaf isn’t the genius he thinks he is, and he pulls off Olaf’s various fake personas pretty well. The show left me wanting more from him and I consider that a great sign.

As for characters I didn’t like, there honestly weren’t that many. I kept going back and forth on liking and disliking Joan Cusack’s take on Justice Strauss. While she had some pretty good emotional moments near the end, I found her rambling a little annoying at times. I also preferred Meryl Streep’s performance as Aunt Josephine over Alfre Woodard’s. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Alfre in “Heart & Souls” and “Luke Cage.” But I feel she went too over the top when she was being dramatic and underplayed the character’s paranoid/nervousness. However, while the movie followed the book’s ending for the character to a T, I never was a fan of it. This series takes liberty with that ending, and I found it was the only time I preferred this Josephine. Mr. Poe is also insanely irritating. The actor does a fine enough job, but the character is so moronic and has a never-ending, grating cough that it’s hard to like him. Occasionally, he’ll have a bit of clarity and do something smart, but it’s always undercut by him doing or saying something stupid. He never believes the Baudelaires and is always unable to see past Olaf’s disguises. I hope he’s not as big of a factor in the next season, though the series ending seems to imply he won’t be. Surprisingly, though, it’s his WIFE that is my most despised character. She doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but she’s so insensitive and such a headline-obsessed reporter that I can’t stand her. She gets ONE decent moment with her husband near the end of the series, but I’m just hoping this is the last we’ll see of her.

Overall, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” has its hooks in me. I want it to continue to see where the story goes and see what other depressing adventures these characters end up in. This isn’t going to be for everyone, though. Whether you’ve read the books or not, your enjoyment really depends on if these characters and their stories interest you. I’d argue it’s best seen in chunks thanks to it being somewhat repetitive and also pretty bleak. Thankfully, the tone does tend to range from dark to quirky, so binge-watching it is still possible. In my case, I’m still happy to see another version of these stories beyond the movie. I always appreciate children’s books that treat their audience seriously and aren’t afraid to go a little dark as a result. This is one series I feel was begging to be given another chance at being adapted, and I’m hoping others feel the same way and support it.

My Top 10 Fave Movies of 2016

Last year wasn’t all that big for me in terms of movies. I’m pretty sure I saw just under 20 new films throughout 2016. Thankfully, most of those ranged from great to okay with very few actual bad ones in between. And since I wanted to follow up my last blog with something lighter, I figured I’d count down my personal 10 favorite movies I saw. And I do mean MY favorites. You can disagree all you want, but this list is not based off of the quality of a movie or how well it did. These picks are solely based on which movies entertained me the most. Though, considering most of them were either animated flicks or based on comic books, it was a pretty easy to narrow down.

Before we start, however, I have a few honorable mentions for some movies I just thought were okay at best: “X-Men: Apocalypse”, which had some nice character moments, “The Secret Life of Pets”, which I went in expecting to hate but found it surprisingly decent, and “Deepwater Horizon”, which was an alright if unmemorable drama.

And now we get to the list proper. Here are my 10 favorite movies of 2016!

10. Ghostbusters (2016)

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I know there’s a lot of hate for this movie, but let me explain. While I enjoyed the original Ghostbusters movies, I never thought of myself as a huge fan of them or anything else Ghostbusters-related. So, when it was announced that an all-female version was being  made, I didn’t care. And when I finally saw the movie, I thought it was just okay. The humor was a letdown and the cast could’ve been utilized way better, but it was an alright story and the horror aspects weren’t too bad either. But would I watch it again? Probably not, and that’s why it’s so low on this list. Not good, not bad, just plain okay.

9. Kung Fu Panda 3

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I almost forgot I’d even seen this movie until I was choosing films for this list. That’s not to say it was bad, but compared to the first and even second “Kung Fu Panda” films, it didn’t come across as memorable to me. However, there were still plenty of things to like. The animation continues to be great and there are plenty of good humorous moments that we’ve come to expect from this franchise. The actors did fine jobs and I enjoyed Bryan Cranston as Po’s father, though I still lament the fact that Jackie Chan once again barely has any lines in this. Seriously, what’s the point of that? I guess my only fear at this point is that this IS a franchise and I’m hoping Dreamworks won’t run it completely into the ground.

8. Kubo and the Two Strings

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As I said earlier, a good chunk of the movies I saw last year were animated. But even with all that competition, Laika’s latest still made it to my list for its sheer creativity. I already did a full-length review, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Needless to say, while I still prefer “ParaNorman” overall, “Kubo” had some fun twists and turns mixed in with stylized animation. It did occasionally use some cliches and I had to get used to Matthew McConaughey’s performance, but it’s the one animated film I felt was sorely overlooked last year. I still recommend checking it out.

7. Deadpool

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Oh, I can just hear the disagreements already about this being so low on my list. First off, I like the concept of Deadpool and I think Ryan Reynolds has done a great job bringing him to life. But while the movie was fun and easily one of the most entertaining “X-Men” universe films to date, the humor was a bit hit and miss with me at times. There’s only so much meta and sex humor I can find funny before it becomes either annoying or tedious. It also doesn’t help that I’ve barely read any Deadpool comics, so I’m not as big of a fan of him as others are. Still, given that this movie could’ve easily bombed based on many, many factors, I’m glad it exists to give Deadpool fans a live-screen incarnation they can be proud of. The less said about that awful, off-the-mark version in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, the better.

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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I like the original “Star Wars” trilogy. I’ve even found aspects of the prequels I enjoyed, and while “The Force Awakens” retread similar ground from the original films, I still found it fun and loved the new characters. Despite all that, “Rogue One” was something I didn’t initially have a major urge to see. But before the year ended, I gave it a watch and was glad I did. I’m a sucker for any kind of story that fills in the blanks of an ongoing one, so this appealed to me right away. Throw in some interesting supporting characters, a bunch of great action scenes and a once again scary Darth Vader, and I was invested until the very end. Sure, there was a lot of exposition at times and the characters, especially the main two, could’ve been fleshed out a bit more. But even with its flaws, it managed to essentially be the best prequel in this series so far. I would gladly see more spin-offs in this universe if they have good stories to tell.

5. Zootopia

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Yes, “Zootopia” marks the halfway point of this list. Once again, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. Far from it, in fact. Besides the usual great Disney animation and spunky characters, this movie’s main draw for me was its message of tolerance. I think Disney was bold tackling prejudice and racism, and this is a movie I would gladly show kids to enforce just how important those issues are while still entertaining them. So why is it only at #5? Well, aside from minor things like some jokes not clicking with me, I found it pushed the issues a little TOO hard at times. Maybe I’ll feel differently on a second viewing, but to be fair, Disney’s movies were competing hard for my attention last year. And that brings me to my next entry.

4. Finding Dory

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I was honestly nervous when this movie was announced. I loved everything about “Finding Nemo” and knew a sequel was bound to happen eventually. What I didn’t expect was it to center on Dory, played by Ellen Degeneres. Now, I enjoyed Dory. She was hilarious. But she’s also the type of character that could easily get annoying in large doses. Thankfully, once I saw this movie, those fears were quelled. While Dory walked the line at times of potentially being annoying, she carried this movie far better than I expected. I especially loved the scenes with her as a child, and that the movie delved deep into her short term memory loss in a respectable and not always humorous way. They could’ve easily kept this as a “Finding Nemo 2.0” sort of story, but I’m glad they didn’t. This one might’ve pulled at my heartstrings a little more than “Zootopia”, but they both deserved the top 5.

3. Doctor Strange

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Marvel Studios over the years, it’s that even obscure characters can have a chance to shine. Beyond the Avengers, they pulled me in with “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man,” and they did it again last year with “Doctor Strange.” I know many people thought Benedict Cumberbatch was too obvious for the role, but I’m glad he was chosen. This movie was a treat for the eyes as well, even if I only watched it in 2D. While the humor sometimes felt unnecessary, it was fun watching Strange mature throughout the film, and I felt it kept him from coming off like just another Tony Stark. I love the fact that magic is now a part of this universe, and I can’t wait to see what else they do with it. This movie has only shown me that Marvel is capable of making me interested in characters I otherwise knew in passing. I’m excited to see more this year.

2. Moana

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You might think this is a cop-out choice compared to “Zootopia” or “Finding Dory”, but this was my favorite animated film of the year. Not only is it gorgeous, with its tropical setting and emphasis on sailing the open seas, but the Polynesian lore and myths of Moana’s world were intriguing. I wanted to know more about the various gods and demi-gods, and the designs of the ones Moana encounters were fascinating. Knowing that this film mixes cultures and was voiced by people of Samoan, Hawaiian and others originating from the Pacific Islands made the whole thing feel authentic. I loved most of the music and enjoyed all of the characters. But my favorite part of “Moana” is Moana herself. I thought Disney had made strides with their females leads with “Frozen”, but I personally found Moana to be the best example yet. Even though she’s tasked to get the help of Maui, at the end of the day, it’s her who saves the day. And not only is she spunky and likable, but she still accepts the responsibility of being chief one day AND even learns through hard work how to traverse the sea like her ancestors once did. It might not be everyone’s favorite, but it capped off a great year of animated films for me.

1. Captain America: Civil War

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Have you ever had that one movie you’ve anticipated from its announcement to its release? For me, that movie was “Captain America: Civil War.” When I was making this list, I knew deep down this would be #1. Everything I enjoy about the Marvel Cinematic Universe was present here: the characters I’ve grown to love and sympathize with, the action-y fight scenes that are a spectacle to watch, the cameos from the blatantly advertised Spider-Man to the always expected Stan Lee, and a compelling story that brings everything together with some dashes of humor as well. I love these characters on their own and as a team, so seeing them fracture was heartbreaking. While the villain was equal parts kinda boring and yet strangely refreshing, the heart of this movie was the conflict between Captain America and Iron Man. I know people were quick to take sides and it was even encouraged by the cast and crew, but I still firmly believe both sides have their pros and cons as was intended. To me, as the first film released for Phase 3, “Captain America: Civil War” is the culmination of my investment in this franchise. I haven’t gotten bored or tired of any of it. And with 2017 shaping up to have what will hopefully be some great entries, I’m with this franchise for the long haul.

And those are my 10 favorite movies of 2016! Feel free to agree, disagree, or post your own in the comments. Here’s to hopefully another slew of great movies this year!

Airport Safety

Well, the first week of 2017 is just about over, and it hasn’t been too bad so far for me. No drama, no stress, and I even made a minor accomplishment by completing a game given to me for Christmas. Unfortunately, while I haven’t followed the news to the letter this week, I did catch the tragedy that occurred at the Fort Lauderdale airport. My thoughts have been with the families affected by it, but I’ve also gotten to thinking about the fact that this shooting took place in a crowded airport in this day and age. I don’t like getting too political on here, but I’d like to share my brief two cents on an aspect of this story.

Even though I’m still a Canadian for now, I could go on and on about my stance on the state of gun control in the United States. But I’d rather focus on something that’s bothered me about airports for a while: the allowance of weapons. Sure, you have to declare if you have a gun or a knife or anything of the sort, and yes, you do have to have a locked case to even bring a gun on a plane. But why is this even allowed in the first place? Airports impose strict measures on the items people can and can’t bring. I can understand allowing someone on active duty bringing a gun on board, but having a background that allows you access to weapons is something that should be verified. It’s probably a financial thing, but I feel like more checks should be in place for anyone, regardless of background, looking to bring a weapon through an airport.

It boggles my mind that in an age where 9/11 changed so much in the way of security that stuff like this is still liable to happen. And for what? To allow people to keep their guns on them at all times? To let people no longer on active duty still carry weapons regardless of their capacity to handle one? I can tell you that this doesn’t just extend to the United States. If something like this had happened during one of my travels through Toronto, you can bet I’d still be questioning why our allowance for weapons in airports was ever in place. You could argue up and down that it depends on the individual and, perhaps, that the shooter in Fort Lauderdale had an agenda or just needed more psychological help than he’d received. But that won’t bring back the people who were killed. He still had a gun in a sealed case as per airport security guidelines. While he’s definitely at fault, it seems to me that airport mandates could use some more tweaking.