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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

BTL Reviews

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In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, production designer Rick Heinrich delights in force-projected environments that allow for dizzying, sweeping camera movement from Emmanuel Lubezki to accentuate the outsized nature of the story. Colleen Atwood’s costume design suggests a bubble where time has been frozen and its denizen are free to indulge in styles and abodes that traverse a half-century. Kevin Yagher has cleverly created makeup for Carrey that allows for just enough of his personality to emerge from the mask. The film also features an ironic and subtle score from Thomas Newman that hits just the right note for the material. For cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, production designer Gemma Jackson and costume designer Alexandra Byrne, Finding Neverland is not the familiar tintype sepia-toned past that’s become a cinematic cliché. Rather it exists in muted pastels that fade into the landscape and suggest a continuity between then and now. Jan Kaczmarek’s score embraces a mix of traditional and glancing contemporary allusions. The music refrains from inserting obvious cues when an oblique reference can provide a haunting resonance.Fantasy ought to play a far greater role in contemporary cinema. The medium’s ability to create imaginary worlds by means of a now magical technical toolbox is nonpareil. Yet movies list toward the realistic, and the same tricks capable of freeing us from earthly gravity are employed to plant us on solid ground.Escaping those temporal bounds is central to both Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Finding Neverland, though each film deals with the flight for radically different reasons and intents. Lemony Snicket, based upon books that have become popular staples of so-called kid lit, is a modern Grimm fairy tale with sinister forces and ironic twists that popular wisdom deems more suitable for older readers.The narrator playfully warns that the story he’s about to relate is not warm and fuzzy and promptly orphans Klaus (Liam Aiken) and Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning) and their baby sister Sunny. Their parents have died tragically in a fire that pictorially evokes the aftermath of the bombing of Dresden.It’s a hideous yet nightmarishly fetching world that recalls the silhouette animation of Lotte Reiniger and the twisted realms of Tim Burton. The latter comes as no surprise since long-time Burton collaborator Rick Heinrichs was in charge of the film’s production design. And it is an arrestingly macabre world, both visually and psychologically.The children are entrusted to their geographically closest relative, the vain, primping Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). An actor of questionable repute, he has an outward civility that covers his true intention of eliminating the children and inheriting the fortune. The subsequent “unfortunate events” are a series of opportunities for Olaf to realize his dream and the Beaudelaires to undo his plots.The film is unquestionably a designer’s playground and that relates to more than just the sets, though they certainly ground the film’s tone. Heinrich delights in force-projected environments and that allows for dizzying, sweeping camera movement from Emmanuel Lubezki to accentuate the out-sized nature of the story. Aunt Josephine’s (Meryl Streep) home is simultaneously opulent and a matchstick framework perilously perched on a precipice. It epitomizes the mix of terror and hilarity central to the movie.The properties as well as Colleen Atwood’s costume design suggest a bubble where time has been frozen and its denizen are free to indulge in styles and abodes that traverse a half-century. Many artifacts in fact appear to be retrofitted to incorporate elements reflective of the 1930s and the ’60s simultaneously underlining the cyclical nature of fashion.Kevin Yagher has cleverly created a makeup for Carrey that allows for just enough of his personality to emerge from the mask. It serves the actor and the role well as Olaf dons a variety of disguises to lure his charges into danger.Lemony Snicket also features another superbly ironic and subtle score from Thomas Newman that hits just the right note for the material. It’s beautifully wrapped into the effects soundtrack in a deft manner where music and ambient noise segue and heighten emotions almost as commentary.The film is a sly, enjoyable romp without that knockout punch all family films seek to deliver. It’s The Wizard of Oz standard and that’s a very high bar to clear. One can apply all the genius of craft and art; cast and crew to the highest level and still fall short simply because one element can never be factored in: that ineffable quality known as magic.There’s a comparably daunting challenge in defining and plausibly demonstrating the creative process on film. One can visualize a great dance or record a brilliant orchestral work but it’s virtually impossible to show how the choreographer or composer was driven to genius. The greatest challenge in that arena is depicting the writer’s process of transforming words into dreams.Finding Neverland is about the incidents that led up to playwright J.M. Barrie creating Peter Pan. It’s about the evolution of a fantasy world culled from the need to escape realities too painful to face dead on. The film confronts the serendipitous happenstance and the leap—sometimes perilous, often extreme—one’s impelled to make to overcome the humdrum and banal.There are no scenes of Barrie (Johnny Depp) hunched over a typewriter or epiphanies or Eureka moments in the movie, and that may well be its most astute decision. Rather it’s a tale of character and relationships that allows for genius to be as inexplicable as that trait is wont to be.Central to the film’s gestalt—pictorially and dramatically—is the juxtaposition of dealing with the world of ideas in the context of real, often mundane, settings. Thoughts may be spinning and characters floating through the air but in almost every instance the attached ropes and strings are visible. There’s just a hint of a twinkle in the creative eye to keep one appropriately off balance.The turn of the century envisioned by cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, production designer Gemma Jackson and costume designer Alexandra Byrne is not the familiar tintype sepia-toned past that’s become a cinematic cliché. Rather it exists in muted pastels that fade into the landscape and suggest a continuity between then and now. There is no visible border to cross from the well mannered homes and parks of Victorian England to the dusty backstages where riggers fly characters and scenery.Jan Kaczmarek’s score embraces that irony in a mix of traditional and glancing contemporary allusions. Again, the music refrains from inserting obvious cues when an oblique reference can provide a haunting resonance.Neither Barrie’s work prior to nor following Peter Pan attained such immortality. It was his moment and, at the time, his marriage was in jeopardy. A friendship with a widow and her children was significant and his need to bust the bounds of convention, profound. Finding Neverland often brilliantly captures that turmoil with stillness and silence. It is a first-class expression of passion executed with a minimalist style and deep-seeded humanity.

Written by Len Klady

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