Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies Narrated by Narrators That Do Not Appear on Screen


Now, this is a good one. It's so good, in fact, that I literally overloaded, shut down, and ultimately went with the three of the first four that came to me (and the fourth is here as a bonus). I love so many movies that use this technique, but I just couldn't find them. This is a trio of movies taken to greatness by the voice of an unseen omniscient narrator, three films that hinge on it for humor, for nostalgia, for exposition, for how imagined histories shape the best narratives. Plus, that bonus...


So, it's Thursday, one of my favorite of all the days, and it's time again for Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. This week, of course, it's Movies Narrated by Narrators That Do Not Appear On Screen. 

Here are my picks: 

Me, Myself & Irene
Dir. Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, 2000


Narrated by Rex Allen, Jr., the Farrelly Brothers' Me, Myself & Irene has stood out as one of their best. I realize many may not feel that way, but this was my jam in college. My roommate and I watched this movie all the time. Jim Carrey has some great zingers, and it's a great physical role for him, finding him transforming between the mild-mannered Rhode Island State Trooper, Charlie Baileygates, and his alter-ego, the angry, repulsive Hank. That's all well and good, but it's the lazy, Southern-tinged narration by the son of Rex Allen (narrator of quite a few '50s Westerns and the animated Charlotte's Web) that really works. The apple did not fall far from the tree, and the familiarity of it is what gets me.

Little Children
Dir. Todd Field, 2006


Narrated by Will Lyman, Little Children is easily one of the best films of 2006. It's a literary tale about intelligent, but bored, suburbanites behaving like, well,... The reading of author Tom Perotta's simple, darkly humorous prose is nothing short of perfection. It so aptly underlines the immediate emotions of each character. Put simply, it is like literally watching a novel. And Lyman's deep, non-regional American accent is an incredible touch. When will Todd Field make another film already? With this and In the Bedroom, he is two-for-two in a big time way.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 
Dir. Andrew Dominik, 2007


Narrated by Hugh Ross, Andrew Dominik's undeniable masterpiece was instantly realized as soon as Ross' voice is heard, in its sort of soft gruffness, reading Ron Hansen's absolutely masterful prose adapted by director Dominik. There are some lines in this thing that simply amaze me, illustrating the pasts of the titular characters, the pasts of those who crossed their paths, a past that is also future even if past, in some cases. One example: "He also had a condition known as 'granulated eyelids,' and it caused him to blink more than usual as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept. Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified." That sort of thing mixed with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' genius score and Roger Deakins' best work ever...period... literally makes this one of the most perfect films ever made. I praise it too much, probably, but I just can't help it.

My Favorite Ever - A Bonus Pick

The Virgin Suicides
Dir. Sophia Coppola, 1999


For this reason, Giovanni Ribisi narrates, "It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us calling them out of those rooms, where they went to be alone for all time, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together." 

Thanks Jeffrey Eugenides for writing such a lovingly bleak portrait of teenage desire. Thanks Sophia Coppola for doing him such beautiful justice. 

25 comments:

  1. Amazing picks especially Jesse! I love this movie and it's one of my all time favorites, a true epic masterpiece. And narrator adds so much to it - the almost fairytale sense - and a music is big part of that here too, it's so angelic at times - and also all those details and insights when it comes to characters that make us know them better

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    1. Thanks! Oooh, I like the "fairytale" analogy. I never thought about that. The narration really does play into the almost mysticism/mythology surrounding the Jesse James obsession of the period.

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  2. I've only seen Little Children and that is an excellent film. I have seen part of Me, Myself, and Irene by wandering into a room where someone else was watching it. It was a poop joke utilizing chocolate ice cream. I checked out right then and haven't bothered to go back. Maybe I will. Definitely need to see that western I keep hearing is so great, though.

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    1. Yeah. Farrelly Brothers movies are certainly not devoid of gross out gags, but that's a pretty good match cut, man. You have to admit. Apart from that, it's quite funny with a great soundtrack, including the narration. Yes, see "that western."

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  3. The only film I have seen is Jesse James and I found it ...long. Mind you, I should give it a second chance since I was very tired:) I haven't seen the others and will put the, on my list.

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    1. It is long...but lovely and so well acted. Try it again when you're more awake.

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  4. Excellent picks. I also chose Little Childfren. I've never seen Jesse James, I've always meant to. And I completely forgot Me, Myself and Irene had a narrator. lol

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    1. Nice! See Jesse James. I adore it.

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  5. YASSSS!!!

    I didn't even think of TAOJJBTCRF but MY GOD you're so right on! Little Children is also GREAT use of narration.

    I do kind of hate Me Myself and Irene...but that cow scene is pretty much the best ever, so it is sort of forgiven.

    We've talked about The Virgin Suicides before, so you know I'm with you on that one.

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    1. Haha! That cow scene is easily the best bit in the movie. I like it. It's not a great movie, and it's even down the list for me of Farrelly Brothers movies. The narration is really the standout for me. That dude's voice is great.

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  6. I've seen only your bonus pick (and I loved it), but I completely forgot it was narrated.

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    1. Oh, that narration is so good in The Virgin Suicides. It's what made me relate to it so strongly.

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  7. Solid picks, I've seen all but Me, Myself and Irene and I wish I could say I loved them but I'd be lying.

    Just saw Jesse James a couple of months ago and while I thought the performances were ace and the film overall well made it was too meditative for me. Likewise I finally caught up with Virgin Suicides about two months ago and thought it was good but not great. The somber tone didn't bother me since I was prepared for it (the title if nothing else clues you in)but I would never watch it again. Sorry I detested Little Children despite being a huge Kate Winslet fan.

    Funny that you had so many choices that just came to you one right after the other, I struggled this time to come up with the requisite three. I ended up watching my third choice specifically because I was stuck and I saw it had off screen narration! Fortunately it was pleasant enough and my niece who watched it with me loved it.

    Ever After (1998)-Charming rethink of the Cinderella tale with Drew Barrymore a sweet but tough Cinder substitute now named Danielle, Anjelica Huston rockin’ it as a total bitch of a stepmother in whom she still manages to find nuance and Judy Parfitt and Timothy West a highly entertaining Queen and King. Somehow it also finds a way to include Leonardo da Vinci in the story too! Excellent production design. Jeanne Moreau narrates the tale as a reverie.

    How the West Was Won (1962)-Sprawling multi-generational saga with a cast full of legends (James Stewart, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds, Gregory Peck plus about 20 other recognizable names) tells of the settling of the West in amazing Cinerama. Follows the Prescott family and their descendants through the hardships and joys of taming the wild land. Broken into three segments each helmed by a different director (John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall) this has stunning vistas and a great many excellent performances. Spencer Tracy provides the off-screen narration that connects the vignettes as well as the introduction and denouement.

    So Dear to My Heart (1949)-Wholesome Disney entertainment of poor country boy Jeremiah (the ill-fated Bobby Driscoll) adopting a black lamb rejected by its mother. As the mischievous lamb christened Danny grows Jeremiah determines to enter him in the county fair but that takes money he doesn’t have. He uses his daydreams-complete with animated Disney characters-to figure out ways to achieve his goal. Good family film with old reliables Burl Ives and Beulah Bondi filling out the cast. The unseen John Beal narrates as the grown Jeremiah.

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    1. I like the meditative nature of Jesse James. Dominik really likes to hold the camera for what feels like way too long, but I find that so haunting, especially in the titular scene. I have seen The Virgin Suicides a dozen times. The Air soundtrack and the narration are especially great loves of mine. It tapped into something in me when I saw it the first time (age 16 when it came out), and I just never forgot it.

      As for your picks, I remember staying away from Ever After when it came out, mostly because my younger sister and all her annoying little girlfriends gushed over it. I was anti-"chick flick" at that point in my life. I may go back to it on your recommendation. I'm sure my wife would dig it, if nothing else.

      I'm pretty sure How the West Was Won was in your list of recommendations, so I'll definitely get to that one. Good picks, man.

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  8. I never saw Me Myself & Irene but Little Children just takes my breath away. As does The Virgin Suicides but for completely different reasons. I still have to be in the right mood to watch Assassination of Jesse James... I want to give it the time, patience, and respect it deserves.

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    1. Definitely. Little Children blew me away. Same as well on Virgin Suicides. Jesse James needs time, lots of it, for both watching and feeling it after its done, but it is so worth the time. I hope you'll let me know when you see it. It is very near and dear to me.

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  9. Great picks! I almost went with The Virgin Suicides. Such a dark but lovely and thoughtful book and film.

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  10. I have sadly never seen any of these. However, I do have Little Children on DVD. And I agree with you on Todd Field. He needs to make another film soon. In the Bedroom is not only one of the best films of 2001, but also one of the best films of the 21st century. Definitely in my top 20 of all time. Tom Wilkinson should've won that Oscar.

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    1. And Sissy Spacek should've won as well. However, I am a little biased in saying that, considering that I am distantly related to Sissy Spacek. (She was the best of the nominees that year, but the best performance that year was Thora Birch in Ghost World, & she sadly wasn't nominated for an Oscar. I could go on & on about the movies of 2001 (considering that it was the year I was born), but I digress).

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    2. Well, I hope you see all of these, specifically The Virgin Suicides. I mean, it's set in the Detroit suburbs and it's about people your age. I think you'll really find it special. As for 2001, yes. Great year for movies. Some of the best mind-benders ever (Mulholland Drive, Vanilla Sky, Donnie Darko, Waking Life). Agreed completely on the work of Spacek and Wilkinson in In the Bedroom.

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  11. I do love Little Children and Jesse James - I think I need to give the latter another watch too.

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