Thursday, March 10, 2016

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

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's very simple to join in the fun. All you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and tell us all about them. Try it -  you'll like it!

This week was a tough assignment: Movies with third-person narration; i.e. movies narrated by someone outside of the story, in this case specifically by someone who doesn't appear on screen. I'll be honest. At first I could only think of one movie, and it was one I had already picked in a previous week last year. But after a glass of wine and a browse through my movie collection later, I thought of another, and another, and another! And all was well with the world. AND THEN it turns out one of those, my favorite, actually, had also already been one of my previous picks. GOD DAMN YOU SELF AND YOUR STUPID RULES! And then my second favorite of those is actually more appropriate for a later theme. So yeah, this week went from tough to easy and all the way back to tough again. After all that, let's see if anyone else picked any of these.

The thing about third-person narration is that by its very nature it adds a storybook quality to the film, which is something that can go very wrong very quickly. But in the hands of the screenwriters and narrators of these three films, it goes oh so wonderfully right.

Matilda (Danny DeVito, 1996) The books of Roald Dahl have been fertile ground for movies, but for some reason, this one seems to be one of the least heralded of those. Given that it gets Dahl's tricky tone down exactly right, I'm not really sure why. Matilda (the preternaturally talented Mara Wilson) is a smart, gifted young girl whose parents (real-life marrieds Danny DeVito - who also provides the third-person narration - and Rhea Pearlman, hamming it up to perfection) pay little to no attention to her. Oh, and when I say "gifted", I mean in the Carrie White sense. Yes, this is basically Carrie: The Elementary School Years, and appropriately the horror is of a very slapstick nature. But the film is just off-kilter enough to make it work. It's a perfect children's entertainment, and extols the virtues of learning and respect of library books. What could be better than that?

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006) When you're trying to make a film of a novel as interior and literary as Patrick S├╝skind's Perfume, it's maybe best you just don't do it, but if you must, hiring John Hurt to do some narration isn't a bad way to go. The other, more difficult, thing to do is to change the plot JUST enough so that your film becomes kind of its own thing, but keep the spirit of the novel intact. That Tykwer mostly manages that feat is quite something, especially since the story of Perfume is a queasy one: Grenouille, due to the rather disgusting conditions of his birth, has the world's most acute sense of smell, and no smell of his own. Naturally, he winds up as an apprentice to a master perfumer, to learn the trade of scent. But it's so easy that he sets his sights on something bigger: To distill the essence of beauty itself into a perfume. Naturally, the only way he can think of to do this is to kill beautiful women and take their scent. I can't imagine how Tykwer managed to make a film of this novel, let alone one this beautiful. And beautiful it is, capturing exactly what it is about beautiful scents that so drives Grenouille, and often drives us deeper into our own vanity.

(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009) "This is a story of boy meets girl... You should know upfront, this is not a love story." And with that bit of Richard McGonagle narration, Marc Webb's debut feature shot straight into immortality. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel make for an adorable, unfortunately mismatched pair who are destined not to be "the one" for each other. The film charts their relationship by bouncing back and forth among the 500 days they spent together, mostly focusing on the little seemingly-incidental moments in a relationship that you later realize were actually hugely meaningful. I remember really liking this but having reservations about it when I first saw it, but haven't seen it since. I'm curious to see if it holds up better or worse than my memory.

15 comments:

  1. I really like (500) Days and nearly picked it myself. It's such a wonderful little film. Haven't seen your others, but Perfume has me intrigued.

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    1. Perfume is good, but if you like to read, read the novel first.

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  2. I also went with (500) Days, and Matilda was one I wanted, but used in a different week. Nice call on Perfume. I was really disappointed in that movie as a whole because it was so weird, but it fits here.

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    1. Hehehe the thing is, Perfume is NOT as weird as the novel, which is an amazing, hypnotic read, so the movie was fine to me.

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  3. I have not seen any of these. I know Matilda is supposed to be quite a good story. 500 Days might be popular this week but Perfume intrigues me and Alan Rick an is in this which appeals to me even more.

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    1. I always felt kind of a kinship with Matilda because she loves books so much. When I was a kid, I prized books above all else. Still do, in a way. Perfume is very intriguing but also very sinister.

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  4. Perfume looked so...tacky, but now I really want to watch it!

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    1. lol it's NOT tacky at all... except Dustin Hoffman's performance, kinda. It all fits together well. Tykwer knows what he's doing.

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  5. I've only seen 500 Days and I'm afraid I'm against the crowd in not caring for it very much but it fits well. Your other two are ones that I've meant to watch and forget about when the time comes to add titles to my queue, I'll have to correct that. Thanks!

    This week's theme was rough. I thought of a bunch with narration but those were from on camera characters and I struggled to come up with three but I did at last.

    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'm definitely not a 500 Days of Summer superfan. I liked it and appreciated it but never loved it.

      I LOVE Ever After, but that's cheating a bit, since we do briefly see the narrator in the frame story, although it's easy to forget. That entire cast is just lovely, and its one of my favorite Anjelica performances.

      I really want to see the new restoration of How the West Was Won. Preferably on the big screen, but I'll settle for the Blu-Ray or a showing on TCM - I hear it's gorgeous, though overlong.

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    2. OHHHH!! The thought of HTWWW on a big screen is a lovely idea. I've always loved the film and had resigned myself to those damn lines that until recently were a necessary evil but when the remastered Blu-Ray came out a friend of mine who had never seen it but was curious got it and we watched it on her BIG screen TV. It was AMAZING! Not just the removal of those lines, though with them gone it was easier to focus on the impact of the story, but the clarity and richness of the colors and vistas is simply breathtaking. Then of course there's that incredible cast, the Thelma Ritter/Debbie Reynolds combo is my favorite followed by the surprisingly simpatico pairing of Debbie and Gregory Peck but it's a classic movie fan's stargazer delight. Can't recommend it highly enough.

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  6. Matilda was such a great movie (and book!), loved this and 500 Days of Summer. I haven't seen Perfume, but it sounds interesting.

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    1. So glad to see another Matilda fan! Perfume is really good, but read the book first. Trust me.

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  7. I love these picks. Matilda is one of the best Dahl adaptations. I never understood why it didn't get more love. 500 Days of Summer is one of the greatest as well. Love the narration in that one. As for Perfume, I always wanted to watch that one, as I remember people saying how it was the unfilmable perfectly well filmed. Great picks!

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    1. Perfume is really, really good. I would recommend reading the book first, so you can really appreciate how strong an adaptation it is, but that's just me.

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