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November 12, 2010


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Chris O.

Cool, looking forward to this. I've had similar arguments with friends before. Yes, suffering and chaos have been at the core of great art for centuries, but you can't have suffering without relief and it's interesting to shine a light on that every once and while as well.

Havig said that, "Good Day Sunshine" is still my least favorite Beatles song.


So you didn't like it. Is it wrong that this makes me happy, even though I haven't seen BIUTIFUL (and probably won't)? I think Tom Carson said it best with his description of Inarritu as an "international profundity merchant".

Glenn Kenny

@ bill: No, I didn't like it, but by the same token I did not loathe it to the extent that I loathed "Babel," which takes a bit more of a beating in my piece (as does, of course, Haggis' "Crash"). Tom and I saw "Babel" in Cannes together, and both got very excited about the film's closing helicopter shot, which is where the line about Johnny LaRue's crane shot came from.

This was a really interesting piece to do, as FC's editor Gavin Smith wanted me to dial down my more pugilistic tendencies and give a somewhat more objective account of what's going on in the films I describe (also included are a couple of Danny Boyle pictures). His instructions were very helpful to my, erm, process, and also made a difference in creating a more effective article.

If there's anything to recommend "Biutiful," it's Bardem's performance, which really is quite extraordinary and would have been more so in a better picture. Iñárritu DOES know what he's doing with actors, very well, for the most part.


I will pick up this issue of FILM COMMENT, then.

The thing is, though, way back when, I actually liked 21 GRAMS. But then, I most definitely did NOT like BABEL, and have a feeling a revisit to 21 GRAMS would not be very positive. Something either clicked in my head, or the absence of Naomi Watts in BABEL revealed the truth.

As for Bardem, I take his extraordinariness as a given, and am perhaps naive in not feeling like Inarritu should get much credit for it.


'Babel', the 'An Inspector Calls' of cinema -- and I don't mean that remotely as a compliment.

Ian Johnston

Glenn, just keeping on the literary track (I don't even want to think about the awful BABEL): Little Dorrit never dies; Little Nell does (in "The Old Curiosity Shop").

Glenn Kenny

Well, I got the "Little" right, at least.

Went to print like that, too. Ooops.


If it makes you feel any better, any time I see my copy of LITTLE DORRIT (which I haven't read) on the shelf, I think something along the lines of "Little Dorrit dies in that, and Oscar Wilde was not impressed at all."


That's my cue-- we just finished watching the 2008 BBC LITTLE DORRIT last night, and even at this late date, finding the best Dickens serial-adaptation to date is a revelation worth bruiting. Eddie Marsan, Tom Courtenay, Judy Parfit, and art direction like you wouldn't believe.

Jeff McM

For me, the biggest problem with a Gonzalez Inarritu or his less talented American clone, Paul Haggis, is the _lack_ of sincerity in their films - it's always seemed to me like their miserabilism is a pretense designed specifically to appeal to the 'if someone's crying, it must be art' viewing public.


I'm sure I'll eventually see this, if only for Bardem. BABEL was a frustrating experience. There's more cinematic intelligence at work in any one frame of that film than in the whole of CRASH, but the latter was at least thematically coherent -- subtle as a flying mallet, but coherent. BABEL, I suppose, was trying to say something about the difficulties of communication across the divides of language and culture, but it's hard to be sure (so, mission accomplished, I guess?). The message I actually took away from it though was "stay in your own back yard." After seeing it, I wasn't sure I ever wanted to leave the house again.


I'm not so sure that Haggis is as bad as some make him out to be. Crash definitely didn't work, but his script for Million Dollar Baby was very strong, and In the Valley of Elah was for me a very moving and subtle critique of the Irag war. And as a director, he's shown a great facility with actors, like Matt Dillon in Crash, and just about everyone in Elah, but especially Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon.

warren oates

Glenn, looking forward to your FC piece. Nice to hear about Gavin Smith's positive influence too. I remember way back when I started reading the magazine, back before this here Internets thingie, when I really needed something like FC to keep me in touch with the films I care about. Gavin Smith was one of the writers I liked the best then. And I remember thinking how great it would be if he ran the whole shebang.

Fredrik Gustafsson

I have only seen one of Inarritu's films, AMORES PERROS, but I felt about that as you seem to feel for his later stuff. Which is also how I felt about Moodysson's MAMMOTH. Among other things, it's a case of the "I'll hit you over the head with my message until you surrender"-syndrome


"his script for Million Dollar Baby was very strong"

If you enjoy voiceover and cartoonish villainous rednecks who just want to go to Disney World, and inane conversations about hole-y socks and lemon meringue pie, and silly pseudo-profound musings about religion, and random subplots about fighters who are really well-built but lack heart and bully mentally handicapped people, and a total lack of secondary characters such that Swank's character gets to be the second best female boxer in the world and the only two people in the world she has even an acquaintance with are her coach and Uncle Morgan... I mean, this thing is so tragically schematic that when I was googling the script to find some awful quotes from it, I came across this from some awful how-to-be-a-screenwriter site:

"Danger is a supporting character meant to show contrast and color at the gym. Danger is the boxer who only has the heart, but not the talent, whereas Shawrelle has the talent but no heart, and Maggie has BOTH. So we see how the other boxers are written so as to highlight what makes Maggie special..."

Pretty much.

Jeff McM

I'm inclined to attribute everything good about Million Dollar Baby (which, in my opinion, is quite a bit) to Eastwood, Tom Stern, and the cast; and everything bad about it to Haggis.

Gordon Cameron

>If you enjoy voiceover

I'm not one of those who automatically take voiceover as a sign of lazy writing or on-the-nose ham-handedness, or whatever. Too many excellent (or at least interesting) movies have used it -- for instance, Days of Heaven, Sunset Boulevard, The Age of Innocence, A Clockwork Orange, etc.

I didn't love MDB, but I felt at the core there was a strong triangle of characters (Eastwood, Freeman, Swank), all embodying simple, rough-hewn archetypes. The screenwriting locks in nicely to the grandma-moses quality that Eastwood brings as a director, and the Eastwood character's climactic decision illuminates interesting ethical questions about when/whether suicide is an appropriate response to circumstance, and what the obligations of friendship are.

Dan Coyle

Have I told you lately, Glenn, that I love SCTV references, and those that make them? Because I do, I do.

D Cairns

Isn't there a line in Crash about why buses have big windows (so the passengers are displayed, in all the shame of their poverty)? Whereas anybody who uses public transport knows that the buses have big windows so you can see when it's your stop.

Kent Jones

Dan Coyle, I hear that Sammy Maudlin is a great admirer of Inarritu's films.

The Siren

Popping in to agree with Gordon Cameron on all his points.


When it comes to (avoiding) voiceover, surely 'Adaptation' had the last postmodern word (and laugh) on the subject?


In praise of voiceover: Francois Truffaut. Especially, "The Wild Child," and "Two English Girls," they don't get enough respect nowadays.


"Barry Lyndon" is another good example for the effective use of voiceover.

As for Inarritu, I'm as jaded about the state of things as the next guy, but there is something deep and beautiful in Forsters dictum "Only Connect" and I give Inarritu credit for trying.

That Fuzzy Bastard

I think voiceover is a tool that really jumps out at the aware viewer, like direct overhead shots, flashed film, or whip-pan cuts, and like them, it's all in how deliberate you are about using it. Voiceover is great when it deepens, contradicts, or alters your perspective on the action, as it does beautifully in Barry Lyndon, Detour, or Full Frontal. It's bad when it fills in story information that should be visualized, or tells you exactly how you're supposed to perceive a scene, as in Million Dollar Baby, the studio cut of Blade Runner, or, to be honest, quite a few noirs that I otherwise really like (it is a good way out of budget and time constraints).


My fave voiceovers are from 1949: A LETTER TO THREE WIVES and KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS.


Too bad SCTV wasn't around when Crash came out... maybe Joe Flaherty AS Kirk Douglas AS Matt Dillon and Andrea Martin as the Persian shop owner. And of course Jerry Todd on the radio.

James Rocchi

Glenn -- Can't wait to read this, as "Biutiful" is one of those films that

a) Exists to function as Stations of the Cross for White Liberals. (Look at the pageantry of the pain! Muse on what it means! Don't worry, there's still plenty more tragedies to go!)

b) Is ludicrously over-larded with plot points and elements. (If your protagonist is divorced from a crazy person, trying to be good to his kids, runs not-one-but-two strings of illegal immigrant labor, is dying of cancer AND sees dead people, well, baby, as Coco Chanel says, you gotta take one of those things off before you leave the house.)

c) Is only a showcase for Bardem insofar as he can make this risible sympathy-porn even vaguely endurable. (You know how we know Bardem's a good guy in Biutiful? essentially, because he has a basement full of dead Chinese people; he's placed, weeping, atop a mound of corpses so he looks like an ethical giant.)

And yet some people -- Wells, LaSalle, etc -- will eat this shit up, because it tells them to sympathize with the unfortunate, instead of asking why there are unfortunates. And because nothing's too cheap or clammy for Awards Season in the shabby sympathy sweepstakes.


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