Movie Project #5: Amores Perros [2000]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Amores Perros [2000]

Amores Perros [2000]
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenplay: Guillermo Arriaga
Country: Mexico
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo, Vanessa Bauche, Álvaro Guerrero
Running Time: 154 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is the only film in the “trilogy of death” that I hadn’t seen, and the constant comparisons to Pulp Fiction had me intrigued.

Accolades: BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language, Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Prize of the Critic’s Week at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, included on Empire’s 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time, ranked #182 on IMDB’s Top 250

This review discusses several plot points and may contain spoilers.

In English, Amores Perros translates to “Love’s a Bitch.” It’s a clever play on words for a film in which love and dogs play an important part in each of its three segments.

As the first entry in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s trilogy of death (later followed by 21 Grams and Babel), Amores Perros is similarly structured as an anthology film. Three completely different stories are intertwined due to a horrific car crash that happens in Mexico City.

The first segment is the hardest to watch, and it is the reason why a “no animals were harmed during the making of this film” warning appears beforehand. It involves dog fighting, and through the illusion of quick cuts, the fights come across as all too real. The viciousness of these moments are enough to make animal lovers squirm (and possibly shut off the film altogether), but numerous precautions were taken to make sure no animals were actually harmed. It’s very effective film-making from Iñárritu in his feature film debut.

Amores Perros [2000]

The main character of this first segment, Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), becomes involved in dog fighting by total chance. After his dog kills that of a local thug’s in an impromptu “non-sanctioned” fight, Octavio sees this as an opportunity to begin profiting from his pet. His ultimate goal is to make enough money to escape with his sister-in-law, Susana (Vanessa Bauche), who is stuck in an abusive relationship with his brother, Ramiro (Marco Pérez).

The beginning of the film indicates that things aren’t going to go as planned, as it shows Octavio and Jorge in a car chase, culminating with them smashing directly into another car.

The second segment follows the lives of Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero) and Valeria (Goya Toledo). Daniel has left his wife and two kids in order to live with Valeria, who is a Spanish supermodel. She is the one driving the other car that Octavio and Jorge crash directly into. As a result, she breaks her leg, and is unable to continue working as a model. On top of this, she also loses her dog, Richie, who has somehow managed to get himself stuck underneath the floorboards of her house. With so many things going wrong at once, the strength of the new relationship of Daniel and Valeria is already put to the test.

Amores Perros [2000]

The third and final segment focuses on one person, a hitman (Emilio Echevarría) nicknamed “El Chivo” (aka “The Goat”). His connection to the crash is the loosest of the group, as he is getting ready to perform an assassination at the exact moment the accident happens. El Chivo’s story is the saddest of the group, as he is a homeless man who just wants to reconnect with his long-lost daughter. His loyal group of dogs seem to be the only thing holding him together.

Three segments. Three completely different stories. On their own, they likely wouldn’t be particularly enthralling, but the way they are interwoven together keeps the film fresh. Little hints and reminders are dropped here and there, showing that these characters are all related in more ways than originally meets the eye. As with 21 Grams and Babel, this is a film that would seemingly warrant multiple viewings to pick up on these clues.

Amores Perros [2000]

Filmed on a modest budget of $2.4 million, Amores Perros has a very personal, authentic feel. The performances are raw and impressive, and the fact that much of the movie was filmed in the poorer areas of Mexico City adds even more to the grittiness. In a crazy bit of trivia, Iñárritu and some of his crew were actually robbed by street gangs during filming.

It’s easy to see why Amores Perros is held in such high regard, and it is a thoroughly entertaining film overall. However, its 2 1/2 hour running time is a bit of a burden by the end, and some sections could have been easily reduced or cut entirely. The middle segment especially could use some trimming, as Valeria and her cries for Richie grew more and more ludicrous with every minute.

Regardless, this is still one hell of a filmmaking debut, and Iñárritu set the stage for a formula that he would go on to perfect with 21 Grams.

8/10

Movie Project #35: O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Genre: Comedy/Adventure/Crime
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman and Holly Hunter
Runtime: 106 minutes

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of those films that just slipped through the cracks for me over the years. I remember the soundtrack being a hot commodity — and damn that bluegrass is infectious — but never sat down to watch the entire movie. It’s a shame that it took me twelve years to see this because this is yet another ridiculously fun effort from the Coen brothers.

Set in 1930s rural Mississippi and loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey”, the film follows the exploits of three escaped convicts who are in search of hidden treasure. The trio, comprised of de facto leader Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) and his two pals, Pete Hogwallop (Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Nelson), run into all sorts of trouble on their journey. Not only are they constantly chased by the law, they also have a habit of becoming entangled in other unexpected endeavors. They form a bluegrass group — the Soggy Bottom Boys — with a young black musician named Tommy (Chris Thomas King), and as a result somehow get caught up in a political race as well as a KKK rally. The group also comes across undesirable characters including a trio of “Sirens”, a one-eyed bible thumper (Goodman) and a bipolar bank robber named George Nelson (Michael Badalucco).

Oh yeah, and in the middle of this, Ulysses is trying to get back with his estranged wife, Penny (Holly Hunter). It’s a wild ride for sure.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

At its core, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a road movie, and we are there for the entire epic adventure. The aforementioned run-ins with other characters lead to a number of memorable scenes, many of which are so ridiculous that it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Of course, the addictive soundtrack adds even more to the overall film, and even non-bluegrass fans should enjoy the catchy tunes. Even as I sit here writing this review, I have “Man of Constant Sorrow” stuck in my head. That’s a good thing.

Clooney, Turturro and Nelson make for an entertaining trio, and they play off each other fantastically. Clooney’s natural charisma makes him the obvious choice for the leader of the group, but I was most impressed with Nelson’s humorous slack-jawed yokel of a performance. The overall cast is amazingly well-rounded, with great takes from Goodman, Hunter and my personal favorite, Stephen Root, who plays a blind radio station manager that gives the Soggy Bottom Boys their big break.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

While some may find fault in how O Brother, Where Art Thou? sometimes feels like a collection of short films thrown together as one, there’s no denying that this is uproarious fun from beginning to end. The Coen brothers have a knack for these zany comedies, and the script is full of brilliant, quick-witted dialogue. I had a great time with this film, and I get the feeling that this is one that just gets better with age.

8.5/10

Movie Project #26: Dancer in the Dark [2000]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

Dancer in the Dark [2000]
Director: Lars von Trier
Genre: Drama/Musical
Starring: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse
Runtime: 140 Minutes

My experience with Lars von Trier is limited to the movie Antichrist. While that film was brutal and absolutely horrifying at times, it captivated me in a way that most recent titles have rarely been able to do. It was clear to me that von Trier is a talented director, and I was eager to see more of his work. This led me to Dancer in the Dark, von Trier’s intriguing version of a musical.

The ever-enigmatic Björk stars as Selma, a Czech immigrant who works endless hours to save up money for eye surgery for her son, Gene (Vladica Kostic). A hereditary degenerative disease is causing her to go blind, and she wants her son to have the surgery at a young age to hopefully prevent this from happening to him as well. Selma picks up shifts at all hours of the night, trying to maximize her work schedule before she cannot see at all. She also has a passion for musicals, and has been practicing for a role in a local play. Selma is a bit scatterbrained, to put it mildly, and she frequently goes off into her own little world in the form of daydreams. This is where the film delves into its own version of a musical, as her daydreams transform her surroundings into wild song and dances.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

There are others in Selma’s life as well. Her best friend, Cvalda (Catherine Deneuve), is a fellow co-worker who always looks out for Selma and takes care of her in times of need. Selma is renting a trailer home on the property of local policeman Bill Houston (David Morse) and his wife Linda (Cara Seymour), both of whom assist her by watching Gene while he is alone. Finally, there is Jeff (Peter Stormare), another co-worker who is infatuated with Selma and does anything he can to help her out.

With so many positive influences in Selma’s life, it sounds like a peaceful and reflective film, right? Uh, no, it’s pretty fucking depressing.

One traumatic moment involving betrayal and death changes the complexion of everything, and soon Selma’s life is thrown into chaos. It is at this point where the film grows incredibly bleak, and it gradually becomes hard to watch. This has human emotion in its rawest form, and some of the character behaviors are downright maddening. Not an easy watch by any means.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

Björk in the lead role is an interesting choice, and she does a pretty damn good job for not being a real actress. She is quirky and does well to bring compassion to her character, and her contributions to the soundtrack are wonderful. Of course, she has a very distinct style and not everyone will embrace her singing. I thought she was great, but some of her lip syncing during the musical numbers was way off the mark. I got a kick out of some of the song performances, but the lip syncing in general was just terrible and sometimes it took me out of the moment.

Catherine Deneueve and David Morse, in particular, delivered memorable performances as well, and did a great job in their supporting roles.

Dancer in the Dark, while bleak and disturbing in nature, is a well-crafted film that rather fantastically feels like a mix of musical, documentary and drama. The film’s raw emotional style isn’t for everyone, but I rather enjoyed it. Can’t wait to see more of von Trier’s work.

8/10