Alejandro González Iñárritu

Amores Perros 91
[ It opens with a stunningly shot car chase that culminates in a brutal accident. The narrative then shifts around back and forth in time following the various people involved in the car crash. There’s Octavio, a young man who puts his Rotweiler into dog fights to raise money to get away with the abused wife of his no-good brother; Valeria, a supermodel crippled in the accident who takes out her frustrations on her lover; and El Chivo, a shaggy hitman who hasn’t talked to his daughter for twenty years. The title translates as “love’s a bitch” and it sure is, for these characters at least. The film is often violent and emotionally ambiguous, amoral even, but that’s because it’s an honest (and intense like a mofo!) look at how cruel life can be. The cast is great (especially the rivetingly charismatic Gael Garcia Bernal) and the cinematography, score and editing are all top notch. This is a tremendous debut for González Iñárritu. ]

Powder Keg 77
[ In this episode of the online BMW shorts series “The Hire”, Clive Owen is trying to drive a wounded war photographer (Stellan Skarsgård) across the border. The centerpiece is another riveting car chase, with more of González Iñárritu’s brand of nervy camerawork and editing, plus a bit of political subtext. Good stuff. ]

11’09″01 – segment “Mexico” 85
[ 11 filmmakers, from 11 countries, making 11 films, each 11 minute 9 seconds and 1 image long and offering a different look at the events that occurred on September 11th 2001. The segments range from touching (Mira Nair’s real-life melodrama) to pretentious (Claude Lelouch’s navel-gazing break-up story), clever (Sean Penn’s poetic slice-of-life) to stupid (Shohehi Imamura‘s half-assed symbolism), cute (Samira Makhmalbaf’s kids-say-the-darnest-things episode) to heavy (Ken Loach’s reminder of the other 9/11, the 1973 US-backed coup in Chile that left 30,000 civilians dead), fun (Idrissa Ouedraogo’s charming hunt-for-Bin-Laden comedy) to tedious (Danis Tanovic’s slow yarn). There are also two digressions into the Middle-East situation, one pro-Israel (a show-off but inconsequential one-take by Amos Gitai) and one pro-Palestine (the cheesy “magical realism” of Youssef Chahine). And finally there’s the pièce de résistance, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s riveting impressionistic take on that tragic New York morning, Revolution #9-style. The overall picture is uneven, but the Mexican director’s 11 minute alone makes “11’09″01” worth seeing. ]

21 grams 53
[ review ]

Babel 90
[ This is the latest of González Iñárritu’s series of films in which unrelated characters are linked by a road accident, here involving a tourist bus in the Moroccan desert and a stray bullet. I’m starting to feel that the multi-threaded, jangled-chronology thing has not only lost its originality and surprise value, it kind of undermines the potency of each individual story. Still, out of the recent outflow of such pictures, which includes “Crash” and “Syriana”, this is by far the most effective. It also surpasses the two aforementioned titles in the depiction of a post-9/11 world of heightened racial tensions and political turmoil, the all too actual issues of “illegal” Mexicans in the US and of violence (and the repression of such) in the Middle East being very movingly dramatized. And then there’s the kinky Japanese teen comedy, which completes the film thematically by, um… Your guess is as good as mine! Throwing a drastically different in tone and style storyline about a horny deaf-mute schoolgirl who enjoys flashing her bush (!) into a harrowing drama doesn’t make any sense to me but on its own, that part of the film is a lot of trippy fun and ultimately moving, too. All in all, this is a return to the brilliance of “Amores Perros” after the muddled “21 grams”. ]

Biutiful 91
[ In this first feature made without the collaboration of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu refreshingly breaks away from the formula of his three previous movies by going for a straightforward narrative, centred on a single main character, whose story is told in chronological order (save for the bookend scenes) and is set entirely in one location, Barcelona. Not the warm, picturesque, romantic Spanish city seen in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, but what seems like the filthiest, poorest corners of it, where illegal immigrant workers struggle to survive. And while protagonist Uxbal happens to be played by the male lead of the aforementioned Woody Allen flick, Javier Bardem is not playing a suave artist here, but a morose bastard haunted by death: that of the departed souls he’s mysteriously able to communicate with, that of the father he never knew, and his own imminent death from cancer, which scares the piss out of him because he can’t accept the idea of leaving his young children on their own in this cruel, merciless world. González Iñárritu outdoes himself here, crafting a visually masterful, immensely affecting film full of humanity, urgency and raw emotion. Bardem delivers an astonishing performance, one of his best ever (which is saying a lot), and he’s surrounded by a rich tapestry of supporting characters, including Maricel Álvarez as his mentally unstable on-and-off wife, Hanaa Bouchaib as his daughter, Guillermo Estrella as his son, Eduard Fernández as his brother, plus a whole bunch of African and Chinese immigrants, every one of which contributes to making the ensemble so effective. There are many spectacular, disturbing and otherwise striking scenes, but the most memorable ones might actually be the most intimate, simple ones. Definitely one of the year’s crowning achievements. ]

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) 94
[ “How did we end up here? This place is horrible. Smells like balls. We don’t belong in this shithole.” Thus speaks Birdman, or at least a version of that comic book character whose gravelly voice constantly echoes in the head of the actor who played him on the big screen, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton who, as Tim Burton’s Batman, must know a thing or two about being haunted by a superhero role). It often feels like we in the audience are also in Thomson’s head, seeing the world through his distorted point of view. I mean, he doesn’t actually have superpowers in real life, does he? The film takes place during the week of previews leading to the opening night of a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love written, produced and directed by Thomson, who also stars in it. Clearly, he intends to make a big statement with this play, to finally be taken seriously as more than a guy who used to run around in tights in a lucrative movie franchise. According to his inner Birdman voice, this is all an excuse for a lot of “talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit”, but that is not true of the film Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu cowrote and directed. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is full of humor and energy and bravado, it’s a hyperkinetic backstage yarn with surreal overtones not unlike “Black Swan”. Almost entirely shot in a series of stunning long takes set to a percussive score by Antonio Sánchez, “Birdman” could also be described as a feature-length version of the warehouse scene in “Punch-Drunk Love” crossed with the TV station sequence in “Magnolia”. It’s a veritable technical tour de force the way cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera relentlessly wanders around the sets, never missing a beat. Equally impressive is the way all the actors not only hit their marks, but also deliver stellar performances. There’s been a lot of hype about how great Michael Keaton is in the lead and he is, but he often comes close to having the film stolen away from him by Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and especially Emma Stone. Heck, even Zach Galifianakis does wonderful work here! Everyone in the cast is amazing, really, passionately bringing the their characters to vibrant life and biting into the snappy dialogue, much of it is about acting itself, an insane profession if there ever was one. The screenplay is hardly subtle, in fact, it’s very on the nose and in your face, but I loved it all the same. This is absolutely electrifying filmmaking, a cast and crew firing on all cylinders, all over Broadway and in one particularly memorable scene, right on Times Square! It’s easily the best film of Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu’s career so far. I almost want to say it’s a masterpiece, but let’s wait a few years, all right? ]

The Revenant 93
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]