By STEVE PERSALL
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
It's a dog's life at best
Amores Perros (R) (153 min.) -- A ghastly auto accident and a dog named Cofi link three stories in this adrenalized debut from Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The blueprint is straight out of Pulp Fiction and Inarritu isn't bashful about borrowing Quentin Tarantino's riffs. Yet, the movie soars with an intoxicating originality.
That car crash is caused by Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal, above) being chased after Cofi has become the toughest fighting dog in town. A rival hoodlum shot Cofi and now wants to kill Octavio. This grisly chapter is the film's longest and bloodiest. Animal lovers will cringe at Inarritu's depiction of illegal dog fights, but they were reportedly performed under strict supervision.
Fashion model Valeria (Goya Toledo) is an innocent driver maimed by the accident. She recently moved into an apartment purchased by her married lover and lost her Lhasa apso in a hole in the floor. Chapter 2 focuses on Valeria's crumbling relationship with Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero) and maddening obsession with finding her dog.
On the corner is a not-so-innocent bystander, a street bum named El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria) who kills for profit. El Chivo's latest mission was interrupted by the accident and what he discovers at the wreck will change his life in Chapter 3.
Inarritu braids together these tales with uncommon assurance and the verve of an artist in love with his medium. Despite its length, there isn't a slack moment. Characters are etched deeply and the performances, especially Echevarria's subtle ruthlessness, are inspired, with some telling moments lingering in a viewer's mind for days. If there's a message to Amores Perros, it's that people treat their dogs better than each other. Even that isn't always kind.
Spanish with English subtitles. Opens Friday at Channelside Cinemas in Tampa and Main Street Cinemas in Clearwater. A
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Escape from the gathering storm
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (PG) (122 min.) -- This year's Academy Award winner for best documentary feature finally gets an extended run after several screenings for Tampa Bay Jewish groups. Mark Jonathan Harris' chronicle of Holocaust childhood deserves your attention.
Nine months before World War II, nearly 10,000 children from German, Austria and Czechoslovakia escaped imprisonment with the help of the Kindertransport, an underground railroad of sorts that delivered them to safety in England. Harris ably tells their saga, seldom straying from conventional documentary technique; talking heads, newsreel footage and celebrity narration by Judi Dench.
But the stories these survivors tell, reliving their separation from long-lost parents, are heartbreaking. Pride in their grandchildren, who wouldn't have been born otherwise, balances the grief. Into the Arms of Strangers is a life affirmation rather than a eulogy, richly deserving its Oscar.
Opens Friday at Channelside Cinemas in Tampa. A
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