By Mark Metcalf Special to Published Sep 19, 2009 at 9:55 AM

Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."

In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with Milwaukee Film, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including He recently filmed an episode of the popular AMC series "Mad Men."

He also finds time to write about movies for This week, Metcalf weighs in on a pair of movies, "Amores Perros" and "Spun."


"Love's a bitch." That is the translation of the title of this film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

"What's love got to do with it?" is a lyric from a Tina Turner song and an apt response to Amores Perros. Certainly not "love" as it is understood in the movie language of the romantic United States.

Amores Perros is a great film. It precedes by a few years, and I am sure inspired, the Paul Haggis film "Crash," which won a couple of Academy Awards, awards which should have gone to "Children of Men," another superior film also directed by a Mexican director.

The storytelling technique goes back to Robert Altman's "Nashville." In the Altman film, many characters approach an event, a moment in time, from different directions, with different stories, each intertwined with the other in an accidental, peripheral way, sometimes merely by geography.

I suppose that way of telling a larger story goes back to Chaucer in some way. There was a wonderful film several years ago called "Nine Lives," in which the stories of nine different women were told in nine short films. Each story was connected to the other in the briefest of ways but the whole accumulated into a strong and beautiful statement about relationships and the constant struggle to maintain them, and the impossibility of doing so unscarred.

In Altman's film, everything moves forward toward a single event in the future, so there is the tradition of linear thinking as it relates to time. With Inarritu's film the action of the entire film spirals in time and space around a single event that happens early in the film and then continues to happen again and again as we experience that event from the perspective of several different characters as they are affected by it either directly or indirectly. The effect is one of putting a puzzle together. We are carried along by the tension of not knowing what is going on or what is going to happen and we are rewarded periodically as a piece will fall into place, or as two different stories will interconnect.

The final act of what amounts to three acts concerns a street person, a man whose has left his family and his job to become a revolutionary, to change the world, one would think for the better. If you look around you'll notice that the changing the world thing hasn't worked out for any of us.

This man, El Chivo, reduced to living on the street with his six dogs, has taken to committing assassinations for the local police when they need someone killed. He doesn't like it, but his remorse at the state of mankind and the chaos he has made of this world allows him to elevate himself to a god-like position where taking a human life is almost an act of vengeance of a wrathful god, or a sacrifice to a distant god.

There is a wonderful line in the film, "If you want to make God laugh... tell him your plans."

The hand-held, constantly moving camera, grainy film stock, and the remarkable verisimilitude of the performances give "Amores Perros" a fine edge of reality, cheap, violent and pathetic as it may be. It is really a brilliant film and shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in film and in the world beyond the gated community that we seem to live in.

SPUN (2002)

One of the purposes of any art form is to give the audience a feeling of existing in a particular place and time. "Spun" puts you right inside a methamphetamine addict's head and lets you ride that roller coaster for 90 minutes.

It's the editing that gets you there. Editing and music, and the sense that someone has been down this herky-jerky road before and knows whereof they speak.

There are outrageous performances from actors like John Leguizamo and Brittany Murphy. You expect it from Leguizamo, but Murphy is a complete surprise if you only know her from the Disney Channel. Mickey Rourke gives a very lived-in performance as The Cook, leading me to reevaluate his performance in "The Wrestler." It is a narrow band of existence that he is able to present in his performances, but he has great depth within the band.

Jason Schwartzman, who is ordinarily so laid back that objects seem to pass right through him, is very energized under the influence of speed, but he still manages to maintain the passive aggressive cloak of invisibility that is his niche in the acting world.

Much of the film feels like the great sequence in "Goodfellas" when Ray Liotta is over the edge of paranoia and energy from living in the cocaine closet and has to leave the house to make a delivery. The editing and sound have that kind of kinetic drive. But, it is hard to make it last for the entire film and, wisely, they don't try. The rhythm of the ups and downs, the high and then the crash of a life of addiction is well-paced throughout.




Mark Metcalf Special to

Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."

Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.