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Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Ramirez’

Edgar Ramirez

“WASP NETWORK” My rating: C+ (Now available on Netflix)

127 minutes | Rated: TV-MA

There’s some interesting history on display in “Wasp Network,” the latest from veteran French auteur Oliver Assayas. But as drama this one’s a head scratcher.

The film begins in the late 1980s in Cuba, with Rene Gonzalez (Edgar Ramirez) bidding farewell to his wife Olga (Penelope Cruz) and their young daughter and heading out for another day of piloting planes for the Castro regime.

Except that Gonzalez steals an aircraft and heads to Florida, where he claims political asylum. Before long he’s been hooked up with anti-Castro insurgents, flying dangerous missions to Cuba and elsewhere.  Some of those assignments involve carrying loads of narcotics which are financing plans to destabilize or even overthrow the island’s Communist government.

Meanwhile back in Cuba Olga must live with  the fallout of being the wife of a traitor.

Wagner Moura

Enter a new Cuban character, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura), who risks sharks and rip tides to swim into Guantanamo Bay where he defects to authorities at the U.S. base there. Soon Juan Pablo, who has a taste for the high life, is rubbing elbows with expatriate bigwigs in Miami, wooing the gorgeous daughter (Ana de Armas) of Cuban exiles, and flashing a Rolex.

Yet a third plot emerges with the appearance of Gerardo Hernandez (Gael Garcia Bernal), a Cuban operative who informs poor Olga that her husband, far from being a traitor, has been sent to spy on anti-Castro groups in Miami.

At one point there’s a digression to follow a Venezuelan “tourist” (Nola Guerra) who plants bombs in Havana hotels in an effort to destroy Cuba’s fledgling tourism industry.

Assaya’s screenplay plays it coy for the first hour. It’s not until the Hernandez character appears that we realize Gonzalez and Roque are not defectors but undercover agents.  This delayed reveal is meant to build suspense but mostly it leaves us mystified.  Why are we supposed to care about these two? What are their motivations?

Adapted from Fernando Morais’ nonfiction book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, “Wasp Network” reeks of authenticity.  It was shot largely in Cuba featuring a slew of familiar Latin American actors. 

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“RESISTANCE” My rating: C 

120 minutes | MPAA: R

Fiercely earnest but curiously unaffecting, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s “Resistance” is an inspired-by-fact World War II drama that shows a generally unrecognized side of Marcel Marceau, world’s most famous mime.

In pre-war France Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg) works in his father’s butcher shop but dreams of a life in the arts. At night he takes the stage at a local cabaret…we see him doing an act based on Charlie Chaplin.

Marcel is Jewish…nominally so.  His obsession with performing overshadows even the encroaching threat of Hitler’s forces.  His brother Sigmund (Edgar Ramirez) must shame Marcel into helping deal with newly-arrived German Jewish orphans who have been ransomed from the Nazi government.

Marcel claims to hate children, but warms up when he realizes that these traumatized kids are receptive to his mime routines…he at least can take their minds off the horrors they have endured. He forms a special bond with Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey, the tweener scene-stealer from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). He also sticks around because he has the hots for Emma (Clemence Poesy), who is dedicated to the relief effort.

With the arrival of the Germans the young people in Marcel’s circle go underground, joining the Resistance and risking their lives to hide Jewish children (often by passing them off as Catholic orphans) and leading the youngsters on dangerous treks to sanctuary in Switzerland.

Though it has been sumptuously mounted and features several suspenseful sequences, “Resistance” is a dramatic mess.  Jakubowicz’s screenplay has no real center…it zigs and zags between numerous characters, including the infamous Gestapo torturer Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer), who has made it his mission to wipe out these Hebrew agitators.

There’s also a clunky framing device, a post-war segment featuring Ed Harris as American Gen. George S. Patton (the multi-lingual Marcel, reborn as Marcel Marceau, actually served as a liaison on Patton’s staff).

The major stumbling block here, though, is the film’s leading man.  Jesse Eisenberg just isn’t right as Marcel. He lacks gravitas, and would need Brando-level charisma to keep this sprawling yarn centered. He gets to recreate a couple of Marceau’s famous mime routines, but the results are uncomfortable…like swimming in a three-piece suit.

Also, he looks really uncomfortable in a beret.

| Robert W. Butler

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Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt

“THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN”  My rating: C 

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Girl on the Train” is something of an anomaly — an otherwise mediocre film containing an Oscar-caliber performance.

That the award-worthy performance comes from Emily Blunt should surprise no one. This English actress has an uncanny ability to meld with diverse screen incarnations (she’s played Queen Victoria, a modern dancer, a futuristic kidkass Marine, an ethically compromised FBI agent). As Rachel — the alcoholic, anguished, out-of-control heroine of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel — Blunt is by turns painfully compelling and utterly alienating.

Too bad that the rest of Tate Taylor’s film is indifferent.

One could argue with some of the Hollywoodization at work here . The novel is set in Great Britain and its heroine is a slightly zaftig  sad sack who comes off like a tormented Bridget Jones. The film, on the other hand,  takes place in a bucolic suburb of New York City and Blunt can hardly be called overweight.

But that’s not the real problem. No, the film’s downfall is the screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, a hodgepodge of narrative feints that makes it almost impossible to relate to any of the characters and which leaves the cast members to emote to no good end while director Taylor (who had a vastly better film with “The Help”) must try to pave over the narrative hiccups and improbabilities with a slick visual style.

You can almost feel the desperation.

We first encounter Blunt’s Rachel on the commuter train that takes her to the city every day.  As the train passes the neighborhood where she used to live with her now-ex husband, Rachel is always on the lookout for the beautiful  young blonde woman who lives just a few doors down from her old home.

That would be Megan (Haley Bennett), who likes to lounge on her balcony (facing the train tracks) in her skimpy undies. Megan has a husband, Scott (Luke Evans, late of the “Hobbit” franchise), and frequently Rachel can see the couple passionately spooning through the windows or around a fire pit in the back yard.

In voiceover narration Rachel tells us that she has built a huge romantic fantasy around the couple. She doesn’t know them, but between slugs of vodka (she keeps the booze in one of those plastic sports-drink bottles), Rachel imagines herself part of their loving scenario.

Uh, have I mentioned that since her divorce Rachel has become a pathetic basket case?

Turns out that Megan is currently the nanny for Rachel’s ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Poor needy Rachel is making life impossible for the couple, phoning at all hours of the day and night, and on one occasion sneaking into the house and walking out into the yard with their new baby. (Rachel and Tom couldn’t conceive, and this failure haunts her.)

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 ** as Roberto Duran

Edgar Ramirez as Roberto Duran

“HANDS OF STONE” My rating: C+

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Hands of Stone” is  “Raging Bull” lite — a boxing biopic minus the genius of Martin Scorsese.

But it does have Robert DeNiro.

Written and directed by Venezuelan Jonathan Jacubowicz, the film takes on the troubled life and career of Roberto Duran, the Panamanian pugilist whose ring experiences were as much a product of his dysfunctional childhood and Third World resentments as they were of hard sweat and tremendous innate talent.

In a decade of championship fighting, Duran held the lightweight belt, engaged in a long-running war of words (and blows) with American champ Sugar Ray Leonard, and sometimes  behaved in private and in the ring like a spoiled child.

“Hands of Stone” feels like an attempt not to excuse that behavior but to put it in perspective.

Early scenes establish Roberto as the son of an American soldier who impregnated his mother and then vanished, setting  up in the future boxer a lifelong antipathy toward the United States.  That fury was only stoked by political upheaval in Panama over efforts to take back the Canal Zone from the gringos (the American-run canal, guarded by U.S. soldiers, effectively divided the country in half).

We see the young and charming (also unschooled and illiterate) Roberto (played as an adult by Edgar Ramirez) wooing a wealthy blonde schoolgirl, Felicidad (Ana de Armas), and starting a family even as his career is taking off.

In a sense “Hands of Stone” is a dual biography, its second subject being boxing trainer Ray Arcel (DeNiro).

When in 1971 he first saw Duran fight, Arcel had been out of boxing for nearly 20 years. In the early ’50s he had incurred the wrath of the mobsters (represented here by John Turturro) who ran the boxing business. He barely survived an assassination attempt and was allowed to live only if he steered clear of the fight game.

But he’s so moved by Duran’s potential that he gets the Mafia’s permission to train the kid with no pay.

Roberto is cocky and tough and at first resents the discipline Arcel demands. But slowly he begins to see his trainer’s genius, especially when it comes to mapping out the strategies that can win or lose a fight.

 

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