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Posts Tagged ‘penelope cruz’

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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Antonio Banderas

“PAIN & GLORY” My rating: B+

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The dominant aural element of Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain & Glory” is a solo oboe exuding gentle melancholy.

It’s the perfect soundtrack for one of this director’s best films, a semi-autobiographical (just how autobiographical will no doubt be debated at length) attempt to capture the limits of one man’s existence.

It’s not a busy film, nor is it particularly amusing or sensational in the ways that once made Almodovar the bad boy of Spanish cinema. “Pain and Glory” starts slowly and quietly builds in intensity until it delivers an overwhelmingly emotional experience.

Antonio Banderas,  the hunky sex object of Almodovar’s earlier efforts, stars as Salvador, a sixtysomething filmmaker who hasn’t had a new project in years.  We first meet him underwater in a swimming pool…turns out that floating  is one of the few things that relieves his physical and spiritual maladies.

In an animated sequence Salvador outlines his various infirmities, which range from fused vertebrae to migraines, digestive issues, outbreaks of tendonitis and, naturally enough, depression. All this has left him a virtual recluse; on most days he sees only his devoted secretary/Girl Friday Mercedes (Nora Navas).

“Pain & Glory” unfolds simultaneously in the present and in the past.

In the here and now Salvador learns that one of his films — made more than 30 years earlier — has been restored and is being given a special screening at the national cinematheque.  This results in a reunion between the director and the film’s leading man, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia). The two had a falling out and haven’t spoken in three decades.

They tentatively reignite their friendship; perhaps even more important to Salvador, Alberto turns him on to heroin, the only drug he hasn’t tried to cope with his almost constant pain.

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Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” My rating: C  

114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The year’s strongest cast wrestles inertia to a standstill in “Murder on the Orient Express,” the latest addition to the pantheon of unnecessary remakes.

We already have Sidney Lumet’s perfectly delightful 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s great  railway mystery. But as with Shakespeare, Dame Agatha’s yarns are worthy of retelling for each new generation.  Problem is, this retelling is stillborn.

It’s always difficult to know exactly why a movie goes wrong, but in this case it may very well lie with the decision to have Kenneth Branagh both direct and star as eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The character dominates virtually every scene, which means the acting weight alone was exhausting. To then also ride herd on a huge cast of heavy hitting thespians was too much to ask of anyone.

As it now stands, Branagh disappoints in both capacities. His features masked by absurd facial hair as obviously fake as the computer-generated backgrounds, he makes a mess of Poirot, who goes from crowd-teasing cutup to moody depressive without much in between. Lines that should evoke a laugh barely generate a tentative smile.

As for the directing end of things…well, what can you say when you have this much talent on hand and still end up with a dull yarn weighted down by blah characterizations?

Set aboard a snowbound luxury train on the Istanbul-Paris run, Michael Green’s screenplay clings to the basics of Christie’s tale (the “who” in the “whodunnit” makes for a one of the better revelations in all detective fiction) while dabbling with some of the particulars, largely in an effort to make the project more attractive to today’s mass audience.

Thus the screenplay finds time for one karate fight, a chase down a railroad trestle and a shooting — none of which are to be found in the novel or the earlier film.

While a few of the characters have undergone some tweaking (a physician aboard the train is now a Negro played by Leslie Odom Jr., providing the opportunity to dabble in some racial issues), most cling to Christie’s parameters. (more…)

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”  My rating: C

137 minutes | PG-13

“On Stranger Tides,” the fourth entry in Disney’s phenomenally profitable “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, is at least an improvement over the last two sequels.

It’s still not a particularly good movie (though it remains hugely impressive from a technical standpoint) but at least it didn’t make me want to pound a handspike into my forehead.

“Pirates” 2 and 3 were runaround movies in which the principal players would first run over here, then run over there without a whole lot of reason. Basically director Gore Verbinski was mounting special effects extravaganzas in which plot and characters were a distant afterthought.

Now helmed by Rob Marshall (who followed up on his smash “Chicago” with the dismal “Memoirs of a Giesha” and “Nine” and badly needs a commercial hit), the franchise has jettisoned (more…)

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