2019 TIFF Movie Review: WASP NETWORK (France/Belgium/Spain/Brazil 2019) ***

Wasp Network Poster
The story of five Cuban political prisoners who had been imprisoned by the United States since the late 1990s on charges of espionage and murder.


Olivier Assayas

WASP NETWORK is a multi-level political thriller that tells the story of numerous characters set in the Cuban American cold war.  Director Assayas did CARLOS which spanned a 181-minute lengthy running time.  WASP NETWORK has more stories to tell and it seems really rushed in Assayas’ storytelling in this 2-hour film.  The primary story is set in December 1990. Airline pilot René González (Edgar Ramírez) steals a plane and flees Cuba, which is about to topple into an economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Having abandoned his wife (Oscar winner Penelope Cruz) and daughter, René, now based in Miami, is regarded as a coward and a traitor, though in letters home he explains that he is fighting for a more just and prosperous Cuba as a member of the activist organization Brothers to the Rescue.  

Another character is fellow exile and pilot Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura). René gradually becomes more aware of the moral compromises the Brothers make to do their work — and the degree to which the CIA is involved in supporting anti-Castro activities.  Director Assayas makes the CIA the story’s chief villain.

Trailer: https://www.cineuropa.org/en/video/rdID/375491/f/t/


Film Review: THE QUIETUDE (LA QUIETUDE) (Argentina 2018) **

The Quietude Poster

Two sisters, as close as they are different, find themselves after a long separation.


Pablo Trapero


Alberto Rojas Apel (collaborating writer), Pablo Trapero

THE QUIETUDE is the name of the sprawling ranch in Argentina where a wealthy Argentine family resides.  The quiet ranch will be shown to be not that quiet or restful by the time the film ends.

The film begins with a beautiful young lady in Buenos Aires, Mia (Martina Gusman) entering the house and interrupting a nasty argument that is heard but not seen, which is likely all for the best, as the audience gets the picture.  Mia follows the father to the D.A,’s office where he suffers a stroke and is bedridden.  This brings back to Buenos Aires the other member of the family – Eugenia (Berenice Bejo, the actress and wife of the director of the Oscar Winning Best Film THE ARTIST.)

With every member of the family at home, trouble ensues, as expected.  It is revealed that the two sisters have an unhealthy sexual incestuous relationship, as can be witnessed in the 5-minute or so oral sex scene that should keep many an audience aroused.  The two main actresses are both Argentine and they look so alike, they could pass on for twins.  This is a bit confusing during some parts of the movie when one needs to distinguish Mia and Eugenia, unless their names are used in the dialogue.

The events take place during the political unrest of the country due to the brutality of the current dictatorship.

But Trapero’s film, apart from the sexual scenes are boring for the fact that they are hardly credible.  It seems that anything goes for drama, and Trapero puts in any event convenient to create high drama, like the father’s stroke, the sex between two females and then male and female.   A bit more detail would have been helpful to aid the story’s credibility.  Nothing is mentioned of how the family’ wealth is achieved or the reason Eugenia went away to Paris or he reason father and mother stayed together despite huge disagreements.

Though shot on a ranch, most of the film’s scenes are interiors, with not much seen of the animals or in the farming. But the exteriors and production sets are quite good to look at courtesy of the cinematographer and production designer.

Trapero does not do anything to connect the audience with his characters.  The audience do not care if the father passes away or not or whether the two sisters will earn their happiness.  It appears that all Trapero is interested in doing is to titillate or shock his audience – as in the sex scenes and the oddities of behaviour of the family. 

The end result THE QUIETUDE is a rather boring family affair which could be quietly  dismissed.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e23SQyvTfcA

Film Review: GOLD (USA 2016) ***

gold.jpgDirector: Stephen Gaghan
Writers: Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard

Review by Gilbert Seah

GOLD has been advertised as an American crime adventure film. But the film is not that much an adventure film, feeling more like a biopic of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), an unlucky businessman who discovers and finds gold, but loses it all including his long-suffering girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). GOLD is in reality, based on the Bre-X scandal. It is indicated at the start of the film that the film is inspired by true events. So, the Wells character is likely made up.

It appears that the entire story of GOLD can be determined from the trailer. But it is not so. Though the story has a twist, director Gaghan, who directs based on a script by himself, Patrick Massett and John Zinman cannot decide what kind of film (satirical or sincere) it wants to be. It is also part romance, crime, a bit of adventure but feels like a biopic of a totally obnoxious (though fictitious) person that the audience is supposed to root for.

The film turns towards sincerity in the segment where Kay angrily warns Kenny of the business wolves. The satire is mainly found in Kenny’s character – for example in the scene with him hugging geologist Michael in his underwear like two gay lovers.

Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) looks absolutely horrendous in the movie – intentionally and he flaunts it. He has put on so many pounds that his gut shows. Besides smoking half the time, Kenny spawns a receding hairline, looking half bald with bad skin. It makes matters worse that the guy the audience is supposed to root for is not only obnoxious but ugly.

The film is set in Indonesia where the gold prospecting is being done. Locations in Thailand are used to substitute for Indonesia, for obvious reasons that Thailand is more stable for filming. As far as westerners go, most cannot tell the difference. The film makes sure that the locals in the film including the character of the geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) speak Malay and not Thai.

Of the performances, veteran Stacy Keach as big-shot, Clive Coleman stands out. Others supporting actors like Howard, Ramirez, Bruce Greenwood deliver standard uninspired performances. McConaughey is McConaughey, who can deliver an extremely annoying over-acted performance, as observable in the film’s first 10 minutes. But hand it to him, at least his over-acting keeps the film from being boring.

The film begins with Kay and Kenny talking about gold prospects. The script quickly jumps 7 years into the story with Kenny growing bald and fat. The script also calls for the story to bounce to and from from the States to Indonesia. Director Gaghan also, for no reason, resolves to split screen for a few minutes of the movie and then never goes back to it.

The most interesting segments of GOLD are not the location shots in Thailand. They are the ones involving the business wheeling-dealing – often with Kenny being taken for a rough ride. The best of these is the business conference in which a strategic partner is sought with an impossible conversation.

Does GOLD succeed in telling an entertaining story? The answer is up to the audience to decide but as in the words of Kelly when he first discovers gold: “the ride has begun!”

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdLXPv5NsA4

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