Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: Walking out of the theater I was more sure than ever that Tom Cruise is really really really good at being a movie star. Rogue Nation is a cleverly choreographed wind up toy of action and at its best feels like a piece of music and one of the best De Palma homages everrrr. Tom Cruise returns once again as Ethan Hunt in the spy franchise that is now more “classic James Bond” than Daniel Craig’s Bond films. Somewhere in the past 3 or 4 years Cruise gained legend status after being the butt of jokes for so long. He does almost all of his own stunts (including being strapped to an airborne plane) and the knowledge of this makes the film take on a striking level of realism even in it’s more absurd, and downright jaw dropping, sequences. While Cruise is billed as the star, it’s actually newcomer Rebecca Ferguson who stuns as the femme fatale. Her screen presence is the kind that gets you a star on Hollywood blvd. Orchestrating all of this behind the camera is Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) who directs the action like an opera. There is a stunning, stunning, stunning set piece in an opera that stands as a pristine piece of Hitchcockian operatic blocking and editing.
What separates this film from other genre films is it’s ability to use visual action AS story (Fury Road did this masterfully). McQuarrie lets his sequences burn like fuses to let them be the driving force and full of visceral firecracker moments. It’s not without nagging issues that become apparent after leaving the theater. It’s been a month since I saw it and I could not tell you in detail what the actual story is and Rebecca Hall’s Ilsa is the only character that has any semblance of real depth. It’s intentionally convoluted and the narrative works as connective tissue for the action. The moments in between the action are reserved for exposition and building to the next set piece in some other country which stunts the story. A required stumble throughout but dear lord the gears and direction of this bad boy is true pop art. The fun supporting cast headlined by Simon Pegg are mostly able to keep the slow moments at least vibrant. Sure, there’s genre constraints but it’s a delicious pop version of old school espionage thrillers! Perhaps the best of the franchise and the summer’s best blockbuster not named Fury Road.
The Gift: Joel Edgerton writes, directs, and acts in this taut thriller. It’s the type of adult thriller that was king in the 90’s and then limped into the 2000’s before being knocked out by the studio system’s mega blockbusters. I was happily reminded of how fun and forgotten these types of films are. Drama/thriller hybrids like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Funny Games, Misery. Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are a typically likable family that move to California and encounter an old schoolmate named Gordo (Edgerton). After he’s invited over for dinner it becomes clear that that Gordo’s not entirely right in the head. Edgerton doesn’t lay the creepiness on thick, but rather keeps the film almost like a whodunit as we question character’s morality while information is unearthed about their pasts. It’s first two acts are a decent enough drama about honesty, but it begins to flex it’s muscles in the final third. Rather than do the obvious chase/murder/kidnapping, The Gift turns into a psychological mind game that treads into the uncomfortably dark side of human nature. It’s a bit of a shame that it doesn’t take chances earlier in the film instead of the conventional route it begins with. Regardless, the final 15 are worth the build up. There’s a moment that is the most disturbing and gut punching moment of the year. Bravo, Mr. Edgerton.
Grade: (B-) Redbox it
Queen of Earth: I heard great buzz back in February but Alex Ross Perry’s film never gripped me like it’s done to many others. The opening scene peers down on Elizabeth Moss as she’s psychologically broken. It’s a tragically vulnerable moment that sets a high standard for the rest of the film. For me, the rest never quite gets back to this. Told over the course of 3 years at a cabin, it’s a film about two friends (Moss and Katherine Waterston) and the elasticity of relationships. The film jumps between the 3 years to peel back the layers of the relationship and to create a hypnotic mood. Persona and 3 Women are clear reference points, but with those I find the narrative, theme, and visual language are one and the same whereas Queen of Earth often feels like an exercise. I could never find an emotional entry point into the characters or story. I was left admiring the craft from afar. There are extremely well put together scenes here but I was left bored as often as I was interested. Moss is the clear standout and made me feel like I hadn’t wasted 10 bucks. It’s for sure worth a red box rental, but it’s my biggest disappointment of the year because I really like Perry as a filmmaker. Keep in mind that many found it atmospheric and a powerful study of a psychological breakdown. Its technical aspects are all solid and I like the ambition, but it’s an inert exercise for me.
Grade: (C) I’m in the minority here so if it sounds interesting, be sure to give it a watch at some point.