Connect with us


Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

It can’t resist winking at how this franchise manages to defy the limits of both human endurance and its superstar’s rickety public status.




Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Photo: Paramount Pictures

The hard drives are concealed in lipstick cases and the latex face masks are now molded with the help of a 3D printer, but the considerable and surprisingly consistent pleasures of the Mission: Impossible series rely on more vintage touches: ambiguous bombshells of a classical Hollywood beauty; Cold War-era villains; and Tom Cruise’s eternal commitment to scaling buildings, escaping shackles, and crashing through plates of glass. Mirroring phases of the star’s career, the franchise has cast Ethan Hunt as a cocksure maverick (De Palma’s original), devoted romantic (John Woo’s sequel), and a prospective husband (in J.J. Abrams’s 2006 reboot). Since then, a series which has never shown much interest in character-building has become the perfect embodiment of Cruise’s illegible reputation. Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol rendered Hunt an avatar, nearly silent in his service to the director’s kinetic set pieces, which played like Pixar scenes come to life. With Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie largely stays the course, though he can’t resist winking at how this franchise manages to defy the limits of both human endurance and its superstar’s rickety public status.

Like every other tent pole this summer, Rogue Nation finds the operations of the Impossible Missions Force at risk of obsolescence. Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin), director of the C.I.A., has absorbed the group and rendered its agents middle-managers (Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt) and IT lackeys (Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn). While Huntley blusters about incapacitating Hunt and his team, Ethan begins the film clasped to the door of a flying cargo plane, which contains a pallet of nerve gas Hunt connects to an organized terrorist network known as the Syndicate. The group, composed of rebels and intelligence operatives who’ve long been lost or presumed dead, is run by a reasonably effective Slavo-Nordic menace, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), with a thin voice and shiny suit. His world-beating aspirations begin as a string of seemingly disconnected but economically destabilizing events: a plane crash over Jakarta, a chemical plant explosion in Malaysia, and the attempted assassination of the Austrian chancellor. It’s up to Hunt, globetrotting a step ahead of Huntley’s watchful eye, to get to Lane with a little help from his old friends. In his way are Lane’s chief henchman, the “Bone Doctor” (Jens Hulten), and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a gorgeous British double agent posing as a Syndicate apprentice.

In tribute to Hitchcock, or at least De Palma’s riffs on Hitchcock, McQuarrie’s script manufactures some bogus complexities, reveling in using Ilsa’s precarious mission as an opportunity for suggestions of double- or triple-crossings. More interesting, though more distracting, are the script’s plodding experiments with self-conscious commentary, which dwell on whether Hunt and the IMF manage to succeed through spy craft or sheer luck. McQuarrie, director of Jack Reacher and writer of The Usual Suspects, is the least distinctive filmmaker to take the M:I mantle thus far, and his harsh cuts and blunt-force approach diminish one or two of Rogue Nation’s many marquee action sequences. De Palma could have mined even more tension out of the complex spatial dynamics at a performance of Turandot at the Vienna Opera House, and any previous series auteur would have improved a chaotic car chase through the alleys and temple steps of Casablanca. Nonetheless, the scenes offer a visceral kick, thanks to the franchise’s dedication to bending the limits of human potential, which innately channel’s its star’s thoroughgoing fixation on forcing the impossible to maintain a shred of plausibility. Rogue Nation doesn’t need the meta text about chance and skill to keep audiences engaged. With Cruise on board, the film is guaranteed a surfeit of subtext.

Back to that lackluster chase in Casablanca: It comes right after Hunt’s heart stops at the climax of a dive into some kind of underwater turbine-cum-server bank, and right before a motorcycle chase through the hills and highways of Morocco, all thrills and sensual curves caught through the lens of the great Robert Elswit. Through this triptych of action sequences, Ilsa goes from friend to foe and perhaps back again. As the steely female complement to Cruise, Ferguson is the film’s secret weapon, always threatening to sexualize a relationship the film leaves notably chaste. Ilsa unfastens a single button of her blouse before an interrogation, and removes her heels before a few impressive sets of acrobatics, and Hunt looks at her with a gaze that barely expresses something beyond approval. With charismatic actors like Renner, Pegg, and a returning Ving Rhames at Hunt’s side, the film has a good time pretending it’s about teamwork and friendship, but the series has become more compelling as Hunt has become more divorced from human impulse and attachment. An early scene finds Hunt trapped in a glass box he’s unable to escape. It’s an appropriate metaphor for celebrity, one that leaks into every scene highlighting Hunt’s physical dedication as he nearly drowns, falls from a height, or risks disfiguration in a haze of shattered glass. Rogue Nation transforms “Live. Die. Repeat.” into a lifestyle choice bent on proving the vitality of its star.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Jens Hulten Director: Christopher McQuarrie Screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie Distributor: Paramount Pictures Running Time: 131 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2015 Buy: Video, Soundtrack



Review: A Land Imagined Is a Noir-Tinged Rumination on Identity

Writer-director Yeo Siew Hua suggests that becoming another person is as easy as dreaming it.




A Land Imagined
Photo: MM2 Entertainment

Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined begins with an extended montage of looming buildings and structures, as well as work sites of Singapore’s vast land-reclamation projects. This simple visual motif effectively captures not only the sense of insignificance that comes with living in an urban center teeming with people (workers appear like dots within the wide shots), but also lays the groundwork for the film’s sudden shift in perspective.

Yeo’s Golden Leopard-winning film opens in dreamy noir-like fashion before blooming into a sobering social drama concerning the lives of Singapore’s ignored and exploited immigrant and working-class communities. After a police detective, Lok (Peter Yu), spends the first third of A Land Imagined searching for a missing construction worker, Wang (Liu Xiaoyi), Lok’s partner rhetorically asks why looking for a lowly laborer is worth the time and taxpayer money. Yeo makes an empathetic rebuttal to that thought by subsequently launching into a depiction of Wang and his downtrodden existence immediately before his disappearance.

Wang, though injured, can’t afford to miss work, so he continues to drive a shuttle for other workers. Through the depiction of Wang’s grinding daily routine and search for a side hustle, Yeo shows how the man is at the mercy of his employers. In keeping with the strain of noir from Lok’s storyline, the company Wang works for and whom the dredged land is ultimately for is an eerily nebulous entity, like something out of a Fritz Lang production. Wang appears as an unwitting pawn in a larger scheme, though, paradoxically, the moments of relative escape spent with a fellow worker, Ajit (Ishtiaque Zico), and the mysterious Mindy (Luna Kwok), the manager of a cybercafé Wang frequents, prove that he leads a life of his own.

The presence of the Bangladeshi Ajit in A Land Imagined and the fact that the undocumented Wang hails from mainland China are just two factors that point to Yeo’s grasp of Singapore as a globalized state with shifting notions of identity—an understanding that’s complemented by the film’s narrative structure, which shifts perspective between Lok and Wang throughout. Each character operates on the fringes of Singaporean society and deals with similar feelings of estrangement. At one point, Wang tells Mindy after a late-night swim at a local beach that the sand comes from various different countries around Singapore. And this idea of the island nation as not having a set identity is one that’s cannily rhymed to the film’s structure.

The shift back and forth between the narrative’s central characters, and how one of those characters is affected by the life of an itinerant worker, brings to mind João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa’s Araby, but A Land Imagined doesn’t contain itself completely to the realist tradition of that film. Yeo adopts a more ethereal approach, even implying early on that Lok’s storyline is a projection of dreams that Wang once had. The elliptical narrative, coupled with the explicitly noir passages—marked by stylized and shadowy cinematography—that follow Lok and Wang around a hazy and languid cityscape, give the impression that A Land Imagined exists in a kind of dream state. The film may be coy about definitively stating if Lok is Wang’s dream-self, but this question is ultimately irrelevant. In a diverse land where identity is inherently foggy, Yeo suggests that becoming another person is as easy as dreaming it.

Cast: Peter Yu, Liu Xiaoyi, Luna Kwok, Ishtiaque Zico, Jack Tan, Kelvin Ho Director: Yeo Siew Hua Screenwriter: Yeo Siew Hua Running Time: 95 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

Continue Reading


Review: Out of Blue Plays Out Like a New-Age Law & Order

Carol Morley’s film wants to blow our minds, but it succeeds only at rousing our boredom.




Out of Blue
Photo: IFC Films

Carol Morley’s Out of Blue begins with images of a supernova as an ostensibly brilliant astrophysicist, Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), wonderingly intones that we’re all made of stardust. This meaningless observation, cribbed from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” is an appropriate opening to a film that proves to be every bit as trite, over-reaching, and goofy as its opening lines. With its endless references to black holes, the multiverse, and Schrödinger’s cat—the last of which is outlined in detail not once but twice—Morley’s film wants to blow our minds, but it succeeds only at rousing boredom.

Loosely based on the novel Night Train by Martin Amis, Out of Blue attempts to combine the heady philosophizing of True Detective with the metaphorical surrealism of Twin Peaks, but Morley’s writing is so ham-handed and her directing so nondescript that the film ends up feeling more like a protracted new-age spin on Law & Order. It doesn’t speak well of Out of Blue that the film is at its most compelling when it’s just straight-up ripping off David Lynch’s stylistic idiosyncrasies, such as in a dream sequence where Jennifer lip-synchs to an old-timey country song on a bandstand that looks nearly identical to the Roadhouse stage.

The film’s plot is also suspiciously reminiscent of that of Twin Peaks: An enigmatic detective, Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson), investigates the brutal murder of a pretty young blonde (Gummer), which brings her into contact with an assortment of local oddballs. Out of Blue, though, lacks the regional specificity of Lynch’s series—Morley’s film is set in New Orleans but you wouldn’t know that from what’s on screen—and its eccentrics, some of them played by fascinating character actors like Toby Jones, Jacki Weaver, and James Caan, are vaguely drawn. But the biggest misstep is Mike herself, a cipher who spends much of Out of Blue muttering clues under her breath and staring into the middle distance.

Of course, Mike has a dark past herself, one which is intertwined with the mystery she’s trying to solve. Clarkson does her best to imbue the role with a certain offbeat gravitas, but Mike is too confusedly conceived to generate any real interest in her backstory, much less to carry the narrative. Morley hangs a lot of eccentricities on the character—she drives a vintage car, listens to the Eels, and, in one particularly baffling scene, climbs on stage at a strip club and starts writhing on the dancers—but none of these cohere into a comprehensible whole. All the way to the end of Out of Blue, Mike’s quirks exude a grab-bag-like feeling, ensuring that she remains an enigma amid the comings and goings of so many wacky side characters and all the pseudo-metaphysical blather of Morley’s muddled script.

Cast: Mamie Gummer, Patricia Clarkson, James Caan, Jacki Weaver, Toby Jones, Aaron Tveit, Jonathan Majors, Alyshia Ochse, Gary Grubbs, Yolonda Ross, Lucy Faust, Brad Mann, Thomas Francis Murphy, Carol Sutton, Lawrence Turner Director: Carol Morley Screenwriter: Carol Morley Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 109 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

Continue Reading


Review: Genesis Lyrically Captures the Heartache of Sentimental Education

Philippe Lesage’s film understands that we submit ourselves to the perils of affection because of its outweighing graces.




Photo: Productions l'Unite Centrale

Writer-director Philippe Lesage follows up The Demons with another coming-of-age saga that fixates on the relatable, if grim, blues of self-awakening. Primarily following the teenaged Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin) and his college-aged sister, Charlotte (Noée Abita), Genesis charts how both are shaped by their experiences with sexual desire, subtly observing their behavior and, occasionally, the darker side of affection.

Guillaume commands much of the film’s attention. From the first shot, in which he stands on a desk in his all-boys boarding school and leads his mates in a barroom shanty, it’s obvious that Guillaume is a charismatic class clown who knows how to force all eyes onto himself. Yet the teen can also be withdrawn and introverted, and his relationships with his friends and teachers are constantly in flux. His puckish behavior is often celebrated by classmates and even some teachers, like the sardonic Perrier (Paul Ahmarani), who in one class invites Guillaume to do his impersonation of him, which the teen performs with hilarious specificity and to the initial delight and then discomfort of the professor.

Wounded by the boy’s exposure of his flaws, Perrier subsequently singles out Guillaume for harassment, berating him without cause and even screaming at the kid over the slightest perceived transgression. Guillaume’s peers are less extreme, but the same kids who applaud his classroom antics are also quick to ignore him inside their shared dorms or in social situations, content to simply use him for amusement during class time.

Guillaume’s awkward relationship to others at the boarding school is exacerbated by his closeted sexuality, which isolates him from the heteronormative activities of his friends. In one scene, Lesage films the boy in slow motion as he wanders through a house party surrounded by boys and girls kissing, trying to fit in by cautiously snaking his arm around a girl, who casually shrugs him off as he keeps walking. Like much of Genesis, the moment is at once thematically obvious and beautifully moving, with the sudden swell of morose pop transforming the scene into a lyrically intense expression of the boy’s sentimental education. The impeccable blocking places the other kids in every square inch of the room save for a pocket of dead space around Guillaume, poignantly emphasizing his loneliness.

Charlotte, by contrast, seems to have an easier time of things. More carefree and confident than her brother, she’s at first hampered only by her inane boyfriend, Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk), who broaches the subject of an open relationship with a forced sense of casual suggestion, only to later sobbingly backtrack after she kicks him to the curb. Charlotte ends up with the older Theo (Maxime Dumontier), whose charming demeanor and respectfulness suggests actual maturity. When Lesage films Charlotte in a club using the same slow-mo style that he did for Guillaume’s glum traipse through the house party, the tone is considerably brighter, with the young woman free and ebullient about her contentment.

Soon, however, Charlotte must also contend with the fallout of various sexual stresses. Lesage grapples with matters that are all too common to darker coming-of-age stories, and he captures the film’s most harrowing scenes in single takes. Yet if the filmmaker doesn’t shy away from plainly depicting such horrors as sexual violation, he avoids wallowing in the misery he piles onto his characters. Guillaume and especially Charlotte suffer, but Lesage pulls focus onto the aftershocks of trauma rather than the traumatic events themselves. Sometimes Genesis even ducks reinforcing the bleakest of expectations, as in a scene of Guillaume baring his soul to his classmates that ends in a surprisingly warm fashion.

Indeed, the bright colors and sedate direction of Genesis isn’t an ironic contrast for the difficult content within but a cue for the perseverance of hope in trying times. That optimism is borne out in the final act, which shifts focus to Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), the protagonist of The Demons, now a cheery teen attending what appears to be a bible camp. As he plays guitar with counselors and plays around in camp, he gravitates toward Beatrice (Émilie Bierre), a young girl who’s clearly as interested in him as he is in her. Compared to the more vicious heartbreak facing Charlotte and Guillaume, Felix and Beatrice’s budding feelings are presented innocently and sweetly. Their first flirtations end the film on a hopeful note that suggests that not all stories of young self-discovery need be solemn, and that we submit ourselves to the perils of affection because of its outweighing graces.

Cast: Théodore Pellerin, Noée Abita, Édouard Tremblay-Grenier, Maxime Dumontier, Jules Roy Scicotte, Pier-Luc Funk, Paul Ahmarani, Antoine Marchand-Gagnon, Émilie Bierre Director: Philippe Lesage Screenwriter: Philippe Lesage Running Time: 130 min Rating: NR Year: 2019

Continue Reading


Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:


You can also make a donation via PayPal.