Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Queen of Earth

Image courtesy of IFC Films.
Elisabeth Moss gives an unsettling performance in Alex Ross Perry's "Queen of Earth," a psychological drama that plays like a horror film, as a young woman suffering from a recent break-up who spends a week in a secluded cabin with a semi-estranged friend (played by Katherine Waterston, of "Inherent Vice").

The role is a departure for Moss - who I'll always think of as Peggy Olsen, her "Mad Men" character - and she proves that she can take on challenging material. So, it's a little disappointing that Perry's film does not exactly match her commitment.

The director made his debut last year with "Listen Up Philip," a sardonic dramedy about an arrogant writer that had many thinking that the filmmaker was aiming to be a protege of Noah Baumbach or Wes Anderson. But with "Queen of Earth," he heads in a completely different direction, but with mostly diminishing returns.

The film opens with one of its best scenes as we witness a close-up of Moss's tear-stained and eye shadow-smeared face during a break-up with her boyfriend. The actress appears to go through all five stages of grief in a matter of several minutes and the performance immediately hooks you. The film, on the other hand, takes much longer to get moving and, ultimately, isn't as effective as its lead performance.

Moss's Catherine joins old pal Virginia (Waterston) at the quiet, backwoods cabin owned by Virginia's family. The trip is seemingly meant as a healing one, but it is quickly upended by the arrival of Rich (Patrick Fugit), a man with whom Virginia had some sort of affair the summer before. From the start, Catherine and Rich make it clear that they do not like each other and their taunting of one another quickly becomes, well, a little inappropriate.

Meanwhile, we witness flashbacks from the year before when Catherine and her now ex-boyfriend visited the cabin and Virginia and Rich met for the first time. One of the problems with the film is that we are led to believe that while Catherine is in the midst of a psychological breakdown in the present, it is Virginia who was suffering the year before. But this is only hinted late in the film and there is no evidence of Virginia's fragile emotional state in any of the flashbacks.

Also, "Queen of Earth" ultimately does not add up to much in its final sequences. Moss is asked to increasingly act more and more disturbed - and she does so with aplomb - but I'm not sure that we get any better sense of who Catherine and Virginia are and why their relationship has become fractured. The picture uses eerie music and hauntingly creepy shots of sunsets and early mornings to create atmosphere, but it's all used to give off the feeling that we're watching a horror movie, rather than a drama about two friends. In other words, it favors style over substance.

So, while the performances in "Queen of Earth" are solid, the film itself feels a little lost. There's a sense of tension throughout, but it's difficult to parse exactly what we're supposed to feel tense about. Moss is a wonderful actress and Waterston is a star on the rise and it's always a pleasure to watch them. I'd just love to see some material that gives them more to work with than this film does.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: No Escape

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
If you can get past the retrograde sequences of white Americans being terrorized by hordes of crazed foreigners abroad and the film's occasionally confusing politics, John Erick Dowdle's "No Escape" is an intense low budget thriller.

In the picture, Owen Wilson plays a bigwig at an American company that will take over the water supply in a section of a southeast Asian country that I'm guessing is Indonesia (although the film was shot in Thailand) and, shortly after Wilson's Jack Dwyer and his family arrive, he comes to find that the natives aren't too happy about that.

No sooner than he, his wife (Lake Bell) and two little girls have checked into their hotel, which is swarming with Americans and Europeans, a massive riot begins, pitting men with all sorts of sharp weapons against the police. The picture opens with the nation's prime minister/president being assassinated, so it's a little unclear how exactly this apparent coup ties in with the violent protesters going after Wilson and all Americans involved with the water supply situation.

Dwyer and his family escape the marauding masked men - who shoot, stab and bludgeon virtually any non-native who crosses their path - with the help of Pierce Brosnan, who plays some sort of CIA operative who happens to be staying at the same hotel.

The first of Dwyer and family's many perilous escapes - the film's title is a little misleading, no? - involves he and his wife throwing their young children from one very high rooftop to another. During other sequences, Dwyer and Bell's Annie are captured and just when you think they are about to be killed, well.

As I'd mentioned before, the film is occasionally a bit retrograde as it portrays the unassuming Americans abroad fleeing repeatedly from the scary foreigners. And while most of the southeast Asians are portrayed as machete wielding maniacs, there are also a few stoic ones on-hand who, of course, put their safety in danger to help Dwyer and company.

Also, there is a sequence in which Brosnan's character essentially places the blame on western nations and organizations such as the CIA for the melee that ensues. So, the combination of this speech with the occasionally crass portrayals of the natives makes for a slightly confusing mix.

However, "No Escape" is an example of a low budget genre film done well. It's quickly paced and often intense. Wilson and Bell are mostly there to react to outbreaks of violence, rather than act out the parts of fully formed characters, but they do well, all things considered. In other words, don't go looking for a serious movie about U.S. corporations meddling in third world countries. But if you're down for an exciting and well-shot white knuckle thriller, "No Escape" is a pretty good one.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: American Ultra

Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
"American Ultra" feels like the result of a mix-up at the screenwriting laboratory. On the one hand, it wants to be a stoner comedy with quirky characters, while on the other, it's an ultra-violent espionage movie as well as sort of a romance. All of these elements do not exactly blend naturally, although the film has its charms, a few funny moments and some decent - albeit gratuitously violent - action sequences.

In the film, Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a wake-and-bake convenient store clerk whose raison d'etre is his stoner girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), but who feels as if he is constantly letting her down. As the movie opens, they are planning to take a trip to Hawaii, but Mike cannot get past his phobias and anxieties, so the trip is called off.

Meanwhile in Washington D.C., a CIA agent played by Connie Britton is told that the cover is going to be blown on an operative she has in the field and that said agent is to be eliminated. As it turns out, that operative is Mike, who is programmed in a "Manchurian Candidate" manner, so that whenever specific nonsensical words are spoken to him, he becomes a professional killer.

Much of the film involves Mike and Phoebe attempting to figure out Mike's identity as a smarmy CIA bigwig played by Topher Grace sends out hired killer after hired killer to snuff out the duo. Whenever the characters aren't speaking in expository dialogue, they are stabbing people in the neck with spoons or hitting them in the face with hammers.

The plot lines of "American Ultra" don't always work well together and the story is a little threadbare. What makes it occasionally work is that Eisenberg and Stewart prove they are game for the film's unrelenting silliness and, as a couple, there is some charm on display.

I rarely laughed out loud during the film, but I smiled often enough. And although I wouldn't go as far as saying that it works, I can assure you that you could do worse when it comes to mindless summer fare.

Review: Sinister 2

Image courtesy of Focus Features.
The 2012 horror film "Sinister" was a fairly creepy concoction. In it, a demonic serial killer preyed upon children, coercing them into making creepy home videos that typically culminated in entire families being murdered on film.

Since that picture was fairly successful and a pretty decent example of its genre, well, here's the sequel. And it's not particularly good. "Sinister 2" is not very scary, unless you count the picture's numerous jump scares, a tactic that has become increasingly tiresome in horror movies. The issue is often that the film's material is not scary enough, so that the filmmakers make things pop up in front of the camera as a means of compensating. Yet it rarely does.

In this second entry in the franchise, a battered woman (Shannyn Sossamon) and her children flee their dirtbag of a husband/father and hide out in an old home in the country that is next door to a church where - of course - a massacre occurred. First, let me say that Sossamon's husband is one of the summer's most absurd villains. He's so unlikeable and evil in every way that it's hard to believe that the law agrees that he should have custody of his kids, whom he beats regularly. It's one of those plot points that only occurs because the movie needs for it to do so.

Sossamon's twin boys begin seeing creepy ghost children - and, I might add, some of the most talkative and annoying ghost children I've seen in a movie - who try to convince them to make the spooky home videos of the family for the aforementioned demonic serial killer. His name is Bughuul and while he was a frightening presence in the original picture, his resemblance to the member of a Swedish forest metal band increasingly became a distraction for me.

This is one of those horror movies in which you know exactly what is going to happen next - and then you're mostly right. You can easily guess in which part of the frame the creepy ghost children or killer will appear. Nobody listens to reason. People walk into basements from which eerie noises can be heard. Etc., etc.

James Ransone pops up as a former cop who has been investigating the Bughuul murders and his burgeoning friendship with Sossamon's mother of two results in the film's best moments. But here's a good example of how lazy this sequel is: Ransone's character's name is listed as - and I shit you not - Ex Deputy So and So. I'd be willing to bet that some awkward moments involving resumes and future job interviews are likely to stem from this.

So, "Sinister" goes the way of "Insidious" - a creepy original chapter followed by unnecessary and, worse, not particularly scary or engaging sequels. On the other hand, if there are any forest metal bands out there seeking a new lead singer, look no further.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: Mistress America

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Noah Baumbach's "Mistress America" may be more of a minor entry in the director's oeuvre, but it's still a charming, funny and emotionally engaging picture. Co-written by Greta Gerwig, who also stars and previously worked with Baumbach on the lovely "Frances Ha," the film is a good showcase for both the filmmaker and actress.

Clocking in at a breezy 85 minutes, the movie wastes no time setting up its scenario: lonely college freshman Tracy (Lola Kirke) is having difficulty making friends at school during her first semester in New York and she is passed up by the literary society in which she aims to ingratiate herself. She befriends classmate and fellow writer Tony (Matthew Shear), but he is soon whisked away by the jealous and gloomy Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones), leaving Tracy to wallow on her own.

However, her mother tells her that the daughter of the man whom she is about to marry lives in New York and suggests that Tracy look her up. She tracks down Brooke (Gerwig), a thirty-something with many ambitions, but few actual prospects who spends her days teaching classes at Soul Cycle, tutoring middle school children, freelancing as an interior decorator and planning a restaurant that most people in Brooke's orbit doubt will come to fruition.

Brooke is a classic Baumbach character, although Gerwig is likely most responsible for her creation - insecure, bitingly funny, neurotic and exhibiting delusions of grandeur, but also wanting to become a better person. The filmmaker's body of work in recent years has included the great "The Squid and the Whale" and "Greenberg," but also the very good "Frances Ha," "While We're Young" and "Margot at the Wedding." Although "Mistress America" is not quite on par with some of those films, it's still often very funny and a solid story about friendship and the artistic process.

The film is centered around several set pieces, if that's the right expression here. The first is Tracy's first time hanging out with Brooke, an all-nighter that culminates with a hilariously awkward encounter between Brooke and a former grade school classmate. The second is a trip to Connecticut during which Brooke, Tracy, Tony and Nicolette corner and accost Brooke's former best friend, who allegedly stole her fiance and an idea for a T-shirt design that brought in a fair amount of money.

Much like the films of Woody Allen - to whom he is often compared - Baumbach's films have simple, dialogue driven setups with a minimalist visual style, but rich writing and characterizations. "Mistress America" is no exception - both Gerwig and Kirke inhabit their characters, which are finely drawn and imperfect, but sympathetic.

Perhaps, the film's brisk pace, which is especially noticeable in the first 30 minutes, and short running time give the movie a bit of a rushed feeling, so that by the time we come to the end we want to spend more time with these people. But that's at least a sign that the picture is working. "Mistress America" is a charmer. While it's more of a minor film and not quite as good as Baumbach's other 2015 movie - the very funny and wise "While We're Young" - it's certainly worth a look.

Review: Straight Outta Compton

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The summer's best origin story isn't the latest cash-in from Marvel Comics, but F. Gary Gray's "Straight Outta Compton," which is also one of the best music biopics of recent years. One of the elements that makes the film so special is that - much like Todd Haynes' biopic gold standard "I'm Not There" - while the film focuses on the career trajectory and personal lives of its subject - in this case, controversial hip hop group N.W.A. - it's also about much more than just music or a rags to riches story.

Set against the backdrop of Compton - the rough Los Angeles neighborhood where N.W.A.'s members grew up - during the late 1980s in the midst of the Ronald Reagan administration's war on drugs and just a few years before the videotaped Rodney King beating by the LAPD and subsequent L.A. riots, "Straight Outta Compton" may spin a tale about the early days of gangsta rap, but its timeliness in the way it views abuses by police on black communities cannot be understated.

Much like a comic book movie, although significantly better, "Compton" tells the origin story of three of the group's members - Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr., the rapper's son), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) - but it also makes room for a number of iconic figures of 1980s and 1990s hip hop, including MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), N.W.A.'s other two members, as well as The D.O.C. (Marlon Yates Jr.), Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Warren G (Sheldon A. Smith).

But the two other figures who stand out most, aside from the film's three leads, are Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, the group's white manager who does not appear to have his client's best interests at heart, and R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight, the notorious co-founder of Death Row Records who used intimidation and often violence to ensure his place as a music industry mogul.

As the film opens in 1986, Eazy-E (aka Eric Wright) is a low level drug dealer who flees from the scene of a drug house that is being raided by the police. On the other side of town are aspiring DJ Dr. Dre, who lives at home with his mother and younger brother, and Ice Cube, a noteworthy lyricist who steals moments on stage at a local club when the proprietor steps out. The two pair up with Eazy, who wants to make some career changes, and decide to put together some songs of what they call "reality rap" or, as Ice Cube puts it, dispatches from their neighborhood that act as a sort of journalism.

Although the film occasionally adopts a Behind the Music-style of storytelling, what makes it so fascinating is how it tells N.W.A.'s story amid the scene of social unrest taking place in the group's Los Angeles neighborhood. There are several intense and frightening scenes in the picture and aside from one in which a group of gang bangers board Ice Cube's school bus to threaten a student and several involving Knight, most of them are sequences of police brutality.

"Compton" has been long in the making and I'm not sure when these scenes were written, but they are powerful not only because they are well shot and acted, but also due to their significance in a 2015 America when unarmed black men are still being shot down - or beaten or strangled - by cops. There is a particularly remarkable sequence during which all five members of the group are egregiously searched and forced to lay face down on the sidewalk outside the studio in which they are recording their landmark 1988 album. Heller, their manager, steps outside and begins yelling at the police officers who are mistreating his clients and it's telling how the cops react to an older white man as opposed to young black men. Later, Gray and company stage a brief, but extremely well-made, recreation of the L.A. riots.

"Compton" is a very good movie, even if its second half feels a bit overstuffed - a 2Pac sequence, Ice Cube writing "Friday," Dr. Dre's arrest for drunk driving and a finale involving Dre's new company that feels a little rushed. Among the best scenes of the film's latter half are those in which Eazy discovers he has AIDS and, despite several years of intense feuding between N.W.A.'s members, the group has a reunion, of sorts. Another great sequence is Cube's recording of the diss track "No Vaseline" and his former bandmates' reaction, which begins in anger but results in their admitting that the song was pretty good.

The film is also the best to date by Gray, a filmmaker who has mostly made genre films, such as the stoner cult classic "Friday" as well as the underrated "The Negotiator" and "Set It Off." "Compton" is his first picture since the disastrous "Law Abiding Citizen" and it shows that he can handle strong dramatic material. The movie also looks great, which should come as no surprise considering that its director of photography was Matthew Libatique, who has been a long-time collaborator of Darren Aronofsky.

Although there have been numerous biopics of famous musicians, there are very few about hip hop artists, other than "Notorious," the slightly disappointing movie about The Notorious B.I.G. "Straight Outta Compton" will likely be the one to which future movies about the musical genre will aspire. It's an exciting, very well acted and shot, occasionally heartbreaking and often righteously angry film that, much like last year's "Selma," takes a moment in recent history and shows how it remains incredibly relevant today.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
There have been enough films about young men's coming of age - and sexuality - to constitute an entire genre, but similarly themed films about young women are far more scarce - that is, unless you turn to the French, such as Catherine Breillat's unforgettable "Fat Girl" (as well as several other of that filmmaker's provocative titles).

But Marielle Heller's "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" is an unabashedly frank picture about a young girl coming of age in 1976 San Francisco and her raging hormones. The movie should be more disturbing than it is, considering that Minnie (Bel Powley), a comic book obsessed artist who becomes sexually involved with her mother's boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard), who is - how shall we put it - very age inappropriate. Minnie's mother (Kristen Wiig, handling a dramatic role like a pro) is, naturally, unaware of the burgeoning relationship as she is more often than not with booze in hand or cocaine in nose.

And, possibly, the reason why the film isn't as disturbing as you might think is because Skarsgard's Monroe, while very obviously completely in the wrong, isn't the aggressor. This isn't a film about a youth corrupted at the hands of an adult that should know better. Minnie is the one who pursues the relationship, mostly because she receives little attention from boys her own age and is afraid that Monroe could be her only chance for sex. It sounds a little creepier on paper, but "Diary" is a film about female empowerment, not victimization.

Powley is very good in a role that takes a fair amount of guts and the supporting cast - Skarsgard, Wiig and Christopher Meloni as Pascal, Minnie's sarcastic father - is very good. If "Diary" has any fault, it's that while the fact that a film about a young woman's sexual coming of age is a rare thing, Heller's movie often relies on some of the same storytelling tropes you'd find in a male-centric counterpart. There's also a series of scenes toward the film's end involving Minnie becoming involved with another young woman that feel a little undercooked.

Still, the film is funny, refreshingly vulgar (in that, while it doesn't go out of its way to offend, it also doesn't tip toe around its occasionally raunchy material) and well performed. The movie is set in the 1970s, but it's not beholden to emphasizing the setting, other than some obvious choices in dress and decor and some well-picked soundtrack choices.

Both Heller and Powley are talents to watch and "Diary" is further evidence that there's a need for more women filmmakers looking to tell female-centric stories.  "Diary" picture is a solid and unique entry into the coming of age canon.

Review: Ricki and the Flash

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.
If "Ricki and the Flash" has an air of familiarity, it's probably because it was directed by Jonathan Demme, who made the wonderful "Rachel Getting Married," a film that also centered around a wedding, a dysfunctional family member and music. "Ricki" is not nearly as good as "Rachel," but it's a mostly entertaining film all the same, primarily due to that force known as Meryl Streep.

In the film, Streep plays Linda (but takes the stage name Ricki), a woman who gave up her family years before to pursue a career as a rock 'n roll star, although as we find her in the present, she is merely the vocalist of the in-house band at a dive bar and a cashier at Whole Foods. Her on-again, off-again romance with her guitarist (Rick Springfield, suddenly ubiquitous) is the only thing she has going in the way of relationships.

Ricki gets a call from her estranged husband Pete (Kevin Kline, doing a solid job of playing a Mr. Milquetoast), who tells her that their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep's own daughter), has been ditched by her lout of a husband, who has taken up with a younger woman. This, of course, is all in the service of a family reunion story that allows the wayward member to reconnect.

The film is not without its troubles. It's a little unclear why Ricki has turned out the way she has and whether she ever had much to show for in the way of a career. The tense conversation she has with Pete's new wife (Audra McDonald) feels a little forced and the picture's finale, which involves Streep playing at one of her son's weddings, feels a little too neatly wrapped up. And that performance is followed by a series of stares from wedding guests that is a little over-the-top.

Aside from these issues, "Ricki" is a pretty fun movie, mostly due to our being given ample time to watch Streep try her hand at classic rock staples - everything from Bruce Springsteen to Dobie Gray. As always, Streep delivers, which goes a long way to patching up some of the film's script problems. She always brings the A game. The supporting players are solid as well, including Kline, Gummer, McDonald and Springsteen.

Demme is a filmmaker with a diverse resume that includes great character dramas ("Melvin and Howard"), stunning thrillers ("The Silence of the Lambs"), social importance dramas ("Philadelphia"), kooky comedies ("Something Wild") and, of course, "Rachel Getting Married," which perfected the dysfunctional family gathering formula to a science. "Ricki" is not as good as that latter film - not nearly, in fact - but it's an enjoyable experience that enables us to watch very talented people let loose.

Occasionally, Streep's performances overshadow the films in which she stars - for example, her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher was significantly better than the sum total of "The Iron Lady." And her latest is such a case. Even when the film falters a bit, Streep is the driving force that keeps us on board.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Review: The End of the Tour

Image courtesy of A24.
James Ponsoldt's "The End of the Tour" is a fascinating picture, not only due to its intimate story that keeps company with two writers, one of whom was hailed among the best of his generation, on a road trip, but also due to some of the controversy surrounding the film.

I typically - in fact, virtually never - take he-said-she-said arguments into account when reviewing a film. For example, I could care less whether Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson actually had the conversations portrayed in "Selma" as those scenes were used to further the story and they were not egregious.

So, I take into account that - in the case of "The End of the Tour" - I'm watching a movie about actual people with some possibly fictional sequences. I have no problem with that, although those who have been against the film from the beginning might have a reasonable bone to pick with the film's depiction of David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel, who is quite good here).

It's been noted that an aura of gloom, depression and suicide is hinted at throughout the film as Wallace opens up to Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (a very good Jesse Eisenberg). The book tour during which Lipsky follows Wallace was in 1996, while the author's suicide didn't happen until 2008. So, the complaints that Wallace coming off as a depressive and possibly suicidal person more than a decade before he actually died is a valid complaint. Perhaps, Ponsoldt and company did not intend to foreshadow Wallace's eventual suicide, but the film often drops hints that could be interpreted as such.

Getting that out of the way, "The End of the Tour" is still a good movie with two strong performances at its center. Eisenberg plays Lipsky as a pushy reporter who wants to get the best story out of his time spent with Wallace, whom he obviously respects, but also a guy attempting to do the right thing. As Wallace, Segel displays dramatic talents before unseen, portraying Wallace as a man who wants to be seen as ordinary - he lives in a modest home in Illinois and worries constantly that people will think more highly of him than he believes himself to deserve - but is clearly someone of great talent.

Although the film is not confined to one room - Lipsky follows Wallace during a promotional tour for "Infinite Jest," his most acclaimed work - it reminded me slightly of Louis Malle's wonderful "My Dinner with Andre," in that both films are centered completely around conversation and any sort of character development must be gleaned from the characters' words.

At one point late in the film, Lipsky reads to a crowd about his experience shadowing Wallace during the book tour and calls their tete a tetes "the best conversation [he'd] ever had." And that is what ultimately makes "The End of the Tour" work. It's a film centered around conversation between two people who are interesting to hear. I can take into account the critiques of the film based on Wallace's portrayal, but I still think the film works and is a great showcase for two very good performances.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
I often bemoan the concept that you should just turn off your brain to enjoy summer movies as it is typically an excuse for people to defend films that are lacking, most often in intelligence, creativity or reason for being. In the case of "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation," I relent - here is a film that is virtually nonstop action, but one in which the stunts and set pieces are so impressive that I couldn't help but enjoy myself.

So, yes, "Rogue Nation" is a fun movie and, I might add, one of the better entries in the "Mission Impossible" franchise as well as one of this year's better summer movies, although not as good as George Miller's visually stunning "Mad Max: Fury Road" or Pixar's very substantive "Inside Out." But that's apples and oranges. This latest sequel in the action-espionage series is fast paced without being brainless and that's a good - and rare - thing.

In this film, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) discovers that an anti-IMF agency known as The Syndicate exists and that its shadowy leader (played creepily by Sean Harris) is recruiting ex-agents to form a, ahem, rogue nation that will carry out nefarious acts of terrorism as a means to... Do you really need to know why? Probably not.

This is a case of a film with a plot existing solely to enable Cruise to take part in some impressive stunts - hanging on to the outside of a plane, swimming in a pressurized tank, etc. - and bring back together the gang from the previous pictures - Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg. Alec Baldwin joins the cast as the CIA's director, while Rebecca Ferguson is a spy playing both sides of the fence.

While, on the one hand, the "Mission Impossible" movies are not very diverse in terms of plot - typically, Cruise and company have to stop some mad man from obtaining a bomb or dangerous intel - on the other, they take a well-worn formula and do it well. In the case of "Rogue Nation," there's no reinvention of the wheel, but said wheel is constantly in motion and it gets the necessary results.

Although I wish Cruise would occasionally take on the type of more challenging roles that made him so interesting to watch in the 1980s and 1990s (everything from "Born on the Fourth of July" to "Magnolia"), I can at least appreciate that he's making big budget action movies with care. There's obviously a fair amount of energy and expertise at work in the "Mission Impossible" films and this latest entry is no exception.