Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
As an unequivocal fan of writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, it's hard to find too many faults with his installment of the hugely popular Tom Cruise franchise. It features a couple of terrific car chase sequences (which he proved himself adept at in "Jack Reacher" as well), a fun cast exerting sparks of repartee, and a delirious eye for the old fashioned charm a spy flick should emit. There's a set piece at an opera. A mammoth secret underground water bank. Even the London bridge. McQuarrie tosses all these old tropes out with just enough style and wink-wink charisma to elicit knowing glances from stalwart fans of the genre while maintaining a silly Fast-and-the-Furious action vibe that settles the ADD nerves of its now festering teen audience. The best of both worlds. It's ludicrous, but ludicrously fun.
Black Coal, Thin Ice
Yi'nan Diao's "Black Coal Thin Ice" is an odd beast. At first glance, it makes itself out to be something akin to Bong Joon-ho's "Memories of Murder" in the way it begins a serpentine criminal investigation of a murder that stretches over several years. But, about a third of the way through (and just as the lead detective loses his own moral compass due to alcoholism and his failed marriage), the film takes some strange turns and focuses on the disturbing and morose relationship that forms between the cop and the murdered victim's wife. Conversations unexpectedly end as someone in the background begins beating up a slot machine, for example. Another possible witness to what exactly happened all those years ago ends up falling into a bathtub of water next to her go-go dance stage while being questioned. The violence that casually erupts reminded me of the subliminal bloodshed prevalent in Takeshi Kitano's great gangster films of the 90's. And don't even start with the ending- one that's so brazen and gleefully anarchic that it had me wondering if the film reel ended abruptly. Outside of these incongruous moments of humor, anger and bleak reactions towards the world around them, "Black Coal Thin Ice" also manages to wring a uniquely sad love story out of the mix. A strange film, indeed, but one that should be essential viewing this year.
German filmmaker Christian Petzold has paired with actress Nina Hoss five times now as his leading lady, and each time the two have evolved their craft to wondrous heights. Hoss.... whose large eyes and often half-agape, hollowed look as if she's barely escaped some type of emotional or physical trauma.... is spellbinding here in their latest film together, "Phoenix". In fact, it's their best work yet and one of the most haunting, deliberate films of the year. That hollowed look I mentioned earlier may have something to do with the fact Nelly (Hoss) has just returned home at the end of World War II after time in a concentration camp. Disfigured, she's given a "re-creation" operation and a partially new face. This obscures the recognition by her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfield), when she finally tracks him down. But before she can explain herself, Johnny has her dressing in his old wife's clothes and trying to imitate her in a scheme to reclaim the substantial inheritance now left to her. This gut wrenching charade is carried on for the length of the film and it soon becomes a devastating exploration of not only obsession and memory, but a morbid rhetoric on the state of Europe immediately after the war, left in shambles and desperately trying to ascertain an identity that was ripped apart by the war. This may be the film of the year.