Savouring the Action | Mission Impossible: Fallout

It’s been a while since a summer blockbuster has impressed me as much as Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible: Fallout has, and this speaks to both my own fatigue with the Hollywood mainstream as well as the very evident mechanics which foment that fatigue.

I’m writing this literally minutes after having also enjoyed Ant Man & The Wasp, but that enjoyment was tellingly less pronounced when compared to the exhilaration I felt during particularly the latter act of the Tom Cruise-starring superspy epic, the poster for which I was left to gaze on longingly during our intermission for the latest Marvel Studios installment — yes, intermissions are still a thing here — and wishing that I was back in there with Ethan Hunt.

mission impossible tom cruise

I’m tempted to assume that a heady confluence of factors led to the Mission Impossible franchise being the primary rallying point for action cinema this season. One of them is Tom Cruise’s sheer determination to cement his status as a still-viable action hero, as he sets out on a warpath to run, climb, punch and kick his way out of an uncomfortable whirlwind of tabloid-friendly personal eccentricity.

The other is the simple existence of the John Wick franchise, which reminded all and sundry — but most significantly, studio heads — that shaky cam should no longer be the way to make action movies, and that if you do it properly, all the money you spend on thorough choreography and lucid camerawork will be recouped by an appreciative audience.

rebecca-mission-impossible-fallout

It’s also a reminder that action is a balletic feature of any narrative, that should be taken in slowly and savoured. Unlike the Michael Bays of this world, McQuarrie seems to understand that action is not a condiment to be assaulted with. It should be an integral part of the meal — a showcase piece, to be sure, but not a murderously spicy dish that brings tears to your eyes before coming to life to punch you in the face, leaving you black-eyed and confused.

Another thing that also made Fallout so endearing is that it tapped into the vein of espionage-pulp that the Bond franchise has gone weird on, and that Bourne has reduced to a gritty sludge that nobody is biting on anymore. It comes down to a pact with the audience – an understanding that these are superhero stories where the heroes have no powers but do superheroics regardless, and where technology is effectively magic.

So yeah. Mission Impossible: Fallout. I liked it a bunch. Read my ‘official’ review of it on MaltaToday by clicking here

 

Monstrous Indulgences | Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

 

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities

This volume may be the epitome of indulgence, and the tone of Marc Scott Zicree, Guillermo del Toro’s interviewer – and effective co-writer in this endeavour – can come across as a bit sycophantic at times.

But really, a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ can’t help but be a gloriously indulgent exercise, and you don’t come here to read a sober dissection of del Toro’s life and filmography.

No, you come here to luxuriate in what is probably the ultimate ‘behind the scenes’ look into Del Toro’s oeuvre, as presented in a gorgeous coffee table edition crammed with photographs and studded with mini-essays by Del Toro’s friends and collaborators (the book is framed by tributes from James Cameron and Tom Cruise, respectively).

The book introduces us to Del Toro’s eclectic imaginative landscape with a bit of a tour of Bleak House – his second home and studio, which gives the book its organising principle, as the house itself is something of a cabinet of curiosities writ large – more than just a working space, it is arguably also the geeky man cave to end all geeky man caves.

Bleak House

 

Stuffed with original art and sculptures (some of them taking an extravagant bent, like the statue of Boris Karloff getting the final touches of his Frankenstein make-up done), each room in the house is themed around a particular genre or artistic milieu – like the ‘Steampunk Room’, the ‘Manga Room’…

But above all, the ‘cabinet’ is really about del Toro’s colourful and frenzied notebooks, which the director has been keeping from the beginning of his career and which reveal the inner workings of his genre-melding chiaroscuro parables, from Cronos through the Hellboys and Pacific Rim.

Guillermo del Toro's notebooks

The pages of the notebooks reproduced in the book often have a drawing at the centre – usually a portrait shot of a character in one of del Toro’s films, or a close-up of some grotesque prop or monster – which would be surrounded by (multi-lingua) marginalia. These notes will probably be the most pleasant discovery for a del Toro fan as they leaf through the book, revealing, as they do, the inner workings of the writer-director’s mind, often as he’s tackling and trying to figure out several projects at the same time: practical concerns (about props, costumes and loose story threads) jostle alongside philosophical musings and personal anecdotes.

Reaper statue from Blade II

As an extra, readers also get a glimpse into projects of del Toro’s that never came to fruition – an easy pitfall for a filmmaker with a tendency to multitask various media and juggle a number of projects at any given time.

The most prominent – or at least, the most recent and infamous – of these is of course del Toro’s – ultimately thwarted – adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

That project might just see the light of day, however, as del Toro recently announced that he’s cool with going for a PG-13 rated version of his film, under the wing of his recent collaborators Legendary Pictures (insisting on an R-rating proved to be the deal-breaker with the film’s previous studio-home-to-be, Universal).

But even before this announcement – which arrived some months after The Cabinet of Curiosities hit the shelves – hope already burned for a renewal of the project. “While this project we were so passionate about didn’t work out the first time round, I know that it’s going to happen one day,” Tom Cruise, who was set to star in At the Mountains of Madness (alongside Del Toro regular Ron Pearlman) writes in the Afterword to the ‘Cabinet’.

“Why? Because Guillermo will never stop creating, no matter what. He will keep at it against all odds. And when it finally happens, it will be infused with all the things that make a Guillermo del Toro movie so distinct and unforgettable: images, emotions, vistas, and characters that no one else creates.”