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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Entertaining Action-Thriller
Sometimes small is better. There are times when all you want is a basic, straightforward action film that doesn’t require you to turn a blind eye to the rules of logic; one that doesn’t consider good action and decent characters to be mutually exclusive. How I Spent My Summer Vacation is that film. It’s not a blockbuster but it’s very entertaining and does what it sets out to do really well.
Mel Gibson plays an unnamed criminal who steals a few million from an American businessman and runs off to Mexico only to get caught by a couple of corrupt border police. The policemen take the money and throw Gibson in a jail that’s more of a shantytown surrounded by snipers than your classic cells-with-bars set-up. In there, he meets a young boy (Hernandez) who shows him the ropes and teaches him about the power hierarchy. Gibson adapts pretty well and starts to carve out a little niche for himself, until the robbed businessman sends some of his henchmen to find him and retrieve the stolen money. Gibson has to find a way to break out of jail, taking the kid, who’s about to have his liver stolen by the prison’s head inmate, and the kid’s mother (Heredia) with him.
The main factor that pushes this film from average into surprisingly good is the decision to have the Mexicans speak in Spanish instead of accented English. A sizeable chunk of the film is subtitled which automatically gives the film a sense of reality and makes it so much easier to take the characters seriously. Add to it the City of God style visuals and the Latin soundtrack and you have a film that feels authentically Mexican. And even though the Mexican characters are mostly corrupt officers, criminals or dirt poor - sometimes all three - they’re not walking stereotypes; both due to the sheer variety of the characters and the acting. Even the criminals, who are basically everybody other than the kid, are not portrayed as one hundred percent evil; they’re given human sides and motives that shine a light on the logic behind their actions.
Gibson gives a pretty understated performance, biding his time until his character’s given a chance to let loose and show flashes of borderline insanity, but he’s thoroughly watchable whether he’s eavesdropping, pick pocketing, brandishing a gun or lobbing grenades. His charisma shines through and he turns his character into a criminal worth rooting for. And speaking of grenades, the film is big on violence though it hardly feels gratuitous. It has some pretty sweet, well filmed, action sequences - ones in which you can actually see what’s going on - and quite a few cool-guy-walking-away-from-explosion type shots, which while ridiculous, are still completely entertaining.
Honestly, this film was a surprise. Not only is it far better than its marketing campaign lets on, but it’s genuinely entertaining. It’s a solid action film on all counts.
Stepping away from its single-setting format, the unnecessary sequel to 2013’s disappointing but surprisingly profitable home-invasion thriller, The Purge, moves its story out of the house and into the streets where once again James DeMonaco’s intriguing but equally mind-boggling ideas are damaged by clumsy pacing and feeble performances.
The twelve months have passed since the last Annual Purge and the residents of a urban, dystopian LA are once again preparing themselves for the bloody ritual; an annual ceremony where any crime – including murder – is made legal for one night.
The story kicks-off with three story strands which come together early on in the film; married couple, Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez), are left stranded and vulnerable to attack, when they’re car breaks down under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, struggling diner waitress, Eva (Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Soul), fight for their lives when they’re wrist nightmares come true and they’re house is broken to. They’re eventually saved when a group of paramilitary personnel intervenes, killing their drunken attacker. However, they drag Eva and Cali out to the street, where they plan to execute them. Luckily for them, Leo (Grillo) – a policeman looking to avenge the death of his son by a drunk driver – saves them. Little does he know, however, that Shane and Liz have taken refuge in his car and, after some heated words, the group end up navigating the Annual Purge together.
Even the most cynical of filmgoers has to admit that, despite how ludicrous and seemingly implausible the idea of The Purge actually is, there’s something genuinely disturbing and deliciously unnerving about it. The idea of a legalised ‘personal cleansing’ ritual – which has supposedly managed to cut crime and poverty by half – definitely sounds like something worth exploring onscreen. However, as it is the case with so many interesting concepts it’s the quality of the execution that counts and, even though the film does manage to build tension and offer some thrilling action set-pieces, the execution is left wanting.
One of the main reasons lies behind the acting, or lack thereof, from a group of actors who look – and sound – like they’ve stepped straight off of a soap-opera set; Ejogo and Soul are utterly unconvincing and Gilford and Sanchez are unnecessarily theatrical, though Grillo keeps things together.
All in all, The Purge: Anarchy is a half-baked sociopolitical ideology and a semi-exciting thriller that, once again, lacks character and a solid spine.
Expanding further on its already wobbly and tedious premise, the third installment of the Sylvester Stallone-led testosterone-filled franchise is exactly what you would expect it to be; loud, senseless and utterly brainless.
Directed by Patrick Hughes, The Expendables 3 opens with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his dependable crew of rowdy mercenaries, Lee Christmas (Statham), Gunner (Lundgren), Toll Road (Couture) and Ceaser (Crews), rescuing and breaking Doctor Death – a.k.a “Doc” – (Snipes) out of prison.
After a series of unnecessary explosions, the team decides to take a quick trip to Somalia and take part in a CIA-operated mission to eliminate a black market arms dealer from the scene. However, the mission proves tricky when the group is confronted by Stonebanks (Gibson); a backbiting businessman - and an ex-member of the crew - who holds personal ties with Barney. The team ends up taking a huge and an unexpected blow and, after almost losing one of his members, Barney promises to track down Stonebanks – with the help of CIA Agent Drummer (Ford) – and seek revenge.
Wanting to keep his dear friends out of line of fire, Barney and recruitment specialist, Bonaparte (Grammer), begin putting together a much-younger team of mercenaries, which include the tech savvy, Thorn (Powell), no-nonsense tomboy, Luna (Rousey), weapons expert, Mars (Ortiz) and Smilee (Lutz). Not wanting to miss out on the action, Trench (Schwarzenegger) also joins the team. Their mission? Find Stonebanks and, if circumstances allow, bring him back alive.
Let’s be honest; the novelty of watching this peculiar but impressive assembly of 80’s and 90’s action superstars - all thrown together in one massive concoction of muscle, guns and testosterone – has worn off. While the first two films offered a bit more appeal – mainly thanks to the cast’s obvious sense of self-awareness at their very own absurd existence - The Expendables 3 chooses to go in another direction. Taking itself a little too seriously this time, it seems like the boys are running on fumes; the witty one-liners have been replaced by one too many explosions, the action scenes feel erratic, shaky and incoherent, the pacing is rather clumsy and the predictability levels have reached their all-time high.
The addition of Gibson and Banderas is probably the best aspect of the entire film; Gibson shows what real acting looks like and Banderas – as the unemployed warrior looking for a kill – infuses the story with the much-needed energy. As for the rest, it’s the same old story - old being the operative word – though there is still enough to keep fans happy.