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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.
Riddled with a long line of groundless and senseless ideas, As Above So Below – the latest entry to the exhausting found-footage horror sub-genre – is heavy on the mood, but short on everything else.
Centred on the myths behind the Catacombs of Paris, As Above So Below follows enthusiastic archaeology professor, Scarlett Marlowe (Weeks), who is desperately trying to get her hands on a magical rock, capable of turning metal into gold, called the Philosopher’s Stone.
Starting off in Iran, Scarlett soon finds herself on the streets of Paris, convinced that the stone – which she’s trying to retrieve in order to honour her late father’s wish – lies hidden somewhere in the Catacombs under Paris. Eager to begin her mission, Scarlett soon reaches out to old flame, George (Feldman), for help as well as documentarian, Benji (Hodge), and a random Parisian explorer, Papillion (Civil), who offers assistance with navigation.
Going into the Catacombs, the team soon begins its search for a long hidden passage that is supposed to lead them to the mythical stone. However, as they start going deeper underground, strange events begin to take place and if they are ever to reach their destination, the team will need to battle the darkness around them that seems to thicken with every step they take.
No matter how sound your idea may look on paper, the key is execution. In the case of this latest found-footage debacle, it is unfortunately, very poor indeed. The power of the mood, although relatively strong and effective, is weakened by the film’s crammed premise which sees plenty of random ideas thrown around without any explanation or point.
Luckily, the cast manages to weather the faults and offer a few relatively convincing performances. Weeks, as a woman who will stop at nothing until she gets what she wants, is persuasive; Mad Men’s Feldman keeps things relatively grounded, and Civil – a somewhat unknown French actor – offers just enough energy to keep things interesting.
However, it’s the writing that is at fault here. Chilling, but not enough to make your blood run cold, As Above So Below is terribly confusing, contrived and awfully claustrophobic and if it wasn’t for its somewhat underwhelming – and seemingly abrupt – finale, things might have turned out differently for this part Tomb Raider part Blair Witch bag of fables and scares.
Following in the footsteps of the 2014 teen- tear-jerker, The Fault in Our Stars, R.J Cutler’s onscreen adaptation of yet another best-selling young-adult novel explores the perils of young love in the terribly formulaic and melodramatic, If I Stay.
The story is centred on Mia (Moretz); a shy high-school junior who dreams of one day becoming a great concert cellist. Her super-cool, rock-loving parents, Kat (Enos) and Denny (Leonard), are very supportive of her dreams; however, Mia – who constantly doubts her own talent – is not so sure that she will be able to make the cut when she auditions for the Julliard School of Music in New York.
As Mia awaits the news that will determine her future, her relationship with Adam (Blackley), the lead singer of a local rock band, is not doing so well, as his career and schedule begins to take him away from the relationship. Uncertain what her future holds, Mia’s world is soon turned upside down when she and her family are involved in a horrifying car accident that leaves both her parents dead, her younger brother Teddy (Davies) fighting for his life and Mia in a coma.
Stuck in between the two worlds, Mia begins to undergo a lengthy out-of-body experience and soon finds herself examining and questioning her entire life – through a series of flashbacks – and quickly comes to the realisation that it is up to her whether to let go and walk towards the light – literally – or wake up and deal with the fact that her life, as she knew it, will be forever changed.
Scripted by Shauna Cross, If I Stay does very little to break away from the usual patterns of young-adult novel adaptations and once again lends its entire focus on the workings of a romance between two young teens under the burdens of life and big decisions. Weighty subjects are thrown around, but never fully explored and the gaps in the logic – mostly to do with the supernatural part of the tale – are vast and, frankly, a little baffling.
Nevertheless, Moretz proves to be a reliable and capable lead, though the chemistry shared between her and Blackley doesn’t really resonate. As her extra-hip parents, Enos and Leonard, came off as a little forced – and a little hard to take seriously – while Keach, playing Mia’s loving grandfather, is the only one who brings a bit of sincerity to his role.
Told mostly through flashbacks, If I Stay is paced well and there is certain lightness to its step. However, it’s all a little bit too cutesy to take seriously.