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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.
From Chucky in Child’s Play to the Clown doll in Poltergeist, there’s nothing there’s nothing quite as creepy as silent doll coming to life as a sort of a blood-thirsty monster. Sadly, the The Boy is not as scary as you its premise promises and, although relatively high on the creep-front, it doesn’t fully realise its ambitious ideas and get to the end without stumbling over.
The plot tells of Greta Evans (The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan), who in escaping an abusive relationship decides to leave her home in Montana, U.S.A, heads to rural England, where she’s to work as a nanny for elderly couple, Mr. Heelshires (Norton) and Mrs. Heelshires (Hardcastle) at their country house to care for their eight-year-old son, Brahms.
However, when she gets there, Greta is shocked to learn that Brahms is no ordinary boy, but in fact a life-size porcelain doll. At first, Greta is taken back by the discovery and thinks that she’s part of some sort of prank, but she quickly realises that the pained-looking couple treat the doll as their son and even provide Greta with a strict set of rules that she must follow if she is to care for him well. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before a series of strange events begin to occur around the house when the Heelshires leave her to go on their well-deserved break, forcing Greta – along with the help of potential love interest, Malcom (Evans) – to look into Brahms’ troubled and shady past.
While there are a couple of genuinely creepy moments of terror to recall, The Boy mostly relies on its mood – impressively restrained at first and unsurprisingly threadbare towards the end – and the predictable jump-scares to indeed make you jump nonetheless. Turning what is often a refreshingly subdued and an atmospheric film into a dreadfully insipid story of a creepy life-size porcelain doll and its predictably helpless nanny – Cohan is not as terrible as one might think - the suspense surrounding Brahms is conveyed in a relatively convincing way.
However, the sheer ridiculousness that unravels within some of the scenes takes the shine off the film, so to speak, even inciting an unintentional laugh or two. This is no more apparent than with an equally ridiculous third-act twist, which seems motivated only by setting up a sequel.
After a series of questionable career choices – After Earth, Focus anyone? – Will Smith returns to form in Peter Landesman’s biographical sport-drama, Concussion; an entertaining, but relatively safe, biopic.
Concussion tells the story of Nigerian-born forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith), who in 2002 makes a startling medical discovery when the body of a former American football player, who’s reported erratic behaviour and mental instability led him to suicide, is brought in for an autopsy.
Omalu’s findings suggest that the persistent head trauma, which the players endure on daily basis out in the field, can cause permanent brain damage, which often leads to various mental disorders, including memory loss, anxiety and depression.
Naming the disorder CET - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – Omalu decides to publish his findings in order to educate the public on the potential dangers of the game. Unfortunately for him, the NFL isn’t too keen on what he has to say.
Based on a true story that rocked professional sports in America, the film starts off on an investigative and relatively intriguing note by opening with the struggles and then the death of Hall of Fame football star, Mike Webster (Morse). This is when we are introduced to Omalu, whose quiet and yet somewhat quirky demeanour - he talks to his corpses before beginning an autopsy - doesn’t sit all that well with his less traditional colleagues. Striking a good balance between highlighting Omalu’s journey as an African-born doctor in America and later his struggles when dealing with the NFL, Concussion ticks most of the boxes of an affective biopic; however, the film often swerves into the melodramatic, which diminishes the weightiness of the story at times.
In addition, the script doesn’t take risks in unravelling the story from its very core; it would have been nice to see a bit more dirt hiding underneath NFL’s impenetrable façade, for example, and the hurdle that the NFL presents to Omalu in publishing his findings never really seems challenging in any real way, leaving the film as a whole rather unrewarding.
Luckily, Smith, in one of his best performances in years, is there to remind all of what a passionate and empathetic actor that he can be, even if the romantic subplot never really pays off. Intriguing and thought-provoking, Concussion works, but thanks to its safe approach, it never really resonates as the important or a must-see film that it could have been.