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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.
Ah, horror sequels – what can you say about them that haven’t been said before? We’re at a point now where not even the most ardent and committed of horror fans can argue the notion that sequels in this particular genre of filmmaking are largely motivated by the prospect of a huge cash-in at the box office. It’s understandable; filmmakers need to make films that make money so that they can make more films.
There are occasions, however, where that motivation is all too obvious and Sinister 2 suffers exactly that. Following on from the relatively unnerving original starring Ethan Hawke, to call this a sequel would be giving the script far too much credit; there are no new ideas or even any kind of continuation with the story of the film’s antagonist, Bughuul.
In the first film, we’re told that Bughuul possesses a child, who then goes on to murder his or her family. The house in which the murder takes place is then essentially haunted, driving the next tenants – who discover videos of the previous murders – away, but back into the arms of Bughuul, where they are murdered by, again, one of the children – and so on and so forth. There are various small details in between the cracks of this vicious cycle – violent dreams, creepy twins, a clan of ghost-kids – but the problem with Sinister 2 is that it revisits all of these elements and expects you to be okay with that. It’s not okay; in fact, it’s terrible. This ‘sequel’ essentially retreads the same skeleton of the plot and, because of a typically rosy ending, is far inferior in terms suspense and expectation – it’s the same but nowhere near as good, is what this review title could have read.
The only glimmer of light to come through the film is the performance of James Ransone, who reprises what was peripheral role in the original as the nameless deputy. There’s a real sense of the character – credited as Deputy So & So – being a kind-hearted, lone-wolf gun-slinger who wants to do good and is often misunderstood because of it. He’s worn-out, he’s tired and he’s always on the move. Aesthetically, the film hits the right notes – but, again, there are no surprises; the family lives in an old, creaky farmhouse, for example.
If ever there was a perfect example of the misguided nature of the film sequel, Sinister 2 is it. You can commend a sequel for trying to build on and expand the original, but this film seems to have regressed.
There’s no real reason why Hollywood hasn’t totally embraced Jake Gyllenhaal; but it just hasn’t. While he may not fit the mould of the empirical Hollywood hunk, he has proven in the last five years that he can carry a movie and carry it will – which is the case in boxing drama, Southpaw.
A traditional story of redemption through and through, the Antoine Fuqua-directed film falls into the same pitfalls that the majority of sports films fall into, but it’s the performance of Gyllenhaal and Fuqua’s ability to put together memorable scenes that give Southpaw its worth.
The story tells of world champion boxer, Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal), and his struggle to cope with the death of his wife Maureen (McAdams) during a brawl with a prospective – and of course cocky and arrogant –challenger. An injury that threatens his ability to see, a quick descent into guilt-ridden alcoholism, growing debt and the loss of his daughter to child protection services are just a few of the things that drive Hope to taking a job at a gym, where he meets Titus ‘Tick’ Wills (Whitaker), who helps Billy get on the track to recovery.
There are plenty of clichés flying about in Southpaw, but there are moments that will send a little shiver down your spine and linger long after the credits roll – and it’s largely owed to Mr Gyllenhaal. He’s intense, he’s committed and he’s utterly convincing as a man trying to get his life back on track after a horrific incident that he comes to blame himself for. At times, the plot feels formulaic – and it is, almost verging on predictable – but it’s a formula that is executed well; Fuqua, like he did with Training Day, has a knack of infusing single scenes with a huge amount of emotion, passion and intensity.
This is not Rocky – it’s grim, it’s grey and it doesn’t necessarily glamorise boxing and the spectacle that surrounds it. This is not a film that will win awards or be talked about in twenty years as a classic, but it certainly is an emotional ride.