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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.
Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist can rightly claim to be one of the most successful haunted-house tales ever told and so a reboot of what is probably one of the scariest films of all time makes sense in that money-grabbing Hollywood kind of way. But as with so many reboots, Gil Kenan’s uninspired take on the 1982 classic proves that it’s no easy task.
The story is centred on the Bowens; a family of five who, due to the recent recession, have been forced to downsize their home and move to a more affordable neighbourhood. Having recently lost his job, Eric Bowen (Rockwell) and his wife, Amy (DeWitt) have been struggling to keep up with the mounting debts and finding the perfect home for themselves and their three kids; teenager Kendra (Sharbino), her younger brother, Griffin (Catlett) and their youngest sibling, Maddy (Clements) hasn’t been easy.
Settling on a semi run-down estate in a town where the pricing seemed to be just right, the Bowens are excited to get settled into their new surroundings. However, things soon go bumping in the night and both Griffin and Maddy – the latter of whom doesn’t seem to be at all bothered about making new ‘friends’ in the closet – begin noticing strange occurrences. Griffin is the first to voice his concern, however his parents think that he is just being overly-anxious about his new home – that is until Maddy goes missing only to resurface as a voice inside the family’s television.
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire – see Rabbit Hole – the script stays very faithful to its source material. It’s something to be commended, yes, but the horrors of old just don’t have the same effect as they did back then and this reboot lacks freshness, creativity and that extra little oomph needed to bring it into the 21st century. Subsequently, it’s difficult to assess as to how loyalists to the original will receive the film; on one hand, it stays close to the original, but on the other hand, there’s nothing new – no new angle, no new pull.
Luckily, the acting is solid and everyone involved turns in relatively convincing and connecting performances. One of the most versatile actors working Hollywood right now, Rockwell turns out to be a decent choice for the role of the troubled father and Clements - although, nowhere near as powerful as her predecessor - is creepily endearing.
In the end, though, Poltergeist 2015 is too weak to stand up to the original. One of the things that made the 1982 version the iconic horror it is today is that unnerving atmosphere and the unsettling energy which followed the story from beginning to end. For what it’s worth, Kenan’s keen eye and roaming camerawork manages to keep his audience on the edge of their seats, but the predictable jump-scares only serve to take away from tension.
Having spent decades in the making, Mad Max: Fury Road finds seventy-year-old director, George Miller, returning to the vast and the beautifully deranged Australian wasteland and anyone lucky enough to be invited for the ride, will immediately recognize its undeniable prowess and action-classic qualities that have been missing from the world of cinema for quite some time now.
Set in the heart of a post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, Fury Road is once again centred on former-cop-turned-drifter, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy stepping in for Mel Gibson) who, after failing to stay ahead of his pursuers is caught by ‘The War Boys’; an obsessive and a gasoline-loving cult working for a ruthless warlord and ruler named Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) who controls everything, including the desert’s water supply.
Forced to serve as a human blood bank, Max soon crosses paths with Imperator Furiosa (Theron); a formidable war rig driver who, during a routine fuel run, decides to go off course in an attempt smuggle Joe’s most precious ‘breeders’, aka The Five Wives, out of captivity. However, Joe’s army is hot on her tail, leaving her with no choice but to befriend the rugged Road Warrior who might be the only person to help her out of the mess.
One of the most striking things about Fury Road – and there are plenty – is how unapologetic and relentless the film is from the very first minute. The story – storyboarded way before even a script was realised – is conceived as one long chase scene and the experience of watching the truly great George Miller at work – who has bravely refrained from using much CGI- is awfully difficult to put into words. Wonderfully bizarre, shamelessly violent and mind-blowingly exciting, the film spends very little time introducing us to the story or the characters; the action does all of the talking and, although some might have a little difficulty connecting, the film doesn’t rely on any gravity to its plot and doesn’t apologise for doing so.
Everything is in the visuals and the gorgeous cinematography – zesty orange by day and steely blue at night – is one of the most arresting things about the entire production. The same can be said for the performance of the forever-flawless Charlize Theron, is captivating in her performance as the fearless Furiosa. Sporting a shaved-head and a bionic arm, you can argue that it is, in fact, Theron who drives the plot forward – we won’t get into the popularised notion that the film is a ‘feminist masterpiece’ here, but Hardy’s intended minimal dialogue and man-of-action persona in embodying Max, leaves room for Furiosa to emerge as the hero of the piece.
There’s nothing complicated about Mad Max: Fury Road; but in the landscape of the modern action genre, few films of this kind have been met with such wide acclaim. After years of anticipation, Miller and co more than met expectations. Bravo.