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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.
Rough around the edges and not as ‘focused’ is it could be (ha!), the team behind entertaining, but flawed, 2011 rom-com, Crazy, Stupid, Love, apply the comedy treatment to action flick, Focus.
This is not by any means an intellectually challenging film, but, no matter how predictable and fluffy its premise may be, it still boasts plenty of energy and holds enough charm to maintain engagement.
Jess Barrett (Robbie) is an inexperienced grifter, who – after trying and failing to con the ultimate conman himself, Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) – insists that he take her under his wing.
As Jess slowly proves herself, she is recruited by Nicky and his crew, though their business relationship briefly turns into a romantic one; but after a successful one million dollar heist during the Super Bowl in New Orleans, they part ways, leaving Jess heartbroken.
Three years down the line, the story moves to Buenos Aires where Nicky is preparing another huge con – so huge in fact, that he seeks out Jess once more.
Slick and glossy, Focus is best enjoyed if you don’t think too much about its inner-workings; if you do allow yourself to get way inside its shallow mechanisms, however, you’ll almost certainly walk away feeling a little underwhelmed with the entire experience. The dialogue is quite often sharp and witty, but the film isn’t in the same mould as the recent heist-clicks like Ocean’s Eleven; there’s more of a focus on the two main characters and their evolving relationship and it can be argued that this is one of its biggest mistakes for the simple reason that there just isn’t enough room for complex arcs in a film that brings a very particular type of action movie together with comedy.
Despite this, there are still plenty of memorable set-pieces and, as the dexterous and charming Nicky, Smith is his usual magnetic self, though he doesn’t stray far from his usual routine. Standing strong by his side is his equally magnetic Aussie co-star, Margot Robbie, who once again proves that she is capable of holding her own amongst some of Hollywood’s biggest names. The pairing, though seeming inapt at first, carries the film through to be a one-hundred-and-four minute of easy watching – it’s a typical cinema-and-popcorn movie that doesn’t try to be more than it is.
The premise of Kevin Macdonald’s latest thriller, Black Sea, suffers from a severe case of implausibility, though The Last King of Scotland director does manage to infuse plenty of tension and ignite a compelling lead performance by Jude Law.
As a proud and a skilful Royal Navy submarine commander, Captain Robinson (Law) - who has spent over a decade doing salvage work for the Agora Corporation – is shocked to learn that his services are no longer needed.
With no other real job prospects on the horizon, Robinson soon comes across a fellow colleague who provides him with valuable information concerning a sunken Nazi WWII U-boat. Apparently, during the height of the war, Stalin offered to pay Hitler a hefty sum as a way of preventing a possible invasion by the Fuhrer. However, the payment of gold bars never reached its destination and lies at the bottom of the Black Sea.
Reaching out to a private backer, Robinson soon starts putting together a crew – a group of half-English and half-Russian underwater specialists – to steer a run-down submarine to the site without being detected by the patrolling Russian naval fleet. It’s not long before tension turns into conflict and it’s up to Robinson to keep his crew in check if they are ever to come out of the mission both rich and alive.
Despite its far-fetched concept, Black Sea – scripted by T.V writer and the playwright Dennis Kelly – still manages to deliver and engage. One of the film’s strongest aspects lies with the tension and the power of human greed which is depicted palpably and wonderfully against the cluttered and the confining setting of the submarine. On the downside, however, the character arcs are paper-thin and though Macdonald makes up for it with a couple of thrilling action set-pieces, there’s very little for audiences to connect with.
Nonetheless, Law – armed with an impressive Scottish accent – is rock solid as the agitated Captain whose electrifying intensity and personal quest for retribution keeps Black Sea afloat.