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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.
Love him or hate him, one thing is for certain; Nicholas Sparks always delivers. What exactly it is he delivers is another story altogether and the critics will have a field day taking shots at the latest film to be adapted from the American writer’s pages, The Best of Me; a sappy and an overly sentimental drama that plays with the notion of fate and destiny in the most ridiculous of ways.
Jumping head-first into what has become an extremely tired formula, The Best of Me is centred on Dawson Cole (Marsden); a rugged Louisiana oil rigger who, after learning of the death of a close friend – and surrogate father - Tuck Hostetler (McRanney), is summoned to return home to fulfil his friend's last dying wishes.
Dawson, who is still recovering from a near-death experience, is surprised to learn that Amanda Collier (Monoghan) – his teenage sweetheart whom he’s been pining for the last couple of decades – has also been asked to tend to Tuck's last requests. Stumped and completely thrown by this chance encounter, the pair soon head off together to Tuck's old lake house, an enchanting home that he once built for his late wife, to pack up what is left of his things and spread his ashes.
Naturally, it doesn't take long before the sparks begin to fly and memories begin flooding back; will the long-lost lovers find their way back into each other’s arms or will fate have something else in store for them?
One of the film’s biggest problems – and distractions – is its questionable casting. Marsden and Monoghan share very little chemistry and fail to come across as a couple madly in love while the younger versions of their characters – played by Bracey and Liberato respectively – shared little-to-no physical resemblance to their older-selves. Granted, any film demands a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but how about we get some help with that one in a while?
Ineptly adapted by J. Millis Goodloe and Will Fetters, the story – in true Nicholas Sparks fashion – runs in two simultaneous timelines and, while the cinematography is pretty decent – plenty of sun-kissed scenes to keep the romantics in the audience content – there are just too many clichés and too much insufferable dialogue.
All things considered, The Best of Me is ironically, one of the worst Nicholas Spark’s adaptations to date; it’s corny in the sloppiest of ways and seems a little too desperate please.
With films like Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight finding unbridled box office success, adult feature film adaptations have, to some extent begun, to reach saturation and the latest proves exactly that.
The Maze Runner builds on a genuinely intriguing dystopian setting that fails to offer anything new to the genre as a film, despites the interesting premise of James Dashner’s 2009 book.
Directed by first-time filmmaker, Wes Ball, the story follows Thomas (O’Brien); a young man who finds himself waking up with amnesia and surrounded by an army of equally curious young men. He soon learns that he has woken up in the Glade; a sprawling savannah that is towered off by high – and maze-like – concrete walls.
Just like Thomas, the boys, led by Alby (Ameen) – who has been stuck in the Glade for the past three years – are unable to recall who they are and how they got there. The increasing number of new arrivals eventually led the confused boys to build a functioning mini-society of sorts, that depends on ‘runners’ – the fittest, fastest and most agile of the group – to race into the maze each day and look for a way out. The task is made all the more daunting by the fact that the gates that guard the maze close buy sundown and no one dares imagine what could happen to anyone who gets stuck there with the large monsters known as Grievers who patrol the maze at night.
Thomas initially has a hard time believing the myth, but realises the severity of the situation when one of the boys’ life is put into danger. The group is soon thrown into complete chaos when the first girl to arrive at the Glade, Teresa (Scodelario), shows up with a threatening message, making the boys realise that they can no longer wait for a miracle but, that they themselves must find a way to escape – and fast.
The Maze Runner marks the first and the opening chapter of a planned three-part series that once again sees a group of teenagers fighting for their lives against a mysterious and much superior force. To its credit, though, the story is fairly engaging, as the plot builds on a similar premise to William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.
The film succeeds in projecting a deliciously claustrophobic tone and the characters are likeable, while even the action is pretty solid throughout.
However, the film plays out like an intro to the series and those who haven’t read the book might feel a little cheated by the fact that the character of Thomas is never really explored and short-changed by the abrupt - and calculated - finale.
Overall, The Maze Runner is a decent, if unremarkable, first chapter to the series and now the pressure is really on for the second.