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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.
It should come as no surprise that Nicholas Cage has once again found himself in a bit of a career-move pickle; starring in yet another poorly crafted and ultimately absurd feature film as he takes on the horror genre.
Whilst working on securing a tenure, literature professor, Mike Lawford (Cage) has been spending a lot of nights away from home, much to the dislike and frustration of his wife, Kirsten (Callies), and their seven-year-old son, Charlie (Fulton), who, as most boys do at this sensitive age, is craving for his father’s attention. After one too many disappointments, Mike is hoping to make up for the lost time by taking Charlie to a nearby Halloween street carnival, where Charlie begins to act strangely, asking his father to “pay the ghost” before disappearing.
One year later, a now divorced Mike is still on the hunt for Charlie and urges Detective Reynolds (Bent) to keep the investigation open and as another Halloween approaches, Mike begins to experience strange apparitions – including large birds flying overhead and strange figures in the mist.
Directed by Uli Edel and written by Dan Kay – who has adapted the story from a novella by Tim Lebbon - there is very little in the story’s core that distinguishes it from other, similarly-fashioned ghost tales of revenge such as The Woman in Black or Dead Silence. There’s no heart, no oomph no passion and very little narrative suspense or anything that resembles tension hiding underneath its already-cracked surface.
Talking about cracked, Cage – an Oscar-winning actor, lest we forget – is surprisingly straight-faced here, with an exception of a few seriously funny wide-eyed moments of disbelief that will have you roaring with laughter rather than empathising with his distraught.
Although riddle with issues, the biggest of which are originality and overall execution of what is decent source material, Pay the Ghost is not as a complete time-waster as some of the actor’s previous films. But it’s still not smart or crafty enough to do much to regenerate and restore the actor’s already tarnished flailing career.
Based on 2009 Oscar-winning Argentine film titled, El Secreto de sus Ojos, Billy Ray’s Hollywood adaptation of the original looked promising from the get-go thanks to its first-class cast. Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor are a formidable team and the plot – at least on paper – has enough gravitas to it to produce something solid. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that way.
As the man behind the screenplay to 2013’s Captain Phillips, Ray also penned the adaptation and opens proceedings in 2002 with FBI Agent, Ray Caston (Ejiofor), working together with friend and partner Jess Cobb (Roberts) in LA’s counter-terrorism taskforce one year after the events of 9/11. Together with Deputy DA Claire Sloan (Kidman) the task force is busy investigating an L.A-based mosque, looking for any possible criminal activity.
Everything soon changes when, during one of their surveillance routines, Raymond and Jess discover a murder victim near the mosque which turns out to be Jess’ teenage daughter. Thirteen years later, no one has been convicted of the murder, pushing Ray to take matters into his own hands after stumbling on new leads.
Jumping back and forth between 2002 and 2015, Secret in Their Eyes worksin terms of mood and setting; a film noir-like backdrop effectively conveys the grim topics. However, even though the film manages the moving timelines with a great deal of efficiency, there’s a formulaic and unimaginative approach to the basics of the plot which strips it of having any real impact. In addition, one too many subplots - including a romantic entanglement between Kidman and Ejiofor which never really sells - are introduced and instead of focusing on the working relationship and the bond between Ejiofor - a commendable lead - and Roberts - who is captivating as the grieving mother but, criminally underused - the film seemingly lends its focus on more trivial details.
Interesting but never as captivating as its synopsis suggests, Secret in Their Eyes is a decent dramatic thriller, but falls well short of the original – but then what remake ever does?