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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.
Despite being another seemingly generic entry from the endless production at Blumhouse Production - see Paranormal Activity, Sinister, The Gallows - M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit is an oddly enjoyable and surprisingly affective found-footage horror.
The film follows the story of two siblings, fifteen-year-old Becca (DeJonge) and thirteen-year-old Tyler (Oxenbould), who decide to head out to rural Pennsylvania to spend a week with their estranged grandparents, Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie). The last time their mother, Paula (played by the always reliable Hahn), had seen her parents was fifteen years ago when she left home for good and now Becca - an aspiring filmmaker - is hoping to document their entire visit and shed some light on the longstanding separation.
Excited at the prospect of finally getting all of her questions answered, Becca and Tyler - who helps her to make sure that every angle and frame is fully covered - try their best to make the most out of their visit. However, something seems to be off with Nana and Pop Pop who, after the lights go out, begin to show a much darker side to their already peculiar personalities.
Creepy more than scary, The Visit marks the director’s lowest budgeted feature film to date and although it can’t hold a candle to his 1999 hit, The Sixth Sense, for example, it feels like Shymalan has once again found his footing after a series of duds - think The Last Airbender and After Earth.
Tapping into a familiar concept and turning it into a thoroughly frightening and an ominous experience is what makes The Visit shine. Subtle, simple and refreshingly straightforward, Shyamalan also manages to blend in a light dose of humor into the proceedings and, even though some of the scares can be seen from a mile away and the shaky-cam work does get a little disruptive, the overall result isn’t all that bad.
Delivering a couple of convincing performances, both DeJonge - as the intelligent and extremely grounded older sister - and Oxenbould as her wannabe-rapper younger brother are engaging as the victims-to-be, though Dunagan and McRobbie steal the show with their quietly eerie and wildly unpredictable representation of grandparents-gone-gaga.
Never taking itself too seriously, The Visit is a watchable and undemanding faux-documentary thriller that many have attached the word comedy too. There is definitely a lot to appreciate in this creepy little number, however, if you’re not a fan of this particular sub-genre, then you’re probably better off looking for your frights elsewhere.