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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.
Peter Jackson’s fourteen-year-long Middle-Earth adventure has finally come to a close with the third and final instalment Bilgo Baggins’ journey with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; a slightly bloated, but generally successful, finale that boasts plenty of action and technical superiority over its immediate predecessors.
Hitting the ground running and wasting no time in plunging audiences in the deep-end, The Battle of the Five Armies begins exactly where the second film left off, with Smaug (once again voiced superbly by Cumberbatch) setting Lake-town ablaze as Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) and his army of loyal dwarf-followers watch from the Lonely Mountain.
After escaping imprisonment, Bard (Evans) slays Smaug, leaving the endless treasures of the mountain unguarded for Bilbo, Thorin and co. to continue their quest. But as news spreads of Smaug's demise, the lure of the mountain's coveted riches triggers an inevitable path to war.
A With a running time of just over two hours, The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of all of The Hobbit entries, though it’s also the most ambitious and visually-creative of the lot. The cinematography is exquisite and the CGI techniques seem to have been pushed to their very limit.
The cast is, as always, steadfast and dependable with Armitage delivering a blockbuster performance as Thorin, though Freeman’s usual whimsical nature and superb comic timing is, surprisingly, underused. Similarly, the rest of the cast, including Lilly as the she-elf, Evans, as the newly-emerged leader of Lake-town, and McKellen take a back-seat.
With this being the finale, it plays out like a climax and is heavy on the action and not much else – as a standalone film, it may feel a little hollow for some, but for fans, it's a fittingly spectacular conclusion to the series.
Held together by a couple of strong performances, Peter Sattler’s directorial debut, Camp X-Ray, explores the story of an unlikely friendship between a female Guantanamo Bay security officer and a long-suffering Arab detainee.
Private Cole (Stewart) is a young woman from a small town in Florida, who – shortly after the atrocities of 9/11 – enlists in the military and is eventually deployed to Cuba to serve as a security guard at Guantanamo Bay.
Enveloped in her own securities in a harsh, male-dominated world, Cole buckles down and begins her daily routine of walking the restrictive cell-block halls. It’s doesn’t take long before she attracts the attention of Ali (Moaadi), however; a well-spoken Arab detainee who has been locked up for the past eight years. Recognising a chink in the armour of her tough facade, Ali baits Cole for some much-needed attention. Though she initially tries keeps her distance, an improbable, though inevitably strained, relationship develops.
Shot with a sense of pining, Camp X-Ray has a small-movie feel that, despite its sometimes shallow approach and lapses into stereotyping, has a big message. Grounded and engaging, the story very much focuses on the dynamics and the growing connection between two very different, but similarly lost, souls whose hopes and dreams are very different from their existence. Its politically-charged premise is never abused and the script, unlike other war-on-terrorism productions, never spoon-feeds its political overtones to the audience; in fact, it leaves it to them to decide and determine the nature of everyone involved.
For a character-driven piece, Stewart’s trademark cold demeanour is actually well suited for her role, while Moaadi – best known for his turn in Iranian Oscar-winning drama, A Separation – is superb as the tormented detainee, managing to convey a variety of emotions with one seemingly haunted look.
Despite its occasional – and predictable – forays into clichéd territories, Camp X-Ray commendably refrains from using its controversial setting as a plot device, instead using it as a backdrop, letting the characters develop in a much more organic and human way – which the actors execute impeccably.