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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.
Sinister looking children’s toys – dolls and puppets in particular – are a common feature of many a horror film, often somehow possessing dark demonic powers. Annabelle, the latest horror of such kind and the prequel/spin-off to the last year’s summer hit, The Conjuring, unfortunately is rather dull.
Directed by John R. Leonetti – of The Conjuring, Sinister and The Mask fame – and written by Gary Dauberman, Annabelle is set in the early 1970s and follows Mia (Wallis) and John Gordon (Horton); a young married couple living in Santa Monica, who are expecting their first child.
One night, their next-door neighbours are killed as a result of a satanic cult home-invasion job. Unfortunately, the drama doesn’t end there and they soon end up victims of a similar crime, but after a certain amount of struggle – and blood spilled – the couple manages to come out alive.
Soon after their traumatic ordeal, their home – that they’ve grown to love and care for – begins to suffer a series of supernatural occurrences and after it becomes a little too much to handle, they decide that it’s best to move. Unfortunately, trouble follows them to their new home and John and Mia soon realise that Mia’s prized collector’s doll might have something to do with it all.
Annabelle starts off strong, with Leonetti and Dauberman weaving a decent amount of tension and suspense into the opening. However, although, their ideas are relatively solid – and some of the scares genuinely frightening – the plot soon become repetitive and what little novelty the premise has wears off pretty darn soon.
In terms of performances, both Wallis and Horton managed to sustain a good amount of chemistry; however, their characters – just like the story – aren’t formed well enough to form a connection with the audience.
Riddled with clichés and familiar formulas, Annabelle is little more than an attempt to cash-in on the success of its much more convincing and entertaining predecessor.
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.