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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.
Space has often been used by filmmakers as a canvas to explore humanity; vast and unfamiliar, space also has a history of being a pivotal setting for philosophical debate through film. Alfonso Cuarón's newest production, Gravity, follows suit, bringing eager viewers another fast-paced, survival story.
Initially presenting the tranquillity of floating weightlessly above the Earth’s atmosphere, Gravity soon replaces serenity with catastrophe. The prologue of Gravity immediately throws viewers aside astronauts leading a maintenance mission on the Hubble Telescope satellite, with a magnificent view of the Earth. When misfortune strikes, the team are pinned in a dismal state of emergency; with severed communications to base (voiced by Ed Harris), there is little hope of survival.
Reminiscent of Ellen Ripley in Alien, Dr Ryan Stone (Bullock), is accompanied by down to Earth veteran commander, Matt Kowalski (Clooney). The two find themselves the sole survivors of an accident involving debris from a detonated Russian satellite orbiting the Earth, viciously destroying everything in its path.
Clooney and Bullock share a warm chemistry with his charm contrasting with her neuroticism. The director weaves conversation during the couple’s long float to the nearby Russian Space Station, delving character exploration and delivering the underlying themes of the film. In spite of the terrifying circumstances, Clooney maintains a cool demeanour throughout, which is a documented trait amongst experienced astronauts. Bullock’s character represents humanity’s tumultuous will to survive despite having nothing to live for. Owning the majority of screen time, the actress has cemented herself as a masterful performer that will grip the audience’s nerves, without saying a single word.
With a few exceptions, where the director breaks scientific laws to push elements of the story, Gravity heavily adheres to Newtonian physics. Space shivers silently, giving way to an exhilarating soundtrack.
Visually stunning, Gravity’s liquid camera work frequently places itself in the astronauts’ point of view, frantically panning whilst clutching onto machinery for dear life. Bullock spirals uncontrollably into the infinity of space, accompanied only by the viewers who are pushed into feeling like casual participants to her dire strait. Artistic shots are scattered throughout, playing with elements unique to the setting; space’s silent vastness, the risk of suffocation and the claustrophobic solitude of space stations, all shining in the bright rays of the sun. In its brief appearance, planet Earth is immensely poetic to the viewer after bearing witness to Bullocks cataclysmic experiences in space.
In perhaps what could be considered his masterpiece, Cuarón has powerfully infused the high-tech mechanical industry of space exploration with the subtleties of human sentiment. Worthy of countless views, Gravity is a perfect balance of teeth-grinding scenes and warm, heartfelt relief.
Malcolm D. Lee’s sequel to his 1999 directorial debut, The Best Man, reunites fans with the now much-older college friends as they prepare for the upcoming Christmas holidays.
The film picks up fifteen years after the events of The Best Man, centring on Harper Stewart (Diggs); a one-time successful author who is struggling to make ends meet. Fertility treatment bills for his now pregnant wife, Robyn (Lathan), have set the couple back and Harper is unable to rely on the money from his decreasing book sales.
Meanwhile, his former best-friend and celebrated NFL star, Lance Sullivan (Chestnut), is on the verge of retirement. A devoted family man who shares his life with loving wife, Mia (Calhoun), and their four picture-perfect children, Lance puts his energy into having one last hurrah to cement his legacy before he steps out of the spotlight
With Christmas is just around corner, Mia sends out invitations to their shattered group of friends to spend the holidays with her and the family at their lavish estate; troubled couple, Julian (Perrineau) and Candace (Hall), party-girl and a reality TV star, Shelby (De Sousa), career-obsessed commitaphobe, Jordan (Long), and bad boy, Quentin (Howard).
Naturally, it doesn’t take much for tensions to rise, and the group soon finds itself between dealing and healing old wounds, which ultimately resurface questions of deceit, infidelity and secret sexual pasts.
The Best Man Holiday’s biggest strength lies in the hands of the cast, whose chemistry and wit infuse soul into the story. At the heart of it all is Diggs, who delivers a sincere performance of a man in search of forgiveness, while Lathan – as his pregnant wife – is just as charming in her role of a woman trying to support her husband through troubled times. Chestnut is a tad theatrical in some of the film’s more emotionally-charged scenes, unlike Calhoun, who handles her role with a welcome grace. However, the true star of the picture is Howard; funny and incredibly engaging, the Oscar-nominated actor has some the best lines and steals the show.
With so many characters, each with their own personal sup-plot and arc, the film strikes the perfect balance between them and every character gets apt screen time.
Although the story ends up bouncing from the funny to the dramatics in a blink of an eye towards the end, Lee manages to keep things interesting, despite the predictable plot and cheesy sentiment.