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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.
Let’s dive in and get to the point; there is little-to-nothing new or innovative about Mark Neveldine’s young-woman-possessed-by-a-demonic-spirit offering in The Vatican Tapes – a generic and uncreative horror entry that fails to inspire, move or frighten.
The film begins with a brief video scene showing a possessed woman named Angela (Taylor Dudley), before switching back through the plot’s timeline to find the main character preparing to celebrate her birthday with boyfriend, Pete (Amedori). After unexpected visit from her God-fearing father, Roger (Scott), and a minor accident that sends her to the hospital, Angela begins to show some troubling signs of aggression and unusual behavior. We come to learn that this is the beginning of a systematic demonic takeover, which soon catches the attention of Father Lozano (Pena), who subsequently takes the case to the Vatican when he begins to suspect that Angela may have been chosen as a vessel for the Anti-Christ. Are you still with us?
The Vatican Tapes marks the very first horror film for the director of the Crank film series, Mark Neveldine whose seeming inexperience in the genre is evident throughout. Written by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin, there’s very little to the story – it’s as basic, straightforward and predictable as you can get – and its clumsy execution only goes on to exacerbate. Possessed (ha!) by a level of incoherence, the film and its undeveloped and plain uninteresting characters make it near impossible to invest in the film.
Told in flashbacks and with the shaky found-footage format that just refuses to go away, the plot never really finds its footing and seems rushed, making it awfully difficult to figure out what’s actually going on at times. Similarly, the acting suffers, especially the picture’s biggest name, Michael Pena, who seems uncomfortable in his own skin throughout.
With a reported budget of $13 million, the film has thus far only made $900,000 return and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the production failed to recoup its expenditures. But then what can you say for a film that, in some scenes, looks like it came from a Wayans brothers’ horror spoof in a sub-genre that hasn’t produced a film to top the one that started it all off, The Exorcist?
Chances are that the average moviegoer won’t be all that familiar with Ant-Man – not unless you’re a hardcore Marvel fanatic – but the previous anonymity of miniature-sized superhero who dates back to the 60s, doesn’t prevent it from becoming one of the most entertaining and successful combinations of action and comedy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Directed by Peyton Reed, the story is centered on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd); a skilled cat burglar who is ready to reunite with his young daughter, Cassie (Fortson), and put his life back on track after a stint in prison. However, finding the right line of work for an ex-felon is never easy and Scott is soon reeled back into his old ways by his friend and ex-cellmate, Luis (Peña), who convinces him to break into a San Francisco mansion to steal an old man’s fortune. After a successful break in, Scott finds no money; just motorcycle-type suit and a helmet. Convinced that the job is a total bust, Scott is soon shocked to learn that once he dons the suit and presses a special button, he is reduced to ant-size. Amazed at the discovery, Scott soon comes face-to-face with the suit’s inventor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who’s looking to find someone with the right set of skills to take over on his invention and help him put a stop to his one-time protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who has taken over his company and is now getting ready to unleash ‘Yellowjacket’; a special-suit threatening to endanger world order.
Much like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the humour not only plays a large part of Ant-Man, but serves to be the driving force of the film. Embellished with a bold colour palette, Ant-Man looks fantastic it never becomes overbearing – something that many superhero’s tend to adopt. Written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Rudd himself, Ant-man’s screenplay is engaging and smart enough to give the audience the time to get to know and invest in the characters fully.
Speaking of characters, the cast is superb and for those who had doubts that Rudd - yes, the same guy who plays Mike on Friends - could pull it off, will be pleasantly surprised. Sporting an impressive six-pack, Rudd is extremely likable – and flexible – as the eponymous character, while Douglas, as the scene-stealing scientist, is the quiet force of the film.
Playing out as more of a comedy than a straightforward super-hero action, Ant-Man never takes itself too seriously and, even though it’s not as visually grand or as explosive as any of the Avengers films, it is still more than capable of standing on its own. Two (unlikely) thumbs up. How Ant-Man will come to play apart in the wider plot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be interesting to see.