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Film round-up: August 10 2018

This week the Star's critics MARIA DUARTE an ALAN FRANK review The Negotiator, The Darkest Minds, Dog Days, The Heiress, Unfriended: The Dark Web, The Meg, and Heather

The Negotiator (15)
Directed by Brad Anderson
★★★★

Set in wartorn Lebanon in the early 1980s this wonderfully taut and tense thriller explores the civil unrest along with the agendas of the US and Israelis as well as the mindset of the PLO at that time while delivering a gripping ride.

It stars Jon Hamm as a former US diplomat and skilled negotiator who is forced by the CIA to return to Beirut, which he left in 1972 after a devastating attack by Israel, to negotiate the release of his friend and CIA operative Cal (Mark Pellegrino) who has been captured by terrorists.

Writer Tony Gilroy (auteur of the Bourne films) has penned a rich, complexly woven and totally captivating and beautifully nuanced screenplay, which is brought to life by Brad Anderson's skilled direction and driven by Hamm (as a troubled/washed out drunk) powerhouse performance.

It is a haunting little gem of a spy thriller.

Maria Duarte

The Darkest Minds (12A)
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson
★★

This is set in a turbulent US where 98 per cent of children have died from a mysterious disease and the remaining 2 per cent have developed new powers and are considered enemies of the state.

They are shipped to special camps where their abilities are classed as either blue, green or gold. Those who are rare and classed red or orange are exterminated immediately.

Based on Alexandra Bracken's first book in her young adults trilogy, it follows the story of 10-year-old Ruby (Lidya Jewett) who is sent to one of these centres and to survive pretends to be a green instead of the orange that she actually is.

Six years later a member of a resistance group (Amandla Stenberg) helps her escape as her true classification is uncovered.

No doubt aspiring to be the next Maze Runner or Hunger Games rather than Divergent, which appears to have disappeared without a trace, this has much potential, with charismatic leads (Stenberg and Harris Dickinson) and a dark and disturbing dystopian society based on fear, discrimination and dictatorial leadership.

Yet it all seems like deja vu. Still the slick non-stop action, the blossoming romance and many twists and turns may appeal to the tween target audience.

MD

Dog Days (PG)
Directed by Ken Marino
★★★

Dog days follows an eclectic group of people in Los Angeles who are saved by the love of their beleaguered pooches.

Their stories become interconnected as the action slowly unfolds in this gentle comedy drama which stays just the right side of sweetly sentimental.

The film opens with a scene-stealing Tig Notaro playing a dead pan dog therapist revealing on national TV that 35 per cent of canines experience self-,loathing setting the humorous tone for the rest of the film.

Full of cute dogs and easy-on-the-eye owners (Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Eva Longoria and Tone Bell) this is a rather sweet, funny and inoffensive cinematic tale unless you are a cat lover.
MD

The Heiresses (12A)
Directed by Marcelo Martinessi
★★★★★

Marcelo Martinessi’s remarkable feature film debut as screenwriter-director was deservedly honoured with awards at film festivals at Berlin, Cartagena, Seattle and Sydney.

While It also won top prize at the Transilvania International Film Festival (honouring “films that dare”) it’s no horror film but rather a compelling study of the inescapably changing relationship between lesbian partners Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) who, both descended from wealthy Paraguayan families, have been together for 30 years

Worsening finances force them to sell off their possessions, with their debts leading to Chiquita being imprisoned for fraud, catalysing Chela into facing a new reality by providing a local taxi service for elderly ladies.

It is to Martinessi’s considerable credit that, despite frequent scenes where emotional overdrive seems to be the easiest way to progress the narrative, he never resorts to melodrama, instead relying to first-rate effect on his leading ladies who vividly create all-too-convincing characters reacting to gripping situations that arise out of story rather than simply being dramatically imposed on it.

Emotional emancipation is sharply established in an interesting Paraguayan environment and, while the storytelling appears at times to be slow and mannered, it creates a potent and believable emotional journey.

Alan Frank

Unfriended: The Dark Web (15)
Directed by Stephen Susco
★★★★

In 2015 the low-budget shocker Unfriended, all of which took place on a computer screen, became an unexpected hit.

Inevitably, the sequel strikes, creepily propelled by screenwriter and first-time director Stephen Susco who, like his predecessor, tells his scary story entirely on the computer screen and, given the obvious visual limitations of a monitor littered with hard and all too often impossible-to-read messages, delivers efficient chills and scares.

When Matias (Colin Woodelas) pilfers a laptop and discovers secret files from the menacing Dark Web, he and his skyping friends are plunged into a mounting nightmare of terror and death by Dark Web operators determined to save their secrets.

Computers confuse me — I typed Al Jolson into my laptop, it came up as Al Gallstone — but the film worked. Susco, his players and convincing movie magic successfully scrape your nerves and the dramatic tension mounts.  

No masterpiece but effective.

The Meg (12A)
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
★★★

In 1975 Verna Fields’s Oscar-winning editing ensured Spielberg’s Jaws scored. Few notable sequels followed before Jaws money-makers sank.

Now giant sharks make a raucous return in this spectacle-driven Chinese-US co-production which sees a 75-foot-long shark thought to be extinct for millions of years attacking a scientific observation submersible, stranding its crew on the ocean bed.

Fortunately (apart from lovers of perceptive acting) expert deep sea rescue diver Statham who claimed to have encountered the giant shark years before, is there to save the survivors and mankind too.

It’s Jaws titivated mercilessly — only bigger, louder, packed with action and movie magic but too often waterlogged and far from subtle.  

Three screenwriters deliver an action-driven rather than character-driven screenplay which Turteltaub directs fast and furiously, using plentiful special effects — some impressive, others resembling cheap filming in a fish tank — and sensibly stressing Statham’s physique than his less palpable acting abilities.

Heathers (15)
Directed by Michael Lehman
★★★★★

Thirty years after its initial release, this deeply black black comedy still possesses a bloody bite that makes Jaws resemble a patient requiring teeth implants.

The eponymous Heathers are a clique of three nasty girls, all called Heather, who dominate an Ohio high school.  

Another Heather (Winona Ryder, excellent) serves as their lackey until her conscience sets in and she joins her definitely deranged boyfriend JD (Christian Slater) in staging a series of murders disguised as suicides designed to destroy the Heathers.

Screenwriter Daniel Waters, deploying enough four-letter words to make Channel 4 envious, and director Michael Lehman, making the most of them to maximum effect, especially in 1988, create a cynical and sinister story of faked suicides, high school bitching and unforgettable cynicism that still makes Carrie resemble a high school comedy by comparison and doesn’t seem to have dated at all.

Gory, ghastly and bloody good fun, too.

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