Central Intelligence ***

central-intelligence

Proving bromances still have their own unique appeal is new comedy Central Intelligence. The key is getting the right pairing, which is why this one is an easy watch as it stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson opposite Kevin Hart. Just as well the relationship is the central focus here as the narrative takes second place.

Overweight teen geek Bob Stone (Johnson) has never forgotten high-school athlete Calvin Joyner’s (Hart) act of kindness after he was rudely ‘exposed’ in the school gym in front of all the pupils. Grown-up Calvin is now stuck in a rut in an accountancy firm, married to his high-school sweetheart Maggie (played by Danielle Nicolet), but missing his glory days as the school’s most popular kid and likely to succeed – until Bob gets in touch via social media.

Stone is now a muscular CIA agent who needs Calvin’s numerial skills to crack the mystery of who’s compromising the US spy satellite system and trying to frame him for the murder of a former agent. Suddenly, Calvin’s world gets turned upside down and a little exciting, and all before the high-school reunion.

The story’s outcome is predictable – as is always the case where ‘brothers’ overcome adversity. However, it’s the journey taken full of gags and scrapes that matters. Hart is his usual fast-talking self, but it’s Johnson’s admirable comedy skills that meet the diminutive comedian head on to keep the verbal game of ping-pong fresh and fluid.

In fact, Johnson moves smoothly between personas, from goofy old pal, to lethal killing machine, to marriage shrink madness. He seems to be in his element, combining the film typecasting he’s known for (action figure) with the softer side he has adopted in his past family-centric films. Bob acts as a great catch-all role to watch Johnson thrive in for fans.

Hart thrills as Johnson’s naive fall guy, complete with oodles of charm, and the joke is not lost on the size differences between the two, as they share the limelight. It also helps that both men have done action comedy and marry their own personalities to the roles.

Co-Writer-Director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s comedy also taps into the screen popularity of high-school flicks, with reference to John HughesSixteen Candles throughout. This stomping ground of personal development plus the great comedic timing give the otherwise thin plot a touch of depth. Just as well, as even though Amy Ryan lends her steely gaze and authority as agent-in-charge Pamela Harris in this, the action set-pieces seem sporadic and only there to serve as a gauge as to where the boys’ relationship lies at any one point.

As with the reference to Eighties/Nineties high-school films, Breaking Bad fans will also get a gleeful nod from Aaron Paul as a CIA operative, while Jason Bateman brings on the delicious nasty in one defining scene for his character, bully Trevor. It is a comedy full of delightfully entertaining moments.

Central Intelligence plays by narrative numbers but has loads of Hart and Johnson to make it a bold choice for cinemagoers looking for a fun night out.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case ****

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Those who saw the first The Conjuring film back in 2013 will know the eerie effect it had. It was old-school scare tactics, much more about psychological effects than reliant on lots of latter-day special effects.

Far more sinister – and like horrors before it, such as Poltergeist (1982), those in the know of ‘strange happenings’ occurring to The Conjuring’s cast and crew during filming will also be curious about watching the second installment, especially as this is based on the infamous, real-life Enfield Poltergeist haunting of the late Seventies.

The Conjuring 2 incorporates exactly the same scare tactics as the previous film, once you get past the amusing ‘mockney’ tones of the North London family as it is first established at the start.

Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) have possibly gone too far investigating the spirit world, after the former foresees her husband’s demise. They decide to stop their paranormal investigations for the sake of their family and marriage.

However, one English family, The Hodgsons, in Enfield, North London, desperately needs their help, after its youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) becomes possessed by the spirit of a former resident – and maybe something more sinister. The Warrens realise there’s a link to their suffering and this family’s, and decide to help them.

The casting, from returnees Farmiga and Wilson, to young Wolfe, is faultless, and the stars of the first film give the same alluring performances and convincing on-screen relationship that you feel you’re in familiar and capable hands, even before the scares really take hold.

The same key writing-directing team returns, knowing the material inside out – and it shows. Although the setting is in a different part of the world, links to the first film are well versed and connected. Writer-director James Wan also performs his superior malevolent magic to disorientate you as soon as you become complacent, ramping up the tension when very little is actually happening at that moment in time. None of the occurrences are in any way new to the genre. However, the storytelling is excellent.

The film’s production value is also great, recreating that same ‘distressed’ cinematic palette as the first, and making the environment as chilling and alien as possible. This ties in nicely with recreating the time period of the 70s too.

The Conjuring 2 is just as powerful at the first film, possibly because of the catch-all ‘based on a true story’ promise. Even so, without the same team behind this one as with the first, this could have fallen flat. Instead, it’s a fitting sequel, full of scares, which also works well as an introduction to the franchise for the uninitiated because we’re taken away from the Amityville, US setting. It’s another must-see for retro-horror fans.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2015: Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) ***

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Nothing grabs initial attention like a film about promiscuous young love, especially one set in ‘sexually uninhibited’ France – sunny Biarritz in the South West here. Even more so, one that toys with the term ‘gang bang’ in its full title.

Undeniably a confident debut from writer-director Eva Husson, who comes from a music video background, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) is not short on cinematic style. It also confidently explores modern aspects that affect sexual development too. It just does little else unique that French filmmakers haven’t already done with sexual exploration and coming-of-age themes in the past.

We are party to the downtime of several ‘bored’ suburban high-school teens who decide to create a private orgy club at one boy’s house while his mother is away on business. However, far from liberating them, youthful emotions get in the way, all publicised on social media, causing problems for some and divisions on a whole.

Husson favours the ‘voyeur’ camera style in much of her work, the setting for which is in the opening scene, seen through the eyes of one of the party – we find out whom later on. There is a softly lit, subdued tone to her cinematography, almost dreamlike, as well as an equally chilled pace that sets the scene for the players to relax and explore. Interestingly though, as reality sets in for the characters, this cinematic style becomes more ‘exposing’ and sharper focused. It’s this style verses the ‘ferocious’ pace of social media and pockets of tension that nicely play at odds but also compliment and move the plot forward.

In fact, the film’s threat is the invasion of modern-day communication methods in an otherwise idyllic innocence that the viewer is made to watch being unleashed. One such character stands as the moral compass, albeit on the sidelines to start with, until he too, through desire and opportunity, slips up – but does get to redeem himself. What is intriguing is watching the fallout and guessing the casualties from this social experiment.

The acting from a mainly debut cast is quite admirable, showing Husson’s skill at putting her ensemble at ease. There is even one to watch, Marilyn Lima, who looks like a modern-day Brigitte Bardot or Emmanuelle Béart and holds her own against the more established Daisy Broom of Girlhood (2014) and Leaving (2009) fame.

As is the case with a lot of newcomer talent, the film only stretches the imagination so far before lack of writing experience shows through – and once you have seen some teen experimentation, it does become tedious. Husson must see the action-reaction of her promiscuous teens through to the end, but Bang Gang does flag even with its controversial subject. Still, Husson has a powerful first vehicle to drive home with, if not as a critique of modern-day pressures on youth.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Boss **

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To Melissa McCarthy fans, any film with her mouth running wild, delivering her trademark bluntness will thrill. The Boss is such a like/loathe character – and film – that offers exactly that. It’s a McCarthy vehicle, though a somewhat cliched one that’s plain silly, but could have been a whole lot more.

McCarthy is mega-wealthy, cutthroat business tycoon Michelle Darnell who gets arrested for inside trading, after being set up by former colleague/lover Renault (Peter Dinklage). Part of the fallout of her dismantled empire is felt by her long-suffering personal assistant, mum-of-one Claire (Kristen Bell) who is made redundant and has to take a job she hates even more.

When family-wary Darnell is released from prison, the only ‘friend’ she has in the world is Claire, who invites her to stay to get back on her feet. Darnell seizes the opportunity to rebrand herself, after visiting Claire’s daughter Rachel’s (Ella Anderson) scout club, by building a cookie empire. However, Darnell has made many enemies in the business world and some are still less than forgiving.

This is another husband-and-wife collaboration, both in writing and directing, much like the underwhelming Tammy (2014). The concept of both films co-written by McCarthy and hubby Ben Falcone should just breeze off the page with clever gags and character depth, but there just seems to be a lazy superficiality to it all, which is a crying shame.

Darnell is the perfect McCarthy study who should have been written as a more multifaceted character – especially with the family issues aspect that gets glossed over at the beginning as a bit of a joke. This doesn’t mean the proceedings can’t be slapstick, but there just is more superior comedy to be had, waiting in the wings. It’s just disappointing.

Although McCarthy is always fun to watch, the person who comes out best from all this is Bell, who gets to show a little more depth; sadly though, not her on-screen daughter Anderson whose young wings are clipped delivering the standard ‘cutesy affair’ as the childlike moral gauge. Anderson alone could have tackled something more meaty too.

To add to the daftness, Dinklage is a minature ballbuster in this – “again”. There are some genuninely funny moments between McCarthy and him but they blend into one, as the same joke is peddled. Indeed, the off-key ‘adult’ gags feel weird most of the time, in something that can’t quite decide whether it wants to be ‘below the belt’ or not in the humour stakes, especially as it feels very PG-rated rather than 15 the majority of the time.

For sheer McCarthy value, The Boss is highly entertaining though, especially as the anti-heroine disperses with ‘obstacles’ in her path to rebirth. The ending is uber predictable but necessary. In fact, The Boss never actually builds up to much. It’s like another notch on the couple’s comedy bedpost really – like Tammy, there to keep the McCarthy love alive but really done to pay the couple’s bills.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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