Cocaine Bear review

Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast : Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Christian Convery, Brooklynn Prince, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Aaron Holliday, Margo Martindale, Matthew Rhys, Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Run Time : 96 min
Opens : 23 February 2023
Rating : M18

“Seeing a bear in the wild is a special treat for any visitor to a national park,” so begins the article “Staying Safe Around Bears” on the US National Parks website. “While it is an exciting moment, it is important to remember that bears in national parks are wild and can be dangerous. Their behaviour is sometimes unpredictable. Although rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death.”

And this is assuming they aren’t on cocaine.

The bear in Cocaine Bear, based very loosely on a true story, was.

It is 1985. Drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II (Matthew Rhys) dumps duffel bags full of cocaine out of an overloaded plane over Chattahoochee County, Georgia. A female black bear ingests cocaine from one of the duffel bags and chaos ensues. Sari (Keri Russell), a nurse and single mother, discovers her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) has skipped school together with her friend Henry (Christian Convery) to find a hidden waterfall in the forest. The kids chance across a brick of cocaine, unaware that the bear has also discovered the drugs. Thornton’s associate Syd (Ray Liotta) sends his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and his employee Daveed (O’Seha Jackson Jr.) to attempt to recover the cocaine, lest he draw the ire of Colombian drug kingpins. Other characters including police officers Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Reba (Ayoola Smart), Norwegian hikers Olaf (Kristofer Hivju) and Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra) and park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) get drawn into the fray.

Cocaine Bear was made to go viral online, for people to breathlessly share the trailer exclaiming “can you believe they made this?!” On that level, it works. The movie is often outrageous and entertaining, a gory, silly black comedy designed to elicit shrieks and laughter from the audience, which it probably will. The movie’s ensemble cast is game and likeable, with cannily chosen pairings including child actors Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery, and the duo of O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich, playing off each other well. The late Ray Liotta, who died weeks after making this film, is a hoot as always as a cruel drug lord. Director Elizabeth Banks keeps things energetic and wacky, and the result is a cross between the Coen Brothers and the Farrelly Brothers. Other filmmakers might have played up the edginess, but Banks manages to find the 80s family adventure component amidst the dismemberments and copious drug use.

The movie runs a lean 96 minutes, which is the right length for something like this. Unfortunately, it is loaded with too many characters and parallel interweaving threads, such that we don’t quite spend enough time with each of the characters. While some might gravitate to the tone, others might be put off by it. The over-the-top humour can sometimes undercut the stakes, and while the movie’s tongue is very clearly in its cheek, it is still sometimes uncomfortable to see children put in the perilous situations depicted here. One can argue that the movie’s marketing, emphasising its basis in truth, is misleading. There was a black bear that ingested cocaine, but it did not go on a murderous rampage, and all the characters in the movie apart from Andrew C. Thornton II are fictional. That said, the filmmakers are well within their rights to use that morsel of fact as a jumping-off point for a wild, bloody story.

Key to the film working is the believability of the bear. The bear, nicknamed “Cokey” by the crew, was created by New Zealand-based visual effects studio Wētā FX and portrayed on-set by stunt performer Allan Henry, who trained under Andy Serkis. There are moments when the bear is frighteningly realistic, but many others – including an early moment when it’s scratching its back against a tree – when it looks kind of cartoony. The effects work more often than they don’t, and the moments when the bear is less than convincing can be excused by the overall ridiculous tone of the piece.

Summary: Cocaine Bear lives up to its promise of depicting a giant black bear on a coke-fuelled rampage. Often darkly funny and boasting an impressive ensemble cast, this is a movie that is constantly entertaining. Its combination of gross-out shock humour might not work for everyone, and the CGI bear that is its star is sometimes a little cartoony, but director Elizabeth Banks keeps things chugging right along. The “based on a true story” element of the story is more than a little oversold – a bear did ingest cocaine that was dumped out of a plane by a drug smuggler, but nothing after that really happened – but it serves as a great jumping-off point for a zany, gory adventure.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania review

Director: Peyton Reed
Cast : Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathryn Newton, Bill Murray
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 125 min
Opens : 16 February 2023
Rating : PG

2015’s Ant-Man and 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp are often considered palate cleansers, coming after Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) release order. “For this third one, I said, ‘I don’t want to be the palate cleanser anymore,’” director Peyton Reed told Entertainment Weekly. “‘I want to be the big Avengers movie.'” And with those fighting words, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania goes big or goes home.

After being a part of the Avengers team that saved the world and defeated Thanos, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is enjoying a bit of a victory lap, writing an autobiography and taking things easy. He has trouble connecting with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who has been researching the Quantum Realm. This unexplored sub-atomic corner of reality is where Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) was trapped for years. Cassie’s experiment accidentally transports herself, her father, Janet, Janet’s husband Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hank and Janet’s daughter Hope/the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) into the Quantum Realm. Janet has been secretive about her time here, because she crossed paths with a powerful force she had hoped to never face again: the despotic Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Ant-Man and family must overcome obstacles unlike any they’ve met before in their biggest adventure yet.

Quantumania is nothing if not ambitious. It is almost completely unlike the first two Ant-Man movies, which were still grounded in an earthbound reality, and instead wholly embraces the sci-fi fantasy aspect. The Quantum Realm is a dazzling, eye-popping milieu with a lot going on at once visually, and many of the design ideas on display are impressive and amusing. At its best, Quantumania does approach the world-building of a Star Wars movie, and Reed says he was inspired by working on The Mandalorian. The cantina scene from the original Star Wars film being a noticeable influence and Bill Murray pops up as a Lando-esque character.

The cast has great chemistry together, with Rudd leading the way in typical winning fashion. There are moments when the character must get more serious than he ever has, and Rudd handles those too. One of the movie’s best scenes is between Pfeiffer and Majors (we’ll get to him later), and it is a tense dialogue scene with minimal visual effects in which the acting does most of the work.

Unfortunately, the movie’s reach sometimes exceeds its grasp. Its ambition means Quantumania wants to get a lot done in its 125-minute runtime. While it’s mercifully shorter than other MCU entries, it feels long, especially because of its drawn-out climactic battle. The stakes are high and the movie works when its characters have clear objectives, but towards the end, things get a little messy. Screenwriter Jeff Loveness is a Rick and Morty alum, and the movie’s sense of humour belies that – sometimes it works, but other times, it doesn’t.

The movie’s biggest misstep is arguably its handling of the character M.O.D.O.K. (Corey Stoll), whose back-story is changed from the comics. The character has always been goofy-looking, but the way M.O.D.O.K. is realised here is jarring and deep in the uncanny valley. One could argue that this is intentional, but it does take one out of the proceedings.

One of the film’s biggest selling points is that it introduces major villain Kang the Conqueror, who is set to be the main villain of the next Avengers movie, due out in 2025. We first met He Who Remains in the Loki TV series; that was one of many variants of Kang. Here, Jonathan Majors does a wonderful job, equal parts quietly commanding and volatile. He’s taking this very seriously, and the movie does a good job of building up to when we meet Kang proper. General audiences might not know Kang’s significance as a villain in the Marvel canon, but hopefully, Majors gets to play the breadth of the character and his many variants.

Summary: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is an ambitious adventure that wants to be much bigger than the first two Ant-Man films. In this aspect, it succeeds, containing impressive world-building and a sense of adventure. However, the movie feels clumsy and muddled by its third act, and despite some imaginative design work, the synthetic nature of the digital settings creeps up on audiences after a while. Jonathan Majors’ portrayal of Kang, poised as the next major MCU villain, is a highlight. Stick around for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Knock at the Cabin review

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast : Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn Rupert Grint
Genre: Thriller
Run Time : 100 min
Opens : 16 February 2023
Rating : R21

M. Night Shyamalan is a divisive filmmaker, but through the ups and downs of his career, his name on a poster is still a selling point. Shyamalan’s adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World sees him back in the horror thriller genre he’s done most of his work in, and again making audiences ask, “could this work?”

In a Pennsylvanian forest, seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) is catching grasshoppers. She is on vacation with her adoptive parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). She comes across a stranger known as Leonard (Dave Bautista), who later reveals he is accompanied by three others: nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), diner cook Adriane (Abby Quinn) and ex-convict Redmond (Rupert Grint). Each wielding a makeshift weapon, the intruders hold Eric, Andrew and Wen hostage, claiming that a series of divine visions foretelling the end of the world has led them to the family. The ultimatum: either Eric, Andrew or Wen will have to die to save humanity. Eric and Andrew initially believe they are the target of a twisted hate crime, but as disastrous events unfold, it becomes possible that the four strangers might be telling the truth.

Knock at the Cabin has a few things working for it: it features an ensemble of interesting actors and is largely contained within one setting and takes place across one day, making it feel like the scope of the story is always manageable even when the stakes get higher. There are moments when it feels almost achingly earnest, and it is about a very sweet, loving family facing an unimaginable crisis. Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui do make for a sympathetic family unit. There are moments in Knock at the Cabin that effectively generate the sense of “what would you do if you were in this scenario?” that make a movie compelling. Shyamalan is good at generating tension and playing around with the atmosphere, without resorting to too many cheap horror movie tricks. The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer is warm and tactile, and the silent moments of tension are when Knock at the Cabin is its strongest.

Griffin Newman, co-host of the podcast Blank Check with Griffin and David, described Shyamalan as a “cilantro filmmaker”, which seems apt. His work is wont to elicit strong reactions and he can be divisive. Most of the dialogue and some of the acting in Knock at the Cabin feel highly unnatural, mannered and stilted. It can be hard to determine if this was intentional and if it all adds up to the overall unsettling effect, or if Shyamalan is just bad at certain aspects of filmmaking. One could argue that for a movie to be relatable, the characters whom the audience is meant to identify with should come off as much like real people as possible, and nobody in Knock at the Cabin really does.

Shyamalan’s previous movie Old was mocked for dialogue including one character saying “I am a doctor,” with another replying “I am a nurse. My name is Jarin.” A lot of the dialogue in Knock at the Cabin is like this. Shyamalan shares screenwriting credit with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman – it sounds like they wrote the initial draft, that Shyamalan then rewrote, so it is reasonable to attribute at least some of the dialogue to Shyamalan. The movie also requires more than one giant leap of faith from the audience and a lot of how much one enjoys it depends on one’s willingness to just go along with things.

The movie’s secret weapon is Dave Bautista. Eric and Andrew are arguably the main characters, but Bautista is top-billed. The Leonard character is something of a gentle giant, a teacher committing unimaginable acts of violence because of an unwavering belief in divine provenance. It’s not an easy thing to sell, especially when working with Shyamalan’s dialogue, but Bautista does a fantastic job. He has made no secret of wanting to be taken seriously as an actor, and more than proves he continues to deserve that.

The other three intruders are not given as much to do, and can sometimes seem like plot devices, but it is fun to see Rupert Grint as a truly scuzzy, unlikeable character. Nikki Amuka-Bird, whom Shyamalan previously cast in Old, plays the contradictions of her character (a nurse about to commit murder) well. Unfortunately, Abby Quinn feels somewhat stranded, over-playing her character’s neuroses, something which is thrown into sharper relief by the movie’s reliance on extreme close-ups.

Summary: Knock at the Cabin is built on a fascinating premise and manages to be intermittently unsettling and chilling. A chamber piece, its small scale means it isn’t overly ambitious, despite concerning no less than the impending end of the world. The ensemble is generally good, with Dave Bautista continuing to prove himself as a legitimately compelling dramatic actor. Unfortunately, as with many M. Night Shyamalan movies past, the often stilted and unnatural dialogue seems to trap the actors, creating a barrier between the audience and the story. Not all of it works, but the parts that do are worthwhile.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong