Greetings again from the darkness. Dorothy Gale from Kansas may have been worried about ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears”, but even with a wicked witch and flying monkeys chasing her, she never faced anything as fierce as Cocaine Bear! The story is inspired by true events in 1985 when a plane load of cocaine was inadvertently dropped over a national forest in Georgia. Screenwriter Jimmy Warden takes that premise and imagines what would happen if a ferocious bear had ingested mass quantities of the drug and then rampaged while on the ensuing high. Elizabeth Banks, known mostly for her acting (THE HUNGER GAMES), adds this to her growing list of directorial outings (CHARLIE’S ANGELS, PITCH PERFECT 2), and her latest is sure to find a place in cinematic lore.
The film opens with a reenactment of the plane and parachute mishap that caused the drugs to dump into the forest. A crazed Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”) bonks his head on the skydiving exit, setting the stage for our bear to discover the scattered drug bricks. Of course, as we know from so many movies, TV shows, and national news reports, when a drug delivery goes sideways, bears aren’t the only ones on the hunt. A local drug dealer played by Ray Liotta sends his son (Alden Ehrenreich, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY, 2018) and henchman (O’Shea Jackson, son of Ice Cube) to retrieve the misplaced shipment … all while a detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr) is on their trail.
Looking-for-love Park Ranger Liz (the always great Margot Martindale) envisions a romantic hike with the Park inspector she fancies (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), but her plans are spoiled when a frantic mom (Keri Russell, “The Americans”) shows up looking for her missing daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, 2017) and her child’s friend Henry (Christian Convery, “Sweet Tooth”), who skipped school to explore the park. While all this is occurring, there is also a band of thugs wreaking havoc on park visitors, one of which (Aaron Holliday) gets looped in with the drug dealers. Once EMS workers (Scott Seiss and Kahyun Kim) show up, peak bear intensity is reached.
Now all of this may sound somewhat normal for a movie set up, but nothing prepares you for a rampaging bear desperately seeking that next hit of cocaine. I don’t have the words to express just how ‘off the rails’ this thing goes (in a riotous and fun way). What I can tell you is that it’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser, and certainly the most effective movie I’ve ever watched featuring a drug-fueled apex predator. I saw this in a crowded theater and the shared laughter and audience-reactions definitely added to the entertainment experience. Key elements have been omitted here because this is one of the wildest rides I’ve ever had in a movie theater … and my hope is that many other fun-seekers will agree. Not only is there humor, adventure, action, and violence, but there are also some brilliant ‘little touches’ that elevate the story (a cute dog, a double-cross, a broken heart, etc).
For almost fifty years, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) has ruled the Midnight Movie circuit. There have been a few contenders along the way (THE ROOM, THE WARRIORS, EVIL DEAD), but this Elizabeth Banks movie may finally be the one that reignites the late night movie crowd with this raucous, thrilling trip as a coked-up bear (a bear that looks fantastic) runs amok through a national forest, desperate for the next hit. On a side note, this was the final film for Ray Liotta before he passed away in 2022. With a legacy of memorable characters in SOMETHING WILD, GOODFELLAS, and FIELD OF DREAMS, Liotta’s final scene is quite a gut punch. COCAINE BEAR is a “hard R-rating” and not advisable for the 7- and 8-year-old kids brought along by their parents at the screening I attended.
Greetings again from the darkness. Alan Ball has been behind such high profile projects as Best Picture Oscar winner AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999), “Six Feet Under”, and “True Blood”. This time, he is writer-director-producer for a film that he partially based on his own father. Repressed homosexuality, alcoholism, death, and family dysfunction all play a role in a film that starts out beautifully insightful and then morphs into something totally different.
Paul Bettany stars as the titular Uncle Frank Bledsoe. When we first see Frank, he is the calm amidst the chaotic family gathering in their tiny hometown of Creekside, South Carolina. His 14 year old niece Beth (Sophia Lillis, IT) serves as our narrator, and she quickly discloses her admiration for her favorite uncle. He’s a college professor at NYU, and the only adult “who looked me in the eye”. He even wore after shave! The two are oddities in this family since they both love to read, have deep conversations, and can’t escape Creekside soon enough.
Beth is too sheltered to realize that Frank has kept his homosexuality a secret from the family. She’s shocked at how cross the family patriarch Daddy Mac (Stephen Root) acts to his son Frank, which contrasts to his affinity for his other son, and Beth’s father, Mike (Steve Zahn). A terrific ensemble cast fills out the family: Margot Martindale as Mammaw Bledsoe (Frank’s mother), Judy Greer as Kitty (Mike’s wife), Lois Smith as Aunt Butch (Frank’s stuck-in-the-past Aunt), and Jane McNeil as Neva (Frank’s sister).
We flash forward 4 years and Beth is now a freshman at NYU where her favorite uncle is a professor. Of course it doesn’t take long before Frank’s secret is revealed, and Beth meets his longtime partner Wally (Peter Macdisi, who is director Alan Ball’s real life partner) and their pet iguana named Barbara Stanwyck. When the call comes through that Daddy Mac has died, the film shifts to the road trip portion of the show, and the excellent tone set in the first half is shattered.
With a shift to Frank’s perspective, we experience his flashbacks to childhood and what caused the rift with his father. The memories of his first encounter with another boy turn horrific, and explain much about why Frank and his closed-minded father don’t have a relationship, and why Frank has a nasty history with booze. The road trip itself is enlivened thanks to the enthusiastic presence of Wally, a man with a good heart who tries to always be there for Frank. This is a coming of age trip for Beth, but her role goes pretty quiet until the ending.
The story has elements of small southern town contrasted to New York City, and the pent up frustrations that accompany a life of closeted homosexuality and lack of honesty with one’s family. The bond of family outsiders could have been a full movie unto itself, but filmmaker Ball chose to explore numerous emotional points, rather than one. The unforgivable nature of Frank’s dad provides an emotional wallop that embraces the melodrama of the film’s second half. It’s sure to draw out tears from more than a few viewers, and a film that connects like that, surely has something to say.
Greetings again from the darkness. Who better to sing the title song than Gloucester, Massachusetts singer David Coffin … while wearing the attire of the local fishermen of fictional Easter Cove, Maine? Mr. Coffin’s rich vocals (and face) pop up periodically throughout the film and provide an unusual bit of story structure to the feature film debut of co-writers and co-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. It’s a nifty little indie film that’s fun to watch, despite some gaps in the storytelling that keep it from ‘what could have been.’
Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor star as the Connolly sisters, Priscilla and Mary Beth. Their mother Mary Margaret Connolly has just died, and it appears they may lose their family home as well as the family business – a local fish market. Priscilla is the reserved, level-headed one, while Mary Beth (who put off college for a year) is impulsive and reactionary. A poor decision made while drinking with bad boy Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) leads to a violent confrontation involving a harpoon, a brick and cole slaw. Well, technically the cole slaw comes in during the clean-up being orchestrated by Priscilla.
There are some Coen Brothers and neo-noir elements at play here, which, along with the intriguing small town characters keeps us connected to the story and wondering how things will end up. An interesting twist has Easter Cove with a Matriarchal town structure, one of which the recently deceased Mary Margaret Connolly was instrumental. Three elderly ladies played with glee by June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, and Annette O’Toole take it upon themselves to continue the behind-the-scenes power brokering, while at the same time ‘cleaning up’ the town a bit. After the murder of a local prostitute, the triumvirate of senior women confront Enid Nora Devlin (yet another scene-stealing turn from Margot Martindale), who runs Ocean View B&B, the town’s brothel. Enid listens to their request to shutter the doors … or at least transition into a traditional bed and breakfast.
A found bag of money plays a role, as does Priscilla’s carving knife, and Alexis (Gayle Rankin), a friend of the murdered girl. Will Brittain plays Officer Justin Brennan, a young policeman who fancies Priscilla and is committed to solving the crime(s). All of these interactions are quite something to watch, as most every character has their own secrets and motivations. As mentioned, the story structure may remind some of Coen Brothers projects, however as fun as it is to watch, it’s lacking the sharp and witty dialogue of the Coens. Also, while many of us enjoy movies that don’t fill in every detail, there are gaps crucial to understanding the actions of these characters … gaps that probably should have been colored in a bit more.
Harpswell, Maine poses as Easter Cove, and there is something about this small fishing community on the northeast coast that creates a unique and appealing setting for a movie. Additionally, the dialect and personalities make for entertaining cinema. It’s a nice first feature for Ms. Cole and Ms. Krudy and we look forward to more of their work.