Powder lover: The digital star of ‘Cocaine Bear’.
COCAINE BEAR *** (95 minutes) MA
Boasting a perfect example of a movie title designed to sell tickets, Cocaine Bear is a fun, self-consciously cheesy B-grade action comedy about – you guessed it – a bear that goes on a killing spree in a national park after getting hooked on high-quality yeyo.
The product has fallen from the sky in conveniently sized packages, thrown from a light aircraft by a doofus drug trafficker whose plan to retrieve his consignment from the forest floor doesn’t quite go according to plan.
Freshly addicted to the substance, the ravenous carnivore makes its acquaintance with various locals, tourists and criminals before chowing down on them, even chasing them up trees.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks (Charlie’s Angels; Pitch Perfect 2), the film wastes no time setting its tongue-in-cheek tone. Think schlocky 1980s horror comedy, with all the cheap laughs and cheap gore effects therein.
Yet there’s nothing low-grade about the visual effects used to create our marauding beast, the work from Weta (Lord of the Rings) setting a new standard for the photo-realistic rendering of animals on screen.
VFX fans will appreciate just how fine the state-of-the-art work is – so, fine, in fact, it almost looks too classy for a film this lowbrow. Might the film have been funnier, and more in tune with its 1985 setting, if they just went with a guy in a bear suit? And maybe some primitive animatronics? Just airing the idea.
Admittedly, the comedy route was the easier one to take. How cool might the film have been in the hands of a veteran director (guys like John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Eli Roth) who played Cocaine Bear as a straight horror film.
That said, Cocaine Bear is a hoot and a half, a fun, time-killing lark perfect for a Friday night wind down. Once it hits the stream, it’ll automatically become a prime example of a pizza-and-beer movie.
There’s a possibility the Fun Police might go the film for making light of cocaine abuse. This would be a tad unfair.
The film certainly has fun with the premise – hey, let’s also call it a black comedy just to cover ourselves – but the bear goes around looking for people to kill because it’s on cocaine. How is that making light of the effects of cocaine abuse?
Now, this might come as a shock, but while the film was inspired by an actual event, some creative license had been taken – and by “some”, read “lots and lots”.
For the record, in 1985 a bear was found dead surrounded by scores of emptied cannisters of cocaine, which rthe bear had obviously ingested.
The cocaine had been jettisoned from a light aircraft three months earlier by a drug runner who died soon after when he jumped out the plane after dumping the shipment, his ambitious plan being to retrieve his product from the forest floor. Unfortunately for him, whoever packed his parachute didn’t do a very good job and his landing was assisted with the full force of gravity. Ouch.
That was the only fatality involved. The bear didn’t bother, let alone terrorize, anybody. Apparently it found the cocaine, indulged, then died.
Perhaps there’s a movie in that.
MISSING *** (111 minutes) M
In the engaging, if overlong thriller Missing, the desperate search by teenage girl June (Storm Reid) for her mother unfurls entirely on a computer screen using video chats, security cameras, webcams texts and various other everyday cyber-appliances to chronicle the hunt.
It’s the latest film to use this quirky storytelling format, a relatively new genre called “screenlife” that, nonetheless, has lost a lot of its novelty and potency in the wake of films such as Unfriended (2014), Searching (2018) and Dashcam (2021).
Still, there’s lots of ingenuity at play here as June cracks passwords, hires a Spanish assistant and deep dives into Google, all at a cracking pace.
The film is way too long for the format, probably by about 30 minutes, so just beware that Missing runs nearly two hours and demands a lot of very fast reading as you scan the giant computer screen for the next clue.
This highlights an amusing irony with the film. We usually escape a long day of staring into computer screens and reading by going to the cinema, yet the experience of watching Missing requires that you do exactly that.
Dare one suggest that certain screenlife movies that come with such demands might constitute a new form of cinema – or perhaps even anti-cinema?
CUNK ON EARTH *** (five episodes; 145 minutes) M
whole series review
As funny as Diane Morgan is as the thick-skulled TV presenter Philomena Cunk, the real gold in the mockumentary Cunk on Earth are the real life academics, intellectuals and experts she interviews, who continually upstage her as they do their best to answer her stupid questions with a straight face.
The five globe-trotting episodes sees our adorably addle-brained host present a cross-section of human civilization, her level of comprehension neatly reflected by her notion that ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are emojis.
Visiting many sites of great historic significance – the Coliseum, the Parthenon, the pyramids – Cunk’s consistently silly and amusing commentary toy with wordplays and irrelevant digressions, with references to Pump Up the Jam by Technotronic (1989) forming the show’s chief, and somewhat overused, running gag.
We’ve seen this shtick before with Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen), Norman Gunston (Garry McDonald) and, of course, Pixie Anne Wheatley (Magda Szubanski), only here the interview guests are wholly invested in the endeavour.
With only one interviewee briefly losing their composure, they valiantly strive to answer Cunk’s marvellously inane questions and emerge as the true stars in a delightfully daffy show that, at a mere two-and-a-half hours, can be pleasantly binged in a single sitting. Enjoy.
PAMELA: A LOVE STORY ***1/2 (113 minutes) MA
She admits she’s made some dumb choices and has had a bumpy journey, but Pamela Anderson proves she is not the dumb blonde she has been cruelly portrayed as in the excellent feature documentary Pamela – A Love Story, in which she bravely owns up to her fallings while finally correcting the record.
Without make-up, Anderson is front-and-centre before the cameras at her cozy seaside home in Canada, answering all the tough questions and facing all the cringeworthy truths about her wild ride through global fame and dizzying success, tainted by bad management and online infamy.
Clearly by design, Anderson presents as a highly sympathetic figure. The casualty of misunderstandings and a sensationalist tabloid media, we learn of her troubled youth, her seduction into stardom via Playboy, her ascent to worldwide fame via Baywatch and her well-publicized marriage to Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee.
Key to her story, unfortunately and unavoidably, is the infamous sex tape, which was edited together by the thieves from videos stolen from their home during renovations and released online in the mid-1990s, anointing Anderson and Lee with the dubious distinction of being the internet’s first celebrity victims of a viral video.
A full, unsettling account is given of the seismic damage this did to her burgeoning career, and it clearly still stings. She never made a cent from the sex tape and, she states adamantly, even refused a $5 million offer from Penthouse head Bob Guccione for the rights.
Eager to acknowledge her unheralded achievements, the film highlights her philanthropy, her support for Julian Assange and her championing of animal rights – though, oddly, her anti-pornography campaigns is not mentioned.
Steadfastly refusing to play victim, Anderson acquits herself admirably, handing over her comprehensive personal archive of letters and videos for the filmmakers to sift through.
And there’s a heartening third-act payoff as we accompany her to Broadway after being offered the main role in Chicago.
It’s such a sincere and honest profile even those who derided Anderson during her peak will likely cede to her a little respect, something she’s worked hard for and clearly hasn’t enjoyed until recently.
COLIN FROM ACCOUNTS ***1/2 (eight episodes; 218 minutes) MA
whole series review
Very well-done, surprisingly insightful and well-rounded Australian romantic dramedy as nursing student Ashley and micro-brewer Gordon (Harriet Dyer & Patrick Brammall who also created and wrote) meet when he hits a dog with his car, distracted when she flashes a boob at him.
Once you forgive the unnecessary scatological humour in the bumpy first ep, the show quickly shapes up as a nicely nuanced, decidedly grounded cross-section of a mismatched relationship, with her touching 30 while he deals with being in his mid-40s.
Their visit to her mother’s house for dinner is an absolute pearler, offering a study in the awkward comedy that runs through the show.
Also admirable are all the side stories involving the supporting characters, and how the show never loses sight of the economic realities of running a small business.
Some lovely dashes of Zoomer-vs-Boomer humour add spice to a very satisfying comedy about the prickly side of modern-day coupledom.