“Apex predator… high on cocaine… and you’re going towards it?”
Loosely inspired by an absurd real event, Cocaine Bear is deliberately stupid but unabashedly honest in its intentions — if what you are after is a rampaging wild bear blowing through a remote American community, you will be entertained. Elizabeth Banks’ direction revels in the gore as much as the comedy, and often both simultaneously as the film lines up its victims. Unsurprisingly the bear is a digital effect (courtesy of Wētā) and it bumps against the monster movie rule that the threat is greater than seeing it. Despite a sprightly 95-minute running time, the script swiftly runs out of ideas with cracks appearing around the one hour mark and it hews so closely to the monster movie formula that it becomes predictable despite its inanity. Despite a few flakey performances, most are nothing to sniff at, but only the ever-reliable Margo Martindale’s park ranger is worthy of note. Cocaine Bear is no pearl, then, but it provides enough to enjoy if your expectations are limited to it doing exactly what it says on the tin.
“Sometimes they don’t really desire you. They desire the way you make them feel.”
Following Equals and Newness, director Drake Doremus continues his exploration of human relationships with Zoe, which largely falls into the same pitfalls of interesting concepts executed blandly and with musings more derivative than profound. His focus here is society’s use of technology as a solution for crumbling relationships and intimacy, explored through the story of a relationship between an engineer and a “synthetic” human. The material is more thought-provoking than Doremus’ past work, though much of the heavy lifting is left to the viewer — neither the story nor the engagement with its ideas is as deftly handled as Her (which was evidently an influence). Zoe suggests that human connection with a synthetic may break when confronted with their artificiality, but this makes little sense when applied to the creator of a synthetic, for whom every detail ought to be a reminder. This is no slight on the actors, who deliver understated and tender performances, including an underutilised Christina Aguilera as an older model of synthetic. The film’s most interesting aspect is recreational use of a new pharmaceutical drug that chemically simulates the experience of falling in love, though again the script fails to engage with the fundamental question of which experience is more real: a genuine internal reaction to an external artificiality, or an artificially synthesised internal reaction to another human. Instead, the audience is left to drift through this slow-moving sci-fi with increasing disengagement.
“If you’re uncomfortable, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
A couple newly moved to LA at a dinner party with gregarious new friends is a familiar lens through which to explore the awkwardness of learning and engaging with new people outside of our comfort zone. Produced by the Duplass brothers, The Overnight bears tonal similarities to Cyrus and is similarly somewhat missold as a comedy. The uneasy atmosphere is more successful maintained here over the course of a single evening rather than a protracted relationship, though the film oversteps on a few occasions, breaking the tension with the unnecessarily “outrageous”, like a scene with risible prosthetic genitalia. Its chief strength is Jason Schwartzman’s shifting energy between eccentric generosity and manipulative coercion, keeping the audience — as much as his guests — guessing as to his motives.