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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

Quick Reviews: 'Cocaine Bear', 'Empire Of Light' | Bear Goes Crazy, Olivia Colman Goes To A Cinema

A bear on cocaine touching a tree, Olivia Colman looking away
Cocaine Bear (L), Empire Of Light (R)


Is there cocaine? Is there a bear? Do we need to know more? Not really! Everyone is obviously here for the ridiculous title with fittingly ridiculous premise but we should probably mention that comedy-horror hybrid Cocaine Bear features Elizabeth Banks returning to director's chair and it's written by Jimmy Warden, based very loosely on a very real bear that did indeed inhale cocaine. The year is 1985 and a significant amount of the drug is dropped from a smuggler's plane to a forest where a bear (sometimes physically played by Allan Henry) finds it. Going absolutely mental, it turns into a menace for visitors, including Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Sari (Keri Russell), Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), Henry (Christian Convery), Liz (Margo Martindale) and others.

The bear does have cocaine running in its veins so there is a perfectly passable amount of comedy drawn from that, as well as tense moments for characters to experience when they're waiting for their possible death. Banks mostly balances those extreme tones well during the first half so it's even more of a bummer that the movie itself is never able to find its full intensity, truly memorable comedy or anything else; instead it just ends up existing in a somewhat entertaining mode that you won't really remember five minutes after credits have rolled. Sure, it's therefore rather ''critic-proof''—whatever that actually means—but the last 20 minutes aren't quite the payoff one is expecting from this premise, being both visually incoherent and distractingly sentimental for a movie like this. We should be having way more fun, whether we're sober or not while watching it.

Smileys: Nothing outstanding

Frowneys: Ending


Keri Russell hiding behind a tree from a bear on cocaine
Universal Pictures


You know what's amazing? Cinema, baby. Aren't cinemas and motion pictures just so great? Do you need anything else to make a movie worthwhile? Based on writer-director Sam Mendes' romance drama Empire Of Light, you might want to say yes, you do in fact need more than that. Olivia Colman stars as Hilary, a duty manager at a cinema in southern England in the '80s. As she is struggling to find the right medical balance for her bipolar disorder and is having an affair with her boss Donald (Colin Firth), she meets the theatre's new employee, much younger Stephen (Michael Ward). We follow their romantic escapades powered by silver screens, all the while Hilary has a manic period and Stephen is affected by growing racial tensions in the area and is applying to universities.

If you happen to be familiar with Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins' previous collaborations, it doesn't come as a surprise that the film takes its title to heart, being beautiful to look at as they craft scenes with a striking balance of natural and artificial light. That kind of luminosity is unfortunately lacking in Mendes' writing and characters as those scenes are often disjointed because they are missing the necessary flow and release of tension that is needed for drama in order to affect a viewer. Nothing about the film screams bloody murder in terms of being miserable or poor but it's all just too vanilla, frankly too boring to have an impact when projected on the big screen.

Colman and Ward get enough emotional exposure out of their characters to make a few scenes work and they do have pretty good chemistry despite the age difference, they are just sadly stuck in Mendes' rambling that rarely has a North Star to lead them away from the southern shores.

Smileys: Lighting

Frowneys: Screenplay, characterisation


Michael Ward and Olivia Colman looking at different directions
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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