COCAINE BEAR (2023)
Gory and unsettling flick is directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) from his script with C. Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca (Brand New Cherry Flavor), based on Antosca’s book The Quiet Boy. It is a disturbing film that not only tells a tale of horror about a vengeful and evil Native American spirit but touches on the real-life horrors of abuse through its emotionally scarred characters. It is a slow burn, but it serves the story to build gradually to the film’s more gruesome moments, as the man turned malevolent creature eventually finds its way into the surrounding woods of this small mountain town. The film is very atmospheric and has some very horrifying imagery to give its audience the continual creeps, and when it’s Wendigo is on screen, it’s a very effective critter with top notch creature and gore FX. The cast is very good, with especially strong work from Keri Russell, as a teacher with her own emotional traumas, and young Jeremy T. Thomas as the embattled Lucas. The slow pace and unsettlingly real subject matter may not be for some, but Antlers is a creepy and effective film for those who can appreciate Cooper’s grim and dreary approach. Rustic horror movie also stars Graham Greene as a retired Native American sheriff and Amy Madigan as a concerned school principal.
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The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and supposedly final chapter in the Star Wars saga, or at least the Skywalker family involvement in it. It takes place a year after The Last Jedi with the galaxy horrified at a signal sent out claiming to be that of the Emperor himself, Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The Sith lord has amassed a fleet of Star Destroyers, all with Death Star-like cannons and plans to take over the galaxy once and for all. Now Rey (Daisy Ridley) must bring to bare all her Jedi powers and find a Sith device that will lead the rebels to where Palpatine and his doomsday fleet are hiding, to strike them before they can deploy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his Knights of Ren are in pursuit and rebellion heroes Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) along with General Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the legendary Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) must somehow unite a galaxy against this overwhelming threat.
This final chapter is written and directed by J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens, Star Trek) who co-wrote the script with Chris Terrio. As you can tell by the plot synopsis, this is an overloaded mess, but it’s an action-packed and entertaining one. It is still an improvement over the lackluster retread that was The Force Awakens and more fun than the moody Last Jedi. What will really irritate hardcore Star Wars fans is Abrams takes a lot of liberties here with the mythos, giving new force powers whenever he’s written himself into a corner, like Rey having healing powers and Palpatine able to drop fleets of ships out of the sky with his fingertips. We also have yet another doomsday weapon…or fleet of them…that can easily be stopped by blowing something up. Will the Empire ever learn? Speaking of which, when Palpatine re-emerges, the First Order seems to just disappear like a small company being absorbed out of existence in a corporate merger. Suddenly everyone, except for a vengeful Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), seems to now work for The Emperor. The flick also jumps from one place and adventure to another very quickly as Rey tries to find her way to a lair that Palpatine wants her to come to all along. Why not just send her an invite with a nice fruit basket? A lot of it seems to be made up as it goes along, though it’s not an unpleasant ride. First off, we are all pretty endeared to the new characters and Abrams does let us visit the classic characters one more time. Also, there is a lot of spectacular action and it might be the most visually impressive Star Wars flick yet, with so many worlds and characters to visit. It’s a fun 142 minutes, even if you will be scratching your head at times as to where it’s all headed and if you are inflexibly loyal to the classic canon, you might be in for a rough ride. At least the very last scene does sentimentally provide a nice farewell, yet also hints that maybe we haven’t seen the last of Rey, now that her involvement in the Skywalker saga is at an end.
There is a big cast here. Daisy Ridley has really grown into Rey and it would be fun to see her strike out in her own series of adventures now free of this storyline. Ridley is charming and likable and can exude a strength that make her ascension to powerful Jedi believable. Issac and Boyega are good as her rebel buds Poe and Finn and there is a bit of a rivalry between the three that was fun, though underdeveloped. Driver is once again good as the conflicted Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, though his story thread didn’t end with the impact it should have, especially during the very convoluted final confrontation. We get to see Carrie Fisher (unused footage from the previous installments), Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and even Billy Dee Williams again in various incarnations and it was nice to see the classics one more time. If one thing Rise of Skywalker gets right is all the nods to the previous films. We even get some Ewoks. As for new characters, most go underdeveloped and were unnecessary at this point…spin-offs maybe?…but at least Kelly Marie Tran got some better dialogue as Rose and seemed more sturdy in a somewhat abbreviated role. There are also some vocal cameos, see if you can catch them all.
Overall, chapter nine is a bloated mess of a series finale, though one that still manages to dazzle and entertain. The story is convoluted from the beginning and sometimes seems made up as it goes along. It is filled with some spectacular action and eye-popping visuals and it’s final frames are satisfying as a goodbye to this classic series. Now as Rey was one of the best things to come out of this sequel trilogy, maybe she can strike out with her own adventures, the character deserves more attention and Ridley could certainly carry her own flicks. As a whole, this trilogy disappointed and did not give us the send-off to the classic characters that we wanted, but there was some spectacular action along the way and we did get some new characters worthy of their own adventures, or at least a Disney streaming series.
3 (out of 4) Millenium Falcons.
I really enjoyed Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, it was an inventive way to reboot the series by going back to the very beginning and re-inventing it from there. It was well acted, solidly directed and gave the series a good start with plenty of material to be covered before the films even progressed to what we saw in the original classics. The movie was a critical and box-office success and thus the series is being continued.
The sequel picks up 10 years after the virus, that began in Rise, has decimated a massive amount of the human population. The apes, led by Caesar, (Andy Serkis) have started a community deep in the California wilderness where they are living a relatively peaceful existence and have seen no humans for years… until now. A small band of humans led by a man named Malcolm (Jason Clarke) happens upon the apes territory and after an accidental wounding of one of the apes, are sent fleeing. The apes follow them back to San Francisco where they find a human colony still exists and one that is well armed. Caesar goes there with an army as a warning to the humans to stay away from the apes’ home. But, Malcolm begs Caesar to allow the humans to work at dam nearby their village, to restore electricity to the human colony which is running out of fuel. Caesar agrees in an effort to promote peace but, as Malcolm and the ape leader form a fragile alliance, fear on the human side and hatred on the other side in the form of an ape named Koba (Toby Kebbell), threaten to not only end that peace but, elicit all out war.
Sequel is this time directed by Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves who does a great job of creating a film that is it’s own movie yet, still fits in with the previous chapter. Reeves gives the film some very strong dramatic weight while not skimping on the action or suspense and it has a really effective look of a world where nature has grown over cities formally populated by people. The script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver takes it’s time to establish the characters, especially all the new human ones, and where the world stands at this time. It also achieves this as the story moves forward and thus we get the information we need as part of that story and the film never needs to stop for exposition. A lot is achieved in it’s 130 minute running time and the film has a brisk pace and yet, covers all the ground it needs to. The action, when it comes, is exciting and very well staged and carries a lot of impact’ as well as, an epic scale. The gunfire, chases and explosions also serve the story and is never overindulgent for the sake of satisfying the Summer movie crowd. This is an intelligently written movie that also vastly entertains and should satisfy both the popcorn movie audience and those looking for a little more substance in their movie. The SPFX are flawless, for the most part and the film is wrapped in a very effective score by Michael Giacchino that evoked some of the music from the classic Apes series of the 70s. In fact the film’s story has some nice echoes of those classic 70s flicks too that will be obvious, but not obtrusive, to fans of the original series.
Also serving the story and supporting Reeves excellent direction is a great cast. Serkis’ motion capture acting for Caesar is fantastic and he gives the simian star a very emotionally expressive face and body language that really creates a three dimensional character from the CGI. The same goes for most of the ape performance actors with Kebbell’s Koba also being strongly portrayed. Clarke makes a noble character in his Malcolm. He really wants what’s best for everyone and his pain when conflict arises seems genuine and it is understandable that he and Caesar would bond. Gary Oldman is strong as the head of the human colony, a man named Dreyfus. His leader wants what’s best for his people even if it brings war but, he is never portrayed as a villain. It’s about the survival of the human race and Oldman conveys that the man’s harsh decisions are not from hate as much as simply willing to take what his people need to live. Keri Russell plays a former CDC nurse and part of Malcolm’s team who is a sympathetic and strong woman and one who has her inner pain too. She gives the character a nice dimensionality despite not really being all that major a part when all is said and done. The rest of the supporting cast are equally good and really add the final piece to making this a smart and highly enjoyable film.
So, a first rate sequel to a first rate reboot and a really enjoyable and entertaining movie. The script is intelligent yet, still weaves in plenty of action and it’s all brought together by a really well done directing job from Matt Reeves. When all is said and done, probably the best movie I have seen so far this summer.
3 and 1/2 Caesars.