2023 TV & Movie Reviews: Cocaine Bear / Return to Seoul / Pressure Cooker / Skinamarink

Cocky chefs, cocaine bears, Korean orphans and whatever the fuck a Skinamarink is.

Cocaine Bear

I have to be honest when I say that I wasn’t expecting much from Elizabeth BanksCocaine Bear, a movie I’ve seen so much marketing material for in the past five months that I’ve felt like my head was going to explode. Basically this is trying to be a bigger budget/gorier version of 70s/80s monsters schlock like Grizzly or Alligator, with the big difference being those movies were actually quite charming and funny in their low-budget attempts at big effects, which came off as so obviously fake you just had to guffaw. Cocaine Bear takes the majority of that fun and camp out of this whole set-up but our trade-off is an armada of talented stars. Keri Russell, Ray Liotta, Margo Martindale, Ice Cube’s kid, the Han Solo guy from Solo, Tormund Giantsbane, Senator Clay Davis, the ginger brother from Modern Family. The little girl from The Florida Project is also in it, as well as a brief appearance from Keri Russell’s husband from The Americans as dead cocaine guy. Everyone is good and enjoyable to watch in this movie and it’s clear they’re having a blast with all their little improvs and bear and cocaine jokes. However, I left the theater very unsatisfied. Cocaine Bear feels like chunks of it are missing, I’m glad Banks spared us a two hour movie, but in knocking it down to 95 minutes it feels like we’re missing a lot of essential connective tissue to investing in the main characters. We don’t really care if Keri Russell gets her kid back and we don’t really care if Han Solo reconciles with his Ray Liotta dad. Obviously we as America don’t flock to Cocaine Bear to revel in the human elements, but if you’re going to include so much footage of character stuff, we should at least care about them. Also, as much as I think it’s maybe fruitless to pick a part and analyze Cocaine Bear, I think the movie suffers greatly from never heightening. This is 95 minutes of the same beat over and over and over again. The bear doesn’t get any more fucked up than she already is with each additional kilo of cocaine she ingests, so the threat kinda just stays stagnant for the whole movie. The action sequences, which are well conceived and choreographed for the most part, peak in the middle with a fantastic chase sequence involving an ambulance and EMTs. Also, this movie is not a realistic representation of the effects of cocaine or cocaine use. There’s a scene where two young kids accidentally ingest, I’d say, three eight balls worth of pure, uncut cocaine, and I’m like, they’d be fucking dead. That scene in particular is troubling. It’s intended to play for laughs but seeing two 10-year-old kids attempt to do a mountain’s worth of cocaine just filled me with anxiety and fear for their personal well being. Cocaine Bear isn’t as bad as some critics and civilians are making it out to be, it’s rarely a chore, but it’s easy to see why Universal dropped it in February. It’s not that good and it plays the same joke over and over and over again, until you’re like “I get it, it’s a bear on cocaine!” Stay home and watch Grizzly or Alligator instead, both are on Shudder. Grade: C (In Theaters)

Return to Seoul

The best thing I watched this past week by a landslide was Cambodian-French filmmaker Davy Chou‘s Return to Seoul, a fascinating, low-key character study done just right. It follows a South Korean-born but French-raised adopted 25-year-old, Freddie, who ends up in Seoul on a fluke. In an attempt to figure out her identity, she decides to track down her biological parents. We’ve seen this type of story many times before so of course the success of the movie all comes down to the little details, of which there are plenty. Return to Seoul is primarily dialogue-driven but kept me on the edge of my seat with its unpredictable twists and frequent time jumps. We follow Freddie for the better part of a decade as she and the audience attempt to discover who she actually is. First time actor Park Ji-Min is mesmerizing in the role, a wonderfully complex character that I’m still figuring out. Park is able to communicate so much with so little and the fact we never quite nail down the essence of who she is wonderful because she doesn’t even know. Veteran Korean actor Oh Kwang-rok who you may remember as the guy who jumps off the building at the beginning of Oldboy delivers an incredible performance as Freddie’s birth father, wracked with guilt and self-loathing over giving up his daughter for adoption. He’s an alcoholic trying to piece his life together but as many of you know, that rarely goes well. However, the ultimate power of Return to Seoul comes not from the uniformly excellent performances or the gorgeous and quite obviously Wong Kar-wai/Christopher Doyle inspired camera work, but its ambiguity. By refusing to give us the full picture, the film forces us to really think about issues surrounding identity and how feeling like you don’t really have one could effect not only our protagonist but ourselves. So many indie dramas attempt this but ultimately fail because they aren’t specific enough and fail to generate characters we can easily empathize with. Return to Seoul is very specific and we care very much about the character of Freddie, even though she can being truly awful at times, because hey, so can we. I wish I would have seen this in time to include in my Top 10 of 2022 article, it would have made the list probably closer to the top than the bottom. Of course it’s already out of Camelview as of the posting of this review, and will, I predict, play only one more weekend at Shea 14 before hanging around in a sort of movie limbo before becoming available on VOD. If this is your type of a movie, and you know if this is your type of movie, make the effort to see it this weekend. If not, go see Creed III. Grade: A- (In Theaters)

Pressure Cooker

I love food, especially good food which is unquestionably better than bad food. Most of the time I can take or leave reality competition TV chefs though, especially the most pretentious and egotistical of the bunch. While shows like Top Chef seem to uncomfortably fawn all over them, Gordon Ramsay programs go too far in the other direction, verbally lashing into them like they’re Miramax production assistants or some shit. This show finds a nice happy place in between by eliminating judges and instead giving the role to the chefs themselves. Pressure Cooker is basically Top Chef meets Big Brother, where a group of a dozen or so talented chefs must cook for each other and ultimately vote one another off is a meal misses the mark. Of course like with all of these shows it’s never only about the food, so we get some interesting alliances and maybe unethical game play along the way. Netflix wisely keeps the episode order to 8 so it’s refreshingly free from the ridiculous padding most of these shows seem to possess. It also features some interesting personas including a pompous boy genius (obviously the most talented chef there) who dedicated his entire life to food and maybe has no friends because of it, an “old-school” chef (read – almost 50) who wears his emotions on his sleeve (read – violently lashes out at people), a devious spinster whose need to generate drama only serves to highlight her shortcomings in the kitchen and two chefs married to people outside of the competition who are so obviously fucking it’s laugh out loud funny. I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would, why not? Grade: B (Netflix)


Skinamarink is a tough film to review because writer/director Kyle Edward Ball seems to have succeeded on all the goals he set for himself and yet, I simply didn’t give a shit. 100 minutes of grainy avant-garde nightmare imagery with a loose narrative that seems to be about children left home alone in the house while the ghosts of their parents fuck with them and stuff? I dunno, I read the synopsis on Wikipedia and I didn’t think the movie successfully communicated anything I read under ‘plot’. This is certainly a mood piece and Ball demonstrates he is able to craft visually appealing and sometimes deeply unsettling imagery, but when it comes to pacing we’re definitely not on the same page. Skinamarink is boring, there I said it. Boring. I’ve seen town hall meetings on public access television better paced than this and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t instantly drawn to my phone during the slowest parts of this always slow movie. One of the drawbacks of being a critic or at least paying a yearly fee to host a website dedicated to your self-important diatribes on modern cinema is that you have to watch this type of shit. Stuff that you normally would skip over but ultimately you feel obligated to review because it’s seeped into the culture in a way that you really can’t ignore. Much like seeing Ant-Man 3 last week or Cocaine Bear last night, though I believe this possesses more artistic value than either of those movies. As art this is fairly good, as entertainment it’s cruel and inhumane. I’ll split the difference with a C+. (Shudder)



Something Wild (1986)

Jonathan Demme is primarily known for more serious pictures like The Silence of the Lambs or Philadelphia, but in the 80s the dude cut his teeth making quirky comedies like Melvin and Howard, Married to the Mob and this one, Something Wild, about a yuppie investment banker (Jeff Daniels) who decides to say ‘fuck it’ one day and go on an impromptu journey with a wild lady (a fantastic Melanie Griffith) completely abandoning his work obligations. This is a really fun and funny movie centered around two fantastically drawn characters that spirals out in truly unpredictable directions. It has the template of a rom-com from this era but the power of it lies in Demme’s execution and little choices, making it seem wholly original and a bit, dare I say…wild?


Strange Days (1995)

Strange Days is a wildly entertaining, incredibly ambitious, socially prescient sci-fi/action film that’s definitely twenty minutes too long, but makes up for it with fantastic ideas and stellar direction by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow. Taking place during the days before Y2K, or at least 1995’s imagined version of what that would be, the movie follows Ralph Fiennes as a former cop turned sleazy black market VR dealer – in this version of late 1999, people use blackmarket VR experience recordings as drugs. The imagined technology is laughably outdated when you’re watching this in 2023, but you get the idea. Fiennes eventually comes across a recording of a murder committed by the LAPD against a rap artist turned political activist (definitely a Tupac Shakur stand-in) which leads him down a path of discovery involving long-standing police brutality and cover-ups. Angela Bassett kicks ass as his friend and bodyguard while Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Vincent D’Onofrio, Michael Wincott and William Finchtner all make appearances. Strange Days was unavailable for streaming for close to a decade, but now you can watch it on HBOMax. Catch it before it disappears for another 10 years.


Fearless (1993)

A film I never would have heard about if not for my penchant for watching old Siskel & Ebert episodes while cooking myself dinner. Jeff Bridges and a never better Rosie Perez play survivors of a commercial airplane crash who are handling their post-traumatic stress in wildly different ways. Bridges has a complete mental break and believes he is actually immune to death as he demonstrates by blindly walking into traffic or hanging off the edge of a giant skyscraper much to the horror of his wife (Isabella Rossellini) who thinks her husband simply doesn’t give a shit about her or the family anymore. He doesn’t really, he only cares about himself. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Rosie Perez who can barely get out of bed and prays to die. Unlike Bridges, she lost her two-year-old son in the plane crash, an event she plays over and over in her head while her husband, played by a very young Benicio Del Toro, nags her about suing the airline. She also doesn’t have the financial stability to play ‘wandering philosopher’ like Bridges does. Needing to feel something, Bridges reaches out and forms an odd friendship with Perez, who wishes she could feel nothing. That dichotomy really fuels a lot of the movie which is one of the few movies I’ve seen, especially from that era, that subtilely explores the concept of ‘white privilege.’ Fearless isn’t perfect but it is genuinely unpredictable and harkens back to an era where studios would shill out $20 million for a no frills drama. Now you need an ant guy in the motherfucker.



Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Magic Mike’s Last Dancealso VOD, I can’t keep up. Theaters are dead, folks. R.I.P.

Avatar: The Way of Water


Knock at the Cabin

The Whale


Babylonalso on Paramount+

To Leslie


Infinity Pool



Women Talking


Triangle of Sadness


You People

All Quiet on the Western Front

White Noise


Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio


Industry Season 2

The Menu

The Banshees of Inisherin


The Rehearsal Season 1



Mythic Quest Season 3

Black Bird

Pachinko Season 1

Severance Season 1



She Said

Armageddon Time




Atlanta Season 4

Reservation Dogs Season 2


House of Darkness

Only Murders in the Building Season 2


Speak No Evil


Mad God


Amityville in Space

Star Time

Ice Cream Man

Top 10 Films of 2022 w/ Honorable Mentions

Top 10 TV of 2022 w/ Honorable Mentions

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