‘Nope’ Looks to the Skies and Identifies a Flying and Flummoxing Object

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Nope (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Keith David

Director: Jordan Peele

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for Stunning Bloody Moments and Aw-Hell-No-Style Profanity

Release Date: July 22, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) work as horse wranglers on their family ranch out in the middle of nowhere. But they’re also Hollywood royalty, in a way. Their great-great-great-grandfather was the jockey riding a horse on the first strip of film ever assembled as a motion picture. But that’s just background info for the main attraction, as random debris starts falling out of the sky and a cloud begins behaving rather strangely. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably already said to yourself, “Jordan Peele and aliens? I’m down for that.” But befitting Peele’s cerebral filmmaking style, this isn’t your typical take on UFOs and ETs.

What Made an Impression?: OJ and Emerald’s dad Otis Sr. is played by Keith David, who 40 years earlier starred in my favorite sci-fi horror film of all time, The Thing. That connection eventually helped me crack the tough egg that is Nope. Typically in scary movies, characters react to the monsters by screaming and running away. There’s a decent amount of that in Nope, but as in The Thing, there’s also a lot of stunned silence. The terror is just too confounding for everyone to know how to react to it. There are several moments in Nope when I couldn’t quite understand what was happening, because people were seemingly under a spell of Zen acceptance when they should have been taking cover from something threatening to devour them. Similarly, I’m not bothered by how much Nope confused me, as I was also fully consumed by Peele’s unique and clever vision.

To be clear, there’s also a lot of energy and verve in response to the unidentified creature. Which is to say, the title is blurted out multiple times in the “I’m not dealing with that $h!t” vibe we were all surely hoping for. But even among the characters who recognize the danger, there’s plenty of excitement about capturing alien activity on film. Michael Wincott plays an eccentric filmmaker who at one point is overcome by a life-threatening urge to capture a moment with the creature with golden hour lighting. Maybe this is just a world where everyone has accepted that they could die at any minute, and they want to go in as thrilling a manner as possible.

But perhaps my favorite scene is one that has nothing to do with the premise, at least not directly. Steven Yeun stars as a local carnival barker and former child actor who shares a story about the time his chimpanzee co-star went berserk on a sitcom set. Or actually, he tells the story about the Saturday Night Live parody about that incident (with era-appropriate cast members, including Chris Kattan as the chimp) in chillingly matter-of-fact detail. It has the surreal energy of a nightmare that also feels like a dream world I never want to leave.

Nope is Recommended If You Like: “The Spielberg Face,” Signs, Declassified alien evidence, Mr. Peepers from SNL

Grade: 4 out of 5 Clouds

Best Film Directors of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

I’ve got another extra-innings Best of the 2010s for ya. This time, the focus is on Film Directors, those folks who hang out behind the camera and let everyone know how they would like the movie to go.

Based on the eligibility rules of the poll that I submitted my list to, each director had to have at least two films come out between 2010 and 2019 to be considered. I made my selections based on a combination of how much I enjoyed their output and how much they influenced the medium and the culture at large.

My choices, along with their 2010s filmography, are listed below.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 3/29/19

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CREDIT: NEON and VICE Films

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
The Beach Bum (Theatrically Semi-Wide)
Dumbo (Theatrically Nationwide)

TV
Abby’s Series Premiere (March 28 on NBC) – I forgot to include this last week!
Barry Season 2 Premiere (March 31 on HBO)
The Twilight Zone Reboot Series Premiere (April 1 on CBS All Access) – Jordan Peele is at it again!
The Last O.G. Season 2 Premiere (April 2 on TBS)

Movie Review: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ is a Landmark Achievement in Doppelgänger-Based Horror

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CREDIT: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop

Director: Jordan Peele

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Scissor-Based Bloody Violence and Semi-Euphemistic Drug Talk

Release Date: March 22, 2019

The appeal of Get Out, Jordan Peele’s first film, had a lot to do with its underlying social message, which declared: this is the horror of what it’s like to be a black person in America. Now his follow-up Us is luring crowds primarily on the promise of its scare tactics, which are based on the fundamentally unnerving premise of a family terrorized by a group of people who look exactly like them. There is another social metaphor wrapped up in this package, and there is a good chance that you will figure it out by the end, or that someone will point it out to you. It’s clear enough, without being thuddingly obvious. Other reviews might reveal that subtext, but I’ll leave it unsaid, because there is satisfaction to be had in going in cold and having it click for you.

While Peele’s films are driven by an urge to convince people to look deeper at the world around them, they also work confidently on a surface level. Us is a striking triumph of the marriage of craft and performance. It would have to be for us to accept a world in which a group of doppelgängers, known as “the Tethered,” speak in a mixture of indefinably accented English, clicks, and blood-curdling screams. Occasionally, there is a chaotic mix of horror and comedy butting up against each other not exactly comfortably, with the tension breaking perhaps one too many times. But Peele is working in such unprecedented territory that I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The acting is impressive across the board, especially in terms of a risk-taking appetite. A great deal is asked of Lupita Nyong’o, as the mother of the main family and the leader of the Tethered. She gives the sort of performance that is some unholy mix of ridiculous and brilliant – it might be a great folly, or the best of the year, or both.

CREDIT: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

The conclusion explains the rise of the Tethered with a twist that at first struck me as nonsensical. My instinct was to scramble back and fill in some extra-textual details that would fix what seemed like a glaring mistake. But now that I have had time to reflect, I am choosing to embrace the absurdity. It fits with a world in which people are often irrational and not fully paying attention to all that is around them. There are so many opportunities for reflection within Us, and you may be surprised, and perhaps invigorated, by what you see.

Us is Recommended If You Like: Get Out, Funny Games, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Grade: 4 out of 5 Scissors

This Is a Movie Review: Get Out

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get-out-daniel-kaluuya

Get Out did not have me getting out of my seat from fright, which is unsurprising because I generally don’t get too scared at horror movies. But I imagine most people will not be frightened, as its techniques are less about jump scares (though it does have those) or general dread than about mindbending. Its signature concept (“the sunken place”) is a killer example.

This is basically cultural appropriation as body horror. Knowing that it is from Jordan Peele makes it easy – and sensible – to say that this concept could have started as a comedy sketch that evolved into a fright flick. And indeed, as the reveal plays out, it is clear that this actually has been done as comedy before.

I have a slight problem with a couple of moments that are endemic to the evil genius genre, in which small mistakes inexplicably give the hero a fighting chance. But I don’t want to quibble too much, because this is a clever extreme dramatization of a real societal fear, which is what the best horror movies do.

I give Get Out 18 Awkwardly Casually Racist Remarks out of 20 Days.