‘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

Does ‘Lightyear’ Come to Our Rescue?

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CREDIT: Pixar/Screenshot

Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Uzo Aduba, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Isiah Whitlock Jr., James Brolin

Director: Angus MacLane

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: June 17, 2022 (Theaters)

I went ahead and saw Lightyear with my dad on the day before Father’s Day. You can certainly celebrate Father’s Day all weekend, after all! I think I also saw the first two Toy Storys with my dad (plus the rest of my immediate family) way back when, so this was a pretty cool way to sequelize that. As the credits were playing, I scrolled through the RunPee app, and then I explained to my dad what RunPee is. Kind of funny that he’s never heard about it before now even though it’s been around for years. That must’ve been what it was like for Buzz Lightyear when the other characters explained how he was affected by all the time dilation. I enjoy cinematic discussions about time dilation! (Even if they don’t hold up to the scrutiny of real-life physics.) The robot cat was also pretty cool, even though he wasn’t terribly feline.

Grade: 400 Lightyears out of 300 Rescues

‘Hustlers’ Makes Its Case for Joining the Crime Film Canon

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CREDIT: Barbara Nitke/STX

Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Mercedes Ruehl, Cardi B, Madeline Brewer, Lizzo

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Incidental and Purposeful Strip Club Nudity, A Few Roofies and Cocaine Bumps, and Some Crimes-Gone-Wrong Chaos

Release Date: September 13, 2019

There’s a scene early in Hustlers when Jennifer Lopez masterfully, with almost arrogant panache, swings around the pole to the tune of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” and it looks like this is going to be the distaff answer to Magic Mike. For too long, cinematic lady stripping has focused merely on the exploitative, and now it is time to treat it like an art form! J. Lo’s command of physics and her own body at 50 years old is indeed a breathtaking wonder to behold, but this is merely the amuse-bouche. Soon enough, Hustlers develops into an epic crime drama, a sort of female spin on Goodfellas. It only spans a few years versus the decades of Scorcese’s gangster classic, but it doesn’t take too long for the relationships at the heart of this scam to become deeper and deeper and more and more complicated.

Calling a new movie “the female (previous movie)” is usually frustratingly reductive, but in this case, the comparison can be unusually illuminating. I recently read a Time article that cited political science research about the differences between the typical reasons men and women get into politics. Where men tend to do so for the status of the position, women tend to run so that they can effect social change. While watching Hustlers, I wondered if the same rubric could be applied to explain the different rationales why men and women enter into a life of crime. So many cinematic male gangsters and fraudsters (Henry Hill chief among them) become what they become because of how cool it seems. But Constance Wu’s Dorothy and Lopez’s Ramona come up with their scam so that they can take of their kids, parents, grandparents, and sisters at the club.

The scheme at the center of Hustlers involves Ramona, Dorothy, and their colleagues luring their Wall Street customers into a blacked-out trap, drugging them enough that they’re willing to drop tens of thousands of dollars in one night at a strip club (but not so much that they fall asleep or OD). They justify their actions by figuring that these guys can afford to have a few g’s go missing. Plus, in light of the 2000s financial crisis, they’re essentially guilty of stealing from the rest of the country and getting away with it. The trouble comes when it becomes clear that some of the girls’ marks are not as invincible as they try to rationalize, and they’re in fact putting them in the same economic bind that they’ve been fighting themselves to get out of. The sisterhood that’s built by the Hustlers scam is full of genuine love, and that’s why it’s so bittersweet when the bubble is burst. If you’re looking for a story that epitomizes doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, this is the best option in quite some time.

P.S.: There’s a running gag in which Lili Reinhart vomits in high-pressure situations, and it never fails to deliver.

Hustlers is Recommended If You Like: Goodfellas, Magic Mike, Thelma & Louise, Economic Revenge

Grade: 4 out of 5 Scores