‘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

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ … But a New Legacy for Whom?

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Cartoon LeBron (CREDIT:
Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: LeBron James, Bugs Bunny, Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Khris Davis, Ceyair J. Wright, Harper Leigh Alexander, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Lola Bunny (Zendaya), Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Marvin the Martian, Tweety Bird, Granny, Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, Bob Bergen, Candi Milo, Gabriel Iglesias, Anthony Davis, Diana Taurasi, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Nneka Ogwumike, Ernie Johnson, Lil Rel Howery, Sarah Silverman, Steven Yeun, Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, King Kong, Ilsa Lund, Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, The Iron Giant

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: July 16, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

The first Space Jam was unhinged; the second Space Jam is also unhinged, but it could be more unique. Or, it could be more committed to its own singular vision. What reality is it tethered to? Are these the same Looney Tunes from 25 years ago? When we get any sense of continuity, I’m intrigued. As for that journey through the Warner Bros “Server-verse”? Why not just fully commit to it and have Tony Soprano play point guard while the Droogs take up the frontcourt? Look, Al-G Rhythm’s plan makes no sense, LeBron’s conflict with his son makes no sense, the scoring system makes no sense, why not take that nonsense to the nth degree? I believe they could’ve flown blind.

Grade: Where’s the Basketball?* (*Said like the “Where’s the Beef?” Lady)

‘Minari’ Features One of the Greatest Cinematic Grandmother-Grandson Stories of All Time

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Minari (CREDIT: Josh Ethan Johnson/A24)

Starring: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Hilariously Surprising Potty Humor

Release Date: February 12, 2021 (Theaters)/February 26, 2021 (On Demand)

Minari is the heartwarming tale of a boy and his kooky grandma, who at first don’t get along very well. She’s not your typical grandma, and he only wants her around if she’ll bake cookies and offer hugs freely. But alas, she has zero culinary skills and would much rather dish out zingers than physical affection. I suppose I should also mention the tension between the boys’ parents, but I’d really prefer to focus my review pretty much exclusively on the grandma stuff. The title “Minari” refers to a wort plant native to East Asia, but if I had been in charge of naming this movie, I would have christened it “Mountain Water,” which is what the soda-guzzling grandma calls her beloved Mountain Dew. And that’s very important information, because the most memorable scene involves a new way of, shall we say, “doing the Dew.”

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Movie Review: South Korean Thriller ‘Burning’ is a Little Too Ambiguous for the Audience’s Good

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CREDIT: Well Go USA Entertainment

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo

Director: Lee Chang-dong

Running Time: 148 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Could Be R for a Sexual Encounter

Release Date: October 26, 2018 (Limited)

Burning could be South Korea’s answer to The Vanishing, the 1988 Dutch thriller with one of the most unsettling endings in film history. But it doesn’t start out that way. Instead, it looks like it could be a riff on Jules et Jim, or whatever ménage à trois narrative you prefer. Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is a twentysomething wandering soul who one day stumbles across Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), an old classmate. They catch up, and soon enough he is catsitting for her while she travels to Africa. He clearly fancies her more than a bit, and they do have sex, but that becomes a tad complicated when she returns with Ben (Steven Yeun), a fellow Korean traveler she met in Kenya. The three of them hang out a few times, with Jong-su starting to act possessive while Ben seems like a much chiller dude, though it is not hard to suspect that there is something else going on under his carefree exterior.

Around this point of confusion, Burning suddenly takes on a much more sinister tone when (SPOILER ALERT) Hae-mi disappears and won’t answer any of her messages. Jong-su’s singular focus quickly becomes tracking her down, whereas Ben is somewhat concerned but ultimately not that worried. This could be because he never really knew Hae-mi all that long or all that well, but Jong-su suspects he may have had something to do with her disappearance. This being a mystery movie, we are conditioned to believe that this is an avenue worth examining. Jong-su goes all in on following through with what he wants to do about it, but we are left with a significant (intentional) lack of satisfaction, as the full truth of what actually happened is never revealed. Committing to such ambiguity is fine, but Burning is not terribly interested in really examining the nature of that ambiguity. The end product is thus unnerving, but lightweight.

Burning is Recommended If You Like: The Vanishing, Ambiguous mysteries, A sprinkle of a Great Gatsby influence

Grade: 3 out of 5 Hiding Cats

This Is a Movie Review: Sorry to Bother You

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CREDIT: Annapurna Pictures

I give Sorry to Bother You 5 out of 5 Hybrids: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/sorry-to-bother-you-movie-review-boots-rileys-mind-blowingly-original-debut-is-one-of-2018s-best-films/

This Is a Movie Review: Bong Joon-ho Wants ‘Okja’ the Super Pig to Be Your New Best Friend

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This review was originally published on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Shirley Henderson

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated, But Watch Out for Factory-Grade and Mano-a-Mano Violence

Release Date: June 28, 2017 (Theatrically in New York and Los Angeles/Streaming on Netflix)

There are some people who are perfectly fine with consuming animal products, and then there are others who are staunchly vegan. If a multinational conglomerate were to engineer adorable giant pigs to cure world hunger, I do not imagine that most people would change their stances. Nor, if his latest film Okja is any indication, does Bong Joon-ho. But we are not here to focus on the masses (save for a decadent prologue that establishes that they are here to lap up whatever innovation/new species is fed to them). This is a story about a girl and her super pig, and all the zany, brainy, insane-y forces of the world that get in her way.

It might be possible to find Okja – who looks like a land-dwelling hippo with big ol’ floppy ears and a stretched-out porcine face – completely adorable and still be okay with eating bacon. I know I certainly do. Or perhaps this film will convince to swear off all pork products forever. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it cannot be denied that Okja’s young farmgirl companion Mija (newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun) has been done wrong in so many ways. Her grandfather sells Okja to the Miranda Corporation, which will purportedly parade her around as the winner of a Super Pig contest, but of course that is just a distraction away from how the sausage is made. A visit to the factory makes it look practically genocidal. A group of activists known as the Animal Liberation Front teams up with Mija to expose Miranda for what it really is, but their motives may not fully align with each other, as Mija just wants to take Okja back home. And taking it all back to the beginning, Okja and Mija’s friendship was practically engineered by Miranda for its marketability.

Despite how grossly its animal characters are treated, Okja is not about shaming its audience. Its purpose is holding up a cracked funhouse mirror to global capitalism. Or is it just a normal mirror? In which version do we ravenously consume faces and anuses? (They’re American as apple pie!)

Befitting a Bong Joon-ho film and a world in which people feel that they can get away with anything, the production design is a beautiful and lavish rainbow, but also probably extravagantly wasteful. The characterization is similarly outsized, with the heroes, villains, and half-hero/half-villains alike displaying a range of delectable behavior. As the braces-wearing Miranda CEO, Tilda Swinton is an anxious mix of demonstrating her power and proving that she does in fact have power. Her underlings include the preternaturally calm Giancarlo Esposito and the bizarrely squeaky-voiced flibbertigibbet Shirley Henderson. Jake Gyllenhaal is deep in character work as usual as a sweaty, shorts-sporting zoologist TV host. And as the head of the ALF, Paul Dano offers up scary commitment. His brand of ethics is admirable, but not above violent enforcement. Okja asks: do we really want to free the animals if it requires such militancy?

When the film gets into specifics, though, the questions are never that simple. It all rests on the shoulders of little Mija, who has the most clear-cut motivation of anyone. Her focus and resolve allow her to achieve her purpose, but it is not clear that that result makes the world a better place. What do we make of life when every individual story is a MacGuffin?

Okja is Recommended If You Like: Orphan Black, Free Willy, The Hunger Games

Grade: 4 out of 5 Magical Animals