No (15, 130 minutes)
Verdict: do not leave a yes
Until 2017, Jordan Peele was known as a comedian. This is insofar as, in this country, he was known at all. But that changed with his feature debut as writer and director, the brilliant horror-thriller Get Out, and he further cemented his reputation as a filmmaker with the clever and deeply disturbing Us (2019).
So for his third feature, Nope, a sci-fi thriller in which aliens arrive in the skies over California, expectations were high, especially as the film reunites Peele with its leading man from Get Out, the always excellent Daniel Kaluya.
Get Out has made a real movie star out of Kaluuya, the longtime Arsenal fan from a North London council estate who still surprises audiences in the United States when he turns up to collect awards ( he earned an Oscar nomination for Get Out and did better last year for Judas and the Black Messiah). He’s so convincingly African-American on screen that it’s a shock to many of them when he opens his mouth.
Daniel Daluuya, pictured, plays OJ Haywood in Nope, whose father was killed as a result of extraterrestrial activity
The siblings are descendants of the unnamed black jockey who, in 1878, featured in a pioneering series of motion pictures by English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, considered the earliest antecedents of motion pictures as we know them today.
In Nope, he plays the taciturn OJ Haywood, who, along with his much more bubbly sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), runs a horse ranch north of Los Angeles. The siblings are descendants of the unnamed black jockey who, in 1878, featured in a pioneering series of motion pictures by English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, considered the earliest antecedents of motion pictures as we know them today.
So while Nope doesn’t tackle the subject of racism head-on, like Get Out, it does have a chance, sideways; Peele understandably believes that black contributions have been airbrushed since the earliest days of cinematic history.
As for modern times, the ranch is home to the Hollywood Horses of Haywood, supplying equine talent to the motion picture industry. But we get to know OJ and Emerald through tragedy; their father was killed apparently as a result of extraterrestrial activity.
There appears to be some kind of spaceship, checking out humanity behind a strangely stationary cloud. Yes, like 95% of the extraterrestrial visitors in the movies, America is what interests them the most on planet Earth. Still, when the result is films of the stature of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), which Peele evidently borrowed from to make Nope, we probably shouldn’t complain.
Moreover, his film begins with an alarming and startling image that Spielberg would be proud of. On the set of a 1990s sitcom starring a chimpanzee, the show’s hairy star obviously went on a rampage, killing part of the cast and leaving a terrified child actor cowering under a table.
The traumatized boy has since grown up. His name is Jupe and, played by Steven Yeun, now owns a Wild West theme park, using Haywood horses. Beyond this vague convergence of the two stories, however, it never becomes entirely clear why they belong in the same film. And really, that’s the problem with Nope. It’s as if Peele had plenty of ideas, many of them very good ones, and couldn’t bear to let them go.
Imagine a cocktail, so full of ingredients that you can’t taste any of them properly. That sums up the muddled narrative of this film.
Even the ominous biblical quote that is captioned at the very beginning – “I will throw abominable filth on you, make you vile and put on a show for you” – becomes a source of debate. What does it mean ?
And wait, there’s more to cram. Once OJ and Emerald establish there’s definitely something up there, with the help of a guy (Brandon Perea) from the local tech store who set up a CCTV system, they get realize they could monetize this creepy UFO.
All they have to do is film it, capture the so-called “Oprah shot”, to which end they persuade a veteran cinematographer (Michael Wincott) to stake out the ranch. This allows Peele to satirize this thirst for 21st century fame and the fortune that comes with it.
The current cinematography, by modern Dutch master Hoyte van Hoytema (Spectre, Interstellar, Dunkirk), is a good reason to see Nope. And there are many other things that I found intriguing, even enriching.
Kaluuya gives a terrific performance as the enigmatic OJ, but the title (a reference to OJ’s deadpan response when an alien apocalypse seems imminent) pretty much matches how I felt about the movie.
It’s a no, not a yes; too incoherent to be considered anything other than the least of Peele’s three feature films to date. That said, ride on the fourth.
So the Eiffel Tower was just a giant love letter?
Eiffel (15, 108 mins)
Paris’ iconic landmarks are getting appropriately dramatic attention this summer. Our Lady on Fire was released just a few weeks ago, and now another French language film, Eiffel deftly weaves fact and fiction into the story of how engineer Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) conceived. then executed his plan for a mighty lattice structure rising 330 meters above the Seine.
The factual part is about the tower itself and is more gripping than a rivets story has a right to be. Paris Belle Epoque is very nicely evoked and the construction scenes are superbly done.
Plus, there are all kinds of fascinating historical snippets. For example, there were vigorous objections from the Vatican, on the grounds that the modern monstrosity would eclipse Our Lady. Meanwhile, its visionary creator was revered, then reviled, and finally revered again, as his tower took shape.
Where Eiffel rocks, no doubt, is in the fiction of a rekindled love story between Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) and an old flame, Adrienne, interpreted by the bilingual Emma Mackey in her first major French-speaking role.
The factual part is about the tower itself and is more gripping than a rivets story has a right to be. Belle Epoque Paris is very nicely evoked and the construction scenes are superbly done
Where Eiffel rocks, no doubt, is in the fiction of a rekindled love story between him and an old flame, Adrienne, interpreted by the bilingual Emma Mackey in her first major French-speaking role.
It’s more cheesy than an overripe Camembert, and the idea that Eiffel designed its A-shaped tower as some kind of wrought-iron love letter to Adrienne might be too much for some. But the acting is great and I admit that I adhered to it body and soul. It’s a pleasantly old-fashioned film, an image that could have come out of 1950s Hollywood with American accents throughout, perhaps starring Alan Ladd or even Kirk Douglas as Eiffel. I enjoyed it very much.
Where is Anne Frank (PG, 99 mins)
gives American accents to the famous teenager and imaginary friend, Kitty, to whom she wrote her diaries. It squeaks a bit, but otherwise Israeli director Ari Folman does a great job of animating Anne’s harrowing story, teetering back and forth, rather whimsically at times, between wartime and the Amsterdam of ‘today.
Whether you want to see it turned into an animation is another matter. But the film is aimed squarely at young adult audiences and is made with sensitivity and skill.
- Both films are currently in theaters.