Movie reviews: ‘Nope’ is an ambitious movie with unexpected twists

NO: 3 ½ STARS

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from “Nope.” (Universal Images via AP)

The trailer for “Nope,” thriller Jordan Peele’s new alien abduction flick now playing in theaters, is one of the rare promos that reveals next to nothing about the plot. It’s meant to spark curiosity, to open your mind to the possibility of…well, just about anything.

The film exists on the brink of possibility. It’s possible to see it simply as a UFO movie for a good time at the cinema, but if you’re looking for more, Peele adds layers of subtext to the slow-burn story, commenting on Hollywood, cornering nature and a belief in something bigger. than yourself

Set in present day suburban Los Angeles, “Nope” sees OJ and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) continue the family business after the death of their father (Keith David). Descendants of the Bahamian jockey who was the first person to be filmed riding a horse, they run Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, a ranch that supplies cattle for movies and TV shows. “From the time images could move, we’ve had skin in the game,” says Emerald.

Business is slow, and just as OJ considers selling some of his horses to a local pioneer town-style theme park owned by former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead), strange things happen at the ranch. . Some kind of disturbance in the force has caused electrical blackouts, strange weather, and makes the horses nervous. There is also a cloud that has not moved for months.

When OJ sees something in the sky, something he says is “too fast to be a plane”, Emerald hatches a plan to film the airspace around the ranch to capture a UFO on film. “The money shot,” she says. “Undeniable. Oprah’s photo.”

They set up surveillance cameras and, working with tech support guy (and UFO evangelist) Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and deep-voiced cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), try to lure out the mysterious craft, which resembles to a giant sand dollar. to her elaborate trap and get “the impossible shot”.

“What we are doing is going to do something good,” says Ángel. “Besides the money and fame. We can save some lives.”

Like Peele’s other films, “Get Out” and “Us,” “Nope” has scares and disturbing imagery, but this is no horror film. It’s a sci-fi movie that explores fear of the unknown through Hollywood westerns – paying homage to the entrance shot at the end of “The Searchers”, monster movies, and of course iconic sci-fi films from Steven Spielberg as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” These homages are lovingly assembled to create something new, but film students will have fun analyzing the film’s visual influences and Peele’s obvious love of form.

Just as there are myriad visual inspirations, Peele has packed the film with ever-changing thematic and plot elements. The direct alien confrontation is preceded by story threads and flashbacks that don’t always feel like they’re forwarding the story. A TV sequence of a crazed chimpanzee, for example, while it’s great if it were part of another movie, it’s a bit unnerving.

Having said that, the size and spectacle of “Nope” are powerful. There are only a handful of characters, but their journeys are vast and there are unexpected twists and turns. It’s an ambitious film that feels less focused than Peele’s other movies, but “Nope” earns a yes nonetheless.

THE GRAY MAN: 2 ½ STARS

This image released by Netflix shows Ryan Gosling in a scene from “The Gray Man.” (Stanislav Honzi/Netflix via AP)

Now streaming on Netflix after a quick trip to theaters, “The Gray Man,” a new shooter starring Ryan Gosling, overwhelms the senses with an underwhelming story.

The story begins in 2003 when convicted murderer Court Gentry (Gosling) accepts a job offer from a CIA agent named Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to live in the “grey zone” in exchange for a commuted sentence. He will be part of the top secret program Sierra, trained to be a “ghost”, live on the fringes and kill people who need to be killed. He will be the kind of person you send when you can’t send anyone else. “Take all the pain that brought you here,” says Fitzroy. “Turn it around and make it useful.”

Cut to 18 years later. Gentry, now known simply as Six, because “they took 077,” he deadpans, is on assignment in Bangkok. Under the orders of CIA boss Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page), he is there to assassinate an asset and retrieve an encrypted drive. When Six refuses to pull the trigger because there’s a kid in the way (not all bad!), things quickly spiral out of control.

With the help of CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), Six obtains the disk, but in doing so, he becomes a target himself. It turns out that the disk contains evidence of information from unauthorized bombings and assassinations ordered by Carmichael, in an attempt to turn the CIA into his own personal army. Carmichael wants the drive destroyed and any trace removed from the only people skilled enough to expose it, the Sierra program.

But how do you kill the CIA’s deadliest assassin? You hire a morally compromised independent contractor, Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) to “deliver an A-grade hit” on Six. To lure Six into his web, Lloyd kidnaps the closest thing Six has to family, Fitzroy and his young niece (Julia Butters). “If you want to make an omelette, you have to kill some people,” says Lloyd.

“The Gray Man” is a big-budget globetrotting adventure that makes up for what it lacks in intrigue and interesting characters with exotic locations and gunplay. Filtered through the relentlessly restless camera of Anthony and Joe Russo, the film has all the elements normally associated with high-end action movies. Fists fly. At times it is a bullet ballet. Things explode. There are tough-guy catchphrases (“Are you okay?” Miranda asks after a city-block-destroying action sequence. “My ego’s a little bruised,” Six snorts), deceit, and death around every corner.

So why isn’t it more exciting?

The story is pretty simple. It’s the kind of super-killer ride movie we’ve seen before in everything from “John Wick” and “Nobody” to just about any Jason Statham movie, but it’s not simplicity or familiarity that sinks “The Gray.” “. Man.” It’s the hype. And I don’t mean just the unusually high body count. It’s the more-is-more, Michael Bay through the “Bourne” franchise approach that overwhelms. from one country to another, from one time period to another, never stopping long enough to allow us to know or care about the characters.

Six is ​​meant to be an enigma, and while Gosling can convincingly pull off the action and say a line, he’s basically unknowable; a stoic man with a number for a name. His relationship with Fitzroy’s niece gives him some humanity, but he remains a stern presence at the center of the film.

At least Evans, as the “garbage ‘stached” sociopath, seems to be having a good time. Nobody else does. That could be because there are so many characters, most of which are underused or underdeveloped. No amount of fancy camera work could make Carmichael interesting. As the big bad baddie at the heart of all trouble, he’s a one-geared pantomime character.

More interesting are Indian superstar Dhanush, who plays a killer who values ​​honor over money, in his shocking Hollywood debut, and De Armas, who does what he can with a secured role.

“The Gray Man” is a big, loud, popcorn summer entertainment that spends a lot of time preparing for a sequel, time that would have been better spent creating suspense.

FIRE OF LOVE: 4 STARS

This image released by National Geographic shows Katia Krafft in an aluminized suit as she stands near lava exploding at the Krafla volcano, Iceland, in a scene from the documentary “Fire of Love.” (National Geographic via AP)

For 20 years, French geologists Katia and Maurice Krafft indulged their great love of exploring active volcanoes, cameras in tow. “Katia and Maurice had spent their lives documenting how the heart of the Earth beat,” says narrator Miranda July. “How his blood flowed.”

The Kraffts were the Jacques Cousteaus of volcanology. His groundbreaking images and photography of Mount St. Helens, Mauna Loa, and Mount Nyiragongo, among others, are as epic as they are educational, mapping out otherwise unfamiliar territory.

Filmmaker Sara Dosa uses that footage as the basis for “Fire of Love,” a powerful new documentary that captures not only the Kraffts’ (ultimately tragic) love of volcanoes, but their love for each other as well.

Near the beginning of the film, July says, “This is Katia and this is Maurice. It is June 2, 1991. Tomorrow will be the last day of her”, telegraphing the tragic end of the story on Mount Unzen in Japan. But before he gets there, director Dosa uses 200 hours of 16mm film, archive photos and interviews to tell two stories: one of scientific passion, the other of pure and simple mutual passion.

Visually, the film leaves an indelible impression. The supernatural images of volcanoes are impressive, like seeing images sent from another planet. Dosa enhances the silent footage with an interesting foley effect for an inspiring effect. These shots, which include boating in a lake of sulfuric acid and protective clothing that catches fire, along with thousands of gallons of flowing lava, betray the risks the pair faced every day on the job.

Those scenes are memorable, but it’s the relationship between Katia and Maurice that gives the film real depth. Her bond is evident in her playfulness, ion display of sheer exuberance. Scenes of them talking are limited to talk show appearances and some on-the-spot dialogue, but their bond as soulmates, living and loving the life they’ve chosen, is undeniable. They are not stuffy scientists, but passionate and fun seekers with a philosophical bent towards their understanding of the natural world.

“I have a hard time understanding humans,” says Maurice. “I mean, I am one. I’m not constantly running from them. But I think living on volcanoes, away from humans, I’ll end up loving humans.”

“Fire of Love” is not just a nature documentary, it is something more. It’s a character-driven film with poignant imagery best seen on the big screen of a movie theater, about the nature of passion.

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