Nope

OJ and Emerald Haywood are siblings who own a ranch in a lonely gulch of inland California, where they train and handle horses for movie and TV productions. Soon, they bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery. 

To call Jordan Peele a unique filmmaker of our time would be an understatement — he’s blended genres and used them to incorporate thoughtful social commentary into the most mainstream popcorn entertainment, all while giving audiences films that can satisfy, challenge, and entertain. Nope is no different. It’s a science fiction-horror-thriller-comedy with a modern infusion of likable characters and borderline surrealist world-building, and Peele’s filmmaking is at the level of the most respected auteurs like Stanley Kubrick. It’s got moments of shock, laughter, brutality, and terrifying humanity that adds so much astonishment to a film that starts with what could’ve been an overused premise in anyone’s else hands. Daniel Kaluuya has evolved into a modern film star of his generation — though he’s starred in Black Panther and won an Oscar for Judas and the Black Messiah, it was Peele’s debut Get Out that guaranteed his stardom. He’s a master at being funny but showing a character confront with real and inner “demons” in a silent way but always being a fun character too. Keke Palmer has a contagious, bubbly energy and I’m sure the entire cast and crew had plenty of laughs due to her fantastic delivery of her lines that often sneaks up on you in hysterical ways. But she’s also a genuine hero, not to mention Steven Yeun and Brandon Perea who are scene stealers.

Peele’s style always challenges genre, structure, and how the audience expects to react to things. His stylistic energy in Nope invokes eyes staring in awe, jaws dropping, and mouths smiling all at once. Due to this, Nope transcends accessibility for fans of horror, and is a top-notch film for all fans of big-screen spectacle, because it never settles for just being a horror movie. In it’s own way, Nope is a piece of art, that’s not meant to give you easy answers or leave you comfortable. Like Peele’s last movie Us, there’s so much to debunk as the thematic elements often drive the filmmaking in his movies. This one addresses many things, but among it, humanity’s flocking to images chaos and danger, and our obsession with getting as close to death and trauma as we can while wanting to arrogantly cheat the effects they may have on us, should our endeavors to harness danger go wrong. The movie is also a tribute to filmmakers and crew members in positions we don’t often acknowledge, and the achievements of black contributions to cinema that aren’t always celebrated. In a way, Peele uses this movie to celebrate the invention of cinema but also warn about our roles as audience members and monetizers of content that’s both real and adapted from truth. With it, he creates the most daring and awe-inspiring summer blockbuster possible that I’m sure will inspire many to create and challenge the world of films the way he has.

Bullet Train

Assassin Ladybug finds himself on a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto in order to grab a briefcase of money, but the task reveals itself not so simple as Ladybug discovers he’s not the only assassin on the train looking for the briefcase.

Bullet Train is everything I’ve wanted from an original action movie for a long time — bold, unpredictable, brutal, and irreverent. David Leitch colors the titular train with a lively style and makes the action unhinged and genuinely thrilling. Brad Pitt is no less an action badass than in the days of Fight Club, Troy and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He gives the character a lot of humor in that he’s an assassin trying to find inner peace and avoid violence — guess how well that works out for him. But it’s hard to call a single character weak or overshadowed by Pitt. Joey King delivers her best ever turn as a deceitful young assassin, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives the film some excellent quips. His screen time with Brian Tyree Henry, who’s the film’s highlight, is the most heartfelt aspect of a film in which hitmen are all trying to kill each other. Henry’s talent radiates a special hysterical charm and will make you laugh and smile the most out of all the characters, not to mention he’s one of the most exciting actors these days. Even Bad Bunny, in his acting debut, does a solid job, and Zazie Beetz kills it in a minor role, and in my opinion the most underutilized performer of the film, considering she’s one of the best actresses in the film’s cast. Not to mention a lot of familiar faces that I was surprised were even in the movie, so stay away from the cast list before you see this one.

Bullet Train‘s script feels reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s most uncompromising films, like Snatch, RocknRolla and The Gentlemen, in which you have to choose your alliances among a cast of criminal characters and anyone could bite the dust. Not to mention the script never takes itself seriously for a second, incorporating flashbacks, a vibrant soundtrack, and unexpected laugh-out-loud humor. The editing is where the film both shines and sometimes falters, as there are a few moments of unnecessarily aggressive cuts during scenes where there’s either action that could’ve used more wide shots, or explanations for events you’ve already seen play out. There’s also an exposition monologue at the end that’s easily the low point of the film and some character placements that don’t flow as smoothly in the third act or have no reason to be there. But in the end, only a filmmaker as bold as Leitch could get away with making something so much fresher than any other $100 million action movie you’ll see on the big screen today that’s not a sequel. Bullet Train has so much going twistiness, vulgarity and blood going for it, yet it’s the cheeky wit, exuberant performances, and relentless style that makes this ride such a welcome one.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor enlists the help of Valkyrie, Korg and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster to fight Gorr the God Butcher, who intends to make the gods extinct.

Taika Waititi brings his signature laugh out loud humor and energetic storytelling style to Love and Thunder, as well as playing the lovable rock giant Korg who’s become Thor’s sidekick of sorts. Chris Hemsworth is as always having lots of fun, and Natalie Portman returns as his old flame Jane, who accompanies him along with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson kills it as always though her character doesn’t get as personal as Thor and Jane do) on the film’s journey. Russell Crowe is also quite funny as Zeus, and expect some great celebrity cameos as well. The standout though is definitely Christian Bale as the villain. He gets to go all out with his performance as Gorr the God Butcher, and his motivations make sense as well as his weapons and planets seeming cool, though I would’ve added a little more screentime with the character because in a way he’s still underutilized compared to the heroes. But also worth mentioning is the memorable soundtrack that gives the film a lot of life — and Guns N Roses hits.

Though Waititi’s style now feels synonymous with Thor’s solo journey, it also feels like the saving grace of the movie that Taika’s at the director’s chair. Since Thor’s already gone through most of his meaningful development from his first movie unto Endgame, there isn’t much left to develop with him and the movie is best enjoyed as a Waititi adventure comedy as a result. It’s also not as smooth or funny as Ragnarok, and the director’s weakest film yet. The script feels rushed and slowed down in the wrong places and certain nuances feel underdeveloped — a few more minutes of runtime wouldn’t have hurt. The final battle is also visually uninteresting though conceptually fun, the location and lighting of the action feels anything but exciting. Thor and Jane’s romantic chemistry is sweet but also nowhere near as natural of a pairing as Tom Holland and Zendaya in Spider-Man or Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man movies. It also feels like Thor’s journey concluded more naturally with Endgame, and as an epilogue to his story it serves the character fine, but I think Marvel should close his arc here because it feels like all of Thor’s most memorable moments and growths are in the past.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a solid 2 hours of fun visuals and laughs, though it feels like the character’s story is being stretched a little past its breaking point, go for the enjoyment and cast, especially Christian Bale’s villanous performance.

Elvis

Elvis provides a look into the life and career of the King of Rock and Roll and his relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Austin Butler’s immersive performance stuns as he brings the singer back to life with so much energy and character, that you’d believe it was really him in every shot he’s in. The costume design is accurate to Elvis’ real wardrobe and overall gives the film a spectacular visual side to it. The musical sequences are by far the most entertaining, impressive, and even emotional aspects of the film. If that’s enough for you, this movie is worth a watch, but this movie is brought down by Baz Luhrmann’s pretentious style (director of Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby). The editing is very flashy and fast in an attempt to immerse you into the vivid world of Elvis’ music and journey, but as a result, any sort of intimacy or room to breathe feels gone. Butler’s performance is terrific but the only times we get to interact with Elvis as a real person (and not just as the musical legend he was) are when the movie uses incredibly cliche beats we’ve seen in plenty of other music biopics like Walk the Line, Rocketman, Respect, Straight Outta Compton, and so on. Moments such as Elvis getting his love for music, dealing with loss, rising to stardom and creating his greatest hits feel lost in the prestige Baz feels so insistent on — it’s a tiring assault on the senses with some questionable decisions, like including music by Doja Cat in a scene that’s set in 1950s Memphis? Some of the CGI and green-screen also feel unrealistic and break the illusion of an old-fashioned look.

Tom Hanks is still my favorite movie actor, but his character in this movie is such an odd, one-note character and showing lots of the film from his perspective just makes us feel farther from Elvis’ humanity. The movie is also very long and gets too boring before it makes a real emotional point. What’s really interesting to see from a story perspective is how Elvis brought black music to white audiences and forced the system to reckon with the integration of cultures. Though this aspect is really eye-opening, it’s a shame that it isn’t focused on for the latter parts of the movie as well. The film decides to simply throw everything at you that you don’t get enough to appreciate the moments that are beautiful, or feel that you’re with Elvis for enough time because of the film’s montage-like editing fashion.

Though Austin Butler is a powerhouse and perfectly captures the stage presence and livelihood of Presley, and the musical sequences are exciting and breathtakingly brought to life, Elvis is brought down by its surface-level character writing as well as its poor and overwhelming editing. Luhrmann cares very much about making his movies a spectacle, but how much is too much? If you’re an Elvis fan, watch it at home, but if I ever end up watching Elvis again, you’ll probably find me skipping right away to the music scenes and that’s it.

Lightyear

Lightyear imagines what the movie would’ve been that got kids like Andy excited to get the toy of him in Toy Story. In this universe, Buzz Lightyear is a space ranger tasked with a difficult mission and must learn to make new friends and approaches to his mission — and his purpose as an astronaut and a man — on the way.

Lightyear dazzles as an animated Star Trek of sorts, with some of the best animation I’ve seen in years. The designs of spaceships, suits, weapons and settings, as well as the concept of flight and hyperspace travel, are designed so beautifully that you forget you’re watching something completely animated and get immersed in the visual adventure. The intergalactic settings let Pixar’s animators explore their incredible skills and make something that looks gorgeous. Chris Evans is perfectly cast as Buzz Lightyear, not just because he does the Lightyear voice well but because his character parallels Captain America so well in that they both are willing to give whatever it takes for the greater good but must find their own identity and life for themselves. Keke Palmer is also great as Lightyear’s new companion, and Taika Waititi is as always hysterical as another “rookie” that takes on a deadly mission with Buzz. A highlight though, is Sox, a robotic cat voiced by Peter Sohn whose destined to be a fan favorite Pixar character and steals the screen. The script always finds inventive ways to bring in conflicts and there’s some signature humor and heart Pixar is known to have mastered. Although there’s a twist at the end that may have not had the thematic resonance it was trying to get at, it’s still an exciting movie throughout and could please action/sci-fi movie fans of all ages. Though it’s not as great as the last two Toy Story movies per say, Lightyear has likely Pixar’s most stunning animation since Soul and is a blast for the whole family, with a top-notch Chris Evans voice performance and lovable supporting cast.

Jurassic World Dominion

Dinosaurs now live — and hunt — alongside humans all over the world. This fragile balance will reshape the future and determine, once and for all, whether human beings are to remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures.

With promising groundwork to set up what could’ve been an exciting conclusion to the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World Dominion instead does little with the potential its given and messes up almost every chance it gets to deliver. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are solid action stars but their characters get no development besides looking cool and facing off against dinosaurs. Speaking of the dinosaurs, they themselves barely feel like characters in the story anymore, and the two leads are no longer seen exercising their heroic compassion towards the creatures which felt out of character for them. The conflicts with the dinosaurs feel so rushed and hard to be invested in because the proper explanation and stakes simply aren’t there. A genetic engineering storyline takes up a lot of the film’s screen time, as well as Campbell Scott’s lackluster performance, which is a bummer considering the ideas about whether humans and dinosaurs can coexist go undeveloped as a result. The film spends a lot of time with uninteresting supporting characters, whether bad actors like Scott Haze and Justice Smith or good actors like Omar Sy who simply don’t contribute anything. DeWanda Wise and Mamoudou Athie are great as far as the newcomers go, but the original trio from Jurassic Park add a lot to the movie. Laura Dern gives the movie lots of grace and empathy, and Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum are charismatic, with Goldblum bringing his lovable and hilarious chops as always.

Because there’s no proper motives or conflict in the storytelling, the journey and stakes are too boring and confusing to feel invested in. The writer and director don’t trust enough in the audience and put in a 2-minute exposition sequence at the beginning instead of bringing in ideas through visual storytelling. There’s also loads of plot armor that results in predictability because characters can get away from any danger depending on their importance to the story. Despite the franchise being beloved, the concepts being wondrous and the action being gigantic, this movie doesn’t feel thrilling or even sensical. Although I was looking forward to seeing how the trilogy would resolve and conclude, I felt no excitement during this movie unless it was seeing the two generations of the franchise’s stars interact with each other. Not to mention the CGI dinosaurs help expand the scale but no longer feel consequential or visually stunning the way the practical dinosaurs first did all the way back in 1993.

Top Gun: Maverick

After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to Top Gun to train a new generation of pilots to push the limits of flying and pull off the impossible.

Not only does Top Gun: Maverick achieve the rare feat of being far better than its beloved predecessor in every way, but it also reminds us why we love going to the movies and provides huge action and thrills without having textbooks worth of lore to precede and eventually follow it. We have Tom Cruise to thank for the dedication to practical flight sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat and out of breath. The loud sound design and stunning look of the flight sequences makes this a must-watch on the biggest theatrical screen you can find. Cruise, whose effortless commitment and swagger are still evident after decades of being a movie star, conveys the spirit of Maverick as a man understanding where he belongs and trying to honor those he loves while doing the thing he loves. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the actor and the character, both taking risks to achieve new feats and pave the way for future trailblazers like him. But that’s not taking away from the great supporting cast, including Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, and Glen Powell — as well as a great brief role from Val Kilmer returning as Iceman. Connelly’s relationship with Cruise in the film is also far more nuanced and lifelike than the one he had with Kelly McGillis in the original, with their dynamic having interesting stakes and the two stars having lovely chemistry. The original Top Gun is an iconic film that has plenty of classic fun moments, but this film trades that film’s 80’s-type campiness for more emotional depth that feels more like the heart of the story rather than filler. But Top Gun: Maverick honors the original movie in more ways than one, without feeling like too much or becoming anything less than its own film. There’s still callbacks and references to the original that will put a smile on your face, but rather than relying too much on nostalgia, it builds on the world that movie created, such as showing how Maverick is impacted by the legacy of his late friend Goose and making him the teacher this time, while showing how much cooler a Top Gun movie can be today with the evolved film and flight technology of today.

Top Gun: Maverick is a perfect blend of the old and the new (for example, you get to hear “Danger Zone” again but also original songs by Lady Gaga and OneRepublic written for the film), appealing to both the generation that grew up adoring Top Gun and a new generation of moviegoers. It gives a rare sense of pure popcorn entertainment that’s both huge and grounded, surpassing the first movie in quality and reminding us why Tom Cruise is a one-of-a-kind movie star who commits himself to the craft and the theatrical experience.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange encounters multiversal threats once again as he goes on a journey across realities with America Chavez, Wong, and Wanda Maximoff.

This sequel certainly lives up to the madness part of its title by providing a journey of visual marvel throughout alternate universes, a concept that’s been set up in other Marvel properties like Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home but is explored here in full effect. Sam Raimi’s direction provides what feels like a true creative vision, including amazing, adventurous grandeur and use of CGI as well as some horror undertones in certain scenes that is some of the darkest a Marvel Cinematic Universe film has gotten. But to add to that, there’s genuine excitement and thrills to be found in nearly every frame — the pacing is fast and wastes no time doing anything but moving the story forward. Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job as the witty Strange but also some of his more unhinged variants from other universes. Elizabeth Olsen, who was Emmy and Golden Globe nominated for her performance in WandaVision — which I’d call a required watch to understand the events of this film — continues her journey into Wanda’s darker side and wonderfully delivers the pain she experiences and the empathy she conveys with the audience even when her inability to properly grieve from the events of Avengers: Infinity War has gotten people hurt. Together with the preceding show, Olsen creates one of the most tragic and powerful performances in the MCU. Xochitl Gomez is a lovely addition to the franchise as the young America Chavez, who shares a lot of fun scenes with Cumberbatch.

With the vast possibilities of alternate realities comes lots of excitement as to what could happen, as well as genuine thrills and suspense weaved within the many magical rules of the world of the Sorcerer Supreme and the Scarlet Witch. Sam Raimi goes back to his horror roots with some of the dark undertones in certain scenes, that still blend in well with the cheerful and wondrous MCU tone we’re used to. The one thing that gets lost within the gigantic adventure is Strange’s own character arc — Strange’s growth through the film as an actual person has the right setup, but the payoff feels underwhelming and his internal journey needed more of a through line, which was felt more in his first solo movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor is fun to see as Mordo but his inclusion feels haphazard and incomplete. It’s also easy to get lost within all the explanations and world-hopping events that require some attention, with some exposition that ends up being unnecessary. Ultimately though, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is one of the most creatively rewarding MCU films in a while, though not the most emotional, funny or heartfelt, it’s filled with moments of edge-of-your-seat action, epic imagination, breathtaking visuals, campy horror, and insanity that have to be experienced in a theater, creating a sensory overload like no other superhero movie or blockbuster.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage, down on his luck at a creative, financial and personal crossroads, attends a superfan’s birthday party in Spain for $1 million, but must soon become a real life action hero when he finds himself in real danger and conflict.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is refreshingly meta about the movie industries and its stars — a sort of hybrid between Adaptation and Lethal Weapon. It’s a tribute to the magic of movies and movie stars, and the diversity of Nicolas Cage’s films, including the absurdity of some of his roles and personas, as well as the large fan following he’s retained throughout the years. The movie has some direct references to his various roles, from his Oscar-caliber roles in Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation to his action blockbuster hits such as Face/Off, The Rock and Con Air, and his more recent indie ventures like Mandy. But they also namedrop Moonstruck, National Treasure, Gone in 60 Seconds, and even The Croods: A New Age, I mean what more could you ask for in a movie about Nic Cage? Within all of this, it’s both a meta commentary to the kinds of scripts and films audiences like — as Cage has been in some of every type — and a laugh-out-loud buddy comedy between Cage and the wonderful Pedro Pascal. Though Cage embraces and pokes fun at himself as, well, himself, Pascal plays Cage’s biggest fan and new best friend who may or may not be a dangerous arms dealer. Pascal’s line delivery, exaggeration and lovability makes him an undeniable delight to watch. So it has something for people looking for an intricate script about scripts, a tribute to an iconic actor, and an action-packed laugh-out-loud comedy. Not to mention there’s some heart involved as the movie tries to parody the idea of a “mature movie about people and relationships” while genuinely getting you interested in the main two friends.

Though it helps to have watched some of Cage’s most iconic movies (on a personal note, my favorites of his are Face/Off, Adaptation and Raising Arizona), it’s also on the stronger end of crowd-pleasing action comedies and has a little something for everyone, definitely living up to the Massive Talent part of its title.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Newt Scamander and crew join Albus Dumbledore in a quest to stop the evil Gellert Grindelwald from taking control of the entire Wizarding World and starting a war between wizards and Muggles.

Though the Harry Potter films have a fanbase that will stay strong for generations to come, the Fantastic Beasts films yet again fail to capture that same magic, and by now it feels like they’re not even trying to. The strengths still come in its production value and cast — the production design is very impressive and the musical score is top-notch. The cast is sufficient, especially Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander who was perfectly cast in the role. His bond with the titular beasts is very touching and gives the films an arc of compassion and heart. Jude Law also gives lots of nuance to the younger Dumbledore as his conflict with Grindelwald is explored deeper. Mads Mikkelsen also gives his fair share of menace and is much better than Johnny Depp, who came off as annoying in the last film. However, this is Jessica Williams’s first time as a lead in this film and she steals her scenes. Her charisma and energy are on another level and she’s going to be recognized by more audiences after this role, hopefully. However, Ezra Miller’s performance is still irritating, and feels rather deadpan and directionless. I don’t appreciate them giving Miller’s character so much screen time when they instead could’ve emphasized Katherine Waterson or Zoe Kravitz as main characters in this series (though Waterson still appears in a minor role).

The first one, though not amazing, still had its fair share of charm and excitement, but the following two installments became needlessly slow and gloomy when the Wizarding World thrives on being touching and cheerful; even in the darker Potter installments, the story is rooted in friendships and themes of goodness and courage. Thematically, these films suffer from a lack of direction in comparison. Though The Secrets of Dumbledore is a big improvement over The Crimes of Grindelwald, it still suffers from the same tonal issues, like feeling too much like a slow-burn drama for its own good and lacking thrills. The movie’s climactic battle is fairly thrilling but the buildup isn’t strong enough to give us much payoff. Where Warner Bros. really messed up here is writing this as a series of five films instead of a trilogy. The last 2 movies in the franchise were very dragged out and unrewarding from a story perspective and this way of pacing the story is costing the films a lot of excitement and coherence. The Harry Potter films were 8 movies and even the less eventful installments are memorable because of the nuances and world-building, but times have changed and having the same story and villain for five movies isn’t something audiences are looking for, as blockbuster films need to feel like a rewarding event when people buy a ticket — and here it’s once again evident that they should’ve stuck to the original plan and kept it at three films.

Though the potential for an exciting story and conflict are there, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore suffers from pacing and tonal issues that Wizarding World fans may be able to ignore for fantastical visuals and some strong performances, but it can’t bring the stakes and direction to the level such an epic-scale story needs to hit home.