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.

The Batman

This reboot of one of the most beloved movie characters focuses on a dark, crime-ridden Gotham City. When the Riddler, a sadistic serial killer, begins murdering key political figures in Gotham, Batman is forced to investigate the city’s hidden corruption and question his family’s involvement.

Despite already having a magnificent trilogy for the character in the Nolan Dark Knight films, Matt Reeves’ reboot is unpredictable, fascinating, and masterful — even reaching the heights of Nolan’s films. Robert Pattinson delivers an incredible performance as a man who fights crime but also finds himself as Batman due to his own misery and demons, and the film explores Batman as a sign of fear towards criminals, as well as a detective and antihero. But gone is the glamor of Bruce Wayne’s rich life — Pattinson portrays a lonely, depressed man who can only find meaning for himself by going out and finding a fight. He gives off the vibe of Ryan Gosling’s reserved, morally ambiguous performance in Drive, and I’d also compare this most to Pattinson’s role in The Lighthouse. Zoe Kravitz surpasses past portrayals of Catwoman from actresses like Anne Hathaway and Michelle Pfeiffer by making Selina Kyle feel incredibly human and as interesting of a character as Batman, instead of being part of the story just for him. Paul Dano is menacing and terrifying as the Riddler, but Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin, under so much convincing makeup but still delivering a scene-stealing performance. Andy Serkis is also great as Alfred and Jeffrey Wright is another standout, wonderfully cast as Gordon and his relationship with Batman is very interesting to watch grow.

But this movie isn’t only packed with great stars. Reeves’ direction, as well as award-worthy cinematography and score (Michael Giacchino — known for The Incredibles, Inside Out, Up, Spider-Man, and more — delivering his best live-action score yet), brings to life a riveting, nail-biting crime mystery noir atmosphere reminiscent of cynical murder mystery thrillers like Se7en and Zodiac — even more grounded than The Dark Knight, which feels like a crime epic but still had a larger scale than this. This dark, mysterious atmosphere makes the film nail-biting and never slow, even at 3 hours. The conspiracies and mysteries that unravel are intriguing and the fights are gritty for a PG-13 superhero movie. By the last hour, it genuinely becomes difficult to tell what is going to happen next, which feels rare for blockbusters of this size today, due to the darkness that envelops the characters and their world.

The Batman is more than up to the task of delivering a mind-blowing reboot that surpasses expectations and earns every minute of its runtime. It’s packed with memorable performances, a meticulous atmosphere, and edge-of-your-seat tension, ultimately making one of the best superhero films of recent years that has to be seen on the big screen.

Death on the Nile

During the honeymoon cruise of the Doyles and their wedding party on the Nile, a murder occurs and a detective onboard, the iconic Hercule Poirot — played once again by Kenneth Branagh, who also directs –must dig through the motives of the passengers to find the killer and bring them to justice.

Death on the Nile embraces the thrilling aspects of the Whodunnit murder mystery genre, with a case that keeps you guessing. Kenneth Branagh leans more into the vain, larger-than-life portrayal of Poirot. However, the performances of some of the cast, especially Branagh and Gal Gadot, can get over-the-top and distractingly humorous, possibly unintentionally. They also try too often to give Poirot a tragic backstory, which can be appreciated but it’s far inferior to the story involving the other characters. However, Letitia Wright and Emma Mackey are standouts whose acting turns are actually able to shine. The buildup to the titular murder mystery is too long, as the title and marketing clearly tells you what kind of movie this is but takes too long to actually become that film. Once it does, however, I was actually engaged and following along as new details, motives, and alibis were presented. Though the costume design is stellar, the visuals have lots of moments of obvious green screen and CGI and the movie could’ve benefitted from a more practical look. Though it isn’t a must-watch, Death on the Nile is an improvement over its predecessor but doesn’t manage to necessarily be shocking or rewatchable — it doesn’t also help that Rian Johnson’s 2019 caper Knives Out set the bar so high for murder mysteries and that it has a sequel coming out later this year, or that Branagh just released the best film of his career, Belfast, only a few months ago. If you know what you’re in for, the ride is fun, but keep your expectations light and reasonable for an interesting and edge-of-your-seat second and third acts.

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A Quiet Place Part II

Following the events of the predecessor, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. With both A Quiet Place and its sequel that’s now playing in theaters everywhere, John Krasinski has proven himself to be not only an awesome actor but a master filmmaker. It worries me whenever a studio greenlights a sequel to a great film that stands alone perfectly, but A Quiet Place Part II is one of the rare occasions where the sequel lives up the original, and not only that, but along with that 2018 film, is one of the best horror/thrillers of recent years. A lot of it is thanks to Krasinski’s direction and the style which made the concept and storytelling of the first film so memorable. The opening sequence is nail-biting and even though the violence is kept at a PG-13 level, the film knows where and how to scare most effectively with showing and not showing certain things. For example, we see scenes from characters’ perspectives so the aliens and action aren’t always in the frame but sometimes in the background. The cinematography and editing are great as well, but it’s the sound editing that makes the movie. It’s the small noises that make you terrified for the characters as they try to survive among creatures who can track them based on any small noise from a distance, and the sound creates its own tension without a single jump scare. The loud sound effects of the monsters contrast this excellently and make this a terrific theater experience.

Emily Blunt may be at her best in this series as a mother trying to protect her kids, including a newborn, from otherworldly threats that are a family’s worst nightmare. Cillian Murphy is also excellent as a new addition to the cast, a cynical, hopeless survivor who is changed by his time with the Abbott family. Millicent Simmonds, the deaf actress who plays the deaf daughter in the film, may be the film’s heroine as she takes on challenges courageously and delivers a stellar performance, with not only some of the most positive deaf representation I’ve ever seen in film but all around a brilliant actor and lead role. Noah Jupe, who plays the son/brother, is again excellent, and he’s proven himself with these films as well as his magnificent roles in 2019’s Ford v Ferrari and Honey Boy. And even with just a cameo, Krasinski himself makes his presence felt throughout the film, passing the courage and good-ness of his character from the last film into his children and the world of the movie. Beyond the brilliant scares, which are only strengthened by techniques such as cross-cutting that Krasinski marvelously uses to make scenes more powerful and symbolic, the film retains the heart that made its predecessor so emotional — in every frame and line, this is a movie about a monster apocalypse, but also about parenthood, family, human survival, and hope. And one can’t help but think that with a family taking back their world by venturing back into the unknown and fighting back against the apocalypse, it’s a perfect film to represent our return to theaters. I, for one, had not been to the theaters since Tenet last August, when some screens briefly reopened, and this is an impeccable choice to return to the big screen with for the thrills, sound, and amazing effects and story that will more than satisfy those who know what they’re in for, and for the shared experience we’ve been longing to have back and can finally experience for a new blockbuster once again.

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1917

There’s been films this year that have enamored me, mesmerized me, and reminded me why I love films, but all year I have been waiting for a triumph on the level of 1917. Not only is it Sam Mendes’ strongest directorial effort, it’s one of the greatest filmmaking feats in years, breaking technical boundaries and capturing your senses from the first to final minute, leaving a remarkable lasting impact for long after the credits roll. Though on paper, the story sounds rather simple, Mendes is still able to create the most awe-inspiring and gripping cinematic experience of the year through the film’s outstanding execution. The film is made to look like one unbroken take, with the help of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose work alongside filmmakers like the Coens, Denis Villeneuve, and Mendes has earned him 15 Oscar nominations and one win — here, he breaks his own boundaries once again with jaw-dropping long takes, beautifully capturing the non-stop action through trenches and city ruins and conveying as powerful of a story with no cuts that most films do with thousands. The one-take act is not only dazzling from a technical perspective, but makes the story feel like one continuous movement, without room to stop and catch your breath, which works perfectly for this adventure war film in which time is the enemy. The unbelievable production design that brings these settings to life is immersive and exemplary. Also worth noting is the work of composer Thomas Newman. Having heard many of his scores that he’s made throughout the decades, this feels like the culmination of all his works in which he beautifully covers a variety of tones — ambient, thrilling, reflective, and emotional.

The stylistic elements work perfectly to elevate a basic concept into a nail-biting adventure where we fear for our leads’ lives as the journey into lands of uncertainty. Speaking of the leads, George McKay is especially excellent at capturing the fearful but determined spirit of his character. We don’t need to hear much about the characters’ pasts or personal lives to feel something — through moments of human instinct, persistence, and compassion, Mendes gives us everything we need to care about these characters and get more emotional than almost any film this year. So the style doesn’t just serve as a “gimmick” to round up Oscar nominations, but as a form of storytelling to make an already superb script feel even stronger. The closing cards, in which Mendes dedicates the film to his grandfather (who was a WWI veteran himself), makes the effect even more powerful. Thinking about the film after it ended, I was reminded why I go to the movies, and what storytelling is for — not just to put asses in seats, but to leave a lasting effect on an audience by utilizing the art of cinema to tell stories with true meaning and soul. Whether you’re a fan of war movies or not, it doesn’t matter, because 1917 is the film this year that cannot be missed on the big screen at any costs, and a definite frontrunner this year. It will certainly be looked back at in years to come for its originality and trailblazing in its genre, and might not be topped by another war film for many, many years.

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Uncut Gems

Howard Ratner, a charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime.

As soon as I heard that Adam Sandler was starring in an A24 film, I immediately got excited — I’ve seen Sandler prove himself by stepping out of the typical “goofy physical humor” tropes before in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories. Here, Sandler delivers a completely new side of his acting skills; it feels like somewhere in between his charismatic and serious sides — except his character Howard is a criminal and a downright horrible person. He continuously cheats his buyers, put his gambling addiction above his family, and even cheats on his wife, but possibly the fact that he has a family is what ultimately grounds his character and gives us brief moments to sympathize for him when the terrible choices he’s made come back to bite him. Sandler is really able to take on a challenge like nothing in his career and really stuns, as he was certainly the right choice to play the part as the film ultimately proves. After watching Uncut Gems, you’ll never see Sandler the same way. Julia Fox is scene-stealing as Howie’s mistress, who not only conveys energy but she’s perhaps the only character who’s able to do kind and forgiving things in the entire film. Not only has she not had any prior acting experience, but neither has Kevin Garnett who is also great, starring as himself yet he’s able to make every scene of his engaging. Lakeith Stanfield, who proves himself over and over again, also has some strong moments in a minor role. Idina Menzel also does really well as Howie’s wife, who is reasonably fed up with his neglectful, reckless behavior.

The Safdie brothers certainly know how to make a film theirs. Every setting and character feel like they’re living in the Safdie’s world. They’ve clearly made themselves more than distinctive and their films really do feel like nothing ever made before, almost as if they’ve invented their own genre, or at least style. That said, although their style definitely feels new and authentic, with actors (and non-actors appearing in the film) yelling over each other and real setting being used, I wasn’t a big fan of their previous film, Good Time. Although Uncut Gems is definitely a lot more interesting, and the camerawork and music feel more fitting here, it still at times suffers from a lack of direction, especially in the middle part of the film. There’s some excellent sequences and creative filmmaking throughout, but at times, even in the film’s strongest moments, its elements work against each other — the script inserts uncomfortable “cringe humor” into scenes with opposing goals, like trying to be heartfelt or powerful. The Safdies once again try to push the boundaries of human senses even further — How loud and retro can this score get? How bad can we depict humans to be? How gross and unsettling can we make it? Hell, the movie even starts with a close-up of Sandler getting a colonoscopy. What business did this moment have being there, I still don’t know. It felt like these moments of weirdness or darkness sometimes didn’t add up to much or were there for the sake of it. Thankfully though, the climax feels far more engaging and rewarding than in their previous film, thanks to a more interesting buildup and multiple things going on in different locations with different characters, and we can actually care about what’ll end up happening to Howie, even though like I said, he messes up time after time and mistreats nearly everyone in his life. It’s those small moments Sandler and the script deliver that put us on his side when it comes to his major bets and successes. I just wish the film struggled less in finding a consistent direction and reason for us to care. This is different than every Sandler film and just about every film out there right now, so it isn’t hard to see how it would be off-putting to many, but if you know what you’re in for with the Safdie brothers, then you may be able to enjoy it — their vision has definitely left me thinking after the end. If only everything else wasn’t subordinate to the extravagant cast that gives it their all.

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Knives Out

When wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead on his 85th birthday, his eccentric family is gathered by an equally bizarre detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to solve the case of Harlan’s murder.

When an original project from a respected filmmaker and an incredibly talented cast is released — that’s when I know I’m in for something good. Knives Out has mystery, laughs, and plenty of popular actors quarreling. The cast, including Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon, all get a shot to shine, but the film belongs to Ana de Armas. She steals the screen in every one of her moments and is the character you really want to root for. There’s plenty of witty, hilarious, and memorable dialogue from the remarkable Rian Johnson, who also uses some brilliant visual cues for glamour, as well as “a-ha!” moments and even some humor. From the first act, the movie takes a turn away from what you’d normally expect in a “Whodunnit” murder mystery, yet it all makes for an equally creative and thrilling experience. However, I do feel like some revelations were placed too early along the film’s runtime and could have been saved for a few sequences later. Also, while Johnson does present some truly golden moments throughout the film, like the savage, vulgar moments or the more showy, stylish moments, I think the film could’ve overall used a more distinct style, as I know Johnson is of much skill yet a few scenes felt like they could’ve been directed by anyone. Also, perhaps the film could’ve benefited from an R-rating as a few scenes do slightly hold back in terms of language, yet fortunately this is nothing that harms the film. Johnson also goes for some social themes — some so direct and on-the-nose that they feel too obvious and surface-level, and others so subtle and hidden that they require more digging and thought before the true meaning of some of the themes really come to me, but he certainly addresses ideas such as class, race, politics, and the Internet’s influence on Americans.

Ultimately, though, Rian Johnson is able to once again challenge genres and craft unique dialogue while still being able to appeal to mainstream audiences with the incredible cast that help make Knives Out quite the pleasing and interesting experience, appealing to all generations with its call-backs to Agatha Christie’s genres, and cast involving all generations, like Christopher Plummer and Chris Evans, as well as the fast-paced and humorous script that make for a “Whodunnit” like no film has ever “dunnit” before.

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Joker

Imagine a film based on a popular comic book property that’s been adapted before into billion-dollar successes, but this time has no action, no CGI, and focuses solely on character development and delivering dark themes about our society. That’s exactly what Joker is. It’s no Dark Knight — the Joker never robs banks or blows up buildings, and it’s certainly no Suicide Squad — no gang wars, alien armies, or apocalypse-level stakes. Joker aligns more with the likes of Scorsese — certain scenes reminded me very much of The King of Comedy, as well as the filmmaker’s darkest classic Taxi Driver. It always sticks to a very old-fashioned, noir-like style, gracefully shot with every prop feeling like it belongs in a frame of a painting. The roaring music feels perfectly done for a haunting and tense crime thriller that focuses deeply on the protagonist’s descent into darkness. Joaquin Phoenix has always had a spot on my favorite actors list, but he manages to own the show in a completely new way here — different than Ledger’s spectacular take on the character in 2008’s The Dark Knight, but equally worthy of praise. He disappears into Arthur Fleck, a man living in poverty with mental illness who feels like an outcast in society and is soon pushed over the edge. Phoenix’s speech, menacing laugh, and weight loss all contribute to how impressive his performance is, and I seriously think he deserves an Oscar nomination. Also outstanding is Robert De Niro as a talk show host whom Arthur idolizes, resembling Jerry Lewis’ character in The King of Comedy whom Robert De Niro’s character in that film develops an obsession over. Joker does occasionally tie-in to characters or events from the Batman universe which may feel slightly forced, but for the most part it stands on its own as a deep and unpredictable story. For such a large studio to adapt such a large property but then include such little action in the film is a huge risk which completely pays off. It’s a character study and a drama with meaningful social commentary, such as the marginalization of those with mental illnesses by the rest of society, or how the less privileged or fortunate are looked down on and ridiculed by the elites. Even though it takes place in the early ’80s, it asks difficult questions like how our modern society could be taking part in creating criminals like the Joker. It’s more unsettling, resonant, and inventive than any comic book film I’ve seen in recent years, to the point where it could also speak to non-superhero-fan audiences like those who are only expecting a dark crime film. In terms of the concerns about the film’s violence, there isn’t much graphic content (definitely not as much as other R-rated superhero films like Deadpool and Logan) but the implications the violence has are more disturbing, serious, and grounded, but hence the R-rating.

Joker is a finely acted, thought-provoking chcracter piece that takes place in a world of gloomy uncertainty and takes more risks than almost any other franchise film recently. It’s not focused on the big fights, or post-credits scenes teasing another film, instead being a brilliant stand-alone piece that leaves you thinking for a long time, and hopefully paves the way for more variety in blockbuster filmmaking, as well as likely remaining one of the films that will be discussed until the end of the year for its strong filmmaking and top-notch writing and themes.

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Hotel Mumbai

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The true story of the Taj Hotel terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008. Hotel staff risk their lives to keep everyone safe as people make unthinkable sacrifices to protect themselves and their families.

Hotel Mumbai is a terrifyingly realistic and relevant look at the awfulness of the world and a terrible act of hate. However, it also puts the spotlight on the courage of the protagonists, the workers and guests at the hotel being held hostage. We see in numerous scenes where several characters make the difficult choice to put their guests’ lives ahead of theirs, as they claim “Guest is god”, and that the hotel is their home and they would not leave without first ensuring the safety of others. The guests also are seen never giving up to be with their loved ones and protect them, even if it costs them their own lives. Even though we’re also reminded of the horrible, blind beliefs that radical terrorists follow, even they are given brief moments to remind the audience that they’re also human beings, like a terrorist who is critically injured and calls his father tearfully when he realizes it’s unlikely he’ll make it home. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer deliver solid performances, but a surprising standout is Anupam Kher as the head chef at the hotel who constantly displays leadership, courage, and selflessness during the attack. The dirtector also does a great job building sitatuions of tension and showing certain characters in the same shot to make us uncertain who will make it out alive. Despite being an effective thriller, Hotel Mumbai does unfortanely fall into some “true terrorist attack film” cliches, like the main character who’s new at his job, the white guy who’s mostly there to make more money, the couple who gets seperated, the rich guy who’s kind of an asshole, the brave but foolish cops who are the first to arrive at the scene and the seasoned worker who always maintains his dignity. Though it’s easy to tell where it’s going and who’s likely to die or make it out alive, Hotel Mumbai still remains an intense dramatization that does its job of reminding us of the terror that’s happened in this world and continues to happen today.

Hotel Mumbai is strongly acted, well-directed, and feels very realistically and executed. However, it sometimes falls into cliches of films in the similar genre, while thankfully still remaining intense and timely for audiences.

 

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Us

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This horror film follows a family whose summer trip to a beach house is interrupted when a family that looks exactly like them shows up at their door.

Jordan Peele follows up a victory with another one that should be praised for its own reasons. Though it’s a very different film than Peele’s Oscar-wining horror film, Us is an all-out nightmare that will get under your skin like no other mainstream film ever has. Not only is it more frightening than most horror films, but it’s so meticulously crafted and strongly directed by Peele, who make his care for characters and root for them to survive within an instant. From the very first shot of a girl watching television, Peele already plants clues for what’s to come, followed by an opening credits shot that’s simple but will give you chills. He wonderfully builds every shot to contain mystery and intrigue, that will make you never stop guessing what will happen next. He builds shots hide and show certain things and wonderfully makes the doppelganger characters frightening antagonists for the viewer. Lupita Nyong’o delivers two main performances that feel very different but both are spectacular in their own route. She convincingly acts terrified in many instances, but also changes her voice and achieves many feats in numerous scenes tin which she will blow you away. The violence is uncompromising but a blast to watch if you can watch graphic imagery without flinching, as the fight for survival is always thrilling and unpredictable. However, there’s also great moments of comic relief thrown in there, which delivers while still feeling like a full-on horror film. But above all the fright and entertainment, there’s some true shock thrown in, especially towards the end. Peele leaves the message and themes of the film open for discussion, as opposed to more obvious racial commentary in Get Out , while the meaning of Us will be debated for years. Not to mention a plot twist that will go down as an ending for the ages.

Jordan Peele has not let down expectations and is an established horror genius here in Hollywood, promoting true originality and terror in his films. With strong writing and acting, as well as plot devices and themes that can be analyzed for years to come, there’s so much to say about this new horror masterwork that I’d rather not ruin and let you discover for yourself.

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