Skip to main content

Well, we’re looking for the impossible shot.


(SPOILERS) Jordan Peele’s movies may ultimately fail to deliver, but he’s nevertheless a persuasively proficient, talented moviemaker, an expert in scene setting and pacing, mood and atmosphere. He also tends to mine intriguing territory conceptually. Indeed, his last movie Us was ALL ideas, replete not so much with soft disclosure as a resounding dump of the hard stuff that went largely unnoticed. Probably because – going back to the ultimately-failing-to-deliver part – as a whole, effective movie, it just wasn’t much cop. Nope is more successful in that regard, but still only really half successful. Once Peele reveals the contents of his box of tricks, all he has left is that proficient filmmaking technique, and it isn’t really enough.

So are each of Peele’s movies tackling disclosure in some shape or form? Is Get Out less about racism than soul scalping? Us is so much about cloning in DUMBs, it straight-up tells us. And Nope? Is it actually about gigantic predatory hoover bags disguising themselves as clouds, or is that a way of saying what we think – or are disinformed – is the case about UFOs isn’t the case, or perhaps isn’t the case in the way we were told to think is the case? Armond White believes the movie’s all about Hollywood, and the Nahum quote is invoking the same, and, by necessity – because all Peele’s movie’s will be, by necessity, refracted through that self-invoked prism – race.

I will cast abominable filth at you,
Make you vile,
And make you a spectacle.

Nahum 3: 6

Peele forwards this side with the Hollywood heritage motif, whereby the Haywood clan (Daniel Kaluuya’s OJ, Keke Palmer’s Em/Emerald, and formerly Keith David’s Otis Sr) claim the rider of the horse seen in the first motion picture (Animal Locomotion by Eadweard Muybridge) was their ancestor. We see them beleaguered by the current state of the industry, and we also see former child star Ricky/Jupe (Steven Yeun), still suffering PTSD from a calamitous chimp frenzy on the set of ’90s sitcom Gordy’s Home. There’s good reason to come away with the feeling Peele’s movie is infused with such commentary, then, particularly since Jupe is the direct recipient of the fallout from making flying hoover bag manta ray an entertainment (it in turn casts filth it hasn’t consumed upon the ground beneath, and makes its victims pretty much vile bodies).

I can’t say anything really vitalised, in terms of thematic content, leapt out at me with regard to Nope, however, since its back half is pretty much a standard monster movie. Yes, the gang are trying to film the creature to make money (entertainment again), and one of their number (the always incredibly entertaining – especially as here, when he’s quoting Purple People Eater in a humorous/haunting rasp – Michael Wincott) willingly dies for his art in order to get the ultimate shot. The gist of White’s review is that he’s got nothing on Nope beyond the surface (Peele’s afrofuturism) because Peele himself has got nothing. But White isn’t going to countenance what else might be going on here because, like Get Out and Us, it appears to be announcing itself as the one thing by simple virtue of being Peele as emblematic race commentator.

OJ: I don’t think it eats you if you don’t look in its eyes.

Perhaps Nope is about Hollywood (and race). Perhaps it’s about the control of, rather than by, Hollywood, and we should take the deadly hoover bag a little more sinisterly (albeit, that doesn’t mean it applies purely to Hollywood, just most obviously so). It’s there, out of sight, preying on the unsuspecting. You’ll be okay if you don’t look it in the eyes: if you don’t watch movies and TV, you won’t be corrupted by Hollywood, made vile.

There’s an animal thing here too, of course, since OJ’s insights come from his being a horse wrangler. To the hoover bag, we’re just animals (foodstuff, hence the entirely unnerving digestive track sequence). It’s an apex predator, I suppose, to use Jurassic World speak. Keke wears a Jesus Lizard t-shirt (not such an apex predator, or a Vril, but a lizard nevertheless). Nope’s most mesmerising and unnerving sequence features young Ricky in a flashback to the Gordy’s Home massacre, with a berserk and bloody chimp pummelling any of the cast he can get hold of. Antlers (Wincott) watches wildlife footage of a lion vs boa constrictor, predator vs predator. What’s the message? Animals are dangerous? They can’t be tamed, and you’d be a fool to try? None of it is exactly scintillating, as it goes, but always expertly staged and shot by Peele and Nolan DP Hoye van Hoytema; it’s a very easy film to watch, even when its misfiring, because it carries with it the pleasure of sure craftsmanship.

It isn’t necessarily that Nope turns into a flying monster movie that’s a problem; it’s that it offers the promise of something more, to satisfy the early mystery, so the realisation of “Oh, it’s that” can’t help but be something of a let-down, however serviceably the “that” delivers. It’s your Shyamalan problem, really, where your construction is front loaded with the knowledge a reveal will come along, and the pleasure is invariably from not knowing than the knowing.

Of course, Shyamalan’s third (post-success) movie was an alien picture, one that received considerably more audience response than this. Nope is actually much closer to Tremors than Signs; there’s even a similar conversation about the nature of the threat posed, along with the creature(s) being entangled with human vileness or unpleasantness (barbed wire – it would appear the hoover bag – Jean Jacket – we see later is supposed to have been ripped by this, hence looking different later). The main difference is that Tremors is a hoot, full of characters having fun, and having fun with the creature too. Nope has a ready sense of humour, but it’s very serious about its construction in that Shyamalan way.

Angel: It’s UAPs now.
OJ: Why‘d they change the name?
Angel: Exactly. It’s cos they want to keep us in the dark.

I half wondered if the latter stages look of the creature was supposed to remind us of a weather balloon (you know, Roswell). Angel (Brandon Perea) is a ready source of lore (including the nugget that apparently “the concept of extra-terrestrial animals in the sky is not a new thing”). He provides the necessary exposition with regard to the UFO concept Peele is flirting with, when he advises “the little guys with the big eyes”:

Angel: Either they’re intergalactic travellers looking for peace. Or they futuristic humans coming back in time to stop us destroying each other. Or, they’re fucking world killers! Planetary destroyers… waiting for the perfect time to beam us up and shove metal probes in our fucking asses!

I’d suggest the second is the salient sentence in his conjecture (albeit, the game plan has been less to stop us destroying each other than promote the transhumanist gospel). What’s noticeable about Nope is that it features “aliens” but no interstellar travel, while presenting the real monster as an alien casually drops the explanation that Greys are (will be) us into the movie unseen. The “saucers aren’t what you think they are” point is clearly expressly intentional, even if that’s just Peele coming up with a hook. Audiences weren’t much interested, though. I think because, even though the visual concept is original/absurd, it doesn’t throw any real curveballs, something even Us, for all that it was a crashing disappointment, manages to do.

Peele gives us some great moments, though, like the realisation of the stationary cloud, and the aforementioned hoover bag’s insides (the suffering calls that can be heard as the creature is overhead are especially queasy making). Then there’s the TMZ reporter on his electric bike. And the raining innards (including blood).

It might have been more fun had the gang expressly decided they were going to take the bag down, rather than it being a lucky result from Em getting it to eat a balloon. Of the cast, it’s outrageous to cast David and give him only one (well, two) scenes. Yeun is good with the pained performative bravado. Kaluuya is almost too layered for this kind of role, as he lends an impression there’s more to it than there is. Bill Murray canceller – and entire movie productions for that matter – Palmer convincingly plays someone who’s incredibly annoying, which is well and good, I guess. I’m trying to recall what else I’ve seen her in (Hustlers). As I noted of Lightyear, if you want a summer 2022 hit, don’t cast Keke in it.

Angel: Ancient Aliens, History Channel. Watch that shit.

At this point then, Peele comes burdened by the weight of expectations, he’s that guy, the one who offer the fantastic, the race commentary, and some kind of Twilight Zone-esque twist; look what pigeonholing did for M Night. Most saliently, not getting $70m movie budgets to play with any longer. But Nope is still one of the more interesting movies I’ve seen this year. Anyone trying to do something different is to be commended, and you don’t feel entirely deluged with by messaging in Nope either (which goes back to the salient point: what is Peele saying here, because you can bet he’s saying something).

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.