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Review: Jordan Peele’s Sci-Fi Horror ‘Nope’ Wants Us to Look Away

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Review: Jordan Peele’s Sci-Fi Horror ‘Nope’ Wants Us to Look Away

Review: Jordan Peele’s Sci-Fi Horror ‘Nope’ Wants Us to Look Away

by Alex Billington
July 22, 2022

🛸 “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.” A quote from philosopher Guy Debord’s book The Society of the Spectacle. The truth about humanity is that we just can’t help wanting to get a look at something for ourselves – no matter what it is. This is epitomized in that old trope of – when there’s an accident on the highway, everyone has to slow down and look, hoping to either see something shocking or figure out exactly what happened. I admit I’ve done this, and probably so have you. Acclaimed horror filmmaker Jordan Peele’s latest film Nope is an attempt at addressing our obsession with spectacle and this insatiable desire to look, rather than look away. By the end of the movie, I was thinking Don’t Look Up would’ve been a better title for this than Nope, but that was already taken by another sci-fi movie about humanity’s unflappable need to turn any disaster into spectacular entertainment.

Following Get Out and Us, it’s clear that Jordan Peele is an intelligent, clever filmmaker and screenwriter, with plenty to say and a natural cinematic sense of how to say it through big screen storytelling. His focus in Nope is telling a UFO story through the lens of a brother and sister. OJ, played by Daniel Kaluuya, runs Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, a horse ranch owned by generations of Black horse trainers. It started with the their great-great-great grandfather Alistair E. Haywood, who was the Black jockey seen riding the horse in the “very first movie” – Eadweard Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion. At this point, however, they are struggling because not many real horses are used on set anymore. When they notice a strange Unidentified Flying Object in the clouds near their ranch, they get excited about the prospect of trying to capture it on camera and make money as the ones who found it and got footage. This is a futile endeavor, of course, and Peele’s movie is less about that and more about how we can’t help ourselves trying to photograph it anyway.

OJ’s sister is Emerald, played with spunk and style by Keke Palmer, who has a more grounded sensibility when it comes to crazy shit like a weird UFO wreaking havoc on and disrupting their charming, dusty valley of Agua Dulce. Nearby to their ranch is Jupiter’s Claim, a faux western town tourist destination run by Ricky “Jupe” Park, played by Steven Yeun, a former child actor who is now using his past fame and glory to try and still make money with this rundown money pit. Peele is especially sneaky and clever in the way he has crafted a Hollywood blockbuster sci-fi horror movie around our endless obsession with spectacle. The bulk of the plot is entirely about the desire to capture the UFO on camera, which is mainly Peele’s commentary on how we’re unable to deal with horrifying events and terrifying things without turning them into a movie. As referenced in the quote at the opening, this is a common theme with humanity over the last 100 years – ever since the invention of the motion picture. We can no longer process actual horror unless it’s spectacle.

Nope Movie Review

As clever as all of this is, the movie isn’t particularly thrilling or satisfying as commentary on this dilemma. I keep seeing critics referring to it as a big summer blockbuster on the scale of Independence Day, but there’s hardly a single action scene of note in the entire movie. It’s way more of a drama with a big budget, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it certainly feels empty overall by the end. My other key criticism is that this commentary is very surface level. There aren’t many layers to it, and it lacks depth. Everything is right there in the narrative, right on the surface – this is a movie about our obsession with turning very scary horror into entertainment for profit. Okay, and…? Everything else hidden within the frames and the subtext seems to be an extension of that commentary: why we shouldn’t look, how we can try to stop ourselves, what happens if you do look, and how society degrades in its inability to never look away. Where does that take us? Right here, right to Agua Dulce, which is now experiencing the real terror of staring up at that spectacle.

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Nope is an immersive and seriously compelling sci-fi horror about something strange and unexplainable – nature itself. But it feels like nothing more than just the same kind of spectacle it’s commenting on anyway. I’m not sure why Peele, who clearly has the talent to pull off complex stories, doesn’t work more into this. Most of what happens throughout Nope could be condensed into the first and second act, leaving room to push even further and explore more consequences in the third act. It’s one of these movies that, right when it ends is also right when it starts to feel like it was really getting going. There’s a remarkably exciting and – finally – thrilling climax in the third act regarding their confrontation with this UFO and what it is and what it means and what’s really going on. It is a gorgeous sci-fi revelation, but it once again feels empty. Perhaps this is Peele’s point worked into his commentary – this spectacle is empty, and humanity gains nothing from being so obsessed with it. There’s nothing to learn from it except, maybe, we really must learn to look away.

I do want to analyze the final revelation and what happens in the third act more, but I’d rather save that for a spoiler-filled discussion. Nothing about Nope is worth dismissing, it’s just not he spectacular knock out I was really hoping it might be. It left me feeling more underwhelmed than intrigued, and more amused than thrilled. Peele is unquestionably an exceptional filmmaker who continues to hone his craft with each film he makes, but the flaws in this one are glaring and cavernous, mostly because it has been overhyped as this expensive blockbuster bigger than anything he’s made before. It may be Peele’s most ambitious movie so far, and I certainly appreciate his originality and ambition. However, I hope he focuses his ambitions on crafting a better screenplay next time, as this is where it seems can improve the most. For now, Nope is still worth enjoying just don’t get lost in the spectacle of this big screen entertainment. If we end up learning nothing from Nope and what it’s trying to say, then our hope of solving the mysteries of this universe is truly futile.

Alex’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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