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Nope

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I hate using the term “elevated horror”, since most memorable horror films are allegorical as hell. With a Jordan Peele film there’s always something deeper at play; a social commentary, critiques on the relationship between America and its Black citizens, and an abundance of well-placed Black history morsels baked into a fictional story. “Nope” is no different, as his overall statement draws attention to how cinema has historically treated its non-white actors.

Synopsis: OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) are in financial distress. They own a horse ranch and are in fact the only Black horse wranglers in Hollywood, but are struggling to find work after a sudden family tragedy. One night after one of the horses jumps a fence and runs off, OJ thinks he sees something resembling a UFO flying above the ranch. When he tells his sister she’s skeptical, but soon realizes that if they could get a clear photo of it, they could monetize this event.

The rest of the movie follows the siblings (with the addition of a couple of eccentric characters) as they attempt to capture evidence of a UFO on film. This is a quest which leads them to the horrifying truth about this particular UFO; with a twist which I did not see coming.

There is also a side story, told as a flashback, which documents the violent event surrounding a chimp who was once the star of its own television sitcom. As bizarre as this tale is, it clearly stands as the most intriguing thing in the movie.   

The characters themselves are fairly two-dimensional, which is somewhat surprising given how Peele usually presents his leads. That said, these simplistic characters really complement the type of story where a small group of “nobodies” band together to defeat an insurmountable bad guy. Oddly enough it’s this “simplicity”, along with Keke Palmer’s standout performance, that allows for a concentrated level of pre-third act entertainment value, which is maintained for most of the film.

The ending is where things came back down to Earth for me. After maintaining said high level of entertainment which allowed me to shrug off some of the more confusing aspects with ease, the final fifteen minutes felt complete, but underwhelming; leaving me longing for a third act that was just as profound as some of the themes throughout the film.

Final thought: When speaking of an auteur like Jordan Peele, it is hard not to start comparing “Nope” to his other films. If at all possible, I would encourage you not to do that. What “Nope” lacks in certain aspects, it makes up for in being a fully original story, as well as being his most visually ambitious film to date. This is a movie which comes to the table with new ideas, while also borrowing from movies like “Jaws”, “Tremors” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. And while it does fall short of those classics, I will continue to proclaim that my least favorite Jordan Peele movie is still a good movie.

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Judas and the Black Messiah

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Any movie chronicling aspects of the Black Panther Party is a welcome site to see, since even today all some people know about this organization stems from FBI propaganda. And while throughout the 1960’s and 70’s they had many prominent leaders, the best way to tell the story of the true potential of the Black Panthers is by telling the story of Chairman Fred Hampton. A man who sought to liberate all people, worldwide.

That said, this is not a Fred Hampton biopic, as you may be able to tell from the title.

Synopsis: We follow two Black men. Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) after the death of MLK, standing as the most notable rising revolutionary of the Black Panther Party and the civil rights movement; the man J. Edgar Hoover proclaimed to be the Black Messiah. And then there’s Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) a small-time crook who was apprehended for carjacking, blackmailed by an FBI agent (Jesse Plemons) and forced to infiltrate the Black Panther Party as an informant. 

Director and co-writer Shaka King takes a Martin Scorsese approach with his camerawork and directional style. Yet truthfully, the story of O’Neal and Hampton is so fascinating that it didn’t need the extra stylized push; although for the most part the film looks amazing. 

Unfortunately, there is an aspect of the direction which keeps “Judas and the Black Messiah” from being a great film. King doesn’t seem to know how to elevate a historical story past some well-choreographed camera movements. That is to say, while we learn about our two leads, going into the movie one might need to know a bit about the Black Panther Party and its major players during this time, to get the desired impact. This is not a movie that will give you much character backstory or historical context throughout, which is not a good look for a historical drama. Also, (I’ll just come right out and say it) the handling of the penultimate sequence was underwhelming, considering. Only lasting a couple of minutes (I’m sure this is accurate to true events) I feel that a more seasoned director would have lingered on said sequence, if only to give the climax the weight it deserved.  

The acting, on the other hand, is flawless. Kaluuya gives a performance that will go down in history as one of the best depictions of a Black revolutionary, alongside David Oyelowo as MLK and Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. Stanfield is just as potent, making flesh and bone a character we are meant to despise for the entire film. And Plemons is forever great playing these baby-faced monster characters; and this role is no exception. 

Final Thought: Overall this film is an accomplishment, with historically important takeaways. In this we get to explore the Black Panthers as an organization, see a depiction of the Rainbow Coalition and understand the FBI’s historic role in carrying out assassinations; if you’ve been watching the news lately, you’d know that the FBI seemed to have played a huge role in the murders of our great Black leaders. And this all coming out of a major studio production, which is saying a lot.

Happy Black History Month.

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