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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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Hustlers

hustlers

 

Markus Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

I walked out of the theater extremely high on this film. I think I even leaned over to my wife and said, “I’ve never seen a female stripper movie that strives to portray authentic characters. This may do a lot to destigmatize stripping as a profession.” But a week later I find that little from this movie actually stayed with me.

Exactly like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, I believe “Hustlers” works primarily because of its direction. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (adapted from a 2015 magazine article written by Jessica Pressler) “Hustlers” is a true crime drama about a group of female strippers who (post-financial crisis, circa 2007-2008), devise a plan to steal money from their Wall Street clients.

The directional choices in “Hustlers” will be the only reason anyone remembers this movie in five years. From the opening long-take which moves us from the dressing room to the strip club stage, to every sequence in the club and bars, to the decision to modify and even cut the audio during crucial moments in the film, it all screams of a great big Martin Scorsese homage. She also does a great job of portraying an authentic strip club experience, mostly by accentuating the three dimensional supporting cast, played by Keke Palmer, Cardi B, Lili Reinhart and even Lizzo. And while most of these supporting characters don’t stick around for longer than an hour, this touch really helped create a bond between the audience and a fictitious group of stigmatized women.

Other than the direction, the standouts here were the leads, Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez (both for entirely different reasons). Wu’s performance is the strongest. She definitely has to cover more ground, beginning as someone who (naive to the aggressive world of city strip clubs) takes a job in a strip club in order to support her grandmother, and evolving into a “hustler” (not a spoiler. You know where this story is going the entire time. It’s in the damn title). Wu is particularly strong here, taking advantage of her arc and showing off her versatility as an actress. Lopez on the other hand simply solidifies herself as a triple-threat. For an actress who hasn’t done anything on the big screen that anybody has cared about in nearly a decade (and that’s being generous) she walks on screen and instantly takes over. Not to say that Lopez is a great actress, but it is quite undeniable that she has the ability to walk into a room and command attention.

Final Thought: “Magic Mike” is still the best stripper movie ever made, by a long shot. But unlike “Striptease” or “Showgirls”, at the very least “Hustlers will reignite a conversation that was long thought of to be a joke. Non-exploitative movies about female and/or male strippers can be done.

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