NO: 3 ½ STARS
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from “No.” (Universal images via AP)
The trailer for ‘Nope’, the new alien abduction flick from thriller writer Jordan Peele, currently playing in theaters, is one of the few promotions that gives almost nothing away on the plot. . It’s meant to pique curiosity, to open your mind to the possibility of…well, almost anything.
The film exists at the limit of the possible. It’s possible to view it simply as a movie good time UFO at the cinema, but if you’re looking for more, Peele adds layers of subtext to the slow-burning story, commenting on Hollywood, bringing together nature and belief in something greater than yourself.
Set in present day just outside of Los Angeles, “Nope” sees OJ and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) continue the family business after the death of their father (Keith David). Descended from the Bahamian jockey who was the first person to be filmed on horseback, they run Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, a ranch that supplies movie and TV shows with cattle. “Since the time when images could move, we’ve had skin in the game,” says Emerald.
Business is slow, and just as OJ plans to sell some of his horses to a local pioneer village-style theme park owned by former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (“The Walking Dead” Steven Yeun ), strange things are happening at the ranch. Some kind of disturbance in the force has caused blackouts, strange weather, and puts the horses on edge. There is also a cloud that has not moved for months.
When OJ spots something in the sky, something he says is “too fast to be a plane”, Emerald hatches a plan to film the airspace around the ranch in order to film a UFO. “The money shot,” she says. “Undeniable. The Oprah hit.
They set up surveillance cameras and, together with Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and gravel-voiced cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), they try to lure the mysterious contraption – which looks like a dollar of giant sand – to their elaborate trap and get “the impossible shot”.
“What we’re doing is going to do good,” Angel said. “Besides money and fame. We can save lives.
Like Peele’s other films, “Get Out” and “Us,” “Nope” has scary jumps and disturbing imagery, but it’s not a horror movie. It’s a sci-fi film that explores the fear of the unknown through Hollywood Westerns – it pays homage to the shot door at the end of “The Searchers” – monster movies, and of course Steven Spielberg’s iconic science fiction films like “Encounters of the Third Kind.” These homages are lovingly put together to create something new, but film students will love dissecting the film’s visual influences and Peele’s obvious love of form.
Just as there are myriad visual inspirations, Peele packed the film with ever-changing thematic and plot elements. The direct alien confrontation is preceded by story threads and flashbacks that don’t always feel like they convey the story. A TV sequence of chimps gone wild, for example, while pretty cool if it was part of another movie, is a bit of a headache.
That said, the size and spectacle of “Nope” is powerful. There are only a handful of characters, but their journeys are vast and there are unexpected twists. It’s an ambitious film that feels less focused than Peele’s other films, but nonetheless, “No” wins a yup.
THE GRAY MAN: 2 ½ STARS
This image released by Netflix shows Ryan Gosling in a scene from “The Gray Man.” (Stanislav Honzi/Netflix via AP)
“The Gray Man,” a new shoot ’em up starring Ryan Gosling, and now streaming on Netflix after a quick trip to the movies, overwhelms the senses with a disappointing story.
The story begins in 2003 with convicted murderer Court Gentry (Gosling) accepting a job offer from a CIA agent named Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to live in the “grey zone” in exchange for a sentence. commuted. He will be part of the top secret Sierra program, trained to be a “ghost”, live on the fringes and murder people who need to be killed. He’ll be the kind of guy you send when you can’t send anyone else. “Take all the pain that brought you here,” Fitzroy says. “Turn it around and make it useful.”
Cut to 18 years later. Gentry, now known simply as Six, because “077 has been taken,” he deadpans, is on assignment in Bangkok. Under orders from CIA honcho Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page), he’s there to assassinate an asset and retrieve an encrypted drive. When Six refuses to pull the trigger because there’s a kid in the way – he’s not that bad! – things quickly get out of control.
With the help of CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), Six obtains the disc, but in doing so becomes a target himself. It turns out that the disc contains evidence of information about unauthorized bombings and assassinations ordered by Carmichael, in an effort to turn the CIA into his own personal army. Carmichael wants the disc destroyed and that he eliminates all traces of the only people qualified enough to expose it, the Sierra program.
But how do you kill the CIA’s deadliest assassin? You hire Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), an independent and morally compromised contractor, to “put a Grade A hit” on Six. To lure Six into his web, Lloyd kidnaps Six’s closest family, Fitzroy and his young niece (Julia Butters). “You want to make an omelet, you have to kill people,” Lloyd says.
“The Gray Man” is a big-budget global adventure that makes up for in exotic locations and shootouts what it lacks in plot and interesting characters. Filtered through Anthony and Joe Russo’s endlessly choppy camera, the film contains all the elements normally associated with high-end action films. Fists fly. Sometimes it’s a ballet of balls. Things explode. There are badass (“Are you okay?” asks Miranda after a destructive action sequence from a block away. “My ego is a little bruised”, Six sniffs), double play and death around every corner of street.
So why isn’t it more exciting?
The story is quite simple. It’s the kind of super killer runaway movie we’ve seen before in everything from “John Wick” and “Nobody” to almost every Jason Statham movie, but it’s not the simplicity or the familiarity that flows “The Gray Man.” This is exaggeration. And I’m not just talking about the abnormally high body count. It’s more is more, Michael Bay through the “Bourne” franchise approach that overwhelms. The story is constantly on the move, jumping from country to country, period to period, never stopping long enough for us to get to know or care about the characters.
Six is meant to be an enigma, and while Gosling can pull off the action convincingly and deliver a line, he’s basically unknowable; a stoic man with a number for a name. His relationship with Fitzroy’s niece gives him a certain humanity, but he remains an austere presence at the center of the film.
At least Evans, as a “trash tied up” sociopath, seems to be having a good time. Nobody else does. This could be because there are so many characters, most of which are underutilized or underdeveloped. No amount of fancy cameras could make Carmichael interesting. As the big bad villain at the heart of all trouble, he’s a one-gear pantomime character.
More interesting are Indian superstar Dhanush playing a killer who values honor over money, in her landmark Hollywood film debut, and de Armas, who does what she can with an underwritten role.
“The Gray Man” is a loud, popcorn-filled summertime entertainment that spends a lot of time preparing for a sequel, time that could have been better spent building suspense.
LOVE FIRE: 4 STARS
This image released by National Geographic shows Katia Krafft wearing an aluminized costume as she stands near a lava explosion on Iceland’s Krafla volcano in a scene from the documentary “Fire of Love.” (National Geographic via AP)
For 20 years, French geologists Katia and Maurice Krafft have indulged in their great love of exploring active volcanoes, cameras in tow. “Katia and Maurice have spent their lives documenting the Earth’s heartbeat,” says narrator Miranda July. “How his blood flowed.”
The Kraffts were the Jacques Cousteaus of volcanology. Their groundbreaking images and photographs of Mount St. Helens, Mauna Loa, and Mount Nyiragongo, among others, are as epic as they are educational, illustrating otherwise uncharted territory.
Filmmaker Sara Dosa uses this material as the basis for “Fire of Love,” a stunning new documentary that captures not only the Krafft’s (ultimately tragic) love for volcanoes, but their love for each other.
Towards the beginning of the film, July says: “Here is Katia and here is Maurice. It’s June 2, 1991. Tomorrow will be their last day,” telegraphing the tragic end of history to Mount Unzen in Japan. But before getting there, director Dosa uses 200 hours of 16mm film, archival photos and interviews to tell two stories: one of scientific passion, the other of simple and pure passion. for the other.
Visually, the film makes an indelible impression. The otherworldly images of volcanoes are breathtaking, like watching images sent back from another planet. Dosa enhances silent images with interesting sound effects for impressive effect. These beatings, including boating on a sulfuric acid lake and igniting protective clothing, coupled with thousands of gallons of flowing lava, betray the risks the couple face every day at work.
These scenes are memorable, but it’s the relationship between Katia and Maurice that gives the film its depth. Their bond is evident in their joyful, ionic display of sheer exuberance. The scenes where they talk are limited to talk show appearances and in-situ dialogue, but their connection as kindred spirits, living and loving the life they have chosen, is undeniable. They are not stuffy scientists, but passionate and funny researchers with a philosophical bent for their understanding of the natural world.
“I find it hard to understand humans,” says Maurice. “I mean, I am one. I don’t constantly run away from them. But I believe that by living on volcanoes, far from humans, I will end up loving humans.
“Fire of Love” isn’t just a nature documentary, it’s something more. It’s a character-driven film with moving imagery best seen on the big screen of a movie theater, about the nature of passion.