Nope ★★★

Don't know if anyone will agree with me about this, but my impression of "Key & Peele" was always 2/3rds positive, but never all the way wowed. Obviously their performances were bottomlessly tremendous and the absorbing cinematic aesthetic of each sketch was kind of a scene-stealing bonus all its own, but through all the dark/satirical/broadly silly/socially relevant/pop culture-savvy amusement, most of the time after some laughs and acknowledgement of clever premises, I was left with a half-empty "is that it?" sensation. They're funny, talented guys with interesting things to say about the world we live in, but the follow-through on killer concepts was rarely brilliant, I'd say, and I didn't even notice that now acclaimed auteur director Jordan Peele was that kind of a filmmaker too until this his 3rd feature, an even bigger disappointment than "Us" in its failure to close the deal on a great set-up.

To be clear, "Us" and "Nope" are good movies in their own ways. It's easy to conflate the cool things about "Nope", all of which are reminiscent figuratively of why we enjoyed "Key & Peele", with a sense of funky greatness. It moves at its own methodical pace to force us to notice peculiarities and adjust to a disquieting mysterious flow, sprinkles in its own distinct flavors of character beats cooked by a rich cast (firecracking Keke Palmer, laconic Daniel Kaluuya, apparent Dave Franco stand-in Brandon Perea earning his keep, Peele knowing exactly what he's got with legendary character actor voice Michael Wincott), understands the potency of striking imagery, relishes a wondrous setting (the desert valley of their ranch, instantly memorable as a western stage and isolated-horror spot), turns what could be basic lighting needs for midday and middle of the night and the golden hour into mood-perfect auras for every scene, shrewdly borrows the classic Spielberg stare-of-wonder for about 50 different moments, and defies expectations for an alien invasion crowd-pleaser with a decidedly weirder story about untamed animals and how commodification has replaced survival or even sheer curiosity itself as mankind's primary instinct these days. Yes. Much to like, especially for those with no patience left for formulaic moviemaking, who want something a little more visionary.

I see all that and appreciate it about "Nope"...but still don't like the movie very much, because the story ends up being fairly dumb and basic despite taking so long to explain itself to the viewer, and its thematic layers seem inconclusive and messy. Its manner of unfolding the narrative is too deliberate for its own good, abruptly cutting away from and interspersing crucial moments in the first hour and a half just to tease things out longer, like Peele is trying too hard to be artfully jagged but at the cost of a satisfying holistic experience. Shades of Shyamalan there, but not as rough. The sudden shutdown of electricity becomes a repetitive device that loses its power (so to speak) long before the end....a subplot about a grisly incident on a TV sitcom seems deployed for gratuitous shock value while also being shamelessly on-the-nose about what happens later,..and fake jump scares? C'mon man. The nature of those fake-outs is a reminder that that first trailer really promised a different kind of movie. Anyway overall, once we fully know what's going on and have an idea of the stakes and everyone's goals, I couldn't get a familiar nagging thought out of my head. Is that it?

The difference between Jordan Peele and Shyamalan is that I do think Peele is a great director cumulatively. Maybe he just needs to add some co-writers to his process.

Trailers I Saw
1. The Menu: looks exquisitely disturbing, or something like that movie "The Hunt" but set in a restaurant. Ace cast too. Wasn't Alexander Payne supposed to make this before he got semi-canceled? I wonder how it changed once he was removed.
2. Breaking: it's already got an emotional shortcut just knowing this is Michael K. Williams' final performance, but as a social outrage bank heist thriller, looks pretty damn good too.
3. Bodies Bodies Bodies: buzzy slasher that's more about defining the zoomer generation's eccentricities. Could be a cult classic/game changer like "Scream" or "Clueless"?
4. Till: preachy but effective.
5. Don't Worry Darling: I hate seeing 2nd trailers for highly anticipated films. Now there's even less about this dazzling-looking movie to discover when the time comes.
6. Halloween Ends: looks pretty crappy! She'll kill Michael once and for all like they've done a dozen times already, and she might die in the process too, which has also happened more than once prior to this. Not much to look forward to here except for more brutally violent set pieces.
7. Beast: hope the whole movie isn't just quick blurry shots of the lion attacking. Give us a good long look at the thing.
8. and then there's a pause, and an advertisement for the theater's sound quality which is always the cue that the movie's now going to start, but wait! They're pulling the "Avatar 2" trick again by holding out for a surprise Big Event trailer drop here at the end! It's Oppenheimer, the biographical account of the guy who helped create the nuclear bomb, which should be at most worthy of a History Channel documentary, but this teaser booms and crackles with portent as though we're going to watch Oppenheimer literally destroy the world on screen like a supervillain. Nolan the showman!

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