Brian Viner had high hopes for Nope, but sadly no

Brian Viner had high hopes for Nope, but sadly no

No (15, 130 minutes)

Verdict: Don’t give up

Valuation:

By 2017, Jordan Peele was known as a comedian. So far he was known in this country at all. But that all changed with his feature film debut as writer-director, the brilliant horror-thriller Get Out, and he continued to polish his reputation as a filmmaker with the clever and deeply disturbing Us (2019).

So expectations were high for his third feature film, Nope, a sci-fi thriller about aliens arriving in the skies over California. Even more so as the film reunites Peele with fellow lead actor from Get Out, the always-excellent Daniel Kaluya.

Get Out turned Kaluuya, the lifelong Arsenal fan from a north London council estate, into a bona fide movie star who still spooks audiences in the States when he comes forward to receive awards (he received an Oscar nomination for Get Out and upped the ante last year). Judas and the Black Messiah). He’s so convincingly African American on screen that it comes as a shock to many when he opens his mouth.

Daniel Daluuya (pictured) plays OJ Haywood in Nope, whose father was killed as a result of extraterrestrial activity

Daniel Daluuya (pictured) plays OJ Haywood in Nope, whose father was killed as a result of extraterrestrial activity

The siblings are descendants of the anonymous black jockey who starred in English photographer Eadweard Muybridge's groundbreaking 1878 series of moving images that are believed to be the earliest precursors to films as we know them today

The siblings are descendants of the anonymous black jockey who starred in English photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s groundbreaking 1878 series of moving images that are believed to be the earliest precursors to films as we know them today

In Nope, he plays the taciturn OJ Haywood, who runs a horse ranch north of Los Angeles with his much zippier sister Emerald (Keke Palmer). The siblings are descendants of the anonymous black jockey who starred in English photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s groundbreaking 1878 series of moving images that are believed to be the earliest precursors to films as we know them today.

Although Nope doesn’t address the issue of racism directly like Get Out, it does have an attempt at side-on; Peele is understandably intimidated that black contributions from early film history have been scrapped.

Today the ranch is home to Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, who supply horse talent for the film industry. But we meet OJ and Emerald after tragedy; Her father was apparently killed as a result of extraterrestrial activity.

There seems to be some kind of spaceship checking out humanity from behind a suspiciously stationary cloud. Yes, like 95 percent of the extraterrestrial visitors in the movies, America is what interests them most about planet Earth. Still, when the result is films of the stature of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), from which Peele made conspicuous borrowings in Nope, we probably shouldn’t nag.

Plus, his film opens with a chillingly compelling image that Spielberg would be proud of. On the set of a 1990s sitcom starring a chimpanzee, the hairy star of the show apparently ran amok, killing several of the cast and leaving a terrified child actor cowering under a table.

In the meantime, the traumatized boy has grown up. His name is Justus and, played by Steven Yeun, is now the owner of a Wild West theme park that uses Haywood horses. Aside from this vague convergence of the two stories, however, it’s never entirely clear why they belong in the same film. And that’s really the problem with Nope. It’s as if Peele had tons of ideas, many of them very good ones, and couldn’t bear to miss one.

Imagine a cocktail so full of ingredients that you can’t really taste any of them. That sums up the muddled narrative of this film.

Even the ominous biblical quote that comes at the very beginning – “I will throw abominable filth on you, make you abominable, and make you a spectacle” – becomes a source of debate. What does it mean?

And wait, there’s more to stuff. Once OJ and Emerald determine that there’s definitely something up there, with the help of a guy (Brandon Perea) from the local tech shop who sets up a CCTV system, they realize they could monetize this creepy UFO.

All they have to do is film it to capture the so-called “Oprah shot,” which they persuade an experienced cameraman (Michael Wincott) to stake out at the ranch. This allows Peele to satirize the 21st century greed for fame and the fortune that comes with it.

The actual cinematography by modern Dutch master Hoyte van Hoytema (Spectre, Interstellar, Dunkirk) is a good reason to see Nope. And there is much more that I found fascinating, even rewarding.

Kaluuya delivers a terrific performance as the enigmatic OJ, but the title (a reference to OJ’s deadpan reaction when an alien apocalypse seems imminent) is pretty much how I felt about the film.

It’s a no, not a yes; too incoherent to be classified as anything other than the least of Peele’s previous three characteristics. That is, roll on the fourth.

So the Eiffel Tower was just a giant love letter?

Eiffel (15, 108 mins)

Valuation:

Paris’ iconic landmarks are getting the dramatic attention they deserve this summer. Notre-Dame On Fire was released just a few weeks ago, and now, another French-language film, Eiffel deftly weaves fact and fiction into the story of how engineer Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) conceived and then executed his plan for a mighty lattice structure itself 330 meters above the Seine.

The factual part relates to the tower itself and is more riveting than a story about rivets could be. Belle Epoque Paris is beautifully evoked and the building scenes are superbly done.

There are also all sorts of fascinating historical snippets. There were strong objections from the Vatican on the grounds that the modern monstrosity would overshadow Notre-Dame. Meanwhile, his visionary creator was worshiped, then reviled, and finally worshiped again as his tower took shape.

Where Eiffel falls arguably is the fictionalization of a rekindled love story between Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) and an old flame, Adrienne, played by bilingual Emma Mackey in her first major French-speaking role

Where Eiffel falls arguably is the fictionalization of a rekindled love story between Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) and an old flame, Adrienne, played by bilingual Emma Mackey in her first major French-speaking role

The factual part relates to the tower itself and is more riveting than a story about rivets could be.  Belle Epoque Paris is beautifully evoked and the building scenes are superbly done

The factual part relates to the tower itself and is more riveting than a story about rivets could be. Belle Epoque Paris is beautifully evoked and the building scenes are superbly done

Arguably, where Eiffel falls is in the fictionalization of a rekindled love story between himself and an old flame, Adrienne, played by the bilingual Emma Mackey in her first major French-speaking role.

It’s cheesier than an overripe camembert, and the idea that Eiffel designed his tower in the shape of an A as a sort of wrought-iron love letter to Adrienne might be too much for some. But the acting is terrific and I confess I put my heart and soul into it. It’s a pleasantly old-fashioned film, an image that could be straight out of 1950s Hollywood, with American accents all around, perhaps starring Alan Ladd or even Kirk Douglas as Eiffel. I really enjoyed it.

Where’s Anne Frank (PG, 99 mins)

Valuation:

brings American accents to the famous teenager and imaginary friend Kitty, with whom she wrote her diaries. It’s a bit unnerving, but otherwise Israeli director Ari Folman does a good job of animating Anne’s heartbreaking story, which darts between wartime and modern-day Amsterdam, at times quite imaginatively.

Whether you want to see it converted to animation is another matter. But the film is aimed squarely at a young adult audience and is made with delicacy and skill.

  • Both films are in theaters now.