Monthly Archives: July 2022


Director Jordan Peele’s masterful space-invader opus is pure summer magic

Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Brandon Perea star in ‘Nope.’

Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer & Brandon Perea
Directed by Jordan Peele
Rated R
In theaters Friday, July 22

Something’s up in director Jordan Peele’s epic new sci-fi space-invader opus. Something’s up there. Does it appear to be friendly?


But is it exciting, terrifying, horrific and out-of-this-world amazing?


Peele, who established his creep-show bona fides with his two previous horror flicks, Us and Get Out, continues his penchant for cryptic, less-is-more titles with Nope, which sets a tone of ominous, unsettled tension at its very beginning. An obscure quote from the Old Testament prophesizes devastation and destruction; we glimpse a horrific incident on the set of a 1990s TV sitcom featuring a chimpanzee; a lethal spew of deadly metallic debris rains from the sky.

Something’s up, indeed. And something’s going down in this masterful flying-saucer extravagana that takes social-commentary swipes at capitalism, kitsch entertainment, animal exploitation, the human need for spectacle, a reckoning for Black history and the American dream itself.  

Daniel Kaluuya, the British actor who also starred in Get Out, is O.J. (it stands for Otis Junior), a level-headed second-generation horse wrangler who notices strange things in the canyons around his isolated ranch outside of Los Angeles, where his family has for decades raised and trained animals for Hollywood movie productions. The horses are acting weird, like they’re spooked. There are unexplained power outages, otherworldly screeching noises, and… something—something enormous—in the sky, hiding behind the clouds.

O.J. and his hungry-for-fame sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), decide to document whatever it is, whatever it’s called—UFO, or UAP, for “unidentified aerial phenomena”—and get the video out into the world, maybe even on Oprah. They enlist an eager local AV tech (Brandon Perea) and a craggy Hollywood cameraman (veteran British actor Michael Wincott) to assist them getting “the money shot” that will bring them acclaim and fortune.

Steven Yeun as Ricky “Jupe” Park

Stephan Yeun (he wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed Minari) has a pivotal role as Ricky “Jupe” Park, the propitiator of a “California Gold Rush”-themed theme park, Jupiter’s Claim (it’s a fictional place created just for the film, but it now has its own website, and it’s been transported and meticulously reconstructed, in whole, at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park). There’s something weird going on at Jupiter’s Claim too, and you’ll start piecing things together as you learn about Park’s traumatic past as a child actor, and notice, hey—isn’t that a spaceship woven into the back of his rhinestone suit?

Space references are everywhere, from a poster of Cape Canaveral—NASA’s famed rocketry site in Florida—to a simian named Gordy (a subtle nod, perhaps, to Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, the youngest of NASA’s groundbreaking Mercury astronaut program in the 1960s),  and our solar system’s largest planet acknowledged in the name of a theme park. Like the American West once was, Nope recognizes that outer space—and its unfathomable, unknowable secrets—has become the new frontier.

Nope is Peele’s most ambitious project yet as a filmmaker, a Wild West space-alien epic with overtures of Spielberg (E.T. and even Jaws) that challenges Hollywood’s time-honored concept of bug-eyed “little green men,” what intergalactic travelers might look like, or do, or why they might be interested in us. Like his other films, its horrors are deep and wide; Peele turns the world itself into a haunted house, full of intense, subversive terrors and impenetrable enigmas. And he knows that things can be even more terrifying when we don’t understand them, can’t compartmentalize them, or find them difficult to rationalize.

There have been many, many other movies about space aliens, spinning the idea that we are not alone in the universe. But has there ever been a movie like this one? A movie that plumbs the existential human condition with an electrifying tale of horse-riding Black buckaroos, a crazed chimpanzee and mega-hungry cosmic party crashers, creating the summer’s hottest, must-see fright flick?

Well, Nope!

All the Small Things

The little yellow nubbins return for more squatty shenanigans

Minions: The Rise of Gru
With the voices of Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Taraji P. Henson, Michelle Yeoh & Alan Arkin
Directed by Kyle Balda
Rated PG

In theaters Friday, July 1

The fifth installment of the popular animated franchise featuring the small, scene-stealing yellow nubbins goes back to the ‘70s to uncover the riotously funny roots of its central character, the comedically earnest wannabe-villain, Gru. It’s both a sequel and prequel, connected to the preceding Despicable Me flicks and continuing the spotlight on the slapstick shenanigans of Gru’s mini army of squatty accomplices.  

We meet Gru (voiced again by Steve Carell) as a roly-poly schoolboy, where he’s mocked by his classmates for his career aspirations to be the best bad guy of all time. At home, he retreats to his basement—his lair—where dozens of chattering little Minions merrily do his pint-size bidding.  

A recent opening in the ranks of the Vicious Six, a cadre of supervillains, gives little Gru a possible entre to the bad-guy big leagues to earn his evil bona fides. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot—especially when Gru’s efforts to impress the Six with his stealthy thievery backfires and puts him in peril, spurring the Minions to come to his rescue.

Steve Carell provides the voice of 12-year-old Gru

Animator-turned-director Kyle Balda revives the lively, full-throttle comic-book style of the previous films (three Despicable Me flicks and their 2015 spinoff, Minions) with this rockin’ retro riff on the music, culture and movies of the mid-1970s as Gru and the Minions find themselves in the middle of a mighty—and mighty hilarious—misadventure.

Youngsters won’t get a lot of the references, but their parents—and grandparents—will dig the groovy sounds and sight gags, which place the story in San Francisco in 1976. There are nonstop in-jokes about the time and place, from rotary telephones to motorcycle daredevil Evil Knievel and kung-fu fighting. The city’s famous streetcars are used for comedic effect, and both Chinatown and the sea lions of Fisherman’s Wharf are incorporated into bits.

The funny flies fast and furious, equally applied to teeny tiny details and major story blocks—a mention of S&H Green Stamps, a cover of Mad magazine, an 8 track tape self-destructing (Mission: Impossible style) after playing its secret message, a sequence that pays homage to the tomb raiding of Indiana Jones. The funky, feisty bad-ass-ery of Bell Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), the motorcycle-mama leader of the Vicious Six, is a throwback to the “blaxploitation” movies of the era, like Foxy Brown, Cleopatra Jones and Coffy.

A massive music store—called Criminal Records—is a false front for the Vicious Six, where Gru is admitted by playing a record (appropriately enough, Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good”) backwards in a listening booth. (And yes, kids, those used to be a thing.) The clerk at the store gives Gnu a super-handy smart-goo grabber he’s invented, one that he’s nicknamed “Sticky Fingers.” A torture device is a giant turntable and endless replay of The Tramps’ “Disco Inferno.”

Gru dances to a self-stylized version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” and the familiar strains of “Funkytown,” The Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love,” and Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes” all provide pop-cultural grounding as well as sonic hooks to whatever’s happening onscreen. You’ve never heard The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” until you hear it, and see it, performed in a cemetery by a choir of Minions. One particularly zany sequence, on a wild-ride commercial airline flight, is scored to Strauss’ graceful “Blue Danube” waltz—making an in-joke nod to the bedazzling sights of outer-space travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

That record store clerk (voiced by Russell Brand) will show up again—actually, he’s shown up before—in the Despicable Me-verse. Eagle-eye fans of the franchise will spot plenty of other details, and some characters, that they’ll recognize from previous films.

Other voices are provided by Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays Jean Clawed, a baddie with massive lobster claws for hands. Lucy Lawless is Nunchuck, a nasty nun with awesome nunchuck skills. Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh) is a mild-mannered massage therapist who schools the Minions in the ancient art of combat. Alan Arkin has a sizeable presence as Wild Knuckles, an ousted member of the Six who becomes a reluctant mentor to young Gru. There’s also Danny Trejo and Dolph Lundgren, and Gnu’s mom certainly doesn’t look like Julie Andrews, but the iconic Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music star once more returns to the role. Rapper RZA is an Easy Rider-style biker.

Rapper RZA provides the voice of a biker.

French animator Pierre Coffin (who directed three previous Despicable Me movies) again supplies all the hyper-expressive, yip-yappery gibberish of the Minions in a made-up mashup of childlike nonsense babble with occasional bursts of French, Spanish or English.

The younger set likely won’t catch the many flashback cues or be much interested in how much care, creativity, comedic precision and meticulous animation craftwork went into the filmmaking process; it all looks gorgeous, by the way, as its zooms through its brisk, 90-minute runtime. But I can guarantee little ones will tee-hee at the mild bathroom humor, get gob-smacked by the giddy, over-the-top onslaught of visual pop and pow, giggle at the crazy antics of the Minions and rev up to the gonzo-goofball pace of it all.

Another Minions movie? You might be tempted to say “Meh” and take a pass. But you’d miss the undeniable charms churned up by this zippy, laff-riot fun factory and these little banana-colored bumblers. In today’s darkening world of disease, war and division, the Minions again offer the opportunity to come together and bond in a bright yellow light of rampant imagination and unbridled silliness.

And well, yeah—the timeless amusements of butt cracks and fart noises.