Review – Chimps, Horses, and Aliens (“Nope”)

Writer/director Jordan Peele is on a roll. His first inaugural movie in 2017, Get Out, was surprising and shocking, followed in 2019 by his confusing and mind-bending Us. One thing you can say about Peele, you can expect the unexpected! Buckle up!

*SOME SPOILERS AHEAD*

Writer/director/producer Jordan Peele turns his eyes to the sky in this crazy, bizarre tale about a failing family business, Haywood Hollywood Horses, run by the team of traumatized OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his free-spirited sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer) after their father, Otis (Keith David), is killed until mysterious circumstances. OJ is going broke and forced to sell off his prized motion picture thoroughbreds, mostly to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steve Yeun), who runs a fairly successful Western theme park (sorta like the old Corriganville in Simi Valley was back in the 50’s).

But this wouldn’t be a Jordan Peele movie without strange things happening and pretty soon, OJ starts seeing a UFO cruising his ranch, hiding in the clouds above. . . and apparently this alien craft is hungry AND it has a taste for horses! Uh-oh! Rather than alerting the authorities, OJ and Emerald get an idea: they can save the ranch if they videotape the UFO and show it on TV for $$$! Of course! What could possibly go wrong!? Getting help from Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), a Fry’s Electronics tech-whiz, they set up cameras everywhere, but they’re gonna need more help. Time to call in their ace-in-the-hole, Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a leading Hollywood cinematographer who jumps at the chance to shoot a real alien spacecraft.

But while OJ and friends are setting up their gear, Ricky and his nearby theme park are planning a very special show for his customers, but it’s one they’re never gonna forget! One this is for sure, you can’t call this movie ordinary. From Ricky’s unhealthy obsession from when he was a child star on a sitcom called Gordy’s Home, to the people chasing down the UFO, and that mysterious cloud-jumping spacecraft which isn’t what it seems from the beginning. Peele knows how to create memorable characters and a world that turns topsy-turvy in a matter of minutes and therein lies his strengths.

But rather than melt your brain–as he did in Us–this too-lengthy (131 minutes) movie plods along with the first & second acts, slowly building up the suspense until the final third act roller-coaster ride arrives, and hoo-boy! That third act is a doozie! Yes, the plot holes are abundant and make you wonder out loud how & why our heroes are doing what they’re doing, but look past that and enjoy the craziness. In his most restrained performance yet, Kaluuya, Peele’s golden child, goes through the film practically comatose, but in a good way. The ying to his yang is Palmer, a celebrity wanna-be who shines throughout the movie with her exuberance. 

Yeun is so damn creepy good you want more of him and his disturbing backstory; he should have been the main film! And enough cannot be said of Wincott who, for decades has always played the evil villain in some movie, now gets a multi-layered role, much like Quint in Jaws. Keith David and Donna Mills are wonderful featured cameos and Perea is your comic relief that has a dubious distinction in this film that I won’t give away. Also, ya gotta love the beautiful and striking cinematography of Hoyt Van Hoytema (Spectre, Ad Astra). He makes the barren and non-descript landscape of Aqua Dulce (just outside Santa Clarita) look incredible! But, seriously, that title? Nope? Uh, Peele, you’re just asking for trouble with that!

**Now showing only in theaters

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

During the years when Steven Spielberg was on fire with such films as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T., this was yet another feather in his already illustrious cap of blockbuster movies unleashed to the public. And boy, did this film ever make $$$!!

Just like his buddy George Lucas, there are two versions: the original 1977 theatrical release and the 1990 “Special Edition” where Spielberg added a bunch of extra scenes, and a revised ending where we get to see what Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) saw when he walked inside the gigantic alien Mother Ship. Thankfully, it didn’t have ridiculous CGI added stuff, like Lucas threw in with all his Special Edition Star Wars movies. Still, this is a terrific movie featuring Dreyfuss as an average guy whose life is turning upside-down after he sees and experiences a UFO. His questioning wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr in only her second screen role), thinks her hubby is slowly going nuts as he starts to “see” images of a mountain everywhere, like in his mashed potatoes.

Meanwhile, Claude LaCombe (director Francois Truffaut), a French government scientist in charge of UFO-related activities in the U.S., has employed David Laughlin (Bob Balaban), a shy cartographer, as his translator and assistant. As more and more UFO sightings are popping up all over the globe, a team is assigned (headed by LaCombe) to try and communicate with the aliens. And speaking of aliens, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) is furious because her precious little three-year-old son, Barry (Cary Guffey), was just abducted by them sneaky space bastards! Well, there goes the weekend! As Jillian goes hunting for answers she meets and hooks up with Roy, now on his own personal quest.

They eventually find themselves climbing Wyoming’s majestic Devils Tower mountain and find a huge government facility on the other side, waiting to greet the massive Mother Ship. The ship arrives and a curious thing occurs: out walks a whole bunch of abducted people from decades before (including little Barry), in exchange for some red-suited Americans. But the aliens (who look like children in Party City costumes) pick Roy as their only passenger to who-knows-where. In the Special Edition, Roy (who suddenly ages about ten years) walks on board and sees the interior of the ship, which looks pretty neat.

Spielberg wrote & directed this monster of a hit movie, breaking box-office records in its opening weekend and scoring an impressive $27 million worldwide (70’s money). Everyone loved it from the critics to fans to the Academy (it scored eight nominations), not to mention garnering other major awards at the British Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the Saturn Awards! Yeah, it was a pretty big deal and is now on six of AFI’s lists. Many other noted filmmakers (Stanley Kubrick, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee, Andrew Stanton, and Denis Villeneuve) have cited this movie as one their favorites. Spielberg even parodied this film in 1979 with his 1941, a film many said was his only flop, although I heartily disagree. 

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