This Brad Pitt vehicle is—(dare I say it?)—a train wreck.
I had a very bad feeling about the film going in. This line from the script sums up my feelings about “Bullet Train:” “I haven’t got the time or the patience, let alone the interest.” I can’t recommend you take this one in at the Cineplex for actual cash.
If you do invest the time in “Bullet Train” when it streams somewhere, Brad Pitt is the best thing in this overlong fist-fest. He plays a hit-man who is trying to mend his violent ways and learn to solve problems in a more peaceful manner.
Code-named Ladybug in a “cute” discussion with his handler (Sandra Bullock) that already screams “Turkey,” among other pronouncements from Pitt are these: “Let this be a lesson on the toxicity of anger.” “A path to a peaceful outcome is an opportunity for growth.” “I just wanna’ get off this train and go see a Zen garden or some shit.” “When we are so quick to anger, we are slow to understand.” “If you do not control your fate, it controls you.” Not a lot of great original writing in those bon mots. The writing here is byZak Olkewicz (screenplay) and based on the book by Kôtarô Isaka.
Pressed into service in place of the mysterious Carver (Ryan Reynolds in a cameo), Ladybug is supposed to steal a briefcase on the bullet train. The case is being protected by 2 other assassins code-named Tangerine and Lemon. [Also cloyingly cute.] Tangerine is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who was brilliant in 2016’s “Nocturnal Animals.” It’s a great part for the handsome actor, speaking in his native British accent, who was nominated for a BAFTA in 2017 for Best Supporting Actor for that role. His “twin” partner is Black actor Bryan Tyree-Henry (2018’s “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse”). Also a forced joke, since they are obviously not biological “twins.”
One of the flaws of the film is that the director is David Leitch. As a former stuntman, himself, he has a passion for fight sequences (which is primarily what this movie is). He has been Brad Pitt’s stunt double 5 times and served as Matt Damon’s stunt double many times, including in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Leitch co-directed “John Wick” (2014) with Chad Stahelski. He directed “Atomic Blonde” (2017) starring Charlize Theron. David also directed the box office smash/critically acclaimed “Deadpool 2” (2018). These movies all depend on non-stop action sequences; that is what you get in “Bullet Train.” Not a fan.
A second failing, for me, is that the plot is impossibly convoluted and not worth the time and effort to follow it. Lots of bathroom humor. (I mean that literally.) A particularly wasted co-star was Michael Shannon as The White Death. (I hate it when Michael Shannon’s considerable talents are wasted, and they are wasted here).
A third problem is that the music feels very dated. The musical director was Dominic Lewis, so lay the blame for selecting such songs as “Staying Alive,” “Holding Out for a Hero,” and “I Just Wanna Celebrate” at his feet.
. None of these songs are even remotely new. “Staying Alive” is almost 40 years old. “Holding Out for a Hero” was released in 1986 (36 years ago). “I Just Wanna Celebrate” was released in 1971, 51 years ago. There are also some oldies-but-not-goodies, including the one with the lyric “If you miss the train I’m on Hear the whistle blow 100 miles.” Yeah. Soundtrack sucked.
The entire film screams “Look how cute and hip we are.” Various stars make cameos (Channing Tatum, Ryan Reynolds, Sondra Bullock, Zazie Beetz) and, all-in-all, I felt cheated out of a decently themed movie with something to say. It was not worth the price of theater admission.
Other critics say it is going to be Brad Pitt’s new ongoing vehicle in the same way that Robert Downey, Jr., repeatedly rode “Ironman” to the bank. All I can say to that is, “Count me out.”
Besides the convoluted repetitive plot, the non-stop fight sequences, and the lack-luster musical score, the humor came off as forced and unfunny. The entire film was way too “cutesy” and much too dependent on CGI special effects (primarily of trains crashing).
The propping up of dead bodies to make them appear to be alive: not “funny.” I want to see Brad Pitt in the context of a well-written film with some depth and a message. I’m so glad we took in “Vengeance” (B.J. Novak) before “Bullet Train.”
At times I was confused about whether we were watching Japanese actors in Mexico or vice versa. I got the feeling that the entire movie was aimed at a Japanese audience that will enjoy the Bruce Lee vibe, and, to them, I say Sayonara. I really did not enjoy much of anything about this pastiche, but I do like me some Brad Pitt, (even though the line from the movie that sums up his sex appeal in this is, “You look like every white homeless man I’ve ever seen.”)
Having told you what I think of this Boomslang of a film, in good conscience I should report that others coming out of the theater were chatting about how much they enjoyed this mindless mess of movie/ fight sequence. Something tells me that they have seen far fewer films than I have seen.
I found the humor strained and the entire undertaking a waste of money ($85,900,000 down the “Bullet Train” drain.)
The film “Vengeance” is written and directed by B.J. Novak of “The Office” fame. The synopsis of the plot reads: “A writer from New York City attempts to solve the murder of a girl he hooked up with, and travels down South to investigate the circumstances of her death and discover what happened to her.”
As the film opens, B.J.—who plays the main character Ben Manalowitz in a sort of early Woody Allen-esque fashion modeled on the “Annie Hall” template—is out and about in New York City with John Mayer, the singer. Mayer essentially plays himself. It is well-known that the singer (“Your Body Is A Wonderland”) has practically made a career out of dating numerous female pop icons. The conversation between Mayer’s character (John) and B.J.’s character of Ben, which seems to take place atop a New York City rooftop party, is all about hooking up with various women on a casual basis. The two are using their cell phones to revisit past and present conquests and agreeing with one another (without really communicating) with the rote response “100% !”
The next step in the plot has Ben (B.J. Novak) answering a late-night phone call from someone who says his name is Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook). Ty describes himself as the brother of a one-time hook-up of Ben’s named Abilene Shaw (Lio Tipton). Ty assumes that Ben will be coming South to Texas for Abilene’s funeral. Ben is at a loss to process this suggestion, as he barely remembers Abilene at all.
Where, in Texas, is this home town? Three hours from Dallas and five hours from Abilene, so literally in the middle of nowhere in west Texas. Ben tries to beg off, saying, “I’ll be there in spirit,” which causes Ty (the brother) to respond that he will pick Ben up from the Spirit Airlines terminal at the airport.
Ben does fly to Texas, because he has the idea that his experiences in rural Texas might provide good raw material for a podcast topic he is pitching to a radio executive, played by Issa Rae as Eloise.
When Ty picks Ben up at the airport, he lays out a case for Abilene, an aspiring singer, having been murdered. They are in Ben’s pick-up truck and Ben is quite taken aback, exclaiming “I don’t avenge deaths. I don’t live in a Liam Neeson movie.” This leads to a wry conversation with Ty about Liam Neeson movies, with Ty proclaiming “Schindler’s List” to be “a huge downer.” Hard not to laugh.
It also sets up the scene at the burial of Abilene where Ben—who barely knew the girl—is asked to get up and say a few words about his “girlfriend.” Ben does an excellent job of uttering platitudes along the lines of “I never expected to be in a situation like this.” He goes on to mention banal remarks about “spending more time” with someone (“All of us”) and mentions how she “loved music.” It should be mentioned that Jessie Novak actually wrote one of the songs entitled “I Finished My Shift at Claire’s” and B.J. Novak gets credit for one with a title something like “When I Get Signal.” Andrea Von Foroester was in charge of the music and Cinematographer was Lyn Moncrief in this Jason Blum production.
The eulogy from Ben graveside gets him off the hook with the family (re his relationship with Abilene) for the moment, but, because he needs more material for his podcast proposal, Ben is talked into staying at the family home and actually sleeping in Abilene’s old childhood bedroom. Ben keeps humoring Ty in his quest for vengeance, which, in one insightful line, the script explains is the new reality that the truth is too hard to accept, so people are always looking for someone to blame. There are also some deep nuggets concerning social media adding to the proliferation of conspiracy theories and those who hold forth their own opinions as everyone’s truth (without proof), so the film is not just all fun and games and searching for killers who may or may not exist.
The piece starts out to be a somewhat snobbish look down Ben’s nose at the fly-over country he is visiting, a land where, according to the locals, “In Texas, we don’t dial 9-1-1.” It ends up failing to endorse the proposal that all city folk are smarter and sharper and better. The sincerity of the locals cannot fail to impress. However, you do come away with the impression that the bright lights of the rural Heartland won’t win fame and fortune unless they move to a city where their talent can be recognized, so you tell me if that is a vote for west Texas or, like Sam Kinnison’s act, someone screaming, “You live in the desert. Move to the water.”
As it turns out, Abilene—(who initially is misrepresented as someone “who wouldn’t even touch an Advil)—did have a bit of a drug problem, and the reason seems to be the dead-end life she was living in rural Texas, her New York City dreams having not panned out.
Abilene attended a party near an oil field, where cell reception was poor. The party took place at the intersection of four competing jurisdictions off Highway 29. This meant that neither the local Banefield Police Department (Officers Mike and Dan), the border patrol, the DEA, nor Sheriff Jimeniz really would care enough to investigate a party like the one where Abilene died, which seems to have been a routine event in the area.
The Shaws are a family where the younger brother of Abilene’s (Eli Bickel as Mason) is routinely referred to as “El Stupido.” When Ben objects to categorizing the middle school-aged boy this way, Ty, his older brother, says, “It’s okay. He doesn’t speak Spanish.”
Ty is portrayed as “a good old boy” and a typical Texan. Only Quentin Sellers seems to have a clue about the Big City. At one point in the dialogue, Ashton Kutcher’s character mentioned that he had moved to this godforsaken spot from another state. I’d have to see it again to tell you if it was Iowa or Idaho, but we all know that, IRL, Ashton is from the Cedar Rapids/Amana area, so please let me know if Iowa got a plug.
The movie makes fun of the Texas fascination with the Whataburger franchise. The simplistic reason for liking it is given as “because it’s right there.” However, when Ty is pushed to explain further, he says, “You just love it, and that’s how love works.” This “heart to heart” theme comes off as perhaps superior to the lack of compassion or empathy evinced by city dwellers, early in the film.
Many of the snobby Jewish boy’s pre-conceived impressions about the South are shown up for what they are: prejudice. In a revealing debate with one of Abilene’s sisters (Isabella Amara as Paris Shaw) about literature, it becomes clear that Paris has actually read the source material, while Ben has not. (Harry Potter books abound in Abilene’s bedroom, thanks to 2 female set decorators who grew up in San Antonio and are about the same age as Abilene of the film.) Ben is merely reciting rote opinions without being as well-informed as this Texas high school girl, but he has retained an air of superiority. Alex Jones, without the shouting.
Ashton Kutcher, who has not appeared in a major movie role since roughly 2013 (“Jobs”) appears as Quentin Sellers. The Iowa-born native recently revealed that he had been suffering from “a super rare form of Vasculitis” that he contracted three years ago. The disease attacks the veins and arteries and is an auto-immune disorder that involves inflammation and can cause organ failure or aneurysms in its most severe form. Kutcher said, “Like two years ago, I had this weird, super-rare form of vasculitis,” Kutcher shared these experiences in an exclusive video clip released to “Access Hollywood” from an upcoming episode of National Geographic’s “Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge.”
“Knocked out my vision, knocked out my hearing, knocked out like all my equilibrium. It took me like a year to build it all back up.”
Therefore, it was a treat to see a healthy 44-year-old white-clad Kutcher playing Quentin Sellers, founder of the Quentin Sellers Music Factory in the middle of Texas. Quentin gives an inspiring speech about “all these bright creative lights with nowhere to plug in their energy,” as he holds himself out as a music impresario in the middle of nowhere. His wardrobe is a plus (mostly white) and he looks great.
The writing is extremely insightful. The actors do well with their parts, and, for a first-time director, Novak has hit a home run. The dry humor (see trailer) leaves you laughing out loud.
My only criticism would be the denouement of the film. It seemed out of character for the protagonist. I won’t say any more than that, because this is one you’ll want to rent and enjoy for yourself.
I look forward to B.J. Novak’s next writer/director outing.
I’m sitting in the Illinois Quad Cities, where it is currently 95 degrees. And humid. Very, very humid. It’s 100 degrees in Des Moines and 91 degrees in my old hometown in northeast Iowa (Independence). Because of the humidity, it feels more like 107.
In Austin, Texas, our home away from home, it is 97 degrees. One wonders how the weird Texas power grid will hold up, given its spectacular failure in February of 2021. Texas wanted to have its very own power grid to escape and avoid federal oversight, but they are “on their own” in such power emergencies. And when it’s hot in the summer, AC is a power emergency. And when it snowed in Austin (a rare occurrence) it was a power emergency on the other side of the dial.
“Daily Kos” reported that “intensifying Texas heat is poised to test the power grid on Thursday with demand seen topping 80 gigawatts for the first time ever.”
Running turbines are expected to bolster electricity supplies, reducing the threat of outages as homeowners and businesses crank up air conditioners across the second-largest US state, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc. [ERCOT]
We lived through the power outage in February of 2021 in Austin, Texas, that killed hundreds and cost many homeless people the total loss of their toes and/or feet. It was truly NOT a good thing. We had to melt down our snowman to be able to flush our toilets! We had to use Saran wrap on dirty plates because there was no water with which to wash dishes (or anything else). Not fun. The catastrophe totally upended businesses like the HEB food store shelves, which were largely bare for at least a week after the storm hit.
Elsewhere today (8/6/2022), near the White House, lightning struck and killed 3 people, critically injuring 4 people. Donna and James Mueller, grandparents from Wisconsin, died. Kentucky has been hit by floods. Missouri also experienced torrential downpours. The U.S. hurricane system will produce an above-average series of storms, up 60%, says the National Weather Service. Death Valley National Park has 1,000 people stranded there amid flooding, and water is becoming a precious commodity in the western part of our nation, where fires have ravaged states like California
The drought is so intense that there is no absorption of any rainfall. Fires have been everywhere in the west, while states like Washington, and cities like Seattle, where only 40% have A/C, are suffering in this nationwide heat wave. Yellowstone shut down. Our national parks are proving to us that these are different days and we should have fought harder to install Al Gore, who probably really won in 2000 and championed global warming. (Just think how much better off we would have been with a president who championed curbing climate change for 8 years, rather than one who started 2 unwinnable wars simultaeously.)
Cities are hitting 110 temperatures in Scottsdale, AZ, and in Phoenix, the current temperature is 106. Heat stress is real. It takes a toll on our GDP. Emergency room visits; Health care costs. All are affected. Cooling centers and city planning will be affected in our murky future.
I hope that Texas’ weird power grid system makes it through this hot period, before I arrive in the fall. Personally, I think it is very unfair to turn the Texas Power Grid into a “money-making” scheme, operating much like surge pricing by Uber and Lyft. More is charged during “peak periods” and the bills, currently, are staggering in cities like Dallas.
By NOT being part of the East or West power grids of this country, the state also misses out on the ability to borrow power from other states in an emergency and on the ability to sell excess power to other states. Only El Paso escaped the chaos in February, 2021, as they had joined one of the two national power grids, which was wise.
Amidst all this chaos, the $369 billion climate investment of the new bill passed by the Democrats and the Biden administration seems very, very sound, if, arguably, not large enough. The goal is to decrease fossil fuel emissions by 40% by 2030. [The bill that is passing today will also provide health changes, including capping Medicare out-of-pocket costs at $2 k and giving Medicare the power to negotiate some drug prices, while also extending the Affordable Care Act for 3 more years].
One wonders how much longer the GOP will continue to maintain that there is no global warming, Donald J. Trump won the election, and Covid will go away when the weaather gets warmer.
The live show at the Raccoon Motel on August 3rd, Wednesday, in Davenport, Iowa, featuring Low Cut Connie lasted for an hour and a half, beginning at midnight. It was like an All Night Energy Infusion, even if it was 1:30 a.m. on a weeknight when it ended.
The doors opened at 9 p.m. A lead-in group was scheduled prior to the main event. I actually called the venue in the afternoon and was told that the headliner (Adam Weiner) probably would not start before 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. We drove over around 10 p.m. and that projection was optimistic.
The main act did not commence until midnight, at which point headliner Adam Weiner expressed his relief that the crowd was still there at midnight on a Wednesday night. He expressed anxiety over whether the crowd would have gone home, but the roughly 100 fans present were rewarded with a true high energy rendering of the band’s songs.
I have some great video, but I have written to the publicist(s) for permission to post same, as I am currently on Double Secret Probation (or whatever they call it at YouTube) for posting one 30-second song from Bryan Adams’ “Candle in the Wind” tour (or whatever he called it when he played in Moline six years ago). YouTube has restricted all postings in recent years. Postings of various Rolling Stones concerts and others are still up and were not attacked as postings today have been. The threat: my account would be terminated if I were to sin again.
Frankly, I always thought that groups that were touring would welcome free publicity, if positive, but the group, itself, told YouTube to remove the short snippet, which notified me and put a big “Restricted” banner on my account that remained for the past 6 years. I had to go to “copyright” school and—mind you—this was for a mere 30-second spot from their concert. Understandable that a group would not want audience members to give away the store, but the particular song I wanted to use was posted from a previous concert in Miami by another YouTuber, which I then used, instead. I am still wondering about the harsh nature of YouTube today and working to make sure that there will be no blow-back if I post some truly great video footage of Adam Weiner scaling his piano for the crowd’s enjoyment (while playing).
If it were possible for Adam Weiner to turn himself inside out to please the crowd, I think he would do that for his audience. I was front and right, front row. Weiner reached out and shook my hand. A bobblehead at 10 o’clock kept trying for physical contact, but Adam was too quick for him, most of the time. (*A Bobblehead is someone who goes absolutely batshit crazy at a concert, flailing around, throwing their fist in the air and, in this case, constantly reaching out and trying to touch the lead singer. Did I mention singing along so that the rest of us can’t hear the artist? That, too.)
Supporters include Elton John, Barack Obama, Howard Stern, Bruce Springsteen and all of the respected music review magazines, such as “Rolling Stone.” Low Cut Connie performed as part of the festivities for the inauguration of President Joe Biden, appearing at a show called a Love Letter to Pennsylvania. In May of 2015, Low Cut Connie met President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in a special meeting arranged by White House photographer Pete Souza and former President Obama listed them on his summer listening list of artists.
The COVID-19 crisis and the resulting shut-down of the live music industry forced Low Cut Connie off the road in early 2020. With music venues shuttered and his touring band in quarantine, Weiner performed a livestream concert for a virtual audience out of his South Philadelphia home beginning on March 19, 2020. The show was dubbed Tough Cookies as a tribute to the band’s devoted fan base. Tough Cookies received critical praise for its intimacy (Weiner sometimes performed in his bathrobe) and for Weiner’s high energy performance style. On December 21, 2020, The New Yorker published a full-length feature on the Tough Cookies variety show, naming Weiner “Pandemic Person of the Year” for his ongoing efforts to raise spirits during the pandemic. We watched it quite regularly during the shutdown that began around March 13, 2021 (about the time I began my podcast).
We saw the band perform at Lucy’s Chicken in Austin, Texas “live” just prior to the pandemic shut-down, during the time that SXSW was in full swing. The performance on Wednesday night in Davenport, Iowa, was absolutely high-octane and superior to the Austin gig. Also, this time, the band performed the same song they performed on Seth Meyers’ late night show (“All These Kids Are Way Too High”), which they did not perform in Austin (despite repeated requests). Just when you think that the band can’t give the performance any more energy, they take it up a notch. At this show, even guitarist Will Donnelly climbed atop the piano briefly. My only criticism would be the “horn echo” effect in one song, which was very flat. (Lose the cornet echo).
The tickets to this remarkable night were only $20. The band’s tee shirts were also priced at that level and CDs on sale at the merchandise table were available for $5. It was a great night; the crowd went away very satisfied. The band was heading ultimately to the Minneapolis State Fair, where they would, no doubt, wow that crowd, too.
I’ve seen a lot of bands “live,” including the Beatles (San Francisco Cow Palace, 1965) and every Rolling Stones tour since 1982, but Low Cut Connie and Bruno Mars are the only bands working today with the fire and finesse of The Greats. If the media hadn’t already dubbed James Brown “the hardest-working man in show biz,” I’d nominate Adam Weiner (which, since James Brown has been dead for years, I’ll do right now.)
I originally found out about Ivana Trump’s burial just off the 1st hole of Donald J. Trump’s New Jersey golf course from a Tweet, which seems somehow apropos. The tweet was accompanied by a copy of the New Jersey Tax Code (see below), to prove the argument that Ivana’s sad-looking grave plot was a tax scheme that The Donald thought up to save money. There were also allegations that Ivana’s estate was dunned as much as $150,000 for her final services. One article claimed that she was even charged, post mortem, for a membership, but that one may be overkill.
The entire contention gained steam when a Dartmouth professor (Brooke Harrington) published the New Jersey relevant tax code. “Vanity Fair” followed up with the (slightly abbreviated) article below.
We all knew DJT was capable of lots of shady behavior, but it is seriously sad that the grave of the woman who bore him three children and was an integral part of his empire for 14 years looks like someone’s pet is buried there. It’s too depressing to put a picture of her grave site here, but look it up for yourself if you doubt my description.
To wit, the “Vanity Fair” account:
“Insider reports that “the location of Ivana Trump’s grave—near the first hole of the golf course at Trump National Golf Club—may have tax implications for the business owned by the former president.” And by “tax implications,” the outlet obviously means burying his first wife on the property of his golf club may help minimize Trump’s tax bill. While ProPublica previously reported that Trump Family Trust tax documents show the family worked to establish a nonprofit cemetery company in Hackettstown, New Jersey—which, under the state’s tax code, would exempt the site from taxes, rates, and assessments, and the company from real estate taxes, rates, and assessments—that’s roughly 20 miles away from where Ivana was laid to rest. But according to one tax expert, the 45th president, who has a long history of getting creative with his taxes, may have found a way.
“As a tax researcher, I was skeptical of rumors Trump buried his ex-wife in that sad little plot of dirt on his Bedminster, NJ golf course just for tax breaks.” Dartmouth sociology professor Brooke Harrington,, tweeted on Saturday. “So I checked the NJ tax code & folks…it’s a trifecta of tax avoidance. Property, income & sales tax, all eliminated.” She noted that, according to state rules, there is “No stipulation regarding a minimum # of human remains necessary for the tax breaks to kick in–looks like one corpse will suffice to make at least 3 forms of tax vanish.”
Speaking to Salon’s Jon Skolnik, Jay Soled, director of Rutgers masters in taxation program, cast doubt on the idea that Trump would use his ex-wife’s burial for such self-serving means, calling the idea “a bit overkill.” On the other hand, it sounds…exactly like something Trump would do!
As Skolnik notes, in 2019, HuffPost reported that Trump was able to save nearly $90,000 a year on taxes by adding goats to the Bedminster golf club, which allowed him to classify the property as a farm. Meanwhile, as The New York Times reported in 2018, “Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud.” In 2019, the ex-president’s former attorney Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump regularly inflated his assets “when it served his purpose”—like to obtain loans—and deflated them when it would similarly be advantageous—like to minimize his tax bill. In 2020, the Times revealed that Trump had paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, another $750 in 2017, and nothing whatsoever—as in zero, zilch, nada—in 10 of the previous 15 years.”
I liked “Nope” and I’ve tried to explain it more for those who aren’t interested in researching all of the allusions and references to other films. Therefore, proceed at your own peril. I have tried not to reveal all of the mysteries of the plot, but there may be spoilers.
We journeyed out to the theater to see “Nope,” Jordan Peele’s latest film, starring Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya from “Get Out” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Peele is more political than M. Night Shymalan, whose films and themes Peele’s works most resemble (of directors working today). As such, much of the film is commentary on the film industry (spectacle), including the role of Blacks through the years. There is also commentary on the American emphasis on commercialism. (The coin in the plastic evidence bag is a subtle dig). It’s a veritable homage to alien encounter films throughout history, with horror/thriller films, especially Spielberg’s, entering in, as well. There is dialogue regarding possible proof of the existence of aliens and the value of such proof to anyone securing it: “People are gonna’ come and do what they always do. Try to take it for themselves.”
Thus begins the plan to capture pictures and video of the aliens, who seemingly are lurking behind a cloud that never moves above a remote far west ranch. Is that a spaceship in the night, or is it a marauding creature? Therein hangs the tale. The central plan to capture video of aliens that dominates “Nope” will be quite an adventure; the audience gets to go along for the ride. I enjoyed it more than my puzzled spouse, but I admit to having spent way more time watching the movies this film honors. It struck me as not unlike the the way that Mel Brooks satirized genre after genre with his humorous films. Only this movie is a cross between thriller/horror/science fiction, saluting those genres. (There are plenty of alien encounter movies to draw from.)
Special kudos go to the sound engineers overseeing the sound effects, the score by Michael Abels, and the cinematographer shooting what appears to be a silver disc in the sky, Hoyt van Hoytema. A prophetic quote from the Book of Nahum (3.6) starts us off: “It will cast abominable filth at you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” Literally.
The characters who lead us on the adventure are a brother and sister (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who have inherited a horse farm that provides trained horses for Hollywood productions. Haywood’s Hollywood Horses was founded by Otis Haywood, Sr. When Otis, Sr., dies in a strange fashion—seemingly shot by objects that fall from the sky without warning—Otis, Jr., known as O.J. dedicates himself to carrying on the Haywood tradition. Young O.J. wants to continue training horses as an animal wrangler and also wants to buy back some of the horses the ranch has had to sell to a neighboring circus-like attraction, Jupiter’s Claim, to stay financially afloat.
O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) is the son who understands animal behavior and tries to warn others about not looking an animal in the eye and remaining calm, etc.; his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) is O.J.’s somewhat unreliable sidekick. Emerald does not see the horse farm as her future. She constantly inserts personal promos for her many other skills, which range from motorcycle riding to acting. Emerald is more extroverted, but O.J. is the one who negotiates with Jupe (Steven Yeun) to provide horses for his attraction, Jupiter’s Claim. It is also Emerald who, upon agreeing that aliens might be visiting the nearby remote landscape, wants to secure definitive proof via photographs and video as a money-maker.
Emerald contacts Cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a crack videotographer,who lugs what appears to be an old IMAX camera out to the remote western site, to assist the young video salesman Angel Torres who originally hooked up photographic equipment the duo bought. The video sales guy is played by Brandon Perea as Angel Torres and he contribute much in the area of comic relief. While I enjoyed Angel’s contribution, we had difficulty understanding TV “Password” hostess Keke Palmer’s dialogue.
O.J. feels it important to keep alive the tradition and history of the (fictitious) relative Emerald says was the Black Bahamian jockey shown in a few minutes of film thought to be the very first moving picture image ever captured. The short piece of film was captured by 19th century inventor and adventurer Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. Muybridge had been commissioned to study the movement of a galloping horse; the name of the Black Bahamian jockey was lost to history, but, for purposes of this film, Jordan Peele has created a fictitious identity for the rider—Alistair Haywood, the family’s horse ranch founder. O.J. Sr,—presumably Alistair’s son and heir— is played by veteran horror actor Keith David, who appeared in “Armageddon” (1998) and “Dante’s Peak” (1997) over his long career.
Here are some of the homages to other cinematic moments:
.When Keke Palmer slides on the motorcycle, it is a reference to a classic anime film, “Akira.” It’s been referenced in dozens of movie for the last 30 years.
.When a character says, “They’re here,” it’s an homage to “Poltergeist.” Easter egg references (“Spielbergian,” said one critic) abound, but the “Nope” plot is definitely original.
.There is the opening reference to a chimp attack during the filming of a TV show called “Gordy’s Home” in 1996. A real chimp attack was featured on Oprah’s syndicated TV show. Charla Nash, a woman who was mauled and disfigured by her chimp Travis appeared on Oprah. When Jupe’s former co-star Mary Jo (Sophia Coto) from “Gordy’s Home” visits Jupiter’s Claim, she is wearing a hat and veil to hide her scars from the chimpanzee attack. Both the scars and the outfit resemble Nash during her real-life interview with Oprah.
.OJ and Emerald visit a Fry’s Electronics store to purchase the surveillance equipment they hope to use in their efforts to capture the alien on film, where they meet employee and alien enthusiast Angel (Brandon Perea). Each Fry’s location featured a unique theme before the family-owned chain when out of business in 2021. Burbank’s Fry’s Electronics store had an alien theme.
.”The Wizard of Oz” has been named as a big influence by Peele. The way in which the alien uploads “food” via dust tornadoes reflects that, as well as the name Emerald and her repetitive wearing of the color green.
.O.J. wears orange, in tribute to his name. The hooded orange sweatshirt that says “Crew” is identical to those worn on the set of the Rock’s film “The Scorpion King.” There is also a poster of the 1972 film “Buck and the Preacher,” Sidney Poitier’s directorial debut, seen in the film.
.Every famous movie about alien encounters that you can think of is referenced, directly or indirectly. The fist bump between child and chimp reminds a bit of the E.T./Elliot finger connection. Even the film’s title of “Nope” is similar to “E.T.,” since E.T. meant extra terrestrial and some have said that “Nope” means “Not of This Planet.” On the other hand, the phrase is spoken throughout the movie. There is one point where our hero (Daniel Kaluuya) opens the truck door, looks out, murmurs “Nope” and re-enters the vehicle. Every major alien encounter film—“E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “War of the Worlds,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Arrival” receives attention. This isn’t even throwing in the “B” movie efforts like 1998’s “The Faculty” or films like “Alien Autopsy” (2006), “The Mothman Prophecies” (2002); “Ancient Aliens” (2009); “The Blob” (1958); “The Thing”; “District 9” (2009); “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008) or any number of lesser movies.
.Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) reminds of other key characters in Spielberg films, like Quinn in Spielberg’s “Jaws” or Bob Peck’s Muldoon from “Jurassic Park.” I found his grizzled presence reminiscent of Lance Henriksen, a veteran presence in numerous horror films. Wincott’s decision to venture out and film the creature in a climactic scene seems to be his desire to get “the impossible shot.” As Antlers told Emerald when she approached him to help them film the encounter, “Horse Girl, this is a dream you’re chasing. The one where you end up at the top of the mountain—all eyes on you. It’s the dream you never wake up from.”
I found the movie to be quite original and unique. Like Peele’s other films, you can peel the plot layers back like an onion. Most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer, because English majors always want to explore symbolism and themes that are buried beneath the surface, and that is what Peele incorporates in his films, which I enjoy. You can still enjoy it on the surface as a thriller, without the deep dive, however.
|Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities|
I grew up during a time when Democrats and Republicans co-existed relatively peacefully. We have the example of Al Gore’s 2000 concession speech after the Florida “hanging chad” controversy (look it up if you’re too young to remember it). My parents were best friends with Bus and Arlene Raymond of Independence, staunch Republicans, and Arlene (my godmother) was even a Republican lobbyist in Des Moines, while my father was the Democratic County Treasurer of Buchanan County for 4 terms. So you’ll have to excuse me if the news that Jim Leach has left the Republican party after 30 years as a House of Representatives Republican from Iowa is worth mentioning—especially when you hear his words as to why.
Also, back in 2001, on Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11th) right after 9/11, I funded and organized a gathering called “Celebrate Citizenship,” a patriotic sing-along gathering post 9/11, with the money raised to go towards college scholarships for the children orphaned in the World Trade Center explosion on 9/11. Whatever we raised would be matched by my parent company, Sylvan Learning Corporation.
I rented out the Pleasant Valley High School Auditorium and set up a program, which included my students reading from their essays, the Glenview Junior High School Band from East Moline, IL, (best in the state of Illinois that year by actual vote of Illinois music educators) playing for a sing-along of patriotic songs, and various speakers, which included a representative from Channel 6 (Ryan Nolan), a representative from the “Daily Dispatch” (John Marx) and, as the keynote speaker, James Leach, then the long-time GOP House of Representatives delegate from the state of Iowa. Leach served in the House of Representatives for Iowa from 1977 to 2007, thirty years. Getting him as my speaker that day was quite a coup, as he had numerous speaking engagements around the state, but he was most gracious in agreeing to come, and that, in itself, is a story I will tell on here in more detail at another time.
Jim Leach was a good guy: a moderate Republican for 30 years who lost re-election to Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, in 2006. Leach was then, and is now, a thoughtful, intelligent leader who did not just vote the party line.Leach was the John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He also served as the interim director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University from September 17, 2007, to September 1, 2008, when Bill Purcell was appointed permanent director.
Jim (James) Leach, age 79, switched his party registration from R to D to vote in the June, 2022 primary. He said the switch was prompted by a Republican Party that he described as lurching to the right and lying about the results of the 2020 election. Here, in long-time Republican James Leach’s words, are his thoughts on the present-day GOP:
“My own view is that there is no excuse whatsoever for an insurrection. And that we’re in one of the most profound challenges to American democracy ever, excepting the Civil War. Today, the Republican Party that I spent so many years with has really let the country down. And we need to have a political party that operates in a way that both parties can participate. The Republican Party has just torn itself apart, and it’s got to pull itself together. I’ll lean toward the Democratic party as long as excellent people are running.”
Leach went on to specifically endorse University of Iowa colleague Christina Bohannan, a law professor, running against Marianne Meeks. “This particular year could not be more appropriate for a law school professor to run. She’s intelligent and not an embarrassment to the state or anything. She’s a decent person. I just don’t see anyone standing up to Christina.” Leach also said he would support Mike Franken, a former Navy Admiral and Democrat running to unset 88-year-old Chuck Grassley. Leach cited Franken’s naval experience as a plus to Congress and took issue with Grassley’s role in ushering through conservative picks for the U.S. Supreme Court. Some have also linked Grassley to potential foreknowledge of the impending insurrection (see previous article on Weekly Wilson).
Of Admiral Franken, Leach said, “It’s really important we have some naval knowledge in the Congress which is why I was very pleased to see Admiral Franken run. Leach did not see the chances of a moderate Republican in Iowa winning as very favorable. “It would be awfully, awfully hard in the primary. A lot of Republicans would have a decent chance in the general election, but would have a really hard time, at least over the last year, in a primary.”
James Leach said, “We have an obligation to pull together and vote for anyone who has a moral capacity to lead in a credible way.”
We checked out two new films recently, I’ll give you an idea about them to save you the time.
After checking out the trailers on my Guide movie-for rent list, I narrowed the choices to “The Forgiven” or “Abandoned.”
“The Forgiven” starred Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, a big plus. It was on Amazon Prime and the price of each was $7.95 to rent. The rating by the audience on IMDB was only 5.8 out of 10, but these two are Oscar caliber actors. Plus, I liked another co-star, Christopher Abbott, who dallies with the married Jo Henninger in the film while her husband is away.
“Abandoned” is a horror thriller starring Emma Roberts, John Gallagher, Jr. (“Network News”) and one of my all-time favorites, Michael Shannon.
We watched “The Forgiven” first, and that ended up being the better choice. It is a well-crafted film with a plot set in Morocco and examining what happens when a couple on their way to a wedding accidentally hits and kills a young man on the dark highway who is selling fossils. (Apparently, selling fossils is a big industry for the locals. Who knew?) It also had an appearance by Christopher Abbott, who I knew from “James White,” where he played Cynthia Nixon’s son, and “It Comes At Night” in 2017—a horror movie that never quite delivered on the successful atmospheric brooding cinematography of Director Trey Edward Shults.
IMDB describes the plot this way: “The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.: Director James Michael McDonagh filmed on location; we get an inside look at the Arabic culture in what appears to be one of those countries that our former president described as “a s***ole country,” The folks flocking to the villa in the middle of nowhere appear to be either Euro-trash or, as one is identified, the style editor from a famous women’s magazine, which shall be nameless for the intention of this review.
Jessica (Chastain) and Ralph (Fiennes) are an unhappily married couple, Jo and David Henninger, on the verge of divorce. After David hits and kills the young native boy, the authorities are contacted. The boy’s father comes to the villa and demands that Ralph accompany him back to the desolate village from whence he came. We learn that the young man (Driss) might have been planning to rob some of the rich party-goers with another youth.
Should Ralph Fiennes’ character of David Henninger accompany the dead boy’s father back to Driss’ village? If he does, what will happen? Fiennes does accompany Driss’ dad, but what happens after that, while a satisfactory surprise ending, is still one that I am processing.
“Abandoned,” on the other hand, held the promise of a young woman (Emma Roberts) suffering from post-partum depression who has recently given birth and moves, with her husband (John Gallagher, Jr.) to a remote haunted house (which, the end-of-film credits tell us, was located in Smithfield, North Carolina.)
The house had a history, but the price was right. The previous family had a psychotic father who impregnated his underage daughter three times; it is hinted that he had a way with an axe. An old wardrobe in the house seems to be the entryway to a portion of the house where some of the offspring of the underage daughter of the house live on as ghosts, [as in “American Horror Story.”]
Most of the film consists of the vulnerable Emma (Roberts) trying to work through her depression and deal with her infant son, who has a bad case of colic. Michael Shannon enters for roughly 20 minutes of film time, which is a crime in and of itself. Shannon plays the brother of the poor underage sister and he shares the couch with Emma Roberts discussing his life in the house before its occupants met untimely ends.
The movie is a total waste of the talents of an actor as talented as Michael Shannon. For that matter, the script did no favors to the young couple, both of whom are good actors.
I am glad we began our viewing with “The Forgiven,” which at least had a structure that merited sticking with it to the end, but I cannot give a thumbs-up to “Abandoned.” The films rented for $7.95. In one case it was money well spent. In the other it was a waste of time and money.
The Monet Immersive Exhibit provided many gorgeous tableaus. Dinner at La Cite atop Lake Point Tower was a gorgeous vantage point to view the city of Chicago.
The Germanium Club up north was totally taken over to facilitate the showing of Monet’s impressionistic works. It is a lovely display area, with the ability to purchase a glass of Prosecco to carry into the exhibit, but there are a lot of stairs. Visitors can lounge on banquettes or sit in a few folding chairs and there is a balcony, if you want to view the art work from above.
Following the Exhibit, we walked to the Corcoran Bar & Grill, in honor of my maiden name, and a lovely young lass from Galway, Ireland, waited on us.
Then it was home to the South Loop to watch a film. We actually used my CD collection and saved the $3.99 rental fee on Netflix.
All-in-all, a great night.