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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Movie Reviews: New Releases for July 22

Nope, The Gray Man, Fire of Love, Anything's Possible

Posted By on July 21, 2022, 11:05 AM

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click to enlarge Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya in Nope - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya in Nope
Anything’s Possible **1/2
It’s not easy to decide, when taking a familiar genre like the high-school romance and introducing a transgender character into the equation, how much to lean into what makes this story different, vs. what makes this story like any other high-school romance—and this one gets caught a little bit between the two. Kelsa (Eva Reign), a trans teen, is starting her senior year of high school with no plans for a boyfriend, but finds herself interested in classmate Khalid (Abubakr Ali)—and surprised to learn that the feeling is mutual. Screenwriter Ximena García Lecuona introduces some familiar tropes into the story, like an awkward romantic triangle involving one of Kelsa’s friends (Courtnee Carter), and emphasizing the role of social media in young lives as is now de rigeur. But while the direction by Billy Porter finds some lovely grace notes—including a wonderful reaction shot by Reign to someone telling her she’s beautiful, perhaps for the first time—it feels like there are too many different conflict bubbling around in the narrative between the friend drama, the protectiveness of Kelsa’s mother (Renée Elise Goldsberry), the concerns of Khalid’s Iranian-American parents, school policies over gendered facilities and so on and so on. When the romance itself is actually the focus, it’s quite charming, and then the peripheral stuff keeps sloshing between everything that makes Kelsa a different kind of teen romantic heroine, and everything that makes her just another teen romantic heroine. Available July 22 via Amazon Prime. (PG-13)

Fire of Love ***
When a filmmaker has access to tons of amazing archival footage—the way director Sara Dosa does here with the material shot by husband-and-wife volcano researchers Maurice and Katia Krafft—it’s understandable to want to shape it into a narrative, when maybe it would be fine just to let the material speak for itself. Miranda July narrates a fairly straightforward chronological story about the Kraffts, from speculating on the nature of their first meeting and following them through more than 20 years of risky work, up to and including their death in 1991 during an eruption in Japan. Dosa finds ways to get creative with animations and other original material, and July’s voice provides an ethereal quality that distinguishes this from a standard-issue National Geographic-style profile. The real star of the show is the astonishing footage captured by the Kraffts—from roiling rivers of lava, to undersea eruptions forming strange sculptures, to massive smokey explosions, all with the couple in perilously close proximity. While the title and the framing structure suggests Fire of Love is going to focus on their relationship, however, their personalities rarely emerge, other than to clarify that Maurice courted danger more directly than Katia did. The data that they gathered through direct experience, and the life-saving use to which they were able to put it, ends up being far more fascinating than what it’s like for a couple to work together under life-threatening conditions. Available July 22 via Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

The Gray Man **1/2
It’s clear that Netflix was shooting for the moon with this mega-budget, mega-action, globe-hopping spectacle, but Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers: Endgame) might have had something considerably more enjoyable on their hands if they’d just embraced its simple, dad-paperback roots. Adapting the first book in a series by Mark Greaney, it introduces Courtland Gentry (Ryan Gosling), a Florida inmate recruited to become a shadowy, off-the-books CIA operative. Eighteen years into his career in the program where he’s known simply as “Six,” he gets caught up in the search for evidence of his employers’ dark dealings, and hunted by sociopathic freelance killer Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans, always gleeful when playing a bastard). The narrative has a deeply weird structure, pausing briefly for a flashback that gives Six a surrogate-dad responsibility clearly connected to his own traumatic childhood, when any other movie of this kind would have made it the center á la Leon (The Professional). But instead of indicating a unique willingness to avoid cliché, it’s evidence of a movie that throws absolutely everything at the wall—multiple revered mentors for Six, a reluctant partner (Ana de Armas) in his efforts to stay alive, plenty of quippy dialogue, etc.—in hopes of finding something that will stick. It just feels like a patchwork quilt of material, where the decent action beats are buried inside set pieces that drag on forever. A streaming service’s summer tentpole shouldn’t feel like something you saw parts of on TNT last night. Available now in theaters; available July 22 via Netflix. (R)

Nope ***1/2
Give me another viewing, or even a couple more days before deadline, and maybe I’d be able to cobble together the seemingly unconnected ambitious ideas at the center of writer/director Jordan Peele’s alien-invasion thriller; that’s the main thing keeping me from even more enthusiasm for his wonderfully entertaining summer movie. On the outskirts of Southern California, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) are trying to keep alive the family business of trained horses for movie and TV productions after the death of their father in a bizarre accident. But they’re also just trying to keep alive, period, after it seems that their ranch is the focal point for … something up in the sky. As a filmmaker, Peele’s instincts are almost always spot-on, from the arresting opening shot that places a shoe at the focal point of bloody chaos, to his ability to use the sudden loss of electric power in a variety of ways to indicate the approach of his mysterious threat. It’s a creature-feature built more on a sense of fun and creativity than on doom and spectacle, making Tremors one of its closest genre cousins (which I consider high praise). Peele also has things to say about the erasure of Black innovators from movie-making history, about what it means to have documentary evidence, and about the arrogance involved in thinking you can tame a wild thing for entertainment value (the latter something that feels done to death by the Jurassic Park franchise)—and I just can’t see yet where those pieces fit together. Is Nope as insightful as it is purely enjoyable to watch? Get back to me in a year. Available July 22 in theaters. (R)

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