Tag Archives: Keke Palmer

Head in the Clouds


by Hope Madden and George Wolf

There are some truly frightening moments in Nope. Some revolve around things you may think you know based on the trailer. Others feature a bloody monkey in a party hat.

All these and more are tucked inside the kind of patient and expansive brand of storytelling you might not expect from writer/director/producer Jordan Peele. Where the filmmaker’s first two exceptional features explored wildly different styles of horror, his third effort, though scary, taps much more into Sci-Fi.

And Nope has plenty to say about Black cowboys, the arrogance of spectacle, and getting that elusive perfect shot.

OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) work under their father Otis, Sr. (Keith David) at the only Black-owned horse training business in Hollywood. The Haywood lineage dates back to the very first “assembly of photographs to create a motion picture,” and Haywood’s Hollywood Horses serves various TV and film productions out of a remote California ranch.

But recently, OJ has also been doing business with Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star who runs a nearby tourist attraction. Some amazing things have been happening there, and Ricky seems to need more and more horses to keep the people amazed.

Toss in Brandon Perea as a dangerously curious tech store worker and the inimitable Michael Wincott as an esteemed and disenchanted cinematographer and you have a remarkable set of oddball characters, each brought to life with peculiar but sympathetic performances.

Peele’s direction and writing effortlessly mine comedic moments, but Nope is no comedy. He unravels a mystery before your eyes, and his shot-making has never been so on point. The way he splashes color and motion across this arid landscape is stunning. His visual cues—often executed with macabre humor and panache—amplify the film’s themes while inducing anxiety.

Palmer and Kaluuya are a fantastic pair, sharing an uneasy, lived-in familial tension. Their battling energy—OJ is slow-moving and soft-spoken to Em’s live wire—contributes to the film’s discombobulating feel. Yeun delivers a surprise turn as a man still trading on past glories at a theme park. But everyone here has a relationship to the dangerous, life-altering, perhaps idiotic act of filming, of entertainment, of spectacle.

It feels a bit like Peele is saying that making a movie will kill you, if you’re lucky. But opening a film with a Biblical passage is no accident, and on a grander scale, Peele has crafted a genre-loving ode to a comeuppance tempted by grandiose delusions.

Nope is a tense, gorgeous, funny, insightful and ambitious thrill ride, which updates the filmmaker’s scorecard to three for three. And while Peele may still feel like he’s chasing perfection, here’s hoping he just keeps chasing.

Lone Ranger


by George Wolf

Exploring new life in the Toy Story universe comes with benefits – and drawbacks.

Sure, you inherit the goodwill earned by four of Pixar’s best feature films. But then, those films cast a mighty long shadow.

Lightyear taps into the warm fuzzies early, by letting us know why Andy wanted a Buzz action figure so badly that Christmas back in ’95. It’s because he loved the movie so much. This movie.

But honestly, for the first sixty minutes, you can’t imagine why.

Space Ranger Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) blames himself for marooning his settlement on a distant planet. A return to hyperspeed could bring everyone home, so Buzz is determined to keep testing until he gets it right.

Trouble is, each test flight sends him into a time dialator where 4 minutes up in space turns into 4 years back at base. So before Buzz knows it decades have passed, and he must take an untested team (Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules) and a robotic cat (Peter Sohn) into battle against Emperor Zurg’s forces for control of the precious hyperspeed fuel source.

That’s all fine, but that’s all it is. Director and co-writer Angus MacLane (Finding Dory) can’t find any way to make the toy’s story come to life.

Until Buzz comes face to face with Zurg (James Brolin).

Zurg has a big surprise for all of us, one that might as well send the film into hyperspeed.

Almost in an instant, the cinematography from Jeremy Lasky and Ian Megibben adds depth and wonder (that spacewalk – goosebumps!), MacLane quickens the pace while recalling both 2001 and Aliens, and backstories from earlier in the film pay off with gentle lessons on bloodlines, destiny, and what makes a life’s mission matter.

Stay for the credits and beyond to get two bonus scenes that bring a chuckle or two. But just make sure you sit tight for the final half hour. That’s when Lightyear delivers the kind of action and pizazz that just might make a kid change his Christmas list.

A Different Looking Glass


by Hope Madden

Long after slavery was abolished, Black families were still held against their will in the rural American south, and through lies and isolation were convinced that they belonged — like slaves — to the white families whose land they worked for free.

It was incredibly uncommon, but it was Mae Louise Wall Miller’s life until 1960.


Miller’s story inspired first-time writer/director Krystin Ver Linden to make Alice, a testament to knowledge, representation, and the power of Pam Grier.

Alice (Keke Palmer, who also produces) has lived her entire life on an isolated Georgia plantation as a “domestic” (code for slave) to Paul Bennett (Johnny Lee Miller). Cruelty, rage and fear finally spur her to run, and she winds up on a highway with no context for the world of 1973.

1973 has very little context to understand Alice, either.

There’s no avoiding comparisons to Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s 2020 film Antebellum. Where that uneven Janelle Monáe-led vehicle raged with modern horror, Ver Linden’s film takes a decidedly blaxploitation direction.

Bennet had taught Alice to read, but only so she could read to him for his enjoyment. This one gift is enough to fuel a passion for knowledge. Pair that with the inspiration of Pam Grier in Coffy, plus the encouragement of truck driver and one-time activist Frank (Common) – who nearly ran her down as she escaped to the highway – and Alice is ready to return for her family and some tasty revenge.

Palmer finds a true north for her character, and she never leaves that course. Alice’s grief, pain, confusion, fear, and finally righteous rage are never showy, always authentic. Frank’s arc is a little more superficially drawn, but Common gives the character tenderness that brightens the film.

No psychotic plantation owner will ever live up to the unfathomable evil of Michael Fassbender’s Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. Still, Miller’s brand of cowardly, narcissistic villainy is chilling.

Period detail and visual storytelling are both strengths for Ver Linden and her cinematographer, Alex Disenhof. But the film — this year’s Sundance winner for dramatic feature — has some pacing problems it can’t entirely overcome.

Alice falls into three very distinct acts, none of which move. The story itself is very deliberately built, but the way scenes are stacked offers no sense of momentum or urgency. This meandering quality robs the film’s climax of some of its power. But Alice mainly overcomes this weakness by telling the truth about the power in knowing who you are.