‘First Cow’ is a Quirky Western About Pop-Up Food Peddling

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CREDIT: Allyson Riggs/A24

Starring: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd, Lily Gladstone, René Auberjonois

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for “Brief Strong Language,” according to the MPAA

Release Date: March 6, 2020 (Limited)

I’m sure there were other cows before the cow in First Cow, but she brings so much sweet satisfaction that she’s sure just as lovely as any actual first cow.

Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) and King Lu (Orion Lee) meet up and become fast friends on the 19th century Oregon frontier. Their backgrounds are vastly different (Cookie’s originally from Maryland, King’s a Chinese immigrant), but they are nevertheless kindred spirits, bonded by shared drives to make something fulfilling out of their rough terrain. The first third or so of First Cow is rather sleepy, as it mostly consists of Cookie and King wandering through the dark woods. But then they chance upon a bit of a piping-hot business, and suddenly their story is working like gangbusters.

If you’re like me, you might spend a good portion of First Cow wondering, “Where is this cow? I was promised a cow. Let’s get a move on, Mr. Plot!” But patience is a virtue, and if you can indeed be patient, you will be rewarded handsomely, just as Cookie and King are, by writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s steady approach. C and K find the milk-producer just hanging out in a field, and they gather up her cream for all it’s worth. They then slot it in as the key ingredient for a batch of biscuits that they hawk in the middle of town. It tastes unlike anything their customers have ever tasted before, yet it also takes them right back to their childhood kitchen memories. The biscuits sell out immediately day after day the same way that a cupcake pop-up burns through its supply in the hippest part of the neighborhood in 2020.

Cookie and King are always hustling, so I guess we now know what it looked like when you were hustling while stuck out in the woods one hundred-some-odd years ago, or at least we have a satisfying cinematic approximation of what it was like. They certainly have to summon all their wits when they realize that their cow belongs to a wealthy landowner played by Toby Jones who’s been one of their loyal customers. When the jig is up, they find themselves once again out there floating through the coarse landscape. I’m not too experientially familiar with this harsh environment, but I recognize this strain of human existence. Reichardt takes on an interesting, untraditional journey of frustration, satisfaction, and worry bumping against each other. It’s a weird rhythm that I daresay is worth getting in tune with.

First Cow is Recommended If You Like: Toby Jones licking his lips

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Biscuits

This Is a Movie Review: T2 Trainspotting

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This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova

Director: Danny Boyle

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Pointy Things – Both Body Parts and Devices You Stick Into Your Body

Release Date: March 17, 2017 (Limited)

1996’s Trainspotting features one of the most iconic opening shots in film history, as Ewan McGregor’s feet fall from the sky and then pound the Edinburgh pavement to the inimitable strains of “Lust for Life.” The kickoff to 20-years-later sequel T2 Trainspotting directly calls back to its predecessor, but in a sly way that ensures this is no empty exercise in nostalgia. And really, how could it have ever been that? Getting back together with your junkie criminal mates is not exactly the stuff of teary-eyed reunions. T2 falls short of reaching the landmark status of the original (a nearly impossible task), but its themes (“choose life,” choose whatever the hell you could possibly choose) and hallucinogenic style remain intact.

It has been several years since I saw Trainspotting, and over the course of T2, it becomes abundantly clear how many plot specifics I have forgotten. Luckily this is the type of sequel that fills you in on everything, with enough dreamy flair to prevent any flashbacks feeling like spoon-feeding. Renton (McGregor) has been living in the Netherlands with his Dutch wife; he still runs, but for exercise, not to escape the law. Spud (Ewen Bremner) got clean for a little while, but is now on the brink of suicide. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), in between “running” a family pub, is pulling a sleazy blackmail extortion scheme with the help of his young Bulgarian “girlfriend” Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Franco (Robert Carlyle) is serving a 25-year jail sentence and scheming to get out. And Diane (Kelly Macdonald) is now a lawyer, dropping in for a cameo consultation.

Nobody is thrilled over Renton’s return, considering he stole everyone else’s shares of the drug deal at the end of the first film. But they mostly reconcile enough to commit to Sick Boy’s plan to open a “spa” (i.e., brothel). Franco, fulfilling the wild card role, is off on his own teaching his son how to sell stolen goods; he is much less forgiving when his and Renton’s paths cross.

Whether or not they succeed (or what success even is in this situation) is beside the point. T2 is about taking stock of one’s life, and how unsettling such midlife reflections are with a druggie past (and present). Director Danny Boyle throws out all his tricks to make this chapter simultaneously unsettling, beautiful, and hypnotic. Camera angles are slightly askew, slow motion and freeze frames disrupt the rhythm, and even Snapchat filters are used to great effect. Adding to the surrealism (for non-Scottish audiences) is the impenetrability of the thick accents. There is a bit of fun with subtitles during one Franco scene, but otherwise we are left to our own devices to figure out what the hell everyone is saying. For the most part, I do not even bother with such translation; I would advise you to do the same.

In one unforgettably riveting scene, McGregor resurrects the classic “Choose Life” monologue for a new generation. The rejection (but also pseudo-acceptance) of capitalism inherent in these speeches is what fuels this series. There is plenty left in the tank to continually define the Trainspotting thesis. In just five minutes, McGregor demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt why he would ever want to revisit such an iconic role.

T2 Trainspotting is Recommended If You Like: Sequels That Seem Unnecessary But Turn Out to be Quite Fulfilling

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Needles Shared Between Friends