‘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

Movie Review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ Plays It Way Too Safe by Both X-Men and General Movie Standards

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Scott Shepherd, Ato Essandoh

Director: Simon Kinberg

Running Time: 114 Minute

Rating: PG-13 for Getting Suddenly Violently Tossed About by Telekinesis

Release Date: June 7, 2019

I love the X-Men. They’re my favorite superhero team, and still, through it all, my favorite superhero movie franchise. They’ve delivered some dizzying cinematic heights but also some flicks that have driven me batty. So it pains me to say that Dark Phoenix did not make me feel much in the way of any strong emotions.

Some say that the X-Men series is burdened by tangled, contradictory continuity. I say it’s bolstered by it. Whereas other cinematic universes are careful to keep every little thread in line for the health of a sturdy timeline, the Merry Mutants traverse decades willy-nilly, tossing off whatever plotlines just aren’t working and cruising along with whatever’s exciting and vibrant, paradoxes be damned! Dark Phoenix doesn’t reject that approach, but it doesn’t embrace it either. It’s mostly content to tell a straightforward story, while occasionally throwing out some half-baked ideas. It’s a movie unstuck in time, instead of proudly giving the middle finger to any temporal concepts.

Dark Phoenix is clearly a labor of love. It’s the directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, who’s been with the franchise for over a decade, and it’s based on one of the most beloved comics storylines, in which telepathic telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) bonds with a super-hot cosmic force to become the most powerful creature on the planet, perhaps the whole universe. It’s a huge climactic big screen culmination that’s been promised to us for quite some time, but after seeing how it’s turned out, I mainly want to say: we would have been okay without this movie. Or maybe now just wasn’t the right time for it. It’s arriving hot on the heels of an X-Men movie whose title literally referred to the end of the world and another that said a fitting goodbye to a pair of iconic X-characters.

But it shouldn’t have been impossible for Dark Phoenix to be another rousing, revolutionary statement so soon after those conclusive paradigm changes. In fact, it would have totally been in keeping with this franchise’s always-moving-forward ethos. But that’s not going to happen when a climactic battle scene takes place in some random New York hotel or when Professor X and Magneto run through the same old rigamarole of bickering and then making a temporary peace. When the stakes are this high, you have to go for broke.

Dark Phoenix is Recommended If You Like: X-Men completism, if you gotta

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Firebirds