‘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: ‘Christopher Robin’ And a Silly Old Bear Remind Us of the Importance of Family

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CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Disney

This review was originally published on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen, Toby Jones

Director: Marc Forster

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Bumpy Rides on Trains and the Streets of London

Release Date: August 3, 2018

One reason the Winnie the Pooh stories have endured, particularly in cartoon form, is because of their commitment to the intense, occasionally overwhelming, wonders of the imagination. Ostensibly, the original fount of this imagination is Christopher Robin, whose stuffed animals have sprung to life in the Hundred Acre Wood. Christopher Robin the movie, starring Ewan McGregor as the grown-up title character, initially presents itself as being about the importance of retaining your inner child, as Pooh, Piglet, and the rest of the gang return unexpectedly after decades to visit their old friend. But along the way, Marc Forster’s film is powered along by the lessons of treating employees fairly so memorably espoused way back when (and year after year) in It’s a Wonderful Life. The businessmen of Christopher Robin are not quite as warped and frustrated as Mr. Potter, but they prevent people from properly enjoying their time with their spouses, children, and stuffies, and that cannot be abided.

The major conflict is that Christopher is unable to spend a weekend in the countryside with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) because of work commitments. Far from a workaholic who has forgotten how to have fun, he is instead a businessman who is constantly stressed out by the demands of his bosses and his commitment to do what is asked of him. As the efficiency expert at Wilson Luggages, he is tasked with finding the most cost-effective way to lay off staff, and he must have his presentation ready by a Monday morning meeting. He gets to work fulfilling this heartbreaking task, resigned to being stuck in a rigged system. Then Pooh Bear shows up, and through a series of mishaps, Christopher is able to see this problem anew with fresh eyes and discover a way for decent, hardworking people to keep their jobs AND have paid vacation time while still retaining efficiency.

The presence of talking stuffed animals could be played to make Christopher Robin appear insane to the rest of the world, but the Hundred Acre Wood gang is too un-self-conscious to hide their true selves to anyone. Thus, Pooh’s presence is disarming to all his human friends, acquaintances, and audience. His propensity for simple wisdom in the vein of Zen aphorisms is on full display, as he remarks, “it’s usually today” when Christopher Robin screams out, “It’s tomorrow!” and later declares that today is in fact his favorite day. We all can benefit greatly from leaving room for Pooh in our hearts. When life feels like it is just making our floors sticky and breaking our glassware, we just need to take that as an opportunity to assess the situation differently and realize what is really important.

Christopher Robin is Recommended If You Like: It’s a Wonderful Life, Winnie the Pooh cartoons, Making time to vacation with your loved ones

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Honeypots

 

This Is a Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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CREDIT: Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc.
and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.

I give Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 3 out of 5 Eruptions: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-movie-review-dino-sequel-provides-action-with-surprising-drama/

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Happy End’ Finds Michael Haneke Still Stinging, But Less Focused

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Fantine Harduin, Matthieu Kassovitz, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Franz Rogowski, Laura Verlinden, Toby Jones

Director: Michael Haneke

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Secret Sexual Proclivities and Mental Illness Troubles

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)

Austrin auteur Michael Haneke does not make his viewing experiences easy for his audiences, and that is exactly the point. The world as he sees it is stiff and unforgiving, so why not make his films just as ramrod confrontational? His 1997 home invasion thriller Funny Games plays wildly with morality, also disorienting his audience with fourth-wall breaking tricks and film grammar deconstruction. His latest, Happy End, proves that he still has the same impish spirit and penchant for poking his nose at the middle class, but this time the effects are slighter and more scattered.

Happy End is essentially about emotional numbness and how suicidal tendencies run through one family. This is difficult material, but worth exploring. The trouble is, Haneke’s approach is so cold and detached here that it is difficult to understand what point he is making and what is really going on. The film begins with preteen Eve (Fantine Harduin) poisoning her mother with sedatives, and I am still trying to figure out if she was in fact trying to kill her, or if she had any clear motivation at all. She poisons herself in the same way later on, and she is so hard to read that I cannot tell whether or not this suicide attempt is due to actual depression. When she helps her frail, wheelchair-bound grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) commit suicide by drowning, it suggests that depression runs in the family. But Georges’ decision might be based more on the pain of old age.

Haneke has a knack for stretching the limits of both civility and cinema, and that is present in Happy End in ways that have stuck with me. A troubled son (Franz Rogowski) disturbs his mother’s (Isabelle Huppert) engagement by showing up with a group of uninvited refugees. Eve’s father (Matthieu Kassovitz) and his new wife (Laura Verlinden) are too distracted by the blah-ness of life to really know what is going on around them. Multiple shots consist of cell phone video footage or a computer message screen. But the overall approach is as numb as its characters and doesn’t add up to a coherent message.

Happy End is Recommended If You Like: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Funny Games, The Square, but like, the first draft version of all of those

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hamster Videos

This Is a Movie Review: Bucking Concerns That It Would Be Derivative, ‘The Snowman’ Barely Even Qualifies as Storytelling

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CREDIT: Jack English/Universal Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rachel Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Snowman-Human Hybrid Tableaux

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The best part of The Snowman happens a few minutes when someone refers to Michael Fassbender’s lead character, “Detective Harry Hole,” by his full name. Shockingly, that is the only time we hear anybody say “Harry Hole” in its entirety. True, my enjoyment of that moment might be the most prurient form of punnery, and I probably won’t be able to convince who looks down upon crudeness and wordplay of its hilarity. But at least that name has personality, something which the rest of the film lacks entirely.

The Snowman’s poster reads, “MISTER POLICE. YOU COULD HAVE SAVED HER I GAVE YOU ALL THE CLUES.” The film itself acts upon the same instinct, essentially giving away the identity of the killer in the first scene. So clearly, the mystery is not the point of this ostensible mystery film. What then is it all about? Perhaps a deep (or at least shallow) dive into a murderer’s psychology? I imagine a fascinating dissertation could be written about a killer who carefully slices up his victims, builds a snowman after each kill, occasionally affixes parts of the victims into the snowmen, and always calls in a missing person report to alert the same detective to arrive on the scene just a little too late. But as for how it plays as narrative, well, the harsh Scandinavian winter must have made everyone too sleepy to craft any plot turns anywhere near compelling.

The Snowman is based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s novel of the same name, one of the many bestselling Scandinavian crime thrillers riding the coattails of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. One might imagine that a potential problem here would be falling into a trap of derivativeness, but The Snowman isn’t really a knockoff of anything, whether literary, cinematic, or otherwise. Instead, it is just a hodgepodge of elements that I cannot understand would be a part of any movie whatsoever. The cinematography is plain ugly, almost like specks of snow are constantly stuck to the camera lens. Then there is a whole subplot about Oslo’s bid to host the “Winter Sports World Cup,” which apparently exists because any press about the Snowman Killer cannot be allowed to distract from that bid. Maybe there is supposed to be a point here about government corruption, but it just comes off as narrative padding.

The Snowman’s greatest sin is stranding some very talented actors with absolutely nothing to do. It also calls into question the bona fides of its director, Tomas Alfredson, who had previously pulled off two solid adaptations (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Maybe this is just a hiccup, though if so, it is a big one. On the other hand, I have not read the novel, so maybe the problem is with source material that managed to be inexplicably successful. But at least we have Val Kilmer as a suicidal investigator, who is strangely compelling, with a freakish appearance that can only be described as “Haggard Vampire.” After watching The Snowman, you’ll certainly be able to relate to his fatalistic outlook.

The Snowman is Recommended If You Like: Despairing About the Pointlessness of Life

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Daddy Issues

 

This Is a Movie Review: Charlize Theron is Masterfully Icy Enough to Overcome ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ Shortcomings

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Bullets, Knives, Punches, and Kicks

Release Date: July 28, 2017

At its best, Atomic Blonde is like a cool music video. That description may sound useless in its simplicity, but when a film’s pleasures are its simplest ones, such pith is justified. I believe most people understand inherently what makes a music video cool, but to deconstruct it into its concrete components and how it relates to Atomic Blonde: it is about the combination of recognizable beats and imaginative imagery. Most action films have style, but not all of them have distinct visual wit that you won’t find anywhere else. Spray paint-strewn opening credits give way to an aesthetic dominated by icy blues. 1989 Berlin is filled with cloudy, low-lit neon clubs, and a new wave-heavy soundtrack that tends towards the robotically impersonal. Charlize Theron, the atomic blonde herself, is even introduced waking up in an ice bath.

For some godforsaken reason, Atomic Blonde also cares just as much about its plot. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to kill German spies. There is no need to remember her name – I am not sure anyone ever calls her by it – but it is useful to keep track of all the other byzantine details. Broughton teams up with a loose cannon station chief (James McAvoy) with some trepidation, eventually they have to extract a German operative (Eddie Marsan), and it all goes pear-shaped, leading to the frame device of the (consistently amusing) exit interview with her superiors (Toby Jones, John Goodman). The twists keep turning all the way to a somewhat exhausting near-two hour running time.

But do your best to trim through the fat, because we’re all here to see Charlize – as they say – “kick ass.” Director David Leitch offers hectic set pieces that are much easier to keep track of than his work on the first John Wick. Broughton is impressively skilled in all forms of combat, but she is not invincible. Just about every character suffers puncture wounds, so be prepared to wince. (2017 Trend Watch: improvised slicing weapons to the face, as one baddie gets a set of keys stuck in his cheek, just as John Wick utilized a pencil in his second chapter.)There is also a little bit of time to kick back and relax. A detour with Sofia Boutella as an undercover French agent is kind of cool partly because you do not often see queer relationships in this type of movie, but more so because a Theron-Boutella tȇte-à-tȇte is a solid attraction. The whole affair is a little more distressing and less intellectual than it probably means to be, but Atomic Blonde gets the job done.

Atomic Blonde is Recommended If You Like: John Wick: Chapter 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid: Redemption, Dark New Wave Soundtracks

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Keys to the Face