Skip to main content

First Cow

This is another potential casualty, at least on the big screen, of the Covid pandemic. We had trouble finding a way to watch First Cow despite good reviews and recommendations from friends. We finally resorted to watching it on a laptop through iTunes. We do not have an Apple TV and our ancient (four year old) Smart TV was just short of smart enough to cast this movie from a phone.

Despite those limitations, this beautiful film has an art-house feel, a simple story line and quiet, engaging dialogue between its two main characters. The feel is immersive, softly focused under the smoky forest canopy with audio engineering that brings to life every twig cracking under foot, the snap of a mushroom’s stem and the sounds of quietly chewing bites of biscuits. This contributes to an anxious experience for audiences who have been conditioned to expect sudden action on the heels of silence.

John Magaro plays Cookie, an expert East Coast baker accompanying fur trappers in the Oregon Territory during the mid to late 1800s. Verbally abused by a troop of surly mountain men, he remains a loner and spends much of his time searching for food in the forest. There he discovers King-Lu (Orion Lee), crouching naked in the woods, having escaped a group of pursuing Russians for having killed one of their members in self-defense. Keep in mind that this was a period of extreme racial injustice and mistreatment of Chinese immigrants. (Read Mark Twain’s Roughing It for more.) The ensuing friendship leads to an entrepreneurial arrangement that puts both new friends at risk. The actors turn in memorable, understated performances.

Eventually we meet the “first cow” brought to the territory by a wealthy landowner, who has a nostalgic craving for fine baked goods. Cookie and his new partner attract his attention at a sort of woodsy marketplace where they sell their biscuits, a memory-invoking Eastern treat in the remote frontier. The landowner’s insecurity with military counterparts and his vengeful nature factor into the plot as we approach the film’s subdued climax.

Director Kelly Reichardt, a Florida native, prioritizes atmosphere over plot and visual effects in her film festival entries, one of which (River of Grass) was called one of the best films of 1995 by the Boston Globe and others. The Academy Awards may seem overwhelming for someone who considers herself  “a pretty boring person” but if the awards are conducted virtually next year, First Cow may be a surprisingly perfect fit. At the very least it should receive nominations for sound editing and design.

First Cow (2019) runs 2 hours, 2 minutes and is rated PG-13

Should I see this movie? 

Popular posts from this blog

Parasite

Honestly, are you at all reluctant to see movies with subtitles? I have to be in the right mood. They require a certain amount of mental work and you can’t look down at your popcorn for even a few seconds for fear of missing something. Our viewing of  Parasite  was at noon on a Saturday, since our very un-art-house Regal 16 apparently felt that two hours of precious screen time early in the day was all that could be spared for a film that doesn’t have star power, explosions or talking animals. And if  Parasite  had not been nominated for Best Picture it’s unlikely we would have been given any chance to see it at all. Metaphors abound, or are at least proclaimed to be in abundance by numerous characters in the opening scenes of  Parasite . One particular “Scholar’s Rock” continues to make appearances like the monolith in  2001: A Space Odyssey . It is a gift to the Kim family from Min, a friend of son “Kevin” who asks for a favor that sets the entire plot of the movie in motion.

1917

We have now seen the best movie of the year. It is April 6, 1917. The “War to end all wars” will rage on until the Treaty of Versailles is signed on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day commemorated that event until it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. This is a uniquely effective, immersive film, due to being filmed in a continuous single camera shot (technically, listed as edited to appear as one shot). Only at one point at about the mid point did the screen go black, allowing for a reset, but then continued on in single camera fashion to the end. The difficulty of doing this, both from a cinematography perspective, performance by the actors, staging, lighting and set construction are hard to conceive, but Sam Mendes pulled it all together in the best war movie since  Saving Private Ryan .  And perhaps this could have been called  Saving Lieutenant Blake . 1917  was filmed in the UK on April 1, 2019. Imagine rehearsing the entire two hour journey of two young British soldiers

Fantasy Island

Ultimately, this is the “Tattoo” origin story. It just takes far too long to find that out. This is a low budget reimagining of the 1978 TV show by the same name that ran for an unbelievable six years. Launching off of the even more unbelievable success of  The Love Boat’s  eventual ten years at sea, this represents a dry period in the history of television, despite the vast waters that surrounded each show. Both ran concurrently with the long-running comedy game show  Hollywood Squares . These were simpler times, and the shows all provided a home for minor celebrities of the day.   Mister Roarke is back, but instead of the suave and sophisticated Ricardo Montalban, we now have the rather sleepy and thuggish looking Michael Peña who has played Ponch in the movie version of CHIPS and Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena in the Netflix series Narcos. He does an adequate job with the script but is unconvincing as the docent of a living island with magical powers. He is clearly bored and