First Cow: Film Review

First Cow

Courtesy of A24

I have been reading high praise for Kelly Reichardt‘s First Cow for months and months, basically since its premiere at Telluride last year, but I remained cautious as her previous film, Certain Women, didn’t work for me at all. First Cow is a huge improvement upon its predecessor but also not as amazing as the critical acclaim would suggest.

The film is set in Oregon in 1820 and tells the story of Otis ‘Cookie’ Figowitz (John Magaro), a skilled cook who has joined a group of fur trappers. One day, he meets a Chinese immigrant named King-Lu (Orion Lee) and they become friends, with Cookie expressing his desire to one day open a bakery. When Chief Factor (Toby Jones), a wealthy Englishman in the settlement, gets a cow, the first cow in the region, Cookie and Lu come up with a business plan – take some of the cow’s milk during the night to make baked goods to sell the following day.

Like Certain Women, I really struggled to cope with the pacing of First Cow – it is so slow that I couldn’t get into the narrative, didn’t care about it, and really had to try hard and focus, to resist the urge to reach for my phone or close my eyes. Reichardt is known for her minimalist work and First Cow is just as sparse as her other films – I liked the story but it really didn’t need to be told over two hours. It’s so simple it could have been 90 minutes or even less.

The first half was the most challenging as not much happens and it feels rather dull but rest assured your patience will be rewarded. The second half, basically from when the duo starts to make baked goods for Chief Factor, gets interesting and the story’s pace really picks up from there. The tension starts to build as you know it’s inevitable their milk-stealing scheme will be discovered but you don’t know when, how, or what the consequences will be. It actually becomes quite exciting and the pay-off is worth it in the end. It’s a shame it’s so long and the first half is so slow-moving because I would have been far more positive about this film otherwise.

Magaro is a likeable lead and you want him to succeed. He strikes up a cute rapport with the cow, talking to her as he milks her, and I liked his unlikely friendship with Lu. Jones and Ewen Bremner were strong additions to the cast, while Lily Gladstone and Alia Shawkat have small roles.

First Cow didn’t do it for me like it has with many many other critics as I can’t cope with films being this slow and sparse. However, I cannot fault the storytelling in the second half and came to really enjoy the story.

In cinemas from Friday 28th May and on MUBI from 9th July

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Creation Stories: Film Review

Creation Stories

I love a throwback music industry biopic and Creation Stories – about record label boss Alan McGee – is no exception. It’s extremely lightweight, but I had a lot of fun with it.

The film starts with teenage Alan (Leo Flanagan) growing up in ’70s Glasgow, forming a band in his room with his school friend Bobby Gillespie (Ciaran Lawless) – later of Primal Scream – and follows the inception and rise of his independent record label Creation Records, which discovered and made famous bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, and Oasis. This is framed around an older McGee (Ewen Bremner) giving in an interview with American journalist Gemma (Suki Waterhouse) in Los Angeles, then in London, and then again on a talk show.

Creation Stories, directed by Nick Moran, opens with the disclaimer “most of this happened” and that some of the names have been changed “to protect the guilty”, immediately setting the irreverent and cheeky tone the biopic is about to take. If you’ve come to the movie expecting a deep, serious, and detailed look into McGee’s life, you will be disappointed because it is not like that at all. It is fun, light, and amusing, with the movie zipping by at a chaotic clip, offering up a highlights reel of McGee’s life while acknowledging but not dwelling on the lowlights such as his relationship with his father and his stint in rehab. The pace is fast, the editing is short and snappy, and there are plenty of asides and instances of Alan putting his words into other people’s mouths.

The script is hilarious and McGee’s turn of phrase often cracked me up, and it all made sense when I saw it had been written by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh with Dean Cavanaugh, based on McGee’s 2013’s autobiography Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label. It helps if you know McGee’s work, this era of rock/pop, and the bands he popularised before you go in because the film assumes that viewers do and moves through signings and Creation Records’ developments quickly. I wasn’t clued up and although I could follow it, I think viewers that have that knowledge will appreciate the film much more.

There are a bunch of standout scenes that make Creation Stories very entertaining, such as the bailiffs knocking on the record label’s door, Alan being escorted away by police for kicking off at My Blood Valentine for taking so long to make their album, and his first encounter with Oasis in King Tut’s in Glasgow in the early ’90s. Thankfully, the actors who portray the famous musicians don’t get much screen time, as that could have been quite distracting, although I thought Leo Harvey-Elledge was a decent Liam Gallagher looks-wise.

Bremner is a fun, hilarious lead who really sells the cheeky chap routine and his energy fits in perfectly with the tone of the movie. He delivers some fantastic lines as well as some very long, rapid-fire monologues. My other favourites were Jason Isaacs as Ralph, a British movie producer in LA who is super posh and camp, and Thomas Turgoose, a more sensible executive at Creation.

Creation Stories rips up the biopic rulebook and delivers something unique and fresh, but it is very lightweight and forgettable.

On Sky Cinema from Saturday 20th March

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Wonder Woman: Film Review

I was never excited for Wonder Woman because I was fed up of superhero movies and unimpressed with the previous DC offerings. My anticipation did start to build following the release of glowing reviews and I must admit it lived up to expectation and is definitely my favourite instalment in the DC Universe so far.

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T2 Trainspotting: Film Review

T2

I’m happy to put my hands up and say that I’ve never been a fan of the original Trainspotting. I watched it for the first time about three years ago and I didn’t understand the fuss because it was so dirty, gross and not enjoyable. So I wasn’t excited about the sequel from the announcement to the promo so imagine my surprise when it surpassed all my expectations – it is honestly better than the original.

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