First Cow (12A)
Verdict: A quiet masterpiece
Verdict: Fun, but overlong
Earwig And The Witch (PG)
Verdict: Never takes flight
The 2018 film First Man told the stirring story of the ultimate pioneer, Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on the moon.
First Cow is also a story about pioneering but, as you might imagine, somewhat more prosaic. If films could chew the cud, this one would, slowly and rhythmically, but also hypnotically. I hesitate to use the word ‘masterpiece’, but in its singular way, it is.
The director and co-writer is Kelly Reichardt, who likes to make films in which not much happens. The best example might be her 2010 western Meek’s Cutoff, about a wagon-train of settlers who get lost. Every time you think the story is going to lurch towards a resolution, it ambles in the opposite direction.
First Cow (above) is a much more satisfying picture, a really charming and intoxicating study of male friendship, which will stay with you long after the credits have rolled
First Cow is a much more satisfying picture, a really charming and intoxicating study of male friendship, which will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
It begins in the modern day, when a woman walking her dog discovers two human skeletons, side by side. We then plunge back in time to the early days of the Old West, to put flesh on the bones.
John Magaro plays a cook, Figowitz, known as Cookie. We first find him desperately foraging for food in the Oregon wilderness, to keep a surly band of trappers happy.
While looking for mushrooms he encounters a naked Chinese man, King-Lu (Orion Lee), in fear of his life. There are angry Russians after him. ‘I might have killed one of their friends,’ he explains.
Cookie keeps King-Lu safe and a bond develops between the pair, especially once they reach the frontier settlement of Fort Tillicum. Their life stories and personalities are strikingly different. King-Lu, dynamic and restless, has seen the pyramids. Cookie, who’s never been further east than Boston, is quiet and sweet-natured.
Together, marrying King-Lu’s entrepreneurial nous with Cookie’s talent for baking, they start a business selling ‘oily cakes’, a kind of doughnut, taking Fort Tillicum by storm.
One of their best customers is the Chief Factor (Toby Jones), a pompous Englishman. ‘I can taste London in this cake,’ he enthuses, blissfully unaware that the pair are getting the milk they require by illicitly milking his prize cow, the only cow in the village, in the dead of night.
Slowly, inexorably, this simple story — based on a novel by Reichardt’s regular writing partner Jon Raymond — somehow becomes completely captivating. But the film’s virtues don’t just lie in the narrative.
It’s an exquisitely-acted, heart-warming meditation on camaraderie, as well as a hugely evocative portrayal of the hardships of frontier life, among people who really were the astronauts of their day, boldly going where no one had gone before.
There’s nothing pioneering about Disney’s Cruella, which I reviewed at length in yesterday’s paper. In fact, though aimed at children, it has strong parallels with the 2019 film Joker, making the most of similar period detail (in this case the mid-1970s) to tell, quite sympathetically, the origin story of a celebrated screen villain.
Like Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in Joker, the title character has a split personality.
Disney’s Cruella, though aimed at children, has strong parallels with the 2019 film Joker, making the most of similar period detail to tell the origin story of a celebrated screen villain
By day she’s Estella (Emma Stone), a brilliant dress designer, getting precious little praise from her imperious employer but by night she’s Cruella, a dangerous new rival to the Baroness, whose empire she has sworn to destroy
By day she’s Estella (Emma Stone), a brilliant dress designer, getting precious little praise from her imperious employer, a titan of the London fashion world known only as the Baroness (Emma Thompson). By night she’s Cruella, a dangerous new rival to the Baroness, whose empire she has sworn to destroy.
But the story — effectively a prequel to the 1996 film 101 Dalmatians, starring Glenn Close — begins in Estella’s childhood. Bullied at boarding school, not least for her bizarre black-and-white hair, she is then orphaned and makes her way to London, where she thieves for a living with a pair of scallywags called Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser).
However, she knows that fashion is her calling, and eventually she gets her big break, only to discover that the Baroness is mixed up in the death ten years earlier of her mother (Emily Beecham).
Another contender for half-term viewing is Earwig And The Witch, the latest production from acclaimed Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli
A heist, a necklace, a birth certificate and the Baroness’s pet Dalmatians are all rather crowbarred into the narrative, but it’s good energetic fun, sumptuous to look at, and perfect half-term fodder even if, at more than two hours, it could have done with some muzzling.
Another contender for half-term viewing is Earwig And The Witch, the latest production from acclaimed Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli. It’s a fantasy set in England that begins with a baby witch dumped outside an orphanage. The voice cast includes Richard E. Grant and Dan Stevens, and the film has its charms, without ever really taking flight.
All in cinemas from today.
Stick the boot into Fergie? They wouldn’t dare!
You don’t need to support Manchester United — and I very much don’t — to stand in awe of the astounding career of Sir Alex Ferguson. Had he been in the dugout, instead of watching rheumy-eyed from the stands, then United would surely not have lost their European final on Wednesday night.
Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In (★★★★✩) is an admiring documentary directed by the great man’s son, Jason. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t ever stick the boot in, as Fergie sometimes did to his players. Literally so, in one notorious episode involving David Beckham.
But for all that, it’s a hugely watchable and moving film, which uses Ferguson’s recent recovery from a brain haemorrhage and terror of losing his memory as the stem of the narrative, around which colourful reminiscences from him and others are entwined.
Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In is an admiring documentary directed by the great man’s son, Jason. Pictured: Sir Alex in his Aberdeen days
It’s easily forgotten that had Fergie’s career ended before he joined United, he would still belong to the pantheon of high-achieving British managers, having broken the Rangers-Celtic duopoly when guiding unfashionable Aberdeen to Scottish and European glory.
So this film is a useful reminder, to the extent that United doesn’t even enter the story until 53 minutes in, by which time we have also learnt how his firebrand socialism, ferocious temper and will to win were all forged in the Clyde shipyards, long before he managed the Red Devils.
Speaking of which, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (★★★★✩) is a slick and scary addition to the Conjuring franchise, again starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. It’s based on an actual case — a 1981 murder trial in which the defendant claimed satanic possession as a defence — and it does everything that a good horror film should. In fact I’ll come clean; at screenings I always sit at the back because I don’t want my fellow film critics to see me jump.
Surge (★★★✩✩) is a sad, intense drama about a meek airport security man, Joseph, brilliantly played by Ben Whishaw, who has a nervous breakdown and goes on a mad crime spree in London.
It’s the feature-length debut of director Aneil Karia, who uses jumpy, restless camerawork to convey Joseph’s mental turmoil. It’s well done, with typically strong support from Ellie Haddington as Joseph’s anguished mother, but it’s not an easy watch. Nor is it meant to be.
All films in cinemas, but Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In for today only.