first cow trailer

Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow opens with a quote from Romantic poet William Blake: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” In Blake’s estimation, these are the active creations of each species – as well as their homes and resting places. Humans take refuge in each other through the creation of social connection and affinity. It is natural.

How fitting that Reichardt should choose to amplify this worldview in her latest film given how her films argue that we are communal, collective creatures at heart – and much of our misery stems from the presumption that we can survive without the support of others. Her Oregon-set oeuvre has largely made this case by depicting the intimate tragedies of people who experience the pitfalls of a society that places a premium on self-sufficiency. First Cow, on the other hand, points toward a positive alternative where people can succeed not at the expense of others but in cooperation with them. Her statement is all the more potent given the genre conventions in which the film largely operates: the Western.

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First Cow Review

(This review originally ran during our coverage of the New York Film Festival last year. First Cow is now available on VOD.)

Her films might not blare “it’s the economy, stupid,” but make no bones about it – Kelly Reichardt’s cinema frequently obsesses over how the mechanics of commercial arrangements affect interpersonal relationships. Though micro in scale, her films are macro in mindset. Her latest look at the subject, First Cow, goes all the way back to the fledgling days of American capitalism. The film finds an effective and ultimately touching contrast between the friendships born of enterprising businessmen and the ruthlessness of competing with entrenched elites.

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All the Natalie Portmans

After an extension by the MCC Theater off-Broadway, the COVID-19 outbreak forced the early closing of C.A. Johnson’s All the Natalie Portmans. That’s over two weeks of audiences who didn’t get to experience this production in its original form, which is a real shame. But as the virus forced New Yorkers and other entertainment-seeking visitors in the city out of public spaces, it moved them closer to more intimate forms of consuming entertainment – and quite proximate to the scenario of the play’s protagonist, Keyonna (Kara Young).

I recognize elements of her life because I lived many of them myself. As a 16-year-old in the year 2009 (yes, we’re even the exact same age), we didn’t have too much trouble with the classwork part of school but struggled to relate with other people. Instead, we found solace and comfort inside DVD boxes, learning empathy and connectivity through movie characters on our TV sets.

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Streamer's Guide to March 2020

(Welcome to The Streamer’s Guide, a new monthly feature recommending at-home viewing options from filmmakers with new movies arriving in theaters this month.)

March is when the movie year feels like it really kicks off in earnest. The studios start putting their best foot forward, not just taking out their trash. The indie labels put out some of prior year’s festival hits that weren’t quite built for an Oscar run – but are nonetheless incredibly impressive titles. Last year’s films finally start to surrender their screens at the multiplex and head to streaming, leaving audiences with many exciting new options.

This year, we’re getting two Cannes competition entries, a (potentially) bold reimagining of a Disney classic, a movie recently feared canceled, a sequel to one of 2018’s biggest original hits, a standout feature from an American indie legend and a movie about how a deerskin jacket turns a man on to crime. And that’s just what I covered here! Read on to find out not only what to see in March 2020 but also what you should be watching at home now to prepare for some of the month’s highest profile releases.

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Whistlers interview

When I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Corneliu Porumboiu, writer and director of the delightful film The Whistlers, it was the first time in my writing career I ever felt I shouldn’t come too heavily prepared with questions. I didn’t want answers from the filmmaker at the vanguard of the Romanian New Wave about his new work. Since The Whistlers is all about dualities, paradoxes and contradictions, what I really wanted was to simply engage in dialogue around all that the film raises. Luckily, Porumboiu indulged my odd request rather than scoffing at it.

Some quick background on this off-kilter crime caper before jumping into our conversation: The Whistlers follows the exploits of Vlad Ivanov’s crooked Romanian police inspector Cristi as he sets off to claim a bounty of drug money in the far-off Canary Islands. In order to get his hands on this coveted prize, he’ll have to learn a coded language of whistles that’s both simple and secretive. Along his winding path, Porumboiu has his protagonist confront any number of deceptive double agents, absurd situations, and self-serious archetypes from movie genres. It’s an uncategorizable delight, and it was an honor to dive deeper into the rich text with the filmmaker himself. Read More »

The Assistant Director Interview

It’s a little over two years following the culture-shifting reporting that sparked the #MeToo movement, and we’ve finally gotten the first truly great movie about the culture in need of dismantling. Kitty Green’s The Assistant follows a single day in the life of Julia Garner’s Jane, a new employee working for a Harvey Weinstein-like bullying boss. We inhabit her state of mind not through what she says or thinks but rather through what she does – primarily, dreary office tasks. But through the simplest of labor, Green brings to light a number of complex systems of gender, sex and power that undergird all workplace behavior yet remains unspoken.

The film represents a remarkable step forward for Green, who previously made waves for her 2017 documentary film Casting JonBenet. In that film, Green visited the hometown of the slain child pageant queen and used the pretext of a film based on the murder to explore how the event continues to make ripples in the community. She’s our most humanist “true crime” filmmaker, if one can assign her films to any genre at all, because her concern lies less in wrongdoing itself and more in how a community responds to it. In my interview with Kitty Green, we discussed how she found the film’s unique rhythm as well as how her research led her to emphasize the mundane over the sensational. Read More »

downhill trailer

(Welcome to The Streamer’s Guide, a new monthly feature recommending at-home viewing options from filmmakers with new movies arriving in theaters this month.)

If you’ve seen all the /Film coverage from Sundance and gotten eager to sample the year’s first crop of new movies, you’re in luck! A number of them are hitting theaters almost immediately following their Park City debuts (plus a few on Netflix, including Dee Rees’ supposed bust The Last Thing He Wanted), and that’s on top of what looks like a promising crop of new releases on the studio side of things. If you’re looking to prepare for February’s openings, or perhaps just preparing a double feature with one half at home, here are some viewing options for you.

(Of note: I was not able to include a film for February’s biggest release, Birds of Prey, because director Cathy Yan’s debut feature still does not have U.S. distribution. Dead Pigs somehow got enough attention to get her a gig directing a giant movie for DC Comics, yet no distributor wants to put her prior film out there over two years after it premiered at Sundance. Justice for Dead Pigs, Cathy Yan and female filmmakers of color!)

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Parasite

What praise is left to offer for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite that someone has not yet said? From debuting to the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival to earning the first ever Oscar nominations for South Korea, this riveting masterpiece gained fans among critics, moviegoers and industry folk at every turn this season. With the film now available to rent digitally and purchase on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States, it’s time to go deeper into the film’s immaculate construction and execution.

Luckily, I was able to do just that with the film’s editor, Jinmo Yang. I caught him on the phone at the end of the whirlwind day where he scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing. Despite being incredibly tired, he still cogently spoke to how the collaboration process worked with director Bong and how little the film departed from the meticulous storyboards created in pre-production.

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Streamer's Guide to Sundance 2020

It’s easy to look at a Sundance lineup with rose-colored glasses and think that there’s going to be some major breakout hits. We do it every year because, after all, hope springs eternal! 2020’s edition looks like the rare slate to premiere in Park City that will truly earn all of the pre-festival drooling.

A glance at the directors unveiling their new films at the first Sundance of the new decade looks like a veritable “who’s who” of filmmakers who were just on the cusp of breakthrough in the 2010s: Eliza Hittman, Josephine Decker, Janicza Bravo, and countless others. It’s also a welcome return for many directors who have been dormant for far too long: Miranda July, Julie Taymor, Benh Zeitlin. Many other names that, unfortunately, barely register upon scanning the lineup may leave Utah with a million-dollar distribution deal for their film and a star on the rise.

But none of them came from nowhere. Even if their feature directing debut nabbed a spot in the Sundance lineup, they all have some prior work that portends – or at least contextualizes – their ascendancy. If you’re not attending the festival, here’s how you can get in on the ground floor of some of these directors on the rise without even leaving the comfort of your home cinema.

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Cool Posts From Around the Web:

the grudge trailer

(Welcome to The Streamer’s Guide, a new monthly feature recommending at-home viewing options from filmmakers with new movies arriving in theaters this month.)

You may recognize this column name from its appearances surrounding the Sundance, Toronto and New York film festivals over the last two years. Festivals provide an important opportunity to assess filmmakers releasing new works and contextualizing them within their previous projects. They’re often useful for cinephiles and writers looking for growth or an auteurist stamp.

But … why limit it to just festivals? Each month offers a fresh crop of new releases, many of which are culminations or further explorations of elements from those creative teams’ prior work. So we’ve now expanded this feature to encompass each month’s new releases, and believe it or not, there are even things to look at in the barren terrain of January – Hollywood’s traditional graveyard for ominous-looking releases.

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