Glorious Food: On Kelly Reichardt's "First Cow"

There are no good or bad people in Kelly Reichardt's films. There are just people who, despite often being trapped in circumstances beyond their control, have to make choices.


The other day I saw two adults face off over a box of spaghetti.

The pasta shelf was otherwise empty. Desperate shoppers were loading up their carts with provisions that would, they seemed to hope, last them long enough to outlast the onslaught of the virus-that-shall-not-be-named. The two pasta hunters pulled at opposite ends of the box for a second. They glared at each other. Neither spoke. Then, because we live in a civilized society where it's not really that hard to find dry spaghetti, one of them let go with a huff, turned around, and walked away.

I thought about that while watching First Cow, the new, luminous feature film by Kelly Reichardt. In one scene, a group of men stand in line–each clutching something valuable, shells or coins or a paper deed of currency–waiting patiently for the chance to buy a sweet cake. These are gruff, dirty, smelly men who've found their way to the Oregon Territory sometime in the late nineteenth century, in search of riches, work, or perhaps a little corner of the woods to call their own. There aren't many cakes available. They're going fast. A young man's eyes follow each transaction, his mind calculating whether he'll make it to the front of the line before the final cake is gone. He does. There's one left. Suddenly, from behind him, an arm shoots out. A hard-faced elder takes the sweet, pays, walks away. The young man stands there aghast. He too, eventually, walks away.

First Cow Kelly Reichardt A24

There are no good or bad people in Kelly Reichardt's films. There are just people who, despite often being trapped in circumstances beyond their control–of gender, class, culture, geography, weather, biology–have to make their own choices. There are, to be sure, right and wrong choices, but "right" can mean many things, depending on the person and the circumstances. Right can mean morally correct, but it may also mean appropriate, advisable, expedient, or necessary, and everybody knows that those imperatives often exist in opposition to each other.

First Cow is about food (I mean, the protagonist's name is "Cookie," for crying out loud). Everything that lives must eat. First Cow shows chicken gobbling feed, and the cow chewing on grass, and a cat pawing at table leftovers; there's a pack of wolves snarling ravenously as they hunt for prey. But there's food and there's food. We eat because we need to but also because most of us love it, not just to fill our bellies but to nourish our souls.

The most crucial choices in First Cow are made by Cookie (John Magaro), a sensitive, flutey-voiced baker's apprentice from the East Coast, and King Lu (Orion Lee), an adventurous Chinese man with a gentlemanly manner and high ambitions. Although First Cow is the story of their friendship, it's not about friendship, or, I should say, it is, but in a strange, wonderful, roundabout way. It's not about cows either, though it does feature a cow.

The two first meet when Cookie finds King Lu hiding amidst the foliage, stark naked, and shivering. Cookie is a bringer and a finder and a maker of food. King Lu's first word to him is "hungry." So Cookie brings him food. Reichardt follows him as he forages for mushrooms, picks blueberries, pulls fish out of a stream. At King Lu's urging, Cookie steals some milk from the titular cow, imported to the hinterland by the pompously British Chief Factor (Tobey Jones) to make a batch of biscuits. It's King Lu who suggests they take Cookie's creations "to market," where Chief Factor anoints them as "delicious baked comestibles."

Neither one is someone you'd call a good guy. Cookie's nice, but he also leaves a baby unattended for the chance to drink a few sips of moonshine. King Lu is a thief and a killer. Still, they find and link themselves to each other with a finality already hinted at in the film's opening moments, and they make a chain of choices, some small, some momentous, some separately, some together. Their bond is formed as each saves the other's life–Cookie feeds a starving King Lu, who later returns the gesture by taking the cook in when he's run out of money and options. As their circumstances worsen and their options narrow over time, that bond becomes the core of their existence. The expressions on their faces as they find each other at a late, crucial moment–the concern, the relief, the love–are Reichardt's answer to that most fundamental question: What do we live for?

We need contact with others as much as we need food, which is why the virus-that-shall-not-be-named is messing with our heads. But true friendship is a rare thing–as rare, and as precious, as a dough puff slathered in honey is to a frontier woodsman who wears a dead possum for a hat.

Let's get one thing straight: Ricky Gervais is an absolute jerk.

He's incredibly condescending about his atheism, he's defended transphobia, he's mocked Anne Frank, and he's generally built a career around making people uncomfortable. He's also pretty f*cking brilliant. The original creator of the international phenomenon The Office, Gervais' brand of clever cringe humor has helped to shape the direction of comedy for the last decade. As such, he was tapped to host the Golden Globes first in 2010, when he quickly set a precedent for edgy jokes made at the expense of the award show's famous guests. His obvious disregard for the status quo and willingness to offend powerful people was oddly refreshing, earning the awards show some of their highest ratings in years, resulting in Gervais returning as host for a record five times as of 2020.

This year, Gervais quickly made it clear that he planned to go for shock factor even more than usual, saying, "You'll be pleased to know this is the last time I'm hosting these awards, so I don't care anymore. I'm joking. I never did." He then went on to absolutely lambaste the Hollywood establishment, earning many dropped jaws and even an irritated look from Tom Hanks. His most controversial comments included:

"Many talented people of color were snubbed in major categories. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about that. Hollywood Foreign press are all very racist."

" Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere and by the end his date was too old for him. Even Prince Andrew was like, 'Come on, Leo, mate.You're nearly 50-something.'"

"Talking of all you perverts, it was a big year for pedophile movies. Surviving R. Kelly, Leaving Neverland, Two Popes. Shut up. Shut up. I don't care."

And then, finally, perhaps most scathing of all, he closed with: "So if you do win an award tonight, don't use it as a platform to make a political speech. You're in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and f*ck off, OK? It's already three hours long."

It soon became evident that many of the award presenters and winners ignored Gervais' advice. Michelle Williams called on more women to engage with politics, Jennifer Aniston delivered a brief speech calling for climate action on Russell Crowe's behalf, and Patricia Arquette denounced Trump and called on everyone to vote in 2020. And while each of these statements were met with applause from the audience, they also rang a bit hollow in the wake of Gervais' assertion that these ultra-rich, privileged celebrities know nothing of the real world. Jennifer Aniston is worth $240 million, Russell Crowe is worth $95 million, Michelle Williams is worth $16 million, and Patricia Arquette is worth $24 million dollars– meaning that each of these celebrities benefit from the system of late capitalism that has brought about the rise of the far right and climate change.

But isn't it still admirable that they chose to use their platforms for advocacy? Or is it simply hollow virtue signalling meant to make these extremely privileged people seem compassionate and "woke" in the eyes of the public? But if these kinds of statements make a positive impact regardless, does it matter? Do we have any reason to believe there is any positive change actually brought about because of political award show acceptance speeches? Is it all smoke and mirrors, like the rest of Hollywood?

Or maybe these aren't the right questions at all. Maybe what we should be asking is why anyone gives a sh*t what actors have to say in the first place. Gervais is right, at least, in that many of the glamorous guests at the Golden Globes aren't college educated, have been removed from the financial struggles of your average American for years, and generally exist in an isolated bubble of privilege. Though, one has to wonder what gives Gervais the right to engage in these conversations if he's so vehemently discouraging other celebrities from doing so. Afterall, his net worth is estimated at $130 million, so what does he know about the real world, either? One glance at his Twitter account makes it clear he is no stranger to political conversations, and he obviously takes great pride in feeling superior to other celebrities and Twitter users. One thing is clear: Gervais did not make such a controversial speech because of some genuine desire for change. He said what he said to stir controversy, to make himself feel superior, and to illicit reactions from the room. But that doesn't mean he was wrong.

Perhaps one has to ultimately conclude that all of it is nothing but a distraction from the only hope to save our world from its cycle of decay: big, structural change that can only happen as a result of a complete overhaul of our political system, culture, and collective perspective. Maybe celebrities have nothing to do with it. Maybe they're a part of the problem and can't be a part of the solution no matter how political they get when accepting shiny statues from antiquated and racist institutions.


The 77th Golden Globe Awards, Starring the Climate Crisis

Actors used their acceptance speeches to speak out on the tragic fires in Australia and other humanitarian issues.

Though the Golden Globe Awards are intended to honor the best of motion pictures and television, last night's ceremony occurred in the shadows of the multiple humanitarian crises occurring around the world.

Ricky Gervais' brash opening monologue set the scene for a night full of critical political commentary, and many actors used their acceptance speeches to expand on a multitude of issues, the most common topic being the fires in Australia that have killed over 20 people and millions of animals. Though that crisis is happening miles and miles away from Beverly Hills, it was only a few minutes into the Golden Globes that those fires hit close to home.

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon together presented the nominees for Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture for TV, among whom Russell Crowe won. But the Loudest Voice actor wasn't there to accept his award; he was home in Australia helping to protect his family and his house from the fire. Aniston shared a message from him: "The tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based. We need to act based on science, move our global force to renewable energy, and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is. That way, we all have a future."

Australian Bushfires Given Spotlight At Golden Globes

Stars like Ellen Degeneres and Cate Blanchett gave their hopeful sentiments to Australia during their speeches, while others like Joaquin Phoenix used the opportunity to call out some of their peers: "It's really nice that so many people have come up and sent their well wishes to Australia, but we have to do more than that," the actor said, accepting his Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture award for portraying the title character of Joker. "We don't have to take private jets to Palm Springs for the award sometimes, or back. Please. And I'll try to do better and I hope you will, too."

Michelle Williams used her speech to call for her fellow women to vote in the upcoming presidential election, while Patricia Arquette expressed her fear for potential war following President Trump's decision to assassinate top Iran general Qassem Soleimani last week. Gervais, however, was having none of it, pointing out the hypocrisy of Hollywood "wokeness."

"If you do win an award tonight, don't use it as a platform to make a political speech," the host urged. "You're in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God, and f--k off, OK?"

Whether Gervais' suggestion was fair is up for a long debate, but the climate crisis was definitely the Golden Globes' surprise star.

Acting is a strange trade.

By nature of the profession, an actor is supposed to don various masks, completely immerse themselves in a role to the point that they can convince audiences that they're someone else entirely, then discard it all as soon as the show or movie is done—only to start up again as a different character.

Many actors do this effortlessly, but others have dived too deep into their roles, losing touch with their real selves in the process. These actors have taken character acting a bit too far.

1. Joaquin Phoenix — Joker

Joaquin Phoenix confessed that preparing himself for Joker was no easy task. He lost 52 pounds in six months, which is incredibly dangerous, and he found himself fatigued and socially ostracized and on the verge of going "mad." Of course, the Joker is a famously destructive and all-consuming part. For his role as the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger locked himself in a hotel room for a month; and for the same role in Suicide Squad, Jared Leto adopted the Joker's twisted personality, sending bizarre gifts and playing strange pranks on the film's cast and crew.


Best Emmys Moment: Kardashians Heckled

Is the Kardashian dynasty finally ending?

Love them or hate them, you have to respect the Kardashians for managing to keep the American public enthralled with their lives and careers for over a decade.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians has won four Emmys in its 17-season-run, a respectable number for any reality TV show. But, apparently, the success of the program doesn't mean the TV industry respects the sisters. Last night, when Kendall Jenner and Kim Kardashian-West took the stage to present at the 2019 Emmy's, Kardashian-West said seriously, "Our family knows firsthand how truly compelling television comes from real people just being themselves." In response, a wave of laughter came from the audience. To claim that Keeping Up with the Kardashians is some kind of truthful documentary about people "just being themselves" is pretty absurd, considering the reality show is known for its inflation of drama and general inauthenticity.

Kim Kardashian & Kendall Jenner LAUGHED AT While Presenting at 2019 Emmys?

But then again, maybe the line was intended as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the show's vapid reputation. If that's the case, Kardashian-West was clearly not in on the joke. Frankly, regardless of the intention of the statement, it's difficult to imagine an awards show audience heckling the all-powerful Kardashians even as recently as a few years ago. But with so many shows featuring truthful depictions of women nominated across categories this year, perhaps the often toxic and shallow world of Keeping Up with the Kardashians is finally going out of style in Hollywood. Maybe the reign of the Kardashians is finally coming to an end, and figures like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Alex Borstein, and Billy Porter will take their place and elevate the conversation.

Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Lana Del Rey just dropped their new video for "Don't Call Me Angel," and how you feel about it will differ depending on what kind of fan you are.

So, in order to avoid incurring the wrath of one of these pop queens or her battalion of fans (and to draw attention to the inherently subjective nature of music reviews, but that's another can of worms), we've tailored our review to adapt to the perspectives of each type of listener.

Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey - Don’t Call Me Angel (Charlie’s Angels)

1. For Ariana Grande Fans

Ariana fans—today is our day. If this was American Horror Story: Coven, then Ariana would undeniably be the Supreme of this video. From beginning to end, Ariana soars above the rest; like a sun, she illuminates everything around her, and the rest of us are lucky to exist in her stratosphere.

Dressed in ravishing white and glowing with all the magnetism of a heavenly being, she sets the scene for the song and guides it towards its electric chorus. Her silky voice sounds as flawless as ever, and it's not hard to see why she's one of the most successful pop stars of her generation. Between her peerless vocals, her radiant appearance, and her enchanting presence, she has the camera wrapped around her little finger from the first moment she appears.

Ariana has been through so much and has come through her pain without a hint of bitterness or vitriol. She's the embodiment of resilience, and her strength and beauty is an inspiration to us all. Here, she does a victory lap, confident in what is sure to be a very long legacy.

2. For Miley Cyrus Fans

Miley Cyrus is clearly the strongest and most forceful presence in this video. Finally, it seems that she has found a balance between the chaos of her Wrecking Ball era and the cloistered calm of Younger Now. Here, she's older, wiser, and tougher than ever before. Having shattered the binary restrictions of her Hannah Montana days, now, she's not playing any role except for herself. She's owning all her contradictions, running her own life, and inviting us to follow suit. When she spits out, "I make my money and I write the checks / so say my name with a little respect," it's chill-inducing, and these lines are even more powerful considering that they come in the wake of her separation from Liam Hemsworth (who she may or may not have been calling out).

By challenging gender norms and refusing to comply with any normative aspects of sexuality, and by unapologetically owning her dominance and power, Miley is at the forefront of the modern feminist revolution. While the other two artists remain trapped by old-fashioned ideals of female subservience, Cyrus literally ties these concepts to a chair and beats them bloody.

3. For Lana Del Rey Fans

Lana Del Rey is criminally under-featured in this video, but when she's finally allowed to emerge from the shadows, it becomes clear that she's been in power all along. When her verse kicks in, a song that had previously been a shimmery and forgettable pop tune shifts to a dreamlike and sultry blend of psychedelia and trap, and Lana's whispery drawl eclipses the others' howls and shouts. Here, she's alternatively a devilish seductress illuminated by flames and a leather-clad, knife-wielding powerhouse, manning the computers and sending waves of helicopters out with the click of a button. This might as well be a metaphor for the kind of power she has in pop culture: All of her actions float outwards like soundwaves, spawning millions of copycats and creating indelible impacts on new generations of musicians.

Lana has never felt the need to put on the kind of antics on which Cyrus and Grande have built their careers. Keeping her private life shrouded in mystery, she bides her time and saves her wisdom and energy for her music. Quietly, Lana has carved a space for an entirely new kind of female pop star, and each artist (and the video's overall aesthetic) is indebted to her world-building talents. She has always refused to comply with any preconceived notion of what it should mean to be a woman or a writer, destroying stereotypes and embodying a wild kind of individualism and sexuality that puts her in a class of her own.

4. For Fans of All Of Them

Why do we always feel the need to pit women against each other? Lana Del Rey, Miley Cyrus, and Ariana Grande are some of the most talented pop artists alive today, and we should celebrate the fact that they're all working alongside each other, not compare them. The video is a triumphant celebration of three icons, confident in their strength, completely owning their sexualities, and eviscerating all the forces that hold them back. Together, they destroy their enemies in their own unique ways, embodying different facets of womanhood and power but ultimately each playing an integral role in a gorgeous and cinematic work of art.

Seeing all these artists come together is a blessing in and of itself. Imagine how the set must have felt with all of them in it—with all the force of their creative visions, strength, and magnetism conspiring together to create an explosion of sonic and visual magic.

5. For Social Justice Warriors

Charlie's Angels is a franchise predicated on female sexualization and the glamorization of violence. This video's overt white feminist ethos is completely based on a patriarchal concept of power, and it's ultimately damaging to feminism.

When will we start listening to women's real voices, and stop glorifying white women's ascension to violent, patriarchal positions of power? Feminism must be intersectional, not based on the actions of conventionally attractive white women; and it cannot continue to glamorize phallic symbols of authority like guns and knives. Instead, we must create a new reality that addresses the intersectional nature of third wave feminism, or at least stop praising videos that glorify female sexualization and spectacular violence.

This video is not about female solidarity, as each woman appears in a different frame, and they only come together at the end—whereas Charlie's Angels is, at its best, about the bonds between women, not their fraught relationship with men. (At its worst, it's an archaic and problematic show that has always profited off the subjugation of young women).

Ultimately, the video pales in comparison to Destiny's Child's Charlie's Angels promo song. Also, Ariana Grande's chorus completely copies Rihanna's "B*tch Better Have My Money" (just listen to 1:29)—and at the end, Elizabeth Banks appears and literally calls them angel, driving home the video's hypocrisy, as all these women have just spent the entire video asking not to be called angels. Canceled.

Destiny's Child - Independent Women, Pt. 1 (Official Video)

6. For Men's Rights Activists

This video shows what will happen if feminism is allowed to progress the way it's going. The Miley Cyrus scene is an example of blatant violence against men, justified by the existence of feminism, and this trash is exactly why Trump needs to win in 2020.

Sure, all three of them are smoking hot, but they don't show nearly enough skin. They're also wh*res who should put more clothes on. Also, these women seem not to want to be called angels, but they're dressed like angels, so obviously they do want to be called angels. Why won't women ever say what they mean? The female species is so confusing, and not only because none of them will sleep with me even though I'm a really, really nice guy.

7. For People Who Don't Care

The Amazon Rainforest is BURNING, there's a global water crisis that's doomed to worsen before the planet dies in 2050, and genocides are going unchecked in China and North Korea. Get off Twitter.