‘Fast Color’ and the Superhero In Need [Review]

‘Fast Color’ and the Superhero In Need

★★★

Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has released 23 feature films. The combined budget for these films hovers around $4.5 billion while the combined box office adds up to more than $22.5 billion. Audiences love these movies, and our view of a superhero has morphed in the process. We look for superheroes to have at least one of a variety of traits, including but not limited to super strength, teleportation, mind control, suits with super armor, a godly hammer, or even just an array of assassin skills. With each new film, our expectations for a superhero and their abilities raise 

Enter writer/director Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) and actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn) and their film Fast Color. Hart’s movie focuses in on Ruth (Mbatha-Raw), a woman who has powers she cannot control, which cause earthquakes. Her abilities cause destruction, and we her on the run from the law and from scientists hoping to capture and study her. 

After a couple close calls, she decides to head home, finding her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and abandoned daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) living somewhat happily. Both also have these powers, and can see “the colors,” which Ruth hasn’t seen in years once she lost control of how to use her superhuman features. The women decide to help Ruth take back her life, her body, and her powers, as Ruth hopes to reconnect to her mother, her daughter, and herself in the process. The setup looks like a far cry from those Marvel movies we’ve come to know and love.

‘Fast Color’ and the Superhero In Need
source: Codeblack Films

The difference between Marvel and Fast Color is in the protagonists. In most superhero or at least superhuman films, those with the powers save someone or something. They are protectors, last lines of defense. In Hart’s film, the superhero needs saving. She asks for help, and she’s the destructive force in the universe. An oddly poetic story follows, which pushes the narrative that we all require saving from time to time, and that superhuman abilities don’t need to translate into saving the world. 

Mbatha-Raw gives more of herself as the film progresses, and the performance actually becomes much better after a few weeks of reflection. Fast Color is the first superhero movie, outside of Black Panther, that stuck itself in the corner of the mind, existing more as a thought-provoker than a one-time explosive experience. Hart’s film also becomes more beautiful as Ruth rediscovers her powers, and finally sees “the colors,” a worthy wait for the audience. Once she, and we in turn, see them, it all begins to have meaning on a deeper level and resonance beyond just a mother/daughter story.

Though it falters during a few scenes and the dialogue can be a bit shaky, Fast Color holds a weight in its hands, and changes how you think about the (de-glamorized) superhero as human instead of godly. It puts a face to a genre that usually is filled with masks and suits. It shows the pains and difficulties, instead of the heroics. Ruth’s gender and ethnicity only add to the nuance and importance of Fast Color, as you learn that she deserves screen time just as much as the Avengers, the Eternals, and any other group of people we assign admiration and value to as a society.

Fast Color and its hero have more than superhuman powers, they have drive and purpose, and intent to do good in the world. If more movies follow suit, a new superhero will be formed, one void of perfection and full of promise.

Why Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins are the best comedic duo in film

Why Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins are the best comedic duo in film

The most enjoyable double-feature of 2019 doesn’t feature any Martin Scorsese, Brad Pitt, or Adam Driver. These films likely won’t win any awards or even be nominated for any Oscars. These films trade mobsters and marriage for swords and salads. Sword of Trust followed by Brittany Runs a Marathon will bring you laughter, and four hours of pure joy.

These films star the top (and my favorite) comedic duo currently working in Hollywood: Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins. In Sword of Trust, the duo joins Marc Maron for an exploration of conspiracy theorists and the Wild West of those who believe the South won the Civil War.

Bell and Watkins play a lesbian couple in possession of an old sword, one they are trying to pawn off for a large sum of cash. Maron plays the pawn shop owner, who is roped into the whole affair in pursuit of money himself. The whole film is absurd, and absolutely hilarious.

Bell and Watkins balance each other out as a couple in that film, with Bell being unknowing, a bit ditzy, with a confused look splattered onto her face. Watkins is the firmer of the two, doing the talking in high-pressure situations and taking control in steering conversations. They complement one another in every scene, and their banter-laced chemistry feels unrehearsed.

In Brittany Runs a Marathon, Bell fills the title role of couch-potato-turned-marathoner and Watkins plays her slightly older and motherly upstairs neighbor, a recent divorcee. Though the film is inherently less funny than Sword of Trust, it provides more inspiration and feelings of warmth, leaving you with a feeling that the world is a better place than it was two hours prior.

Again, Bell and Watkins act as opposites, though we find out they’re much more similar than we originally thought. Bell is carefree with a individualized resolve, while Watkins is bound to her children and her past, looking for friendship and support from those around her. Both actors continue to be funny, endearing, and understanding in each and every role they play, especially in these two films.

The key to the Bell-Watkins duo is in their conversations together. In every scene in which these women communicate, they speak like old friends who are catching up. They converse as though they’ve known one another for ages, yet could be meeting for the first time and enjoying one another’s company. They talk over each other in Sword yet listen intently in Brittany. They look to actually make each other laugh, and their genuine smiles warm up the screen.

Yes, they’re funny and their timing deserves applause, but the duo provides heartfelt moments in each film. The sincerity shines through and you’re left feeling happy that the duo exists at all. Though these films might not be the best films of the year, they certainly make for the most pleasant way you can spend four hours. These women are to thank.

Though both actors have been in Hollywood for quite a few years now, they are seeing more leading roles and deservedly so. Their established rapport shouldn’t be overlooked or understated, and if you see their names on a movie poster, you most likely won’t be disappointed with the film.

All of this might be speculation on my part, but from the looks of the video below, this friendship is lovely and we should finance any filmmaker who wants to put these two actors in a movie together.

The last 3 weeks: a writing bonanza

The last 3 weeks: a writing bonanza

I spent the last few weeks in a groove. It became a busy end of November and now I’m into early December having seen 80 movies that came out in 2019. The big 8-0!

For Film Inquiry, I interviewed one of my childhood acting heroes in Glynn Turman.

For Ready Steady Cut, I reviewed A24’s new indie Waves.

For Cinema Sentries, I interviewed producer Brian Volk-Weiss, reviewed the Italian Christmas film Feast of the Seven Fishes, as well as the indie film The Planters.

For The Playlist, I did a few trailer write-ups, for the upcoming films Trolls: World Tour and Just Mercy.

For MediaVersity, I did a criticism of The Peanut Butter Falcon, looking at the way the film handles gender, race, and body image.

For Filmotomy, I reviewed the sort of lovely, sort of weird Last Christmas.

Finally, for Crooked Marquee, I wrote about A24, and why I think the production company is so popular.

Busy times with many more articles in December!

NYFF Review: ‘First Cow’ and the warm, sneaky nature of friendship (and oily cakes)

If we’re going to simplify life, there are two ways to become friends with someone:

  1. You both meet, and you like each other, and so you become friends.
  2. You meet, you don’t really like each other, but then after some time together and likely some time apart, you start to like each other, and so you become friends.

Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow explores the second type of friendship, deep in the backwoods of the Oregon Territory in the early 1800s. The film follows the companionship of two men, Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) and King Lu (Orion Lee). Cookie is a man who loves to bake, and King is a man who loves to make money. It’s a match made in heaven, or at least in the forest of the West Coast when Cookie finds King naked and on the run.

It would be easier to refer to them to their last names, as is the style of reviews and articles, but writing the word Cookie to describe Magaro’s lonesome, quiet character is just too much fun.

Reichardt crafts her own world, one based on the novel by Jonathan Raymond, in the two-hour runtime. We meet the camp’s Chief, Captain, town drunk, and errand boy. The first scene in the film features the great Alia Shawkat finding skeletons, only to never return to the screen. A cast of characters fills out around Cookie and King, but this is a story about these two men and the friendship that grows throughout the film.

It’s a story about two outcasts with specific skills, who find each other and decide to form a partnership. See, Cookie is a baker, one that can make oily cakes, and King is a master salesman.

First Cow is a film bursting with sweetness. It’s a mouth-watering journey of success, failure, and then survival. My focus throughout the film was on the oily cakes themselves and how they relate to the friendship they are keeping together. It’s important to add that they look delectable, and Reichardt sure convinced me of Cookie’s cooking capability.

Oily cakes, biscuits, are crumbly, sweet, fragile, and in this case, made with secrecy, sneakiness, and a bit of mischief. Cookie and King use a cow’s milk, the first one to come into the old camp, to make these delicious bites of goodness. They steal the milk from the Chief of the camp, and he even becomes one of their regular customers.

The oily cakes in this movie require patience, as does any good friendship. They require time to bake, and also time spent in line in order to order one, since they become the hottest commodity in this corner of the Oregon territory. These cakes are made out of a passion for baking, which is one of the reasons this movie stuck with me long after the viewing. Cookie just wants to save enough money to open a bed and breakfast down South, and King has joined him in this lifelong goal.

It’s a friendship born out of mischief, out of breaking the rules. These oily cakes require the two men to steal and lie, a formative bond for any friends. They require the men to get up early and stay up late, with every little conversation being a joy to the audience’s eras. We are in the cabin with them, just another cooks in the kitchen and criminals on the run.

It’s a warm film, headlined by a mighty yet gentle cow. The cow itself is a gorgeous animal. That much must be said in any article about this film. The acting in regards to this cow, especially Magaro’s tender touch, is sweet as can be, and every word spoken in the cow’s ears is wrapped in love. It’s nothing short of beautiful.

Magaro and Lee are both fantastic in the film, far surpassing the serviceable job they could’ve done due to the quiet brilliance of the script. They rose to the occasion, following Reichardt’s lead in making a film that blows you away with an almost impeccable latter half.

The film sneaks up on you, much like the friendship you’re watching. You can’t help laughing and relating to these men, even if they’re situation is one you’ll never experience. That’s the beauty of Reichardt’s storytelling and the power of a great onscreen friendship.

We watch a fragile partnership that turns into one of strength and dependence, and soon the oily cakes aren’t the only aspect of the dream. The dream includes both Cookie and King. They’re a package deal.

First Cow is about friendship, yes, but it is also about the oily cakes made by two men. You can’t have one without the other.

★★★★

First Cow is slated to be released March 6, 2020. Mark your calendars. 

Edit: Cookie was misspelled as Cooking and has now been changed to Cookie. A fun typo though.