Fast Color (Julia Hart, 2019). Black girl magic made tangible, Fast Color lightly adheres to the superhero origin story template that’s unexpectedly become a cinematic mainstay. In the film, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) returns to her Midwestern childhood home at a time in the not so distant future when a devastating spell of rainless days has spread to years. She reunites with her family while carrying clear trepidation about the homecoming. There’s a sad history that’s initially hinted at and then made more clear as it’s revealed Ruth and the other women in her family all have superhuman powers that allow them to disassemble matter into something akin to astral dust. Director Julia Hart (who is also co-credited on the screenplay, with Jordan Horowitz) doesn’t have much plot to work with, getting by effectively on mood, meticulous visuals, and earnest commitment to the film’s themes. Hart also has the benefit of Mbatha-Raw in the lead role. She brings an intensity of concentration to the performance that goes a long way towards filling in gaps in the story.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979). The scampish sacrilege of this comedy, the second wholly original work brought to the big screen by legendary comedy troupe Monty Python, strengthens the material mightily. Beginning with the birth of Brian (played in his adult years by Graham Chapman) a couple mangers down from Jesus Christ, the film expertly, savagely lampoons the shaky reasoning that can lead to global religions when left unchecked. The jokes range from truly inspired to musty with vaudevillian dust, even for the era, but the fervent dedication to making every punchline land evens it all out to one bright, brilliant comic statement. On top of everything else, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is fearless. Terry Jones’s directing is fairly basic. Luckily, that’s all the film really needs.
Blinded by the Light (Gurinder Chadha, 2019). Growing up in England in the nineteen-eighties, a Pakistani teen (Viveik Kalra), wracked by uncertainty and buffeted by abuse from bigots, finds his first real sense of purpose through his love of the music of Bruce Springsteen. Based loosely on the experiences of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, Blinded by the Light is exuberant and pedestrian all at once. Even as the film cycles through the most familiar beats — familial conflict, sweet romance that turns rocky before being salvaged — it effectively captures the unshakeable sensation of newfound belonging when a great music discovery bores into the very soul. I’d be far less charitable about director Gurinder Chadha’s choice to regularly render lyrics as words on screen when our hero listens to Springsteen if not for the fact that I must concede it’s a reasonable approximation of how prominently those same words exploded for me when I was a teenager enthralled by the Boss’s expressions of melancholy rebellion and wounded romanticism.