Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Doctor Who (2005) s03e06 – The Lazarus Experiment

What is this show’s problem with companions’ mothers? We briefly met new companion Freema Agyeman’s mom, Adjoa Andoh, in the season premiere and she seemed fine.

Nope.

She’s possibly even more annoying than previous companion’s mom Camille Coduri, which doesn’t even seem possible, but the episode manages it, with mystery dweeb Bertie Carvel warning Andoh against Doctor David Tennant. Even as Tennant is saving the world from literal monsters as well as explicitly saving Andoh’s daughters, both Agyeman and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Not to mention strangely henpecked son Reggie Yates. Tennant saves them all.

But Andoh doesn’t like him because he’s nerdy. Is Andoh okay with Mbatha-Raw’s creep boss, Mark Gatiss, who’s the villain and subject of the episode.

We open with Tennant bringing Agyeman home; she’s not his new companion, so she’s got to go home. And he manages to drop her off just twelve hours after picking her up, showing a far better control of time travel than he ever did with previous companion Billie Piper.

Of course, he’s also about to have conversations with Agyeman, which didn’t happen much with Piper.

Anyway. They see on the news how Gatiss is going to change the course of human history so Tennant decides to stick around.

They go to the presentation and Gatiss makes himself young—he starts in old age makeup—and then turns into a monster and decides to eat everyone. So Tennant has to save the day, while convincing the locals Gatiss is a monster—see, he can change back into his human persona after he feeds.

You think once he saves Andoh the second time she’s going to stop being so one-note but nope.

It’s strange the show had a first time writer—Stephen Greenhorn—handle establishing not just Agyeman’s supporting cast but also some kind of conspiracy against the doctor. Especially such a mediocre one. Greenhorn’s teleplay would do better if Gatiss were better—it’s a little much when he gets a Roy Batty moment just so he can artlessly mug—and Richard Clark’s direction’s fine.

Tennant, Agyeman, and Mbatha-Raw are all great.

And it’s significantly better than most Earth episodes, I suppose. Just imagine how much better it would be if the Andoh stuff weren’t bad and the monster didn’t look like mid-nineties video game CGI.

Fast Color (2018, Julia Hart)

Fast Color spends most its runtime saying it’s not a superhero movie—it’s just about people who happen to have superpowers—only for the third act to play like a low budget X-Men outing. And it’s not just the not-battle-in-the-streets battle-in-the-street resolution, it’s also how lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character arc becomes all about her superpowers and not her returning to her abandoned home, abandoned mother (Lorraine Toussaint), and abandoned tween daughter (Saniyya Sidney). It’s also not about how Mbatha-Raw’s gotten sober—drugs help keep her out-of-control powers in check—or how the world hasn’t had rain in the last seven or eight years. There’s a lot going on in the world of Fast Color and director Hart does a great job showing its more mundane side—utilizing the limited budget well—but engaging with the superhero movie tropes after promising to avoid them… it doesn’t undue the work of the film through most of its runtime, but it does leave the potential unrealized.

For instance, just when Mbatha-Raw and Sidney could be really connecting, the film concentrates on the superpowers. And it doesn’t even go all the way with the superpowers. It doesn’t just not show them, it doesn’t show their effect on anyone, so it’s like they’re not even there. Sorry, Fast Color’s finish is about the only disappointing thing in the film (as it compounds the problems with Toussaint’s part). Hence the harping.

The film opens with Mbatha-Raw on the run. She’s got some kind of earthquake power, which she can’t control at all but she at least tries to mitigate the damage. Water is an expensive item because of the lack of rain fall, but there’s still booze, eggs, electricity, all sorts of things just no smartphones. The whole no more rain subplot is fine but doesn’t add anything to the film. It mostly ends up serving as a budget limiter; so fine. But just fine.

Pretty soon we discover nerdy government scientist Christopher Denham is after Mbatha-Raw but also she’s gotten to her hometown, which he doesn’t realize. So she goes to mom Toussaint’s farm, even though Mbatha-Raw’s never met Sidney and Sidney doesn’t have any expectation of ever meeting Mbatha-Raw and then Toussaint makes Mbatha-Raw sleep out in the barn because her powers are so out-of-control. The film never directly addresses how Mbatha-Raw’s terrible life, on the run but also before, instead focusing on what she can do to improve her footprint, which is fine because it centers itself around Sidney’s well-being. Mbatha-Raw’s motivations and thoughts play out in her expressions versus actions or dialogue. She’s haunted by flashback sequences too. Mbatha-Raw gives an excellent lead performance but her part isn’t really enough the lead as far as the plot goes.

Most of the film is about what’s going to happen without raising much expectation. David Strathairn plays the local sheriff who’s also on Mbatha-Raw’s trail, trying not to let Denham and the feds take his case. Given how much the film ends up leveraging Strathairn, at the expense of other characters (and their actors), it’d have been nice if Strathairn weren’t involved in one of Fast Colors big secrets. The film has a lot of big secrets—well, either secrets or lies, because Toussaint wants to keep Sidney sheltered. See, Toussaint and Sidney also have powers, but they’re not as potentially damaging or affecting as Mbatha-Raw’s. When Mbatha-Raw bonds with Sidney, it’s over the powers, which is weird but the acting’s good—Sidney’s phenomenal—so Color can do whatever it wants as long as it stays focused on the characters.

The end abandons that focus and… the film suffers.

Technically, the film’s outstanding. Save the occasionally too DV night time photography. Many of photographer Michael Fimognari’s night time shots are fantastic, but when there’s a lot of movement on the screen… it looks off. Martin Pensa’s editing is good, Rob Simonsen’s music is good, Hart’s direction is good… Fast Color’s got all the pieces—well, okay, not Denham (who’s way too eh)—the script just doesn’t quite get them assembled right at the end.

The film gives Mbatha-Raw a solid lead, Sidney an okay supporting showcase (Sidney could handle more), and Toussaint a disappointing one. The film utilizes her but doesn’t showcase her, which really hurts in the third act.

Fast Color’s successful without exactly being a success.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Julia Hart; written by Hart and Jordan Horowitz; director of photography, Michael Fimognari; edited by Martin Pensa; music by Rob Simonsen; production designer, Gae S. Buckley; produced by Horowitz, Mickey Liddell, and Pete Shilaimon; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Ruth), Lorraine Toussaint (Bo), Saniyya Sidney (Lila), Christopher Denham (Bill), and David Strathairn (Ellis).


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