A quirky biopic, a fiery dance documentary and a manic restaurant drama with a twist are our top film picks this month
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Whether you’ve heard of Louis Wain before or not, you’ve most likely seen at least one of this Victorian artist’s silly anthropomorphic cat drawings. The early versions depicted ludicrous felines engaged in all sorts of human activities, while the later works morphed into psychedelic portraits of wide-eyed kittens on abstractly patterned backgrounds.
This manic biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch focuses on the largely forgotten artist’s tumultuous life and his many obsessions. Fast spoken and always on the move, he constantly drew sketches, dabbled in opera, pursued boxing and tirelessly theorised about harnessing the mysterious powers of electricity.
He also worked as a part time illustrator to support his five sisters and ailing mother. Claire Foy stars as his sisters’ governess whom Wain fell in love with and married, much to the outrage of the family, as she was ten years his senior (her age wittily referred to as “geriatric” in the film.)
Director Will Sharpe’s film is as vivid and feverish as Wain’s life itself. A farrago of bright colours, eerie music and hammed up performances, it twists and twirls across the entire spectrum of human emotion like a kids’ film on acid. It occasionally loses its footing, leaning on unnecessary slapdash montages and aimless star cameos from the likes of Taika Waititi and Richard Ayoade. However, it is anything but boring.
Though this elegant documentary puts the primary spotlight on the life of the prolific US dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey, it will no doubt engross anyone with the slightest interest in music and dance. A bubbling, poetic ode to his creative genius and legacy, Ailey weaves together elements of performance footage, archive audio clips, as well as colourful interviews with those who knew him best—colleagues, students and fellow artists.
We follow Ailey from his humble beginnings—a deprived childhood in rural Texas where he was raised by a single mother—to the highest of peaks, when he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, one of the most important modern dance companies, honouring Black culture through movement. Success came with a cost though; the self loathing and fear of being judged for his homosexuality drove him to drugs, alcohol and mental illness. In 1989, he tragically succumbed to the AIDS epidemic, making the featured audio clips—all recorded in his final year of life—so moving.
But there’s so much light to this documentary, too. The interviews with the original dancers of the company are full of goofy anecdotes and warm memories of their demanding but big-hearted teacher, whose communication style they likened to an embrace.
There’s also loads of fascinating insight into dance as an art form—the amount of gruelling work and sacrifice that goes into it, its important role of bringing history to life through movement, and why a plies needs to be “felt, not danced”. It’s a brilliant jumping off point for a deeper understanding of this extraordinary human being and his work that lives on 30 years later.
It’s undisputable that there’s something magnetic about chefs. Whether it’s their super-human work ethic, insane passion for their craft or the elusive gift of being able to taste things the rest of us can’t—the sheer volume of TV shows, films, books and media furore centred around chefs is proof that we just can’t get enough of them.
Boiling Point is the latest addition to this cook-fixated canon: a snappy picture (the entire film was shot in one take!) of a busy night in the kitchen, with Stephen Graham’s moody, volatile chef Andy at the forefront. Having a rough time in his life outside of the restaurant makes it extra hard for him to keep his cool inside. It’s a revelation to see Graham in a role that truly allows him the space and time to demonstrate what he’s capable of: his Andy carries a great deal of potency and honesty, which spirals gradually out of control as his patience wears thin.
He’s supported here by a talented ensemble cast: the level-headed sous-chef Carly who keeps Andy’s rage at bay; his greedy, manipulative former colleague-turned-celebrity chef Alistair; the salt-of-the-earth pastry genius Emily—and many more who bring oodles of flavour and texture to this film.
Just like Andy’s cooking, described by a food critic in the film as “understated, simple and not complicating itself”, Boiling Point is comfortable in its own skin. It doesn’t feel the need to wow us; instead, it simply sweeps us along on the kitchen shift so we can revel in the madness.
Read more: 10 Romantic films about forbidden love
Read more: 2021—The year in film
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