FlixChatter Review: The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain (2021)

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Benedict Cumberbatch has built his career on quirky roles, and he once again plays an eccentric genius. This time it’s an English artist Louis Wain whose surreal cat paintings, um, catapulted his career at the end of the 19th century. Now, I never thought there was a time when cats weren’t household pets, well apparently part of Wain’s legacy was change the image of cats as distrustful creatures into something cute and cuddly.

Louis’ life however, isn’t quite warm and fuzzy. As the first of six children and the only boy, Wain ends ups supporting all his sisters and his mother following his father’s death. So undoubtedly Wain has a peculiar upbringing and he seems to be willing to put up with a lot, especially the constant berating from the eldest of his five sisters Caroline (Andrea Riseborough). But his spirits perk up upon meeting Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), a governess his family hired for his younger sisters. The romance is frowned upon by the family, particularly Caroline, as Emily is 10 years his senior. But despite their objections, the two are quickly married and moved to Hampstead. It’s there that his love for cats blossomed after they adopted a stray kitten they named Peter.

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There seems to be no shortage of amazingly-gifted artists with tragic lives, and Louis faces tragedy in both love and career despite reaching a certain degree of fame and notoriety. He didn’t get to live a long married life with the love of his life due to cancer, which made him even more prolific with his cat drawings during Emily’s illness. At one point she woke up to a room literally filled with cat paintings Louis had drawn. The relationship between Louis and Emily is quite sweet, and Foy has such a lovely presence on screen, so it’s too bad her screen time is pretty limited here.

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In terms of career, one can’t help but see the similarities between Louis and Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant inventors with the brightest minds who somehow didn’t have the business smarts and faced poverty during his lifetime. Louis confessed to his sisters that he didn’t sign copyright of his work, which caused him to constantly face financial difficulties. For a while Louis was employed at Illustrated London News by its owner, Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), who became a close friend, but he became sort of a freelance artist throughout his career.

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As a narrative feature, director Will Sharpe (show-runner of the Flowers UK series) is a curious one with a rather bizarre directorial choices that feels experimental and at times psychedelic and overly sentimental. It also uses a narration by Olivia Colman, which feels like a crutch to help us understand what’s going on at certain points of Louis’ life. As the title suggest, there’s also Louis’ pre-occupation with electricity, which I find quite amusing given Cumberbatch played Thomas Edison in The Current War in 2017. Some of his electric-cat drawings reflects this period, shifting from the more anthropomorphic style where the cats are drawn behaving like humans. 

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The depiction of schizophrenia that plagued Wain’s family is at times too manic or too whimsical. Starting with one of his sisters who ended up in a mental hospital, Louis too, suffered from that chronic brain disorder, depicted vividly in the film where he imagines himself drowning and screaming for help from his father. Perhaps the frenzied style is meant to showcase Louis’ mental state, which also tends to succumb to sorrowful mood. Speaking of drowning, I feel like the film often drowns in sadness. The moment Louis lost Peter, the cat he and Emily adopted, Louis is absolutely crestfallen that he sobs for a long period of time as he’s lying on the floor. Then in his later years when Louis is in his 70s living in a mental institution, the gray-haired, weary-faced artist is visited by an old friend whom he first met on a train decades prior. He laments about the harsh life in the psychiatric hospital and how he misses his cats.

The performances are as uneven as the film itself. The usually terrific Andrea Riseborough delivers a strange one-note performance that’s almost grating as she’s screaming all the time, usually directed at poor Louis. Claire Foy has a nice chemistry with Cumberbatch and she has kind of a wide-eyed curiosity as his love interest. I enjoy seeing character actor Adeel Akhtar in a prominent role as Mr. Rider, one of Wain’s biggest allies who helps him secure a more pleasant place to call home, complete with a garden and plenty of cats. As for the two famous cameos, well Taika Waititi’s appearance is largely unmemorable, while Nick Cave’s H.G. Wells is also a blink-and-you-missed it moment.

As for Cumberbatch, though he’s played too many similar characters in his career, he’s still quite good in the role. In fact, he’s competent enough to rise above the uneven direction and still makes a compelling portrait of a true artist that you can’t help root for. I’m glad I got to know a bit about Louis Wain and his work/legacy. The biopic isn’t quite um, electric as it wishes to be, but there’s enough going for this to warrant a recommendation.

3/5 stars


What did YOU think of The Electrical Life of Louise Wain?

FlixChatter Review: THE LIFE AHEAD (2020)


Tales of unlikely friendships often make for great drama. Renowned Italian actress Sophia Loren made a come back to cinema nearly a decade since her last acting role, which marks the third time she collaborates with her own son, Edoardo Ponti.

Here she plays Madame Rosa, an elderly woman living in a seaside town of Bari in Southern Italy who now runs a daycare business. It’s not just any daycare however, but Rosa takes care of kids who’s been abandoned by their mothers as they work as sex workers. Soon we find out that Madame Rosa herself used to be in that line of work, and she’s also a Holocaust survivor, evident in her number tattoos on her arm. Enter Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), short for Mohammad, a precocious Senegalese boy who robs Rosa at a busy market one afternoon. As it turns out, Momo and Madame Rosa have a mutual connection in Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri), her doctor and Momo’s temporary guardian, who asks Rosa to look after the boy until he could secure him a permanent home.

As is typical in stories of unlikely friendships, the two don’t immediately get along. Despite her initial reluctance, Momo ends up staying at the day care and has to learn to share the space with another boy Iosif (Iosif Diego Pirvu) while he continues his regular job selling drugs on the streets. Director Edoardo Ponti, who also shares screenwriting credit with Ugo Chiti and Fabio Natale, paints a pretty dynamic yet not-so-glamorous picture of life in the seaside town. It’s as if I could breathe and even taste the seaside air as I watch the characters navigate through the towns and through its narrow streets. The score by Gabriel Yared is both upbeat and introspective, which perfectly complements the tone and atmosphere of the film.

There are plenty of memorable scenes even as the characters go their day-to-day life. I love the moments where Rosa visits her merchant friend Hamil (Babak Karimi) to help her with Momo, thinking that as a fellow Muslim the two would understand each other. He asked Momo to help him fix a rug with a lion embroidered on it, saying it’s a powerful symbol of faith in the Qur’an. That image seems to impact Momo deeply that he often dreams a lioness would come and visit him. Despite the cheap-looking CGI, it’s a sweet surrealistic moment in the film. Other memorable supporting characters are Spacciatore (Massimiliano Rossi), Momo’s drug dealing boss, and Lola, Rosa’s neighbor who’s a former wrestler, played wonderfully by trans actor Abril Zamora.

Sophia Loren is quite magnetic as Madame Rosa–she’s tough and stern, but with a huge heart. There’s such an elegance about her and a palpable sense of sadness that’s intriguing. Even more impressive is Ibrahima Gueye who has never acted in a feature before, but able to match Loren’s intensity. There’s such a confidence in in his performance, even a quiet grace about him that’s rare in someone so young. For this film to work, we must believe that Madame Rosa and Momo develop a connection, and I’m glad to say the two have a remarkable chemistry. The bond they eventually share is truly the heartbeat of the film.

As it turns out, this is the second film adaptation of Romain Gary’s novel called The Life Before Us, the first one is a French film called Madame Rosa. Instead of setting in Paris, Ponti set the film in Italy but I think the story is essentially the same. When you watch this, be sure to pack tissues. There are some truly jear-jerker moments, especially when Iosif’s mom come and pick him up and Momo realizes that would never be the case for him. Despite the heart-wrenching moments, this isn’t a morose film filled with dread. In fact, visually the film is drenched with light and there’s a hopeful tone despite sorrowful circumstances. There’s also a bit of mystery in regards to Madame Rosa’s past that’s played out beautifully.

At times this film reminds me of the French film The Intouchables, which is also based on a true story about an unlikely friendship between people of different backgrounds. This one has less humor but just as much heart. There’s a lot of emotions packed in a relatively breezy 1-hour-34-minutes running time, which is always nice as the film never overstays its welcome.

Have you seen THE LIFE AHEAD? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: THE NEST (2020)

I saw The Nest on a screener thanks to IFC Films and the premise intrigued me immediately. Jude Law and Carrie Coon Life play husband and wife whose already-fragile marriage take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.

The film opens when the family still resides in the US. Rory O’Hara (Law) is shown taking the kids to school, and Allison (Coon) works as a horse trainer. The O’Hara seems like the perfect family – live in a nice house with a pool and everything seems normal. Rory seems like the perfect dad to his young son Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and their daughter Sam (Oona Roche) seems like a typical angsty teen. Then suddenly one morning, Rory tells Allison he wants to move back to England. It’s not clear at first just what it is Rory does, but he assures his wife that she’d never have to work and they can live like royalty.

Despite her initial refusal, Allison agrees to uproot her family to England. They even take move her horse Richmond all the way across the Atlantic. Once they’re in the UK, Rory excitedly gives his family a tour to a large farm mansion in the London suburb of Surrey. I kind of get a Devil’s Advocate vibe and the mood of the film, which decidedly shot like a horror film by cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Son Of Saul), makes it look like there’s something ominous about the house. There’s even a moment where Allison scream to her kids ‘you’re both are strangers to me’ after hearing noises in the house at night, which seems to come out of nowhere. I wonder if perhaps Durkin is saying that the real ‘horror’ of this family breakdown has nothing to do with the house, or external forces… that real evil can come from within each person.

Set in the early 80s during Thatcher-Reagan era, the film’s theme plays with the idea of the American dream and ‘fake it until you make it’ adage, and we later learn Rory’s lucrative job as a commodity broker is what he thinks would enable him to achieve the ‘dream’ he’s imagined for himself and his family. Without giving too much away, The Nest is family drama/cautionary tale of greed and ambition run amok. It’s as if this is the antithesis to the famous line from Wall Street that ‘greed is good.’ Well, we don’t have to watch this film to realize that, but filmmaker Sean Durkin hammers that message quite potently here.

This is the first of Durkin’s work I’ve seen so far, which is his sophomore writing/directing feature film he did since the highly-acclaimed Martha Marcy May Marlene. I think Durkin is a talented filmmaker and has a pretty unique storytelling style. The way the tension keeps on building, and using Allison’s horse as a metaphor for their crumbling marriage is pretty effective. That said, I’m not seeing the film is without flaws.

For one, the pacing is quite slow, and while I don’t mind slow films, there’s a sense of dread and unnecessary doom & gloom feel that makes the film seems lethargic. There are also some events happening in the film that seem foreboding but in the end amount to nothing, which isn’t frustrating necessarily, I just find it quite odd.I think some viewers would also find it quite frustrating that there’s no truly-sympathetic characters in this film, except for the subtle gesture of kindness from Sam towards the end. I like Allison and she’s quite a strong female figure, but the way she finally snaps at Rory during a client meeting doesn’t exactly paint her character in a compassionate light. She also seems far more obsessed with her horse than she is with her kids, at least the way it’s presented in the film.

The strong point in this film is definitely the performances. Jude Law is believable as a man with delusions of grandeur and unbridled ambition to get to the top. Though at times Rory’s actions seems absurd, you don’t completely hate the man, in fact I feel really sorry for him. The conversation with the Uber/Lyft driver is quite a turning point for Rory and perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the film. Carrie Coon is an actress I’m not familiar with at all (apparently she was in Avengers: Infinity War but unrecognizable in CG makeup as one of Thanos’ warrior minions), but I’m very impressed with her here. There’s an effortlessly cool vibe about her and she has a palpable chemistry with Law. British-Pakistani actor Adeel Akhtar and Irish actor Michael Culkin are both reliable character actors and both lend memorable performances as Rory’s colleague and boss, respectively.

Overall, I admire Durkin’s talent as a filmmaker even though I’m not overly fond of the film. As I mentioned above, there’s a sense of dread throughout, so this one isn’t exactly a pleasant film to watch. I’d still recommend it to film enthusiasts as I think it’s well-crafted, though I’m not sure this film would be a hit with mainstream audiences despite Jude Law being in it.

THE NEST is now available to stream across all cable and digital VOD platforms for rent: iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, YouTube, Vudu, PlayStation, Xbox.


Have you seen THE NEST? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: PAN (2015)

PAN2015Hollywood’s obsession with origin stories continue with this latest reimagining of Peter Pan story. The story is set during the WW II Blitz era London and centers on the 12-year-old orphan Peter (Levi Miller) who lives in cheerless orphanage run by heartless and cunning nuns. But of course we know he won’t stay there for long as he will soon be whisked way to the magical world of Neverland to fulfill his destiny [yawn].

Pardon my dread there, but really, there have been a plethora of ‘chosen one’ storyline done in the past, and this one doesn’t really add nothing new. One of my pet peeves is whenever I hear ‘it’s your destiny’ or something along that line, I just can’t help to roll my eyes as it’s just so darn clichéd. Well, despite all the pixie dust we see in this movie, it lacks a certain kind of magic that would fill me with wonder.

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Don’t get me wrong, I think Joe Wright has a way with creating unique spectacle on screen. The 3D looks bright, colorful and panoramic, and feature some stunning camera work, especially the moment we get to Neverland and introduced to its flamboyant pirate leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Here we’ll see how Blackbeard’s plucked a bunch of kids from orphanages all over the world to work as slaves in his mine. So yeah, this movie is VERY loosely based on J. M. Barrie’s classic story, but that’s what you get from a reimagining adaptation. The quarry visual is reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road and the rousing rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is rather amusing as it’s so unexpected.

In Neverland, Peter also encountered James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) who’s still working as one of Blackbeard pixie dust mine minions. Hedlund‘s basically channeling John Wayne-style cowboy and though he’s fun in parts, he’s rather devoid of real charm. There’s all the teasing that Peter and the would-be Captain Hook would not be friends later on, and there’s deliberate *suspense* over when Hook would lose his hand to a crocodile. There’s even a giant CGI croc leaping across your screen, just one of a plethora of sound and sight oddities throughout. Did I mention Cara Delevingne also makes a cameo as a mermaid triplets?

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The relentless CGI-fest will no doubt engulf your senses. At times the effect felt like a huge sugar rush overload. There is only so much eye-popping effects your eyes can handle, I actually had to close my eyes a few times just to recharge my senses. But no amount of visual spectacle can replace a heartfelt story and I think that’s what’s lacking here. There are moments later in the film between Peter and his long-lost mother that’s quite moving, but that emotional resonance is so few and far between.

I think one of the worst moments is between Hook and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) which is just so awkward and pointless. In fact, the entire sequence in the island of the tribe that protect the fairy kingdom feels haphazard with garish colors and absurd battle action. Not to mention the fact that the casting of Mara as a Native American princess is just egregious. I read one reviewer who said ‘…Rooney Mara was crushed by a United Colours of Benetton ad’ Ouch! Ok so there is one character played by a non-white actor Adeel Akhtar, but he’s relegated to comic relief purpose and not much else.

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You won’t expect any subtlety in this movie and I don’t think Wright even tried. What’s also not-so-subtle is the fact that the film seems to be made to launch a franchise. Yet the script by Jason Fuchs is already stretched so thin, with minimal character development. It doesn’t help that it gets lost in the extravagant, noisy special effects. The film’s already a massive box office flop as it’d be a struggle to even make up the $150 million budget. But hopefully this means Wright will return to making intriguing dramas like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice.

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As far as performances go, I have to say that Jackman’s theatrical background is put to good use as Blackbeard. I know the role likely begets over-the-top performance, but all the scenery chewing gets irritating fast. Just like the movie, all the makeup/costume is so showy and circus-y but the character itself isn’t all that interesting. I do like Levi Miller as Peter though, I think he has that expressive face that reminds me of the young girl in the first Jurassic Park movie. Apparently Wright traveled to the UK, the United States, Canada, and Australia and looked at thousands of kids before he found Miller.

Overall, all the well intention of the filmmakers involved is swallowed up by overwhelming action and CGI spectacle. It also went on for far too long at nearly 2-hours, but too short on humor and whimsy. Like a rollercoaster in an amusement park, there are up and down moments, if only there were more ups than downs.

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Did you see PAN? Well, what did you think?