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?

TWIN CITIES FILM FEST unveils 2021 lineup + my recommendations

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BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH HEADLINES OPENER THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN; KENNETH BRANAGH’S FESTIVAL HIT BELFAST NAMED 2021 CLOSING NIGHT SELECTION


October is always a special time of year for me. No, not because it’s Halloween season, but because Twin Cities Film Fest is upon us!

TCFF returns this year with a hybrid program showcasing a wide-ranging catalog of acclaimed studio award contenders, memorable shorts, thought-provoking documentaries and exhilarating independent feature films. The 2021 program will showcase Minnesota-connected productions, BIPOC voices, female filmmakers and includes a special “Changemaker Series” spotlight on projects that address mental wellness.

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More than 100 movies set to screen and stream in a hybrid format that will run Oct. 21-30. The festival’s in-person program will return to the Showplace ICON Theaters at The Shops at West End, with some 45 screenings set to take place at the St. Louis Park venue. More than 50 films will simultaneously debut online via the TCFF STREAMS platform at twincitiesfilmfest.org. 2021 marks the 12th anniversary for the nationally recognized non-profit, celebrating independent stories and diverse voices through film arts.

Amazon Studios’ The Electrical Life of Louis Wain starring Benedict Cumberbatch is set to open the festival on Oct. 21st, telling the story of the Victorian-era artist whose widely published drawings of anthropomorphized cats transformed them from mysterious to irresistible. Director Will Sharpe’s masterful visuals and creative use of color convey Louis’s complicated mind, immeasurable talent and consuming love and loss.

This year’s closing night gala will celebrate Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s drama featuring Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds and newcomer Jude Hill. The film, which takes place during The Troubles, sectarian conflict between Protestants and Catholics in 1969 Ireland, is a page from Branagh’s own life and his most personal film to date. The film received the coveted people’s choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, instantly catapulting it into the Oscar conversation.

Other notable entries:

Jesse Moss’s documentary Mayor Pete, which follows Secretary Pete Buttigieg during his 2020 run for president and has been chosen as TCFF’s official 2021 Centerpiece. C’mon C’mon, Mike Mills’s black-and-white production built around a heartfelt performance from Joaquin Phoenix and a notable debut from newcomer Woody Norman; The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s newest project featuring an all-star cast including Bill Murray, Timothée Chalamet and Tilda Swinton; Encounter, a sci-fi thriller directed by Michael Pearce and starring Riz Ahmed; The Humans, directed by Stephen Karam in his directorial debut, and based on his one-act play of the same name starring Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun and June Squibb; and Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, directed by Emily Kunstler & Sarah Kunstler and written by Jeffery Robinson.

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TCFF STREAMS, the festival’s proprietary online platform at TwinCitiesFilmFest.org, will feature premieres of award-winning narratives, documentaries and shorts curated from all across the country in the HER Series (films by/for/about women), MN-Connected Series, EMPOWER Series (focused on BIPOC voices) and the OUT Series (LGBTQ community). Twin Cities Film Fest utilizes the power of film to spotlight a Social Cause each year through its Changemaker Series. In 2021, the focus will be on ‘mental wellness.’ The films in the series will bring attention to our collective emotional, psychological and social well-being.


MY TCFF 2021 RECOMMENDATIONS

I LOVE this year’s lineup! Out of the STUDIO FILMS, I highly anticipate Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST. Not only does it look really heartfelt and intriguing, and the fact that it’s a personal true story from Branagh’s childhood makes me curious about it even more. At the other end of the spectrum is THE FRENCH DISPATCH, which is described as a love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city. It’s been a while since I saw a Wes Anderson film, and this one just looks really, really good!

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In addition to those, I’m going to choose 10 INDIE FILMS (7 features, 3 docs) that aren’t already mentioned above. I always like to pick out some lesser-known films and highlight those directed by women, I think off-the-beaten path films are why we go to film festivals for!

A Fire Within (doc)

A FIRE WITHIN chronicles the incredible true story of three Ethiopian women who immigrate to the U.S. after surviving torture in their home country, only to discover that the man responsible for their torture is living in America…and working at the same Atlanta hotel as one of the women.

A Hero

Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don’t go as planned.

Americanish*

Welcome to America: Where dreams come true…ish. A break from the traditional romantic comedy, Americanish highlights different layers of womanhood as they intersect with cultural and societal expectations. Americanish invites viewers into the home and lives of three marriage-aged women as they navigate the often turbulent waters of romance, culture, career, and family.

Broken Diamonds

After his father suddenly dies, Scott’s (Ben Platt) plans are put in jeopardy as he discovers his sister Cindy (Lola Kirke) is living in a halfway house for the mentally ill. Despite her wild and unpredictable behavior, Scott puts his life on hold to take her in. BROKEN DIAMONDS poignantly follows these characters as they come to understand the effects of shared childhood trauma on each of their mental health, culminating in life-altering realizations for them both.

Everything In The End*

Grieving from the recent death of his mother, Paulo has travelled from Portugal to Iceland, a trip they were supposed to do together. While there, news the world has been waiting for finally arrives. Earth will cease to exist in a matter of days. With only these last few days left and unable to get home he finds himself stranded in a small village where he spends his days wandering a delicate foreign land and encountering the people he will spend his final days with.

Land of My Father (doc)

A Korean farmer protests the Japanese government in Tokyo over its claims of the disputed island territory of Dokdo after he finds out his father was abducted and enslaved in a coal mine during the Japanese occupation of Korea. A Korean woman who lived on Dokdo with her father struggles to keep his legacy alive after the Korean government mysteriously erased their history of being pioneering residents.

Playing With Beethoven*

Dedicated classical piano student Josh (Aric Floyd), who rarely leaves the practice room, falls under the spell of a free-spirited beauty, Charlotte (Naomi Druskic). On the day before a life-changing competition, Josh goes against his better judgement, and the wishes of his stern teacher Victor Zabov (Patrick Gorman), and joins Charlotte for a night of music and adventure. Along the way, he meets Charlotte’s sister Bryn (Shannon Elizabeth), who is suspicious of Charlotte’s motives. To further complicate matters, Josh’s estranged father, Ted (Kadeem Hardison), shows up in town hoping to reconcile. Josh’s experiences on the journey teach him that life, like music, is all about taking risks.

The R-Word* (doc)

Filmmaker Amanda Lukoff has grown up advocating for her sister Gabrielle, especially whenever she hears the word retard(ed). The r-word is everywhere – in TV, movies, music, social media, and throughout our public and private communities. The R-Word is a purposeful look into the long-reaching history and lasting implications of the word retard(ed) and current attitudes and perceptions about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Sold Out

John Callahan has one dream — to make a living playing his music. Despite his best efforts and undeniable talent, he’s a down-on-his-luck construction worker who’s drowning in responsibilities. But one night, playing a dive bar in Minneapolis, he meets Kat Revere, a legendary music scout. Kat is edgy, beautiful and a star-maker. Kat sees potential in John and makes him an offer he can’t refuse, to take him under her wing and on the road with her. As they travel across the Midwest, they share their stories of heartbreak, write gut-wrenching songs, fight like hell, and find themselves in the middle of some wild adventures, all while falling hard for each other.

Waikiki

Escaping her abusive ex-boyfriend, KEA, a part-time Hawaiian teacher, hula dancer, and bar hostess temporarily lives out of her van to piece her life back together. One night after a violent beating, she speeds off into the night only to slam into WO, a mysterious homeless man crossing the street. Unwilling to leave him to die, she takes him into her van and life. Their developing friendship and illusions of safety are soon shattered when her van is towed. Her desperation triggers past trauma, driving her towards insanity.


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Tickets are already on-sale at www.twincitiesfilmfest.org. Ticket prices range from $9 online to $12 in-person. Opening/Centerpiece/Closing films will all be $20 with a handful of films available to view at no cost. A ‘Streaming Pass’ is available for $50 and a ‘Hybrid Pass’ for $150.

The passes are such an incredible deal!! Get it soon so you can order your tickets right away. Trust me, it’s SO worth it!!

COVID 2021 UPDATE

TCFF 2021 will be following health guidelines as put forth by the State and CDC. All TCFF employees/volunteers will be vaccinated. All guests/audience members are asked to wear a mask during any in person experiences (in the theater and TCFF lounge) regardless of vaccination status. TCFF wants to ensure and prioritize safety for all attendees and use film arts as a way to continue bringing our community together.

WEAR YOUR PARTY HATS!

There will be a Festival Lounge this year. The lounge is located only a few steps from the main doors of the ICON THEATERS on West End Blvd. Lounge will be open to all filmgoers to relaxation and networking. Regular hours will be 6:30pm-11pm (hours may vary).


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org


So yeah, TCFF 2021. BRING. IT ON!