Stuff we’ve watched recently…
Boiling Point (2021)
We were poking around on Hoopla looking for something else when this popped up. Love that Hoopla gets these odd new releases; love that a Toronto Public Library card gets you access to both Hoopla and Kanopy.
Anyway, Stephen Graham plays chef Andy Jones; his life is falling apart – he’s split up with his partner and is missing his kid, his water bottle is full of vodka, and he’s become a detriment to the smooth operation of his business, but it’s a Friday night and his hot new restaurant is full, so he’s busy with a health inspector, a kitchen team that are either high-strung or incompetent, front of house staff who are far too busy chatting with guests and each other, and a hostess/manager more interested in getting the place pumped up on social media than in competently managing her staff and ensuring good communication with the kitchen. His old boss/mentor shows up with a restaurant critic in tow, there’s a pending engagement proposal to a customer with a nut allergy on table 13, and the Black waitress refuses to tell anyone that she’s having trouble with a racist customer.
And it’s all done in one seamless 90-minute shot.
Boiling Point does a fantastic job of capturing all of the hospitality industry bullshit, from the rules and regulations to what happens when various egos clash to the general heat and mayhem that occurs when a restaurant is not well-organized and running at its best. There are a few things that don’t jive – why is the pastry staff experimenting with new dishes during a Friday night service, why does that prep cook need to be shown how to shuck an oyster – but for the most part, this is a terrifyingly accurate take on how a (badly-run) restaurant gets through a typical night of service.
Graham is completely brilliant throughout, there is a sense of impending doom that follows him throughout the action and leaves the viewer wondering where he is during the scenes he’s not in. While some of the supporting characters are a bit too ‘true-to-type’ (the flirty server, the tightly-wound sous chef who is really the one keeping things from falling apart), everyone else manages the same level of intensity and energy, so there’s a real sense of anticipation as we wait to see just how badly it all comes to a head.
PS. Burn This Letter Please (2020)
Dear Reno, there’s a movie about you, did you know? It’s all about all the letters you kept in a box for 60 years; the ones that detail the NYC drag scene of the 1950s, an era when ‘female impersonators’ (please don’t call us ‘drag queens’) were beaten, ostracized and jailed, just for being ourselves. It’s about how they tracked down many of us old queens, the ones that made it to the 21st century, now in our 80s, and shows us reminiscing about those days, about the drama, the costumes, about working at Club 82, where all the performers were female impersonators, the servers were lesbians dressed as men, and the guest list included A-listers like the Kennedys and Warren Beatty. It’s fabulous! There’s admissions of mopping (shoplifting), small-town boys in sequinned gowns, and the great Metropolitan Opera wig heist. Not that anyone can jail us for any of that now, can they? There’s also a mystery, revealed at the end — who is the elusive ‘Daphne’ who penned so many letters that chronicled the scene so well?
Like that Billy Porter says, darling, ‘know your history, children’. He’s right, Reno, this movie is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of drag, and how many of us are still fucking fabulous. Much Love, with kisses, Daphne
Shoplifters of the World (2021)
Loosely based on an actual event in 1988, this film follows a group of friends as they discover that The Smiths have broken up. Cleo (Helena Howard), Sheila (Elena Kampouris), Billy (Nick Krause) and Patrick (James Bloor) are at a crossroads, both in life and their relationships with each other. Just out of high school, they are discovering who they are and what they want, and it turns out they may not all want the same things. Meanwhile, Dean (Ellar Coltrane) just wants the world to know the wonders of The Smiths, and holds up a local heavy metal record station at gunpoint to ensure his favourite band gets the send-off they deserve.
With a full soundtrack of Smiths’ songs and a collection of memorabilia that could only belong to a devoted Smiths fan, Shoplifters of the World speaks to all of the misfit children of the 1980s who found solace in being a freaky weirdo, and for whom the transition into adulthood also required deciding whether being ‘normal’ was really worth it.
Kenneth Branagh’s story of his childhood growing up in Belfast and the reason his family left is moving and poignant. The Cat-licks and the Prozzies do not get along (because it’s hard to accept that people might worship the imaginary sky man in a way that is ever so slightly different from the way that you worship the imaginary sky man), and street fighting breaks out in the neighbourhood. Along the way, there is a cute girl, a loving pair of grandparents, and the acceptance that things have to change and sometimes the only way to do that is to walk away from everything you’ve known. And seriously, that decision by Branagh’s parents has reverberated around world, because who knows if he’d have gone on to be an actor and director at all if they had stayed in Belfast.
I really loved the switching between black and white and colour in this film; the decision to use colour for the movie that the family goes to see — and the colour reflection only in Grandma’s (Judi Dench) glasses is a special moment — life outside their dreary Belfast neighbourhood is more interesting and exciting. Dench and Ciarán Hinds as Pop might steal the show.
TV Drama Series
Around the World in 80 Days (2021)
David Tennant plays Phileas Fogg, determined to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Like in the book. Unlike the book, his valet Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma) is now a Black man, and they’re joined by journalist Abigail Fixx (Leonie Benesch), who appears to represent the real-life journalist Nellie Bly who actually did go around the world in 72 days and replaces both the character of Aouda from the book as the female travelling companion, and that of Fix the detective determined to arrest Fogg. They are instead being pursued by an agent for the man Fogg has placed a bet with, who is determined to prevent them from making it back in time. This version of Fogg also has a different backstory, and is not romantically involved with Fixx, who is the daughter of his friend, but is in search of his lost love, Estella.
The stops and adventures differ completely from the book, with each becoming a test for one of the trio as to their bonds of trust and friendship. There is more cultural relevance here, especially with regards to race in the episode set in the US mid-west. Thinking about any of it too hard might be frustrating however, because this show requires a huge suspension of disbelief; viewers will be left wondering just how the heck the trio still have their luggage, given that we’ve seen it stolen, destroyed, or left behind in almost every episode, yet there’s Passepartout still dragging it all along at the beginning of each new episode. Food historians on Twitter are aghast at the inconsistencies in the dining scene in the first episode, given that a bunch of dishes mentioned didn’t exist in 1872. Like I said, don’t think about it too hard.
There’s a second series in the works, with allusions to further adventures and maybe sea creatures… perhaps there’s an intention to work through other Verne titles like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Andy Warhol’s America (2022)
Andy Warhol’s had more than his 15-minutes of fame, but this 3-part documentary series approaches his life from a different angle, with a focus on his upbringing, family and how his early commercial work came to be both a commentary on, and part of the culture of, America of the day. There’s little mention of the denizens of the Factory, for instance, but an emphasis on Warhol’s obsession with making money and the way he capitalized on pop art, often using and discarding people along the way. Interesting for even the most die-hard Warhol fan, this is a very different perspective on the man and his art.
Soft Cell Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (2021)
Despite mounting a farewell tour in 2018, Soft Cell have a new album coming out this year, and this show at the Hammersmith Apollo in mid-November was filmed and aired as a livestream event in late December. Lead singer Marc Almond is in great voice and commands a set of new pieces and old favourites, with a second half made up of the performance of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret in its entirety to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Dave Ball seems to be enjoying himself behind a bank of keyboards and this is a fun, tight set that even casual fans would enjoy. The 2.5 hour show ends with a series of songs filmed at the 2018 show that didn’t make it to the set list for this concert, and to be honest, they are unnecessary and bring down the vibe a bit; there was a noticeably different energy to the 2018 show and it feels odd to have them stuck on at the end.
The ‘you win the night’ award goes to the audience members who brought blow-up pink flamingos that got more screen time during “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” than the band.