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Has Mike Leigh ruined me for other movies?

Just watched Leaves of Grass and though not bad I had to question Roger Ebert putting it up as one of his films of the year (calls it a “sweet whacky masterpiece“. It was smart in places and I suppose in the context of most film, this was pretty good. But up against let’s say All or Nothing it all seems incredibly contrived and cliche sodden.

The main thing is not so much the story but the characters and dialogue. Everyone is just a little too smart, too reactive and next to Leigh characters seem of a different universe altogether. I think we get too used to the tropes that we suspend our sense of what is true and deep as soon as the lights come down. And it takes a Leigh to break that spell.

Another thought occurred to me in that Leigh characters all seem woven into the fabric of their community and in so many other films, all the characters seem to, despite whatever they say or their circumstances, act as if they are independent of those circumstances. And I don’t mean even necessarily in their actions but in their deportment. I think these actors, many of them very fine, can’t quite dim their thespian brights to the point where they resemble real people.

The film I saw right after Leaves of Grass was much better in this respect: Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Jack Goes Boating. In Leaves of Grass there is the first night back home ending up at a perfect night with perfect neighbors outside; a paradise which implies this is the perfect and easily obtainable life if you only let it be (everyone is well behaved and beaming acceptance and almost screaming out self actualization). Contrast that with the getting stoned and burning the dinner you slaved over scene in Jack which has actual emotions and runs a roller coaster from happy community to tears and anger without being stagy. These are fucked up people and I feel they would actually enrich your life more than the cutouts in Leaves of Grass.

This kind of came home to me when I ran across the Guardian’s list of Most Powerful Cinematic Moments as polled of their readers. It is really sad and makes you wonder is film in general so juvenile or do we just abandon our hardwon appreciations of subtlety and depth as soon as we put ourselves into the frame of watching a film?

Its not unlike asking 20 adults about their most life affirming or deepest confrontations with reality and having them all come back with some story about something that happened when they were five years old. Its just wrong….

On the bright side, Ken Finkleman is back with another show. He is without a doubt the precursor and toughest of all the cringe drama types. And criminally, most of his work is not generally available for purchase. This is the original Larry David, a much crueler to the self alter ego than even he would dare (I really like David but he is light beer next to Finkleman’s overproof whiskey).

This is not quite the Newsroom but the clip from Married Life is a great take on reality tv before it was half as entrenched as it is now. Slightly dated but after all it is 1995.

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