Is it just me…

Something Wicked This Way Comes... 

…or does Mike Leigh’s new film, HAPPY GO LUCKY, look incredibly awful and annoying? If you’ve seen the trailer you surely agree.

As usual, you can tell the lead actress is actually really good and charismatic, only she’s smothering her appeal in a patina of affected “theatrical” Mike-Leighism. Horrible horrible horrible.

In an attempt to be “cinematic” Leigh has decorated this one with brightly coloured turquoise and magenta bunting. It makes me want to inject codeine into my eyeballs.

And what rough beast it's hour come round at last shambles toward Bethelhem to be born?

People keep telling me I would really like TOPSY TURVY and maybe I would, and I haven’t purposely avoided seeing it, but I refuse to give any money to the man who made all those other appalling flicks, so I’m dependant on it turning up on TV. Suspiciously, none of the people who tell me I’d really like it actually own copies they can lend me.

I hate Mike Leigh’s stuff! Rather than giving him money to make films, the Film Council or Film4 or whoever should actually send him one of Timothy Spall’s fingers whenever he releases anything. He should be allowed to do theatre, where posh people can come and see Leigh’s quaint ideas of what working class people are like, for their amusement and edification. Or else he should just run a zoo, with Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn in the cages.

Do Not Feed The Spall.

How can these terrified vague fingers push the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

I’m being mean. I don’t like to be mean. But nothing I say can harm Leigh. He will go on making films, and on, and on. Some of them will be quite successful. He will complain they don’t get good enough distribution, so people in housing estates can come and see his quaint portrayals of what life is like on a housing estate.

In case he runs out of titles, here are a few that he can apply randomly to his next projects: MUSTN’T GRUMBLE; STONE THE CROWS; DEAR ME; WHOOPS A DAISY; YOU’VE GOT TO LAUGH; A NICE CUP OF TEA.

Whew. Sorry. Just had to vent.

Like one who on a lonesome road doth walk in fear and dread

(Since I could not bring myself to use any images from his films, this post has been lavishly illustrated with images of actual cinema.)

29 Responses to “Is it just me…”

  1. I’m just sick of seeing Jim Broadbent in nearly every British film. He’s got that quirky amusing face and I think we could do with a few lookers on screen instead.

  2. He’s a good actor. He’s got the onlt half-decent moment in that bloody Moulin Rouge. But we do tend to seize on certain character actors and wear them into the ground for a few years, then ditch them. Remember Jim Carter and Pete Postlethwaite? Used to be in EVERYTHING.

    We don’t have a great track record of picking lookers. We get Jude Law (good as a robot, occasionally good elsewhere) Liz Hurley (she can’t do ANYTHING! She can’t even STAND) and (I can hardly bring myself to say it) Sadie Frost… I think one of the Saffrons is quite good but I forget which.

    But yes, some talented beautiful people would be nice, and some intelligent, enjoyable films to put them in…

  3. >so people in housing estates can come and see his quaint portrayals of what life is like on a housing estate.

    “I want to see how the other half lives”. Whether it works or not, isn’t the point that the depiction of “working class” families are shown to those who are not in a similar situation, with a potential for empathy and/or an actual response? (CATHY COME HOME)

    Leigh’s new one, title aside, looks way too optimistic for me.

  4. The idea of trying to effect social change by alerting those with wealth and power to a problem is perfectly noble… (although I think you also have a duty to make a good film) but I don’t think Leigh is actually concerned with doing this, ever. Is happy Go Lucky his response to Iraq? (WHERE, asides from Tom Clay’s meisterwerk, is the UK cinema’s response to Iraq?)

    Leigh seems to think his films will be of interest to people on sink estates, who quite understandably prefer to see films about other subjects.

    (A friend made a film in a fairly bad council estate, and was surprised to discover a little old lady who wanted to talk to him about Tarkovsky at 1am during a night shoot.)

  5. >(WHERE, asides from Tom Clay’s meisterwerk, is the UK cinema’s response to Iraq?)

    Does Broomfield’s BATTLE FOR HADITHA not count?

    >Leigh seems to think his films will be of interest to people on sink estates

    If that is what Leigh said or implied, then I have no argument with yours.

    >A friend made a film in a fairly bad council estate, and was surprised to discover a little old lady who wanted to talk to him about Tarkovsky at 1am during a night shoot.

    Well, I’d use myself as a subject also as I’m from a working class family (well, I guess you could say we’re middle class now after “moving up the ranks” but certainly during my childhood where I experienced the 80s very much akin to Boys From The Blackstuff).

  6. Never liked Mike Leigh.


  7. Like I say, I’m prepared to give Topsy Turvy a go. And he does have more than one “mode”, since there are the grim ones and the “funny” ones. But I don’t care for either.

    Leigh specifically said that he was glad All Or Nothing was getting into multiplexes so that people from sink estates could see it. That was a good example of the distributors’ idiocy — having failed to notice that Leigh’s previous film had commercial potential, they then failed to notice that his new one didn’t.

    It was Career Girls that first got bad reviews, and I was so happy to no longer be alone in my dismay. “Has the world finally woken up?” This stuff is like This Happy Breed, badly remade for radio.

  8. Just out of curiosity, name me five British films you’ve liked in the last 5 years? And no, you’re not allowed Tom’s film five times. :)

  9. Well, if I avoid citing lots of American productions the way the Film Council do (I’d have Children of Men, V For Vendetta, HP & the Prisoner of Azkaban) , I could name My Summer of Love (still to see his PP’s other stuff, but I have it all lined up), The Descent (I should blog about this as I have my own take on it, and a few reservations), Control, and Shaun of the Dead.

    And I could add a few others, actually!

  10. Strange, I thought V FOR VENDETTA underrated and SHAUN OF THE DEAD vastly overrated.

    Hmm, ok, MY SUMMER OF LOVE was good though, looking forward to picking up LAST RESORT.

    Speaking of the reverse (British directors on international productions), I have all 345 mins of Peter Watkin’s LA COMMUNE (PARIS 1871) here to watch, it seems to be his last film… I’m predicting another masterpiece.

  11. Oh, I bet the Watkins is very good.

  12. La Commune (de Paris 1871) isn’t merely a masterpiece, it’s the greatest political film of all time. Godard is Stanley Kramer by comparasion.

    Recent British Films I’ve liked: The Young Adam, Dirty Pretty Things, The Queen and above all, The History Boys.

  13. I haven’t watched a single Mike Leigh film, or at least I didn’t think I had until I read the interview with him in this month’s Empire. It was NUTS IN MAY (not a porno) which I saw shortly after an episode of Reeves’ and Mortimer’s Shooting Stars over a decade ago. I thought it was a comedy, and a pretty good one at that.

    Nevertheless, none of his other films have ever enticed me and part of the reason for that would be his ‘method.’ Apparently he never talks about his bootcamp but judging by what I’ve garnered from his films it would probably involve constantly surprising actors until their responses become unrealistic. Perhaps it involves jumping out of a hatch in the floor while they pretend to be a caterpillar or getting stooges to act as police to tell the actor that their mum’s dead etc etc. Does anyone know anything about the bootcamp because although I hate it for its exclusiveness, secrecy and what it does to actually remove the actors from the real world rather than improving their connection with it (again, all based on my prejudice), I want to know everything about it?

  14. I don’t know about “boot camp” but his films are actually devised during a months-long improv rehearsal. So although it says he’s “written” them, really the actors have come up with all the lines, and he’s “written them down”.
    Sue Lawley apparently gave him quite a hard time about this on Desert Island Discs (apologies to Americans — too complicated to explain the concepts of Sue lawley and Desert Island Discs).
    “My films are devised in six month improvisation periods.”
    “But it says you wrote them.”
    “I have an idea of the theme, for instance, I knew that Secrets and Lies was going to be about adoption, but I didn’t tell the actors that.”
    “Why not? Might have saved a couple of months.”

  15. >Perhaps it involves jumping out of a hatch in the floor while they pretend to be a caterpillar or getting stooges to act as police to tell the actor that their mum’s dead etc etc.

    Are you sure this is Leigh because I know for a fact this is what Loach does. On the set of CARLA’S SONG, there’s a moment when Robert Carlyle finds Carla nearly drowned in a bath tub. According to Loach (interviewed at my university), he called Carlyle up in the middle of the night and said “we’re going to this house to shoot some footage”. When they got there, Loach told his actor “go upstairs and into the bathroom” and of course, when he got there, he found the actress who plays Carla “playing dead” and reacts accordingly, with shock and intuitiveness (he had no idea what he would find).

    There were rumours about Loach hitting one of his female leads too (don’t know which, although apparently a lot harder than Cronenberg did during SHIVERS).

    Mr. C, I think you should write a hate blog about Alan Parker, truly one of the worst cretins in the business.

  16. Parker might be fun to do.

    Yeah, Loach pulls all kinds of crap like that. In Family Life when a nurse is wrestling with the girl, he got her to twist her arm top get a reaction. In Kes, the schoolkids didn’t know they were actually going to be belted across the hands for real. I think it’s typical director-sadism as much as it is technique.

    Peter Mullan said, “Sometimes you wish he’d just say ‘Act surprised.’ I mean, I’ve got three kids, I’m not going to be shocked by someone saying ‘Vagina’.”

  17. I concurr with trailer for the leigh film – NEVER has something been so calculated to make me NOT want to watch something.

    But honestyl Topsey Turvey is good – mainly beacuse its got an interesting story with interesting characters all QUITE alien concepts in a leigh film….

    Yes I’ve always found the ‘authorship’ of a Leigh film problematic. The actors should get some kind of authorial credit as well.

  18. I’m kind of amazed none of the actors have ever objected, though I guess they know the deal going in.

  19. Oh! I can think of one trick Leigh pulled, on the set of SECRETS & LIES, he never told Brenda Blethyn that her daughter was black, so when she met Marianne Jean-Baptiste, it came as a surprise… haha, they should remake it in American’s deep south and see how that works out.

  20. But the way Leigh works, the whole script is written during rehearsal, so he may have surprised Blethyn at some point, but it couldn’t have been on-set…

  21. The script may have been written but the character’s colour wasn’t specified.

  22. But the script is written BY THE ACTORS. Who are acting it out together. Nothing is improvised on camera, its all based on the previous rehearsal improvs. So BB and MJB would have been acting this stuff out for months together before getting in front of a camera. BB might have been surprised in the development process, but not during filming.

  23. I heard this in an interview but to quote the imdb trivia page:

    To add a spontaneous effect to the performances, Mike Leigh met with each actor individually and only told them what their character would know at the beginning of the film. As filming progressed the actors were hearing the secrets for the very first time. Brenda Blethyn, for instance, didn’t know that Marianne Jean-Baptiste was black.

  24. That’s interesting because it doesn’t seem to fit the Leigh method as it’s usually described. Yr right tho:

    “Leigh’s actors work with just a skeleton of the script, then develop the characters in workshop-type rehearsals. Initially they work one on one with Leigh, and later move to an ensemble format, but Jean-Baptiste and Brenda Blethyn, the actress who played her birth mother, had not met until the day shooting was scheduled for their first scene together outside a London Underground station. Blethyn had noticed Jean-Baptiste’s name on the cast list, but did not know she was black–nearly the same experience of her character Cynthia, who in the film receives a telephone call from a well- spoken young woman wishing to meet her. When the two characters met, Blethyn assumed Jean-Baptiste was part of the film crew. “So when Cynthia says there has been some mistake, that was my honest reaction,” Blethyn told Time film critic Richard Corliss. “It wasn’t acting,” she added.”

    But I prefer this tidbit:

    “A few days before their mass suicide, the Heaven’s Gate religious cult watched Secrets & Lies at a cinema on March 19, 1997.”

  25. I’m glad I was too busy to read blogs when this was posted, because I’m a huge Leigh fan…. I think he’s closer to Lubitsch than to any other director: there’s something intrinsically comic about his sense of construction and emphasis, no matter what his subject matter.

  26. I can see the reasoning behind that… I don’t disagree with the observation, essentially. But I love Lubitsch and Leigh just makes me upset. So I was venting a bit.

  27. I was sitting outside last night and my phone went the answerphone clicked in and I caught the begining of a rant from my friend Sarah who had just seen Happy Go Lucky in the Camden Odeon. In essence she was FURIOUS to have spent £9 on a ticket to see a film about middle class camdenites having drinks in pubs in Camden. ‘I could have spent the £9 and sat in a real Camden pub’. Anyway massive thumbs down from Sarah G and I’ve just spent about an hour on the phone suggesting better films for her to order online.

  28. Heh! Try her on Joseph Losey.

  29. I love Mike Leigh’s films. My favourites would be Naked, Meantime, Life is Sweet, High Hope, All or Nothing and Abigail’s Party.

    Another director whose work I also love is Aki Kaurismäki. His wonderful
    The Man Without a Past, for example, is a thing to cherish.

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