Another Year () is the now regular, now cyclical marvel from Britain’s best film-maker. The title may say it almost with a yawn – “another year, another Mike Leigh movie” – but no sane person can feel jaded. Leigh’s films are all the same and all different; all funny and all tragic; all simple and all complicated. They all dare critics to trot out “caricatural” and other c-words (condescending, classist), while those critics know what Leigh’s answer will be: a withering stare, war-headed with the implication, “If you think that, you haven’t seen my film.”
Caricatural? Well, we are all two things at once. We are all specimens in a jar, easy to label. At the same time we are infinitely more. Binary humanism is the essence of Leigh’s cinema, even trinary. In Another Year each character can simultaneously seem a nothing, a singularity and a multitude. In a narrative divided into changing seasons, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play the all-parenting couple in southern England who keep open house for friends and family. Each
of these human waifs and strays is unforgettably drawn. The gregarious son with a surprise romantic secret (Oliver Maltman). The overweight loner (Peter Wight), devoted to the oral comforts of food, drink and nicotine. The insecure social butterfly (Leigh regular Lesley Manville in superb form), unattached, bibulous and borderline bipolar.
Leigh adds layer upon layer of humanity. A master of the behavioural “tell”, he catches every tiny facial response or flicker of body language. When the conversations are not endearing dialogues of the deaf – “How many cc’s is it?” someone asks Manville innocently of her new car; “What do you mean?” she snaps back aggressively – they are full of weird blossomings of emotion. When Broadbent’s bereaved north-country brother (David Bradley) comes south for a visit, there is a touchingly, comically awkward moment when Manville, arriving, finds him alone in the house. They have nothing to say to each other. Then suddenly she says, “Do you want a cuddle?” As in a Chekhov play the volatilities are presented straight. We know the inner map of the characters, so nothing is illogical even when a
Some of these people are at the bottom of a well of loneliness. An introductory vignette has Imelda Staunton (not seen again) talking with a psychotherapist. “On a scale of one to 10,” he asks, “how happy would you say you were?” “One.” It is sad and funny, comical and desperate. But the brilliance of the plot scheme that follows is that the lost, the damned, the confused have a centre of capricious help and enlightenment to go to – Sheen and Broadbent’s home – just as we mortals, no less lucky, can knock, every year or three, on the door of Mike Leigh Villa.
Jackass 3D () is a lousy cheat – many of the sequences are not in 3D – and an overlong vision of a do-it-yourself Hell. The naked and the damned, or the damn-near naked and the volitionally damned, subject themselves, over and over, to pain, punishment and humiliation.
I enjoyed it a lot. As the adage goes, regarding loud, over-adrenalised American showbiz jocks: “If you can’t beat them, watch them beating themselves and each other.” The film went straight to the top of the US box office charts, proving that audiences will go anywhere to see the dangerous, the disgusting, the demoralising. We love things we can barely watch. That includes the herpetophobe (Bam Margera) screaming to be hauled out of a pit of snakes, the claustrophobe (Steve O) locked in a faeces-filled portable cabin which is bungee-bounced up and down on giant ropes; the two stripped-to-the-waist performers picked for supergluing who must tear themselves apart; the fart trombonist; the bee-attack volunteers choreographed as if by St Vitus . . .
I even admired the ingenuity of the landscaped miniature railway with a green mound in the middle that suddenly, volcanically spurts a thick brown liquid. Only it isn’t a mound, it’s – well, go on, imagine. Perhaps it is a sad reflection on humanity that we flock to this kind of stuff. But there we are. Humanity is sad; Mike Leigh said so. But it
can be a demonically inventive sadness. Rabelais would adore Jackass 3D.
Vampires, by contrast, are too much with us, these cinema-going days, while not being effectively part of us. Let Me In () is a little-league Twilight: yet another tale of a bloodsucking interloper in an American small town, falling for a girl (or in this case preteen boy) to whom he (or in this case a preteen she) dare not speak her nature. Until she does. Then it is: how will a young lad’s love cope with a sweetheart who hibernates by day, gore-slurps by night and will whoosh into flame if you accidentally draw back the curtains?
The Swedish original, Let the Right One In, was blanched, spooky and sombre. This remake by Matt Cloverfield Reeves misses almost everything. The lemony pallor seems out of Paintbox. The spookiness is supplied by make-up. The sombre, melancholy mood seems done with an applicator: a large swab of slow-tempo gloom in which the action high-points – the blood-draining murder in the park, the girl vampire’s savaging of a nocturnal pedestrian – are presented with mechanised flairlessness. Even horror stories about the super-old (“I’ve been 12 for a very long time,” says the girl) should seem fresh in the presentation.
Fit () gets A for aim and effort, B for achievement. Rikki Beadle Blair’s film began as a schools-touring theatre project intended to combat anti-gay prejudice. Like a fairy godmother it touched down in bigotry zones and waved its magic wand: “You will learn tolerance and compassion.”
Here the writer-director himself plays the dance teacher, a dreadlocked, lisping, Afro-gay Jesus handing out sermonettes to his mixed AC and DC pupils, who disperse for their respective subplots. The result is often charming, like a Shane Meadows film without the dour bits. Rather, the dour bits are in home-movie colour and all end happily after the requisite rites of conflict. At the end we feel torn between “That was lovely” and
“Can we go now?” The film is on the money, morally and humanistically. Whether it will earn any, in the big bad popcorn world, is another question.
Ten years ago, Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson was hailed as the new Ingmar Bergman. Bergman himself almost handed on to the young maker of Show Me Love, a luminous teenage lesbian drama, his magical hair shirt. But Mammoth () , following the pretentious A Hole in My Heart, is as woolly and elephantine as its title. In a planet-spanning globalism fable, starring Gael Garcia Bernal (continent-hopping techno-brat) and Michelle Williams (surgeon, mother and secularised Virgin Mary), the interfusing of ambitious themes and locales plays like a bad imitation of Babel. Someone needs to tell Moodysson to make another movie like his first, with a small budget,
no stars, and none but the slenderest, most superfine idea.