Predictable but has a certain French verve: Two Tickets to Greece reviewed

Within the first five minutes of Two Tickets to Greece you know what it is and where it’s going. It’s based on what I call ‘the hate-love formula’ with its in-built guarantee: any two people who can’t stand each other at the outset of a film will have bonded by the end. In this instance it’s a womance featuring two middle-aged women who were inseparable at school but haven’t seen each other for 30 years. One is Blandine who, as an adult, is reserved and buttoned-up, while the other, Magalie, is – gulp – a ‘free spirit’. (Run, Blandine; run like the wind!) But while the film is predictable, it

‘I couldn’t afford loo roll’: Bruce Robinson on being skint, Zeffirelli’s advances and Withnail’s return

Bruce Robinson is ramming a huge log into the grate of his ancient fireplace in mud-clogged Herefordshire. He’s 77 and the film for which he is famous, Withnail and I, is about to open as a play. Isn’t it curious it hasn’t happened before, given that the comedy is about two thirsty, unemployed actors and is a sort of love-hate letter to the theatre? ‘I was living on 30 bob a week – I could either afford fish and chips or ten gold leaf’ ‘I wasn’t fond of the idea of staging it,’ says Robinson, who wrote and directed the 1987 film based on his own boozy life as an

Should beautiful actors be allowed to play those with plain faces?

Sometimes I Think About Dying is one of those titles you want to shout back at – what? Only sometimes? It is co-produced by, and stars, Daisy Ridley from the Star Wars franchise who, in going from a blockbuster to an interesting independent film, is taking the opposite of the usual career trajectory. Perhaps you can only fight the Dark Lords of the Sith for so long? But it has paid off, as this is an understated little gem. It is directed by Rachel Lambert and written by Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Katy Wright-Mead and Kevin Armento. It’s hard to say what it is exactly. A dour, deadpan romantic comedy probably

Better than expected (but my expectations were low): Back to Black reviewed

When the trailer for Sam Taylor-Johnson’s biopic of Amy Winehouse, Back to Black, first landed, her fans were gracious. ‘This,’ they said, ‘is going to be terrific.’ I’m winding you up. They were horrified. It’s too soon, they said. It’s exploitative and trashes her legacy, they concluded, from having watched two minutes of footage. I can only say that, one, fanatical fans are like that whatever you do, and two, this is better than I expected (although my expectations were low). It does seem softened at the edges, and one can never forgive a falling-in-love montage set at London Zoo – ever – butI (mostly) didn’t cringe and it is

A marvel – how did Bradley Cooper pull it off? Maestro reviewed

As the overture to Candide blazed away during the ovation for Maestro at the Venice Film Festival, three members of the audience flung their arms around in an imitation of Leonard Bernstein’s conducting style. They were his children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina, and their reaction said it all. Bradley Cooper, the film’s star and director, had pulled off a piece of cinematic chutzpah worthy of Lenny himself. His secret? The last quality you associate with the most embarrassingly flamboyant genius in American musical history: understatement. It’s easy to imagine the ghastly three-hour biopic Cooper didn’t make. West Side Story goes from near-catastrophe to wild triumph. Children all over America are

The Spectator film critic who transformed cinema

‘Going to the pictures is nothing to be ashamed of,’ insisted the film writer Iris Barry in 1926. But it certainly wasn’t something to be proud of, either. To the cultural cognoscenti of the 1920s, Barry admitted, the cinema was barely an art at all – about as aesthetically significant as ‘passport photography’. And for much of polite society, seeing a film was done in secret, if at all. So it was a considerable boost for the fledgling medium when, 100 years ago, the word ‘cinema’ began to appear for the first time in this country above its own regular column, with its own dedicated critic, in the arts pages

Why intellectuals love Disney

This month marks the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s company. The first cartoons it was founded to produce – the animation/live-action shorts Alice Comedies – are largely forgotten, eclipsed not least by the resounding success of Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse grabbed much of the attention from the get-go, including that of several philosophers, sociologists and critical theorists, who perceived in him an emblem of the best and worst of the modern age. Also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year is the founding text of western Marxism, Georg Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness. A generation of disaffected, bourgeois intellectuals, adherents of what came to be known as the Frankfurt School (100

Has VR finally come of age?

A heavily made-up Iranian woman in bra and knickers is dancing seductively before me. We’re in some vast warehouse, and she’s swaying barefoot. But then I look around. All the other men here are in military uniforms and leaning against walls or sitting at desks, smoking and looking at her impassively. I slowly realise we are in a torture chamber and this lithe, writhing woman is dancing, quite possibly, for her life. Me? I have become one of her tormentors. You can immerse yourself in war-ruined Ukraine, go on the run from the Holocaust, become a mushroom Welcome to The Fury, a bravura attempt by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat to

The dazzling classic The Red Shoes has several unfashionable lessons for us today

The Red Shoes, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 film about a ballet and its company, is 75 this month, and its birthday is being marked with great fanfare. From October to December, the BFI is putting on a major retrospective of the films of Powell and Pressburger, with an accompanying exhibition and nationwide screenings of The Red Shoes itself. A companion book to The Red Shoes by Pamela Hutchinson – stuffed with insight and background – is being published, as well as a lavish volume, The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger, complete with pictures and essays (almost love letters) about the late filmmakers from artists such as Tilda Swinton

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how unpleasant this is: Strays reviewed

Based on the poster showing two cute dogs – a border terrier and a Boston terrier – I had assumed Strays was a (probably lame) kiddie film with a remit to amuse the aforementioned kiddies during the long, long, very long summer holidays, so here’s what I was saying to myself during the opening moments: ‘Christ on a bike, what the hell is this?’ I can now tell you that Strays is vulgar, rude, offensive and disgusting. But the biggest, weirdest shock? At a certain point I realised it was funny, and rather touching, and that I was having fun. In other words, I was pleasantly surprised. Or, given its

Why Barbie deserves the backlash

Being the CEO of a massive corporation isn’t easy. You’re expected to grow the company, increase profits and boost the share price – the traditional responsibilities of a top hat-wearing capitalist. But at the same time, you need to align your company with the ‘values’ of a hyper-liberal global elite, e.g. anti-racism, trans rights and net zero. Contrary to the rhetoric of business school professors and management consultants, these agendas don’t always complement each other, and too much emphasis on one risks alienating those who care about the other. Get it wrong and you can come a cropper, as Dame Alison Rose, the recently departed CEO of NatWest, has discovered.

Can Oppenheimer take on Barbie?

This week, two films are released simultaneously that could not be more different. In the pink corner is Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, a 114-minute long exercise in postmodern irony and camp revolving around the exploits of the much-beloved Mattel doll, given life and dragged into the real world. From the first trailer onwards, its mission has been clear: this is contemporary Hollywood at its most glitzy, mixing well-known intellectual property with a starry cast (led by Margot Robbie, who is overdue a hit) and a healthy dose of humour. And in the black corner lies Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which seems to be another exercise in time-jumping profundity from the most pensive director in cinema,

The death of the sex comedy

After a few years in which she has been largely absent from cinemas – her appearance in Netflix’s climate-change black comedy Don’t Look Up aside – Jennifer Lawrence is returning with, of all things, a raunchy sex comedy, with the punning title No Hard Feelings. It has earned an R-rating in the US and 15 in the UK, and judging by its marketing materials, it is a 21st-century spin on Tom Cruise’s star-making role in Risky Business, focusing on an older woman (yes, Lawrence, at 32, is now classed as such by Hollywood) who is hired by a family via Craigslist to ‘date’ their socially awkward 19-year-old son Percy, ‘date him hard’, and thus introduce him

Why The Little Mermaid is bad news for cinema

It is disappointing to learn that, after critics and cynical audiences everywhere had sharpened their fish knives in the expectation of the new live-action Little Mermaid film being a catastrophic disaster, early reviews have suggested that it is… fine. It attracted a great deal of attention, and some criticism, for the casting of the black singer-actress Halle Bailey in the lead role of Ariel, on the grounds that sea-dwelling mermaids must, after all, be white-skinned redheads, as she was in the seminal 1989 animated film. Yet Bailey’s performance has been universally acclaimed, with her delivery of ‘Part of Your World’ being singled out for particular praise. The reason why so many

‘Luxury’ cinemas are a horror show

‘I know,’ I said to my friend recently. ‘Let’s see a film!’ We booked the Everyman Kings Cross, the only cinema that happened to be showing what we wanted to watch at a convenient time and location. You might already be familiar with the Everyman concept. According to the chain, it’s ‘redefining cinema’ with an ‘innovative lifestyle approach to our venues, where you swap your soft drink for a nice glass of red wine and a slice of freshly made pizza served to your seat’. And apparently it’s popular – an Everyman opened in September in Egham, Surrey, bringing the total to 38, and another one is announced for Durham

I’m too tired for Lena Dunham: Catherine Called Birdy reviewed

Catherine Called Birdy is written and directed by Lena Dunham and it’s a medieval comedy about a 14-year-old girl resisting her father’s attempts to marry her off while yearning to do all the things women aren’t allowed to do. (She would especially like to attend a hanging, for example. And also ‘laugh very loud’.) It most put me in mind of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as it has that spirit, but it does not share that timeless brilliance. It’s fun, and endearing, and the patriarchy gets a good kicking which, as you know, is my favourite thing. But it feels like one joke or sketch that’s been dragged

A compelling, if pitiless, journey: The Forgiven reviewed

The Forgiven is based on the novel by Lawrence Osborne and stars Ralph Fiennes (terrific) and Jessica Chastain (ditto) as a wealthy British-American couple driving to a weekend-long party in a luxurious Moroccan desert villa when they hit and kill a young local boy on the road. Oops. What the film adds up to, I cannot say, as it isn’t clear. Who is forgiven? Is anybody? It’s ethically ambiguous and you have to do your own moralising, which is always a drag. (Note to filmmakers: I’m old, I’m tired, please spoon-feed me.) But it’s a compelling, tense journey even if it’s a pitiless one. Human nature doesn’t come out of

Schlocky and silly but fun: Beast reviewed

Beast is, the blurb tells us, a ‘pulse-pounding thriller about a father and his daughters who find themselves hunted by a massive rogue lion intent on proving that the savannah has but one apex predator’. Whether this was ever intended to be a serious film, I cannot say, but it’s fun in its schlocky, gory, silly way, doesn’t outstay its welcome (it’s barely 90 minutes) and will satisfy anyone who has ever yearned to see Idris Elba wrestle a lion and then punch it full in the face. Not my dream especially, but each to their own. ‘Whatever did this is still out there,’ someone says because someone always has

The joy of volcano-chasing

Katia and Maurice Krafft were both born in the 1940s in the Rhine valley, close to the Miocene Kaiser volcano, though they didn’t know each other as children. They met on a park bench when they were students at the University of Strasbourg, and from that moment on, according to their joint obituary in the Bulletin of Volcanology, ‘volcanic eruptions became the common passion to which everything else in their life seemed subordinate’. They married in 1970, formed a crack team of volcano-chasers, équipe volcanique, and set off to get as close as they possibly could to the very edge of every fiery crater, to collect samples and data and

Ten films to rival Top Gun Maverick

After over a year of delays, Tom Cruise’s keenly anticipated sequel to the iconic Top Gun (1986) is released on 25 May. TG: Maverick’s seat-of-your-pants aviation sequences have whetted the appetite of both fans and non-fans for the picture, which has picked up almost universally positive reviews. Not unexpectedly for Cruise, he handled some of the flying himself in the picture, returning as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a US air force test pilot and flight instructor, purposely stuck at the rank of captain to indulge his addictive ‘need for speed.’Cruise dials down the cockiness of the first picture to deliver a more mature, nuanced take on Maverick – although he retains his