Author Archives: Peter Bradshaw

Suntan review – stellar male midlife crisis comedy gets steadily darker

A superbly directed, quietly devastating film about an EasyJet Gustav von Aschenbach who embarrasses himself by falling in love with a younger beauty

Argyris Papadimitropoulos is a Greek film-maker whose work I didn’t know before seeing this unbearably sad story of sexual obsession. His style stands a little outside the black-comic absurdism of contemporaries such as Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari, but he deserves to be as well known as them.

Suntan is tremendously acted, fiercely and instantly absorbing, a tragicomic tale of male midlife breakdown, featuring someone who could possibly be described as an EasyJet Gustav von Aschenbach. Makis Papadimitriou (who was in Tsangari’s film Chevalier) is excellent as Kostis, a plump, bald, middle-aged doctor who, after an unspecified history of personal disappointment, takes up a job as local practitioner on a Greek island whose economy depends on the summer months, when it becomes party central for beautiful twentysomethings. Poor, lonely Kostis one day has to attend to Anna (Elli Tringou), a gorgeous young woman who has fallen off her quad bike. She playfully takes a shine to Kostis and, with the heedless caprice and cruelty of youth, invites him to hang out on the beach with her and her friends after his daily clinic. Inevitably, Kostis embarrasses himself by falling deeply in love with her. Humiliation and worse is in store.

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Lady Macbeth review – brilliantly chilling subversion of a classic | Peter Bradshaw’s film of the week

Florence Pugh is lethally charismatic in William Oldroyd’s daring journey into the darkest corners of the world of bonnets and bows

William Oldroyd’s fierce feature debut feels like Victorian noir, a twist on a genre probably invented by Shakespeare in the first place. It could well open up a dark new avenue in the bonnets-and-bows world of classic literary adaptation. His movie does an awful lot with a limited budget. It is smart, sexy, dour: qualities that are weaponised by a lethally charismatic lead performance from Florence Pugh as the eponymous, unrepentant killer. She is both sphinx and minx. “You have no idea of the damage you can cause,” her enraged father-in-law splutters at her. Actually, he’s the one with no idea.

Dramatist and screenwriter Alice Birch has adapted Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, itself of course inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and adapted by Shostakovich in 1934 as an opera – the work which famously infuriated Stalin – and by Andrzej Wajda as a film, Siberian Lady Macbeth, in 1962. Oldroyd’s new movie version, shot with clarity and verve by cinematographer Ari Wegner, retains all of this story’s subversive sexiness, making changes to the narrative, bringing in or rather drawing out themes of abuse, violence, race and class. Cleverly, it gives us enigmatic backstory hints that may or may not help explain the sudden direction change the film takes in its third act, leading to a denouement of toxic ingenuity. And of all it driven by the sensuality and rage of Pugh’s performance.

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Rodney King review – Spike Lee’s Netflix special is a bleakly poetic howl of rage

The acclaimed director brings a stark quality to this recording of Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man stage show about the incident that sparked the LA riots

Spike Lee is marking the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots with an hour-long Netflix special about Rodney King, whose vicious police beating triggered the chaos after the LAPD officers involved were acquitted despite their savage attack having been captured on video, filmed by a local man from his apartment balcony and seen by TV viewers around the world. That video became the most famous witness footage since the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination; Lee used it as the prologue to his 1992 movie Malcolm X.

Related: Spike Lee: ‘Black men are still viewed as predators’

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A Moving Image review – love, art and rocketing house prices

Fiction meshes with footage of street protests and vox-pop interviews in Shola Amoo’s heartfelt docudrama about gentrification in Brixton

Despite some rough edges, there is a warmth and an ease to this shoestring debut from NFTS graduate Shola Amoo – a docudrama about gentrification in Brixton, south London.

Tanya Fear plays Nina, who returns to Brixton after some years away, intent on making a film about people getting priced out of their own neighbourhood. As her project develops, she has complicated feelings for local performance artist Ayo (Aki Omoshaybi) and also for an up-and-coming young actor Mickey (Alex Austin), whose success has allowed him to buy a flat nearby – in just the way her film is condemning.

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Handsome Devil review – feelgood comedy tackles homophobia

Set in a posh Irish boarding school, John Butler’s film focuses on an unlikely friendship between a star rugby player and his sensitive roommate

Writer-director John Butler won hearts and minds with his 2013 comedy The Stag; this new movie is about homophobia and conformism in a posh Irish boarding school. Very clearly, it’s a personal and autobiographical project for him. For me, Handsome Devil exists in a Venn diagram tonal overlap between John Carney’s Sing Street and Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did. Music is a vital lifeline for the kids growing up who feel alone – who are quiet or artistic or just don’t fit in. Meanwhile, rugby is a macho fetish, notably for the well-off. 

Fionn O’Shea plays sensitive Ned, bullied for being “different” by the rugby types. Then he’s made to share a room with Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), a new boy thrown out of his old school for fighting, and Conor turns out to be a rugby superstar and saviour of the school team. Against all odds, the aesthete and the hearty become real friends; Ned finds this alliance gets the bullies off his back, but things are complicated. 

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Jonathan Demme: ‘A storyteller of bold and muscular force’ | Peter Bradshaw

The Silence of the Lambs director, who has died aged 73, was an artist of brilliance and intuition as well as a master craftsman of great character dramas

The colossally talented and productive Jonathan Demme never assumed or wanted the status of an auteur, and in fact his one consciously cinephile project, The Truth About Charlie in 2002 – a remake of the 1960s caper Charade with nods to Truffaut – was not much liked. But Demme was a ceaselessly inventive and creative film-maker, a storyteller of bold and muscular force; a director who was plugged into the energies of commercial Hollywood cinema and who had imbibed the work ethic and the play ethic of his early mentor and producer Roger Corman.

From Corman he learnt the values of populism and crowd-pleasing, and simply getting movies made on an industrial basis, and he developed this ethos which he endowed with something of the indie new wave spirit, morphing into 1980s brashness. He created cult hits like Melvin and Howard, Something Wild and Married to the Mob. But his career ascended to yet greater heights with some of the biggest hits of the 1990s: prominently Philadelphia, the HIV-Aids drama starring Tom Hanks — and of course the stone-cold grand guignol classic, The Silence of the Lambs, in 1991. This was the film which got him his best director Oscar: the hugely lucrative and award-garlanded version of Thomas Harris’s macabre novel about the serial killer Hannibal the Cannibal.

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Heal the Living review – heart-rending tale of organ donation

Katell Quillévéré’s polished mosaic of interconnected lives is intelligently acted and visually arresting but its cardiac-transplant storyline is a little glib

Katell Quillévéré’s first two pictures, Love Like Poison and Suzanne, established her as a film-maker of delicacy and grace; this third feature is based on the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, adapted by the director with veteran screenwriter Gilles Taurand.

It is every bit as beautifully made and intelligently acted as you might expect, with some wonderful visual imagery at the very beginning. Yet I was disappointed. The organ donation storyline is a readymade trope, bringing together disparate life stories; it creates its own internal narrative economy of donor and recipient. But it’s a rather Hollywoodised high concept, reminiscent of Alejandro González Iñárittu’s 21 Grams or even, frankly, a slushy romantic weepie from 2000 starring Minnie Driver called Return to Me. Those films had the idea of the bereaved person infringing the donor anonymity rules by finding the person with their loved one’s heart: Heal the Living isn’t so brash. But the point is that we, the audience, know. We make the cosmic connection. It is heart-wrenching, yes – and a little glib.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 review – funny sequel suffers from pinballing pointlessness

The Marvel superhero gang are back together – including Vin Diesel’s Baby Groot alongside Chris Pratt’s Quill – and while there’s plenty of comedy, it doesn’t really go anywhere

Marvel’s likeable superhero comedy Guardians of the Galaxy is back for amiable and goofy volume number two, and its beefy-yet-quirky space hero and team leader Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, duly has a second volume of that Awesome Mixtape on the Sony Walkman he has on him at all times.

It’s the same combination of cartoony action and intergalactic screwball with some ambient production design recalling the photorealist sci-fi imagery of Roger Dean or Chris Foss in a bygone age, creating a visual sense of earnestness to offset the archly retro pop culture gags. Again, it has its own supercharged Heart FM playlist of 70s and 80s music. The early 70s track Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass is laid on the soundtrack almost ecstatically in the opening sequence, and some tongue-in-cheek dialogue later invokes it as the greatest piece of music ever to have emerged from Planet Earth. This film rattles along and there’s a lot to enjoy, but there’s a weird air of pointlessness, almost plotlessness to this sequel.

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Unforgettable review – Katherine Heigl goes gaslighting in a glossy erotic noir

Firmly in the mould of 80s thrillers like Basic Instinct or Jagged Edge, this outrageous revenge romp won’t win any awards, but is hugely watchable

Here is the week’s entirely innocent pleasure: a cheerfully outrageous gloss-trash erotic noir in the style that legendary screenwriter Joe Eszterhas used to crank out so lucratively in the 80s and 90s – we are plunged back into the world of Basic Instinct or Jagged Edge or indeed The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (written by Amanda Silver).

Katherine Heigl takes the creepy blondeopath role (which, in an earlier era, would have gone to Rebecca De Mornay) playing Tessa, the once-perfect wife and mother who has now been divorced for infidelity and lives near her ex-husband David (Geoff Stults). He has remarried online publishing editor Julia, played by Rosario Dawson. Tessa is furious that David and Julia get custody of her mini-me daughter two days a week and, by posing as a nice, neighbourly person, she plots to intimidate, manipulate and gaslight poor Julia, send her round the bend and get her claws back into her husband.

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Rules Don’t Apply review – Warren Beatty’s unbearable vanity project

Beatty’s first film in 15 years – co-written, produced, directed by and starring himself as Howard Hughes – is a plodding, airless exercise in narcissism

Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that we cannot experience death because death is not an event in life. But then Wittgenstein never had to sit through this unbearable new film from Warren Beatty, his first in 15 years, co-written, produced and directed by its star, Warren Beatty, who may well be affecting a kind of kinship with his subject, the crazy but allegedly lovable billionaire recluse Howard Hughes.

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The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki review – delightful, mysterious Finnish comedy

The story of a Finnish boxer taking on a big-shot US star on home turf is the basis for this strange and wonderful comedy

Here is a treat and a delight: this lovely film from Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen is a gentle, shrewd, somehow mysterious love story, based on real life, beautifully photographed in luminous black-and-white and drawing inspiration from Scorsese and Truffaut. It is inspired by the Finnish boxer Olli Mäki, who electrified Finland’s boxing fans in 1962 by getting a shot at the world featherweight title, fighting on home turf against visiting American star Davey Moore. It is to be the greatest day of his life – but not for the reasons he might once have thought.

The movie has Jarkki Lahti playing the intense, wiry Olli, who finds that as the big fight approaches, he has fallen in love with a beautiful young schoolteacher, Raija (Oona Airola) – to the horror of his tightly wound trainer and manager, Elis, played by Eiro Milonoff, who occasionally resembles a young Harrison Ford. Elis’s own marriage appears to be crumbling, and he is aghast, for complex reasons, at the distractions of love, which might mess with Olli’s focus. Like Jake La Motta, Olli has a habit of zoning out in public occasions at the thought of his love, and he sometimes looks like a blond Antoine Doinel, taking 400 blows outside the ring. It is a film of immense humanity and charm: the very best kind of date movie.

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Finding Fatimah review – faintly desperate dating comedy

This indie comedy about Muslim people looking for love in Manchester suffers from terrible production values, wasted talent and a critical lack of laughs

There’s something desperate in this Manchester-set indie comedy about the British Muslim dating scene; the cast are lumbered with a bafflingly lame and leaden script and plodding direction that wouldn’t pass muster for TV in a thousand years. In a gallery of not-funny cartoon characters, signposted on screen by their dating-website handles, two people are supposed to stand out. Danny Ashok plays Shahid, a shy, nice guy who is divorced (a real no-no in his community) and looking for love. He has a day job selling computer printers, but is supposed to be a standup comic – a very rash fictional invention at the very best of times – competing for the imaginary TV show Muslims With Talent. Asmara Gabrielle plays Fatimah, a hardworking GP who is lonely and struggling with an anger-management problem – which is as unfunny and unconvincing as everything else in the film. It’s nice to see Nina Wadia here in the small role of Shahid’s mum, but her talent is wasted, and I suspect that applies to everyone else in the cast.

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Their Finest review – Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton and a very British kind of magic

Lone Scherfig’s sweet-natured story is all about the love that flowers in the ruins of the blitz and the dusty offices of the Ministry of Information film unit

You’d need a heart of stone and a funny bone of porridge not to enjoy this sweet-natured and eminently lovable British film – a 1940s adventure, with moments of brashness and poignancy. It’s all about the love that flowers in the ruins of blitz-hit London and in the dusty offices of the Ministry of Information’s film unit as various high-minded creative types use the magic of cinema to keep the nation’s pecker up.

These people are looking for real stories of plucky civilian defiance to inspire the population and keep them undaunted in the face of Adolf’s aggression. And they’re applying the Liberty Valance rules about printing the legend when the truth isn’t sufficiently rousing.

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Bunch of Kunst review – Sleaford Mods film rips Austerity Britain a fresh one

Excellent documentary portrait of the band who are the voice of zero-hours Britain – inevitably rated 18 for bad language

We know about British bands making it big in their 20s – but what about in their 40s? Christine Franz’s excellent documentary about Sleaford Mods shows us three middle-aged men whose dedication, creativity, productivity and relative lack of success helped them keep it real until they blew up – as they say – in the last few years. Refreshingly, even gloriously, they’ve got the maturity and sense of humour to get a handle on it all.

Related: Sleaford Mods’ guide to modern Britain: ‘There is lots of pain’

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Dial B for Brexit: how Hitchcock would explain Britain’s current politics

The European council’s Donald Tusk likened Brexit and the snap election to a Hitchcock film. Here’s how the director might have plotted a Theresa May movie

The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, says that, what with the Brexit shock and Theresa May’s snap election, our political events have been directed by Alfred Hitchcock – cheekily quoting the celebrated director’s maxim that a good film should start with an earthquake and then get the tension to rise relentlessly.

Earthquake plus tension? This feels more like a dreary rain shower, coinciding with a vote to criminalise umbrellas, followed by the news of the possible cancellation of a weekly village bus service. The black comic ennui of Britain’s collective exasperation at the new election is more like Mike Leigh than Hitchcock.

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Clash review – epic view of Egyptian revolution from the back of a van

Mohamed Diab brings claustrophobic intimacy to a historic moment in this stunning thriller, set inside a police vehicle during Egypt’s 2013 street protests

The Egyptian revolution that dislodged Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and its chaotic aftermath continues to give us some fascinating films. Here is the latest, a rather amazing new-wave-style drama that combines claustrophobic intimacy with some logistically epic scene-setting.

Related: Filming Egypt after the revolution: ‘An extra was stabbed, a car was hijacked. It was crazy’

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Cézanne et Moi review – sunkissed biopic of artistic frenemies

This account of the rivalry between Cézanne and Zola – played by Guillaumes Canet and Gallienne – is cinéma du papa with an edge

There is unexpected interest in this period-costume dual biopic of Émile Zola and Paul Cézanne, played by Guillaume Canet and Guillaume Gallienne: a drama about their lifelong, troubled friendship. With its sunkissed locations, frock coats and whiskers – and its incurious attitude to the women in these artists’ lives – it does look rather like a bit of stately cinéma du papa. Yet there is an edge and a mordancy to it.

Zola and Cézanne grow up together, and at first Cézanne looks like one of life’s winners: the son of a wealthy banker whose family money allows him to paint. Meanwhile, Zola scrabbles a living in Paris. But then Zola becomes rich and famous, and Cézanne becomes tortured with envious contempt. They are frenemies and frivals; their appreciation of each other’s work coloured by anxious fear of failure, each obsessed with prestige and with being admitted to their respective elite societies.

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Mulholland Drive review – David Lynch’s delirious masterpiece still stands tall

The virtuoso director has never topped this erotic, eerie commentary on Hollywood, featuring a stunning breakthrough performance by Naomi Watts

After 16 years, David Lynch’s macabre mystery still exists in its own eerily timeless modernity: it just hasn’t aged a day, despite or because of its ambiguous status as period piece in an era of landlines and payphones (mobile phones existed when this film was made and it is supposed to be set in the present day, but could as easily be set in the 1940s).

Mulholland Drive is as brilliant and disquieting as anything Lynch has ever done. It is psychotically lucid, oppressively strange, but with a powerfully erotic and humanly intimate dimension that Lynch never quite achieved elsewhere. It is a fantasia of illusion and identity; a meditation on the mystery of casting in art as in life: the vital importance of finding the right role.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest review – the role that made Jack Nicholson

The rereleased adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel features a mesmerising central performance – and a villain who now seems much more likable

Here is the bruised-plum role that put Jack Nicholson into the biggest of big leagues: the role that Kirk Douglas created for the original Broadway version and once coveted for the movie he helped develop – but it’s the part that arguably put Nicholson on the career path to ham craziness.

Miloš Forman’s 1975 version of Ken Kesey’s novel is back on cinema rerelease and Nicholson is Mac McMurphy, the subversive wildman and incorrigible troublemaker, sent down for statutory rape, whose unstable behaviour gets him a transfer to what he clearly thinks will be the cushy option of the mental institution.

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The Handmaiden review – suspense thriller drenched with sex | Peter Bradshaw’s film of the week

Park Chan-wook’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, relocated to 1930s Korea, is an erotic triumph – with a whiplash twist

With his erotic classic In the Realm of the Senses from 1976, the Japanese director Nagisa Oshima achieved the distinction of popularising auto-erotic strangling in the US. Will Korean film-maker Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden be able to claim anything comparable? This film’s addictive and outrageous sexiness might just create an international fad for filing down your lover’s crooked tooth in the bath with the finely serrated surface of a thimble. It’s a quasi blowjob scene that sounds bizarre in print. On screen, it was so extraordinary that I almost forgot to breathe.

Related: The Handmaiden: the return of erotic cinema

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