Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Jonathan Ray

The Third Man fan’s guide to Vienna

The greatest movie ever made celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and I’ll be watching it – for the umpteenth time – with appropriately fine fizz at hand. Sorry, what? Oh, come on, I’m talking about The Third Man. There’s no finer film. I thought everyone knew that. You know, written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol

The plastic feminism of Barbie

Colombian pop singer Shakira caused quite the stir earlier this month when she revealed that her sons ‘absolutely hated’ the Barbie movie, which had a major cultural moment last year. Hot pink came back in fashion, people were hosting Barbie-themed parties and everyone was obsessing over lead Margot Robbie’s vintage Barbie-inspired clothing on the movie’s press tour. It

Philip Patrick

Japanese toilets aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

What is the world’s best city in which to be caught short? You can imagine a lively discussion on this question on a TripAdvisor forum. A strong candidate would be Tokyo, which has recently added to its long list of otherworldly attractions, a collection of 17 high-tech architect designed public lavatories. The toilets feature, and

Married At First Sight feels strangely traditional

There should be a salacious German word for the blissful relief one feels at not being in another’s uncomfortable situation. Not pleasure at their misfortune, as in schadenfreude, just toe-stretching- and-dancing joy that you are safely under a blanket on the sofa while others are undergoing intense public scrutiny.  First impressions suggested earnest, caring individuals

Why women love gay films

Last month, the BBC offered an apology of sorts after a red-carpet reporter at the Baftas asked Andrew Scott, star of the film All of Us Strangers, about fellow Irish actor Barry Keoghan’s appendage. This had been the subject of conversation thanks to Keoghan’s naked dancing in the film, Saltburn, in which Keoghan’s floppy bishop

Get ready for the cowboy renaissance

Marvel is at death’s door. What’s next? Some say we can track an incoming recession by the length of women’s skirts, others by the popularity of dance music. Film, as the composite of a million images, comes out as a more sophisticated forecaster – and not just of the economy, but of lifestyles and mentalities.

In praise of long films

Late last year, Martin Scorsese’s epic Killers of the Flower Moon switched from cinema to living room on the Apple TV streaming service. An increasingly popular tactic, the move from big to small screen draws in a whole new audience, many of whom deliberately waited to see it for the price of a monthly subscription rather than spend

Logan Roy is disgusting

The other day I met a young woman wearing a crop top emblazoned with the words Waystar/Royco – the media conglomerate at the heart of Succession, HBO’s cult television drama about the nasty Roy family and their insane attempts at one-upmanship for control of their father’s company. It won Emmy and Golden Globe awards three

Hollywood, please stop the biopics

Having just watched the overwhelmingly underwhelming Bob Marley: One Love, I have decided that Hollywood’s obsession with biopics must be stopped. Biopics have become so ubiquitous, so pervasive, so unoriginal, that Kingsley Ben-Adir, who plays Marley in the film, has already starred in two other biopics: The Comey Rule as Barack Obama and One Night in Miami as Malcolm X. 

The boring moralism of the new Mean Girls musical

The original Mean Girls premiered 20 years ago this spring, but it might as well have come out yesterday. The Middle East is, again, still, at war with the West. Britney Spears looks out from every tabloid. After years of cancel culture, being controversial is great again. And, just as in 2004, Mean Girls is everywhere. Walmart’s Christmas ad

Sam Leith

How am I supposed to remember what happened in The Tourist?

Hooray, I thought. There’s a new season of The Tourist. I remember liking that, I thought. It was that thing with the bloke in Australia, wasn’t it? And I was all set to settle down for a good binge, when I realised that I had almost literally no idea what had happened in the first season. This is

What critics get wrong about Zulu

It is a great mystery how Zulu, a tale of imperial derring-do from the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879, has avoided being cancelled. On the face of it, this is a film that revels in one of the most heinous, most blood-thirsty chapters of our colonial past, one tinged with technologically enabled white supremacy. Here is

Streaming killed the video star

One small but significant loss to culture that streaming sites like Netflix or Amazon Prime have ushered in is the slow death of the DVD commentary. Usually given by a film’s actors or director (or both), they could be played over the film and were packed with insights on filmmaking, the artists’ take on life

What fiction can teach us about terrorism

The first decade of this century, following Al Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in September 2001, was something of a golden age for films about terrorism, a spate of them following in quick succession. In the light of Hamas’s 7 October mass-killing of innocent Israelis, it’s interesting and informative to watch

At last, Hollywood mocks cancel culture

Dream Scenario is a film about modern celebrity culture and the terror of losing yourself to the internet’s virtual mob. It’s the story of evolutionary biology professor Paul Matthews, a balding, befuddled, bespectacled everyman who is the walking embodiment of anonymity – played by Nicholas Cage, the face that launched a thousand memes. At the start

Why women still love Twilight

Anybody who has been a teenage girl will know how dark and swampy the sexual imagination of that demographic can be. At 14 and 15, after watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996), and then James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), I became so obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio that I’d lie for hours on my bed hatching

Jonathan Miller

Is Napoleon anti-French?

The English director Ridley Scott has certainly produced a massive irritation to French amour-propre. Over the weekend, he said that criticism of his film Napoleon proved that the French ‘don’t even like themselves’. Whether Napoleon is a masterpiece is yet to be determined (it isn’t released until Wednesday) but opinion is already divided. As if the

Julie Burchill

Why I’ll always love Big Brother

I’ve always been a Big Brother fan; I was hooked from the very first series way back in the year 2000, which featured Nasty Nick, Anna the lesbian nun and the winner, charming Scouse builder Craig Phillips who took the prize of £70,000 and promptly gave it all to his friend Joanne Harris for a

The importance of London’s lost cinema

King’s Cross in the eighties was the scabbiest, dodgiest, scariest and most alternative place in central London – and the crumbling Scala cinema was its beating heart. Memories of this long-shut venue are being revived by the imminent release of a feature-length documentary tracing its brief, colourful history. The film is named after the cinema

Are party holidays ever that fun?

Forget GCSEs or landing your first part-time job. Nothing screamed growing up in Britain like embarking on your first European party holiday, armed with an alarming lack of SPF or common sense but a suitcase packed full of skimpy outfits and condoms. Every summer, thousands of young Britons would jet off to Greece, Cyprus or

We need an international University Challenge

As the autumn nights close in and the heating goes, there are few pleasures so improving for body and soul than half an hour spent in the company of University Challenge. Not only do you learn a bit (well, until you forget it) but nothing makes a middle-aged man or woman of a certain disposition

We don’t have to apologise for Friends

This weekend became The One Where We All Lost A Friend: Matthew Perry, Friends actor, addiction spokesperson and rehabilitation advocate, who died aged 54. He played the sweetly acerbic, chronically insecure Chandler Bing. Perry’s comic genius and impeccable timing meant he created a particular style of delivery and physicality that was uniquely his but endlessly imitable, epitomised

The forgotten genius of Dennis Price

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the sad death of the actor Dennis Price, star of the classic 1949 black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, regarded by many to be the greatest British film of all time. Price was only 58 when he died from cirrhosis of the liver and complications following a broken

Sofia Coppola made girls sad

When Cecilia Lisbon, the youngest of the five Lisbon daughters in Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides, winds up in the hospital having survived an attempt on her own life, the doctor tells her: ‘You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.’ ‘Obviously, doctor,’ Cecilia replies, ‘you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.’

The Beckham documentary is little more than PR

Let me start by saying I didn’t watch Beckham because I am a football fan. What I’m really interested in is the art of spinning gold from thin air, something David Beckham and his family have excelled at. So I zoned out when it came to discussing the intricacies of Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson’s relationship

The genius of John Betjeman’s Metro-Land

‘Over the points by electrical traction, out of the chimney pots into the openness, till we come to the suburb that’s thought to be commonplace, home of the gnome and the average citizen.’ Fifty years ago, the BBC documentary Metro-Land aired for the first time. These free-flowing dactyls, which mimic the motion of a train,

What happened to the great British gangster film?

Cast your minds back 25 years, when Cher’s ‘Believe’ was the biggest hit of the year and Nokia dominated the mobile phone market. These were simpler times. They also happened to better times, at least from a movie perspective. We had The Truman Show, Saving Private Ryan, There’s Something About Mary and American History X.

In praise of Michael Parkinson

Different generations will have different memories of Sir Michael Parkinson, who has died aged 88. If you’re a little older, you’ll remember that Parkinson led a golden age of chat shows when they were about the guests rather than the host. He was a master of the art and, though famous, never came across as

Melanie McDonagh

I’m bored of Disney feminism

It is, I know, a bit early to be thinking about 2024, but to help with the forward planning, here’s a film to avoid next year: the Disney release of its new, non-animated, musical version of Snow White. The original animated version of 1937 was a classic if ever there were one. Stewart Steven, the