Arts and Entertainment Rome sweet Rome: Tony Servillo in 'The Great Beauty'

From its delirious opening montage of disco divas, ageing socialites and strippers at play – one imagines Berlusconi's bunga bunga in a nutshell – Paolo Sorrentino's Roman satire has its sights fixed on epic greatness. There's a touch of La Dolce Vita in its fluid portrait of the city as carnival, with its parade of nuns, tourists, freaks, hangers-on, performance artists and other jokers. It is overseen by the dapper, disenchanted Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a journalist who once wrote a great novel but is now more famous for his roof-terrace parties and languid cynicism. The haute bourgeoisie circles Jep moves in turn a blind eye and a Botoxed pout to the depressed, debased society around them, preferring to dance themselves dizzy and drink themselves silly. (Sample dialogue: "What job do you do?" "Me? I'm rich". "Great job"). Nor is there any recourse to religion when Vatican prelates offer not spiritual succour but top cooking tips.

Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, By Andrew Graham-Dixon

Although others have debunked various myths about Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel (the most popular probably being the belief that he did it lying down), Graham-Dixon does no harm to his excellent, accessible but always intelligent telling of the story by repeating such myths for those who maybe haven't heard them.

Tom Sutcliffe: Would Michelangelo get the nod?

The Week In Culture

Last Night's Television: Orangutan Diary, BBC2<br />Baroque! From St Peter's To St Paul's, BBC4

The titles for Orangutan Diary freeze on an image that is a perfect emblem of its seductive appeal: a small hairy hand clutching dependently at a human arm. That, at one level, is what primates mean to us, however big and muscular they become. We see them, thanks to a broad misreading of Darwin, as ourselves in infancy, and when they're brought into conjunction with human clothing or human objects, our familial (and faintly condescending fondness) is amplified. When the primates are actually infants, even the sternest rationalists are likely to find themselves melting into a puddle of anthropomorphic sentiment. Orangutan Diary contains images of such concentrated cuteness that they should probably read out one of those warning statements at the beginning, alerting particularly susceptible viewers that it contains "extreme scenes of winsomeness from the beginning". When they wheeled on a wheelbarrow full of baby orang-utans in disposable nappies, you could probably hear the audience reaction coming through the window, a strange collective moo of delight.

British film tipped to take Berlin Film Festival by storm

Jude Law in drag and Dame Judi Dench as a cynical fashionista are among the stars of a new British film tipped to be the talking point of the Berlin Film Festival. With a cast including Eddie Izzard, Steve Buscemi and model Lily Cole, Rage, by London-based writer-director Sally Potter, plays in competition on Sunday and promises a pithy critique of the fashion industry in the age of globalisation.

First Impressions: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)

The word for The Da Vinci Code is a rare invertible palindrome. Rotated 180 degrees on a horizontal axis so that it is upside down, it denotes the maternal essence that is sometimes linked to the sport of soccer. Read right side up, it concisely conveys the kind of extreme enthusiasm with which this riddle-filled, code-breaking, exhilaratingly brainy thriller can be recommended.

The Sinister Side, By James Hall

A guide to left and right that's often dextrous and occasionally sinister

Tilda Swinton: 'I'm not interested in acting skills'

Tilda Swinton has never tried to fit in. She wins Oscars but describes her work as 'clowning'. She flits from obscure indie films to Hollywood blockbusters. And then there's her 'scandalous' love life...Jonathan Romney meets a British actress with attitude

The Weasel: Goodbye to all that

In their picturesque way, the French refer to orgasm as La Petite Mort. The same term could apply to the termination of a column, though the experience is not quite as pleasant. From an account of being snowed-in at Yorkshire, which appeared on 30 December 1995, to last week's tale of being penalised by H M Customs & Excise for importing an anthology of ancient gospel music, the Weasel has been my outlet for 12 years of vicissitudes. They ranged from a near-death experience in 2005 when a bunch of "arty boneheads" marched me at dead of night to the top of a Cumbrian fell for a chat with Ken Russell (he had left by the time we arrived) to a terrifying ride on a breakneck Big Wheel in the Tuileries Gardens in 1997. "Whataniceview," I repeated in an anguished mantra. "NotreDame-LesInvalides-EiffelTower." But Mrs W had her eyes tight shut.

Caravaggio: Cardsharps (1595)

In a picture, all sights are fixed. Whatever's blocked from view, or turned away from view, is stuck that way. Nothing the viewer can do, nothing the picture can do, will show more, or less, of anything. But the limits of an art can be its powers.

My Secret Life: Mark Strong, Actor, age 45

The home I grew up in... was a flat in Middleton Square in London's Islington, a beautiful Georgian square with a huge church in the middle. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. I remember flats in Walthamstow, Clapton, Stoke Newington and Edmonton, as well.

Florence

Europe's capital of Renaissance art is a great weekend break destination in late summer &ndash; and the fine Italian food on offer will fuel your quest for cultural nourishment

Pont: The British Character (1936)

Cartoons are generally a critic-free zone. They're designed to speak for themselves, and most people can get the point without assistance. All the critic can do, it seems, is analyse the joke to death. But let's not be deterred. Let's take a great cartoon, and see what can be done. This year it's the birth-centenary of the cartoonist Pont, who flourished in Punch in the 1930s. There's a show of his work at the Cartoon Museum in London.

Sistine set-up: the 500-year-old art mystery

Jealous rivals plotted in vain to humiliate Michelangelo. Alistair Fraser uncovers a 500-year-old art world mystery

Rome, sweet Rome

Make yourself at home in the villas where popes and painters flourished, says James Hill

de la Tour, Georges: The Fortune Teller (c1630)

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Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
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Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

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