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‘The Substance’ Review: An Excellent Demi Moore Helps Sustain Coralie Fargeat’s Stylish but Redundant Body Horror

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‘The Substance’ Review: An Excellent Demi Moore Helps Sustain Coralie Fargeat’s Stylish but Redundant Body Horror

Not long into Coralie Fargeat’s campy body horror The Substance, Elisabeth Sparkle (Demi Moore) is unceremoniously fired from her gig as the celebrity host of a daytime exercise program. The former actress’ credentials — an Academy Award, a prominent place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — aren’t enough to save her Zumba-meets-Jillian-Michaels-style show, fittingly called Sparkle Your Life. Her producer, an oily personality conspicuously named Harvey (Dennis Quaid), wants to replace Elisabeth with a younger, more beautiful star. In his words: “This is network TV, not charity.” 

The Substance, which premiered at Cannes in competition, is Fargeat’s second feature. It builds on the director’s interest in the disposability of women in a sexist society, a theme she first explored in her hyper-stylized and gory 2017 thriller Revenge. She gave that film a subversive feminist bent by turning the trophy girlfriend — a sunny blonde who is raped and murdered — into a vengeance-seeking hunter.

The Substance

The Bottom Line

Uneven genre offering boosted by formal ambition and Demi Moore.

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Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Demi Moore, Dennis Quaid, Margaret Qualley
Director-screenwriter: Coralie Fargeat

2 hours 20 minutes

In The Substance, a woman also takes fate into her own hands and combats underestimation, only this time she’s at war with herself, too. Fargeat combines sci-fi elements (as in her early short Reality+) with body horror and satire to show how women are trapped by the dual forces of sexism and ageism. Beauty and youth are the targets at the heart of this film, but the director also takes aim at Hollywood’s ghoulish machinations and the compulsive physical and psychological intrusiveness of cisgender heterosexual men. 

Fargeat flaunts an exciting hyperactive style. Ultra wide-angle shots, close-ups and a bubble-gum color palette contribute to the film’s surreal — and at times uncanny — visual language. The British composer Raffertie’s thunderous score adds an appropriately ominous touch, especially during moments of corporeal mutilation. 

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There’s a lot going on in The Substance, and while the ambition is admirable, not everything works. The thin plotting strains under the weight of its 2 hour 20 minute runtime; there are scenes, especially in the middle of the film, that land as leaden repetition instead of clever mirroring. But strong performances — especially from Moore and Quaid — help sustain momentum through the film’s triumphantly amusing end.

During his final meeting with Elisabeth, Harvey doubles down on his offensiveness. By the time women reach the age of 50, he suggests to Elisabeth while stuffing his mouth with shrimp, it’s over for them. Fargeat heightens the perversity of Harvey’s blunt assessment with shots of his mouth masticating on shellfish bits. As he crushes the coral-colored creatures with his molars, Elisabeth stares at him with a faint disgust bordering on hatred. Quaid’s character lives in the more satirical notes of The Substance, and the actor responds with an appropriately mocking performance.

Harvey’s words, coupled with the blank stares Elisabeth now receives from passersby, drive the actress to seek a solution. She reaches out to the anonymous purveyors of The Substance, a program that allows people to essentially clone a younger version of themselves. While Fargeat’s screenplay leaves much to be desired when it comes to conveying the company’s scale of operations or how they function in her version of Los Angeles, the rules of the experiment are straightforward. After individuals spawn their duplicates, it’s critical they maintain a balanced life. Every 7 days one of them enters a coma, kept alive through a feeding tube, while the other roams free. Then they switch. The catch, of course, is the addiction of youth. 

Elisabeth and her younger self (Margaret Qualley), Sue, follow the program rules for a bit. The middle of The Substance is packed with scenes underscoring the difference in treatment they receive. While Sue blossoms, winning the affection of Harvey and getting her own exercise show, Elisabeth languishes in the shadow of her invisibility.

Moore imbues her character with a visceral desperation, one that enriches the unsettling undercurrents of Fargeat’s film. She plays a woman who can’t quit the addiction of having youth at her fingertips despite its lacerating effect on her psyche. In one particularly strong scene, Elisabeth, haunted by a giant billboard of Sue outside her window, struggles to leave the house for a date. She tirelessly redoes her makeup and each attempt reveals the layers of anguish behind the actress’s pristine facade. 

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Moore leans into the physical requirements of her role later in the film. Elisabeth eventually learns that upsetting the balance of the experiment reduces her vitality. Sue, greedier for more time outside the coma, becomes a kind of vampire, and Elisabeth wilts. Moore’s slow walk and hunched shoulders add to the sense of her character’s suffering. Special makeup effects by Pierre-Olivier Persin render Elisabeth’s withering even more startling and persuasive.  

Qualley does not have as meaty a role as Moore. Her character functions as Elisabeth’s foil, seeming to exist only to help us understand the perversion of Hollywood’s gaze on the starlet. That’s a shame, because The Substance’s smart premise and direction promise more revelatory confrontations between Elisabeth and Sue than the one we are offered.

The reality of this experiment is that it traps both characters in the same toxic, self-hating cycle as the standards imposed by society. The most compelling parts of The Substance deal with how social conventions turn women against themselves. A stronger version of the film might have dug into the complexities of that truth, instead of simply arranging itself around it. 

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Chandu Champion first reviews: Kartik Aaryan's film touches hearts with its gripping storyline | Hindi Movie News – Times of India

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Chandu Champion first reviews: Kartik Aaryan's film touches hearts with its gripping storyline | Hindi Movie News – Times of India
Chandu Champion’, the sports drama that marks Kartik Aaryan‘s debut collaboration with Kabir Khan, is scheduled to release in theaters on June 14. The film is inspired by the life of Murlikant Petkar, India’s first Paralympics gold medallist.
The first review for the film has come from the people who watched the film at the special screening hosted by Kabir Khan.Those who have watched it have shared their verdict on social media. While Sumit Kadel called ‘Chandu Champion’ one of the finest films of 2024, Siddharth Kannan wrote, “It would be an understatement to call this @TheAaryanKartik ‘s best performance. Just like #MurlikantPetkar ji, he has risen over all odds and has made an indelible mark with his performance in the film.”
Sumit Kadel took to X and wrote, “#ChanduChampion is one of the finest films of 2024. It is a sports drama done right, telling the remarkable and legendary life of Murlikant Petkar. Director Kabir Khan narrates his story with great skill, research and most importantly honesty without going overboard. The movie explores every chapter of Murlikant Petkar’s life, which is full of heroism, valor, and courage. We see his journey from his village to joining the army, becoming a world-class boxer, struggling with his injuries, and finally achieving success at the Paralympics. His story is extremely inspiring, emotional, and powerful. #KartikAaryan delivers his best performance in this film. His body transformation is extraordinary, and he looks like a real athlete throughout. More than his physical transformation, Kartik’s emotional performance is what truly stands out. There are many scenes in the film where his acting will make you cry. He is sure to be a contender for the best actor award this year. #VijayRaaz lent strong support and the child who played Kartik’s Young version is brilliant. The first half of the film is excellent, while the second half is a bit slow and stretched at times. However, the last 20 minutes make up for these shortcomings. The major highlights of Chandu Champion are the boxing matches and the fantastic war scenes just before the interval. Overall Chandu Champion is a very honest film with a beautiful story, direction, screenplay, and many inspirational moments. Kudos to producer Sajid Nadiadwala for giving the film the scale and grandeur it deserves.”

On the other hand, Siddharth Kannan wrote, “#ChanduChampion… It would be an understatement to call this @TheAaryanKartik’s best performance. Just like #MurlikantPetkar ji, he has risen over all odds and has made an indelible mark with his performance in the film. #VijayRaaz, Nobody could have been a better mentor than you in the film for apna Murli. #KabirKhan packs a punch with yet another blockbuster. #Kartik, you have shut down all those who you would have once said, #HastaKaykoHai?”

Ramesh Bala tweeted, “#ChanduChampion Review : Kabir Khan is back in full form with this film. Emotions, actions, drama, relationships, motivation and unexpectedly killer performances. The film sticks to your mind. Kartik Aaryan deserves a standing ovation. Extremely watchable movie 🍿 full Paisa vasool.”

While seeing the movie, a few audience members who were invited to the private screening were also seen crying. Sharing the video of the same on Instagram, Kartik wrote, “First screening of Chandu Champion with the Man himself. An evening filled with honor, joy and tears with THE REAL CHAMPION. The Man who refused to surrender MR MURLIKANT PETKAR.”
The Kabir Khan film is based on the life and events of Petkar, the first Paralympian gold medallist, who bravely confronted every hurdle life threw at him. The titular role is essayed by Kartik Aaryan.

Kartik Aaryan’s Most Candid Interview On Chandu Champion: I Am Manifesting A Lot And That’s Why These Roles Are Coming My Way

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Arcadian (2024) – Movie Review

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Arcadian (2024) – Movie Review

Arcadian, 2024.

Directed by Benjamin Brewer.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Samantha Coughlan, and Joel Gillman.

SYNOPSIS:

A father and his twin teenage sons fight to survive in a remote farmhouse at the end of the end of the world.

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Finding a human story within a post-apocalyptic creature feature is typically a creative choice to appreciate. Director Benjamin Brewer’s Arcadian (from a screenplay by Michael Nilon) has a similarly intriguing concept. It focuses on how two twin teenage boys must set aside their differences and become a more cohesive survival unit following a life-threatening injury to their father, a quieter, more restrained Nicolas Cage. Played by Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins, the boys are at odds in the expected ways; one is more mature and crafty, the other headstrong and less concerned with duties in favor of visiting a nearby farmhouse to hang around his crush (Sadie Soverall), who has also yet to see much of the leveled and decayed world beyond her home.

It’s also not necessarily an issue that the filmmakers aren’t concerned with explaining much about this apocalypse or the monsters, choosing to focus on the human element and day-to-day routines, which primarily consist of scavenging during the day and locking themselves up at night in an isolated home. The family is a tightknit trio, but even with Nicolas Cage’s calm demeanor and patience as Paul, breaking up the bickering between Joseph and Thomas, it’s made clear that they would either completely unravel without him or come together stronger than ever to protect him. 

Despite the generally compelling setup and potentially complex character dynamics, Arcadian never finds much depth within any of that. As a story, it’s going through the motions and placing the brothers in other perilous situations that come across as contrived, as if the filmmakers don’t know what else to do. Even the friendship between Thomas and Charlotte feels more like a skeleton rather than something properly fleshed out. It plays out more like an obligatory love interest subplot instead of something substantially adding to the characters and the shaky sibling dynamic.

By the time Arcadian descends into a prolonged action-packed third act against agile, prehistoric-reminiscent beasts with elongated necks, quite literally chomping at the bit to devour human flesh, there is a degree of emotional investment into these characters, albeit a lingering sensation that, much like the preceding hour, there is something off and dull about all of this. 

It also has nothing to do with the gutsy decision to sideline Nicolas Cage for a sizable portion of Arcadian; that’s a subversively clever choice, but there isn’t enough on the page for the boys to elevate the material. As for the monster design, nothing is striking or unique here. However, even if there was something aesthetically nightmarish and exciting, the presentation is drowned in darkness to cover up mid-tier CGI most likely resulting from budget constraints.  Viewers are left clinging to a human story that is disappointingly shallow and generic, especially for a time and genre that has recently seen superior offerings.

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Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

 

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Short Film Review: A Catholic Schoolgirl by Myra Angeline Soriaso

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Short Film Review: A Catholic Schoolgirl by Myra Angeline Soriaso

“Not everyone is meant for this life. It’s a huge commitment”

Myra Soriaso is a student filmmaker who found her knack for storytelling after discovering microcinema in 2018. In 2021, her first short documentary Panambi, co-created with her besties Jane and Katya, premiered internationally at Ji.hlava International Film Festival. She debuted as a fiction filmmaker in 2023 at Qcinema International Film Festival with “A Catholic Schoolgirl”, which won the QCShorts Gender Sensitivity Award.

The film begins setting the tone, with a black screen where we hear the sound of girls praying. The next shot focuses on the protagonist, Kaya, a young girl who is following the prayers of the nuns in an all-girls Catholic school, although she also seems deep in her thoughts while doing so. Another nun, Sister Agnes, works with her on her chanting, with the girl being evidently disappointed that her teacher will be leaving by the end of the semester.

Sister Agnes then introduces the girl to some other nuns, praising her singing voice and her overall performance in the school. The nuns are working in the kitchen and Kaya offers to help, with Sister Agnes showing how to slice mangoes this time. A cut finger results in a more intimate discussion, with Kaya asking about love and the lack of romance the particular path holds for those who pledge themselves to God. Sister Agnes opens up about herself in order to guide her student. One more ‘episode’ follows though.

Myra Angeline Soriaso shoots a film that deals with the concept of LGBT love within a catholic setting, in an effort to highlight both how difficult the particular path can be, and how teenagers can experience their newfound sentiments and their effort to become of the cloth. The combination works quite well, creating an atmosphere that is secretive, intimate and mysterious, with the voyeuristic aspect in particular working well in that regard.

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Considered that the short essentially deals with temptation, having a model such as Sharon Idone playing Sister Agnes definitely hits the spot, with her presence justifying what Kaya feels. The scene between the two close to the end brings the whole thing down to reality, while another one, with the jam on the report card adds a very meaningful and visually impressive metaphor about what happened, and what will probably happen in Kaya’s future.

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Lastly, that the ‘confession’ takes place in a space where another kind of confession is supposed to happen, adds a very appealing note to the movie, which is both intelligent and quite smart. Some scenes could have been handled a bit better regarding what is happening, but overall, the context here is rich and well-presented.

Ora Palencia as Kaya highlights her sentiments, eagerness, and inner turmoil in eloquent fashion, even if her role is quite laconic. Martika Ramirez Escobar captures all the aforementioned with artistry, with the voyeuristic scene being the apogee of her work. Maria Estela Paiso’s editing results in a mid-tempo that works well for the style of narrative here, allowing a full story to unfold in less than 16 minutes.

“A Catholic Schoolgirl” is another excellent short film from the Philippines, which highlights that we are bound to see even more interesting things from the country in the following years.

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