May 20, 2024

demi moore, the substance, margaret qualley, dennis quiad

Words by JANE CROWTHER


After making an impression with her feminist debut Revenge, writer-director Coralie Fargeat delivers on her promise with a provocative, gory film that sews together All About Eve and David Cronenberg body horror with instant-cult results. It also marks an explosive return to cinema for Demi Moore in a no-holds-barred role that reflects her own vocation and is a female roar against #MeToo, ageism, self-hate and dream factory objectification.

Moore plays Elisabeth Sparkle, an actress whose best years are behind her, her star on the pavement cracked, her career reduced to fitness TV shows. A still beautiful and vital woman with experience and skills, Elisabeth is considered old news by her hideous network boss – a braying, sexist egotist in flashy suits who insists ‘all pretty girls should smile’ and ogles every woman in his vicinity with unvarnished lecherousness and possession (Dennis Quaid). He’s called Harvey, of course. 

Feeling threatened by her industry and buying into its standards of beauty, Elisabeth despairs at her reflection in the mirror, prodding a body that is strong, real and lived in with disgust. Brought low by her perceived lack of value, she’s the perfect candidate for a new off-books treatment called The Substance – a complicated system of injections, liquid nutrition and spinal taps that allows the user to regenerate a new self – one younger, fitter, more beautiful than they are. Eager for the promise of youth Elisabeth injects, giving horrific ‘birth’ (to say more would spoil the treats of this bloody scream of a movie) to ‘Sue’ (Margaret Qualley) a gorgeous creature who Elisabeth can live through as she becomes an instant star and sex symbol. There are naturally rules of the treatment and if they are bent all hell will break loose, and when it does… buckle up.

Viciously funny while also being profound, The Substance taps into the fears and rages of women in and out of the public eye. ‘After 50 it all ends’ is a repeated mantra in a film that explores the perceived physical limitations on female usefulness, the complicity of women living in a society that dictates their attractiveness and the dark side of cosmetic surgery and procedures. Every time a shudder-inducing injection is made we’re reminded of botox, fillers, Ozempic, the normalised pursuit of beauty. Fargeat questions what the monstrous outcome of this might be as Elisabeth suffers for her regime, culminating in a finale that is a magnificent horror.

Qualley is wonderful as the rapacious Sue, a wide-eyed ingénue who will literally step the sisterhood to get ahead, but the film is Moore’s – elegant, vulnerable, bonkers in a role that requires her to strip naked both physically and emotionally. Must-see cinema with bite that will make viewers question how critically they look at others as well as in the mirror.


Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance starring Demi Moore, Margaret Qualley and Dennis Quiad is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. It will be released by MUBI later this year

Words by JANE CROWTHER


From his Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves to 2003’s Open Range, not to mention his recent Paramount series Yellowstone, Kevin Costner has defined the modern-day western like few other actor-directors. Yet even he surpasses himself here, crafting an epic – and we do mean epic – story set in the Old West. With the first part being presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Horizon: An American Saga is an enormously ambitious project for Costner, who partly funded it himself, with the intention of ultimately directing four parts (the first two are in the can, the third should begin shooting in August). 

On this evidence, one can only hope Costner gets to deliver his vision in full. Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 is a richly handsome and evocative look at the expansion of the American West. Co-scripted with Jon Baird (the British filmmaker behind Stan and Ollie), Chapter 1 runs at an immersive three hours, allowing the viewer to luxuriate in character development, in phenomenal landscapes of Wyoming and Montana and the occasional jaw-dropping action scene. 

Set during the American Civil War, settlers arrive at a newly-formed town called Horizon, where they are at risk from indigenous tribes who hunt the land and will risk everything to battle against being colonised. One of the film’s most staggering sequences comes early, when Frances (Sienna Miller), a married mother of two, is caught up in a vicious attack that sees her and her daughter hiding out beneath the ground as her house and others are set ablaze. 

An ensemble story, characters come and go, and even Costner himself doesn’t arrive on screen until the hour mark as Hayes Ellison, a lone wolf figure who knows the West like the back of his weather-worn hand. He will ultimately find company with the spiky mother Marigold (Mad Max: Fury Road star Abbey Lee), although you sense that his story is only just beginning. The same goes for First Lt. Trent Gephardt (Avatar star Sam Worthington), one of the leading lights in the United States Army called in to protect the settlers. 

Making nods to John Ford westerns, Costner’s return to directing after a two-decade hiatus is a joy to behold. Charting events with a no-frills approach, it’s as traditional as they come, a real nod to old-school filmmaking. At one point, Hayes shoots down an assailant, the camera lingering on his reflection in a trough of water. It’s a beautiful moment in a film full of them.


Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga starring Kevin Costner, Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington and Abbey Lee) is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date 28 June

May 19, 2024

nicolas cage, the surfer, lorcan finnigan, screening room

Words by JANE CROWTHER


As soon as a grainy 70s title card comes up declaring ‘Nicolas Cage is The Surfer’ you know what kind of movie director Lorcan Finnigan is tapping into – and when Cage begins his voiceover introduction, extolling the power of the ocean, you know he’s come to serve. ‘You can’t stop the energy of a wave,’ he muses in his trademark laconic drawl, ‘you either surf it or you wipe out’. The energy Cage is riding in this lean self-aware slice of fish-out-of-water action that explores emasculation is one that leaves nothing on the field as the star is reduced to a raving mess after a run-in with unwelcoming surfers in Australia. 

The unnamed board rider is an American returning to his childhood home on a beautiful stretch of Oz oceanside real estate in the hope that buying the family manor will be the salve he needs to mend his strained relationship with his teen son and soothe the pain of his wife wanting a divorce. On the evening of closing the deal, he drives in his nice suit, nice car and nice sunglasses to the car park overlooking the beach with his kid, sure that catching a wave will bond them. The local surfers, led by Julian McMahon’s Scally, aren’t keen on sharing the break, their aggression and threats enough to put any ordinary individual right off the area and surely attracting a dreadful Zillow/Zoopla rating.

But rather than take his $100,000 elsewhere, the surfer returns to the beach to confront the bullies, unravelling spectacularly as his possessions are taken from him, his dehydration in the punishing Aussie sun loosens his reason and childhood trauma makes him both vulnerable and by turns, fearsome. A series of misfortunes means he’s stuck in the car park, going full survival mode as he rages against the local machine. By the time he’s screaming ‘eat the rat!’ Cage has gone full D-Fens in Falling Down and is an eye-rolling, tweaky shell of his former persona – as deliciously unhinged as his ‘not the bees!’ moment in The Wicker Man or his exploding testicle in Prisoners Of The Wasteland. Noone melts down quite as theatrically as Cage and Finnigan mines that journey for all its worth to entertaining effect. And we haven’t even got to the drugs taking and psychedelia yet…  

But it’s not just a Rambo-esque one-man-against-the-world narrative, McMahon’s smarmy gang leader is driven by a thoroughly modern impulse, his motivation signposted but nonetheless elevating him from a standard local thug. But really he’s just there to facilitate Cage in saying ‘dude’ in his inimitable manner and stealing all the focus in a movie that was perfect for Cannes’ cultish midnight screening slot. Never mind that you never see the surfer actually surf – take his advice and just go for the ride.


Lorcan Finnigan’s The Surfer starring Nicolas Cage and Julian McMahon is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Jacques Audiard (Rust & Bone, A Prophet, Dheepan, The Sister Brothers) has always confounded expectations, his films a wide range of tones, genres and subject matters. His latest – a tempestuous, glorious musical crime dramedy is no different and an absolute triumph. 

Emilia Pérez is a moniker assumed by a Mexico City kingpin after the first reel – introduced via Rita (Zoë Saldaña), a defence lawyer tired of the corruption and lack of real justice in the system she works for. As she finishes up getting yet another violent man out of prosecution, she’s made an offer she can’t refuse. Fearsome drugs cartel overlord Manitas wants her help in disappearing. For this service he’ll make her rich and he intrigues her with a twist on the demand. Manitas has always longed to become his true self, a woman, and he wants to protect the two young children he has with his wife, Jessi (Selena Gomez). When Rita takes the job to help Manitas get reassignment surgery and hide his family, her life transforms from one of a powerless, invisible woman to one of agency and might. And Emilia (Karla Sofía Gascón, who also plays Manitas with prosthetics) will also discover her true calling in her new life… 

And did we mention that amongst the gangland violence and body bags there’s singing and dancing? Operatic in every way, Audiard has plastic surgeons trilling about penises vs vaginas while bandaged client spin on hospital beds, Gomez burn up a disco with a banger about self love, Emilia’s unknowing child singing that her ‘auntie’ smells like Papa and – in a show stopping number – Saldaña dancing on fundraiser tables in a red velvet suit, spitting lyrics at corrupt officials. 

On paper it probably shouldn’t work as a concept, but the musical interludes written by Camille bring real pathos and emotional heft to a complex story with moral grey areas. Manitas is a stone cold killer and gangbanger, yet in the hands of Spanish actress Gascón the beast becomes an empathetic beauty, making Rita – and audiences – care despite prior transgressions. And when you’ve got performers like Gomez and Saldaña committing to musical numbers choreographed by Damien Jalet, Emilia Pérez soars. It’s like watching Moulin Rouge! crossed with Narcos. And though this story might begin with the needs of an alpha male, it’s ultimately about the experiences of women; overlooked at work, beaten at home, yearning for lost children, in love, insane with jealousy, forgiving themselves. The standout though is Saldaña, charting the arc of Rita from poor, disenfranchised minion to magnificent matriarch (in all manner of ways), she is the beating heart of the piece and our emotional way into connecting so fully with the characters.e

In the official competition at Cannes, this is a salty/sweet, ultimately uplifting crowd pleaser (Cannes’ audiences gave it a deserved 6-minute ovation) has a good chance of winning gold on the Riviera before being a contender in the race for awards.


Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Pérez starring Zoë Saldaña, Selena Gomez and Karla Sofía Gascón is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

May 18, 2024

oh canada, richard gere, urma thurman, jacob elordi, paul schrader

Words by JANE CROWTHER


After Quintin Dupieux and Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic essays on their relationships with art, Paul Schrader offers his own at Cannes this week. Dedicated to the late author Russell Banks, Schrader explores mortality, legacy and fraudulence in art as he tracks an irascible dying documentary-maker, Leonard Fife (Richard Gere) giving a deathbed career interview to two of his former students (Michael Imperioli and Victoria Hill). A fated artist who has spent his career being lauded for his anti-Vietnam war stance when he fled to Canada as a young man, and his liberal, game-changing documentaries, Leonard demands his wife, Emma (Uma Thurman) be his witness to his last confession. Riddled with cancer and befuddled by Fentanyl, Leonard recalls the true story of his rise to success – one that may be more self serving than selfless.

Leonard is played in flashback by Jacob Elordi who, though a more rangy version of Gere, manages to embody his recognisable strut and his cadence. A studious young man heading for a teaching job in Vermont in 1968, he’s married, father to a toddler (with another on the way) and offered the opportunity of being a CEO with his father-in-law’s business. Given a week to decide as the shadow of Vietnam looms, Leonard takes off to New England with a banker’s cheque to buy a house and put down roots for his family. His odyssey takes a different turn…

Using multiple narratives (Gere and Elordi alternate as Leonard in flashbacks, Leonard and his grown son narrate), B&W and colour, mixed ratios and Thurman in a duel role – she plays Emma and also the hippy wife of a painter in 1968 who pleasures Leonard in a farmhouse – Schrader’s film is a jigsaw puzzle that requires patient assembly by viewers. Is the jumbled and ultimately meaningless last interview of the great Leonard Fife the last firing synapses of a dying, confused man conflating reality and fiction? Or is the film merely a hollow mess? 

While Gere eschews any charm to play Fife as a self-obsessed deserter (politically and romantically), the film belongs to Elordi. Continuing to show his range and savvy choices, the Euphoria and Priscilla star puts flesh on the bones of seemingly callow youth, giving Leonard the humanity he denies himself in the retelling. In Elordi’s hands, Leonard is, if not necessarily commendable, understandable. Schrader lenses him beautifully and he’s missed whenever he’s not on screen.


Paul Schrader’s Oh, Canada starring Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Jacob Elordi is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

May 17, 2024

barry keoghan, bird, andrea arnold, cannes, hollywood authentic

Words by JANE CROWTHER


British filmmaker Andrea Arnold is beloved by the Cannes Film Festival. She has won the Jury prize three times for her movies Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey, the 2016 film that makes her last fiction feature. Now she’s back in Cannes competition with Bird, a quietly moving tale that might best be described as a mix of social realism and fable. The setting is North Kent, in an area where poverty is rife but the human spirit has not been dented.

The focus is 12-year-old Bailey (Nykiya Adams), a rebellious youngster whose parents have long since split. Her young father, Bug (Barry Keoghan) is getting married again to Kayleigh (Frankie Box), and has a hair-brained scheme to pay for the wedding costs by selling hallucinogenic drugs secreted from a toad. Meanwhile, Bailey’s mother Peyton (Top Boy’s Jasmine Jobson) has hooked up with Skate (James Nelson-Joyce), a nasty piece of work, as violent as he is foul-mouthed. 

With folks like these, it’s no surprise Bailey is heading off the rails, and even accompanies her brother Hunter (Jason Buda) when he and his fellow gang members go and slice up a kid who they feel deserves some vigilante justice. At this point, Bird feels like a peek into a working-class subculture, oft seen before. But Arnold takes an unusual turn with the introduction of Bird, played by German actor Franz Rogowski (Passages).

Befriending Bailey, the mysterious Bird becomes a soulmate of sorts, although the less said the better. Rogowski carries this off perfectly, building an intimate friendship with Bailey. Is he real? The film toys with this idea, at points making the film feel like a blend of Kes and Birdman. Throughout all of this, Adams anchors the film with a forceful, star-making turn. Once again, Arnold shows just how good she is working with young performers, as well as capturing a gritty milieu. 

For fans of Barry Keoghan, they’ll more than get their fill – amusingly, there’s a reference to ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’ being “shit”, the Sophie Ellis Bextor song that the actor helped revive in the recent Saltburn. This time we get sincere karaoke-crooning to Blur’s ‘The Universal’, a touching moment in a film that works hard for its emotional payoffs. By the end, Bird will leave a tear in the eye, as Bailey finds solace in the arms of another.


Andrea Arnold’s Bird starring Barry Keoghan, Franz Rogowski and Nykiya Adams is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Megalon is a futurist building material developed by an architectural planning czar, Cesar (Adam Driver), in New Rome – New York with toga-esque clothes and a bacchanalian social scene – where a fight for power and ideology kicks off as Cesar defies the laws of physics and stops time, drops his ambitious gold-digging mistress, Wow (Audrey Plaza), for Mayor Cicero’s ‘wild’ daughter (Nathalie Emmanuel) and clashes with a political father/son opponents Crassus (Jon Voight) and Clodio (Shia LaBeouf). Throw into the mix psychedelic visuals, lush costumes, musical numbers, a theatrical tone and philosophical musings on Marcus Aurelius tracts, string theory and whether art freezes time… and Francis Ford Coppola’s self-funded passion project is certainly a big cinematic swing. In the Cannes screening, an actor walked in front of the stage mid–film to interact directly with Driver onscreen in a moment of multi-media bravado that begs the question of if it will be repeated at showings globally. For anyone complaining of algorithm-defined and IP-reliant entertainment, this is a major creative flex by one of cinema’s defining auteurs – refusing to bend to market positioning or easy interpretation. 

By the same token, Megalopolis has the potential to bemuse and confound. The narrative is labyrinthine, the dialogue rich and the tone straddling a line of high camp (LaBeouf, Plaza and Voight having got that memo) and earnest pomp that prompted titters. Cesar’s trajectory could be a trippy study of Robert Moses’ controversial planning of New York or a nod to Caligula, a fever dream, a comment on our cyclical mistakes as a human society, a deeply personal reflection on the creator’s own relationship with art – or indeed, all of these. Coppola offers no easy answers. What he does offer is LaBeouf with resplendent mullet and crackling energy, Plaza in fabulous vamp mode and some CGI dream-like visuals that pop on an IMAX screen. This is certainly not a The Godfather retread.

Expensive folly or artistic shot across the bows of cookie cutter, factory movies? An experience to be loved or loathed (there’s certainly no middle ground)? Whatever it is, Megalopolis shows a storied director at the height of his powers operating without a safety net.


Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis starring Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanel, Shia LaBeouf, Aubrey Plaza and Jon Voight is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Yorgos Lanthimos re-teams with his favourites (Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Joe Alwyn) and returns to the nihilist roots of Dogtooth in a bold, challenging triptych of tales that, in opposition to the title, explores the weird cruelties of humans. Each story is 45 minutes long and reconfigures his cast to different characters; in the first, ‘The Death Of RMF’, Robert (new collaborator Jesse Plemons), an executive, adheres to the specific rules of his boss (Dafoe), in living his life with his wife (Hong Chau). With every aspect of his existence determined – from how he dresses and eats to whether he has children and demands that he crash his car – Robert decides to flex his own autonomy and runs into a stranger (Stone). In the second, ‘RMF Is Flying’, a cop (Plemons) mourns his MIA wife (Stone) who disappeared on a boating trip with the comfort of friends (Margaret Qualley and Mamadou Athie) but questions whether she’s truly his spouse when she reappears. And in the third, ‘RMF Eats A Sandwich’, Stone and Plemons play the acolytes of a cult led by Dafoe’s sexually liberated lachrymose leader as they search for an individual who is destined to be the group’s messiah and bring people back from the dead.

Aside from repeated casts, there’s little to link the fables apart from a darkly humorous tone, plot points that show self-harm, control within relationships and a bleak outlook on the obsessions of humanity. Lanthimos invited audiences to find common threads themselves, taking reactions and feelings from one tale into the watching of another. It’s willfully and entirely subjective what each audience member may take from the process.

With a fully committed cast leaning into their roles and unafraid to court dislike (Stone, in particular is all guns blazing complicated in all her different guises), Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthimis Filippou scratch at the unpleasant and uncomfortable elements of relationships (romantic and otherwise) and society, making for some wince-inducing moments as characters make unreasonable demands on each other.

Like all of Lanthimos’ work, it defies easy categorisation or interpretation but fans of the more linear Poor Things may find Kinds Of Kindness a bewildering ride. Avant-garde, uncompromising and proudly opaque, it’s the sort of big-swing cinema that challenges audiences, is entirely unique and will provide much to discuss once the lights go up.

kinds of kindness, cannes dispatch, emma stone

Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kinds of Kindness staring Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Jesse Plemons is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival and will release in cinemas 28 June

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Adapted from cult Manga series City Of Darkness and boasting a who’s-who of Hong Kong talent, this Cannes midnight screening actioner brings the heat in dazzling set-pieces, inventive fisticuffs and a visceral evocation of Kowloon – the so-called Walled City that was a real-life hive of criminality and industry during the 80s. A stacked slum near Hong Kong’s airport, it’s a crepuscular warren of decrepit alleyways and mish-mashed materials that houses thousands of workers and a fearsome gang led by Cyclone (Louis Koo). It’s also the place that refugee Lok (Raymond Lam) runs to after double-crossed Mr Big (Sammo Hung) and his Triad goons. Penniless but tasty with his fists, Lok is taken under the wing of Cyclone – his shelter, protection and work unspoken training to becoming one of the overlord’s trusted men. As Lok rises the ranks via dust up with various assailants and household items, Mr Big attempts to storm the city, Kowloon landlord Chau (Richie Ren) seeks vengeance and psychotic enforcer King (Philip Ng) is out for blood. Kowloon is now a lethal powder keg and Lok will need to fight for his life…

Reputedly one of Hong Kong’s most expensive films ever made (budget: $40 miilion), Twilight Of The Warriors leaves everything out on the field in terms of inventive choreography, detailed production design and 80s-styled bang for your buck. Director Soi Cheang gives audiences a guided tour of the labyrinthine vertical slum (to the turn of Walking In The Air) so visceral one can almost taste the street food and smell the sewers – and gives each martial arts set-up room to breathe (while breaking everything in the room it’s happening in). Glass smashes into flesh, metal shards puncture guts, walls collapse, furniture is annihilated… and dropped cigarettes are caught in slo-mo during a roundhouse kick.

While Lam is the infatigable star, he’s nearly eclipsed by his nemesis, Philip Ng’s King – a giggling, seemingly indestructible sadist with a majestic mullet, Rayban sunglasses and a wardrobe like an extra from the Thriller video. As choreographer of the cavalcade of inventive martial arts moments, Ng pulls double duty as MVP. 

Ferocious, impressive dust-up (particularly one on a double decker bus) drive the action more than actual narrative but there’s a reason TOTW:WI has been a huge hit at the Hong Kong box office. As an action crowdpleaser it combines universal themes with a nostalgic specificity for Hong Kong during a key moment in its history. And at its core, it lauds community – wherever anyone might find it.


Soi Cheang’s Twilight Of The Warriors: Walled In starring Raymond Lam is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Out in cinemas 24 May

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Debut writer-director Agathe Riedinger’s sharply observed and slyly feminist drama is a Cinderella story for the influencer generation – a tale of good girls and dreams dressed up in boob jobs, stripper heels and TikTok dances. It focuses on 19 year-old Liane (Malou Khebizi, luminous) from Frejus who is manifesting being ‘the French Kim Kardashian’ via an audition for a scripted reality show that could boost her from her hard-scrabble existence living with a callous mother and bankrolling her club trips and cosmetic surgery with shoplifting. A self-assured hot mess who can handle the lascivious advances of passing men and sprint miles in her vertiginous diamante heels, Liane is aware that her self image and reality do not marry up. Having treated herself to breast enlargements, her carefully curated look of hair-extensions, heavy brows, glossy lips and provocative clothing put her on the short list for joining a dating reality show as well as being slut-shamed on public transport. But though she seems as hard as a diamond, this vulnerable teen has been in foster care, regularly prays, is a virgin and has high self-worth. 

It’s this dichotomy that fascinates Riedinger as her lens lingers on Liane’s body, her unwavering takes on the emotions fluttering across her lead’s face as Liane attends a clinical audition (and is made to strip to her underwear while being asked questions about standing up for herself), flirts with a local boy (who inevitably and disappointingly asks to see her breasts) and, in a seeming act of dangerous self-sabotage, crashes a wealthy party and offers to dance for a group of older men who literally stroke their thighs while watching her. As viewers we constantly worry for her as we watch her negotiate a world that is cruel and patriarchal, constantly waiting for the other (high heeled) shoe to drop. 

That Riedinger keeps us guessing as to whether Liane will transform into an insta princess is one of the intrigues of the film, but so is Khebizi, a first-time screen actor who inhabits the role so thoroughly and messily it’s impossible to not want the best for her. It’s also an empowering experience that feels like a fresh take on the madonna/whore complex. As Liane says defiantly; “if girls want to wear mini skirts and twerk in clubs they don’t deserve your scorn.” This one certainly doesn’t.


An impressive debut from both director and star – Wild Diamond marks two fledgling careers worth watching