Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Having never heard of Jacques Mesrine prior to watching the first film in director Jean-Francois Richet’s two-part epic on the real-life French gangster, it seemed a little presumptuous that his story was so fascinating that it warranted being stretched across two movies. As “Killer Instinct” demonstrates, Mesrine certainly led the kind of storied criminal career that makes for an entertaining gangster tale, but the film is so disjointed that you’ll wish Richet would have just cherry-picked the best moments to create a more focused biopic. After opening with a cool and cleverly edited introduction that teases Mesrine’s eventual demise, the film tracks back to the beginning of the story to show how he got there, including his time as a soldier stationed in Algeria, his early years as a petty thief under the guidance of a ruthless crime boss (Gerard Depardieu), and his incredible prison break from a maximum-security penitentiary in Canada.

It’s a lot of information to cram into two hours – especially when you consider he has three different romantic relationships that all played a role in shaping the man he would become, even if one of them seems to blossom out of thin air. And then there’s the fact that this is only half of the story, with the second part, titled “Public Enemy No. 1,” scheduled for release next month. “Killer Instinct” is definitely captivating enough that you’ll want to see what happens next, but it also feels like a cheap trick to get you to pay twice for what ultimately should have been one movie. It’s not quite good enough to rank among the best gangster films, but thanks to Vincent Cassel’s career-best performance as the title character, it’s one that fans of the genre will want to add to their Netflix queues immediately.

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Inspector Bellamy

He was a leading director of the French New Wave, but that doesn’t tell you much about the hugely prolific Claude Chabrol. He was frequently compared to Alfred Hitchcock but that tells you even less. I’m not even close to an expert on his work, but I can safely describe Chabrol as a crafty writer-director who specialized in films that shared plot elements with the mystery and suspense genres while deliberately not partaking of their usual pleasures. It’s fitting, therefore, that the late director’s final film has a murder mystery plot and pays tribute to Georges Simenon’s beloved Inspector Maigret but never feels like a murder mystery, which is both the best and worst thing about it.

In his first ever film with Chabrol, the omnipresent, 60-something Gerard Depardieu stars as Bellamy, a famed detective who attempts some time off only to be accosted by an intrusive stranger (Jacques Gamblin). The man asks for his help exonerating him from the killing of a homeless person. The problem: he admits that he really did intend to murder the vagrant as part of an insurance scam. Bellamy welcomes the distraction. He is much less sanguine about another interloper, his obnoxious and troubled younger half-brother (Clovis Cornillac) who intrudes upon his quality time with his beloved and sexy wife (Marie Bunel). Like I said earlier, don’t come to a Chabrol film expecting a conventional thriller. If a wry but serious look at life and death is up your alley, however, “Inspector Bellamy” is worth investigating.

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Weekend box office: “Saw 3D” tortures its way to the top

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Even given my low information preview Thursday night, there really weren’t any big surprises this Halloween weekend as the seventh installment in the “Saw” series, but the first in 3D and therefore logically entitled “Saw 3D,” extracted a healthy but far from huge sum from audiences. The amount was an estimated $22.5 million for Lionsgate if you believe Box Office Mojo and the Playlist, or $24.2 million if you believe Nikki Finke and Anthony D’Alessandro. D’Allesandro, as usual guest/co-blogging with Anne Thompson, also tells us that it really does appear that 3D drove this film to its modest success, with 92% of tickets being sold for “digital hubs,” which I assume translates into 3D screens.

I wonder if that means the film will pay a commensurate price in home video for at least as long as home 3D remains rare. It’s also worth noting that the $20 million budget — modest by Hollywood standards but large by horror film standards — is double that of the prior films and the take is about $10 million below the opening weekends of the series at its peak. Still, making back your budget on opening weekend is never bad.

“Saw 3D” merited a B- on Cinemascore and apparently gave series fans what they want (misery, and lots of it, I gather), though their numbers be diminishing. Now that some of them have finally seen it, what critics want, however, is for the series to end with the  film currently getting drubbed by all but one scribe on Rotten Tomatoes. EW‘s Owen Gleiberman‘s more positive review is less a good review and more a bit of a confession — even the gore hardened critic had to turn away from the screen at one point or risk becoming physically ill — and a rumination on whether it’s even appropriate to enjoy a movie that sounds so invested in human pain that it should never have been allowed anything remotely short of an NC-17. (Which should not be seen as punitive or a a box office kiss of death, but let’s not open that can of worms right now, except that I just did.)

Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, and Morgan Freeman look relieved in Moving right along in a relatively slow weekend with competition for people’s time heavy from the holiday, the election, and maybe even Jon Stewart’s rally, last week’s much less physically aggressive horror hit, “Paranormal Activity 2,” endured a very usual second-week horror drop  of just under 60% that still left enough for an estimated $16.5 million in the #2 spot. The leggy action-comedy “RED” was #3 with an estimate of $10.8 million and change. And “#4 “Jackass 3D” is predictably sinking like a stone at $8.425 million. However, it started at such a profitable point it actually crossed the $100 million mark in its third week. There are no tears at Paramount.

In limited release, the week’s two highest per-theater takes was as art-house as art-house gets. The single theater showing “Waste Land,” a documentary about Brazilian trash-gatherer/artists, earned a hefty $11,600 estimate over it’s weekend. Meanwhile, the two venues final thriller directed by the late Claude Chabrol “Inspector Bellamy” starring Gérard Depardieu, raked in a very healthy estimated $11,200.  This one is on my list.

  

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