Hidden Netflix Gems – Sheitan

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

After decades of nothing but the excellent 1960 art film Eyes Without a Face, the French cinema has been outdoing itself over the course of the past several years in producing some of the best, most extreme and disturbing horror films in existence. Beginning in 2003 with Alexandre Aja’s relentlessly brutal High Tension, the past decade has also produced, among others, the terrifying but strangely beautiful Inside and the unspeakably violent Martyrs, which is one of the most fiercely anti-religious films ever made. Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan (or Satan, if that wasn’t obvious enough) is a distinctly different breed of horror film from these previous three examples, dispensing for the most part with the graphic gore in favor of unsettling atmosphere and perverse, disturbing humor. It is scary in the way that late-period David Lynch films are scary, thrusting the viewer into a surreal nightmare world from which there can be no escape but outright madness.

Sheitan opens in the disorienting underworld of a Parisian nightclub on Christmas Eve, its cinematography mildly reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (by far the most disturbing non-horror film France has produced in the past decade), where Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) and his two friends, Thai (Nicolas Le Phat Tan) and Ladj (Ladj Ly), drink and attempt to pick up women. Bart has already had too much to drink, and he quickly becomes belligerent to the point where a bartender has to crack a bottle over his head and forcibly eject him. The three friends and two women, Yasmine (Leila Bekhti) and Eve (Roxane Mesquida), then decide to take the party back to Eve’s home in the country, where they meet her constantly grinning housekeeper, Joseph (Vincent Cassel), and the seductive Jeanne (Julie-Marie Parmentier), both of whom seem friendly but oddly frightening right from the start.

From there, things only get stranger and more frightening, as it becomes clear that Joseph’s jovial grin hides sinister plans for the four big city outsiders, especially Bart. The film opens with the modified quote, “Lord, do not forgive them, for they know what they do,” and there is a sense that Bart is being singled out by the demonic Joseph for his especially godless ways, whereas Thai, Ladj and Yasmine are all Muslims (though Thai is non-practicing). At any rate, he’s such a huge jerk that it’s rather difficult to feel sympathy for him, even as the film gets darker and more gruesome. As a narrative, it’s rather incoherent and disjointed, and it’s hard to tell where the film’s moral center truly lies, but as a visually stylish descent into a bizarre world of nightmarish imagery, Sheitan works marvelously well. There are images that will haunt you for days, and Cassel’s performance is a masterful essay in the fiendishly strange.

  

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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.

Click to buy “Mesrine: First Instinct”

  

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Weekend Box Office: “Tangled” enjoying good hair and $ days, a “Warrior” doesn’t get its way, but “Black Swan” is no ugly duckling

Everything pretty much is working out at this weekend’s box office as was predicted Thursday night. The exception being that, as a whole, the post-Thanksgiving Day letdown may be slightly bigger than expected. To be specific, as prognosticators prognosticated, Disney’s “Tangled” led the box office derby.

Showing the usual strength of well-received family-animated comedies, the film formerly known as “Rapunzel” earned an estimated $21.5 million over the weekend. The less than thrilling news here is that, as calculated by Box Office Mojo‘s indispensable weekend chart, it suffered a rather larger than usual second weekend drop for its genre of 55.9%. Still, I’m guessing we can attribute some of that to the post-holiday doldrums.

Tangled up in Rapunzel

On the sunny side of the equation, the musical action comedy is already very close to the $100 million in its second weekend, and that’s never bad. On the other hand, the typically enormous CGI animation budget of $260 million makes that kind of number seem a hair less impressive. On the other other hand, when you consider not only the the worldwide box office, but the licensing, I think it’s fair to say that “Tangled” will be another profitable feather in the ever-more-humongous Disney cap.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Weekend box office: Demons take robbers (maybe, kind of) in a photo-finish (updated — results reversed)

To be perfectly honest, this whole business of the box office horse race is a bit silly. Box office is not a zero-sum game and is probably a bit more like horseshoes than hand grenades. The success of one film doesn’t necessarily take that much away from the success of another. In this weekend’s case, people who felt like seeing an attempt at a stylish robbers-‘n-cops thriller were edged out very slightly by people who wanted to see another scary mockumentary. This weekend, the results are close enough that the “actuals” may be different enough from the estimates to reverse the #1 and #2 positions.

TakersTo be specific, the horror tale, “The Last Exorcism,” earned an estimated $21.3 million for Lionsgate, while the crime thriller “Takers” netted an estimate of $21 million. Aside from being extremely close, it’s worthy of a huge asterisk. As per Box Office Mojo, “Exorcism” was in 668 more theaters while Screengems/Sony’s “Takers” had the week’s highest per-screen average ($9,519). The heist picture had a budget of $20 million, extremely modest by contemporary studio standards, which means that it’s very much on its way to profitability. However, like prior horror mock-docs, “Exorcism” is by far the profitability king this weekend with an announced budget of $1.8 million. That’s enormously tiny in Hollywood terms and makes this a big win for producer Eli Roth, first-time feature director Daniel Stamm, and the screenwriting team of Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, whose unpromising looking upcoming ‘net-driven horny-teenager flick, “The Virginity Hit” got a certain amount of bloggy attention a while back.

On the bad news side for “The Last Exorcism,” Nikki Finke has noted that the film received a “D” from Cinemascore. She decreed, in typically blunt Finkian fashion, “they hated it.” Well, that seems a fair enough assessment, except that it might not be that simple. The ending has been generating a certain amount of complaints even from critics, who have been mostly supportive of the film. Clearly horror fans and others who plunked down $10+ more, however, may be feeling cheated and we have reports of audible responses from audience.

A friend and I have been having for decades having to do with mostly good movies with bad endings versus mostly bad movies with good endings and which are “better.” Perhaps like the critics who were kind to “The Last Exorcism,” I believe the journey is more important than the destination but, of course, it’s the destination you often remember most easily. I wonder if any of those D-graders had second thoughts on the way home as their immediate anger lessened and they remembered the “good parts” on the way home.

[UPDATE: Yes, that difference was small enough to be reversed. According to Nikki Finke and Box Office Mojo, the “actuals” have reversed the order of the this week’s top 2l.  “Takers” took $20,512,304 and is now #1, while now #2 “The Last Exorcism” received $20,366,613. That’s a difference of just over $145,691.]

In other news, the week’s #3 film was ‘The Expendables” with $9.5 million estimated in its third week. That expanded 3D only reissue of “Avatar” I spent time discussing on Thursday night turned out not to be monkey wrench to anyone else’s success. It only managed to get into 12th place, earning a decent but definitely non-blockbuster $4 million in about a third as many theaters as a typical wide-release.

Finally, the indie/limited release beat is percolating along nicely with good news for the first half of a fact-based French 2-part gangster thriller “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” starring the memorable Vincent Cassel. Meanwhile, my mild obsession with the success of “Get Low,” which continues to thrive, is mellowed by the knowledge that it’s not likely to match the years #1 indie so far, “The Kids All Right.” As usual, the details are available as handled very nicely by Peter Knegt over at Indiewire.

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in

  

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