‘Flee,’ ‘Wolf,’ ‘Hand Of God,’ ‘Benedetta’, Arthur Ashe Doc, Jeffrey Epstein Horror Satire Open Eclectic Arthouse Weekend – Specialty Box Office

Film

The arthouse is awash with well reviewed new offerings from Danish animated doc Flee to Paulo Sorrentino’s Hand of God to IFC’s Benedetta heading into awards season and amid a paucity of new wide releases.

The first weekend of December following the five-day Thanksgiving frame is notoriously slow at the box office, but also a time when arthouse can breaks through.

The weekend also brings a small but growing foothold Stateside for the new Omicron variant. How widespread and infectious it is, severity of illness and response to vaccines are still unclear. Exhibitors of all sizes are watching closely. If the brisk pace of ticket presales for Spiderman-Man: No Way Home are a sign, the younger demo at least is shrugging it off. Older audiences key to specialty film have been the group most reluctant to return to theaters but green shoots appeared recently in the market for grownup films. Last weekend saw strong showings from Licorice Pizza and House Of Gucci (United Artist Releasing’s MGM), A24’s C’mon, C’mon, Focus Features’ Belfast and Sony Pictures Classics’ Julia Child documentary Julia.

Now comes the innovative Flee, from Neon and Participant, which opens at four theaters in NYC and LA (AMC Lincoln Square, Angelika Film Center, AMC Sunset 5, The Landmark), expanding to additional markets in January leading into Oscar nominations. The film is Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh at 97% with critics off 77 reviews. Deadline’s here.

Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen and written by Rasmussen and Amin, the subject of the film and the director’s longtime friend. Amin was forced to flee civil war in his native Afghanistan as child in the 1980s and ultimately settled in Denmark, haunted by a secret. Told in Amin’s own voice and through the use of animation to protect his identity, the film looks back over his life as he opens up for the first time about his past, his trauma and the truth about his family.

Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are executive producers of the much-decorated film, which was Grand Jury Prize winner in the World Cinema Category at Sundance and last week took the Best Documentary trophy at the Gotham Awards.

Flee is the Danish Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film and a and contender for Best Documentary and Best Animated Feature – meaning it could be the first film nominated in all three categories.

IFC Films presents Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta on 200 screens. The Paul Verhoeven film is based on Judith C. Brown’s book ‘Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.’ Shot three years ago in Tuscany, it had a delayed Cannes Film Festival premiere last summer. Deadline review here.

The film follows a 17th-century nun in Italy who suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. She is assisted by a companion, and the relationship between the two women develops into a romantic love affair. Starring Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Lambert Wilson, Daphne Patakia. It has an 84% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. On VOD December 21.

From Netflix, The Hand of God, written and helmed by Paolo Sorrentino, opens on 30 screens, following its release in Italy Nov. 24. The coming of age story of a boy named Fabietto in the director’s beloved hometown — the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s – premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Deadline review here. Streaming Dec. 15. It has an 80% Rotten Tomatoes critics score.

(Netflix still has Jane Campion’s The Power of The Dog with Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst on about 100 screens and The Unforgivable with Sandra Bullock, directed by Nora Fingscheidt, on about 50 screens. Both are streaming.)

Focus Features is releasing Irish drama Wolf in about 300 theatres. Written and directed by Nathalie Biancheri.

Believing he is a wolf trapped in a human body, Jacob (George MacKay) eats, sleeps, and lives like a wolf, to the shock of his family. When he’s sent to a clinic, Jacob and his animal-bound peers are forced to undergo increasingly extreme forms of ‘curative’ therapies. There, Jacob’s friendship the mysterious Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp) blossoms into an undeniable and he’s faced with a challenge — will he renounce his true self for love. A 46% RT critics score.

From RJLE Films, Silent Night, a survival horror film directed by Camille Griffin and starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode as a couple who have invited their closest friends for Christmas dinner at their idyllic home in the English countryside. As the group comes together, it feels like old times, but behind the laughter and merriment, something is not quite right. The world outside is facing impending doom. Silent Night played the Toronto International Film Festival — Deadline review here. In 111 theaters and on AMC+.

Opening in limited release, a pair of well-reviewed docs from Magnolia Pictures Citizen Ashe, and from Greenwich Entertainment, Try Harder.

Citizen Ashe deubts at the Quad in New York, and in LA next Friday at the Laemmle Royal. Directors Rex Miller and Sam Pollard explore the enduring legacy of the late tennis great and humanitarian Arthur Ashe who died in 1993.. His widow, brother, friends from his childhood in Richmond to his Grand Slam tournament playing and coaching days, and confidantes who nurtured his personal evolution from sports legend to global activist, describe the key events that shaped Ashe’s quiet determination to ‘use what he had to do what he could.’

In Try Harder, directed by Debbie Lum, stressed out seniors at top-ranked San Franciso public school Lowell High School, prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream schools. They scrutinize how every element of their application, from their classes to their extracurricular activities to their racial identities, might be read by admission officers. It’s the intersection of class, race and educational opportunity as experienced by students living through it. Opening on six screens (NY, LA, San Francisco, Berkeley, Pasadena, Tulsa, OK).

Drive My Car (Sideshow/Janus), which debuted last weekend at $20,350 over five days on two NYC screens, expands to LA this Friday with an exclusive engagement at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre. From there it will platform slowly with San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, DC, Chicago and Dallas opening on 12/10 and further expansion in December and January.

Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film is a haunting road movie traveling a path of love, loss, acceptance, and peace. Japan’s submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature was the winner of three prizes at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival including Best Screenplay. It just won Best International Film at the Gotham Awards and has a 100% Critics Score with 68 review. See Deadline’s here.

Other openings: Utopia’s The Scary of Sixty-First, winner of the Best First Feature Award at 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. The dark satire horror film directed by Dasha Nekrasova and written by Nekraksova and Madeline Quinn, it follows two women who move into a New York apartment once owned by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. With Quinn, Nekrasova, Betsey Brown and Mark Rapapor. In LA at the Los Feliz 3. It adds NYC’s Quad Cinema 2/17 with a nationwide theatrical and VOD expansion on 12/24.

This Game’s Called Murder, a comedy thriller about an eccentric, violent and power hungry members of the Wallendorf family, whose patriarch is a fashion mogul and designer of iconic red high heeled shoes and daughter is a  social media powerhouse who’s just trying to figure out love, friendship, and world dominance. Written and directed by Adam Sherman, starring Vanessa Marano and Ron Perlman. From Cranked Up Films. At Cinema Village in NYC, the Laemmle Monica Film Center and on demand.

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