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The Weekend Warrior 8/5/16: Suicide Squad, Nine Lives, Little Men and More!

Welcome back to The Weekend Warrior, your weekly look at the new movies hitting theaters this weekend, as well as other cool events and things to check out. 

If you asked me eight months ago whether I’d ever be writing those words again, I probably would have given you a shrug, because honestly, I had no idea if I wanted to do a weekly column ever again.  But, thanks to the fine folks at LRM, The Weekend Warrior column is back, and hopefully it will run here for as long as it did at (That’s 12 ½ years for those of you just learning about The Weekend Warrior for the first time.)

Thanks to artist and filmmaker Tim Nardelli for designing that awesome new logo for “The Weekend Warrior” above. Tim has designed most of what you see on the new LRM as well as art for the upcoming LRM Exclusive series “Dark-Web.” You can check out more of his art over on his Instagram account.

The Summer Olympics start this weekend in my home-away-from-home of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some may be wondering whether the opening ceremony on Friday night might cut into the weekend movie business. It’s certainly a possibility going by the opening ceremony for the London Olympics on July 27, 2012, although that weekend offered much weaker fare in the alien invasion comedy The Watch and Step Up Revolution. (Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises had a 62% drop that weekend though.)

The good news is that this weekend offers a movie that may be impervious to any and all possible competition and that is…

Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.)

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevigne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jay Hernandez
Director(s): David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch, Street Kings, Sabotage, Harsh Times)
Genre:  Action
Rated PG-13
With all the destruction and devastation in the world, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides to put together a team of super-villains incarcerated in Belle Reve prison to defeat a mysterious entity arriving on earth. The villains are all controlled by explosive neck collars that Waller will set-off if they go off the gameplan, and along with Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), they try to get the Suicide Squad to become heroes.
Theater Count (est.): 4,100+

Just four months after the semi-successful release of Zack Snyder’s long-awaited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are taking a bit of a chance with a movie based on a group of DC Comics characters few but the most diehard comic book readers will have known before last year. If you were to ask anyone else about “Suicide Squad,” they would only know it’s an upcoming “superhero” movie that they really want to see without knowing much else.

When comic writer John Ostrander came up with the idea of “Suicide Squad” back in the DC mini-series Legends, he probably had no idea that almost thirty years later, they would be getting their own movie. Warner Bros. made that decision a few years back and they’re actually following through with it. In recent years, DC Comics has been pushing the group in the comics, especially when the group were joined five years ago by Harley Quinn, an increasingly popular comics character especially among younger women.

It’s the most high profile feature from director David Ayer, who got attention as a screenwriter on movies like Training Day and The Fast and the Furious, before making his own foray into directing with street-level crime movies like Harsh Times and Street Kings. Before this, his biggest movies have been the 2012 police drama End of Watch and the 2014 WWII movie Fury starring Brad Pitt. His reputation working with big name actors and with gritty action made him the perfect candidate to helm DC’s first attempt to make a non-Batman or non-Superman movie in many years.

In most cases, the movie would really be pushing Will Smith, because he’s the only true proven box office star among the cast. His role as Deadshot, one of the Squad’s mainstays, makes it more of a role within the ensemble, and more people will be interested to see if Oscar winner Jared Leto can bring something new to Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker after popular (and Oscar-winning!) portrayals by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. The key thing with this Joker is that this will be the first time we get to see him with his equally warped girlfriend Harley Quinn, as played by Australian actress Margot Robbie.  Robbie’s become a bit of an “It Girl” in recent years, most recently starring as Jane in The Legend of Tarzan, but she previously starred opposite Will Smith in his 2015 movie Focus, his first of two movies last year. Smith himself hasn’t been making that many movies in recent years, but Suicide Squad is more in line with the summer action movies he’s done in the past.

The other actor who is making a pretty big leap in visibility with Suicide Squad is actress Viola Davis, who became better known thanks to her two Oscar nominations, particularly the one for The Help. In recent years, she’s also been starring in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” part of Thursday night’s “Shondaland,” for which she’s already won an Emmy. Davis plays Amanda Waller, the woman who puts the Suicide Squad together and sends them on their mission so it’s an important role for sure.

The movie is also going to try to get Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney more attention, as the two actors—from Sweden and Australia respectively—have been pushed as action stars before with movies like Robocop for Kinnaman and Terminator Genisys, A Good Day to Die Hard and Courtney’s role in the Divergent movies. Kinnaman plays Rick Flag, another Squad mainstay, while Courtney is the Flash villain Captain Boomerang (shortened to just “Boomerang” for the movie). Others of note include Jay Hernandez as El Diablo and model-turned-actress Cara Delevigne as the witch known as Enchantress.  Oz and Lost star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje takes on his second comic book role after Kurse in Thor: The Dark World, playing Killer Croc, one of the popular Batman villains that has made his way to comics and video games, so he might be the most known character after the Joker and Harley Quinn.

There’s a chance that critics will be more burnt-out on superhero fare than the average moviegoer, but they’ll also have far less connection to the comic book characters than the fans. As of this writing, reviews have been pretty awful but not as bad as Batman v Superman, but the fact that film critics aren’t behind the movie probably won’t matter to the fans who will still want to see the movie and decide for themselves.

Regardless of the reviews, Suicide Squad is the kind of movie that can appeal to a fairly wide audience of people including the underserved younger African-American and Latino moviegoers, and the presence of Harley Quinn should help bring in young women as well. (If you go to any Comic-Con, you’re likely to see dozens of them dressed up like Harley–she’s that popular.)

The key is that it’s a big cast and almost everyone in the movie has been out and about doing press to get as many people excited for the movie as possible. Although the movie probably has more in common with the 2010 Warner Bros. movie based on The Losers than any other superhero movie we’ve seen, the exceptional marketing of the movie that began at Comic-Con 2015 and has extended through the year since has helped turn Suicide Squad into the kind of event movie we normally get earlier in the summer.

Warners are modeling the release behind the August 2014 release of Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy, hoping that offering a movie that is neither a sequel nor a remake this late in the summer will get people out to the movies before going on vacation or back to school. This mindset gives Suicide Squad a solid chance at becoming the year’s eighth (!) movie to cross the $300 million mark domestically.

Nine Lives (EuropaCorp)

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Malina Weissman, Cheryl Hines, Christopher Walken, Robbie Amell, Mark Consuelos
Director(s): Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Wild Wild West, The Addams Family, Get Shorty and more)
Genre:  Family, Comedy
Rated PG
Billionaire Tom Brand (Kevin Space) gets into a terrible accident that somehow has him trapped inside the body of his daughter Rebecca’s pet tomcat, Mr. Fuzzypants.
Theater Count (est.): 2,700+

It’s Kevin Spacey as a cat, do you really need to know much more than that?

At first, this looks like another one of those cheesy family films about a man who gets turned into a house pet, similar to Disney’s 2006 The Shaggy Dog, which itself was a remake of a far better 1959 Disney movie. In fact, the only difference here is that in this one, a man gets turned into a cat. Also, this movie wasn’t produced and released by Disney who have a proven track record for selling talking animals to parents and kids with two huge hits this year already.

It’s hard to believe any of Spacey’s fans will have much interest in this movie, and it’s somewhat surprising to see him do a move like this, especially considering how successfully Spacey has transitioned into television with his role on Netflix’s “House of Cards.”  Spacey already has two Oscars on his mantle and a couple Golden Globes, so maybe he decided it was time to do something for a younger generation. (Earlier this year, Spacey played Richard Nixon in the hilarious Elvis & Nixon, opposite Michael Shannon, which wouldappeal more towards his older audience.)

It might be that Spacey just wanted to work with director Barry Sonnenfeld, a fairly respectable director who’s helmed a number of hits–including Will Smith’s successful “Men in Black” franchise ironically enough. Frankly, it’s surprising that Sonnenfeld is directing a movie like this, but he has done family films in the past, and maybe he felt it was time to get back to that. Sonnenfeld’s involvement has helped the film get an incredible cast that includes Jennifer Garner (who has done a lot of these movies in recent years), Christopher Walken, Cheryl Hines (from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Kelly Ripa’s hubby Mark Consuelos, and even the CW’s “Arrow” himself, Mr. Robbie Amell.

There isn’t much else to say about Nine Lives, because it probably will only appeal to the youngest of children whose parents want to keep them sitting quietly for a couple hours. At this point, it’s doubtful EuropaCorp will even screen the movie in advance for critics, so there won’t be much to go on if you decide to take your kids to go see it. Personally, I recommend staying home and watching The Little Prince on Netflix instead. (See below.)

This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

It’s a given that Suicide Squad will win the weekend, probably with quite a bit more than $100 million, but the real question is whether it will be around $100 million or closer to $130 million or even more. Either way, it’s looking to set a new August opening record, beating Guardians of the Galaxy’s previousrecord of $94.3 million. There’s enough family offerings in the market, maybe too many for Nine Lives to have much of an impact, since that will appeal to the smallest of children and that’s about it, probably ending up outside the Top 5. It’s hard to believe that anything will have much of an impact on Suicide Squad, as other movies are likely to lose theaters and screens to make way for it.

Because of this and the aforementioned Summer Olympics, Jason Bourne and Bad Moms will probably have bigger second weekend drops than they normally might have otherwise. 

(Updated Predictions on 8.4.16)

1. Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.) – $126.8 million N/A (up 1.6 million)

2. Jason Bourne (Universal) – $26 million -56%

3. Bad Moms (STX) – $12.8 million -46% (up 1.1 million)

4. Star Trek Beyond (Paramount) – $11.5 million  -54% (up .4 million)

5. The Secret Life of Pets (Universal)  – $10.8 million -45%

6. Nine Lives (EuropaCorp) – $6.5 million N/A (down .3 million)

7. Ice Age: Collision Course (20th Century Fox) – $5.4 million  -51% (down .3 million)

8. Lights Out (New Line/WB) – $5.2 million -52%

9. Ghostbusters (Sony) –  $4.7 million -55% (up .1 million)

10. Nerve (Lionsgate) – $4.4 million -53%

Last Year:

Last August kicked off with the far weaker superhero offering of 20th Century Fox’s attempt to relaunch Fantastic Four with a new cast. Bad reviews pretty much killed any interest left in it, so it had to settle for second place behind Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation with just $25.7 million. While that was among the worst recent openings for a superhero movie, Elektra and Catwoman still had it beat. Joel Edgerton’s thriller The Gift (STX), co-starring Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, opened in third place with $11.8 million—not bad for a movie that cost only $5 million. 

This Week’s Pick(s):

This week, I’m going with two PG movies that I’d recommend over Nine Lives (which I’ll probably never see. One of them will probably appeal more to kids than the other, which is an indie drama that probably won’t be of much interest to younger people even though it’s about teenagers.

Little Men (Magnolia) 

Cast: Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Alfred Molina
Director:  Ira Sachs (Love is Strange, Married Life, 40 Shades of Blue, Keep the Lights On)
Genre:  Drama
Rated PG
Plot: After the death of his grandfather, 13-year-old Jake (newcomer Theo Taplitz) is forced to move into his father’s old home in Brooklyn with his parents (Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle), but he soon makes friends with Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose single mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia Gloria) is a dressmaker with a shop downstairs. When Jake’s parents realize they need Leonor to sign a new lease and pay higher rent for the store, the conflict between the boys’ parents starts to affect their friendship.

If you’re not familiar with Ira Sachs’ work, he’s becoming one of the most respected indie filmmakers due to his authentic characters and naturalistic dialogue that began with 40 Shades of Blue and continued into Keep the Lights On and 2014’s Love is Strange, both which received Independent Spirit nominations. Sachs’ previous movie Love is Strange set a new watermark for indie drama, and he continues in that vein with the story of two teenage boys and how their friendship is put to the test when their parents get into a real estate conflict. 

Little Men isn’t a movie I’d recommend to everyone, because its fly-on-the-wall tone won’t appeal to everyone with many scenes merely showing Jake and his family going through their everyday lives to help establish the characters.  We watch as Jake’s friendship with the downstairs shopkeeper’s son Tony flourishes and grows despite them coming from different backgrounds. That’s counterpointed to his parents’ relationship with their downstairs tenant in the Brooklyn building they moved into after the death of Jake’s grandfather, which just gets progressively worse the more they interact.

Sachs once again collaborates with his frequent co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, and the two of them have clearly found their rhythm in terms of creating authentic characters and situations with which the viewer can relate. Much of the film works because every single actor from the two teenage newcomers to the more established adults give simply fantastic performances. I was especially impressed by Greg Kinnear giving possibly the best performance of his career, which is just as much a testament to Sachs as a writer and director for casting Kinnear in such a meaty, layered role.

If you enjoyed Love is Strange a few years back, this is an even more relatable story of real-world people and the troubles in which we frequently find ourselves, one that leaves things just as open-ended but also just as satisfied that you’ve experienced something quite beautiful and unique.

I’m definitely interested in seeing where Ira Sachs goes from here, because I feel this and Love is Strange form two parts of what could be a fantastic trilogy. 

Rating: B+

The Little Prince (Netflix)

Voice Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Paul Giamatti, Bud Cort, Riley Osborne, Albert Brooks
Director(s): Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie)
Genre:  Animation, Family
Rated PG
Moving into a new neighborhood, a young girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) befriends her eccentric next-door neighbor, an aging aviator (Jeff Bridges) who tells her fantastic stories about a magical world and the Little Prince (Riley Osborne) that lives there.

In the nearly seventy years since Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s literary classic The Little Prince was published and subsequently discovered by rabid young readers, it’s been adapted into a number of different incarnations, including quite a few animated movies. Director Mark Osborne has found a new way into the material that should captivate modern-day kids as well as their parents.

The well-known story is framed by a real world tale of a young girl whose single mother (voiced by Rachel McAdams) has overly-ambitious expectations for her to get into the prestigious Werth Academy, to the point of moving them into a new neighborhood where their eccentric elderly neighbor convinces the girl to neglect her studies and use her imagination to enjoy her life as a child while she still can.

Surprisingly, this may be the closest a non-Disney animated film has ever gotten to what works so well with the films from Pixar Animation, particularly Up and Inside Out and the way they depict real-life humans and their relationships.  Both kids and parents should be able to relate to the mother-daughter relationship and how parents sometimes try to make up for their own disappointments in life by putting added pressure on their kids. The relationship between the girl and the Aviator also feels very real, mainly since Osborne found a great American voice cast for the characters, particularly Jeff Bridges and Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) as the girl. There are also great voices in the Little Prince’s world provided by Ricky Gervais, James Franco and Osborne’s own son Riley as the Little Prince. (Even so, the real scene-stealer is an absolutely adorable stuffed fox that accompanies the girl on her adventures.)

The fantasy sequences use a different form of computer animation that gives it a more tactile texture, similar to stop-motion animation, and the contrast between the Aviator’s stories and the real world is quite dramatic, yet the film flows beautifully between the two worlds and the two animation styles.  The movie also offers one of the most wondrous soundtracks for an animation film, from Hans Zimmer of course, but also featuring marvelous songs by a singer named Camille. (There’s still a few other vestiges of the French incarnation of the film in some of the background signage.)

Originally, The Little Prince was going to be released by Paramount Pictures, but they decided not to release it in the United States, giving Netflix the opportunity to move in and scoop it up. Unfortunately, The Little Prince will mostly be skipping a theatrical release outside of New York in favor of the streaming service, but it’s a great family film for parents to watch at home with their kids. (I’m sure that Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets are just fine—I haven’t seen either yet—but this animated film is a wonderful surprise, especially knowing that a major studio wouldn’t think it worth releasing theatrically, which is nuts.)

Rating: A-

Also available on iTunes and VOD this week is Claire Carré’s sci-fi-drama Embers (the Orchard), an absolutely terrific film that’s played the festival circuit, where it’s also won many awards, including two from the Oxford Film Festival where I first saw it. It takes a look at a world where a virus has caused short and long-term memory loss, and how that affects a group of disparate people trying to survive. I’ve become absolutely obsessed with this film since seeing it a second time more recently, and it’s really a brilliantly unique take on the apocalypse and incredibly thought-provoking as well. (Note: It will also be playing at the Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles from August 5 through 11 and Claire and co/writer Charles Spano will be on hand at a few of the weekend screenings to answer your questions!)

I also want to quickly recommend the documentary Gleason (Amazon/Open Road), which opened in select cities last weekend.  Directed by Clay Tweel, it’s an amazing personal and inspirational look at New Orleans Saint defensive back Steve Gleason who was diagnosed with ALS just months before learning that his wife was pregnant. Over the next few years, Gleason struggled with his deteriorating physical condition while also trying to be a good father to his son, shooting video testimonials before losing the ability to speak altogether. I’mconvinced this will be in the running for this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary, because it’s impossible not to watch the film and not be deeply affected. 

Other Limited Releases:

Argentine filmmaker Daniel (Lost Embrace) Burman returns with his new film The Tenth Man (Kino Lorber)—not to be confused with the Graham Greene novel or the movie based on it.  It stars Alan Sabbagh as Ariel, a man who returns to Buenos Aires trying to reconnect with his father in the city’s Jewish region where he grew up. While there, Ariel gets involved with the free-spirited Eva (Julieta Zylberberg) who distracts him from his original plan. After premiering in Berlin earlier this year, it played at the Tribeca Film Festival where I saw it and wasn’t that impressed, mainly because it seemed to tread too much similar territory as Burman’s previous films. Then again, Burman is one of Argentina’s finest filmmakers when it comes to telling stories about the country’s Jewish population (which I can relate to since my mother and grandmother lived there after leaving Germany), so your mileage may vary, as they say. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

American Pie star Jason Biggs makes his big-screen return in Lisa Addario & Joe Syracuse’s comedy Amateur Night (Cinedigm) playing Guy Carter, an award-winning architect forced to take a job as a driver taking prostitutes to their clients in order to help make ends meet with his wife about to have a baby. It will open in New York and L.A. on Friday and then be on VOD next week.

Lastly, David Oyelowo (Selma) stars in Maris Curran’s Five Nights in Maine as a young man who travels to Maine after the death of his wife to get answers from his mother-in-law (Dianne Wiest) who is trying to get over her daughter’s death. It also stars Rosie Perez.

You’ll also note that I like giving regular shout-outs to my local NYC movie theater, the Metrograph, because they play lots of cool older movies on the big screen from 35mm prints (a rarity these days). This Friday, they’re bringing back Derek Jarman’s long lost 1984 film Will You Dance With Me? which will be accompanied by a collection of disco movies in their series “Dim All the Lights: Disco and the Movies” which will include Saturday Night Fever, Thank God It’s Friday, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Can’t Stop the Music and more.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies including Seth Rogen’s animated Sausage Party (Sony), Disney’s new Pete’s Dragon, and Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins (Paramount).

(Text copyright Edward Douglas 2016. The Weekend Warrior logo designed by and copyright Tim Nardelli 2016.)

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