There’s something for everyone in theaters this weekend. While the latest supervillain movie “Suicide Squad” is getting universally horrendous reviews, “Little Men” is being praised for its beautiful portrayal of the simple bond between childhood friends.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s family comedy “Nine Lives,” starring Kevin Spacey as a dad who’s turned into a cat, is also released this weekend—along with the tragic drama “Five Nights In Maine” about a husband and mother-in-law’s shared grief at the passing of their wife and daughter.
Meanwhile, those in the United States can access the animated “The Little Prince” based on Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic children’s book, on Netflix for the first time. While many are lauding the film for its simplicity and innocence compared to today’s vulgar children’s entertainment, some critics suggest director Mark Osborne ruined the original story by mixing in new elements.
1. “Suicide Squad,” directed by David Ayer, starring Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Will Smith
People have been waiting for this latest DC-Warner Bros. partnership for months, but so far the reviews of the movie itself have been relentlessly ruthless. Criticism has been so unfavorable that fans have actually taken to signing a petition to protest Rotten Tomatoes’ unfavorable 31 percent rating of the movie.
Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal)
In a word, “Suicide Squad” is trash. In two words, it’s ugly trash. Maybe no more words should be wasted on a movie that is, after all, only a movie, not a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Still, movies contribute to the collective awareness. They can color the way we feel about the life around us. This one deserves further attention by virtue of its exceptional cynicism and startling ineptitude. “Suicide Squad” amounts to an all-out attack on the whole idea of entertainment.
A.O. Scott (New York Times)
…“Suicide Squad” is a so-so, off-peak superhero movie. It chases after the nihilistic swagger of “Deadpool” and the anarchic whimsy of “Guardians of the Galaxy” but trips over its own feet. The colors are lurid and smeary (when it’s not too dark to see what’s going on). The language pushes the far boundary of its PG-13 rating. The death toll is high, and the weapons are nasty. In spite of all the mayhem and attitude, the overall mood is cautious. For a film about a gang of outlaw brawlers, “Suicide Squad” is awfully careful to stay inside the lines.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
Writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch) skillfully sets up the film, introducing each of the crazies with caffeinated comic-book energy. But their mission — to take down Cara Delevingne’s undersketched witch, Enchantress, and her giant golem-like brother — is a bit of a bust. The stakes should feel higher. As someone who isn’t fluent in Suicide Squad lore, I can’t imagine there wasn’t a better villain in its back catalog. Still, it’s nothing compared with how wasted Leto’s scene-stealing Joker is. With his toxic-green hair, shiny metal teeth, and demented rictus grin, he’s the most dangerous live wire in the film. But he’s stranded in the periphery. For DC, which blew it with Batman v Superman last spring, Suicide Squad is a small step forward. But it could have been a giant leap. B–
2. “Nine Lives,” directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Christopher Walken, Jennifer Garner, Tom Brand
In this family comedy, the soul of dad Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) gets stuck in the body of “Mister Fuzzypants,” the cat. When Brand’s co-workers start conspiring to sell off his company, the now-furry feline must save the day.
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
In “Nine Lives,” it’s supposed to be a major hoot that Spacey’s Tom Brand, a vaguely Trumpian New York entrepreneur obsessed with building the tallest, longest skyscraper in America, gets into a freak accident that transfers his personality into the body of a cat. (Meanwhile, the body of Brand himself lies in a coma. No, it doesn’t really make sense.) None of the members of his family can hear the cat talking, and neither can his back-stabbing business associates. That privilege is reserved for those of us in the audience. We’re the ones who are supposed to be cracking up whenever Mister Fuzzypants says something like “Oh, look, Satan’s over!” (as his lush of an ex-wife wanders into the room).
There’s probably a funny mainstream comedy to be made (even for kids) that centers on a rascal of a talking animal. But that won’t happen until the people who make it figure out that it isn’t enough to hear an animal talk. He (or she) has got to say really funny things.
John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter)
This is a family movie about cats? Please, somebody tell the three separate teams of screenwriters credited with penning this thing.
Before letting them go home, Nine Lives gives viewers plenty of out-of-place ex-wife-hating barbs; groan-worthy feline puns; an apparent suicide attempt; some acting that an experienced director should never have allowed onto the screen; and an unusually gruesome color palette. And if you think it’s going to fail to include a “Hang in There, Baby” joke, Sonnenfeld will beat that sight gag into the ground to make sure you don’t miss it. Sometimes, though, letting go of that rope is the best thing a poor cat can do.
3. “Little Men,” directed by Ira Sachs, starring Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri
This version of “Little Men” explores the childhood bond between two Brooklyn boys: Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz) and Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri). When Jake’s family moves to Brooklyn after his grandfather’s death, the two middle schoolers embark on a beautiful relationship, but it soon takes a hit due to the money problems of the adults in their lives.
A.O. Scott (New York Times)
When parents are around, “Little Men” feels like a modest, precise drama of urban life, but when it follows Tony and Jake, absorbing the loose rhythms of their companionship, the film becomes something richer and harder to classify. It’s a boys adventure story edged with unspoken risks, and the young actors take the kind of chances that their more careful and disciplined elders have been trained to avoid. There are inklings of sexual desire between the boys and implications of homophobia in the world around them, but mostly there is a sense of discovery and change, of all the unruly and enigmatic experiences often collapsed into the phrase “coming-of-age.
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)
Sachs handles this material with sublime delicacy and feeling, even as circumstances of money and class push Jake and Tony apart. It’s time to realize that Sachs is a modern master, lyrically attuned to the cadences of what it’s like to be fallibly human. Little Men, with its two boys racing at life with the brick wall of maturity still at a distance, is funny, touching and vital. It’s truly an exhilarating gift.
Peter Debruge (Variety)
Instead of laying on the melodrama, Sachs keeps things subtle, telling his story almost exclusively through quiet moments, some of them so minor that our minds wander away entirely. Though “Little Men” was made on a startlingly small budget, nearly every supporting detail — from d.p. Oscar Duran’s careful framing to Dickon Hinchliffe’s life-affirming score (which hums with the anticipation of better things to come) — adds value to this little gem.
4. “Five Nights In Maine,” directed by Maris Curran, starring David Oyelowo, Diane Wiest
Curran’s film attempts to capture the phenomenon of mourning. Young Sherwin (Oyelowo) is shattered when his wife dies in a car accident. He spontaneously undertakes to visit his mother-in-law Lucinda (Wiest), at her home in Maine, where the two struggle to deal with their grief as Lucinda battles cancer.
Neil Genzlinger (New York Times)
Maris Curran had plenty of opportunities to insert a cheesy plot twist into “Five Nights in Maine,” her delicate drama about loss and its aftermath. Yet she stayed true to her intentions, and the result is a believable character study that may not draw crowds but certainly challenges its two lead actors.
Ms. Wiest and Mr. Oyelowo probe the pain slowly and convincingly. In the end, you may feel as if you didn’t know enough about either character. Some may consider that a weakness of this spare film, but it can also be viewed as a strength.
Andrew Barker (Variety)
In the absence of much understanding of either of these characters, a number of scenes and exchanges play almost like Rorschach tests, inviting viewers to fill in the details themselves. Curran’s refusal to hand-hold or prod her characters into exposition is clearly intentional, and theoretically admirable; grief, the film seems to argue, is an emotion that often plays out too far beneath the surface for an outside observer to really see it for what it is. But too frequently the film settles for arm’s-length mimesis of this behavior, rather than attempting to mine it for some sort of deeper truth, and a few of the film’s themes are both obvious and too obliquely handled to really connect.
5.“The Little Prince,” directed by Mark Osborne, starring Mackenzie Foy, Paul Rudd, Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic children’s book has been translated into more than 250 languages since it was published in 1943. Americans have been anticipating Netflix’s release of the movie version ever since Paramount dropped it earlier this year. Director Mark Osborne has placed the original story within the frame of a tale about Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy), a child struggling with the demands of her controlling mother. When she meets her next-door neighbor the Aviator (Jeff Bridges), he begins to tell her stories about a little prince he once encountered when his plane crashed in the desert. Here’s what critics had to say about Osborne’s take on the beloved book.
Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal)
It’s almost always bad news when someone tries to expand a classic with new material. But the early stretches of “The Little Prince” are less an expansion than an investigation—the Little Girl is refreshingly skeptical when the Aviator spins his stories of the Little Prince—and the material succeeds brilliantly. It’s a paradox, then, as well as a pity, that the film loses its way at precisely the point when the new story starts to merge with the old one, and the Little Girl meets a character called Mr. Prince. (He’s voiced by Paul Rudd.) Pretty much everything that follows is dramatically inert, and anticlimactic; even the closing credits go down instead of up. All the same, Mr. Osborne has done himself proud. What’s essential in his film is the singular beauty of the first half.
Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly)
One of the most inspired choices Osborne (Kung Fu Panda) makes is to build such a striking visual contrast between his two scenarios. The Girl’s has the smooth, hyperreal look of modern computer animation, but the Prince’s is pure magic: beautifully textured stop-motion frames that hold every bend of shadow and light in their crinkled, papery folds. The seams of the film’s parallel plots don’t always come together quite as neatly; translating de Saint-Exupéry’s metaphysical oddity into an at least semi-conventional kids’ movie is a challenge no one may ever quite be able to meet. But at its inventive best—like the creation of a little cloth fox who never speaks but steals almost every scene he’s in—it does capture the odd, tender wonder of his world. B+
Stephen Holden (New York Times)
Although the message of the novella — that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” — is reiterated, the film’s caricature of the digital age atmosphere is so forbidding that it makes the charming fancies of “The Little Prince” seem quaint and frivolous. The movie, a Netflix release receiving a theatrical run, can even be seen as an allegory about filmmaking in today (by a director of “Kung Fu Panda”), straddling the line between modern and traditional styles and blending the best of both. Inevitably, youth, vigor and technological innovation triumph over nostalgia.