It’s redemption time at the movies this week.
Warner Bros. tries again with “The Suicide Squad” and comes up with a winner while auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda comes back with the chipper “Vivo” on Netflix after the puzzling box-office failure of “In the Heights.”
And one of my favorite films so far this year, “Nine Days,” lands in theaters Aug. 6.
“The Suicide Squad”: Leave it to “Guardians of the Galaxy” filmmaker James Gunn to wash away the nasty aftertaste of David Ayer’s incoherent original film, which managed reduce DC Comics’ rogue gallery of anti-superheroes into gutless and boring characters. Gunn was clearly the ideal skipper to navigate the Squad’s subversive, irreverent hard-R-rated waters. From its violent opening scene to its outlandish, H.P. Lovecraft-like climax, Gunn drills full bore into this edgy material, giving each of his characters — such as Harley Quinn (played with ravin’-mad glee by Margot Robbie again) — the Norma Desmond closeup scenes they deserve. The cast is game for all of the mayhem with John Cena a standout as Peacemaker, a brawny contradiction who joins forces with Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Quinn, Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), The Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (voice of Sylvester Stallone) and others to perform dirty American deeds on the island of Corto Maltese. The one orchestrating that top-secret mission and is the shrewd, conniving Amanda Walker (Viola Davis, having a heyday here). On the ground, the Squad coordinates with the exasperated but mighty fine Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman).
If you’re a fan of Amazon Prime’s “The Boys” and “Deadpool,” this is ideal entertainment. It’s delightfully offbeat and rude, and benefits from one of the best tighty-whities scenes since Tom Cruise rock-n-rolled his briefs in “Risky Business.” Another bit of good news is that Cena will reprise his Christopher Smith/Peacemaker role with an eight-episode HBO Max series — written by Gunn — in January. If it’s anything like this, I’ll be there. Details: 3 stars; opens Aug. 6 in theaters and on HBO Max.
“Vivo”: Catchy genre-hopping tunes from Lin-Manuel Miranda fuel this tender animated hug to Cuba, old flames, music and cultural traditions. Miranda seems to be having a blast voicing Vivo, a cute kinkajou heading to Miami to present popular diva Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan) a love letter penned by his owner and street music collaborator (Juan de Marcos). Directed with vivaciousness along with a deep appreciation for Latin culture by Kirk DeMicco, “Vivo” is one of the year’s most nimble animated features with two characters that will steal your heart — Vivo and Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), a feisty and independent-minded tween. Details: 3½ stars; available Aug. 6 on Netflix.
“Nine Days”: What an astounding directorial debut this is from Edson Oda, a film of rare beauty and poetic grace. The Japanese/Brazilian screenwriter and director composes a touching symphony for humanity with this existential fantasy-drama wherein a keeper/judge of souls determines which one of five candidates will be the ideal match to take the space vacated by a dearly departed one. “Black Panther’s” Winston Duke vaults into the Oscar best actor race as the spiritually wounded Will who fastidiously observes the comings and goings of a select group of people via his bank of old-school TV screens. Will’s stuck-in-a-rut existence gets challenged when he interviews the dynamic Emma (Zazie Beetz) who shakes and rattles him to his core as his nine-day decision ticks away. Oda’s feature is observant and wise and humane, filmed and acted with impeccable care and poise, and the cinematography perfectly compliments its story. Details: 4 stars; opens in theaters Aug. 6.
“Pray Away”: In this measured documentary, five former gay conversion leaders and survivors revisit the personal hells they carried away from the experience. It makes for a chilling film, particularly when the survivors reflect on the damage done to themselves and countless others by Exodus International, an Evangelical gay conversion program than disbanded in 2012 when its own president concluded that it was useless and harmful. But what really stands out about this Jason Blum/Ryan Murphy executive-produced documentary, directed with solemn care by Kristine Stolakis, is the story of Jeffrey McCall, who transitioned from male to female but renounced the change after finding religion. Stolakis nimbly walks a tightrope in those scenes, which later shoulder a burden of weight as the closing scroll awakens us to the reality that the “Pray Away” movement is far from over. Details: 3 stars; now streaming on Netflix.
“Sabaya”: This immersive Sundance award winner is a tough watch in every way with filmmaker Hogir Hirori shadowing a group of volunteers as they try to free Yazidi sex slaves from a violence-prone northeastern Syrian camp. The tireless Mahmud relies on a team of female infiltrators — who know all too well the evil that men can do — to find these women and girls, some of whom were taken by Isis members when they were children. It’s a nerve-wracking on-the-ground account, which elevates the presence of a camera to relate its devastating, outrage-inducing story. Details: 3½ stars; opens Aug. 6 at the Roxie Theater and available for streaming via the Roxie’s Virtual Cinema series.
“John and the Hole”: Although visual artist Pascual Sisto’s disturbing examination of a bored and privileged 13-year-old American is an acquired taste, it establishes him as a creative and unique force. As John, the teen who drugs and then traps his parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and sister (Taissa Farmiga) in an underground bunker, Charlie Shotwell conveys the anti-social restlessness of a kid with too much time and wealth on his hands. As you’d expect, this Sundance debut from the screenwriting mind of Nicolás Giacobone divided audiences and critics alike. It is undeniably gorgeous to look at, but should you surrender — as I did — to its moody Grimm’s Fairy Tales vibe, you’re in for a trippy and unsettling journey into the darkness of adolescence. Details: 3 stars; opens Aug. 6 in select theaters and On Demand digital platforms.
“Swan Song”: Udo Kier is divine as a sassy gay former hairdresser who makes a clean break from his assisted living facility so he can saunter about Sandusky, Ohio, while on a mission to coiff the hair of his dead former client (Linda Evans). Along the way he spars with a stylist nemesis (Jennifer Coolidge), drops in at a gay bar where he used to perform and reflects on his past loves and his lonely present. Director/screenwriter Todd Stephens’ “Swan Song” puts almost all of its faith in the tremendous Kier, and does he ever deliver — owning the screen with Auntie Mame-like dramatic flourishes and captivating out hearts with soulful expressions and wistful looks. Details: 3 stars, opens Aug. 6 at the Elmwood in Berkeley and the Embarcadero, San Francisco; available On Demand Aug. 13.
Contact Randy Myers at email@example.com.
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Author: Randy Myers, Correspondent