The Mercury News

‘Suicide Squad’ gets it right this time

Also this week: The inventive ‘Nine Days’ is one of the year’s best

- By Randy Myers

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 LinManuel 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 Friday.

“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 to reduce DC Comics’ rogue gallery of antisuperh­eroes 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 close-up 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 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 eightepiso­de HBO Max series, written by Gunn, in January. If it’s anything like this, I’ll be there. DETAILS >> \*\*\*; opens Friday 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 >> \*\*\*/*; available Friday on Netflix.

“NINE DAYS” >> What an astounding directoria­l debut this is from Edson Oda, a film of rare beauty and poetic grace. The JapaneseBr­azilian 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 complement­s its story.

DETAILS >> \*\*\*\* ; opens in theaters Friday.

“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 that disbanded in 2012 when its own president concluded 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 >> \*\*\*; 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 Islamic State group 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, outrageind­ucing story.

DETAILS >> \*\*\*/*; opens Friday at the Roxie in San Francisco 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 antisocial 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 Grimms’ Fairy Tales vibe, you’re in for a trippy and unsettling journey into the darkness of adolescenc­e. DETAILS >> \*\*\*; opens Friday in select theaters and on demand.

“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 coif 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’ film 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 our hearts with soulful expression­s and wistful looks.

DETAILS >> \*\*\*; opens Friday at the Elmwood in Berkeley and the Embarcader­o, San Francisco; available on demand Aug. 13.

 ?? WARNER BROS. PICTURES ?? Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn — and throws her all into it — in “The Suicide Squad.”
WARNER BROS. PICTURES Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn — and throws her all into it — in “The Suicide Squad.”
 ?? SONY PICTURES CLASSICS ?? Winston Duke stars as a keeper of souls in the fantastica­l and brilliant “Nine Days.”
SONY PICTURES CLASSICS Winston Duke stars as a keeper of souls in the fantastica­l and brilliant “Nine Days.”

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