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Movie Reviews: New Releases for Aug. 6

The Suicide Squad, Annette, Nine Days, Vivo and more

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Margot Robbie in The Suicide Squad - WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Margot Robbie in The Suicide Squad
All the Streets Are Silent ***
There’s an entire sub-genre of documentary filmmaking that could be called “Holy Crap, We’ve Got an Amazing Treasure Trove of Archival Footage, So What If It Feels a Bit Shapeless.” Director Jeremy Elkin takes advantage of the resources at his disposal to explore the intersection between skate culture and hip hop culture in New York circa 1987-1997, most of those resources consisting of video footage shot by Eli Gesner as he circulated through both of those worlds. Many of the surviving principals appear on screen to provide context as well, including folks like Fab 5 Freddy, actor Rosario Dawson and many of the skater stars, as they describe the rise of hip hop-centric clubs like Mars, the influential after-hours radio show hosted by DJ Stretch Armstrong and Def Jam Records’ Bobbito Garcia, and the launch of the skate-gear empires Zoo York and Supreme. But while there’s an awkward attempt at crafting a narrative through-line involving the ill-fated skater/Kids star Harold Hunter, what really hits here are the moments Gesner captured featuring future hip hop legends in some of their earliest performances: Jay Z, Busta Rhymes, Method Man & Ghostface Killah and more. It’s interesting watching the only-in-New-York merger of skating’s predominantly white participants and hip hop’s predominantly Black participants, but the reason to stay is feeling like you were there for the birth of a music revolution. Available Aug. 6 via SLFSatHome.org. (NR)

Russell Mael, Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver in Annette - AMAZON STUDIOS
  • Amazon Studios
  • Russell Mael, Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver in Annette
Annette ***1/2
I’m not sure if Ron and Russell Mael—the veteran brother musical act better known as Sparks—realized they were making something autobiographical when they crafted the story behind this sweeping musical drama, but it’s hard not to see it that way. At the outset, superficially, it’s a love story between an unlikely pair: bad-boy stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and operatic soprano Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard). That relationship zips through the stages of initial infatuation through marriage and eventually a baby they name Annette, but theatrical artifice is built into director Leos Carax’s staging, from a prologue that finds the Maels themselves and their actors taking their recording session into the streets, to a particularly interesting casting choice as Annette. But while the Sparks songs rarely match the high bar set by the propulsive opener “So May We Start”—even the arias begin to sound like recitative with their lyrical repetition—the story takes some great turns in connecting McHenry’s self-loathing to his need to be part of pleasing an audience. The whole thing makes for a weird ride, but by the time we reach the unexpectedly emotional conclusion, Annette feels like two brothers who have never hit it big concluding that having an audience that loves you is ultimately far less powerful than having a family member that loves you. Available Aug. 6 in theaters; Aug. 20 via Amazon Prime. (R)

The Evening Hour **
Knowing the source material can be a curse, and that’s how it plays out as director Braden King and screenwriter Elizabeth Palmore adapt Carter Sickels’ novel. Set in rural Kentucky coal mining country, it follows Cole (Philip Ettinger), an aide at an elder-care facility who supplements his income buying and selling prescription opioids. While he deals with the death of the grandfather who raised him, he’s faced with complications from two people returning from his past: his long-absent mother (Lili Taylor), and Terry (Cosmo Jarvis), his perpetual screw-up of a childhood best friend. King opens with a terrific landscape shot that sets up the juxtaposition of this beautiful place with the mining operation stripping the hillsides bare, but this adaptation almost completely abandons the role of the mining company in upending these people’s lives. And all of the key relationships feel like they’re missing key components, sacrificing a fully-realized portrait of a community in crisis in favor of a simple drug thriller. Ettinger—who was so indelible as the apocalypse-obsessed parishioner in First Reformed—continues to who show his depth as an actor, but he’s working with a character, and a narrative, that left a huge chunk of its emotional force in some early draft. Available Aug. 6 via SLFSatHome.org. (NR)

John and the Hole ****
See feature review. Available Aug. 6 in theaters and via VOD. (R)

Nine Days ***1/2
Following in the footsteps of philosophical after-life dramas like, well, After Life, writer/director Edson Oda journeys to the pre-life for a thoughtful exploration of what makes for a life well-lived. In an isolated way station, Will (Winston Duke) is one of many examiners who interview new souls, ultimately deciding which one of them will get the opportunity for a life on Earth that he then observes and chronicles. Several familiar faces show up among the candidates—including Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale and Zazie Beetz—offering a variety of perspectives on what kind of person might be best suited to be successful at the trials of living. And while the relationships Will develops with his interviewees helps inform his own back-story, there’s an equally crucial sub-plot involving Will’s obsession with the death of one of his previous charges. Duke’s rich, taciturn performance ultimately dives into the judgment that we often express towards those who seem too emotionally fragile for this world, while still celebrating the vulnerability it takes to live a beautiful life. Whether or not the climactic moments involving some words of wisdom from Walt Whitman feel like too bold a move for this otherwise restrained tale might be the only thing separating Nine Days from greatness. Available Aug. 6 in theaters. (PG-13)

The Suicide Squad ***
The ultraviolent brand of weirdness writer/director James Gunn brought to the dark comedy Super might have been part of what got him the Guardians of the Galaxy gig, but it feels like an even better fit for what DC has allowed him to do with the super-villain crew that crashed and burned in 2016’s Suicide Squad. This one brings a couple of familiar faces—notably Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)—together with newcomers like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena) and King Shark (voice of Sylvester Stallone) on a black-ops mission to squelch secret experiments in an island nation. The efforts to bring depth to the character backstories feels superficial at best, putting virtually all of the weight on the action and comedy beats. Fortunately, The Suicide Squad delivers on both counts, beginning with a sense that almost nobody is guaranteed to survive, and the manner of the deaths is likely to be graphic and bizarre. Robbie’s Harley Quinn is established enough by now that she steals focus almost by default, with some of the other characters drifting into the background. But it’s not often that a super-hero franchise movie feels fully committed to a vibe that doesn’t just feed the audience what it expects, but keeps up a consistent pace of “wait, what the hell did I just see?” Available Aug. 6 in theaters and via HBO Max. (R)

NETFLIX
  • Netflix
Vivo ***
Though your Lin-Manuel Miranda mileage may vary, his sense of applying satisfying musical-theater conventions to animation—which was on full display in Moana—feels like a natural fit. His In the Heights collaborator Quiara Alegría Hudes contributes to the story of a kinkajou named Vivo (voiced by Miranda) who is smuggled from the South American rain forest and winds up in the care of Andrés (Juan de Marcos), a Havana street musician. But when Vivo learns that Andrés once gave up the love of his life, singer Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), the little critter makes it his mission to track her down in Miami and let her know how Andrés felt. The quest narrative allows for the introduction of colorful supporting characters in the Florida Everglades—a lovelorn spoonbill (Brian Tyree Henry); a predatory python (Michael Rooker)—and plenty of action beats. But the highlight here is the music, a lot of it featuring Miranda’s trademark rapid-fire raps and the colorful accompanying set pieces from director Kirk DeMicco (The Croods), all in service of a simple but effective story about letting people know you love them when you have the chance. The attempts at big emotion never quite feel like they land, but it's no small feat to create a soundtrack that you want to put on repeat. Available Aug 6 via Netflix. (PG)

Whirlybird ***
It’s tough not to come at Matt Yoka’s documentary as an almost textbook profile of toxic masculinity manifested as the result of a closeted identity, even as it keeps creeping over to being a simple chronicle of a unique historical moment in news coverage. The central subject is the founders of L.A. News Service, a breaking-news operation that began by chasing police scanner calls at street level in the 1980s, before taking to the skies with helicopter footage that became iconic for capturing events like the post-Rodney-King-verdict riots and the O.J. Simpson slow-speed chase. Those founders are initially described as married couple Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard, but in contemporary interviews we see that Bob has transitioned as transgender, and is now Zoey Tur. That knowledge can’t help but inform audience reaction to much of the archival footage, in which you can often hear the pre-transition Bob constantly verbally abusing Marika off-air, or learn that Bob had a heart attack at 35. And all of that information makes it weird simply to be caught up in reminders of those bizarre national news events they captured. Whirlybird’s two sides are individually fascinating, even if they don’t always quite fit together. Available Aug. 6 via ParkCityFilm.org.  (NR)