Berberian Sound Studio
This weirdly sinister low-budget effort from British filmmaker Peter Strickland is equal parts genius and madness. It’s both a tribute to and a satire of gory 1970s Italian horror movies, and fairly creepy on its own terms without really being classified as a horror film itself. The clever story follows a sound engineer (Toby Jones) brought in from London to oversee the sound effects on the latest cheap slasher flick from an eccentric Italian director, when the project turns into a nightmare. Genre aficionados can enjoy the subversive and atmospheric quirks, while Strickland expertly juggles tone and dark humor in a compelling and suspenseful oddity. (Not rated, 92 minutes).
Call Me Kuchu
Both uplifting and heartbreaking, this eye-opening documentary chronicles the ongoing human-rights struggle in Uganda for gays and lesbians, who are aggressively persecuted by religious zealots, prominent politicians and the mainstream media, despite criticism from the international community. The film follows the efforts of a small group of activists in the weeks leading up to a parliamentary vote on a controversial bill that would condemn homosexuals to death. The film is rough around the edges, but the efforts of its subjects are inspirational, and could prompt further worldwide attention and support for their cause. It might also change the perspective of some viewers on some relevant topics. (Not rated, 87 minutes).
There’s nothing subtle about this hyper-stylized action saga that’s about the changing sociopolitical landscape in China, but is really more about elaborate fight sequences and shiny weaponry. The story follows the titular clandestine squad of assassins that rose to power during the Qing Dynasty but subsequently fell out of favor when a new emperor took the throne with a new philosophy that turned the Guillotines into terrorists and outcasts who must fight for their own survival. Directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs), the result is stylish, but any topical relevance for the material is compromised by a script that is woefully clumsy and melodramatic. (Rated R, 113 minutes).
Twenty Feet From Stardom
Regardless of musical preference, this worthwhile documentary that pays tribute to backup singers is a crowd-pleaser. More specifically, director Morgan Neville chronicles the stories of about a half-dozen singers — mostly women, such as Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill and Merry Clayton — who were responsible for some of the most famous harmonies in songs by the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and others. They earn an honest living, yet they never achieved the fame they sought or the spotlight they deserved. The film mixes interviews with plentiful performance footage, both original and archival. The result might completely change your perspective on certain songs, in a good way. (Rated PG-13, 89 minutes).
Paul Walker is back behind the wheel – neither fast nor furious – in this low-budget thriller about mistaken identity that takes place in Johannesburg, where he plays an American tourist who catches an unlucky break when a rental-car mix-up puts him inside a minivan with ties to criminals and corrupt cops who will go to great lengths to get it back, resulting in a series of claustrophobic car chases. The movie incorporates its exotic South African locales and manages a few taut action sequences, but Walker phones in his performance and the script by director Mukunda Michael Dewil is overwhelmed by cliches and implausibilities. (Rated R, 85 minutes).