A Band Called Death
This amusing and poignant documentary unearths a valuable piece of music history by chronicling a pioneering black punk band from Detroit consisting of three siblings whose music rocked but whose chance at fame was scuttled for various reasons — their style wasn’t popular, the band name was off-putting, and their hometown was caught up in the rise of Motown. It wasn’t until a demo tape was rediscovered a generation later that the band finally started to gain popularity. Despite a straightforward structure that needs tightening, it’s a bittersweet story of the fringes of fame and of three brothers who belatedly deserve to share the spotlight. (Not rated, 96 minutes).
Strong performances and innovative visuals help lift this ambitious French-Canadian melodrama from 24-year-old director Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother), which feels self-indulgent and repetitive in spots, but quietly powerful in others. It follows the story of a relationship spanning a decade involving the middle-aged title character (Melvil Poupaud), a post-operative transsexual who remains committed to a female lover (Suzanne Clement) despite intense scrutiny from friends and family. Rarely have such issues been explored on screen with such intimacy and complexity, even if some of the quirky details in Dolan’s epic feels more unfocused than profound. Still, his style compensates for his lack of discipline. (Not rated, 168 minutes).
Jason Statham breaks away only somewhat from his action-hero comfort zone with this drama in which he plays Joey, an ex-soldier suffering post-war trauma who tries to start over by stealing the identity of a rich stranger, then taking a job for a London crime boss, funneling some of his earnings to a convent. The gritty film marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Steve Knight (Eastern Promises), who benefits from collaborations with Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges and composer Dario Marianelli. Statham shows some range, but Knight is let down by his script, which is trite and predictable and features characters that are more familiar than fresh. (Rated R, 95 minutes).
The Secret Disco Revolution
A documentary chronicling the rise and fall of the disco movement during the 1970s sounds like a lot of fun, but the muddled approach of director Jamie Kastner feels like more of a conspiracy theory than anything else. Through extensive interviews with musicians and writers, as well as plentiful archival footage, the film hits the highlights of the era both musically and culturally. Yet its greater point simply isn’t persuasive, that disco served as a political movement meant to empower oppressed minorities — in terms of race, gender and sexuality — during a time of economic struggle. It’s a thorough but strained attempt to be provocative. (Not rated, 84 minutes).
The characteristically razor-sharp dialogue of Neil LaBute propels this uneven satire, based on his stage play, about a writer (Adam Brody) who prepares for his wedding by traveling around the country to make amends with five past girlfriends for various transgressions. The film is divided into vignettes with each woman, with some segments more compelling than others, but the film can’t shake its repetitive structure and stagebound roots. Brody is appropriately creepy, but it’s difficult to sympathize with his hopeless character even if he’s somehow sincere in his misguided quest for redemption. The film also stars Emily Watson, Zoe Kazan and Kristen Bell. (Not rated, 89 minutes).