As the weather starts to warm and the flowers bloom, so too does the movie slate become increasingly more promising, with a whole host of springtime movies that will surely thaw the snowy remnants of winter. After a surprisingly robust March that saw the likes of “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Spring Breakers,” April has even more killer selections to make your spring that much warmer.
Whether your tastes run to the more esoteric fare or the bigger budget Hollywood spectacle, if your desires lie in sexy thrillers, weepy biopics or scuzzy low-budget horror movies, April pretty much has you covered. Let us know what you’re looking forward to and if we’re totally off our rocker when it comes to these selections.
Synopsis: An auction house worker (James McAvoy) gets involved in a scheme to steal a famous painting, but after the job is done, there’s just one problem — he can’t remember where he put it. His partners in crime (led by a suavely menacing Vincent Cassel) enlist the aid of a beautiful hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) to try and retrieve the painting by diving into his memories.
What You Need To Know: It’s a new film by Danny Boyle, the artistically restless genre-hopper who has been responsible for everything from “Trainspotting” to “28 Days Later” to the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” Boyle shot “Trance” and did a preliminary edit of the film before focusing his attention on last summer’s London Olympic Games, where he was the creative director and architect of the jaw-dropping Opening Ceremony. After his duties for the Olympics were fulfilled, he returned to “Trance,” finishing the edit and enlisting Rick Smith, from influential electronic band Underworld, to provide a pounding score. The results, as our very own Oli Lyttleton can attest, are a hallucinogenic, hypersexual blast from start to finish (he called it a “head-spinning, psychologically rich take on the crime flick”). It’s a thriller that slips in between past and present, between memory and fantasy, giving psychedelic flourishes to what could have been an otherwise one-dimensional piece. It’s also surprisingly emotionally resonant, commenting on how we construct the memory of relationships versus what they actually were in real life. If you liked this year’s psychosexual thriller “Side Effects,” it’s kind of like that but cranked up to 11 and with every colored strobe light in the zip code blinking at once.
Release Date: April 5th (limited); expanding in the weeks to come.
Synopsis: Okay…this is a little tougher to describe than most… A young woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) is mysteriously drugged one night and robbed. Much later, Kris meets Jeff (writer/director/cinematographer/composer Shane Carruth), who has gone through a similar ordeal, and the two try to puzzle out what has happened to them and how their experiences fit in with a much larger picture.
What You Need to Know: “Upstream Color” makes the return, after nearly a decade, of Carruth, whose last film, the twisty, micro-budgeted time-travel saga “Primer” was a surprise smash at Sundance in 2004. The new film is just as hard to puzzle out but has an emotional component that “Primer” sorely lacked, and it’s clear that Carruth has grown as a filmmaker in the years since his debut. (He spent much of that time working on an ambitious feature called “A Topiary,” only to give up after funding repeatedly fell through.) The film justifiably dazzled our very own Rodrigo Perez, who saw it at Sundance, saying that it could be read as “an exhaled, ephemeral dream where time, space and madness intermingle.” And certainly a movie as (to use Rod’s phrase) “beguilingly enigmatic” as this will produce a multitude of reactions. We know people who loved it, others who hated it, and others still who are still trying to put things together enough to solidify an opinion (as our headline noted: “Results May Vary”). But that’s part of the movie’s fun. Seek out a theater that is playing “Upstream Color,” make dinner reservations for afterwards, watch it, and then discuss it all night long like a pot-fueled dorm room philosophical debate. It’s that kind of experience. And it’s very good to have Mr. Carruth back. Hopefully the next one won’t take a decade.
Release date: April 5th (out on DVD and Blu-ray May 7th)
Synopsis: Simon (Brady Corbet from “Melancholia“) is newly graduated and freshly dumped, and travels to Paris to “find himself” like so many young Americans attempt while abroad. Instead, he loses his money, falls in love with a prostitute, and starts to lose his mind, until his homicidal tendencies begin to creep to the forefront.
What You Need to Know: The latest film from the promisingly unflinching Antonio Campos (who last directed minor indie sensation “Afterschool“), those looking for a straight-up genre piece will likely be disappointed. Instead, “Simon Killer” is one of those unsettling slow-burn descents into madness, albeit one with a really cool soundtrack (included: tracks from LCD Soundsystem, Spectral Display, and a bouncy Japanese girl group cover of Miike Snow‘s “Animal”). Corbet is hypnotic – you literally cannot look away, no matter how hard you try. Bringing a strange relatability to the character — we’ve all been hung up on that one relationship to the point that we can’t shut up about it — it’s an intriguing piece of work. Our own William Goss, who saw the film at last year’s Sundance Film Festival called it a “noir-tinged, noose-tightening ordeal” and acknowledged Campos’ distinct talent. Not for the faint of heart.
Release date: April 5th
“To the Wonder“
Synopsis: Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) fall in love and he suggests that she return to his small southern hometown. Their relationship falls apart and he reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), a former schoolmate. Javier Bardem plays the town’s priest, Father Quintana, who advises the married couple while dealing with his own spiritual crises.
What You Need To Know: Although accompanied by surprisingly little fanfare, this is actually the new film by enigmatic director Terrence Malick, whose last film, “The Tree of Life,” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and picked up a whole host of Oscar nominations. Comparatively tiny, “To the Wonder” is being released by indie distributor Magnolia (it’ll be available on VOD the same day), despite being just as puzzling and beautiful. Our own Oli Lyttleton, who saw the film at the Venice Film Festival, rightly diagnosed “To the Wonder” as a “close cousin” to ‘Tree of Life’ without all the cosmic mumbo jumbo, noting that this new film is “much less of a stream of consciousness: the director might wander off the narrative backbone of the relationship between Neil and Marina a little, but never strays too far away, and the film feels less self-consciously poetic and meandering.” I tend to agree, and think that it’s a much deeper, more rewarding experience than ‘Tree of Life.’ It’s still pretty weird (Affleck maybe has five lines total and his relationship with Bardem, described in early materials as a childhood friendship, remains impenetrably hazy). But for those willing to take the journey, “To the Wonder” will be a rewarding experience. It’s a beautiful, raw, and incredibly personal film (Malick went through similar relationships). Oh, and agreeably dinosaur-free.
Release date: April 12th in theaters and VOD
Synopsis: The true-life story of baseball player Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), who became the first African-American player to break the baseball color line. Harrison Ford plays Brooklyn Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey.
What You Need To Know: Even if you don’t give two flips about baseball (and, honestly, most of us could care less), “42” looks like the kind of handsomely produced, finely crafted period piece/biopic that tugs on your heartstrings and makes you all gooey-eyed and inspirational. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who wrote “L.A. Confidential” and “Green Zone” (amongst others) and directed the perpetually underrated “A Knight’s Tale.” Early word on the movie has been strong and the trailers have been pretty nakedly uplifting (and not in a bad way, either). Somewhat surprisingly, the movie is a co-production between Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros., a partnership that usually produces things like Christopher Nolan‘s Batman movies and this summer’s giant monsters-versus-giant robots epic “Pacific Rim.” We’re personally excited to see how Boseman handles one of the most iconic roles in the history of sports, and are looking forward to another “grizzled old man” Harrison Ford performance before he slips back into the “Star Wars” universe for god knows how long.
Release date: April 12th
“Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay“
Synopsis: A biographical look at actor/modern magician Ricky Jay, as told through interviews with his friends, contemporaries and coworkers.
What You Need To Know: Chances are, you know who Ricky Jay is even if you’re not entirely sure that you do – he’s appeared in movies directed by Rian Johnson, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Mamet (who is interviewed extensively in this documentary) and was a mainstay of variety shows during the format’s ’70s heyday. But, just as Ricky Jay’s demonstrations are an encyclopedic call back to the magicians of yesteryear, so too does this documentary focus on the influences that older magicians have had on him as a performer. And, as we noted in our New York Film Festival review of the movie, the whole thing works as a kind of sleight of hand – Jay is fiercely protective of his own biography, but by allowing the documentarians (and by extension the audience) see the magicians and performers that shaped him, he’s letting us in on much more than he cares to believe. Occasionally the documentary is too dry for its own good, but Jay is a fascinating character to build a documentary around, even if it is made up of illusions.
Release Date: April 12th
“Lords of Salem“
Synopsis: A modern day Salem DJ (and recovering drug addict) named Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) senses that she might be overtaken by a coven of old timey witches. As reality starts to bend, her coworkers and friends wonder if it’s actually a supernatural presence that’s clouding her mind or the substances that she used to shoot into her veins.
What You Need To Know: A collaborative effort between writer/director Rob Zombie, whose credits include “The Devil’s Rejects” and the unfairly marginalized “Halloween” remakes, and producer Jason Blum (the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, this summer’s “The Purge“), this was a chance for Zombie to make a movie totally autonomous from studio interference or producers’ notes. The budget was so low that he could do whatever he wanted to, and he did. The result is a wholly new look and feel for Zombie, whose previous movies have relied on a level of frantic chaos that borders on hysteria. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s sort of unstoppable (like when Heidi imagines her crummy apartment complex opening up into a grand opera theater). When our very own Simon Abrams reviewed the film out of the Toronto International Film Festival this past fall, he stated that it is Zombie’s best, explaining that it’s “as compelling as it is because it’s driven by a creeping, albeit perhaps over-determined, sense of atmospheric dread.” Sadly, Zombie’s actors (including his put-upon wife) sometimes aren’t up to the challenges of the script, and the story’s free-associative dreaminess sometimes gets the better of it. But it’s great to see Zombie growing as an artist and a filmmaker, and we cannot wait to see what he does next. For fans of adventures genre material, it’s “Lords of Salem,” not “Evil Dead,” that is April’s true gift.
Release Date: April 19th
Synopsis: Tom Cruise basically plays a human version of WALL-E, a low level repairman on an abandoned, post-apocalyptic earth. His world becomes significantly more mysterious when he meets a group of survivors, led by Morgan Freeman, who show him that all is not what it seems.
What You Need To Know: Originally set up at Disney, who bailed after the material came back too dark and they were worried about the film’s financial prospects given the somewhat underwhelming box office Jospeh Kosinski‘s first film for the studio, “TRON: Legacy,” generated, “Oblivion” finally found its home at Universal, and a great big movie star became interested. Based on a comic book Kosinski co-authored, plot specifics are being kept tightly under wraps, although we do know that Olga Kurylenko, Melissa Leo, Andrea Riseborough, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau co-star, and that the trailers make the movie look really, really cool, with a boldly stylized design aesthetic (white technology and uniforms clash brilliantly with the sooty grey world) and some intriguing-seeming creatures (complete with glowy red eyes). But behind the scenes of “Oblivion” the fire power is just as impressive – both William Monahan and Michael Arndt worked on the screenplay, and French electronic artist M83 aka Anthony Gonzales composed the score (along with Joseph Trapanese, who did similar duties on Daft Punk‘s “TRON: Legacy” score). As far as big-budget extravaganzas, “Oblivion” could compete with the big boys of summer for oversized thrills.
Release date: April 19th
“Pain and Gain“
Synopsis: Based on a series of Miami News Times articles by Pete Collins that detailed the brutal kidnapping, extortion, and murder of several people by a group of Florida bodybuilders, played in the film by Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie.
What You Need To Know: A passion project of director Michael Bay‘s for quite some time (the original articles were published in 1999), “Pain and Gain” will mark a return to Bay’s “low budget” ($25 million), R-rated roots after years spent turning beloved toy line Transformers into a series of phenomenally popular summer spectacles. (After “Pain and Gain” he’ll go right back into “Transformers 4,” this time with Wahlberg along for the ride.) Even people who generally hate everything Bay does can admit that “Pain and Gain” looks like a perverse joyride. In a weird way it could make a great companion film to similarly outrageous, Florida-set “Spring Breakers.” Bay has assembled an impressive cast of character actors, including Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub, Ken Jeong, Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson and (of course) supermodel Bar Paly, and early word has been strong. Bay is an admitted Coen Brothers fanatic (go through his filmography and see how many Coen regulars he’s cast in his movies), and from the early trailers you can see that the influence is pretty strong here. Bay’s visual pyrotechnics mixed with the Coens’ more subtle humor could be an awkward fit at best, but here’s hoping “Pain and Gain” pumps up the April movie slate.
Release date: April 26th
Synopsis: A touching coming-of-age tale set in the deep south, it follows two young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) as they form a unique friendship with an escaped prisoner named Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who claims he is just desperate to get back to his lovely lady Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). This being a Southern Gothic yarn, there are Dixie mafia gangsters (led by Joe Don Baker), quiet old men with mysterious pasts (Sam Shepard) and an amateur clam fisherman (Michael Shannon).
Why You Should Care: “Mud,” which screened at Cannes last year and again a couple of months ago at both Sundance and South by Southwest, is writer/director Jeff Nichols‘ follow-up to his critically adored “Shotgun Stories” and “Take Shelter,” a kind of meandering epic that is totally charming and fantastic. McConaughey continues his streak of great performances, the kids are great, and the whole thing just drips with that kind of Southern Gothic atmosphere, all whooshing rivers and hanging Spanish moss and accents as thick as molasses on a hot summer day. Nichols is one of those directors, like his contemporaries David Gordon Green and Craig Brewer, who loves telling stories set in the south because he just likes the way the stories hang. Simon Abrams, reviewing out of Cannes, wasn’t nearly as impressed as we were, saying that it is a disappointing follow-up to “Take Shelter” and that the movie is nothing more than “a competent anti-fairy tale in which the paint-by-number morals are enforced by equally obvious main protagonists.” I found it totally transfixing and hypnotic, like watching a lazy river go by.
Release date: April 26th
And More Arriving In April
Also out this month and probably worth a look-see: Ken Loach‘s latest comedic drama “The Angels’ Share,” squishy horror thing “Antiviral” from Brandon Cronenberg (David’s son), apocalyptic comedy/review headline-generator “It’s A Disaster,” last year’s Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar-nominee “Kon-Tiki,” modest Dennis Quaid/Zac Efron agricultural drama “At Any Price,” Salman Rushdie adaptation “Midnight’s Children,” long-shelved John Cusack thriller “The Numbers Station” (if it’s half as good as “The Raven“… it’ll be fucking terrible), and Mira Nair‘s controversial drama “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.”