With 2016 already posting some big hits with “Deadpool,” “Zootopia” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” April looks to deliver more on the blockbuster front, while indie and arthouse fare also get into the mix. It’ll be a feeding frenzy for cool films, with challenging new pictures opening, and fare like Jeff Nichols‘ “Midnight Special,” by far the director’s biggest movie to date, expanding to even more theaters in the next few weeks.
The slower rollout is a smart move for small-scale, ambitious movies, and this month has plenty. My film of the month pick, “Green Room,” is just that kind of flick. Director Jeremy Saulnier‘s (“Blue Ruin“) tightly coiled, intense punks-vs.-skinheads siege movie is a must-see thriller that’s a total blast to watch in a theater with a big crowd. But much the same can be said for a lot of the choices coming in April, so let’s dive in. Here are 15 films to check out this month.
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
Synopsis: In 1980 Texas, a group of friends navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.
What You Need To Know: Richard Linklater delivers his long-talked-about (but not really related) “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed And Confused,” one of my favorite films of all time. “Everybody Wants Some!!” follows a gang of baseball players during the first week of college, and hopefully, this well-reviewed new film can reach a stronger audience than ‘Dazed’ did when it was released in 1993. Paramount seems confident, though, choosing to open it wide later this month after an initial limited bow. After a successful premiere at SXSW, where our own Charlie Schmidlin gave it a B+ in his review out of the fest, it’s understandable. “The strength of Linklater’s films has always been their ability to capture the textures of lived experience, and ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ is no different in that regard: it is a confident, hugely enjoyable return to a universe that treats the connection to ‘Dazed and Confused’ not as an obligation or cash grab, but as inspiration to match that film’s level of energy and chemistry,” Schmidlin wrote.
Release Date: April 1st (Limited)
Synopsis: Miles Davis and a reporter for Rolling Stone hit the road to track down a stolen tape of the jazz legend’s latest recording.
What You Need To Know: Don Cheadle attempts to do something different with this take on the life of Miles Davis. However, “Miles Ahead” is not a bold explosion of originality, as Rodrigo Perez pointed out in his review out of last year’s New York Film Festival: “Attempting to eschew customary cradle-to-grave biopic narrative, Cheadle’s drama, which he co-wrote with Steven Baigelman, takes a collage-y approach to linear form, mixing and matching music from disparate, chronologically anachronistic periods, and hopscotches around in time mercurially. It’s a film that almost dares you to describe it as a straight-up biopic. But for all its confidence in this method, plus surface and stylistic attempts to create a story that feels like it’s filtered through a fractured glass of memory, ‘Miles Ahead’ is actually akin to a traditional jazz played, or disguised even, in a would-be wilder key.” It’s Cheadle’s clear passion for the artist and this material that makes it watchable, though, and overcomes the not-so-successful attempt at a form-shifting experimental film.
Release Date: April 1st (Limited)
Synopsis: A first-person action film from the eyes of Henry, who’s resurrected from death with no memory. He must discover his identity and save his wife from a warlord who has a plan to bio-engineer soldiers.
What You Need To Know: A lot of ink/pixels has been spilt of late by critics examining video games’ influence on cinema. While no doubt the two mediums have been inspiring each other for decades, especially in the modern blockbuster (sometimes literally in direct adaptations), nothing seems so directly a merging between them than “Hardcore Henry,” a first-person action movie made that used GoPro cameras to achieve that oh-so-familiar look from “Doom” to “Halo” and everything in between. When it premiered at TIFF‘s Midnight Madness last year, the buzz was quite deafening from certain genre circles. A bidding war ensued between Lionsgate, Universal and STX Entertainment, with the latter going on to purchase the movie for a hefty $10 million price tag and the promise of a wide release. Most reports are that it’s a crazy good time with pretty much nonstop insane levels of action.
Release Date: April 8th
Synopsis: A titan of industry is sent to prison after she’s caught for insider trading. When she emerges ready to rebrand herself as America’s latest sweetheart, not everyone she screwed over is so quick to forgive and forget.
What You Need To Know: Another year, another Melissa McCarthy comedy. Some are better than others, but the audience has, for the most part, been responsive to her particular brand of hijinks. The last time she and husband/director Ben Falcone teamed up, the result was “Tammy,” which only wound up doing $100 million worldwide, which is the low bar for the actress these days. But she’s riding into “The Boss” high off the success of last year’s “Spy,” audiences have a lot of goodwill, and it’s likely they’ll turn out to see what wacky adventure she’s on next.
Release Date: April 8th
Synopsis: While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
What You Need To Know: Perhaps too many indie films these days could be described as “dinner party” movies, keeping the budget low but still finding bigger production value in nice houses and then setting all the action in this one location. However, Karyn Kusama and her cast and crew make good use of the simple setting for this wickedly engaging thriller. Kevin Jagernauth’s positive review from last year’s Fantasia Film Festival doesn’t spoil the surprises in the picture, stressing that if he said anything more it would “ruin the fun of ‘The Invitation’, with the movie precisely tuned to develop as a slow burn story, before building to a highly satisfying, explosive payoff… Single setting films often feel like they’re straining to continually meet the concept, or don’t have enough substance to sustain the location, but with a wide ensemble of players, very careful and considered attention to character and motivation, [the movie] has an usual amount of depth for this kind of genre film.”
Release Date: April 8th (Limited)
“Louder Than Bombs”
Synopsis: A father and his two sons confront their different feelings and memories of their deceased wife and mother, a famed war photographer.
What You Need To Know: Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier has been a Playlist favorite ever since his feature debut “Reprise” in 2006. He followed up that tragic story about two young friendly rival writers with an even more tragic but no less profoundly moving film in 2011’s “Oslo, August 31st.” Now with ‘Bombs’ serving as his English-language debut, perhaps more moviegoers will be able to discover this very strong filmmaker. When we saw this latest at Cannes, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Isabelle Huppert, reviewer Oli Lyttelton stated that he found it to be “another beguiling and fascinating picture” from the director. “Trier’s sensibility for the dynamics of family, for the depiction of nebulous memory, and for the detail of life (the film’s full of beautiful, complex scenes), means that I’m already eager to take a second look and see what else there is to unpack.”
Synopsis: A successful investment banker destroys his life after losing his wife in a tragic car crash.
What You Need To Know: Though we weren’t too kind to the latest from Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Wild“) when we saw it at TIFF last year, the film still may be of interest for several reasons. The biggest one would be star Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s become, over the last few years, a powerhouse leading man thanks to turns in pictures like “Prisoners,” “Nightcrawler” and “Enemy.” Kevin Jagernauth’s review gave the film a D grade, wondering why Vallée and Gyllenhaal got involved in this kind of material, but he does still note that Gyllenhaal “once again gives a committed turn. It may not be the best of his recent string of performances, but he finds the centered balance of pathos and humor the film needs, but that is otherwise lost in the overcooked melodrama.” There’s not much in the way of compliments to be found in that review — “it’s a frivolous lark, riddled with manufactured breakthroughs, that doesn’t demolish the tropes of the eccentric finding-yourself genre, but falls rather blandly right into them” — but those who’ve liked the director’s previous awards players may feel differently.
Synopsis: After witnessing a murder, a punk-rock band is forced into a vicious fight for survival against a group of maniacal skinheads.
What You Need To Know: The latest from “Blue Ruin” director Jeremy Saulnier is my film pick of the month. With “Green Room,” Saulnier proves he’s got the goods to become (if he isn’t already) one of the leading American voices in genre cinema. While much has been written and discussed about indie upstarts getting massive gigs after small successes, it’s refreshing to see this director commit to his unique vision, and knock another one out of the park. When Oli Lyttelton saw “Green Room” at Cannes last year, he stated: “Saulnier’s terrific script doesn’t rush the set up, taking its time to carefully lay out the pieces (for the most part), and the result is a far more satisfying thriller [than ‘Blue Ruin’]… He also knows to ramp up the tension, with some breathless sequences and a slowly-building atmosphere that explodes into some truly brutal violence (gore fans should be throughly satisfied, with two early acts that drew shocked gasps from the crowd)…The result is an exciting, splattery, funny genre movie that somehow never once feels disposable, and one that should prove a midnight movie delight for some time to come.”
Release Date: April 15th (Limited)
Synopsis: A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band and moving to London.
What You Need To Know: Director John Carney, and more accurately, singers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, had the kind of meteoric rise to fame from the breakout success of their 2007 film “Once” that happens once in a generation, winning Oscars in the process. The low-budget Irish musical used an organic method for its song sequences, and Carney did the same with his follow-up “Begin Again.” His latest, “Sing Street,” is a little different, according to our review from Sundance (where the film had a strong premiere), “in that both the songs and the movie are more polished. The premise fictionalizes some of Carney’s own experiences as a teenager in Dublin, where he makes great use of real locations, showing these boys singing their songs in cramped rooms, school auditoriums, back alleys and by the sea. And those songs are pretty great… The mark of a top-shelf rock ’n’ roll movie is how well it can capture the element of wish fulfillment… What makes ‘Sing Street’ such a joyously entertaining film (besides the songs) is that it thinks the best of its characters, and it presents them the way they’d like to think of themselves. When a kid in Dublin in 1985 picked up a guitar, he wanted to be The Edge. Carney, god bless him, lets it be so.”
Release Date: April 15th (Limited)
“The Jungle Book”
Synopsis: An orphan boy is raised in the jungle with the help of a pack of wolves, a bear, and a black panther.
What You Need To Know: Yet another take on Rudyard Kipling‘s 1894 collection of stories, this time a live-action version by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man“) that makes for another resuscitated Disney property sure to make many millions of box-office dollars. An all-star cast including Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Neel Sethi and Christopher Walken lend their voices to the heavily CG production, and we hope that Favreau has found his blockbuster mojo again following the flop of “Cowboys & Aliens” in 2011.
Release Date: April 15th
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”
Synopsis: As two evil sisters prepare to conquer the land, two renegades — Eric the Huntsman, who previously aided Snow White in defeating Ravenna; and his forbidden lover Sara — set out to stop them.
What You Need To Know: Not that anyone was really asking for a sorta-prequel to “Snow White And The Huntsman,” but Universal has made one anyway with “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” And credit is due to the studio for landing Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt, both of whom could be doing far better things than joining the returning Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron in this picture. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, visual-effects supervisor on the first film, is directing this one, which tells the story of what happened before the Snow White legend and probably involves lots of fighting, jumping, and looking at mirrors.
Release Date: April 22nd
“Men & Chicken”
Synopsis: A black comedy about two outcast brothers who, by getting to know their unknown family, also discover a horrible truth about themselves and their relatives.
What You Need To Know: Starring Mads Mikkelsen (“Hannibal“), this Danish slapstick dark comedy is equal parts Three Stooges and “The Celebration.” There’s even room for a bizarre sci-fi reveal in the final third that explains a lot of the nagging questions that arise in its plot about the bastard sons from one crazy father meeting each other for the first time. Also of note: There’s a lot of head-crushing with heavy objects, and every character generally is met with a super-human level of pain. “Even while poking fun at his country’s cinematic traditions, from psychotherapy and government corruption to degenerate gene pools and disturbing psychosexual antics, [it] still finds room to entice us with moments of emotional brevity… Ultimately, though, it’s about escaping into a demented and crazed world without expecting intelligible answers to any questions you might have… It’s a comedic glob of a film oozing around a Danish petri dish, neither solid in structure nor even in flow, but when it’s having this much fun with itself, not playing along is practically impossible,” we noted in our review from TIFF.
Release Date: April 22nd (Limited)
Synopsis: Once upon a time, there were three neighboring kingdoms, each with a magnificent castle, from which ruled kings and queens, princes and princesses. One king was a fornicating libertine, another captivated by a strange animal, while one of the queens was obsessed by her wish for a child.
What You Need To Know: Italian director Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah,” “Reality“) directed this fantasy film, a loose interpretation of the celebrated tales of Giambattista Basile, that features sorcerers and fairies, fearsome monsters, ogres and old washerwomen, acrobats and courtesans as the protagonists. “A film made of embroidered damask, blood, and the kind of magic one must suppress the urge to spell with a ‘k’,” Jessica Kiang described it in her Cannes review, “Garrone’s ‘Tale of Tales’ marks an even greater sea change in approach than between his last two lauded, but wildly different titles… It’s easy to conceive the film as Garrone’s highwire act, and tempting to ascribe its unwieldiness to the director’s instinct that tipping way over to one side only to pull it back at the last second is part of the thrill of the show. But it’s telling that this summation also reduces this extravagant, rich, and often engrossing film to the status of a circus trick: entertaining in the moment, and the result of a great deal of training and talent, but saying very little and leaving little sustain. ‘Tale of Tales’ is magnificent, the way a performing bear can be magnificent.”
“A Hologram For The King”
Synopsis: A failed American businessman looks to recoup his losses by traveling to Saudi Arabia and selling his idea to a wealthy monarch.
What You Need To Know: We’ve only seen a trailer so far from this Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run,” “Cloud Atlas“)-directed, Tom Hanks-starring adaptation of the book by Dave Eggers, but we’ve been waiting a while and with some expectations, given the talent involved. We figured it would’ve surfaced at a festival earlier this year, but instead, it’ll be hitting the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs this month, before opening wide soon after. Co-starring Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ben Whishaw and Tom Skerritt, it’s a dramedy that we hope is better than that trailer makes it look. Fingers crossed it’s just bad marketing so far. We want to love this.
Synopsis: Friends hatch a plot to retrieve a stolen kitten by posing as drug dealers for a street gang.
What You Need To Know: Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele retired their fantastic Comedy Central sketch show last year and are leaping right into feature films. Unfortunately, “Keanu” isn’t quite a home run, with our SXSW review giving the effort a C grade. Still, there’s some strong praise for the duo’s infectious chemistry onscreen, even if the film’s “patchy mix between kidnapping crime comedy and glorified cat video” doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Release Date: April 29th
When I caught up with “Above and Below” at last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, I declared it “easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year so far, and one of the most cinematic.” It’s the rare documentary that demands to be seen on a big screen, with the sound turned up nice and loud. There are plenty of documentaries about people living on the fringes, but almost none of them sound this good (the sound design and soundtrack are top-notch) and are made in such a visceral, immersive way. Swiss director Nicolas Steiner, editor Kaya Inan, and DP Markus Nestroy, with more than five credited sound artists, have crafted a great film that further blurs the line between how fiction and documentary films are constructed and told.
Other movies coming to cinemas include horror film “Before I Wake,” Mike Flanagan‘s studio follow-up to “Oculus,” starring Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane, Annabeth Gish, Dash Mihok, and Jacob Tremblay (“Room“). The story follows a married couple who adopt an eight-year-old boy whose dreams and nightmares manifest in reality. Meanwhile, “Criminal,” starring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot, Alice Eve, and Ryan Reynolds, is another brain-/body-switching movie, that’s hopefully better than last year’s “Self/Less.”
When we saw “Sworn Virgin” at Berlin last year, we called it “uplifting in a tiny, understated and very authentic way, showing us gently how it’s possible to be living in exile in the world you know best, and how it’s possible to come home to a place you’ve never been before.” “The Meddler” is also one worth catching up with.