Spring is upon us, dear readers, so it’s your last chance to enjoy some light entertainment before the summer onslaught of giant explosions and endless sequels. (What’s that? G.I. Joe 2 came out last weekend? Let’s pretend like it didn’t happen.) As is our wont on the first of the month, we’ve rounded up April’s independent films of note: those we’ve seen and recommended, and those we can’t wait to get a look at. Join us after the jump for a sampling of this month’s art house goodies.
RELEASE: April 5 DIRECTOR: Antonio Campos CAST: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop
This drama from Afterschool director Campos, concerning a seedy American adrift in Paris, leaves moviegoers adrift for longer than most will tolerate, telling its story with a style and pace that could most kindly be called deliberate. But it’s got mood to burn, a fascinating visual strategy, and subtle performances (particularly by the two leads, who all but disappear into the scenery, so natural and unaffected is their work). Not for the impatient, but powerful and challenging all the same.
RELEASE: April 5 DIRECTOR: Shane Carruth CAST: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth
Shane Carruth’s puzzle movie is another litmus test for filmgoers; some are all-in on its wildly experimental approach, while others find it baffling and unapproachable. As a fan of his Primer, I wanted to love it, and while it’s admirably ambitious and never less than fascinating to look at, it’s the kind of film where the viewer must grapple with the urge to “figure it out” (and ultimately dismiss that inclination). All of this is a roundabout way of saying that it’s too abstract for this viewer, but I’m thankful Carruth made it and that I had the opportunity to see it. Those who like this kinda thing are really gonna like this one. You know who you are.
It’s a Disaster
RELEASE: April 12 DIRECTOR: Todd Berger CAST: David Cross, America Ferrera, Julia Stiles, Rachel Boston
Writer/director/actor Berger tells the comic tale of a “couples brunch” gone awry when a disaster cripples their city. The premise is promising, and we like this cast a lot; Cross is always worth watching (provided the word “chipmunks” isn’t in the title), and Stiles — who, confession, became a lifelong crush of this viewer after 10 Things I Hate About You — seems to be kicking off a really interesting second act.
To the Wonder
RELEASE: April 12 DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick CAST: Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko
Just a refresher: Terrence Malick went two decades between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, and then averaged a new film every six years. But his latest arrives less than two years after The Tree of Life, and he already reportedly has three more films in the can. We’re not sure what led to the sudden turnaround, productivity-wise, but we’re all for it.
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
RELEASE: April 17 DIRECTOR: Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein CAST: Documentary
Magician, actor, author, collector, historian, and raconteur Ricky Jay (familiar from his appearances in Magnolia, The Prestige, and several David Mamet films) is such a fine topic for a documentary that it’s a little surprising it took this long someone to make one. The focus, however, is not just the man himself, but his place in the history of his fascinations. His love and infinite knowledge of these worlds and lore gives the film a framework beyond mere biography; we’re immersed in a scene, a subculture, the gurus and the rivalries and the challenges. Plus, it’s a fine opportunity to enjoy not only his long-haired ‘70s television appearances, but clips from his wonderful specials, which should be easier to see than they are.
In the House
RELEASE: April 19 DIRECTOR: François Ozon CAST: Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet
Sorry, LL Cool J fans — this is not the long-awaited film adaptation of Cool James’s 1995-1999 NBC sitcom. Instead, it’s the latest from French director François Ozon, the restrained yet slightly decadent director of Swimming Pool and 8 Women. This time, he’s telling the story of a 16-year-old essayist whose stories of a friend’s family start to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Kristin Scott-Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner are along for the ride, and we’ll pretty much see anything either of them is in, so there you go.
RELEASE: April 26 DIRECTOR: Ron Morales CAST: Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Dido De La Paz, Leon Miguel
Ron Morales’s kidnapping thriller is centered on an idea so astonishingly clever, it almost presents a challenge; he risks not living up to the ingenious set-up. But he does — this is gripping, taut filmmaking, where the events unfold with cold logic and punchy precision. And Morales is good with his actors — particularly Reyes, who is admirably adept and open in the kind of desperate man/desperate situation role that Stewart or Grant would do for Hitchcock. Yes, the movie earns that comparison. Blunt, brusque, and unpredictable.
RELEASE: April 26 DIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard
Director Nichols’s previous effort, the overwhelming Take Shelter, was one of the most intense moviegoing experiences in recent memory. His latest, a freewheeling coming-of-age story with a dash of Southern Gothic, is much looser and (at first glance) laid back, in what seems a deliberate attempt to avoid repetition. He assembles the story subtly, gingerly, and leisurely, soaking in the small-town details, and enjoying yet another masterful Matthew McConaughey performance (here engaged as a cagey character and fascinating enigma). But it’s all tremendously absorbing in its own particular way, and in Mud’s remarkable third act, the seemingly disparate secondary elements fold in, tightly, and become the primary focus. Everything adds up, which is perhaps the nicest surprise about this very fine film.