It’s only April, but summer already started at the multiplex – thanks to last week’s Batman v Superman and such multiplex-friendly nonsense as Hardcore Henry, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Mother’s Day. BUT YOUR MOVIE-GOING EXPERIENCE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. Here are a few of the (many) other options more deserving of your dollar.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Release Date: April 1 Director: Richard Linklater Cast: Zoey Deutch, Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin
Richard Linklater’s throwback chronicle of a freshman baseball player’s first weekend at college is a loose, freewheeling treat, with enough shaggy conversation and pot philosophizing to, yes, recall Dazed and Confused. But he’s mining new territory here as well, exploring the swagger of these men (“Everything around here’s a competition”) and the vulnerability it masks, which surfaces in our leading character’s sweet romance with a girl from a very different world. In other words, it’s a rare movie that delivers what it promises, and a little more besides.
Release Date: April 1 Director: Don Cheadle Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg
Cheadle’s biographical portrait doesn’t just take Miles Davis’s life as its subject — it takes his try-anything spirit as its guiding force, resulting in a picture that’s wild, erratic, bizarre, funny, and occasionally inexplicable. Huge chunks of it don’t work it all (around the time of its car chase, I started wondering what the hell movie I was even watching anymore), and the domestic drama at its center is, to put it mildly, well worn. But there’s lots of good stuff here, and even its detours and odd stylistic touches play less like fumbles than musical improvisations, where some land and some miss, but they all keep moving the number forward.
Release Date: April 8 Director: Karyn Kusama Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, Tammy Blanchard, John Carroll Lynch, Lindsay Burdge
A group of old friends meet up for a slightly tense reunion/ dinner party, where the expected social awkwardness gives way to a worrisome certainty that their hosts have gone a little batty over the passing years – particularly when it comes to the self-helpy pseudo-religious organization that they can’t stop talking about. Scenes are masterfully written and played two ways, with either sinister intentions or merely poor communication, so that every conversation is loaded and the fine line between concern and paranoia looks awfully blurry (until it may be too late). Director Kusama (Girlfight) is a masterful practitioner of the fine art of withholding information; she keeps the tension simmering right up to the gut-punch conclusion.
Louder Than Bombs
Release Date: April 8 Director: Joachim Trier Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Ryan, Devin Druid
If you’re in need of a palate cleanser after the monumental awfulness of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance in Batman v Superman – and, really, who could blame you – here’s some good news: he’s in the new film from the director of Oslo, August 31st, and he’s terrific in it. So is the rest of Trier’s ace cast, and they’re navigating tricky material here; in telling the story of the maybe-suicide of a war photographer (Huppert) and the shockwaves her death leaves on her husband (Byrne) and children (Eisenberg and Druid), Trier’s nimble film has a fluidity of time and focus, creating a mosaic of emotions, memories, and aftershocks. Layered, complex, and brutally intelligent – and there’s a shot of Huppert, late in the film, that simply holds on her remarkable face, as she conveys her frazzled emotional state in a moment that feels less like acting than telepathy.
One More Time
Release Date: April 8 Director: Robert Edwards Cast: Christopher Walken, Amber Heard, Kelli Garner, Hamish Linklater, Oliver Platt
I’d love this film’s distributor to sit me down and explain why they changed its title from the perfectly acceptable When I Live My Life Over Again to the most generic moniker of all time, but no matter; the film itself is a slight but enjoyable familial comedy/drama, with Walken marvelous as an aging Sinatra-style crooner and Heard holding her own as his proto-punk daughter. They’re an unexpectedly effective combination, as actors and singers, and both elements inform the storytelling – in one scene, they sing a lovely duet that he gradually takes over, and it sort of tells us everything about both of them. The exasperation and rawness of their interactions are grounded and believable, and if the script never quite gets to a noteworthy destination, at least writer/director Edwards avoids the “triumphant collaboration” happy ending the story seems destined for. In the meantime, it’s full of wonderful supporting turns and keenly observed scenes (like a family dinner that’s a cacophony of simultaneous arguments and pronouncements) — modest, but alive.
Release Date: April 8 Director: Jean-Marc Vallée Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper
Let’s get this out of the way up front: the third act of Vallée’s Palahniuk-esque character study is so trite, such a maddeningly conventional stew of crises and tragedies and panics and breakthroughs, that they should’ve taken a sledgehammer to it and rebuilt from the first hour up. But there’s enough worthwhile material in that hour to recommend the film with reservations. First, there’s Jake Gyllenhaal, somehow finding yet another variation on the dead-eyed protagonists that have become his specialty; there’s again something exhilarating about his acting, about his refusal to be not just likable but knowable, which draws the viewer in closer. And Vallée continues to explore fascinatingly jagged editing patterns to convey memory and displacement (as he did so well in Wild); even if you know where he’s going, he’s at least taking a strange, out-of-the-way route to get there.
Release Date: April 15 Director: John Carney Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton
There are few things you can put in a movie that are quite as thrilling to this music fan as scenes of songwriting and song-building; the sense of creativity and collaboration is enthralling, but more than that, for those of us who love music and have no idea how to make it, it’s like unlocking a secret. This ’80s-era Dublin-set musical comedy/drama from Carney (Once, Begin Again) is full of scenes like that, played both as launching points and destinations. What Carney really nails here is how everything in his protagonist’s life — the alienation he feels at his new school, the longing he can barely contain for the mystery girl on the corner, and most of all, the great records his wise older brother plays for him — synthesizes not just his music but his person. Music makes you feel that way sometimes, gives you that lift, opens up all the possibilities. And sometimes, when they’re as good as Sing Street, movies can do that too.
Release Date: April 15 Director: Jeremy Saulnier Cast: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Mark Webber
Writer/director Saulnier’s latest is true to the spirit of his riveting 2013 feature Blue Ruin: lean, mean, and tense as hell. The members of a struggling punk band find themselves playing a lucrative but uneasy gig at a white supremacist compound; when one of them sees something they shouldn’t, the general sense of menace turns into real danger and fear. Patrick Stewart is electrifying as the clipped, businesslike ringleader (“Now we’re all in the stew,” he snaps), and the chillingly abrupt shorthand and jargon between him and his lieutenants is as troubling as any of the (copious) blood and gore. But it’s not just a gross-out; Saulnier keeps blindsiding you with his unexpected turns, and lack of preciousness towards his protagonists. I watched most of it with my heart in my throat, and I imagine you’ll do the same.
Release Date: April 22 Director: Lorene Scafaria Cast: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Cecily Strong, Jerrod Carmichael
Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) writes and directs what feels like the autobiographical story of a writer/director (Byrne) whose life is all but taken over by her recently widowed, recently relocated mother (Sarandon). Surprisingly, though, it’s not the daughter’s story, but the mother’s; Sarandon is in every scene, and she’s magnificent. Scafaria comes in just as they’re hitting the breaking point, and sticks with the older character, seeking to understand how she ends up seeking out from others the affection and appreciation she doesn’t get from her daughter, and how much of what she does is avoidance of her own grief. It’s a complicated take on what could’ve been a stereotypical character (down to her Jersey accent), and by the end of the picture, you may feel as the daughter does: this woman is wonderful, and she’s maddening, in equal measure and all at once.
Release Date: April 29 Director: Paddy Breathnach Cast: Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto Garcia
Jesus (Medina) works as a hair (and wig) dresser in a Havana drag club but dreams of performing, and Breathnach’s seriocomic drama begins as a character study of his coming out/coming into self, taking the advice of the club’s “Mama” (Garcia) to “show us something real” – to discover the emotion that transcends the artifice. Yet just as he begins finding his chops as a performer, his estranged father reappears, expressing a desire to “toughen you up”; he soon finds himself caught (literally, in one of the movie’s best scenes) between the competing paternal figures of father and “mama.” Mark O’Halloran’s script is a bit rote (up to and including its big third-act turn), but there’s real heart and blood in this thing, particularly in its portrayal of how Jesus, who’s always “been made to feel sorry for who I am,” treats performing as pushback, therapy, and ultimately, celebration.