Well, a lot has happened since our last monthly preview. The complete shutdown of film exhibition as we know it due to curb the spread of coronavirus resulted in the delay of numerous films and many others to move up their digital release. So, while we’re not getting Martin Eden, Saint Maud, Promising Young Woman, and No Time to Die, among others, there are still a handful of recommended new releases that will be arriving digitally this month.
11. Slay the Dragon (Christopher Durrance, Barak Goodman; April 3)
A new documentary arriving this week explores the fight to make sure democracy doesn’t die. Jared Mobarak said in his review that Slay the Dragon explores those “guilty of gerrymandering (redrawing district lines to benefit the incumbent party) many times in the past themselves, but never had either side been so desperate as the GOP was in 2010. They flipped specific state legislatures through targeted attacks before secretively redrawing district maps and subsequently earning a two-to-one majority of seats despite losing their races by millions statewide.”
10. Sea Fever (Neasa Hardiman; April 10)
World premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, Irish director Neasa Hardiman’s creature feature Sea Fever is an intriguing tale of mayhem in the ocean. Following a marine biology student who is aboard a fishing ship when a mysterious parasite makes its way into the cabin, Jared Mobarak said in his TIFF review, “The way the suspense unfolds reminded me of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine—subtler and without the high octane finale. A problem arises and everyone takes it lightly (save one) even after irrefutable evidence says they shouldn’t.”
9. Ghost Town Anthology (Denis Côté; April 21)
While the films of Canadian director Denis Côté often eventually make their way over the U.S. it’s been a bit of wait for Ghost Town Anthology, one of two films he made last year. Following its Berlinale 2019 premiere, it’ll now arrive this month on MUBI. Leonardo Goi said in his review, “It is a haunting portrait of a tightly-knit village resisting the fate the title alludes to–a self-sufficient microcosm that’s been fighting the allure of the big city life and now watches as a new intramural tragedy threatens to break the order of things, once and for all. At its most compassionate, it exudes the sort of nostalgia of a farewell letter to an untimely place and its unhinged eccentrics, penned with an endearing eye for all their faults and idiosyncrasies. At its most perturbing, it stirs up a mysteriousness à la Twin Peaks–the uneasiness that billows when the boundary between the real and the supernatural becomes uncomfortably blurred.”
8. Tigertail (Alan Yang; April 10)
While the distribution strategies for the majority of film companies were uprooted when it comes to their work in the wake of the coronavirus, one distributor that moved ahead as scheduled was, of course, Netflix. Their next high-profile release is Tigertail, the directorial debut of Alan Yang, who is known for his work on Parks and Recreation and Master of None. The film tells a multi-generational story of a Taiwanese factory worker who embarks on a new life in America. The first trailer previews an emotionally poignant work that may make a good double feature with another drama about cultural identity and assimilation, this year’s Sundance winner Minari.
7. Selah and the Spades (Tayarisha Poe; April 17)
Premiering last year at the Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT section, Tayarisha Poe’s feature debut explores a group (aka the Spades) in a Pennsylvania boarding school. Picked up by Amazon Studios, it’ll now arrive on their Prime service this month. Our friend Nick Allen said at RogerEbert.com, “Selah and the Spades shows a great deal of promise for writer/director Tayarisha Poe, who demands your attention with style and story in her directorial debut. Some sequences can really pop, as with a center-framed monologue in which Selah talks about her agency as a cheerleader.”
6. To the Stars (Martha Stephens; April 24)
In these strange times, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at anything. However, I was caught off guard upon seeing the first trailer for one of my favorite films at Sundance Film Festival last year: Martha Stephens’ sensitive, 1950s-set drama To the Stars. I had remarked how the beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Andrew Reed gives a timeless feel to the proceedings akin to The Last Picture Show. Well, it’s now been colorized for its release this month, but here’s hoping this change doesn’t dilute the viewing experience a great deal for what is a tender story of repression, led by Moonrise Kingdom‘s Kara Hayward.
5. True History of the Kelly Gang (Justin Kurzel; April 24)
After a foray into the world of Hollywood blockbusters with Assassin’s Creed, Justin Kurzel returned to Australia to tell another story of true crime, following his harrowing debut feature Snowtown. True History of the Kelly Gang tells the 19th-century tale of notorious outlaw, bushranger and folk hero Ned Kelly. Starring George MacKay, Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult, Essie Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, and Charlie Hunnam, C.J. Prince said in his review, “The film is an adaptation from Peter Carey’s novel of the same name, and the title is meant to be a little ironic. Carey wrote his novel from the perspective of Australian folk hero Ned Kelly writing his autobiography, but the story was full of embellishments and untruths. Kurzel and writer Shaun Grant stick to this idea, throwing in anachronistic choices throughout the late-1800s setting to evoke a punk rock mood, which aligns nicely with Kelly’s own rebellious nature.”
4. Bad Education (Cory Finley; April 25)
Soon after its TIFF premiere, following rave reviews, Bad Education was picked up by HBO, resulting in it skipping a theatrical release and arriving straight to their channel and streaming platforms. While many were sad that this news meant the film’s profile may have been lessened, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it’s now become one of the most high-profile releases of a spare month. Set in the early 2000s, it follows an $11 million-dollar embezzlement high school scandal that rocked the Long Island community of Roslyn. Written by Mike Makowsky, who attended the school there when it happened, the film stars Hugh Jackman as superintendent Frank Tassone, and direction comes from Cory Finley in his follow-up to Thoroughbreds. Read Jared Mobarak’s TIFF review.
3. Beastie Boys Story (Spike Jonze; April 24)
It’s been seven years since the last narrative feature from Spike Jonze and while there’s been no indication we’ll be getting another anytime soon, the filmmaker is returning this month with a new documentary. Beastie Boys Story features the 40-year story of the band as told by Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz, mixing a live conversation and a wealth of archival footage. Once set for a world premiere at SXSW followed by an IMAX released, it’ll now land on Apple TV+ in a few weeks.
2. The Other Lamb (Małgorzata Szumowska; April 3)
If one is looking for some more female-led cult horror after last year’s Midsommar, Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska has made her English-language debut with The Other Lamb. Led by Raffey Cassidy (who also endured endless amounts of trauma in Vox Lux and The Killing of a Sacred Deer), our own Christopher Schobert gave it a rave review, saying, “Lamb calls to mind other films–Picnic at Hanging Rock, Midsommar, Cracks, The Invitation, even the tone of the Cassidy-starring Sacred Deer–but has a hypnotic pull all its own. The drama establishes director Małgorzata Szumowska and its lead actors Cassidy and Huisman as powerhouse talents, and it belongs on the ever-growing list of memorable films about cult life that make a deep psychological mark.”
1. The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack; April 9)
One of the best films I saw on the fall festival circuit back in 2018 is finally coming to the U.S. this month, courtesy of MUBI. A perfect balm for this dark time, Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bizarre is an endlessly playful, experimental feature bursting with vibrant color and what was clearly an insane amount of work behind the scenes. In a glowing review, Jason Ooi said in his NYFF review, “With an hour run-time that abstractly chronicles the travels of a group of vibrantly colored, escaped textiles and fabrics, Mack escalates breathtaking aesthetic revery into a stimulating discourse on the global economy.”