Aside from the guaranteed global behemoth F8 of the Furious, a.k.a. Furious 8, a.k.a. All in the Fambly, this April is conspicuously blockbuster-lite. (Unless you count Smurfs: The Lost Village, and we do not.) No better time, then, to do a bit of exploring around the indie fringes. Offbeat genre pictures are abound this month, from a sleazy revenge picture to a slippery character study/kaiju movie combo to a virtuosic opera of gunfire. Elsewhere, Tom Hanks tackles a technothriller, Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson venture into the jungle and a rock and roll fixture gets his bio-doc due. Here are the 10 movies you need to see this April. (Note: Only one of them has a chase scene involving a nuclear submarine. Feel free to guess which one.)
The Assignment (Apr. 7th)
Cult film director Walter Hill (The Warriors) has long since passed the point of giving a damn what people think, and the premise of his latest scuzzy genre flick has already raised plenty of eyebrows. Michelle Rodriguez plays a hitman-turned-hitwoman on a revenge rampage in search of – wait for it – the surgeon who tampered with her genitals. If you need some sick pulp kicks, rusty-razor-blade dialogue and a DGAF performance from Sigourney Weaver as the Poe-quoting mad doctor, and we've got a trashterpiece that proud Z-movie bottomfeeders will suck right up.
The Circle (Apr. 28th)
Mae (Emma Watson) thinks she's hit the jackpot when she lands a prestigious job at a powerful Internet company named the Circle. The Google-ish-but-definitely-not-Google-per-the-movie's-lawyers job seems too good to be true, and as with most tech startups, it is; cue some ethically cloudy practices going on in the corporation's closed-circuit monitoring operations. The company's outwardly benevolent but unsettling founder (Tom Hanks) doesn't look too kindly on whistleblowers. Soon, the corporation's whole "total virtual omnipresence" thing turns out to be just as sinister as you'd think. John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane, Karen Gillan, and Patton Oswalt round out the cast. And Google, if you're listening – we love you.
Colossal (Apr. 7th)
How to classify Nacho Vigalondo's genre-bridging new whatsit? It's one of those quarter-life-crisis coming-of-age movies, where a rudderless, metropolitan thirtysomething (in this instance, an endearingly dysfunctional Anne Hathaway) returns to her hometown to try to scrape some semblance of a life together. There's some sci-fi in there, too – she's somehow linked to a gargantuan mutant beast that terrorizes Seoul every night. And as she strikes up a complicated relationship with a good-natured bartender (Jason Sudeikis), the film pivots into a toothy commentary on codependence and masculine entitlement. Three clever, hearteningly original movies for the price of a single admission? In this economy?!
The F8 of the Furious (Apr. 14th)
Each new chapter of Hollywood's fastest, furiousest franchise is a contest to one-up the previous film, so the question is: How will director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) top the multi-skyscraper centerpiece of the seventh go-round with the [cue Vin Diesel voice] fambly of high-living motorist rogues? Try a hailstorm of cars out of the windows of a high-rise, a nuclear-class submarine chase across a stretch of ice and a turn to the dark side for Diesel's hero Dom Toretto. The rest of the usual suspects launch a counteroffensive to figure out why our mumbly hero could have turned tail and teamed up with an evil geoterrorist (Charlize Theron). At this rate, it's only a matter of time until the series goes to space. Which would, of course, be fucking awesome, bro!
Free Fire (Apr. 21st)
In Seventies Boston, a motley crew of criminal lowlifes (a game ensemble collecting Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, and a surprisingly tolerable Sharlto Copley) converge on a warehouse to run some guns. An order gets bungled. Communication breakdown ensues – and director Ben Wheatley then turns the heat up over the next 90 minutes in a grueling, drag-down shootout. With a healthy dose of black humor to leaven the proceedings, the assembled crooks all scheme to escape with their lives, if not the cache of firearms. Jumpy viewers will have conniptions. It's that good.
The Lost City of Z (Apr. 14th)
James Gray (The Immigrant) returns in grand fashion with another lavishly produced historical epic, now chronicling an audacious turn-of-the-century expedition to locate a forgotten civilization deep in the Amazon rain forest. Charlie Hunnam plays the explorer fanatically pursuing his quest at the cost of his own sanity, Sienna Miller appears as his long-suffering wife; Robert Pattinson plays the right-hand man gradually losing faith in their mission. Think Apocalypse Now, returned to the colonialist setting of Conrad's original Heart of Darkness. And then add Robert Pattinson.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Apr. 14th)
When people talk about the treacherous terrain of high school, they're usually being metaphorical. Not so with this curious animated flick, in which unpopular sophomore Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) discovers that Tides High has been built over a fault line. Of course the school is going to crack in half. He'll have to deal with the expected jealousy and crushes of any teen comedy while leading his friends (voiced by Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Susan Sarandon and Lena Dunham, among others) to safety on the roof. Finally, the film finally bridges the gap between John Hughes and San Andreas.
Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock (Apr. 7th)
Mick Rock may have been the single most significant photographer of rock and roll during its Seventies heyday. The British invader spent David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust period as the glam-rock pioneer's personal chronicler, then went on to shoot everyone from Iggy Pop to Lou Reed to the Sex Pistols to the Ramones. This documentary recounts his wild days in the belly of the glammed-out, coked-out beast, while also finding time to touch on more personal matters – Rock's various entanglements with addiction, namely. It's an insider's view at some of music's most outsized personalities.
Sleight (Apr. 28th)
Orphaned and left to care for his younger sister, Bo (rising star Jacob Latimore) has no choice but to get involved with gang life to keep a roof over his head. When he has a change of heart and begins looking for a way out, his mysterious magic abilities and expertise in the subtle arts of misdirection and distraction could help him find a new life. Joining Now You See Me in the emerging "cool magicians" subgenre, this indie drama deploys its special effects tactfully for a smaller-scale superheroic spin of the usual gang-life narrative. And if nothing else, it's a step in the right direction considering the sad lack of superpowered black characters onscreen.
A Quiet Passion (Apr. 14th)
Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon turns in a career-best performance as the famously tempestuous poet Emily Dickinson in this take on the moody wordsmith, but don't let the biopic trappings fool you: director and British-cinema national treasure Terence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives) has created a portrait of an artist that's bitchy, hysterical and wounding in equal measure. Balancing a careful consideration of Dickinson's works with a probing look into the turbulence that defined her personal life and mental state, it's both a takedown of stuffy, overly reverent heritage movies and a proper bio-genre highmark. Don't miss this.