"To the Wonder"
Synopsis: Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) fall in love and he suggests that she return to his small southern hometown. Their relationship falls apart and he reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), a former schoolmate. Javier Bardem plays the town's priest, Father Quintana, who advises the married couple while dealing with his own spiritual crises.
What You Need To Know: Although accompanied by surprisingly little fanfare, this is actually the new film by enigmatic director Terrence Malick, whose last film, "The Tree of Life," won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and picked up a whole host of Oscar nominations. Comparatively tiny, "To the Wonder" is being released by indie distributor Magnolia (it'll be available on VOD the same day), despite being just as puzzling and beautiful. Our own Oli Lyttleton, who saw the film at the Venice Film Festival, rightly diagnosed "To the Wonder" as a "close cousin" to 'Tree of Life' without all the cosmic mumbo jumbo, noting that this new film is "much less of a stream of consciousness: the director might wander off the narrative backbone of the relationship between Neil and Marina a little, but never strays too far away, and the film feels less self-consciously poetic and meandering." I tend to agree, and think that it's a much deeper, more rewarding experience than 'Tree of Life.' It's still pretty weird (Affleck maybe has five lines total and his relationship with Bardem, described in early materials as a childhood friendship, remains impenetrably hazy). But for those willing to take the journey, "To the Wonder" will be a rewarding experience. It's a beautiful, raw, and incredibly personal film (Malick went through similar relationships). Oh, and agreeably dinosaur-free.
Release date: April 12th in theaters and VOD
Synopsis: The true-life story of baseball player Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), who became the first African-American player to break the baseball color line. Harrison Ford plays Brooklyn Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey.
What You Need To Know: Even if you don't give two flips about baseball (and, honestly, most of us could care less), "42" looks like the kind of handsomely produced, finely crafted period piece/biopic that tugs on your heartstrings and makes you all gooey-eyed and inspirational. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who wrote "L.A. Confidential" and "Green Zone" (amongst others) and directed the perpetually underrated "A Knight's Tale." Early word on the movie has been strong and the trailers have been pretty nakedly uplifting (and not in a bad way, either). Somewhat surprisingly, the movie is a co-production between Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros., a partnership that usually produces things like Christopher Nolan's Batman movies and this summer's giant monsters-versus-giant robots epic "Pacific Rim." We're personally excited to see how Boseman handles one of the most iconic roles in the history of sports, and are looking forward to another "grizzled old man" Harrison Ford performance before he slips back into the "Star Wars" universe for god knows how long.
Release date: April 12th
"Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay"
Synopsis: A biographical look at actor/modern magician Ricky Jay, as told through interviews with his friends, contemporaries and coworkers.
What You Need To Know: Chances are, you know who Ricky Jay is even if you're not entirely sure that you do – he's appeared in movies directed by Rian Johnson, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Mamet (who is interviewed extensively in this documentary) and was a mainstay of variety shows during the format's '70s heyday. But, just as Ricky Jay's demonstrations are an encyclopedic call back to the magicians of yesteryear, so too does this documentary focus on the influences that older magicians have had on him as a performer. And, as we noted in our New York Film Festival review of the movie, the whole thing works as a kind of sleight of hand – Jay is fiercely protective of his own biography, but by allowing the documentarians (and by extension the audience) see the magicians and performers that shaped him, he's letting us in on much more than he cares to believe. Occasionally the documentary is too dry for its own good, but Jay is a fascinating character to build a documentary around, even if it is made up of illusions.
Release Date: April 12th
"Lords of Salem"
Synopsis: A modern day Salem DJ (and recovering drug addict) named Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) senses that she might be overtaken by a coven of old timey witches. As reality starts to bend, her coworkers and friends wonder if it's actually a supernatural presence that's clouding her mind or the substances that she used to shoot into her veins.
What You Need To Know: A collaborative effort between writer/director Rob Zombie, whose credits include "The Devil's Rejects" and the unfairly marginalized "Halloween" remakes, and producer Jason Blum (the "Paranormal Activity" franchise, this summer's "The Purge"), this was a chance for Zombie to make a movie totally autonomous from studio interference or producers' notes. The budget was so low that he could do whatever he wanted to, and he did. The result is a wholly new look and feel for Zombie, whose previous movies have relied on a level of frantic chaos that borders on hysteria. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's sort of unstoppable (like when Heidi imagines her crummy apartment complex opening up into a grand opera theater). When our very own Simon Abrams reviewed the film out of the Toronto International Film Festival this past fall, he stated that it is Zombie's best, explaining that it's "as compelling as it is because it’s driven by a creeping, albeit perhaps over-determined, sense of atmospheric dread." Sadly, Zombie's actors (including his put-upon wife) sometimes aren't up to the challenges of the script, and the story's free-associative dreaminess sometimes gets the better of it. But it's great to see Zombie growing as an artist and a filmmaker, and we cannot wait to see what he does next. For fans of adventures genre material, it's "Lords of Salem," not "Evil Dead," that is April's true gift.
Release Date: April 19th