"Oblivion" Synopsis: Tom Cruise basically plays a human version of WALL-E, a low level repairman on an abandoned, post-apocalyptic earth. His world becomes significantly more mysterious when he meets a group of survivors, led by Morgan Freeman, who show him that all is not what it seems. What You Need To Know: Originally set up at Disney, who bailed after the material came back too dark and they were worried about the film's financial prospects given the somewhat underwhelming box office Jospeh Kosinski's first film for the studio, "TRON: Legacy," generated, "Oblivion" finally found its home at Universal, and a great big movie star became interested. Based on a comic book Kosinski co-authored, plot specifics are being kept tightly under wraps, although we do know that Olga Kurylenko, Melissa Leo, Andrea Riseborough, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau co-star, and that the trailers make the movie look really, really cool, with a boldly stylized design aesthetic (white technology and uniforms clash brilliantly with the sooty grey world) and some intriguing-seeming creatures (complete with glowy red eyes). But behind the scenes of "Oblivion" the fire power is just as impressive – both William Monahan and Michael Arndt worked on the screenplay, and French electronic artist M83 aka Anthony Gonzales composed the score (along with Joseph Trapanese, who did similar duties on Daft Punk's "TRON: Legacy" score). As far as big-budget extravaganzas, "Oblivion" could compete with the big boys of summer for oversized thrills. Release date: April 19th
"Pain and Gain" Synopsis: Based on a series of Miami News Times articles by Pete Collins that detailed the brutal kidnapping, extortion, and murder of several people by a group of Florida bodybuilders, played in the film by Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie. What You Need To Know: A passion project of director Michael Bay's for quite some time (the original articles were published in 1999), "Pain and Gain" will mark a return to Bay's "low budget" ($25 million), R-rated roots after years spent turning beloved toy line Transformers into a series of phenomenally popular summer spectacles. (After "Pain and Gain" he'll go right back into "Transformers 4," this time with Wahlberg along for the ride.) Even people who generally hate everything Bay does can admit that "Pain and Gain" looks like a perverse joyride. In a weird way it could make a great companion film to similarly outrageous, Florida-set "Spring Breakers." Bay has assembled an impressive cast of character actors, including Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub, Ken Jeong, Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson and (of course) supermodel Bar Paly, and early word has been strong. Bay is an admitted Coen Brothers fanatic (go through his filmography and see how many Coen regulars he's cast in his movies), and from the early trailers you can see that the influence is pretty strong here. Bay's visual pyrotechnics mixed with the Coens' more subtle humor could be an awkward fit at best, but here's hoping "Pain and Gain" pumps up the April movie slate. Release date: April 26th
"Mud" Synopsis: A touching coming-of-age tale set in the deep south, it follows two young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) as they form a unique friendship with an escaped prisoner named Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who claims he is just desperate to get back to his lovely lady Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). This being a Southern Gothic yarn, there are Dixie mafia gangsters (led by Joe Don Baker), quiet old men with mysterious pasts (Sam Shepard) and an amateur clam fisherman (Michael Shannon). Why You Should Care: "Mud," which screened at Cannes last year and again a couple of months ago at both Sundance and South by Southwest, is writer/director Jeff Nichols' follow-up to his critically adored "Shotgun Stories" and "Take Shelter," a kind of meandering epic that is totally charming and fantastic. McConaughey continues his streak of great performances, the kids are great, and the whole thing just drips with that kind of Southern Gothic atmosphere, all whooshing rivers and hanging Spanish moss and accents as thick as molasses on a hot summer day. Nichols is one of those directors, like his contemporaries David Gordon Green and Craig Brewer, who loves telling stories set in the south because he just likes the way the stories hang. Simon Abrams, reviewing out of Cannes, wasn't nearly as impressed as we were, saying that it is a disappointing follow-up to "Take Shelter" and that the movie is nothing more than "a competent anti-fairy tale in which the paint-by-number morals are enforced by equally obvious main protagonists." I found it totally transfixing and hypnotic, like watching a lazy river go by. Release date: April 26th
And More Arriving In April
Also out this month and probably worth a look-see: Ken Loach's latest comedic drama "The Angels' Share," squishy horror thing "Antiviral" from Brandon Cronenberg (David's son), apocalyptic comedy/review headline-generator "It's A Disaster," last year's Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar-nominee "Kon-Tiki," modest Dennis Quaid/Zac Efron agricultural drama "At Any Price," Salman Rushdie adaptation "Midnight's Children," long-shelved John Cusack thriller "The Numbers Station" (if it's half as good as "The Raven"… it'll be fucking terrible), and Mira Nair's controversial drama "The Reluctant Fundamentalist."