No fooling: I needed a movie win going into April. Because for the first three months of the year, I felt like the sole naysayer of buzzy movies that had earned cross-the-board raves. Let’s start with January’s virtual Sundance Film Festival and the comedy Cha Cha Real Smooth. The night it premiered, my texts lit up from fellow “festival goers,” who were falling in love with the story of a new college grad trying to make it work on the New Jersey Bar Mitzvah circuit. It won the coveted Audience Award. I thought it was hackneyed and so obviously created by Goyim. Did you catch the Pixar film Turning Red? I read multiple think pieces raving about the bond displayed onscreen between an Asian mother and her teen daughter. I thought was a strange, more sensitive teen girl version of Teen Wolf. And then, sigh, The Batman. I’m still befuddled by the ecstatic reviews, as it so obviously doesn’t hold up against a Burton Batman or a Nolan Batman. (Though I grant you it’s a better product than Affleck Batman.) By mid-March, I was still imploring inquisitive friends and the occasional celebrity to check out Coda. But! April has showered us with a slew of fascinating offerings that run the genre gamut. We got Kidman and Cage and Black and rage. And just for fun, I’m going against the grain on a certain SXSW winner. Enjoy! And see Coda!
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Movies don’t get more meta than Nicolas Cage playing Nick Cage in a gonzo action-comedy centering around the existential crisis of Nicolas Cage. And while the self-effacing effort may not be a national treasure, it does rock. Stuck in a professional and personal rut, the actor accepts a $1 million offer to meet a wealthy fan (absolute scene-stealer Pedro Pascal) and attend his birthday party in Spain. Things take a turn for the weird when federal agents recruit him for a mission that involves his host for which he must channel his most iconic roles. (Who knew the 90s comedy Guarding Tess would prove so useful decades later?) This is an original and inspired concept, as Cage doesn’t just go through the motions in a cameo-studded, way-too-Hollywood satire. It’s not a bonkers, unhinged flick that coasts on star power either. Instead, he puts the pedal to the metal, Gone in Sixty Seconds-style, and takes his fans along on a wild and wonderful journey. Enjoy the ride. (In theaters April 22)
(3 stars out of 4)
When was the last time you saw a gripping and ferocious Viking revenge epic loosely based on Hamlet? Exactly. Better take advantage of this rare cinematic spectacle. The impressively beastly Alexander Skarsgard stars as Amleth, a former Viking prince on a quest to kill the man that long ago slayed his father (Ethan Hawke, totally unrecognizable) and kidnapped his mother (Nicole Kidman). That man, by the way, is his uncle (Claus Bang). Masking himself as a slave on his farm in Iceland, Amleth plots his vengeance with the help of a Nordic woman also in peril (Anya-Taylor Joy). And “vengeance” is not used lightly: Director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) soaks his scenes in relentlessly savage blood-and-guts imagery that’s not for the faint of heart. But if you close your eyes, you’ll miss some astounding acting — notably from Kidman in one of her more, um, surprising performances that has meat on the lithe bones. You’ll never think of her and Skarsgard just as toxic Big Little Lies spouses again.
Apollo 10 1/2
3 stars (out of 4)
From Dazed and Confused to Everybody Wants Some!! to Boyhood, writer/director Richard Linklater is a master at capturing the emotional wonders of time gone by. Now he literally illustrates his own childhood memories in a sweet story set in Texas in 1969. (Fun fact: He shot the action live and then animated it.) Narrated by Jack Black, the film tells the story a kid named Stan obsessed with the upcoming Apollo 11 launch to the moon. He fantasizes that NASA scientists (Zachary Levi and Glen Powell) recruit him to test a top-secret mission in a Lunar Landing Training Vehicle to make sure the launch is good to go. The fantasy is amusing and all, but true to Linklater’s strengths, the love is in the details. Even if you were born decades after the walk on the moon, it’s impossible to not empathize deeply with Stan’s endearing tales of gorging on junk-food with his friends at the pool and bingeing cartoons on TV. 3D glasses aren’t necessary; rose-colored glasses will do just fine.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
2.5 stars (out of 4)
Imagine every single non-sequitur thought, coarse joke and cinematic image stored in your brain is suddenly splayed out in an audacious 142-minute movie. If that sounds appealing, then by all means go ahead and press play on this kinetic effort from the directing team known as “The Daniels.” Millions of fans already have, and they’ve been raving. Critics too. Otherwise, trust me on this and spare yourself the sensory assault. The “everything” is what Chinese immigrant Evelyn (the remarkable Michelle Yeoh) feels every time she wakes up: Her husband wants a divorce; her teen daughter is in rebellion mode; her elderly dad just moved in; and the family laundry business is in financial trouble. This is all terrifically absorbing. But during a office visit to the auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn’s imagination runs wild and the movie enters a chaotic different dimension — think everything from martial-arts choreography to a subtitled conversation between rocks on a barren planet. Somewhere in here is a wise bittersweet dramedy about perseverance and parental love. If only the film had deviated from the title just a little!