Matt’s New Release Breakdown: April Edition
After a relatively high-profile March, April looks to reprieve audiences before the summer movie season. Still, there are a plethora of under-the-radar gems for audiences to discover (The Virtuoso, Stowaway, and Moffie), so let’s get started on this month’s new release breakdown!
THE VIRTUOSO – Directed by Nick Stagliano
The Virtuoso Synopsis: Danger, deception, and murder descend upon a sleepy country town when a professional assassin (Anson Mount) accepts a new assignment from his enigmatic mentor and boss (Anthony Hopkins). Given only where and when along with a cryptic clue, the methodical hitman must identify his mysterious mark from among several possible targets, including a friendly local (Abbie Cornish) who begins to connect with the hitman.
Dozens of disposable VOD actioners crowd the market space every month, with most of these half-hearted efforts achieving the bare minimum in their attempts to please general audiences. That being said, this endless content factory does produce a few pleasant surprises. Shimmering like a luminous diamond in the rough, Nick Stagliano’s taunt cloak-and-dagger thriller The Virtuoso shines way above its VOD paygrade.
Stagliano isn’t shy to pay tribute to his inspirations. Similar to insular assassin stories like Killing Them Softly and The American, the direction bakes icey layers of paranoia and deceit into every frame. Stagliano’s sturdy patience stands as a strong match to the assassin’s solemn professionalism, with flourishes like internal narration and vivid planning descriptions placing audiences in the protagonist’s mindset. The veteran ensemble also deserves praise for their intelligently tempered performances. Anson Mount boasts poised charisma as an assassin longing for a sense of purpose, while Abbie Cornish and Anthony Hopkins steal the show with their textured performances (Hopkins melancholic monologue exhibits his remarkable strengths).
However, the all-around prestigious delivery consistently overcompensates for a by-the-numbers screenplay. James C. Wolf’s effort shines with its vivid narration and well-choreographed exchanges, but the narrative follows a strangely predictable path considering the mystery-based premise. The lack of detailed character development also can’t mask the looming sense of familiarity. A few admirable attempts to shade the synonymous characters’ lingering paranoia and isolation are too inert to connect with their intended impact.
For what it its trying to be, The Virtuoso scores fairly high marks. This is a sleek, sensual, and occasionally-complex descent into the mind of a jaded assassin.
Lionsgate will release the crime thriller THE VIRTUOSO in Select Theaters and Everywhere You Rent Movies on April 30th; on Blu-ray and DVD May 4th.
GOLDEN ARM – Directed by Maureen Bharoocha
Golden Arm Synopsis: When her best friend, Danny, ropes her into taking her spot at the Women’s Arm Wrestling Championship, Melanie, who is a baker, must trade whisks for barbells to compete against the reigning champ for a chance at the grand prize.
Buddy comedies are a familiar comfort food fixture, boasting enough feel-good entertainment for audiences to forget about the film’s formulaic design. Maureen Bharoocha’s new film Golden Arm embraces the genre’s loose energy to produce an agreeable comedy detour.
Much of Golden Arm’s charm comes from its well-matched leads. Mary Holland and Betsy Sodaro often carry the narrative with their sharp comedic abilities, with the two developing a natural rapport as oddball friends who bring out the best in each other. Holland impressively holds her own distinct comedic mannerisms to liven up Melanie’s insular persona, while Sodaro commands the screen through her sheer force of nature. Both stars have a blast throughout this playful comedy. Golden Arm’s cheeky premise finds plenty of avenues for playful barbs, as screenwriters Jenna Milly and Ann Marie Allison embrace a melody of well-articulated comedic setpieces (the arm wrestling itself holds some surprising steaks).
There’s a certain earnestness propelling Golden Arm, even as the film travels through extremely formulaic territory. Audiences are unlikely to find anything particularly new about Bharoocha’s film, but this spirited and well-meaning comedy ably whisks audiences along its familiar ride.
Golden Arm releases In Theaters and On Digital on April 30th.
STOWAWAY – Directed by Joe Penna
Stowaway Synopsis: On a mission headed to Mars, an unintended stowaway accidentally causes severe damage to the spaceship’s life support systems. Facing dwindling resources and a potentially fatal outcome, the crew is forced to make an impossible decision.
Director Joe Penna has endured a remarkable journey to success, grinding his way on YouTube before striking big with 2019’s survival thriller Arctic. Penna opts for a similar approach with Stowaway, a close-quarters project originally conceived to be Penna’s filmmaking debut (Arctic was going to be a spin-off until The Martian stole its Mars survivalist thunder). While much of Penna’s skilled touch is left intact, this lukewarm thriller can’t quite achieve its admirable eye for realism.
Stowaway certainly boasts a sturdy center. Penna’s filmmaking displays precision and texture despite working within indie budget assets, shooting the spaceship’s tight-corners with arresting dynamism (his usage of tracking shots and steady framing often embrace). I continue to find his grounded storytelling to be a refreshing change-of-pace from most bombastic space features. Similar to Arctic, the embrace of pragmatic conversations and developments help imbue the central conflict with a pressing sense of agency.
Where Arctic was able to thrive with its naturalistic minimalism, Stowaway can’t quite revitalize formulaic storytelling. There are a few impactful twists buried within the unconventional third act, but a majority of the narrative beats feel ripped from superior science fiction stories. A well-suited cast does their best to prop up the material (including a breakout from Shamier Anderson’s vulnerable performance). As solid as they may be, none of the characters receive the screentime to build authentic layers upon their blank-slate protaginsts.
I certainly would not call Stowaway a bad film, it just doesn’t do enough to materially build upon its barebones foundation. Still, I am excited to see where Penna goes with his promising career.
Stowaway premiers on Netflix April 22nd in the US and on Amazon Prime internationally.
MOFFIE – Directed by Oliver Hermanus
Moffie Synopsis: A young man drafted into South Africa’s military, but he knows he is different and must keep himself hidden. However, when another recruit develops an intimate relationship with them, they are now both in danger.
War is a merciless battleground full of external strifes, although not all war films center their focus on grizzly conflicts. Joining the likes of Jarhead and GI Jane, Oliver Hermanus’ latest film Moffie digs into the insular struggles of a closeted soldier overcoming his bigoted environment. The director’s remarkably empathetic eye touches upon his subject matter with raw emotionality and verve.
Moffie consistently unearths powerful sentiments from its premise. Hermanus strikes genuine chords throughout his runtime, with his free-flowing camera work smoothly capturing each hectic moment behind the scenes. His film works best not only as a character study but as a deeper reflection of the environment’s over-masculine tendencies. Whether it’s the pushing of prejudicial ideas or the commonplace roughhousing that picks vulnerable soldiers apart, it’s clear our protagonist’s biggest obstacles don’t lie on the battlefield.
While Hermanus’ film doesn’t create the most nuanced statement (his penchant for lingering silence is agreeable, but the characters could’ve used a few more textures to personify them), Moffie lands with a lasting impact. I am excited to see where Hermanus goes next for his career.
Moffie premiered in theaters and on VOD on April 9th.
Matt’s New Release Breakdown: April Edition
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