Fernande Grudet, aka Madame Claude, ran a lucrative prostitution network in Paris in the 1960s, catering to politicians, civil servants and visiting celebrities. “There was John Kennedy requesting a Jackie look-alike,” writes William Stadiem in Vanity Fair. “There were Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas showing up with depraved requests… There was Marc Chagall giving the girls priceless sketches of their nude selves… There were such disparate bedfellows on the client list as Moshe Dayan and Muammar Qaddafi, Marlon Brando and Rex Harrison.” Grudet fled to Los Angeles to dodge tax-evasion charges in 1977, the same year as a drama about her rise and fall was released. Now Netflix has financed another biopic, the company’s first original French film, directed by Sylvie Verheyde (Confessions of a Child of the Century) and starring Karole Rocher (Polisse). Madame Claude explores how Grudet’s empire was brought down by blackmail, violence, an ambitious new recruit – and Marlon Brando.
Released on Netflix from 2 April
Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is a student who has no idea what to do with her life, and no relationship except with an older man who pays her for sex. She isn’t happy, then, when she goes to a shiva – a reception after a Jewish funeral – and every relative there interrogates her about her work and her love life. She is even less happy when her sugar daddy (Danny Deferrari) arrives with his wife and daughter. Emma Seligman’s exquisitely awkward indie comedy was a critical hit when it premiered (online) at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Katie Rife of AV Club calls it “an assured and impressively choreographed debut that gets funnier with every new complication” and “a worthy entry into the growing canon of female-driven, proudly Jewish sex comedies”.
Released on 2 April in the US
Black cowboys in 21st-Century US cities? They may sound like the stuff of legend, but they do exist – and many of them belong to the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in Philadelphia. The club, which mentors local youths, was the inspiration for G Neri’s YA novel, Ghetto Cowboy, and now Ricky Staub, the writer-director, has turned it into a big-hearted coming-of-age drama. Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things) plays a 15-year-old from Detroit who goes to Philadelphia one summer to live with his estranged father, played by a Stetson-wearing Idris Elba. David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter praises the “emotionally involving grasp of character in both the script and the performances of a terrific ensemble”, and notes that “Elba, with a salt-and-pepper beard and a cigarillo forever planted in the corner of his mouth, is entirely convincing as a tough-loving man still figuring out how he fits into the traditional family model”.
Released on Netflix from 2 April
In the near future, 30 young men and women are sent into space to populate a recently discovered planet. Onboard their sterile spacecraft, they’re dosed with drugs to keep their emotions in check, but, of course, something goes wrong. According to Variety, the “crew descends into chaos, reverting to a primitive, tribal state, giving in to their most feral and animal desires”. This psychedelic sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies was written and directed by Neil Burger (Limitless / Divergent), and it stars Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan as two of the colonists, alongside Colin Farrell as the vessel’s unfortunate captain. But Voyagers isn’t the only stressful trip into space you can take in April. In Stowaway, starring Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette, three scientists are on a mission to Mars. One of the ground crew ends up in the ship with them – but there isn’t enough oxygen for all four of them.
Released on 8 April in Australia and Singapore, and 9 April in the US and Canada
In the Earth
Ben Wheatley’s highest profile project was last year’s glossy Netflix adaptation of Rebecca, but the British director specialises in such low-budget hallucinatory folk-horror chillers as Kill List and A Field in England. In the Earth fits into that creepy category. Written and shot during last year’s lockdowns, the film is set in a Britain which has been devastated by a Covid-like virus. A scientist (Joel Fry) and a park scout (Ellora Torchia) trek into a forest to rendez-vous with another scientist (Hayley Squires) who is experimenting with genetically modified crops. Along the way they encounter a mad hermit played by Reece Shearsmith (Inside No. 9), and things get weirder from there. Robbie Collin of the Daily Telegraph calls In the Earth “an outrageously entertaining film that feels utterly rooted in the bleak era in which it was made… Imagine a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition planned by Dario Argento, the Italian cult horror maestro, and you will be some of the way – but only some – towards knowing what to expect.”
Released on 30 April in the US and Canada, 18 June in the UK and Ireland
Arlo the Alligator Boy
Netflix Animation has come up with some nicely offbeat alternatives to Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks’ films over the last three years, including Klaus, The Willoughbys and Over the Moon. But none of their cartoons has been as quirky as Arlo the Alligator Boy, a musical with distinctive, indie-comic-style 2D animation, and a half-human half-alligator hero named Arlo Beauregard. Having learnt that his long-lost father lives in New York, Arlo travels from a southern swamp to the big city, accompanied by a gang of animal-human hybrids. It looks bizarre, but the film’s first-time director, Ryan Crego, promises that Arlo the Alligator Boy will provide the feelgood entertainment we all need. “Arlo is a character who is so full of hope and overflowing with positivity, even when the odds are stacked against him,” says Crego. “That optimism and joy is reflected in every song of the movie.”
Released on Netflix from 16 April
If Zack Snyder’s Justice League was too gloomy for you, try Thunder Force, a superhero film that is a bit lighter and a lot shorter. Melissa McCarthy stars as Lydia, a slacker whose best friend from school, Emily (Octavia Spencer), is now a top scientist. Emily concocts a secret formula that accidentally gives her the power of invisibility, and gives Lydia phenomenal strength, so the two inexperienced middle-aged women put on uncomfortable rubber suits and become the world’s first superhero team. The supervillains are played by Jason Bateman and Bobby Cannavale, and the writer-director is McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone. McCarthy has been at her funniest when parodying cop movies (The Heat) and spy thrillers (Spy), so lightning could strike a third time when she parodies superhero blockbusters in Thunder Force.
Released on Netflix from 9 April
He Dreams of Giants
Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote had a horrendously long and tortuous journey to the big screen. After a decade of trying to get it made, Gilliam finally began shooting in 2000, only for the calamitous production to shut down six days later. All he had to show for his work was a behind-the-scenes documentary, Lost in La Mancha, which was an almost unbelievable catalogue of disasters. In 2018, though, Gilliam did finally complete his Don Quixote adaptation – and the directors of Lost in La Mancha, Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, were there to chronicle his belated triumph. (BBC Culture was there, too, incidentally.) “As a making-of film it is perfectly fine,” says Peter Sobczynski at efilmcritic.com, “but He Dreams of Giants is ultimately more valuable as a portrait of artistic obsession as we watch Gilliam struggle to overcome a string of obstacles armed with nothing more than his merry giggle and his sheer determination.”
Things Heard and Seen
Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have been married for 25 years, but the latest film from the writer-directors of American Splendor and The Nanny Diaries is all about the terrors of marriage. Adapted from a gothic novel by Elizabeth Brundage, Things Heard and Seen stars Amanda Seyfried as an artist who moves from Manhattan to rural Hudson Valley with her husband, James Norton, but soon fears that her new house is cursed. Berman and Pulcini don’t see their film as a horror movie so much as a “supernatural thriller” or “literary ghost story” in the tradition of Don’t Look Now and The Turn of the Screw. But, above all, it’s a film that examines what it means to be bound to another person. “I think one of the most frightening things in the world is a marriage,” Berman told EW. “It can be incredibly wonderful, and it can be incredibly scary, both at the same time. So to me, there was something very truthful about that being the underpinning of this story.”
Released on Netflix from 30 April
The hero of countless Tom Clancy novels, Jack Ryan has appeared in five films and one television series – and two of those films also featured his rougher, tougher associate, John Clark. Now Clark gets a film of his own, courtesy of Stefano Sollima and Taylor Sheridan, a director and screenwriter who worked together on Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Michael B Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) plays the former Navy SEAL who goes on a Liam Neeson in Taken-style roaring rampage of revenge when his pregnant wife is murdered by Russian soldiers. Adapted from Clancy’s 1993 bestseller, Without Remorse co-stars Jamie Bell as a CIA agent and Jodie Turner-Smith as a fellow SEAL. It is due to be followed by a second thriller, Rainbow Six, in which Clark still doesn’t have any remorse.