What to Watch in April: ‘Thunder Force,’ ‘Them’ and Michael B. Jordan’s Tom Clancy Thriller

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We’ve spent a year inside watching our televisions and, as the world opens up and the weather warms, most of us are eager to step out a bit. That makes the entertainment industry’s job that much harder. It’s one thing to compete against other shows and movies, but how do you compete with the world at large after a year of isolation?

Fortunately, audiences can’t stay outside all the time. Even more fortunate: this April is bringing a lot of promising offerings to screens small and large, as movie theaters start to become destinations again and theaters try to figure out what a post-pandemic life will be like. Here are a few of the month’s more intriguing offerings, starting with a show about a familiar face taking on a new job.

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Law & Order: Organized Crime (NBC, April 1)

It’s been almost four years since the premiere of the last new Law & Order series, the format-breaking Law & Order: True Crime, which seemed to enter limbo after a single season focusing on the murder trial of the Menendez brothers. Law & Order: Organized Crime looks likely to take a back-to-basics approach thanks to the return of Christopher Meloni, who reprises the role of Elliot Stabler, the character who played for 12 seasons on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. What’s Stabler been up to since then? Who knows? But for now he’ll be heading a unit taking on, as you might have guessed, organized crime. Stream on Peacock here.

The Serpent (Netflix, April 2)

For a stretch of the 1970s, Charles Sobhraj ran a small criminal empire with the help of a handful of devoted followers. Rather than draw the line at fraud and robbery, he moved on to murder, leaving a trail of victims throughout Southeast Asia. How did he get away with it for as long as he did? That’s the mystery at the heart of this 10-part Netflix/BBC co-production starring a steely-eyed Tahar Rahim (A Prophet, The Mauritanian) as Sobhraj and Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who, Victoria) as his lover and accomplice. Watch on Netflix here.

The Unholy (Theaters, April 2)

Sam Raimi hasn’t made a horror movie since Drag Me to Hell in 2009, but he’s helped others make them in his capacity as producer. The directorial debut of veteran writer Evan Spiliotopoulos, The Unholy adapts the 1983 James Herbert bestseller Shrine, the story of a hearing impaired girl (Cricket Brown) who’s been granted powers by the Virgin Mary. Or… has she? Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a journalist determined to find the truth and finds himself in over his head.

Concrete Cowboy (Netflix, April 2)

Tucked away in the north Philadelphia neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion is the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, where veteran riders and local kids care for horses that might not find a home anywhere else. An adaptation of Greg Neri’s young adult novel Ghetto Cowboy set in a fictionalized version of the Fletcher Street club, Concrete Cowboy stars Idris Elba as a father attempting to bond with the son who barely knows him (Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin). If the chance to see Elba trotting through Philly in a cowboy hat wasn’t reason enough to tune in, it went over well at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival. Watch on Netflix here.

Hemingway (PBS, April 5)

If one quality unites films directed by Ken Burns (and, more recently, films co-directed by Burns and Lynn Novick) it’s the tendency to make viewers realize how little they know about monumentally important elements of American history, be it the Civil War, jazz or baseball. Expect the same from this six-hour, three-part look at the life and career of Ernest Hemingway, an author often reduced to his most colorful biographical details and the easiest-to-parody elements of his prose.

Chad (TBS, April 6)

Nasim Pedrad serves as creator, writer, director and star of this new comedy that finds her playing a 14-year-old boy of Persian descent doing his best to fit in at an American high school. Pedrad began working on the long-in-the-works project five years ago when it seemed like it was headed to Fox. It might have been too personal to let go: in spite of the gender flip, Pedrad drew on her own adolescence for the project, recently telling a SXSW audience she even revisited her teenage diaries for inspiration.

Exterminate All the Brutes (HBO, April 7)

A big topic deserves a bold approach and I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck’s new four-part series takes on nothing less than the history and legacy of colonialism across the globe. The title comes from historian Sven Lindqvist’s book of the same name, but Peck also drew on Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past for a hybrid project that mixes traditional documentary techniques with dramatizations, animation, and other form-bending techniques. Watch on HBO Max here.

Voyagers (Theaters, April 9)

The idea of a generation ship — a spaceship on such a long voyage it would require multiple generations of travelers to complete — has been around almost as long as the idea of spaceships themselves. So have stories dealing with some of the obvious problems with a generation ship, like the possibility it could descend into chaos. Set aboard just such a ship, the latest from Neil Burger (The Illusionist) stars Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, and Colin Farrell as astronauts whose search for a new home hits a few snags, including the possibility it’s driving them mad. See theaters and showtimes here.

Them (Prime Video, April 9)

The first season of this new horror anthology series executive produced by Lena Waithe has the somewhat ominous subtitle “Covenant,” a term whose applications include real estate. That’s almost certainly not coincidental for the story of a Black family moving to the Los Angeles suburbs of the 1950s where they find they’re not particularly welcome. Shahadi Wright Joseph, best known as the youngest daughter in Us, stars alongside Allison Pill as a new neighbor whose ideal housewife appearance isn’t quite what it seems. Watch with a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime.

Thunder Force (Netflix, April 9)

The last few years have produced plenty of funny superhero movies — from Shazam! to Birds of Prey — but little in the way of outright superhero comedies. Thunder Force looks to change that via the story of a scientist (Octavia Spencer) who accidentally becomes a superhero with her ne’er-do-well childhood best friend (Melissa McCarthy). Ben Falcone directs, making this his fourth movie directing McCarthy, arriving hot on the heels of last year’s Superintelligence. Watch on Netflix here.

The Nevers (HBO, April 11)

The challenge of balancing great power with great responsibility gets a new setting with this series in which a group of women called The Touched struggle with how to use their unusual abilities. The twist: they live in Victorian England, not the sort of place we’re used to seeing superpowers and supervillains (or anything super, really). Created by Joss Whedon, The Nevers was supposed to mark a television homecoming for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator, but Whedon stepped away from the series in November (not long before accusations of past bad behavior started to become public). The cast includes a lot of faces familiar from British and Irish TV and films, including Laura Donnelly, Olivia Williams, James Norton, and Nick Frost. Watch on HBO Max here.

Mortal Kombat (Theaters and HBO Max, April 16)

With its previously unimaginable graphic violence, Mortal Kombat thrilled Nineties kids (and shocked their parents) when it hit arcades in 1992. Over the course of multiple sequels and spin-offs, the franchise has built up a dense mythology filled with time travel, alternate dimensions, kung-fu fighters, cyborgs, gunslinging cowboys, and more. While the game series has rarely slowed down, Mortal Kombat movies petered out — or, suffered a fatality, if you prefer — after Mortal Kombat: Annihilation in 1997. Simply titled Mortal Kombat, this new film seeks to turn those fortunes around with a fresh start and a new cast delivering the gory finishing moves. Lewis Tan (Into the Badlands) heads the cast as an MMA fighter who learns he has a destiny he never imagined. (Hint: it involves a lot of fighting.) Watch on HBO Max here.

Mare of Easttown (HBO, April 18)

The last time Kate Winslet signed on for an HBO miniseries the result was Mildred Pierce, an adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic novel directed by Todd Haynes that contains some of the best work of Winslet’s career. That sets the bar pretty high for this new project, a seven-part mystery series written by Brad Ingelsby (The Way Back) and directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance). Winslet plays a small-town Pennsylvania detective struggling with a murder case. Her co-stars include Jean Smart, Julianne Nicholson, and her Mildred Pierce co-star Guy Pearce. Watch on HBO Max here.

Shadow and Bone (Netflix, April 23)

Take the “shadow” of this title seriously: Based on a series of young adult fantasy novels by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone takes place in a world where swathes of land are bathed in total darkness — a darkness that allows it to serve as home to monsters. Inspired by the 19th century Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Ravka is also home to magic and tangled alliances, all of which the young heroine Alina (Jessie Mei Li) will have to learn to navigate if she wants to survive. Watch on Netflix here.

The Asset (Theaters, April 23)

Sometimes the right combination of a cast and subject matter is enough to stir interest. The subject matter: the secret world of international assassins. The cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Maggie Q, and Michael Keaton. That’s probably enough to make the latest from Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) worth a look, particularly given that his last venture into similar territory, The Foreigner, turned out pretty well.

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse (Prime Video, April 30)

Or if you want a different sort of international bottle of wills, there’s this new Tom Clancy adaptation, taken from a 1993 novel focusing on John Clark, one of the supporting characters in the Jack Ryan series. Michael B. Jordan plays Clark, a Navy SEAL out for blood after losing his wife to some evil Russians. Prime has had a good run with Clancy adaptations thanks to the Jack Ryan series and is doubtlessly hoping for more of the same with this feature film. If all goes well, look for Jordan to play Clark again in the proposed sequel, Rainbow Six. Watch with a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime.

The Mosquito Coast (Apple TV+, April 30)

Paul Theroux’s 1981 novel about a man who moves his family to the rainforest to protect them from the corrupting influences of American consumerism has already been adapted, and memorably, as a Peter Weir film starring Harrison Ford. That was a while ago, and Theroux’s story is one that lends itself to the extended running time allowed by television. Hence this new adaptation, directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and starring the author’s nephew, Justin Theroux. Melissa George and Kimberly Elise round out the cast. Watch on AppleTV.com.

Things Heard and Seen (Netflix, April 30)

One nice consequence of Netflix ramping up its feature film production in 2021: some filmmakers are using it as an opportunity to step outside their comfort zone. The tram of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulclini have made everything from documentaries (Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s), form-bending dramas (American Splendor), and dramas about documentaries (Cinema Verite). But they’d never made a horror movie before this adaptation of Elizabeth Brundage’s 2017 novel All Things Cease to Appear. Amanda Seyfried —excellent in Mank, another Netflix production — stars as a big city transplant who finds small-town life isn’t the paradise she’d imagined.

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