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3 movies you should check out in April

Movies including 'Lean on Pete' and 'A Quiet Place' received top grades from our movie critic, Peter Rainer.

Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures/AP
Emily Blunt (L.) and Millicent Simmonds star in 'A Quiet Place.'

A story about a boy and his horse and an innovative horror film are two of the movies that wowed Monitor film critic Peter Rainer during April.

‘A Quiet Place’ is about a good deal more than scaring us

At a brisk 90 minutes, "A Quiet Place" is one of the most inventive and beautifully crafted and acted horror movies I’ve seen in a very long time, and I think the main reason for its power is the family crisis at its core. John Krasinski, who costars, directed, and co-wrote the script, understands something crucial that is lost on far too many horrormeisters: The more we care about the people in a scare picture, the scarier and more emotionally imposing it becomes. 

The film’s setting is an apocalyptic near-future where the planet’s population has been decimated by ravenous crustacean-looking aliens who possess supersensitive hearing. Lee and Evelyn Abbott (Krasinski and Emily Blunt) and their two young children, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds), have enclosed themselves in their isolated upstate New York homestead. 

I would admire “A Quiet Place” even if it were just a terrific scarefest. But what makes it a classic is that, like “Get Out,” a body-snatching movie about racism, or “The Babadook,” a supernatural horror film about childhood fears, it also works so well on so many other levels. It transcends its genre even as it fulfills it. Grade: A- (Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images.)

‘In the Intense Now’ is document of incendiary time 

Brazilian writer-director João Moreira Salles intercuts his mother’s movies of a 1966 group tour in China during the inception of the most radical phase of the Cultural Revolution with archival footage from three other radical movements, all from 1968: The May uprisings in France; the brutal ending of the Prague Spring; and the brief rebellion in Brazil against the reigning military dictatorship. 

It takes a while to get into the ruminative rhythm of this film. But it’s worth it. Salles is interested not only in the brief efflorescence of radicalism and rebellion in those years. He’s also caught up by what came after: the sense of loss that results from hopes shattered. 

It’s difficult to get all misty-eyed about students whose shining hour was lit, however blindly, by the depredations of Maoist and Soviet Communism. It’s more than a bit confusing that Salles doesn’t more acutely recognize the error of his ways in showcasing the parallel insurrections of France and Czechoslovakia as if they were on the same human rights plane.

In the end, the political confusions of Salles’s movie, which seem all of a piece with the political confusions of that era, sit small beside its achievement as a document of an incendiary time when hope, along with the stench of tear gas and gunfire, was in the air. Grade: B+

'Lean on Pete' is a tale of a boy and his horse

Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) has recently relocated with his itinerant single father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), to Portland, Ore. and begins to frequent the local quarter horse track. A scruffy trainer and owner, Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi), gives the boy part-time work, and pretty soon Charley has bonded with Lean on Pete, a 5-year-old quarter horse.

When a violent turn of events renders Charley essentially homeless, he attempts to rescue both Pete and himself by taking to the road. 

Writer-director Andrew Haigh is British, and his outsider’s eye probably accounts in part for the film’s lyrically askew vision of working-class fringes – the trailer homes, run-down fairgrounds, and homeless encampments. Plummer impresses here. Buscemi’s performance is likewise marvelous. 

Haigh’s films sometimes drift off into a desultory nothingness, but he has a real feeling for people – not to mention horses. At his best, he can strike more emotional notes from silence than most directors can with a full chorus of sound. Grade: B+ (Rated R for language and brief violence.)

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