All killer, no filler: new movies!

|
(0)
Pen-ek Ratanaruang's 'Last Life in the Universe' screens April 11 at YBCA.
courtesy of palm pictures

Deadites, dino-junkies, indie supporters, doc watchers, foreign-film fans, "Hey Girl" lovers ... there's a little something for all y'all this week. (If you'd prefer to avoid the multiplex, check out the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Pen-ek Ratanaruang series and/or the San Francisco Cinematheque's Crossroads fest.)

Evil Dead "Sacrilege!" you surely thought when hearing that Sam Raimi's immortal 1983 classic was being remade. But as far as remakes go, this one from Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez (who'd previously only made some acclaimed genre shorts) is pretty decent. Four youths gather at a former family cabin destination because a fifth (Jane Levy) has staged her own intervention — after a near-fatal OD, she needs her friends to help her go cold turkey. But as a prologue has already informed us, there is a history of witchcraft and demonic possession in this place. The discovery of something very nasty (and smelly) in the cellar, along with a book of demonic incantations that Lou Taylor Pucci is stupid enough to read aloud from, leads to ... well, you know. The all-hell that breaks loose here is more sadistically squirm-inducing than the humorously over-the-top gore in Raimi's original duo (elements of the sublime '87 Evil Dead II are also deployed here), and the characters are taken much more seriously — without, however, becoming more interesting. Despite a number of déjà vu kamikaze tracking shots through the Michigan forest (though most of the film was actually shot in New Zealand), Raimi's giddy high energy and black comedy are replaced here by a more earnest if admittedly mostly effective approach, with plenty of decent shocks. No one could replace Bruce Campbell, and perhaps it was wise not to even try. So: pretty good, gory, expertly crafted, very R-rated horror fun, even with too many "It's not over yet!" false endings. But no one will be playing this version over and over and over again as they (and I) still do the '80s films. (1:31) (Dennis Harvey)

Gimme the Loot Biggie Smalls' track is just a smart starting point for this streetwise, hilarious debut feature by Adam Leon. Young graf artists Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) are hustling hard to get paid and fund a valiant effort to tag the Mets' Home Run Apple to show up rival gang-bangers. The problem lies in raising the exorbitant fee their source demands, either by hook (selling pot to seductive, rich white girls) or crook (offloading cell phone contraband). The absurdity of the pair's situation isn't lost on anyone, especially Leon. But their passion to rise above (sorta) and yearning for expression gives the tale an emotional heft, and Gimme the Loot stays with you long after the taggers have moved onto fresh walls. (1:21) (Kimberly Chun)

Jurassic Park 3D "Life finds a way," Jeff Goldblum's leather-clad mathematician remarks, crystallizing the theme of this 1993 Spielberg classic, which at its core is more about human relationships than genetically manufactured terrors. Of course, it's got plenty of those, and Jurassic Park doesn't really need its (admittedly spiffy) 3D upgrade to remain a thoroughly entertaining thriller. The dinosaur effects — particularly the creepy Velociraptors and fan-fave T. rex — still dazzle. Only some early-90s computer references and Laura Dern's mom jeans mark the film as dated. But a big-screen viewing of what's become a cable TV staple allows for fresh appreciation of its less-iconic (but no less enjoyable) moments and performances: a pre-megafame Samuel L. Jackson as a weary systems tech; Bob Peck as the park's skeptical, prodigiously thigh-muscled game warden. Try and forget the tepid sequels — including, dear gawd, 2014's in-the-works fourth installment. This is all the Jurassic you will ever need. (2:07) (Cheryl Eddy)

The Place Beyond the Pines Powerful indie drama Blue Valentine (2010) marked director Derek Cianfrance as one worthy of attention, so it's with no small amount of fanfare that this follow-up arrives. The Place Beyond the Pines' high profile is further enhanced by the presence of Bradley Cooper (currently enjoying a career ascension from Sexiest Man Alive to Oscar-nominated Serious Actor), cast opposite Valentine star Ryan Gosling, though they share just one scene. An overlong, occasionally contrived tale of three generations of fathers, father figures, and sons, Pines' initial focus is Gosling's stunt-motorcycle rider, a character that would feel more exciting if it wasn't so reminiscent of Gosling's turn in Drive (2011), albeit with a blonde dye job and tattoos that look like they were applied by the same guy who inked James Franco in Spring Breakers. Robbing banks seems a reasonable way to raise cash for his infant son, as well as a way for Pines to draw in another whole set of characters, in the form of a cop (Cooper) who's also a new father, and who — as the story shifts ahead 15 years — builds a political career off the case. Of course, fate and the convenience of movie scripts dictate that the mens' sons will meet, the past will haunt the present and fuck up the future, etc. etc. Ultimately, Pines is an ambitious film that suffers from both its sprawl and some predictable choices (did Ray Liotta really need to play yet another dirty cop?) Halfway through the movie I couldn't help thinking what might've happened if Cianfrance had dared to swap the casting of the main roles; Gosling could've been a great ambitious cop-turned-powerful prick, and Cooper could've done interesting things with the Evel Knievel-goes-Point Break part. Just sayin'. (2:20) (Cheryl Eddy)

Reality Director Matteo Garrone's Cannes Grand Prix winner couldn't be more different from his 2008 Gomorrah, save one similarity: that film was about organized crime, and dark comedy Reality stars Aniello Arena, a former gangster who was allowed out of prison to shoot his scenes. All things considered, he's rather winning as Neapolitan everyman Luciano, whose daily life slinging fish can't compete with his big dreams of appearing on the Italian version of Big Brother. He makes it through the second round of auditions — and soon starts believing he's being watched by casting agents considering whether to put him on the show. His level-headed wife (Loredane Simioli) suspects he's being paranoid (as does the audience, before long), though he's told "never give up!" by cheesy-sleazy Big Brother vet Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), a character clearly designed to comment on reality TV's own peculiar brand of insta-fame. Nobody who's ever watched reality TV will be surprised at the film's ultimate messages about the hollow rewards of that fame, but Arena's powerful performance makes the journey worthwhile. (1:55) (Cheryl Eddy)

Renoir The gorgeous, sun-dappled French Riviera setting is the high point of this otherwise low-key drama about the temperamental women (Christa Theret) who was the final muse to elderly painter Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), and who encouraged the filmmaking urges in his son, future cinema great Jean (Vincent Rottiers). Cinematographer Mark Ping Bin Lee (who's worked with Hou Hsiao-hsein and Wong Kar Wai) lenses Renoir's leafy, ramshackle estate to maximize its resemblance to the paintings it helped inspire; though her character, Dédée, could kindly be described as "conniving," Theret could not have been better physically cast, with tumbling red curls and pale skin she's none too shy about showing off. Though the specter of World War I looms in the background, the biggest conflicts in Gilles Bourdos' film are contained within the household, as Jean frets about his future, Dédée faces the reality of her precarious position in the household (which is staffed by aging models-turned-maids), and Auguste battles ill health by continuing to paint, though he's in a wheelchair and must have his brushes taped to his hands. Though not much really happens, Renoir is a pleasant, easy-on-the-eyes experience. (1:51) (Cheryl Eddy)

The Revolutionary Optimists If the children, as someone once sang, are our future, the inspiring work done by youth activists living in the slums of Kolkata, India hints that there might be brighter days ahead for some of the poorest communities in the world. Under the guidance of Amlan Ganguly and his non-profit, Prayasam, kids whose daily struggles include lacking easy access to drinking water, having to work backbreaking long hours at the local brick field, and worrying that their parents will marry them off as soon as they turn 13, find hope via education and artistic expression. Sensitively directed over the span of several years by Nicole Newnham (who made the excellent 2006 doc The Rape of Europa) and Maren Grainger-Monsen, The Revolutionary Optimists shows stories of both success (12-year-old sparkplug Salim speaks before Parliament about bringing water to his neighborhood) and failure (16-year-old Priyanka is forced into an abusive marriage, ending her dreams of becoming a dance teacher). With harsh reality keeping its stories firmly grounded, the film — which is, of course, ultimately optimistic — offers a look at how the youngest members of a community can help effect real change. (1:23) (Cheryl Eddy)