It would be very, very easy to write off Patrick Wang's debut film as a Message Movie. After all, it's about a gay man in the south trying to get custody of his son, and Wang wrote, directed and stars in it. But In the Family, which opens Friday, Dec. 7, at Horton Plaza, succeeds because it simply tells a story, as opposed to trying to make a point, and because it's so interestingly conceived and shot.
Wang plays Joey Williams, a contractor who's lived most of his life in a small town in Tennessee. He and his partner Cody (Trevor St. John) have a good life as they raise 6-year-old Chip (Sebastian Banes), Cody's biological son. But Cody dies in a car accident, and a years-old will surfaces, leaving all of his assets—and, most importantly, the care of Chip—to his sister Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), and, suddenly, the people whom Joey's called family for the last six years are the opposition, keeping him from even seeing his son.
You'd expect a film like this to have a long courtroom scene at the end, and though lawyers are involved, it goes down in ways you don't anticipate. That's true of most of In the Family, which is riveting, despite its running time of more than two-and-a-half hours and intentionally slow pacing. Wang, who comes from a theater background by way of MIT, lets the camera linger, allowing his actors to truly work and capturing much of the minutiae of life and grief. Often, the camera will capture just the back of his head, which sounds odd, but it works; it allows us to experience what we know Joey is going through, which we somehow feel more strongly because we're not watching his reaction.
In the end, In the Family explores what defines modern families, and it does so by defying our expectations of what a movie like this should be.
Khiladi 786: Bollywood comedy, screening at Horton Plaza, about a failed marriage matchmaker who ends up putting together the children of a mobster and a police inspector.
Lay the Favorite: Rebecca Hall is a cocktail waitress in Vegas. Bruce Willis is a sports gambler. When he sees how successful she is at picking the games, he immediately falls for her. Screens at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
Playing for Keeps: Gerard Butler is a washed-up soccer star who starts coaching his son's team. Which keeps the soccer moms happy.
Starlet: A movie about the friendship between a flouncy young actress and a cranky senior citizen sounds like Lifetime material, but Sean Baker's new movie is smart, well-written, well-acted and absolutely for adults only.
One Time Only
Scrooge: This is the 1951 adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, which introduced the world to Ebenezer. Screens at 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Jingle All the Way: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad duke it out over a toy. Starts at around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park.
Die Hard: Bruce Willis says "yippee-kaiyay motherfucker" to terrorist Alan Rickman in the best Christmas action movie ever. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Pulp Fiction: Quentin Tarantino's criminal tour de force gets the big-screen treatment at several area theaters. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6. Check fathomevents. com for details.
Blue Velvet: David Lynch's messed-up ode to the hidden nastiness of the American suburbs screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Perhaps Pedro Almodovar's signature comedy, it kicks off a monthlong series at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Waiting on Lightning: World-famous skateboarder Danny Way, who's from Vista, will be on hand for this documentary about his jump over the Great Wall of China. Screens at 6 and 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Lord of the Rings marathon: The first of the Hobbit movies opens next week, so all three of Peter Jackson's films are getting the 26.2 treatment. That's sort of funny, since, in terms of the story, The Hobbit is the one that comes first. The marathon starts at 10 or 11:15 a.m., depending on the theater, on Saturday, Dec. 8.
Cinema Paradiso: This Italian love letter to cinema screens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
I Love Your Work: Giovanni Ribisi stars in Adam Goldberg's treatise on fame, playing a movie star whose career and personal life are rapidly unraveling. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Central Library, Downtown.
A Christmas Story: Sure, it'll be playing all night on TV, but why not see it on a big screen? Better than shooting your eye out. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Dim Sum Funeral: Estranged Chinese- American siblings attempt to give their mother a proper funeral. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Glickman: Documentary about Marty Glickman, who was dropped from the U.S. Olympic team in 1936, when the games were held in Berlin, and went on to become the radio voice of the New York Knicks and Giants in the 1950s. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
I am Not a Hipster: Former San Diegan Destin Cretton's first feature went to Sundance. It's about a singer-songwriter who revels in his gloom but has a hard time keeping it up when this three sisters come to visit from the Midwest. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, at Green Flash Brewing Co. in Mira Mesa. Free, but RSVP to greenflashbrew.com.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: This is the one that has Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis playing the kids.
Screens at around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Elf: It's true—they actually made a Broadway musical of this Will Ferrell holiday movie. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at ArcLight in UTC and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Neighboring Sounds: This Brazilian movie, which examines the psychological underbelly of a single block in a middleclass neighborhood, is a stunning debut from director Kleber Mendonça Filho.
24/7 In Love: This romantic comedy from the Philippines stars a slew of good-looking young people, all of whom are trying to get ahead and get into each other's pants.
Chasing Ice: National Geographic photographer James Balog pointed timelapse cameras at glaciers for a solid year and captured some unbelievable images.
The Collections: A guy escapes the clutches of a horror-movie-type serial killer, only to be cajoled into rescuing a cute girl from a booby-trapped warehouse.
I Do Bidoo Bidoo: This Filipino romantic musical comedy would probably sit nicely on a DVD shelf next to Mama Mia and Rock of Ages.
Hitchcock: Anthony Hopkins plays the famed director, and Helen Mirren his wife, during the time Hitchcock was shooting Psycho.
Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt shows why he's a movie star, effortlessly exuding cool as a mob enforcer in Andrew Dominik's art-house take on a gangster flick.
Talaash: The Answer Lies Within: A cop tries to deal with his crumbling marriage and solve a mystery in this new Bollywood thriller.
Wu Xia (Dragon): A small-time village craftsman comes under investigation by cops and criminals when he beats up a pair of gangsters who are shaking down a local shopkeeper.
Red Dawn: The updated edition of the 1984 Cold War-paranoia pic stars Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth, who signed on and shot the movie years ago, before they were rich and famous.
Anna Karenina: Director Joe Wright teams up again with his Pride & Prejudice star Keira Knightley to take on another period drama.
Life of Pi: Ang Lee's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel about a boy, a tiger and a lifeboat is this year's movie that you simply must see on a big screen and in 3-D. Really.
Rise of the Guardians: The Immortal Guardians—aka the Easter Bunny, Santa, etc.—team up to kick evil-spirit ass.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar guy from Philly who's just out of the mental hospital, having lost his job, his home and his wife. He moves in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro) in hopes of regaining his marriage, but things are thrown askew by Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has problems of her own.
A Royal Affair: Period piece about a Danish woman, the German doctor she loves and her crazy husband, who happens to be the king.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan: The final Bollywood musical from Yash Chopra, one of the industry's legends. Screens at Horton Plaza.
Let it Snow: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park gets animated and kid-friendly just in time for the holidays.
Lincoln: It might as well have been called The 13th Amendment. Despite another spellbinding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln's biopic is really about getting legislation through Congress.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2: At last, the long national nightmare is over.
A Late Quartet: A famous string quartet, whose members include Christopher Walken, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, struggle to stay together after one of them gets some terrible news. Ends Dec. 6 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Skyfall: Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 is thankfully closer to Casino Royale than Quantum of Solace. This time, he's going up against Javier Bardem, who has some history with MI-6.
Flight: Robert Zemeckis' first live-action film in more than a decade suffers from many of the standard alcoholism-film clichés, but it features a tremendous performance from Denzel Washington, playing a pilot who lands his broken jet miraculously, with minimal loss of life.
The Other Son: An Israeli and a Palestinian discover they were switched at birth.
Tales of the Maya Skies: This IMAX movie explores the rich history of the Mayan people, just in time for the end of the world. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Man With the Iron Fists: The Wu-Tang Clan's RZA co-wrote (with Eli Roth), directed and stars in this ultraviolent martial-arts epic, which also features Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. They're all on the trail of a fortune in gold.
The Sessions: John Hawkes is great as Mark O'Brien, a writer and poet paralyzed by polio who turns to a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt) in order to lose his virginity at age 38.
Wreck-It Ralph: The latest animated film from Disney stars John C. Reilly as Ralph, the bad guy in an old-school video game who desperately wants to be liked.
Chasing Mavericks: A surfing movie, surprisingly co-directed by Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson, about a teen who turns to crusty surfing legend Gerard Butler to help him survive a massive wave.
Cloud Atlas: This epic production is almost three hours long and stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving in multiple roles. It consists of six stories that span different time periods, with a running storyline about reincarnation and the effects of our actions on future generations.
Fun Size: A teenage girl loses track of her little brother while attending a Halloween party thrown by a really cute boy.
Alex Cross: We're used to Morgan Freeman in the role of this famous detective. Now the part is played by Tyler Perry. Another obvious sign of the impending apocalypse.
Paranormal Activity 4: Now with more paranormal.
Seven Psychopaths: Martin McDonagh returns with another violent comedic drama. Colin Farrell stars as Marty, an L.A. screenwriter surrounded by psychopaths such as Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits. Like McDonagh's debut, In Bruges, this one has an emotional heart to it, despite the blood and guts.
Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars in this take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and believe it or not, it's gonna be a Best Picture contender.
Here Comes the Boom: High-school biology teacher Kevin James becomes an MMA cage fighter in order to keep his school's extracurricular activities afloat.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Frankenweenie: Tim Burton hasn't made a film that's been an original idea in years, so it sort of makes sense that he'd remake one of his own movies.
Taken 2: Remember all those dudes Liam Neeson killed in the thoroughly violent Taken? At least one of them has a family member out for a little payback.
Looper: Director Rian Johnson (Brick, Brothers Bloom) teams once again with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for this time-twister; JGL is a hit man whose future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to be rubbed out.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: This adaptation of the beloved young-adult novel has made plenty of old adults feel for their youth.
Pitch Perfect: Anna Kendrick is the new girl at college who finds her place by joining a bad-ass all-girl vocal group.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: If it feels like they release one of these every summer, that's because that they release one of these every summer.
The Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy concludes.
Ice Age: Continental Drift: So cold.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.