Anwar Congo was an executioner for the military dictatorship that took control of the Indonesian government in 1965. He personally killed hundreds of "communists" (union members, intellectuals, landless farmers, ethnic Chinese) during a period of time when nearly 2.5 million people were murdered.
Joshua Oppenheimer's staggering documentary The Act of Killing grapples with the magnitude of the genocide by asking men like Congo to re-create stories about the killings in whatever way they wished.
Inspired by a horrific 1960s propaganda video that portrays communists as a barbaric menace that must be vanquished, Congo and his fellow "gangsters" decide to make a film of their own.
Their grotesque cinematic re-creations exist within this hyper-realized world influenced by classical Hollywood, including one interrogation scene that seems ripped right out of a Bogart film noir. It's a blatant attempt to preserve the positive legacy of their horrific deeds in the face of pressure by Indonesian leftist groups seeking to "reverse history."
While The Act of Killing packs a visceral wallop, it's equally draining psychologically. Listening to these old men fondly remember stories of mass suffering is almost too difficult, especially considering their paramilitary organization is still one of the strongest in modern Indonesia.
Oppenheimer's formal approach stays focused despite the unsettling subject matter. It's this directorial patience that makes The Act of Killing—which opens Friday, Aug. 16, at the Ken Cinema—such an essential cinematic treatise on the banality of evil.
In the end, the film gracefully proves that, even for the worst of us, the past can become too much to bear. After filming a particularly disturbing murder scene where he finally plays the victim, Congo asks, "Is it all coming back to me now?" His own cinematic revisionism confirms the age-old point that no matter the time and place, karma's a real bitch.
The Act of Killing: Joshua Oppenheimer's provocative documentary asks Indonesian paramilitaries responsible for murdering 2.5 million communists in 1965 to re-create stories about the killings in whatever way they wish. Screens for one week at the Ken Cinema. See our review on Page 25.
Coral Reef of Adventure: This IMAX film takes you through many of the diverse areas where coral reefs are crucial habitats, from Tahiti to the Rangiroa atoll. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Ghost Graduation: A group of ghosts must rely on a teacher with paranormal abilities to help them graduate high school.
The History of Future Folk: A sci-fi comedy about the origin story of the real-life alien bluegrass band Future Folk and their experiences playing New York venues for more than a decade. Screens through Aug. 22 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
In a World : Lake Bell wrote, directed and stars in this film about an underachieving vocal coach who makes a play at becoming a voiceover star, following in her famous father's footsteps.
Jobs: The life and times of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher), from college dropout to one of the most respected and revered entrepreneurs of his time.
Kick-Ass 2: Costumed heroes Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnston) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are back fighting crime in this sure-to-be bloody sequel to the popular 2010 film.
Lee Daniels' The Butler: Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) serves as a butler in the White House for seven consecutive presidents, witnessing shifts in civil rights and foreign policy from a fascinating vantage point. See our review on Page 25.
Paranoia: Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford play corporate gangsters who square off against each other using poor Liam Hemsworth as a pawn.
The Spectacular Now: An alcoholic high-school senior (Miles Teller) romances an inexperienced fellow student (Shailene Woodley) and inadvertently falls in love.
Terms and Conditions May Apply: The timely issue of Internet privacy is smartly explored in this documentary by director Cullen Hoback. Screens Aug. 17 through 21 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One Time Only
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Mr. Hand and Jeff Spicoli, one of the great student-teacher tandems ever. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.
Bridesmaids: Never a bride, always a—. Kristin Wiig is in fine form as a smart woman stumbling her way toward everlasting love. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Dazed and Confused: The best film about high school ever made. Richard Linklater's masterpiece chronicles the final day of school in a sleepy Texas town in May 1976. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at the Arclight La Jolla.
Starship Troopers: Listen to the Rifftrax guys vocally abuse Paul Verhoeven's brutally fascistic sci-fi satire about a future Earth threatened by alien bugs. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at various area theaters. Visit fathomevents.com for details.
Harold and Maude: Is this the strangest love story in film history or one of the most beautiful? Hal Ashby's timeless dramedy follows a death-obsessed teenager who falls for an elderly woman after they meet at a funeral. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 15 and 16, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
San Diego IndieFest: Now in its eighth year, the popular festival returns, showcasing independent film programs in addition to live music. Runs Friday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 18, in Liberty Station. Check sandiegoindiefest.com for details.
Day of the Jackal: Fred Zinnemann's classic thriller follows the preparations of an assassin as he plots to kill President Charles de Gaulle. Presented by Forty Foot Films, it screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, and Tuesday, Aug. 20, and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18 at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
First Period: Two high-school girls bond over their mutual outcast status, then try to win a talent competition to improve their street cred. Presented by FilmOut San Diego, it screens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at Birch North Park Theatre.
Dial M For Murder: There's nothing better than an Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring the ravishing Grace Kelly. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 17 and 18, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Rocky Horror Picture Show: As nutty as movies come. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Ken Cinema.
Just Like Being There: A look at the evolving presence and artistic importance of the gig poster in the music scene and film industry. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19, at Tiger!Tiger! in North Park.
Off White Lies: A shy 13-year-old girl returns to Israel to live with her estranged father, who turns out to be a homeless, well-intentioned fraud. The two are forced to pose as refugees when war breaks out, bonding in the process. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Zoolander: Watch Ben Stiller bring his wacky Saturday Night Live character to the big screen in this comedy about a fashion model who's brainwashed in order to kill a public figure. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.
Point Break: Kathryn Bigelow's death-defying action film stars Keanu Reeves as an undercover FBI agent tasked with taking down a crew of bank-robbing surfers. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Elysium: After being diagnosed with a terminal disease, a factory worker (Matt Damon) attempts to infiltrate a manmade space habitat where the world's wealthy now live in permanent luxury. Directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9).
Europa Report: Midway through a privately funded mission to Jupiter's fourth largest moon, an international crew of astronauts encounter some mysterious phenomena. Ends Aug. 15 at the Ken Cinema.
Everest: Two climbers overcome immeasurable odds while scaling the world's largest mountain. Ends Aug. 15 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Fecha de Caducidad: When Ramona's ungrateful grown son goes missing, her desperate search to find answers leads her down a darkly comedic path that splinters into three separate perspectives of the same story. Starring the great Mexican actor Damián Alcázar. Ends Aug. 15 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Lovelace: Amanda Seyfried stars in this biopic about Linda Lovelace, the legendary porn star who overcame her abusive husband to take control of her life outside the industry.
Nicky's Family: Just before the Nazis invaded Eastern Europe, Englishman Nicholas Winton organized the rescue of nearly 700 Czech and Slovak children. His dramatic story unfolds in this film from director Matej Minac. Ends Aug. 14 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: The titular son of Poseidon must embark on a quest to the Sea of Monsters in order to stop a rising tide of ancient evil.
Planes: The kids will probably do flips for this animated Disney film about a crop-dusting plane who dreams of competing in a famous aerial race.
Prince Avalanche: Director David Gordon Green returns to more character-driven territory with this drama about two men (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) working in the Texas highlands doing highway maintenance after the area is devastated by fire. Ends Aug. 15 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
We're the Millers: In order to sneak a huge Mexican weed shipment into the U.S., a veteran pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) creates a fake family in hopes of bypassing authorities. Co-starring Jennifer Aniston.
2 Guns: Plenty of bullets will be spent in this action comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington as dueling law-enforcement officers trying to clear their names.
Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen's latest comedy showcases the amazing Cate Blanchett as an entitled 1-percenter who experiences a harrowing fall from grace.
The Attack: An Israeli Palestinian surgeon finds his life destroyed after his wife is accused of conducting a suicide bombing that leaves countless dead. It's directed by Ziad Doueiri (West Beirut). Ends Aug. 15 at Hillcrest and La Jolla Village cinemas.
Blackfish: SeaWorld and its potentially corrupt business practices take a shellacking in this documentary about the killer whale responsible for three deaths during its time in captivity.
Smurfs 2: Another Smurfs movie, because why not?
Storm Surfers 3D: Surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones travel the globe seeking the ultimate wave, in 3-D.
The To-Do List: Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) finally gets a leading role in this comedy about a high-school senior hoping to gain some life experience before heading off to college.
The Wolverine: Hugh Jackman reprises his iconic role as the immortal clawed X-Man battling a brutal band of Yakuza in modern Japan.
The Conjuring: Ghosts and demons haunt a large suburban family who just moved into a rickety Rhode Island home with a dark past. It's directed by horror maestro James Wan (Insidious, Saw).
Only God Forgives: Seeped in neon reds and yellows, this psychedelic nightmare from director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) follows an American expat (Ryan Gosling) as he attempts to avenge his brother's murder in Thailand.
Reds 2: Bruce Willis and his aged assassins once again try to defend their lawn chairs from shadowy government forces and international terrorists.
R.I.P.D.: Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds play undead police officers protecting Earth from ghouls and goblins attempting to take over the world. Hilarity ensues.
Turbo: A normal garden snail finds that a freak accident has given him some unexpected powers in the speed department, allowing him to compete in the Indy 500.
Grown Ups 2: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James return for another round of juvenile debauchery in this sequel to the 2010 comedy.
Pacific Rim: From the mind of Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro: The world is under attack by reptilian monsters, so mankind resorts to building gigantic robots as the last line of defense.
The Way, Way Back: A 14-year-old boy finds self-worth during a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her combative new boyfriend (Steve Carell).
20 Feet From Stardom: Backup singers for today's superstars finally take center stage in this music documentary featuring a range of inspirational stories about artistic endurance and passion.
Despicable Me 2: Gru (Steve Carell) and his army of minions attempt to transcend their roles as villains and save the world in this sequel to the popular 2010 animated film.
The Lone Ranger: The masterminds behind Pirates of the Caribbean hope to find similar success with this mega-budget adaptation of the classic Western hero (Armie Hammer) and his mystical sidekick (Johnny Depp).
The Heat: Yet another riff on the classic buddy comedy, this time starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as polar-opposite cops tasked with capturing a brutal drug lord. From Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.
Monsters University: Professional frighteners and quibbling buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) are back for Pixar's first-ever prequel set during their wild college days.
Much Ado About Nothing: The Avengers director Joss Whedon steps out of his comfort zone and updates the Bard's classically romantic skirmish of wits with this jazzy black-and-white ensemble piece.
World War Z: The zombie apocalypse is in full swing as Brad Pitt attempts to save the world from certain demise. It's based on the popular graphic novel by Max Brooks.
Man of Steel: Director Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen) attempts yet another reboot of the Superman origin story with Henry Cavill sporting the famous tights and Amy Adams cracking wise as Lois Lane.
This is the End: It's the end of the world as we know it, and the Judd Apatow reunion tour feels just fine. Directed by Seth Rogen, this comedy apocalypse is sure to include multiple plumes of ganja smoke.
Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
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.
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.