Our gang: There's a reason the harrowing journey that U.S.-bound immigrants take in Sin Nombre feels so real. The director, Cary Fukunaga, undertook the same journey himself, to see what it was really like, before he started shooting.
“It was something I learned about while doing research for a short film,” says Fukunaga. “I did not realize that immigrants are riding freight trains just south of the border, and they're facing these bandits and these gangs. It was something right out of the Wild West.”
The movie is about Sayra, a young Honduran girl (Paulina Gaitan) who crosses paths with Casper, a Mexican gang member (Edgar Flores) during the journey. Sick of his lifestyle, Casper kills another gang member, rescuing Sayra from being raped and marking himself for death, all of which takes place in one split-second decision. It's a thriller with real drama, as they race for the border together, pursued by members of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13.
The film's insight into the gang is interesting because it's neither glorified nor demonized. In fact, it's easy to see the appeal of Mara to its members, even though it's a lifestyle that involves brutal violence. Fukunaga spent two years interviewing incarcerated gang members. “I whittled down my group to three guys whose stories I trusted the most,” he says. “After a year-and-a-half, I was able to get some access to guys on the street and just see what their houses were like and how they interacted. From there, I tried to put together an image of what everyday life was like in the gang. It puts a face on these guys. They are a family, as dysfunctional and destructive as any other.”
Adventureland: Greg Mottola follows up Superbad with a summer romance that stars Twilight's Kristen Stewart as the unattainable love interest. Jesse Eisenberg holds the entire thing together in the Michael Cera role.
Alien Trespass: Remember those cheesy monster movies from the 1950s that used to be on TV on Saturday afternoons? This is a send-up of those, and it's just as cheesy.
The Black Balloon: Toni Collette is the matriarch of an Aussie family struggling to take care of her autistic eldest son.
The Edge of Love: Keira Knightley's latest period piece. She's Vera Phillips, Dylan Thomas' girlfriend. Also stars Sienna Miller and Cillian Murphy.
Fast and Furious: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker re-team for the fourth entry in the fast-car franchise.
One time only
1,969 Miles: Filmmaker and USD grad John Carlos Frey will be on hand to premiere his documentary about U.S. border-security policies and their humanitarian impact. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre on the USD campus. Free.
This is Spinal Tap: Part of the Humanist Association of San Diego's new film series, Rob Reiner's classic rock parody goes all the way to 11. Screens at 6:30 Wednesday, April 1, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Arthur: John Gielgud won an Oscar playing butler to Dudley Moore, a drunken rich guy with a difficult choice to make. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Coyote: Two Americans smuggle their buddy across the border, and it's so simple that they turn it into a business. Part of USD's Border Film Week, it screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 2, at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre on the USD campus. Free.
Super Size Me: Morgan Spurlock learns that eating at McDonald's every day makes you fat. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 2, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles: A Japanese father travels a long way to complete a documentary shoot for his ailing, estranged son. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 5, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Rushmore: A struggling high-schooler and his wealthy older friend fall in love with the same teacher. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 5, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Rhythms to Peace: Examines Susan Tenjoh-Okwen of Cameroon as she moderates a centuries-old dispute over exactly who is chief of a village. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, April 6, at the Peace and Justice Theatre on the USD campus. Free.
Romulus, My Father: Based on Raimond Gaita's memoir about his nasty upbringing that placed him between a disengaged, neglectful mother and a seriously moralistic father. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 6, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
In the Fullness of Time: Filmmaker Cauleen Smith will be on hand for this one. A woman from another planet lands in post-Katrina New Orleans, where she must try to understand the human condition and the full meaning of time. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 7, in Room 125 in Markstein Hall on the CSU San Marcos campus. Free.
The Naked Eye: Examines the work of Len Stouman and his photographic animation technique. Earned a 1956 Best Documentary Oscar nomination. Screens at 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Urban Cowboy: Yep, that's John Travolta playing a cowboy who moves to Houston, where he runs into city slickers and tries to get into Debra Winger's tight-ass jeans. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Haunting in Connecticut: Evil lives in the hardest state to spell.
Monsters vs. Aliens: Reese Witherspoon brings some life to this huge 3-D animated extravaganza, but the story is dwarfed by the special effects.
As it is in Heaven: This Swedish picture, nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, follows a famous, morose orchestra conductor (Michael Myquist) who drops his career to return to his hometown, where he becomes the local choirmaster.
Crossing Over: Harrison Ford stars in this multilayered immigration drama that's very much in the vein of Crash. Though it features some decent performances, it's ultimately overwrought.
Duplicity: Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are good-looking spies who are definitely sleeping together and probably betraying each other.
Gomorrah: There was plenty of buzz about this Italian picture that takes a look at organized crime in today's Italy and vied for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.
I Love You, Man: Judd Apatow's fingers are nowhere to be found on this bromance, which stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segal. But they might as well be.
Knowing: If you can buy Nic Cage as an MIT prof, you'll happily go with him uncovering a time capsule that predicts all the global catastrophes of the last 50 years—and the imminent end of the world.
Sunshine Cleaning: Almost a sequel to Little Miss Sunshine. Some of the same producers are on board, the film is also shot in New Mexico and Alan Arkin plays pretty much the same part. Still, it has that vibe that made LMS so appealing, as Amy Adams and Emily Blunt play sisters who start a business cleaning up violent crime scenes.
Cherry Blossoms: The wife in a longtime German couple doesn't tell her husband that he's dying, but instead takes him to Japan to visit their son.
Everlasting Moments: A young, working-class Swede decides to keep the camera she won in a lottery and ends up documenting everything she sees around her.
Good: Likely the last of the '08 Holocaust films to hit San Diego. Viggo Mortensen is a German intellectual whose work is celebrated by government officials who start using it as propaganda. He ends up with fame and very bad karma.
The Last House on the Left: A remake of Wes Craven's brutal '72 original. A gang kidnaps and assaults a young girl and then takes refuge in her parents' summerhouse. Bad move, 'cause the folks are pissed.
Miss March: Kid in a coma wakes up to learn his high-school sweetie is in the middle of a magazine. Which, of course, leads to a road trip. And boobs.
Race to Witch Mountain: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a Vegas cabbie who picks up two kids brimming with ESP who are on the run.
Watchmen: Zack Snyder follows up 300 with a big budget take on the legendary graphic novel about the tattered personal lives of superheroes in an alternate 1985, where Nixon is still president and the world is on the brink of nuclear armageddon. It looks terrific, but it simply doesn't live up to its own source material.
Che: Steven Soderbergh's biopic about Che Guevara is four-and-a-half hours long and in Spanish. But you don't have to agree with Che's politics to appreciate how well it's made.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li: Torn from the digital pages of the video-game franchise and released just in time for Street Fighter IV to hit video-game consoles.
Two Lovers: The final film from Joaquin Phoenix, whose hip-hop career seems to really be taking off, finds him playing Leonard, a depressed Brooklyn boy living with his parents. Vinessa Shaw is great as the girl he should be with, but he only has eyes for drama queen Gwyneth Paltrow. What's unclear is why either of them have any interest in him.
The Class: No, Laurence Cantet's film about a year in a low-income multi-ethnic classroom in Paris didn't win the Oscar on Sunday night, but it's still absolutely worth seeing.
Confessions of a Shopaholic: Isla Fisher is the shopaholic, a New Yorker with an advice column in a film that's obviously been dumped into theaters in February in the hopes that women will take pity on it.
Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to Jail: Perry's been cranking out—and usually starring in—two movies a year for a while. Reprising his most popular character, crazy senior citizen Medea, this time he takes his shtick behind bars.
Fired Up: Two high-school football players spend the summer at cheerleading camp—a healthy combination of totally gay and George W. Bush.
Friday the 13th: Is this prequel about the dude with the hockey mask or the guy with the long fingers? Who cares?
The International: Tom Tykwer's new film is gorgeously shot and edited, especially a huge shoot-out in New York's Guggenheim Museum. But it takes itself so seriously that it feels tragic when the logic behind it just doesn't hold up. Plus, the enormous international conspiracy is far more interesting than the good guys—Clive Owen and Naomi Watts—trying to take it down.
Coraline: Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Hugo-winning novella is the first of the new 3-D movies that uses the tech to complement the story. Dakota Fanning voices the lonely little girl who finds a doorway to a parallel universe that turns out to be far more dangerous than her own, and Teri Hatcher is her mom—and her Other Mother, too.
He's Just Not That Into You: A look at the dating adventures of young people in Baltimore—people like Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connelly, Justin Long, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Ginnifer Goodwin and plenty of others. C'mon. No one that good-looking lives in Baltimore.
Push: Dakota Fanning is a young girl with the power to get inside other people's minds. Along with Chris Evans, she's on the wrong end of a conspiracy, hunted by other weird psy-ops types. Director Paul McGuigan's last film, Lucky Number Slevin, was pretty sharp.
Taken: Liam Neeson is a former CIA man whose daughter gets kidnapped by white slavers in Paris. So he goes to the city of lights and kills everybody. Pierre Morel has crafted a brutally violent guilty pleasure.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: Rent-a-cops across the nation rejoiced when they learned their story would finally be told. Then they found out Kevin James is playing Blart.
Gran Torino: For all the buzz, Clint Eastwood's new film is flawed. Yes, his cranky old guy, Walt Kowalski, manages to be the funny kind of equal-opportunity offender who finds some salvation by taking a good-natured Hmong neighbor under his wing. The problem is that it turns out he's right about everyone he dislikes. Black, white, Asian, his own relatives—they're all awful people in the world of Gran Torino, justifying Walt's latent racism. Nice.
The Wrestler: Yes, Mickey Rourke is just as good as you've heard, playing Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up wrestler who was big 20 years ago and is now the old man on the high-school gym circuit. Occasionally, it veers toward sentimentality but never goes over the edge. Marisa Tomei, too, is great as the stripper he'd like to get closer to, and Evan Rachel Wood is perfect as the daughter who can't find it in herself to forgive him.
The Reader: Kate Winslet is amazing as a grown woman who has an affair with a 15-year-old boy in post-war Berlin. Their paths cross again years later when she's on trial for war crimes.
Doubt: Best. Catholic. Priest. Abuse. Movie. Ever. John Patrick Shanley adapted and directed his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play and landed a couple of acting heavyweights for the leads. Meryl Streep is a nasty nun who goes after popular priest Phillip Seymour Hoffman, because she A. doesn't like him, and B. thinks he might be getting a little too close to one of his altar boys.
Slumdog Millionaire: A young, uneducated Indian man is tortured by police who want to find how he knows all the questions he's gotten right on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The answers are all in his life story, which is full of poverty, abuse, hopes for true love, and the crossroads between coincidence and destiny.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Space Theater: After undergoing significant renovations, the Fleet is re-opening its dome Imax theater, complete with a kick-ass new screen. Three films will run in rotation initially: Wild Ocean, Van Gogh: Brush with Genius and Animalopolis. Showtimes and prices can be found at www.rhfleet.org.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No, it's not a time warp—the love-it-or-hate-it camp classic continues its midnight run in its 37th year of release. When the lead character of the film is a transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, you know you're in for some seriously trashy viewing. And, of course, this is the one movie where you want the audience shouting at the screen. Screens Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.