The narrative thread of Trucker, the debut of writer-director James Mottern, is as direct as a run from Barstow to Reno.
Michelle Monaghan is Diane Ford, an independent long-hauler with almost no responsibilities and just about as much self-respect. That all changes when her 11-year-old son Peter (Jimmy Bennett) is dropped at her doorstep by his stepmother (Joey Lauren Adams) after Diane's ex-husband (Benjamin Bratt) is hospitalized with cancer. They haven't seen each other since Peter was a baby, and having a kid around severely cramps Diane's style, which includes little more than one-night stands on the road and late-night drinking with her lone friend, the married Runner (Nathan Fillion).
So, yeah, you know from the moment Peter tells her he doesn't like to talk to bitches that they're gonna bond and help each other through this. You can see the story coming at you like a Mack truck, and you want to see it through.
Monaghan finally delivers on all the promise she's shown, turning in a straightforward, blue-collar character who's forced, kicking and screaming, to grow up and deal with what's in front of her. And Bennett, who played the youngest version of James T. Kirk in the summer Star Trek reboot, is terrific as the angry kid whose troubles are foisted upon him just as he is foisted upon his mom. Fillion, as always, is the steady hand, a decent, simple guy who considers himself a six of diamonds rather than a jack (of all trades).
Trucker is the sort of small, independent character-driven movie actors long for because it allows them a chance to shine in ways the studios don't. And like a convoy that's paid by the mile, all the actors in Trucker don't take short cuts.
A Serious Man: The Coen brothers offer up an examination of faith that moves in mysterious ways.
Couples Retreat: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell make a dumb romantic comedy.
Free Style: A motocross racer is held back by a clichéd script.
From Mexico with Love: A migrant worker who boxes on the side teams up with a crusty old trainer to beat the snot out of a nasty rancher's nasty son.
Lion's Den: The official Argentinean selection for Cannes finds a pregnant university student who wakes up next to the bloody corpses of her two lovers. Presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival, it runs for a week at UltraStar Mission Valley.
The Other Man: Liam Neeson is understandably bummed when his wife, Laura Linney, goes missing. But when he goes looking, he's even more bummed when he meets her lover, Antonio Banderas.
Still Walking: The latest from auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda is about a 40-year-old who returns home to his parents in hopes of helping them all get over the death of his brother.
Stark Raving Black: Concert film from professional ranter Lewis Black.
Tony Manero: A 50-something Chilean man turns to crime in order to support his dream: winning a Tony Manero (John Travolta's character from Saturday Night Fever) look-and-dance-alike contest. Runs one week at UltraStar Mission Valley.
The Way We Get By: Touching documentary about lonely seniors who welcome home the troops.
One time only
The Beach: Danny Boyle's adaptation of Alex Garland's novel stars Leo DiCaprio as a good-looking tourist who finds a community of other good-looking people living on a Thai island. It's paradise, until, you know, things go horribly wrong. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Maltese Falcon: Yeah, they just don't make ‘em like this anymore. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, through Saturday, Oct. 10, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Plan 9 From Outer Space with RiffTrax Live Encore: See the worst movie of all time with running commentary from the Artists Formerly Known as Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Again. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at several area theaters. www.fathomevents.com.
The Motorcycle Diaries: Gael Garcia Bernal is the pre-revolutionary Che, on a road trip with his best bud (Roderigo De la Serna) before taking over a certain island nation. Screens at 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, in Room 204 at MiraCosta College's San Elijo campus in Cardiff, and at 7 p.m. in Room 3601 at the Oceanside campus.
Dean and Britta: 13 Most Beautiful: This is way cool. Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, formerly of the band Luna, perform in front of Andy Warhol's infamous Silver Factory Superstars footage. Screens at 8 and 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at The Loft @ UCSD.
In Love We Trust: The only way a divorced Chinese couple can come up with a marrow donor for their stricken child is to have another one. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free
Videodrome: James Woods is appropriately sleazy in David Cronenberg's awesome cable-TV creepshow. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
Loose Change 9/11: An American Coup: Writer-director Dylan Avery will be on hand to explain why 9/11 was an inside job. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest. Free.
Why Worry?: Classic silent film starring Harold Lloyd—the guy who isn't Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, in the Seuss Room in the Geisel Library on the UCSD campus. Free.
Good Morning, Night: A dramatic retelling of the 1978 kidnapping and eventual murder of Italy's former prime minister, as told by the only female member of the cell that took him. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Water Wings: Written, shot and edited here in San Diego by locals Johno Wells and Justin Adams, this tale of an addict trying to stay clean uses improvised dialogue to get its point across. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at Lestat's West in Normal Heights. Free.
Mickey Mouse Monopoly: A documentary about the insidious cultural force that is Disney. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Queen Bee Art and Cultural Center in North Park.
My Dear Enemy: Korean film about a romantic and the woman he owes money to. Screens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at The Loft @ UCSD.
The Wedding Singer: Still Adam Sandler's best movie. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Coco Before Chanel: Audrey Tatou pouts too often as the legendary designer, but when she smiles she lights up the screen.
Whip It: Drew Barrymore's directorial debut stars Juno's Ellen Page as a Texas teen rebelling against her mother's beauty pageants by falling for roller derby. It's sweet, but not as intense as an elbow the chops.
American Harmony: If you missed this documentary at the San Diego Film Festival about the surprisingly brutal world of competitive barbershop quartets, it has a run at Reading Gaslamp.
Amreeka: A single mom and her teenaged son move from the West Bank to small-town Illinois.
The Boys are Back: Clive Owen's wife dies, leaving him to care for their children and his teenaged son from a previous marriage.
Capitalism: A Love Story: You may not always agree with Michael Moore's filmmaking methods, but it's hard to argue with his message. Rise up, people.
The Invention of Lying: Ricky Gervais stars in his own U.S. directorial debut. He lives in a world where everyone always tells the truth, until one day he doesn't.
No Impact Man: Writer Colin Beavan sets out to have zero environmental impact for a solid year, which sounds cool, except his wife and daughter aren't on board.
Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3-D: The first of Pixar's movies and its sequel will double-feature for the price of one.
Zombieland: Woody Harrelson. Zombies. Rated R. 'Nuff said.
Bright Star: Jane Campion's latest period piece creates a very real person out of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), the country girl who's long been considered the tart who fooled around with poet John Keats before his death.
Crude: Scathing indictment of the way big oil has savagely polluted South America.
Fame: Actually, a remake of Fame right now makes sense. The country's totally addicted to celebrity, and there are plenty of openings on reality TV.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell: Biopic about Tucker Max, self-proclaimed drunken asshole.
Pandorum: Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster come out of suspended animation with no memory and no idea why people are trying to kill them.
Paris: Juliette Binoche shows up with her three kids at the doorstep of her brother, who's desperately waiting for a heart transplant.
Surrogates: In the future, Bruce Willis will try to solve the murder of robot surrogates, which will provide the only means for us to interact with each other. Like Facebook.
Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself: Perry's latest adventures of Medea also stars Taraji Henson (who was nominated for an Oscar for Benjamin Button) as April, a boozy nightclub singer who has three teenage kids foisted on her.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: Sure, this 3-D adaptation of the beloved children's book looks cheesy. But it's great, and any cheese involved makes it taste even better. Seriously, one of those rare children's films that's equally awesome for adults. And it includes Neil Patrick Harris voicing a monkey.
Big Fan: Patton Oswalt delivers in his first dramatic role as an obsessed New York Giants fan who has an ill-fated encounter with his favorite player.
The Burning Plain: Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote Babel and Amores Perros, directs Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger in a non-linear film about a woman trying to come to terms with her past.
Flame & Citron: Based on a true story, this is a look at two Danish resistance fighters during the tail-end of World War II who were sent on a mission to kill someone who was once very close to one of them.
The Informant!: Steven Soderberg directs a pudgy, mustachioed Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, a '90s-era whistleblower with aspirations of greatness and a propensity for bending the truth.
Jennifer's Body: Megan Fox stars in this Diablo Cody-penned horror film about a hottie who acquires a serious taste for men. Literally.
Love Happens: Will Jennifer Aniston be the woman who helps widower Aaron Eckhart cope with his loss? Yes.
The September Issue: A not-so-revealing look at Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
9: Shane Acker's animated movie, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelley as living rag dolls in a post-apocalyptic world, is stunning to watch, even if its style outweighs its substance.
The Baader Meinhof Complex: Lengthy look at the domestic terror cell that terrified Germany during the 1970s, committing bombings and murder in the hopes of undermining the country's still wet-behind-the-ears democracy.
Extract: Comeback kids Mike Judge and Jason Bateman team up for a comedy about a factory owner (Bateman) hoping to have an affair with one of his employees (Mila Kunis).
All About Steve: If you can buy into the idea that Sandra Bullock is smart enough to create crossword puzzles, this romcom, which also stars Bradley Cooper and Thomas Hayden Church, is for you.
Gamer: Hard to understand why Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall would star in an R-rated futuristic gorefest that looks like it should feature some guy who used to be in the WWE. But it was made by the Crank guys.
My One and Only: It's 1953, and Renee Zellweger takes to the road after hubby Kevin Bacon can't keep it in his pants. But even though she's MILFy, it's tough to find a husband when you've got two teenage sons.
It Might Get Loud: Documentary about the art of guitar as played by Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. Turn it up.
Inglourious Basterds: Tarantino's new brutal, bloody, hysterically funny WWII movie isn't gonna be for everyone, but it certainly is for us. Take that, Hitler!
District 9: This terrifically fun Peter Jackson-produced sci-fi flick has two messages. One, discrimination sucks. Two, alien guns rule.
Julie & Julia: Meryl Streep is Julia Child, and Amy Adams is her biggest fan, Julie Powell, who got through life with the help of Child's My Life in France.
(500) Days of Summer: A terrific film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. It's a date movie, sure, but be forewarned, this is a break-up story and not a standard love story.
The Hangover: They cut a good trailer for Todd Phillips' new film, about three buddies—Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis—who wake up the morning after a brutal bachelor party with no memory of what happened or where the groom is.
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. Films vary week-to-week. 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.