It's not clear if Godfrey Reggio's ( Koyaanisqatsi , Powaqqatsi ) striking Visitors is an ambitious science-fiction parable or merely a formalist documentary. Considering the film's title and its barrage of confrontational images—mostly those of faces staring into the camera as if caught in a trance (or perhaps an extraterrestrial interrogation)—the former hypothesis sounds more reasonable.
Beginning with an opening shot of a digitized gorilla looking back intensely at the viewer, Reggio's black-and-white oddity focuses intensely on the details of surfaces and contours. A string of human portraits follow, intercut with slow-motion time-lapse photography of rotting old amusement parks and decaying parlors of chance. It's all framed by composer Philip Glass' latest requiem. These sounds and images cascade together, but their juxtaposition only creates more questions.
Is this some anthropological study of mankind by aliens, or perhaps an intergalactic processing center on the edge of the universe, a sort of Ellis Island between us and another dimension? As Visitors progresses, the images only become more fragmented. There's a triptych of floating heads attempting to hold their breath, but without a body, what's the point?
The posing and performing continues with a young girl communicating in sign language and a crowd reacting to an off-screen sporting event or climactic film scene. We don't know what's happening, but the act of watching is more important than the context. Eventually, the film's rhythm takes over and you begin to make your own assumptions based on the reference points being presented.
Fittingly, it's certain that Visitors —which opens Friday, March 7, at Hillcrest Cinemas—will mean something very different to each person, a truly subjective and immersive experience that feeds off our own past memories to fill in the blanks. For me, it foreshadows a time when none of us will be able to tell if we're looking at a digital screen or the physical world itself.
300: Rise of an Empire : More Spartan chest thumping and skewering, this time in retaliation for the fallen soldiers featured in Zach Snyder's 2006 gore-fest.
Bethlehem : An Israeli secret-service agent attempts to get a Palestinian informant to incriminate a high-ranking terrorist who's about to carry out an attack.
The Face You Love : Ed Harris and Annette Bening star in a drama about a woman who falls in love with a man who bears a striking resemblance to her late husband. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
If You Build It : Two designers and a group of students embark on a radical woodshop project in a Midwest town desperately in need of rebuilding.
The Jewish Cardinal : Jean-Marie Lustiger grew up in a Jewish household and converted to Catholicism at a young age. This documentary explores how one man maintained his cultural identity even after he shifted religious beliefs. Screens through March 12, and again from March 24 through 27, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman : Animated adventure about a father and son who invent a time machine, travel back to witness famous historical events and then find themselves racing to repair the past and save the future.
Visitors : Godfrey Reggio's ( Koyaanisqatsi , Powaqqatsi ) experimental black-and-white documentary explores humanity's growing alienation from the physical world. See our review on Page 30.
One time only
Tommy Boy : The genius of Chris Farley is apparent in this, his feature-film debut about a man-child who must save his father's auto-parts store by going on a Midwest sales trip with a nebbish associate (David Spade). Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Rushmore : Jason Schwartzman's Max Fisher roams the hallways of Rushmore preparatory school, looking for distractions from life's painful realities. Wes Anderson's sophomore feature is a hilarious and resonant portrait of misguided brilliance. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Circles : A single tragedy affects five people in different ways, leading them each down a road of self-discovery. Screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 6, at the USD Peace and Justice Theater.
It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE : The first night of director Crispin Glover's weekend series of films and live performance art features his psychosexual autobiography of actor and writer Steven Stewart. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, March 7, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. See Page 14 for details.
12 Years a Slave : This year's Best Picture winner tells the story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man who was kidnapped by slave traders and forced into harsh servitude for a dozen years. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Music Room : An Indian aristocrat slowly goes insane as his country's feudal system falls apart in Satyajit Ray's masterpiece. Lecture at 7 p.m., film at 8 p.m. Friday, March 7, at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
What Is It? : The second night of Crispin Glover's weekend series of films and live performance features this surreal, nightmarish art film that contains a cast of actors with down syndrome. Screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. See Page 14 for details.
About Time : On his 21st birthday, a young man discovers that all the men in his family can travel back in time, thus changing his life forever. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 9, at the Point Loma Public Library.
Best of SDSU Short Films: Former San Diego Film Commissioner Wally Schlotter selects the best in student films produced at SDSU. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 9, at UltraStar Mission Valley Cinemas at Hazard Center.
South of Lampedusa and Va, Pensiero : Two documentaries dealing with stories of immigration, work and tragedy in Italy and abroad. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 9, at the UCSD Faculty Club.
American Freethought : Documentary about the history of secularism and censorship in America, with a focus on the development of the American Freethought movement. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 10, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Closed Circuit : Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall play English barristers caught up in a political conspiracy that could ravage the government in London from the inside out. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Animal House : Go back to the glory days of college with this raunchy classic that inspired fraternity brothers everywhere to act like fools. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Oscar-Nominated Short Documentaries: See all five of the films nominated in the Short Documentary category before the Academy Awards airs on Sunday, March 2. Screens at the Ken Cinema.
Hidden Moon : In this romantic comedy from Mexico, a beautiful woman (Ana Serradilla) makes a dramatic appearance at the funeral of a wealthy Southern California patriarch, forcing his son (Wes Bentley) to travel south of the border to investigate. Ends March 6 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Jimmy P : Benicio del Toro stars as Jimmy Picard, a Native American Blackfoot who's diagnosed as a schizophrenic by his military doctors. When a French anthropologist (Mathieu Amalric) is called in to begin psychotherapy sessions with Jimmy, the two men forge a bond that allows them both to heal. Ends March 6 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Non-Stop : Liam Neeson's seasoned air marshal deals with a series of mysterious threats aboard a transatlantic flight.
Son of God : Jesus, another biopic.
In Secret : Set in 1860s Paris, this intense melodrama stars Elizabeth Olson as a sexually repressed young woman trapped in a loveless marriage who finds hope in an illicit affair with a family friend. Ends March 6 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago : Documentary that follows the stories of various pilgrims as they attempt to cross Chile on foot. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Alaska: Spirit of the Wild : Venture north into the great wilderness and explore the harsh but beautiful conditions of Alaska, in glorious IMAX. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Pompeii : Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson sets his sights on the city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. for his latest muscle-bound action epic in 3D.
Omar : Adam Bakri shines in this complex, Oscar-nominated thriller from Palestine about a young man caught in a web of deception in the West Bank.
3 Days to Kill : CIA agent Kevin Costner's got—you guessed it: three days to kill his last target or his innocent daughter will die.
Tim's Vermeer : Tim Jenison is a mad inventor who's become obsessed with Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's verisimilitude. In this documentary from Penn & Teller, he decides to embark on a multiyear journey to prove that Vermeer used optics to paint such lifelike paintings.
The Wind Rises : Reportedly director Hayao Miyazaki's final film, this glorious animated biopic about Jiro Horokoshi examines one man's perilous tunnel vision as he designs war planes for the Japanese government during World War II.
About Last Night : Kevin Hart and Michael Ealy play best friends grappling with the highs and lows of new romantic relationships. Another romantic comedy just in time for Valentine's Day that will make single people cringe with disgust.
Endless Love : A pampered and isolated rich girl falls in love with a humble valet in this heated romance that's destined to make The Notebook seem sober and realistic. Nicholas Sparks may even roll his eyes at all the slushy swooning.
Journey to the South Pacific : Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Robocop : It's hard to believe Hollywood had the gall to remake Paul Verhoeven's 1987 masterpiece, but there's confidence to be had knowing Brazilian action filmmaker Jose Padilha ( Elite Squad ) is at the helm. Crossing our trigger fingers.
Winter's Tale : Based on Mark Helprin's popular novel, director Akiva Goldsman's adaptation follows a burglar (Colin Farrell) who falls in love with an heiress as she dies in his arms. Good thing he has the power of reincarnation.
The Lego Movie : That movie adaptation based on a classic toy set you knew was always coming but didn't think would actually get made. Well, it did, and it's here.
The Monuments Men : A museum art historian (George Clooney) recruits a platoon of unlikely soldiers to rescue art masterpieces from the Nazis. Co-stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman.
Oscar Nominated Shorts: See the films in the category no one ever guesses right: Live-action and animated short films nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
That Awkward Moment : When a friend is devastated by a recent breakup, three young men (Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) vow to stay single for as long as possible. Of course, since this is a romantic comedy, things don't go according to plan.
The Great Beauty : A disillusioned novelist traverses modern Rome looking for epiphany in Paolo Sorrentino's gorgeous and surreal art film, which is a testament to physical surfaces and emotional depth.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit : Tom Clancy's favorite CIA analyst turned action hero gets his very own origin story, which involves a Russian plot to take down the U.S. economy. Chris Pine assumes the role made famous by Harrison Ford and denigrated by Ben Affleck.
The Nut Job : No nuts, no glory. So goes the tagline for this animated film about an outcast park rodent who must survive the harsh realities of the city after being banished from the park. It was only a matter of time before the squirrel population was properly represented in Hollywood.
Ride Along : Has Kevin Hart fatigue set in yet? The pervasive comedian stars in this action comedy with Ice Cube playing an angry cop and his future brother-in-law out to test his masculinity.
August: Osage County : A dysfunctional Texas family reunites when its troubled patriarch (Sam Shepard) goes missing, uncovering a barrage of dark secrets and regrets. It's based on the play by Tracy Letts and stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper.
Her : A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson) in Spike Jonze's tender and moving sci-fi romance.
Lone Survivor : Four Navy SEALs are behind enemy lines in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting an army of Taliban insurgents. It's based on the failed Operation Red Wings of June 2005 and stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.
The Wolf of Wall Street : Martin Scorsese's sprawling comedic look at the rise and fall of Wall Street huckster Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who became an infamous figure in New York City in the 1990s.
American Hustle : Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in David O'Russell's retelling of the infamous Abscam sting established by the FBI in order to capture corrupt politicians and gangsters in the late 1970s.
Nebraska : Aged retiree Woody (Bruce Dern) is determined to collect his winnings after receiving a phony sweepstakes letter, eventually dragging his reluctant son (Will Forte) on a road trip that'll change both of their lives. Alexander Payne's latest is a melancholic ode to family and the Midwest. Ends March 6 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Philomena : Comedian Steve Coogan takes on a more serious role as a cynical journalist who ends up helping an elderly woman (Judi Dench) search for her long lost son. Oscar nominations are a certainty.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire : Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself once again fighting to survive the titular death match that has become a necessary evil in the dystopic future.
Dallas Buyers Club : In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico.
12 Years a Slave : Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen's stirring period-piece drama.
Mysteries of the Unseen World : This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.