Late in Narco Cultura, yet another documentary about the various ways cartel trafficking impacts Mexican life, journalist Sandra Rodriguez makes a profound statement. "It's a symptom of how defeated we are as a society," she says, speaking on the subject of corridos, popular songs celebrating narco violence and impunity.
Up to this point, I've yet to encounter a more scathing and concise indictment of Mexico's current identity crisis; it's a nation seemingly caught between the distant fantasy of celebrating violence and the harsh, close reality of its consequences. Through its varied subjects, Narco Cultura seeks to understand this often-horrifying ideological crossroads.
Edgar Quintero speaks about his profession of corrido singing with the type of passion one might hear from a dedicated educator or clergyman. This makes his artistic process all the more disturbing, since lyrics are stripped right from the headlines of Mexico's ongoing drug war between cartels. Decapitations, shootings and torture are therefore given melodic credence and collective power without any moral resistance.
On the flip side is Richi Soto, a quiet but determined crime-scene investigator working the bloodstained streets of Ciudad Juárez. He stands over dead bodies and compiles evidence but is resigned to the fact that 97 percent of these murders won't be solved. Still, he conducts business as usual despite the constant threat of assassination and accusations of corruption.
Narco Cultura—which opens Friday, Dec. 6, at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas—purposefully juxtaposes these two very different men in order to show how impotent Mexico has become under the vice of cartel influence. Yet there's a suggestion that the people caught in the middle might be wiser than either group found on the extreme. In the final scene, one innocent bystander stands across the street from a crime scene and confesses, "We can't deny reality."
August. Eighth: Reality and fantasy clash in this war film about a single mother trying to find her son during the South Ossetia conflict between Russia and Georgia. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Bettie Page Reveals All!: Sit down with the world’s greatest pinup model in this documentary containing found footage and interviews. Screens through Dec. 12 at the Ken Cinema.
Geography Club: In this comedy based on the best-selling book, an after-school meet-up group is formed so that students of varying sexual orientation can discretely share their feelings, concerns and plans for the future. Screens through Dec.
Narco Cultura: The rise of corridos, folk songs that celebrate narco culture and violence, is juxtaposed with the real-world consequences of the bloody drug war in Mexico. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Out of the Furnace: The hills of Appalachia are alive with the sound of violence in this mountain noir starring Christian Bale as a blue-collar worker attempting to find his kidnapped brother (Casey Affleck), who’s being held by a local gangster (Woody Harrelson).
The Punk Singer: This music documentary about punk-rock icon and activist Kathleen Hanna, who formed the band Bikini Kill and pioneered the “riot grrrl” movement in the 1990s, contains archival footage and rare interviews. Screens through Dec. 12 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
Sugar: An independent drama about a young girl coping with the effects of PTSD on the streets of Venice, Calif. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Die Hard: The best Christmas film ever made. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: Join the Rifftrax gang as they skewer this 1964 sci-fi comedy about aliens who steal jolly old St. Nick for their own children. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at various theaters. Visit fathomevents.com for details.
It’s a Wonderful Life: Every holiday season, George Bailey’s (James Stewart) mid-life crisis inspires more people to never, ever give up on the human spirit. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Space Jam: Michael Jordan teams up with Looney Tunes legends Bugs Bunny and friends for one classic intergalactic basketball game. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Ken Cinema.
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Tim Burton’s classic stop-motion-animation film returns to the big screen, once again allowing Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown, the opportunity to experience a little Christmas cheer. Screens at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, at Arclight La Jolla.
The Company You Keep: Robert Redford plays a lawyer hiding a dirty past that’s outed by a young journalist (Shia LaBeouf) looking to reveal the truth behind an eco-terrorist attack in the 1960s. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, at Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
American Animal: Two young couples converge in a posh Los Angeles loft where they play mind games, drink and flirt with violent tendencies. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Prince Avalanche: Two men (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) escape the hustle and bustle of city living for a summer in rural Texas repaving roads in the wake of a devastating wildfire. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Mission Valley Library.
Elf: Everybody’s favorite elf, Buddy (Will Ferrell), gets a rude awakening when he flees to New York City and realizes not everyone loves Christmas in quite the same way. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Black Nativity: Angela Basset and Forest Whitaker lead this ensemble dramedy, directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), about a young man who visits his estranged relatives for the holidays, only to discover a newfound sense of family and inspiration.
The Book Thief: A young girl faced with the horrors of Nazi Germany steals books as an act of defiance and begins sharing them with Jewish refugees. Markus Zusak’s best-selling novel comes to the big screen in this adaptation starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson.
Go for Sisters: In John Sayles’ latest character piece, a Los Angeles parole officer leans on an estranged convict friend to help find her kidnapped son south of the border. Ends Dec. 5 at the Ken Cinema.
Homefront: Jason Statham plays a former DEA agent who retires to a backwoods town only to find more trouble in the form of a country gangster (James Franco!) looking to protect his drug operations.
JFK: The American Betrayal: Another documentary about the JFK assassination, claiming the president was taking part in peace talks with Russia and Cuba before his death. Conspiracy theorists rejoice. Screens through Dec. 4 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
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.
Oldboy: Spike Lee’s remake of the brutal Korean revenge saga stars Josh Brolin as a man imprisoned for 20 years by an unknown captor, only to be suddenly released without explanation and taunted by a madman.
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.
Tlateloco, Verano del 68: Two teenagers from the opposite sides of the track find romance during student protests in Mexico City in 1968. Screens through Dec. 5 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Broken Circle Breakdown: A Belgian couple is torn apart by loss and connected by passion for bluegrass music.
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.
Delivery Man: Vince Vaughn’s man-child finds out he has fathered 533 children after donating to a sperm bank for decades. Hollywood at its finest.
Blue is the Warmest Color: A high-school student discovering her burgeoning sexuality falls for a blue-haired art student in this French epic that won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
The Best Man Holiday: A collection of college friends reunite for the holidays after 15 years, revealing a host of grudges and romantic intentions that have been simmering under the surface for years.
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.
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.
Thor: The Dark World: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again brings the hammer down on Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to save the human race and sustain the fragile balance of his own kingdom.
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.
About Time: In Richard Curtis’ (Love Actually) charming modern fable co-starring Rachel McAdams, a young man discovers he can travel through time and seeks to use his power to find his soul mate.
Ender’s Game: Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel about a young pilot fending off an alien threat finally gets adapted for the big screen, surely angering fans everywhere. Harrison Ford co-stars as a growling general.
Free Birds: This animated film follows two combative turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) as they try to get the gobbler off the holiday menu by traveling back in time.
Last Vegas: A foursome of aging Oscar-winning actors (Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Robert De Niro) play seniors who head to Las Vegas for one final hurrah of debauchery and camaraderie.
All is Lost: A nameless Man (Robert Redford) battles extreme weather and technology failure to keep his small sailboat afloat in this thrilling tale of survival from director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call).
The Counselor: Director Ridley Scott brings esteemed author Cormac McCarthy’s first feature screenplay to life. The story centers on a corrupt lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets in deep with a drug kingpin (Brad Pitt).
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: After grossing out America in 3-D, Johnny Knoxville gives his grumpy, ill-mannered, senior-citizen sketch character a feature-film platform.
Captain Phillips: Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.
Deep Sea: A glorious ocean exploration with Del Mar’s own veteran underwater filmmakers and explorers, Howard and Michele Hall. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Gravity: Sandra Bullock plays a marooned astronaut struggling to survive an epic space disaster in Alfonso Cuarón’s breathless adventure film.
Enough Said: The latest slice of modern melodrama from director Nicole Holofcener (Please Give) features a mosaic of confused couples. Stars James Gandolfini in his last screen role.
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.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.