Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, and Lynn Rapoport. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For complete film listings, see www.sfbg.com.
Ballplayer: Pelotero With upbeat music, slick editing, and narration by John Leguizamo, Ballplayer: Pelotero is an entertaining, enlightening investigation into exactly why the Dominican Republic produces so many baseball stars. Comparisons to acclaimed sports doc Hoop Dreams (1994) are apt, as filmmakers Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley travel to the DR to follow a pair of teenage baseball players dreaming of big-league stardom (and big-league paychecks). But the Hoop Dreams kids weren't being confronted by the shady, sinister, bottom-line-obsessed recruiters working for Major League Baseball, which maintains a pee-wee farm system of sorts in the country to train young prospects — the best of whom are snapped up at the magic age of 16 for bargain-basement (relatively speaking) prices. And in this environment, questions about numbers reign supreme: how much with each kid be signed for? And, more intriguingly, is either kid lying about his true age? (1:12) SF Film Society Cinema. (Eddy)
Bonsái Awkward young love blooms in this Chilean import, a hit at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival. (1:35) SF Film Society Cinema.
Crazy Eyes Los Angeles thirtysomething Zach (Lukas Haas, playing a character apparently based on writer-director Adam Sherman — which, if true, yikes) doesn't do anything but party from the minute he wakes up 'till the moment he passes out. Since he's conveniently, inexplicably rich, he also has plenty of time to chase tail; occasionally, very occasionally, he'll make time for his concerned parents and young son, the product of a failed marriage to a woman openly portrayed as a gold digger. Adding to this noxious brew is Rebecca (Madeline Zima), Zach's vapid drinking buddy; she refuses to have sex with him, so he becomes obsessed with her — see, she's the one thing the man who has everything can't have. Deep, man. This is the cinematic equivalent of all that slurring, flailing, late-night drama that goes down outside your local dive bar, amplified to magnificently self-indulgent levels. (1:36) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Crazy Wisdom Not exactly your average Buddhist leader, Chogyam Trungpa was one part monk to two parts rock star. Recognized as a reincarnated master while still an infant, he left Tibet behind to flee Chinese government forces in 1960, eventually landing in the UK, where he founded its first Buddhist center. A decade later he'd move to the US, founding its first Buddhist university. Amidst all that achievement and enlightenment-spreading, however, he also found time to marry a 16-year-old upper-class Brit, have myriad affairs with students, partially paralyze himself driving a car into a shop front, frequently get drunk in public, and so forth — even though, incongruously, he frowned upon marijuana (and rock music). All this made sense in a tradition of Tibetan Buddhist "crazy wisdom" — or so his supporters would (and still) claim in his defense. Having left this life at age 48, his body exhausted by decades of hedonistic excess, he still has a powerful hold over diverse, multi-faith followers and acquaintances who recall his extraordinary spiritual-personal magnetism. Johanna Demetrakas' entertaining documentary gathers up testimony from a gamut of them, including Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Thurman, and Anne Waldman. (1:26) Roxie. (Harvey)
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon An annual family gathering sets the stage for revival of the poisonously competitive rivalry between two thirty-something siblings. Mark (Steve Zissis) has a devoted wife (Jennifer Lafleur), a teenage son (Red Williams), a home, and steady job, but he can still be easily goaded into a frustrated rage by brother Jeremy (Mark Kelly), who has none of the above but still gloats over his alleged victory in an adolescent fraternal mini-Olympics two decades earlier. Their uncomfortable reunion provides an opportunity to settle that score once and for all — even if they must (not very successfully) try to hide this epic athletic rematch between nearly middle-aged schlubs from their disapproving relatives. Penned by the Duplass Brothers (2011's Jeff, Who Lives at Home), and shot several years ago, this feels like a Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly (or whoever) comedy writ small, with the variously normal and silly competitive heats only mildly amusing, and the character drama only slightly more depthed than it would be in a more commercial, slapsticky vehicle. Plus, it's hard to care much about whether the bros achieve reconciliation, since Jeremy is a little too effectively drawn as an annoying, bullying prick in the early going. There's a clever idea at Pentathlon's center, but this just passably diverting feature doesn't make all that much of it. (1:30) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
"Family Screening: The Storytellers Show" A one-time-only engagement, this cosmopolitan, family-friendly compilation of short films is a mixed bag, both content and quality-wise. Certain selections — the beautifully, imaginatively animated, Storyteller (Kahanikar) of England; the live-action, Aussie Play Lunch — are inhibited by the heavy-handed drive to tell a linear story or push a message, while others (the Tim Burton-ish, Alan Rickman-narrated Boy in the Bubble) put forth compelling narratives, hindered by wishy-washy CGI. Strongest are the visually-driven films (the silent, mixed-media Paper Piano from Venezuela, in which a young girl crosses the "dangerous urban jungle" to get to her music lesson), and those whose stories flow naturally (the live-action, left-field documentary The Vacuum Kid, about a tweenage boy who enthusiastically collects vacuum cleaners). As a whole, "The Storytellers Show" is perfectly viable entertainment — but with competition like A Cat in Paris, it's not compulsory viewing, either. (1:06) SF Film Society Cinema. (Taylor Kaplan)
Farewell, My Queen (Benoît Jacquot, France, 2012) Opening early on the morning of July 14, 1789, Farewell, My Queen depicts four days at the Palace of Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution, as witnessed by a young woman named Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) who serves as reader to Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). Sidonie displays a singular and romantic devotion to the queen, while the latter's loyalties are split between a heedless amour propre and her grand passion for the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). These domestic matters and other regal whims loom large in the tiny galaxy of the queen's retinue, so that while elsewhere in the palace, in shadowy, candle-lit corridors, courtiers and their servants mingle to exchange news, rumor, panicky theories, and evacuation plans, in the queen's quarters the task of embroidering a dahlia for a projected gown at times overshadows the storming of the Bastille and the much larger catastrophe on the horizon. (1:39) Embarcadero. (Rapoport)
Ice Age: Continental Drift This time with pirates. (1:27) Presidio.
Magic of Belle Isle Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen star in this Rob Reiner-directed drama about an alcoholic writer who gets a new lease on life after befriending the neighbors at his lakeside cabin. (1:49) Opera Plaza.
Patang (The Kite) Loving memories tethered to a place (Ahmedabad, India), moment (the city's kite festival, the largest of its kind in the country), and season (according to the Hindu calendar, the event coincides with the day that wind direction shifts) beautifully suffuse this first feature film by director and co-writer Prashant Bhargava. Certainly Patang (The Kite) is the story of a family: Delhi businessman Jayesh (Mukund Shukla) has returned with his freewheeling, movie-camera-toting daughter Priya (Sugandha Garg) to his majestically ramshackle family home, where he supports his mother, sister-in-law (Seema Biswas of 1994's Bandit Queen), and nephew Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). He's come to indulge his childhood love of kite flying and to introduce Priya to Ahmedabad's old-world sights and ways. Entangled among the strands of story are past resentments —harbored by Chakku against his paternalistic uncle — and new hopes, particularly in the form of a budding romance between Priya and Bobby (Aakash Maherya), the son of the kite shop owner. Above all — and as much a presence as any other — is the city, with its fleeting pleasures and memorable faces, captured with vérité verve and sensuous lyricism on small HD cameras by Bhargava and director of photography Shanker Raman. Their imagery imprints on a viewer like an early memory, darting to mind like those many bright kites dancing buoyantly in the city sky. (1:32) Metreon. (Chun)
Red Dog Already a monster hit in Australia, provenance of the Babe movies, this animal-centric charmer comes to the Bay Area as part of the Windrider Bay Area Film Forum in Atherton. It's based on Louis de Bernières' collection of tales (and tall tales) about a legendary canine that roamed the country's Northwestern wilderness in the 1970s. Director Kriv Stenders centers his film in the mining burg that erected a statue to the animal after its death — an event that serves as the movie's starting point, as the townspeople gather to toast Red Dog's many contributions to the community (in addition to providing a much-needed source of amusement in a bleak, barren place, he also became a mascot for the local union, match-made multiple couples, prevented a suicide-by-shark attempt, and engaged in epic brawls with his arch-nemesis, Red Cat). It's a shaggy, sentimental story elevated by some appealing human performances — Josh Lucas is the token American star, though Aussie film fans will recognize Noah Taylor and Keisha Castle-Hughes — and, of course, one very charismatic pooch. If you can't make the trek down the peninsula for the screening, Red Dog will be available On Demand starting August 14; the DVD will be out September 4. (1:32) Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center. (Eddy)
Beasts of the Southern Wild Six months after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (and a Cannes Camera d'Or), Beasts of the Southern Wild proves capable of enduring a second or third viewing with its originality and strangeness fully intact. Magical realism is a primarily literary device that isn't attempted very often in U.S. cinema, and succeeds very rarely. But this intersection between Faulkner and fairy tale, a fable about — improbably — Hurricane Katrina, is mysterious and unruly and enchanting. Benh Zeitlin's film is wildly cinematic from the outset, as voiceover narration from six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) offers simple commentary on her rather fantastical life. She abides in the Bathtub, an imaginary chunk of bayou country south of New Orleans whose residents live closer to nature, amid the detritus of civilization. Seemingly everything is some alchemical combination of scrap heap, flesh, and soil. But not all is well: when "the storm" floods the land, the holdouts are forced at federal gunpoint to evacuate. With its elements of magic, mythological exodus, and evolutionary biology, Beasts goes way out on a conceptual limb; you could argue it achieves many (if not more) of the same goals Terrence Malick's 2011 The Tree of Life did at a fraction of that film's cost and length. (1:31) Bridge, California, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Neil Young Journeys Interested in going back further with Neil Young, back beyond 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere? With Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006) and Neil Young Trunk Show (2009) under his belt, Jonathan Demme has clearly earned the trust of the singer-songwriter, who occasionally likes to flex his multi-hyphenate creative muscles as a director himself, working under the name Bernard Shakey. The music-loving filmmaker tails Young as he drives through his hometown of Omemee, Ontario, shares glimpses of his school, named after his newspaper-man father, his small-town streets, and his home, and then takes it back to the stage and performs at Toronto's Massey Hall. The stories and sights will interest mostly Young fans — you definitely get a feel for Young's roots, but the place and its tales won't jump out dramatically; they merely visualize factoids one can cull from sources like James McDonough's bio Shakey — but performance dominates this concert film. Playing solo on guitar, harmonica, and in at least one memorable instance, pipe organ (for a hammered-home "After the Gold Rush"), the songs range from the still-moving, sprawling "Ohio" to "Love and War" off 2010's Le Noise. It's all love here for the Young diehard, though for an insightful, passionate tour doc, one might look to Shakey's own CSNY/ Deja Vu (2008) or, for the performer's finest cinematic performances, to Rust Never Sleeps (1979) and The Last Waltz (1978). (1:27) SF Center, Shattuck. (Chun) *