You already have your tickets for The Dark Knight Rises (opens July 20) — if not, you might want to get on that — but there's an entire week between then and now. Parental types are already locked into Ice Age: Continental Drift, which, in addition to Ray Romano and company, features teenage mammoths voiced by Nicki Minaj and Drake and a baboon pirate captain voiced by Peter Dinklage. So there's that. Cineastes won't want to miss the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (check out Dennis Harvey's tribute to featured filmmaker William Beaudine here).
The best of the rest includes an eye-opening doc about teen athletes being groomed for MLB in the Dominican Republic; a doc about a rebellious Tibetan Buddhist; a lush Marie Antoinette drama; a family drama set against the backdrop of a kite festival in India; and an Australian import about a dog whose scruffy brio united a hardscrabble community. Which one made me sob like a tween Belieber? Hint: its star has four legs and very pointy ears.
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. (Cheryl 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. (Dennis Harvey)
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) (Lynn Rapoport)
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) (Kimberly 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)