Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ping Pong Summer

IFFBoston's tweet/Facebook post about this selection from the 2014 festival mentioned that it played in the period-appropriate (for a 1980s coming-of-age movie) Apple Cinemas at Fresh Pond, which is maybe a bit mean; Apple does seem to have upgraded the place a bit in the last year. Well, at least screen #7, which happens to be the same one where I saw Snabba Cash 2 a few months back. I kind of doubt that's the only one that got new seats when they started putting the video screens and such up in the lobby, though.

But, hey, aside from not actually being a bad place to see a movie right now, going Tuesday night meant I got to see it at a period-appropriate price of $4.75, which is pretty unfathomable in the Boston area. As in, you could pay to get on the T, take it to Alewife Station, pay for the movie, and then pay for a T ride back home, and be paying less than an afternoon ticket at most of the multiplexes, let alone an evening one. That discount applies to everyone on Tuesdays, seniors on Mondays, and students on Wednesdays.

(Cue comments from my friends and family in Maine who don't see what the big deal is about a five dollar movie ticket.)

The downside, it turned out, was that this would have been an awfully easy movie for me to bail on without feeling too bad about not getting my money's worth in my penny-pinching heart. I was ready to do so a few times during the first half, and it's not like my way would have been obstructed. It's one of those times when I wonder how seeing it under different circumstances might have changed my experience - would seeing it at IFFBoston, with a packed house and maybe a word or two before the screening have had me more likely to laugh? Would it have been even further diminished if I watched it alone in my living room? Did the knowledge of its short run push me into seeing it at a time when I wasn't really in the mood?

I did wind up enjoying it - it is a movie where Susan Sarandon threatens obnoxious teenagers with a fish, after all, and you sort of have to love that on some level. It's playing one more day at the Apple*, and is at least available for rent via Amazon.

* Doesn't quite sound right, does it? Maybe if they put a big apple on their fa├žade, which they should, because everyone knows being able to call a theater "the something" improves the experience by about 10%.

Oh, and one last thing: Despite a soundtrack full of 1980s music, this is what I had running through my head on the way home:



I'm sorry/you're welcome.

Ping Pong Summer

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2014 in Apple Cinemas #7 (first-run, DCP)

Ping Pong Summer could probably stand to be cut down to half its length, which is a bit of a problem because it only runs 92 minutes as it is. Maybe the time it spends hanging out with 14-year-old Radford "Rad" Miracle is crucial, and the audience wouldn't appreciate the weird but fairly entertaining last leg of the movie without the first hour getting it settled. I like that theory better than the one where writer/director Michael Tully thinks all of his childhood memories are interesting to the smallest detail.

The bit that opens the movie, for instance, which has Rad (Marcello Conte) trying to hard-boil an egg in the microwave, goes on for a while for not a lot of payoff before Rad and his family head out to spend the summer in Ocean City. It's not very long before Rad, who loves ping-pong and rap music (it's 1985 and stuff like The Fat Boys still seems pretty harmless), finds a new friend in Teddy Fryy (Myles Massey) into the same things. He also meets Staci Summers (Emmi Shockley), a local girl who seems to waver between liking him and Lyle Ace (Joseph McCaughtry), a rich jackass who, to add insult to injury, skunks Rad at the Fun Hub's ping-pong table.

It's a bit horrifying to realize, early on in a movie like this, that its nostalgic filmmakers are targeting you with some fair amount of precision, especially if you've spent any amount of time rolling your eyes at movies trying to make points about growing up from an outdated template. Once that sinks in, there's a further sorry of horror in how Tully is not presenting this time in the way one remembers it, but the way it actually was. And not just in terms of garish, dated clothing, either, but weird obsessions, the basic impossibility of being cool, and the lack of any vocabulary other than "cool" to describe anything. Oh, Tully does occasionally go a bit overboard with grainy freeze-frames and montages, and all the 1980s songs a small music clearance budget can afford, but he is fully aware of just how unformed and not-witty middle-schoolers can be, no matter how often they are written as clever.

Full review at EFC

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