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Ping Pong Summer
Nostalgia can be a lot of fun. Ping Pong Summer is the latest in a number of films to remember this idea and to carry it along it's independently minded (and produced) journey. This film is a love song to the joy of the 80's and the good times that the filmmaker experienced with classic 80's cinema and music. For viewers who loved the 1980's (and seriously, who didn't?!) this is something that evokes some of that same summer magic that the film's characters experience. Time for Icees, competitive ping pong, dancing, and to get that swell summer groovin' along! Yeah! (Did someone say 'awesome'?)
The story focuses on 13 year old Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) and his epic summer of fun vacation set to ping pong, beach visits, boom-box hip-hop music, and making new friends. Summer fun and self discovery are key components of the journey. The vacation starts as unexpectedly slowly as some might recall of their own vacations, but quickly becomes a wondrous thing when Rad meets his new best friend and the two soon share in a greatly entertaining summer vacation of listening to tunes, having a first crush, and spending an incredible amount of time simply goofing off with style.
As the story unfolds, the core obstacle of the film is a ping pong competition. Rad and his friend must face off rich racist bullies in a competitive ping pong extravaganza, and the storytelling is focused largely on the looming stakes of whether or not Rad can defeat the bullies, defend his sense of self-worth, and "get the girl" - his summer crush Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley), a popular girl who has both a crush for Rad and a odd off-and-on relationship with Rad's bully competition. Can Rad be radically amazing and defeat those no-cool buzz-kills? The film's showdown reveals whether he can be a master pong champ or be left merely to fizzle.
Helping Rad against the competition is a master of the craft: Ping Pong expert and winning competitive player Randi Jammer (performed by the real-life Ping Pong aficionado Susan Sarandon), who trains him leading up to the big competition with her own skills and the expertise needed to win. Rad is given essential words of wisdom from Jammer to 'focus' everything on the ball and on nothing else. This tip-top tip helps him to perfect his skills.
The story also implements Rad's time spent with his family, including Dad Miracle (John Hannah), Mom Miracle (Lea Thompson), and sister Michelle (Helena May Seabrook). In fleeting moments, the story focuses on their visits to fellow (obnoxious) relatives, a food 'extraordinaire' buffet of 80's American buffet classics, and the quiet moments between competitive ping pong. The story gains some extra heart by having such moments and emphasizing the family dynamics - even if it remains a backdrop to the summer fun.
Writer/director Michael Tully does a good job recalling the magic of the 80's throughout. If everything was a bit less humorous and whimsical as the effort seemed to aspire to, it's nonetheless an effective recall to the 80's with the high nostalgia felt today. While the fundamental backdrop of the film is summer vacation, the film manages to convey the significantly different culture of the 80's well and a large reason for this is Tully's good understanding of the time period.
Tully knows that the 80's were a sweeter, gentler time in many regards and seems to want to convey that vibe - thus the focus on summer time of teenage youth and the good times that occurred. The cast does a good job of working with the material and bringing the respective characters to life in a way that makes the film more fun and enjoyable. While the pacing is sometimes a bit slow or relaxed, it seems to fit the tone and authenticity the film is aiming towards with this slice-of-life throwback film. The direction and stylistic flairs are generally impressive and seem to perfectly illustrate the time and spirit.
The efforts of those involved in the costume department, make-up, and hair-styling have also significantly aided the efforts of Tully as a filmmaker as these components were really quite amazingly well done and do convey the time in a way that is believable and impressive for a independent feature production. Filming was done entirely in Ocean City, Maryland and the location perfectly fits the story. Director Tully grew up in this area and was able to recreate a wonderful sense of the locations aesthetics of the time, including an emphasis on the various billboards and store signs that one can easily imagine existing during that time. These design elements aid the film's aura and increase the enjoyment one feel's taking a ride alongside this filmmaker's hip (hoppin') nostalgia trip.
There are other elements of the production that also aid the story quite well. The music in the film works well to bring to mind 80's beats with every turn of the story. While the songs that appear in the film are mostly obscure, the sound and energy of them fits the time frame well. Score-wise, the music by Michael Montes feels perfectly in line with the energy and vibe in every frame of the film. The goal of director Tully and composer Montes clearly had good synergy that worked well.
Also aiding the effectiveness of the production is the stylish and perfectly retro cinematography with the same senilities in filming one would find in actual films from the 80's. At the director's insistence, Ping Pong Summer was filmed utilizing Super 16 mm film stock and this decision combined with the color palette, naturalistic film grain, and aesthetic choices of the director of photography Wyatt Garfield makes the film's environment and mood created so much more effective and enjoyable. The nostalgia filmmaking seems to literally bounce off of the screen with these stylish and creative implementations.
The cast is largely wonderful here. The lead actor Marcello Conte was perfectly cast as Rad Miracle. The supporting players all do impressive work in their respective roles and these performances enhance this film on many levels. It was a bit of a joy to see these actors in charming parts here. Sarandon is a huge Ping Pong fan in real life so her inclusion her is completely notable, and her performance effectively elevates many scenes in the film. The genius inclusion of Lea Thompson, in a fun (if small) part was a nice touch (as was the quick recall to Back to the Future with a background DeLorean parked in a car lot during one smart sequence).
While the film's simplicity and lack of great laughs might be a bit disappointing, the mood and spirit of the story is effectively conveyed from everyone involved in this production and it's an entertaining throwback to simpler times. The production elements were consistently impressive. The characters are great and the story being told by Tully is an interesting and charming one that is sure to leave smiles on audiences as the credits roll. This film would make an excellent night of fun during this (or any) summer and is a commendable and creative effort worth seeking out.
This MPEG-4 AVC encoded Blu-ray release presents the film in 1080p High Definition. The film was produced utilizing Super 16 mm film stock, and while this results in some softness inherent in the style employed, this is the perfect type of film to maintain an authentic and believable look for the film.
One could easily mistake this film for being something made around the 1985 setting if it weren't for the obvious inclusions of popular actors beloved in various 80's productions appearing here after the amount of time that transpired. Everything about the film's cinematic aesthetic works well here and this Blu-ray release is a quality one that manages to present that aura effectively from the 2K Digital Intermediate.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD is pretty good for the most part and works well with this type of film. There isn't a lot going on in the surrounds but the use of music is well implemented for some occasional surround usage and the mostly simple front-stage mix seems befitting for this 80's inspired film. The lossless audio is well defined and capable of presenting the dialogue well.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided.
This release contains two supplements: Audio Commentary with writer/director Michael Tully and producer George Rush and Lazer Beach: The Making of Ping Pong Summer (14 min., HD) which features interviews with production members discussing their roles on the film, the film itself is discussed, and the making-of showcases some behind the scenes footage from during production and filming.
Ping Pong Summer is a film that will presents audiences with a good bit of summer fun and 80's throwback magic. The performances and these offbeat characters help to make this movie quite enjoyable. The production elements are spot on in recreating an 80's vibe throughout. This is a good Blu-ray release with quality PQ/AQ and a couple of supplements, making this release a worthwhile purchase for fans.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.