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Ping Pong Summer Blu-ray Review

Ping Pong Summer (2014) movie poster Ping Pong Summer

Theatrical Release: June 6, 2014 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Michael Tully

Cast: Marcello Conte (Radford "Rad" "Radical" Miracle), Myles Massey (Teduardo "Teddy" Fryy), Emmi Shockley (Stacy Summers), Joseph McCaughtry (Lyle Ace), Andy Riddle (Dale Lyons), Helena Seabrook (Michelle Miracle), Maddie Howard (Rhonda), Gibril Wilson (Rod Fryy), Judah Friedlander (Anthony), Robert Longstreet (Uncle Jim), Amy Sedaris (Aunt Peggy), Lea Thompson (Candall Miracle), John Hannah (Brendan Miracle), Susan Sarandon (Randi Jammer)

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Some films set in the past are lax about establishing their setting, possibly even slipping period classification past you. Then there are films like Ping Pong Summer,
where the evocative recreated time and place is the film's raison d'κtre.

This new film is set in Ocean City, Maryland during the summer of 1985, something it doesn't let you forget for even a second. Eighties nostalgia has grown prevalent in cinema over the past few years. '80s film and toy franchises are frequently being revived, remade, or rebooted. Filmmakers with creative power are eager either to revisit their formative years or at least pay homage to the movies that influenced them then.

The previous sentence applies squarely to Ping Pong Summer, a film that simply wouldn't exist without its '80s setting. Writer-director Michael Tully adds to his modest body of work with this independent coming-of-age comedy enamored with the idea of a mid-'80s adolescence.

Teddy Fryy (Myles Massey) and Radford Miracle (Marcello Conte) quickly become best friends in "Ping Pong Summer", a coming-of-age comedy set in 1985 Ocean City, Maryland.

Baltimore teenager Radford "Rad" Miracle (newcomer Marcello Conte) is taking a family vacation with his parents (John Hannah and Lea Thompson) and pissy goth older sister Michelle (Helena Seabrook) to their touristy usual coastal destination of Ocean City. Our attentions are fixed on Rad, a shy boy who will start high school in the fall. Rad's current interests are rap music and ping pong. He brings his own paddle along. Quickly and effortlessly, he makes a new best friend in Teduardo "Teddy" Fryy (Myles Massey), a Jheri-curled black boy who shares Rad's affinities for rap and ping pong.

Teddy introduces Rad to the Fun Hub, a nondescript building with a bustling arcade inside. It is the place to be for young teenagers and it's there that Rad's eye is caught by Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley), a fashionable trendsetter with a vice: "funk punch", soft drinks spiked with either sugar or cocaine. (Suspicion of the latter and some underage drinking may have earned this a soft R rating had it been submitted to the MPAA, but it's really a PG-13 production at heart.)

Though Rad quickly declares this the best summer ever, it's not without some conflict. Also vying for Stacy's affections and table tennis supremacy is Lyle Ace (Joseph McCaughtry), a rich, Iroc-driving resident who embarrasses Rad in a spontaneous ping pong showdown. Fortunately, Rad gets some assistance from the sage who lives next door to the house his family's renting, "town weirdo" and former ping pong champion Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon).

Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) is hesitant to make a move on his summer crush Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley). Neighbor and former ping pong champion Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon) comes out of reclusion to coach Rad in his big rematch.

Ping Pong Summer gets the fashions and slang of the '80s just right. It's impossible not to recognize it as the work of a former '80s teen who knows and loves '80s movies. That is a big part of the film's appeal. It isn't just set in the '80s, but it looks and feels like a movie from that decade, down to a montage set to an utterly sincere song about friendship. Despite the familiar faces filling supporting roles, this is a genuinely independent film whose budget couldn't have been much bigger than very low seven figures.
Considering that, the film does an admirable job of transporting us back nearly thirty years, with every calf-high striped sock and pink clothing article looking perfectly authentic. IMDb's Goofs page busts the film for the Miracles' apparently driving a 1989 Chevy Caprice, which seems like a pretty big anachronism to miss. But Tully and company excel at stretching the budget to include fitting '80s songs, including an original tune that could easily be mistaken for a chart-topper thirty years ago, and a suitably upbeat electronic score.

If you're unmoved by '80s culture and styles, this nostalgic film may not do a whole lot for you. The story and protagonist are familiar and unremarkable. But that's okay, because the authentic and flavorful presentation still entertains thoroughly and the viewer's enjoyment doesn't much hedge on whether Rad gets the girl or wins the big rematch.

After premiering at Sundance 2014 and proceeding to make the US festival circuit, Ping Pong Summer received a limited release in 17 theaters in early June from tiny Gravitas Ventures. The $53 thousand it grossed there won't do much to recoup production costs and the mixed reviews from the few critics covering the film won't do much to advance the under-the-radar career of Tully or his generally inexperienced cast. Still, you've got a chance to discover this fun little film before the end of summer courtesy of today's Millennium Entertainment DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Ping Pong Summer Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($28.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Until something changes, the first thing to tackle here on a Millennium Entertainment disc is aspect ratio. Fortunately, Ping Pong Summer appears in 1.85:1, matching the aspect ratio of its theatrical exhibition as opposed to cropping the film from something wider. Shot on Super 16, the film sports more grain than its contemporaries, a deliberate move that only adds to its '80s cred. The picture is otherwise clean and reasonably sharp.

Equally satisfactory is the default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, which brims with life. Music is a key element of the film's arsenal, but the mix also does a fine job of distributing dialogue and ambient noise, even if the ping pong sounds don't always seem perfectly in sync.

Evidently staying in character as the film's preppy antagonist, Joseph McCaughtry messes with a crew member in "Lazer Beach: The Making of 'Ping Pong Summer.'" Rad and Teddy draw a crowd with their long volley on the Ping Pong Summer Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Michael Tully and producer George Rush.

Tully reveals the film's autobiographical elements, that the film is more than twenty years in the making (with yearly drafts), and that the long Casey Kasem song dedication heard comes from a real "Top 40" broadcast. With Tully leading the way, this track, recorded pre-release in Ireland, relies a bit on narrating the action but features plenty of remarks about the film's conception and production. The suitable topics covered -- e.g. contributor acknowledgements, influences, period details, clearing music on a tight budget -- are shared with typical indie filmmaker enthusiasm.

On the video side, we get "Lazer Beach: The Making of Ping Pong Summer" (14:02), an HD featurette that reinforces the indie nature of production. Comments from countless cast and crew members discuss the experience of filming this '80s-set comedy in Maryland. The talking heads are complimented by some (but not enough) behind-the-scenes footage.

The previews menu provides individual access to the SD disc-opening trailers for Rob the Mob, Stuck in Love, Parts Per Billion, and Charlie Countryman. It also adds a 2-minute, 11-second Ping Pong Summer trailer (also SD), which makes the film look far older than the feature presentation does.

The menu sets clips to funky score excerpts with borders adapted from the sunny cover art. The Blu-ray sadly doesn't let you set bookmarks or resume unfinished playback.

No slipcover or inserts liven up the plain keepcase.

All ready for an awkward family photo, the Miracles (Marcello Conte, Lea Thompson, John Hannah, and Helena Seabrook) set their sights on their rented Ocean City summer home.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Ping Pong Summer offers more wit, fun and flavor than its somewhat generic-looking packaging and modest theatrical release and reception indicate. Easy to like (and probably to rewatch), this genuinely 1980s-styled comedy is a little film worth discovering.

Millennium's Blu-ray release is nothing out of the ordinary, but the handful of extras are good and the feature presentation doesn't appear to be compromised.

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Related Reviews:
The Way, Way Back • Adventureland • Son of Rambow • The Squid and the Whale • Take Me Home Tonight
Hot Tub Time Machine • Kickin' It Old Skool • Rock of Ages • Labor Day • The Kings of Summer
Eagle vs Shark • Girl Most Likely • Someone Up There Likes Me • Ping Pong • Balls of Fury • Forrest Gump • Lullaby
Susan Sarandon: Middle of Nowhere • That's My Boy | John Hannah: Four Weddings and a Funeral

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Reviewed August 5, 2014.



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