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Somos Las Bolas

This is a story of two great men. In 2004, Philip J Reed VSc, wrote a short story cataloguing the implosion of a group of friends, brought about by a ping-pong table. In 2006, Andrew Edmark brought it to the medium of film.

Alright, that's enough of that. Basically, Andrew Edmark read the small, but perfectly formed, Somos Las Bolas, and reckoned he could adapt it to film. And so he has. I should say before I go any further that I do have a vested interest in this film, as I donated a whole $40 to the production. Still, I'll try and keep impartial.

The narrator, Beth and Drew watch a ping-pong match.
The narrator, Beth and Drew.

Once he had the film rights to Somos Las Bolas in his mucky paws, Andrew went a-casting. In his words: "There really weren't any auditions for the film. Everyone who acted in Somos is a friend of mine (which was probably a mistake in hindsight) and I selected each one according to who I thought fitted which character the best."

It's to Andrew's credit that each member of the cast fits their role perfectly, with a very special mention to James (Jimmy) Bleecker Jr, who plays the narrator. Jimmy brings true meaning to the narrator, with every line of dialogue he speaks fitting just right, and conveying more emotion in his expressions than a 500 page novel could manage. He is blessed with perhaps the saddest eyes in the Western world, and I defy any woman watching him to not want to pick him up and take him home. But don't take my word for it, for goodness' sake! Try taking Phil's: "Jimmy, as the narrator, was too good. I'm glad I don't (and probably won't ever) know him in reality, because he BECAME the narrator, completely and totally. It was a chillingly correct portrayal of that character, and even when he delivered lines in a way sometimes opposite to what I intended, I realized, while he was speaking them, that he was right; this IS how they would sound. He was just phenomenal."

Beth gets 'magical' on the narrator's ass.
Beth and the narrator.

Jimmy is partnered for most of the film with Abby Van Gerpen, who plays the femme who heightens the tension. Don't they always? In my mind, Beth wasn't quite as sweet as Abby plays her, but I certainly had a girl who looked just like her in my head. Abby's portrayal is probably a little too cute for me, but you can certainly credit all the men around her going crazy for her approval. She certainly has the kind of eyes that you could curl up and float away in, which can only work to her advantage in her future career. May she forever meet a tragic end on celluloid. Beth is certainly a difficult part to play, as there isn't a strong character trait to hang onto, due to Beth provoking reactions in others rather than having many of her own.

However, fortunately for the viewer, Beth has a polar opposite; Sloe Jane, played by Frances Martel. I love Frances' performance in this, due to her ability to capture all the vain optimism, social awkwardness and sadness of the character during her short time on screen. Andrew explains: "Frances is one of my very good friends and she has a wonderful sense of humor. I knew as soon as I decided to make the film that she would be the only girl I knew who would have the courage and character to perform such a scene and such a character. She probably hates me for it now, but I personally think she gives one of the best performances in the film and she admits she had a lot of fun. I wish I could've given her a bigger role in the film, but sadly Somos is a male-dominated cast. Though I must say in the beginning of the film Frances's hands make an appearance for about 20 seconds." Phil is also pleased with the enhanced impact Sloe Jane has: "I'm particularly fond of seeing Sloe Jane in action, as the narrator's immediate physical panic when she tried to kiss him is very telling." In fact, Jimmy puts in yet another fantastic performance, creating so much embarrassment that the viewer can't help but put their hands to their face whilst watching.

Enrico steps up to challenge Andy.

So, what about the rest of the cast? The real upset in the original story is Enrico, who turns out to be Andy's (the ping-pong king) nemesis, and although his presence in the film is fleeting, Jake Pilcher manages to make him dominate during his screen time. The rather stunning soundtrack, arranged and performed by Scott Morschhauser and Kathleen Gallagher, comes into its own here with a witty Western-style diversion when Andy and Enrico face off. When I heard early cuts of dialogue, I complained about his accent, and although I don't think it really improves, his clownish performance of Enrico means that it doesn't really matter. As Andrew says: "Yes, it was a lot of fun working with Jake. He is quite the funny man. We had a blast with him on set and he was a great supplier of some funny outtakes. His improvisational skills are astounding, so I just let him roll with the character and he made it his own. It's very different from the Enrico in the story, but somehow it still works... (At least, I think so.)" Phil is less sure about the performance: "Slightly disappointing was Enrico, if only because his lack of screentime made him seem more a caricature than a character. I think the inclusion of other character-building scenes from the story would have helped, but there's no way of knowing that. His accent was inaccurate, but it didn't really bother me. It reminded me a lot of Pop from The League of Gentlemen, whose accent is really just "foreign." The only thing I wish Andrew had done would be to cut out the specific reference to upbringing in Barcelona. I think, considering the accent wasn't quite Spanish, it would be perfectly fine so long as a specific place of birth wasn't indicated. He'd work--as Pop worked--as "foreign," and left at that."

The narrator regrets sleeping on Andy's couch.
The narrator.

As it happens, Andrew explains why Enrico perhaps doesn't quite have the same impact that he does in the book: "But, there is one thing I have to say about Jake and it is that he wasn't very good at the whole scheduling thing. I mean, I love Jake to death, but I very much wanted to film the scene in which his character explains to Beth the importance of ping pong and it's relation to life. But on the day we were scheduled to film it, Jake never showed up. Eventually he gave me a good reason, but regardless we didn't get the scene. I tried my best to make up for, and hopefully it didn't hurt the film too much." So there you have it, folks. Such is the way with amateur films; I've appeared in one myself, so I can understand.

Another mishap the film suffered from was the exit of Brandt Curtis, who played the sulky, boastful Andy. This affected a key scene in the book, where the narrator is run over by his own car, driven by a drunk, despairing Andy. It took some creative slight-of-hand to cover up for this, not to mention a 'reimagining': "Essentially I had this great scene written where Jimmy and Bob pull up, meet Drew on the steps and they basically carry on the conversation they have in the story. I tried to stay close to how the story went at this point because it was written so well in the first place. So we would've had Brandt come out holding a paddle in his hand, all sweaty and drunk. Then a fight would've broke out with him and Jayson, the guy who played Drew, where they would wrestle on the grass. Well, it was pretty intense and it was one of the scenes I really looked forward to filming. But unfortunately, by the time we got to it Brandt had left the film and we were very limited in what we could shoot. There is more footage from that scene that I didn't include, but I may include it on the DVD." It's a real shame that it didn't get filmed, but the essential message of the story is still conveyed, so overall it's not a significant loss.

My favourite version of the Somos Las Bolas poster.
Somos Las Bolas poster.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is not individual scenes or performances, but how Andrew managed to convey the full impact of the story whilst not sticking strictly to the text. Obviously, for most adaptations, some rewriting is needed, but the additions and changes in emphasis certainly seem more fitting to the film than just a straight retelling of the original text. Luckily for Andrew, Phil agrees: "Andrew conveyed a quite different vision than I believe I did with my story, but I do feel that they work in tandem. The most interesting thing, to me, was the unchanged dialogue, which - by sheer virtue of performance - became something else entirely, sometimes without changing even a word. I'm thinking of the final scene with the narrator and Bob Kozlowski... which reads in the story like two hopeless imbeciles attempting a limp conversation. In the film it's almost heartbreaking, because Bob Kozlowski is making a very real attempt at communication, and the narrator is ill-equipped to respond. It became one of the highlights of the film for me, and it's completely independent of anything I had intended."

In fact, Phil has more to say about Austin Johnson, who plays Bob Kozlowski: "...he really turned what could have been a throwaway scene into one of the emotional nodes of the film. He's distant, but sincere...just like the narrator, but in a completely different way. His silence during the film also mirrors the silence of the narrator, which offers up a great suggestion that, within Bob's own mind, another, complementary story has been running all along.

Throughout the story the reader is frustrated by the narrator's inability to let Beth in...that comes through in the film, obviously, but there's an added moment with Bob now, which is at least as frustrating, and possibly more so...because you realize that there IS somebody who would understand, who has just as much trouble conveying what he thinks as the narrator does... but, again, there's no bridge between them. Only a gap."

The narrator's gap between him and his circle of friends struck a chord in me, which led me to conclude that the narrator was the hero of the piece (my lust for Jimmy was, admittedly, a factor as well), which Andrew castigates me for: "I find it funny you call Jimmy's character a hero. He's not actually saving anyone, and in fact he is destroying himself during the film. No, I can't have you calling him a hero anymore... You must call him the villain."

Maybe Andrew is right. The narrator brings nothing to the lives of the other characters (all beautifully played), and brings even less to his own (ignore the logic, I'm trying to be deep here), which, I guess, makes him a pretty destructive character. Perhaps Jimmy plays the equivalent of the sad-eyed puppy that passes on his tapeworm to you in return for your love and attention. Damn.

Somos Las Bolas was by far my favourite story in the collection God Ran Out of Faces, and if simply told, affecting, beautifully filmed stories are your thing, you won’t be disappointed. Also, you’ll want to lick the two leads like lollies, which has to be yet another reason to click that ‘Buy’ button. Click it. Click it NOW. Or, if you’re good at words and that, enter Phil’s competition by March 15 2007.

P.S. Should you be interested in the history of the production, the film blog is available.

About this entry


Best review of 2007!!! 5 ping-pong balls out of 4!

By aedmark
February 21, 2007 @ 1:30 am

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Hey, good news everybody! Somos is now on the "On the Lot" website. Please vote for it so I can be on the show!

By Andrew Edmark
February 21, 2007 @ 4:04 am

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This is the best review so far of this film. It really captures the important information whilst giving a little background info too. Much easier to read than Phil's page upon page of babbling.

You may also find it interesting to know that the $40 you sent was the entire budget for the film. Yay Tanya for buying Somos Las Bolas!

By Harry Day
February 21, 2007 @ 5:24 am

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You know, once upon a time I was interested in seeing this...until I realized that I hate Phil Reed and Andrew Edmark.

Seriously, this looks far better than it probably has any right to be. When it comes to literature (or, in Phil's case, modern day penny dreadfuls) being adapted to film, I've always thought that the film shouldn't be so faithful to the original story that it stifles itself as a film. I still haven't seen Somos Las Bolas, but from what I have seen, either through trailers or from clips Andrew has posted, I like how things that were only briefly mentioned in the story have been fleshed out, like the Sloe Jane scene. It gives the film a different feel to the story.

Of course, not having seen the whole thing, there is always the possibility that Andrew filmed five or so minutes of real material just to enter the "On the Lot" contest and the rest is an expose of Phil Reed's sexual deviancy and hideously malformed pinky finger. Because if Edmark hasn't made that documentary, then I will.

By Austin Ross
February 21, 2007 @ 7:00 am

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SLB is fantastical in every sense of the word. Of course, I am slightly biased...

By Catie O
February 21, 2007 @ 9:23 am

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>if Edmark hasn't made that documentary, then I will.

I want to do another commentary track.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
February 21, 2007 @ 12:47 pm

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The On the Lot submission I hacked together is rubbish, Austin. I promise, the full film is much much better. You won't be dissapointed. If you are... Then.. Well.. You have shit taste.

By Andrew Edmark
February 21, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

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