Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Can You Name the Capital of Lithuania?

All I know about Lithuania is that it is a "Baltic state" & a formerly part of the USSR.  Hard pressed to identify Lithuania on a map or identify a Lithuanian, I took in The Other Dream Team at the Landmark Embarcadero.

The Other Dream Team; directed by Marius Markevicius; documentary (2011) - Official Website

The Other Dream Team tells the story of the 1992 Lithuanian men's basketball Olympic team.  1992 was the Olympics held in Barcelona and the big story of the games was the US men's basketball team (aka The Dream Team) featuring Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, et al.  While the Dream Team cakewalked to a gold medal, there was considerable drama surrounding the Lithuanian team.

Rewinding to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the USSR defeated the USA in the gold medal game.  This set off panic that the US had lost its dominance in basketball.  The rally cry became let the best play.  The US had not allowed NBA players to compete in the Olympics because they did not feel they were "amateurs."  However the Soviets paid their national team members a salary/stipend so to compete on level ground, the US decided to send its pros to Barcelona and recapture the gold.  One little noticed fact about the 1988 gold medalists was that the four of the starting five were from Lithuania.  Even more amazing is that the four Lithuanians were from the same small city (Kaunas).  Two of the four would go on to play in the NBA - Golden State Warrior swingman Šarūnas Marčiulionis (from the Run TMC era) and center Arvydas Sabonis who would join the Portland Trailblazers at the relatively late age of 31 years old.  Rounding out the Lithuanian Fab Four were Valdemaras Chomičius and Rimas Kurtinaitis, both of whom had professional careers in Europe.

I can't really say I knew that much about Lithuania or their basketball team but I do recall the tie-dye shirts and merchandise they wore which resulted from financial support from the band The Grateful Dead. As it turns out, basketball has been Lithuania's national sport since the 1930s when Lithuanian-American Frank Lubin (aka "the Godfather of Lithuanian Basketball) led the national team to several European title.  After the Soviets subsumed Lithuania, their players competed on the Soviet national team.  What is frequently forgotten is that the people in the Soviet republics felt like second class citizens (with Russians being first class).  As one of the players noted during an interview, the 1988 Soviet team had more non-Russians than Russians.  It's clear that the Soviet Union was an amalgamation of nationalities and not a unified nation.

By 1992, the USSR was dissolved and Lithuania wanted to reclaim a spot on the international stage.  Led by Marčiulionis, who was playing in the NBA at the time, the Lithuanians begged for financial support as they hoped to qualify for the Olympics.  This played out amidst the backdrop of several former Soviet Republics declaring the independence and being recognized by the international community.  Indeed, the silver medal in 1992 went to Croatia, a Balkan state which was formerly part of Yugoslavia, itself a Soviet satellite.

This history and more is described in The Other Dream Team.  As much educational as entertainment, the film spends considerable time giving the backstory leading up to the Bronze Medal game which pitted Lithuania against the Unified Team or Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which is what the former Soviet Union was calling itself at the time.  Given the oppression, discrimination and bloodshed between the two nation, you would have expected the match to be more physical.  If it was, that aspect was played down in the interviews.  The lone Russian interviewed (Aleksandr Volkov) even stated that it was better that Lithuania won the game.  A tight 82-78 win for Lithuania, the game is almost a postscript to the movie.

Uplifting if not a little fragmented, The Other Dream Team is a crowd pleaser.  I thought it was slightly lacking in substance for such a weighty topic.  There were moments where the interviewees could not speak of their youth or tragedies which had befallen their families.  Chris Mullin related how, initially, Marčiulionis would cry upon entering a Safeway because there was so much fresh produce.  That pain seemed to be glossed over at times.  The tone of the film would have been completely different if too much time was devoted to such topics.  In some ways, it's unfair to criticize the filmmaker for the film he didn't make. Still I would have liked to have heard more about what the Lithuanians endured.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Brother, Can You Spare $3.50?

I'm so busy at work, I don't have time to post about the films I've seen.  Work, films, occasional gym visit, repeat.

Two items related to theater going in SF.

First, I wrote that the UA/Regal Cinema theater at Stonestown was charging $3.50 for all screenings.  That was way back in July.  I don't know if the theater has changed its policy or if it ever strictly adhered to a policy of "$3.50 for all screenings," but I stopped by recently to see Farewll, My Queen and was quoted an admission price of $10.50.  This was my first trip to the Stonestown Cinema since receiving an email announcing the switch to $3.50.  Rereading the email, it states "$3.50 all day, everyday."  I guess there is some wiggle room in there but the simple reading of it gives the definite impression that all screenings are $3.50.  I did not stay to ask the ticket taker about the ambiguity of "$3.50 all day, everyday" as I was on the fence about seeing Farewell, My Queen.  The unexpected change in ticket price was enough of an impetus for me to go with my backup plan which was to do some early Christmas shopping.

If the price policy has changed, I did not receive an email announcing it.  I looked on Fandango and could not purchase any tickets for $3.50 at the Stonestown Cinema.  Even the matinee price was $8 for Adults.

As I mentioned in my original post, the switch to $3.50 was not likely enough incentive for me to go to the Stonestown more frequently.  I guess it didn't incentivize other people either.  I have noticed that the theater has switched from second run general release films to second run art house films.  Currently playing are The Master, Killer Joe and Farewell, My Queen.  The latter two films have come and gone from local Landmark theaters.


Speaking of Landmark theaters, the Lumiere closed in September.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle article, the theater was nicknamed the "Gloomier" for "both its interior ambience and the type of film it showcased."  I never heard that term used but can appreciate it because the subject matter of the films suited my tastes just fine.  I thought the Lumiere had a funky charm to it.  I recall the framed movie posters in the smallest screening room and the small photographs in the lobby.  The Lumiere had the same vibe as the late Red Vic.  Contrast that to the shabbiness of the Clay and Bridge, the pastel infused sterility of the Embarcadero or the ominous and depressing Opera Plaza.  The Lumiere was a favorite of mine even if that statement is not borne out by my attendance data.  I enjoyed riding the cable car to and fro or dining at the tiny Cordon Bleu restaurant next door to the Lumiere.  The woman at the doughnut shop at California and Polk would occasionally give me a free banana with my coffee.  I speak of these things in the past tense because (notwithstanding a dinner at Crustacean) I cannot recall the last time I was in that area if not for a screening at the Lumiere. 

I was unable to see a film during the last weekend of the Lumiere.  I was attending a Hong Kong film series at the equally imperiled Viz.  The HK series was sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) which also seems to be having hard times.  New SFFS Executive Director Ted Hope sent a letter to members asking for donations so the Film Society could make its annual budget.  Where did that come from?  How could the Society enter into a lease with New People in 2011 and run a budget shortfall in 2012?  They had to gut their Summer slate of educational programs (although I notice they have a reduced course offering this fall).  I can't help but wonder if the daily programming at the Viz became a moneypit for SFFS.


Finally, it's the last week to see Chinglish at the Berkeley Rep.  It closes on October 21.  The play is delightful.  The first act was one of the most enjoyable theater experiences I've had in a long time.  Actress Michelle Krusiec (Saving Face) shows off her comedic talents (not to mention a rather painful looking bunionette/corn on her foot).  I highly recommend Chinglish.