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Directed by Jeffrey Blitz.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  8/8/03 


Finally got over to the Embarcadero Theaters near my office to check out “Spellbound”, the Oscar-nominated documentary about the 1999 National Spelling Bee…and, oh yeah, this is great stuff.

The film follows eight participants that competed in the Bee that year; they range from child prodigy to…well, child prodigy to child prodigy, and it is interesting meeting the parents of each child as they get caught up in the spelling craze in their various hometowns in Texas, Missouri, Florida, New Jersey and more.  After obligatory bio pieces are done on all eight kids, we get to the Bee itself, which takes place in Washington, DC and featured 249 students that year.  Like a great horror film, “Spellbound” keeps us hooked as kids get offed and the pool of 249 kids get worked down all the way to just one national champion.

The pacing of director Jeffrey Blitz’s film is excellent, as he cuts back and forth between kids getting words wrong and bits on the parents, or the Bee experience, or interviews of past Bee winners.  Blitz is helped along by his selection of the eight children; each kid has at least a little something intriguing about them, whether it was Ted’s school life, or Harry’s zaniness, or Nupur’s old spelling rivalry with three boys from her school.  I also loved watching some of the people talk about 1998 4th-place finisher Georgie, who had strange genius tendencies and was the crazy legendary word speller that everyone thought was a near-sure thing to win the ’99 championship.

In fact, being a former nerd-type, it was really funny watching some of these kids spell words; the dork factor in “Spellbound” is quite high, but it would have been even funnier if one of the former Bee champions is now, say, quarterback for the Chicago Bears or something like that.  Blitz is running through some former champions and all of them look like they cemented their stake in dorkdom; how great would it have been if he had found a former champion that went on to invent, say, internet porn or something like that?  Or a champ that went on to produce “Gymkata” or other crap-tastic action films from the 1980s?  I’m sure this version of the documentary will be on FOX one of these days.

I digress.  The best part about “Spellbound”?  I laughed every single time the Pronouncer read off a word that I had never heard of.  Whenever I watch the competition on ESPN, I love the words that these kids have to attempt to spell; in many cases, I have NEVER HEARD OF some of these words and these kids repeat them once and spell them without a hitch.  I would probably be booed off the stage if I tried to compete at one of those things, and I’m old compared to these kids.  There was one point late in “Spellbound” where a character has to spell a word that had roots in some crazy Norwegian dialect, and the girl was spelling it like she was guessing at every single letter…and she was right!  The look on her face was priceless; she finished with this look that said “I dunno…E-U-R-E??” and when she got the word right, she pumped the fist, and it was cool for everybody in the audience.

Good stuff; “Spellbound” has been out here for almost two months (after a 2002 release), so if it has already finished its theatrical run in your area, I am sure you can catch it on video soon.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09