Saturday, August 12, 2006


I was sure this was gonna have to be one of the rare summer weekends when I simply didn't bother going to the movies.

Having already seen (and thoroughly enjoyed) "WTC," the other options looked bleak. "Pulse" (sorry, dear Kristen Bell, but this one just looks wretched), "Zoom" (did someone who greenlights movies actually say "what if we made Sky High, but with Tim Allen this time?") or "Step Up" (this was definitely the most promising option, but I'm way beyond the demographic for a teen dancing movie.)

Then, the Regal pulled a fast one by booking (surely for one week only) "Wordplay," an endearing documentary about crossword puzzles and the people who love them far too much.

For the record, I love crossword puzzles quite a bit myself, but can only manage to finish half of the ones I start. I think that's why I felt more of a connection to the freaks (and I mean that in the kindest possible way) in "Wordplay" then I did to the competitors in "Spellbound" or any others in the seemingly endless supply of spelling bee movies.

The competition in "Wordplay" is the national crossword puzzle championship (or something like that) in Stamford, Connecticut. On the way there, we get a quick but fun portrait of Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle guru (who Jon Stewart calls "the Errol Flynn of crossword puzzles.") Stewart is the best of the talking heads who share their love of puzzles, but the Indigo Girls and Mike Mussina were also fun. Ken Burns, however, makes a pompous ass of himself in just one minute of screen time.

Because watching someone do a crossword puzzle is about as fun as, well, watching "Lady in the Water," they wisely keep the competition segment to just about 15 minutes near the end. Before that we get to meet the different competitors, who are varying degrees of odd.

My favorite was Ellen Ripstein, a truly weird lady who likes to twirl her baton in the park and tells us she dismissed a former boyfriend who ridiculed her crossword obssession with the rejoinder, "Well, were you ever the best in the world at anything?"

What keeps it all fun, in almost a "Best in Show" way, is that the competitors, while there to win, are all also clearly having a ball. There's no pressing parents like in the spelling bee. You can just pick your favorite and see who wins this great geekfest.

It's like a more cerebral "Hands on a Hardbody." If you missed that one, definitely rent it. It's just like it sounds: a documentary about a competition to see who can stand the longest with both their hands on a gigantic pickup truck, with the winner getting the truck. You get a glimpse into an obsessive subculture of America, and though you won't like everyone you meet, they're all interesting characters.

So two of my favorite movies this summer, "Wordplay" and "An Inconvenient Truth," have been documentaries. And one of my favorite movies of last summer was "Murderball." I guess I just like docos a lot more than I do Tim Allen or computers that can kill you.


Sameer Vasta said...

Wordplay is definitely one of my favorite movies of the year, and it was great meeting Patrick Creadon to talk about it. Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman were there for the screening of Wordplay that I managed to catch, and they seemed to enjoy it quite a lot as well.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm jealous Vasta ... I had never heard of Mr. Creadon before this movie, but he has definitely accomplished something great with this movie

TacoDave said...

I almost saw Wordplay, but missed it. Based on your recommendation, I'll have to rent it.

Reel Fanatic said...

If you like documentaries about odd people, tacodave, this one is indeed well worth a rental

Sameer Vasta said...

I hadn't heard of Creadon before either, but when he came up to the Hot Docs 2006 screening, he definitely made us all laugh. Great guy.

Oh, and I've got myself a press pass for the Toronto International Film Festival this year, so I'll give you the heads up if I catch anything ground-shaking.

Reel Fanatic said...

Definitely share whatever you find out in Toronto, Vasta ... I'd love to be there myself!

Elton said...

I was surprised to hear that this movie is so good! I was interested in it because of Jon Stewart, but I didn't understand how it could be good if it was just about crossword puzzles.

Sorry to hear about Marie Antoinette :( I was hoping that it would have more substance than that! Maybe I'll just end up renting it.

Reel Fanatic said...

Like I said, Easy, it might be worth seeing in the theater just for the sheer oddity of it all ... I definitely applaud her effort, it just fell way short for me

RC said...

i was surprised i liked the film so much...

i did a couple post on the film, one where i talked about it and Ellen Ripstein actually responded to my was soo coool.

Hopefully she will respond to yours as well...

I did a second post after she responded because i called out a couple people who made comments about Ellen and wondered if they were embarrased since she read their comments.

does that make sense?

anyways...i enjoyed the movie too.

--RC of

Reel Fanatic said...

Now that's just cool, RC ... As far as I know, noone who's actually been in the movies I go on and on about here has responded to my ratjer c;umky criticism