Current Reviews
DVD Reviews
Old Reviews
Crystal Ball
About the M.R.
Photo Gallery
Celebrity Interviews




"Spellbound is G-R-A-T-E!"




The Masked Reviewer

Documentary features are often overlooked by the movie watching public.  It often seems dry and without the high drama, intrigue, and big explosions of your average Hollywood blockbuster.  Such is not the case with Spellbound, a story about eight teenagers competing in the National Spelling Bee.  As far as documentaries go, this is everything you could hope for.  In fact, as far as movies go, it's everything you could hope for.

This is the directorial debut of Jeffrey Blitz.  Clearly, he has set the bar very high for future documentaries about spelling bees. 

Spelling bees are a big deal in this country.  Apparently, nine million children take part in spelling bees, but only 249 make it to the National Spelling Bee. 

What makes this film so great is that the filmmaker very clearly tells us everything about each child.  We see them in their study routines.  We see where they come from.  We meet the parents.  We can relate to them, cheer for them, and empathize with them.  It's about family, it's about competition, it's about growing up, it's about self-discovery. 

The filmmaker manages to create a documentary that's more than just people talking to the camera: in very subtle ways, the film is made with the visuals.  The shots of the various kids' home towns.  The houses they grow up in.  The spelling mistakes in the congratulatory signs. 

Not only do you find yourself rooting for your favorites, but hoping for the kid you don't like to choke.  The Masked Reviewer doesn't approve of bullies, but...there's one kid in the film that everyone will want to hang upside down and shake.  He's a wedgie waiting to happen. 

You'll also be amazed that these kids can get so many words right.  There are words no one has ever heard of before.  In fact, the Masked Reviewer is pretty sure that they just made up words for the competition.  Quinquivixerous.  Pujargesclieskion.  Those aren't words, but they'd be good for high Scrabble(tm) scores.

It's also interesting to see the process and "strategy" of the spellers.  There are rules, and the kids know them all. You can start to spell a word, then pause.  You can ask for definitions, language of origin, and use of the word in a sentence.  Once you name a letter, you can't take it back. 

The Masked Reviewer was quite a speller in his day.  A little tip for next year's beezies: you can try to read the faces of the judges by naming certain letters in sneaky ways.  For example, say the word is EMBRYO.  But you don't know if it's "AMBRYO", "IMBRYO", or "UMBRYO".  You walk up to the microphone, look right into the eyes of the judges, and start off:

"A...definition of the word please."  When you say "A", see if they reach for the bell.

"I...would like the language of origin."  Did they flinch? 

"U...se the word in a sentence, please."  Any sad head shaking? 

The Masked Reviewer's spelling bee career ended in 8th grade.  The following is a transcript of the event. 


"Your word is RIME."

"My word is SRIME?"

"No, RIME."

"You mean like a Chinese person ordering a lime?"

"That's not an allowable question."

"You mean like, rhyme?  Like a nursery rhyme?"

"RIME is a homophone for RHYME.  Your word is RIME, not RHYME."

"What?  But those words rhyme.  You're saying my word, rime, rhymes with rhyme?"


"Could I have a definition of the word?"

"A coating of ice."

"A coating of ice.  That's helpful.  Is it Norwegian in origin?"

"I don't know."

"Okay.  But it's not rhyme, right?  I can spell that."

"No.  Start spelling, please."

"Okay.  R."


"Y    are you giving me this one?  Can't I have another word?"


"Fine.  RIME.  R-I-Y-M.  RIYM."

"I'm sorry that's incorrect, the correct spelling is "R-I-M-E."

"That's what I said.  I got it right!  Hooray!"

"No it isn't."

"Yes it is."

"No, you spelled it wrong."

"Oh yeah, well spell this!"

Then it quickly deteriorated to mooning and flipping of fingers, and the Masked Reviewer's spelling career was O-V-E-R.

Anyway.  See Spellbound.  It's funny at times, touching at other times, and makes you think.  It does everything a good movie should do.  Spellbound is G-R-A-T-E.  You'll enjoy it.  Unless you can't spell, or you hate kids, or movies with no explosions or fight scenes have no interest for you.  But, as far as documentaries go, it's top-notch.  The only real negative comment about the film is the sound.  The sound was scratchy and poppy (wasn't that a comedy duo in the Catskills?).  Spellbound will have you...uh...spellbound.


Expectation from the Title: A paranoid amnesiac gets a job in a mental hospital, posing as a famous psychiatrist, who...oh wait...wrong Spellbound.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Kids say the darndest things.

The Pros: It's got it all...drama, suspense, clear characters, simple plot, lots of spelling.

The Cons: The sound is scratchy and there's a lot of background hissing.  You filter it out, but it could've used a lot of cleanup.


Home | 28 Days Later | The 40-Year-Old Virgin | 50 First Dates | A Lot Like Love | A Man Apart | A Mighty Wind | Adaptation | After the Sunset | Against the Ropes | Alexander | Alien versus Predator | Along Came Poly | Anchorman | Anger Management | Anything Else | Around the World in 80 Days | Bad Boys II | Bad Santa | Batman Begins | Be Cool | Beauty Shop | Beyond Borders | The Big Bounce | Blade: Trinity | The Bourne Supremacy | Brother Bear | Bulletproof Monk | The Butterfly Effect | Cabin Fever | Cat in the Hat | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ( not Willy Wonka ) | Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle | Chronicles of Riddick | Coach Carter | Collateral | The Cooler | The Core | Corpse Bride | Cradle 2 Grave | Criminal | The Dancer Upstairs | Dawn of the Dead | Daredevil | The Day After Tomorrow | Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalow | Dirty Pretty Things | Down with Love | The Dukes of Hazard | Dumb and Dumberer | Elektra | Elf | Envy | Eternal Sunshine | Fantastic Four | Fever Pitch | Flight of the Phoenix | Flightplan | Freaky Friday | Freddy vs. Jason | Gigli | Gothika | The Haunted Mansion | Hero | Hidalgo | Hitch | Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Hollywood Homicide | The Hulk | The Hunted | I, Robot | Identity | IMAX Matrix Reloaded | The Incredibles | Intolerable Cruelty | Irreversible | The Island | The Italian Job | Jeepers Creepers 2 | Jersey Girl | Johnny English | Kill Bill Volume 1 | Kill Bill Volume 2 | King Arthur | Kung Fu Hustle | Ladder 49 | The Ladykillers | Land of the Dead | The Last Samurai | League of Extraordinary Gentlemen | Legally Blonde 2 | Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou | The Longest Yard | Lord of the Rings: Return of the King | Lord of War | Love, Actually | Madagascar | Man on Fire | The Macnhurian Candidate | Master and Commander | Matchstick Men | The Matrix Reloaded | Matrix Revolutions | The Medallion | Meet the Fockers | Monster | Mr. 3000 | Mr. and Mrs. Smith | Mystic River | National Treasure | Ocean's Twelve | Once Upon a Time in Mexico | Ong-bak | Open Range | Out of Time | The Pacifier | The Passion of the Christ | The Perfect Score | Pirates of the Caribbean | Pool Hall Junkies | The Punisher | Resident Evil:Apocalypse | Runaway Jury | Sahara | School of Rock | Seabiscuit | Secret Lives of Dentists | Secret Window | Serenity | Shark Tale | Shaun of the Dead | Shrek 2 | Sideways | Sin City | Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas | Sky High | Something's Gotta Give | Spanglish | Spellbound | Spider-Man 2 | Spongebob Squarepants Movie | Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith | Starsky & Hutch | The Station Agent | Stepford Wives | Stuck on You | Surviving Christmas | Suspect Zero | SWAT | Taxi | Team America | Terminator 3 | Timeline | Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life | Troy | Underworld | Unleashed | Uptown Girls | Van Helsing | The Village | Walking Tall | War of the World | Wedding Crashers | Welcome to Mooseport | The Whole Ten Yards | Without a Paddle | Wrong Turn | X-Men 2 | XXX: State of the Union | Action | Comedy | Documentary | Drama | Family | Epic | Family | Horror | Romance | Sci Fi

Copyright 2003, Michael D. Lynn