March 13, 2005

MOVIES: Word Wars (Eric Chaikin & Julian Petrillo, 2004)

Documentary following four players as they prepare for the 2002 National Scrabble Championship Tournament.

If you've read Stefan Fatsis's book Word Freak (which the filmmakers acknowledge as a major inspiration), then you'll recognize most of these players. "G.I." Joel Sherman gets his nickname from his digestive problems and is frequently seen chugging Maalox. Joe Edley is the Zen master of Scrabble, preparing for each match with acupuncture and long sessions of tai chi. Marlon Hill revels in his image as the angry black man of the Scrabble world, and Matt Graham seems to be the most centered of the bunch.

They're all among the country's finest Scrabble players, which means, as the movie notes, that they are more often broke than not. The best players spend up to five hours a day memorizing word lists, spellings, and anagrams, which doesn't allow much time to be devoted to anything else, such as career or romantic life.

Chaikin & Petrillo present the games in entertaining fashion. Definitions appear on the screen whenever an obscure word is played, and as the players consider their options, we see the letter tiles float across the board to form each of their possible plays.

This isn't a brilliant or groundbreaking movie, but it's entertaining, and if you enjoyed Spellbound, this will have much of the same appeal.

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