Jeffrey Blitz

Jeffrey Blitz

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Rocket Science Review


Good
Quirky sucks, especially when it's done for quirk's sake. For the better part of the last decade, quirky has been the golden egg for independent distribution and for cult-classicism, even when most of the films have nothing else but their quirkiness to stand by. You can see it in the films of Jared Hess or the insanely-overrated Little Miss Sunshine: If the words "dysfunctional" or "quirky" can be found in the press notes, the chances of notoriety just increased tenfold. In that mindset, initial reactions to a film like Jeffrey Blitz's Rocket Science could pin it as yet another in a long line of Wes Anderson/Todd Solondz rip-offs, and in some ways, it sorta is.

Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) really can't help but be humiliated; he stutters like it was going out of style. How would this lead him to his high school debate team? Well, the debate team happens to be led by silver-tongued Ginny (Anna Kendrick), an all-business upperclassman who thinks she can mold Hal into a thorough debater. As you might not expect, Ginny's efforts go to spit and she leaves the school for the higher-ranking debate team. But Hal is relentless, determined to both kick the habit and impress Ginny. Ben (Nicholas D'Agosto), a mythical debater who quit debating to work at a city laundry, seems to be his only hope. Ben's got one idea: teaching Hal to debate by singing his argument along to "The Battle of the Republic" and showing everyone up at the state competition.

Continue reading: Rocket Science Review

Spellbound (2002) Review


OK
Jeffrey Blitz's Spellbound focuses its gaze on eight children as they make their way to the annual National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. The subjects Blitz chose for his fascinating documentary come in all shapes and sizes - combined, they represent a variety of points along the U.S.'s educational, financial, and social spectrums - and yet the film is primarily pleasurable because of the commonality found among the members of this motley group. These impressively intelligent pre-teens haven't all reached the National Spelling Bee via the same route, but what's gotten them there is an intense motivation and thirst for knowledge, educational excellence, and competition.

Blitz's film spends its first half introducing us to the kids (and their families), and the second half focusing on their performances at the Nationals. The director takes us inside the wildly different homes of these eight spelling champion hopefuls, and what he reveals is a cross-section of American youth - from Ashley, a cheerful African-American girl who lives with her single mom in Washington's inner city, to Angela, whose immigrant Mexican parents don't speak any English, to Emily, who lives an affluent and privileged life in New Haven, Connecticut. Some, such as an East Indian boy named Neil, have loving but strict parents who push their children to study tirelessly for the contest. Others, such as Angela and Pennsylvania-born April, seem to have developed their remarkable work habits without any parental guidance. Many have siblings with prior success at the Nationals, while one, a strapping Missourian named Ted, had never even heard of the Bee until he won a regional spelling match a few months prior to the big event.

Continue reading: Spellbound (2002) Review

Jeffrey Blitz

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