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Way of the Puck
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by Charles Tatum

"Know Way"
4 stars

Ever since "The King of Kong" was released, documentaries about passionate people participating in niche gaming tournaments or odd hobbies have come out of the woodwork: foosball, air guitar, Olympic pin collecting, even rock-paper-scissors (which inspired the very funny mockumentary "The Flying Scissors"). Along comes "Way of the Puck," and like any supreme mainstream sports film, the viewer will find themselves sucked right in.

Shot by Eric D. Anderson, the film centers around four players who love air hockey, the game of plastic pucks and mallets played on a table dotted with tiny air holes so the puck can slightly levitate. Mark is the guru of the game. His father was an executive in the gaming business, and Mark took his love of air hockey and made the sport his life's work. He never married, and has a huge archive of material from almost three decades of competition. Tim is a clinical psychologist who was the young whippersnapper champion back in the day. He still competes, but also has a wife and kids, and must face the reality of life. Poor Andy is an artist and has been competing for years, although he has never won a tournament. His visibly disapproving wife Anna isn't very supportive, but Andy keeps plugging away, organizing tournaments and chasing that elusive first place trophy. Michael is the almost-villainous commissioner of a rival air hockey league. He wants to make money at the venture, and still competes in tournaments trying to drum up attention to the sport. The viewer will quickly realize Michael also loves the game, and his fresh ideas might work...since not much else has.

Anderson follows these four men through a few months in their air hockey lives, culminating with a big world championship tournament in Chicago. The suspense leading up to the event is real, and I found myself glued to the screen.

Although the films starts as a confused mish-mash of names and faces, Anderson quickly turns to his four subjects, and the film settles down a bit. These guys are achingly normal, and I found myself sympathizing with them immediately. They aren't pitiful by any stretch of the imagination; their love for the table game is genuine and a pleasure to watch. Many scenes stand out, especially the history of how air hockey was invented, told by half a dozen different people, and the intense Venezuelan contingent that briefly took the tournaments by storm.

Anderson's pacing is almost as fast as the game, but even if you have never seen an air hockey table before, you'll enjoy this film. The musical score credited to Aaron Solomon, Brian Hawlk, and The Santiago Steps, is dead-on, and the use of archival and stock footage is perfect. I found all four men simply fascinating, and it was fun to have a philosopher put all of this into cosmic perspective.

If documentaries like "The King of Kong" and "Way of the Puck" are going to keep coming out, and be this good, then keep them coming. Praise the table! For more information on the film, visit http://wayofthepuck.com.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=21865&reviewer=325
originally posted: 12/23/10 07:06:51
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USA
  01-Oct-2010 (NR)
  DVD: 29-Oct-2010

UK
  N/A

Australia
  01-Oct-2010


Directed by
  Eric D. Anderson

Written by
  (documentary)

Cast
  Mark Robbins
  Michael Rosen
  Tim Weissman
  Andy Yevish
  Lou Marinoff



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