2023 Calgary Underground Film Festival: Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game (2023)

Based on the true story of Roger Sharpe, a man with an incredible mustache who overturned New York City’s 35 year-old ban on pinball machines, Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game is an astounding achievement. I’m interested in a movie about pinball but I bet not too many would be. A knowledge or even caring about the game in unnecessary. This film has a universal message and a true heart inside it.

Roger (Dennis Boutsikaris in the interview segments and Mike Faist in the main plot) has no idea what the wants to do or be. He just feels good when he plays pinball. Yet when a raid destroys the machines in the only place that has them in 1970s New York City — an adult book store — he is informed that the game he loves so much is illegal.

Along the way, he gets a purpose — making pinball legal, writing books on it, even designing his own games — but also finds something even more important: another chance at love with Ellen (Crystal Reed, Abby Arcane from the Swamp Thing series and Sofia Falcone from Gotham), a single mother with a young son named Seth (Christopher Convery). They’ve both been divorced and are unsure about their romantic lives; the way the movie brings them together and shows how essential their love is feels like something missing from so many films. I felt utterly charmed for both of them and wished I knew them beyond the time I spent with them in this film.

That said, if you love pinball, the scenes of Roger in Chicago meeting with the different companies and creators of pinball — names like Williams, Stern and Gottleib, if they mean anything to you, will make you very happy — and deep cut explanations of how the game is played will please you.

My favorite moment is when Roger decides to share pinball with Ellen for the first time and takes her into the adult book store where he’s on a first name basis with the guy behind the counter. She thinks he’s confessing a fetish. Yet he’s innocent and so excited to share the most important thing in his life with the most important person in his life. When she enjoys the game, he enjoys her more. It’s a very real moment in a movie filled with them.

Consider this a recommendation.

This movie is part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival, which for twenty years has been dedicated to elevating Calgary’s cultural landscape with the best in international independent cinema. Recently, CUFF was named one of the Best Horror Festivals in the World, 2022 by Dread Central, and one of the World’s 50 Best Genre Festivals and one of 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2021 by MovieMaker Magazine. CUFF continues to attract audiences with its programming of films that engage audiences and defy convention.

It’s running from now until April 30 and you can see the entire schedule here.

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