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Tribeca 2011: “Catching Hell,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “Catching Hell,” Reviewed (photo)

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As long as the Chicago Cubs are baseball’s perennial losers, people will remember Steve Bartman and what he did on October 13, 2003. And that picture above is just how they’ll remember him: Cubs hat, black sweatshirt, dorky green turtleneck, even dorkier headphones so he could listen to the game on the radio. How could they remember him any other way? After the fateful night when he got between Cubs left fielder Moises Alou and a catchable foul ball and set off a chain of events that led to the Cubs’ implosion in the National League Championship Series and made him the target of an entire city’s hatred, Bartman dropped off the face of the Earth. A lifelong, die-hard Cubs fan, Bartman issued an apology to Alou, the Cubs, and even old players like Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, then never spoke publicly about the incident again. It’s as if he felt so punished for being in the wrong place at the wrong time that he made a conscious decision to hide away forever to prevent history from repeating itself. Now director Alex Gibney has directed a film about Bartman called “Catching Hell.” Not surprisingly, Bartman declined to participate, which makes one of the most famous spectators in the baseball history a kind of spectator in his own documentary. This time, though, you can’t say he gets in anyone’s way.

Gibney’s documentary was originally intended to air as part of ESPN’s great “30 For 30” documentary series. Its whole modus operandi was to pair great filmmakers with topics from the world of sports they were personally invested in. That approach led to some of “30 For 30″‘s finest episodes — like Steve James’ “No Crossover” about another native of James’ racially stratified hometown, Allen Iverson — but it’s the major flaw in the otherwise engrossing “Catching Hell.” Gibney’s story is about the Chicago Cubs, but Gibney’s not a Cubs fan. Boston is his team, and that’s where Gibney finds a personal connection to Bartman, in the life of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. Buckner played for a similarly downtrodden team, made a similar blunder in a similar spot in a playoff game, and faced a similar penalty. But that’s basically where the parallels end; as someone even says in the film, Buckner was a famous baseball player. He was a public figure. It was his job to catch that ball. Bartman was just some guy.

The connection between Bartman and Buckner is probably worth a mention in the context of other famous baseball curses and blunders. But Gibney essentially uses Buckner to fill the void left by his absent protagonist. He painstakingly recreates the events of 10/13/03, interviewing the people who sat around Bartman in the Wrigley Field stands, piecing together and comparing home movies and video footage of the game, and speaking with the journalists and broadcasters who covered him. Gibney’s work is very detailed and very rewarding; I love, for example, his version of the Bartman play where everyone but Alou has been digitally scrubbed from the picture. But no Bartman means no hero and no arc, and that’s where Buckner comes in. He doesn’t just give Gibney his own way into the story. By framing Bartman’s tragedy with lengthy bookend segments about Buckner, Gibney gets to show the longview of what that sort of intense media scrutiny does to a man, and how it feels when that man gets his long overdue sense of closure. It also gives viewers some much needed catharsis after an excruciatingly painful story, though it will be small comfort to Cubs fans.

But I’m making the same mistake as Gibney; enough about Buckner. “Catching Hell” doesn’t need him as badly as it thinks because even without his participation, Bartman’s story is such an epic tale of human folly you’d swear Sophocles wrote it. The Bartman incident encapsulates all that we love and hate, all that is good and bad about baseball: its unpredictability, its drama, and above all its symbiotic connection between player and fan. In baseball, the fans in the stands feel like contributors to the success of their team. Or, as in this case, to their failure.

Of all the revelations in “Catching Hell” — and there are quite a few — the most interesting and most disturbing are the ones about the the mood in Wrigley Field before and after Bartman’s blunder. Home movies shot in the Wrigley bleachers capture pins-and-needles giddiness during the first seven innings. In the first moments immediately following the dropped foul ball, no one even realizes what’s happened. But then Alou has a visible tantrum on the field over Bartman’s obstruction. Suddenly the animosity spreads like wildfire. Bartman starts getting pelted with insults and threats and rained with beer. Nevermind that Bartman’s goof didn’t cost the Cubs the game, or the lead, or even put a runner on first base. Nevermind that a few batters later shortstop Alex Gonzalez blew an easy double play that would have ended the ending. In the eyes of livid Cubs fans, it was all Bartman’s fault. Gibney’s film puts his mistake in the proper context. He was far from the only guy to screw up in top of the eighth inning. Bartman did what any of us would have done. Just watch the video: he wasn’t the only one to reach for that foul ball. He was just the unlucky guy who got his hands on it.

Though I’m sure they’d deny it, I wonder if Cubs fans secretly enjoy nights like October 13. Now that the Red Sox, White Sox, and Giants have all won World Series after long droughts, the Cubs’ losing streak makes them a very unique team. Thanks to guys like Bartman, if and when they finally win the Series, it will be the sweetest victory in the history of professional sports. And if and when that day comes, you can be sure Bartman will be watching somewhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still wearing his headphones either.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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