Documentary Mini-Reviews: Catching Hell, June 17, 1994, Indie Game: the Movie, Man on Wire

I got on a bit of a documentary kick this week. Here’s some quick reviews of what I watched:

30 for 30: Catching Hell [2011]
30 for 30: Catching Hell [2011]
Poor Steve Bartman. When the Chicago Cubs were on the brink of heading to the World Series in 2003, a fan reaching for a foul ball became the unfortunate and unnecessary scapegoat for the team’s spectacular demise. It’s amazing that everyone remembers Bartman — what with his black sweatshirt, headphones and blue Cubs cap — but most forget that the Cubs had plenty of chances to put the game away on their own accord. If we want scapegoats, why not blame Moises Alou for throwing a temper tantrum about the incident and damn near starting a riot? Or better yet, what about sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez being charged with an error on what should have been an easy double play to end the inning? No, thanks largely in part to the media, Bartman was left to shoulder the blame. The poor guy received death threats in the days afterward, and he is still ridiculed to this day. To his credit, he has turned down countless offers to do interviews, commercials, etc. Although the film is a hard watch for Cubs and Red Sox fans (thanks to the Bill Buckner clips), it’s a great spotlight on just how desperate people are to blame others. 8/10

30 for 30: June 17, 1994 [2010]
30 for 30: June 17, 1994 [2010]
Do you remember June 17, 1994? If that date doesn’t ring a bell, I bet you will still remember some of the sporting events that happened that day. The New York Rangers were celebrating their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, across town the Knicks were battling the Houston Rockets in game six of the NBA Finals, the World Cup kicked off in Chicago, and Arnold Palmer played his last round of golf at the U.S. Open. Oh, and there was this little thing of O.J. Simpson being chased in a white Ford Bronco. I don’t know if there has ever been a more tumultuous day in sports history. This is a pretty unique documentary in that everything is presented via archive footage, making it appear that we are watching these events unfold in real-time. There is no voice-over narration, just the banter from announcers during the day. It’s an interesting time capsule of a day that anyone alive during that time certainly will not forget. 7.5/10

Indie Game: The Movie [2012]
Indie Game: The Movie [2012]
You don’t need to be a gamer to like this, but it certainly helps. Indie Game chronicles the paths taken by the indie video game developers behind Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid. All of these games are operated by just one or two guys, and they have dedicated the last few years of their lives to creating and finally releasing their games. The film follows them through the creative process, going along with their highs (i.e. breaking sales expectations and reading glowing reviews) and their lows (debuting a game at an expo, only to have it be a bug-ridden disaster). While not all of these guys are entirely likable, it’s still an emotional ride, and it just shows the amount of dedication and hard work that is put into these titles. Quite frankly, this is one of the best movies I have seen all year, and there’s a good chance I will be doing a full write-up on it soon. 9/10

Man on Wire [2008]
Man on Wire [2008]
On August 7, 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit set up a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and walked back and forth for a good hour before getting arrested. It was a batshit crazy idea, and even more remarkable that he did this without causing harm to himself or anyone else. Man on Wire presents the time leading up to this stunt much like a heist film — it jumps between time-frames while introducing everyone involved. It’s a well-made documentary, but it suffers from being forced to stretch out this one event into a 90 minute feature. By the time the incident actually happens, it’s anticlimactic. There are no videos of the tightrope walking, just stationary images, and nothing terribly exciting happens afterward. While a solid effort, I’m rather shocked that this has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 6/10

Have you seen any of these? What’s your take?

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27 thoughts on “Documentary Mini-Reviews: Catching Hell, June 17, 1994, Indie Game: the Movie, Man on Wire

  1. Chris says:

    Of these docs, I’ve only seen Man on Wire. I also remember thinking there was not enough material for a 90 min feature, yet that image proves he must be one of the bravest guys alive! His oscar speech was pretty cool too 🙂

    • Eric says:

      Heh, I have a hard time climbing ladders so I couldn’t even begin to imagine walking a tightrope like that! I’ll have to look up that Oscar speech.

  2. SDG says:

    I have seen at least half of these 30 for 30 docs now but not Catching Hell, basically because I don’t watch baseball. I will give it a try sometime maybe. I have also heard a lot about Indie Game as well. So that too. The other two – I have seen.

    I had pretty much same reaction to June 17. I liked that there was so much that happened in a single day in sports world. Man on Wire – I agree that there isn’t much to make 90 minute movie out of but maybe that idea, that concept was entirely crazy to me and probably that’s why I liked it much more than you.

    • Eric says:

      I think it helps to be a baseball fan in regards to Catching Hell, but it’s still a really fascinating look at how scapegoats come to be. It’s unfortunate what happened to Steve Bartman — he was just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      With Man on Wire, I definitely thought the concept was insane, but I felt the film struggled to build suspense the way it intended. Glad you dug it more than I did, though.

      • The Heretic says:

        I’ll have to buy a copy. Haven’t had Netflix since the price hike. Although I would rather have internet, my Roku box, and Netflix than the service we have.

        • Eric says:

          Yeah, I hear ya. I haven’t had cable in years — the combo of Netflix and Hulu is more than enough for me.

          But Indie Game is definitely worth it. I think you’ll really appreciate it, too, since you dig all sorts of video games. I know it made me appreciate the smaller games even more.

  3. Dave Enkosky says:

    I only saw Indie Game and Man on Wire and I actually really enjoyed both of these. I need to watch more 30 for 30 docs. The only I’ve seen is the Two Escobars–which is amazing.

  4. ruth says:

    That ‘Man on Wire’ sounds fascinating at a glance, too bad it wasn’t as good as you expected.

    The Two Escobars actually played at TCFF last year (or maybe 2 yrs ago), but I still haven’t got around to seeing it.

    • Eric says:

      It appears I am in the minority on Man on Wire, so there’s a good chance you will like it more than I did, Ruth. As for The Two Escobars, it’s definitely worth seeing if you get a chance. Probably the crown jewel in the 30 for 30 series.

    • Eric says:

      Hah, no worries, Scott! I haven’t been making my visiting rounds as much as usual either. Been pretty busy lately, as it seems many of us are. Great to hear you dug Indie Game — it’s one of my favorites so far this year.

  5. John says:

    It’s funny. I remember EXACTLY where I was for both of those top two events. My fellow Cardinal fan and I settled into a local bar around the 6th inning or so, telling ourselves that if we were going to witness the end of civilization (the Cubs making the World Series), we should at least be drunk for it. And then all hell broke loose. I hate to say it in case you have Cub fans reading, but the whole event gave St. Louisans a lot of fun in a schaudenfreude way.

    And the OJ chase was two weeks after I graduate from high school. My best friend in high school was getting married later that week. As it turns out, that night was my first trip to a strip club. So… I had a lot of distractions from the OJ chase, I guess. But it was on the TVs in the club.

    • Eric says:

      Ha, yeah I bet you guys in St. Louis were loving that collapse. I am a Cubs fan — I have always been drawn to the underdogs, plus I am literally a 15-20 minute walk from Wrigley Field — but their general ineptitude never ceases to amaze me. At least there are glimmers of hope today, here in their millionth rebuilding project.

      I was pretty young when the OJ chase happened — in ’94, I would have been eight — but I remember getting sick of all the TV coverage, heh. Pretty sure I watched that NBA game later that night, too.

      • John says:

        I have fun teasing Cub fans, but the reality is that I’m 100% envious of your stadium and (most of) the Cub culture. I could do without 100+ years without a title, but Wrigley Field is an amazing place to watch a game; Chicago in general is such a great town and the Cubs are a key piece of it; and the Cubs have great history with fans like Belushi, Murray, etc… Also, you guys have Bill Veeck in your history books. Bill Veeck is maybe the coolest guy to ever own a baseball team.

        The best we Cardinal fans can offer up is Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Hamm, and a guy who turned Clydesdale piss into beer (Augie Busch).

        • Eric says:

          Well, to be fair, Veeck owned the White Sox, a team that I absolutely despise (I’m originally from Michigan, therefore a diehard Tigers fan). He was a crazy bastard, though.

          Wrigley Field is definitely an amazing place, but I absolutely cannot stand the area surrounding it (Wrigleyville) anymore. When the Cubs are in town, everyone becomes drunken assholes and it turns into one giant frat party. The last time I went to Wrigley — for a concert (Roger Waters performing The Wall), actually — a random street fight broke out afterward, and I narrowly avoided getting hit with a glass bottle right in the face. It’s a nightmare.

          I still go to Cubs games, but I pretty much get out of that neighborhood as soon as possible afterward.

  6. Alex Thomas says:

    Really liked Indie Game, however I’m not a big gamer and am sure I would have appreciated it more if I was into PC gaming. Was shown really well.

    As for Man on Wire, while I liked it more then you, I agree that the 100% (150-0!) on Rottentomatoes is quite misleading, I think it shows the flaw in that rating system as the movie is hard to dislike hence it’s 100% rating, but it’s not a masterpiece in my opinion at all.

    • Eric says:

      Well, if you’re ever curious to try out the games from Indie Game, they go on sale quite a bit, often for dirt cheap. 😀

      That’s a great point about RT. I like the system, but occasionally the percentages can be misleading (like for Man on Wire). It was a well-made doc, but it didn’t connect with me the way it seems to have for most, unfortunately.

  7. Alex Withrow says:

    I thought June 17, 1994 was a daring and amazing documentary feat. Using only the footage and nothing else to tell the story… simple idea, grueling to execute.

    Sorry you didn’t like Man on Wire more, that film works for me in so many ways, I absolutely adore it.

    • Eric says:

      I would like to see another documentary like June 17, 1994. Surely there have been other important dates in sports history that would translate well in that format. Definitely a cool idea.

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