The Little Things was released on HBO Max this weekend. Does this movie, which stars three Academy Award winning actors, have anything to add to the Cop Drama Genre? Watch my video review to find out.
The Little Things was released on HBO Max this weekend. Does this movie, which stars three Academy Award winning actors, have anything to add to the Cop Drama Genre? Watch my video review to find out.
Just a few thoughts on the very weird and wonderful year of movies we had in 2020.
Despite everything that happened in 2020, the gears of popular culture and US media still turned. Culture provided a reprieve, a respite, and rejuvenation from the multiple simultaneous crises that roiled our country this year. Frequently, it was window into what life was like before the pandemic, a document of how we used to interact and move in public spaces.
I’ve already counted down my:
Here’s some of the stuff that didn’t make it onto those lists. Reading, watching, and listening to all the stuff below consistently made me a more thoughtful and intelligent person. I hope it helps you too.
Garbage Day – Ryan Broderick is one of the best analysts of internet culture there is.
Formerly Dangerous – Love Drew Mcweeny’s insight on films and in his newsletter Formerly Dangerous, he goes in-depth with his analysis on new and old films alike. Expect thoughtful, long-form writing which will take hours to get through.
Letters from an American – Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter was recently covered by The New York Times. I’m only a recent subscriber but it does a great job of calmly contextualizing the day’s events.
Platformer – Casey Newton’s newsletter documents the increasingly relevant intersections of technology and democracy.
The Ankler – The entertainment industry is falling apart at the seams and Richard Rushfield is one of the few people who’s willing to call out individuals and institutions for all their bullshit. (Listen to my interview with him)
Pocket – A great digest of the most interesting long-form reading on the internet.
Ghost of Tsushima (PS4/PS5) – The single-player experience for Ghost is strong, offering an addictive gameplay loop to level up your character. But going through the Legends raid with some friends was one of the best videogame experiences I have ever had in my entire life. It’s ridiculously fun and gorgeous. Bravo to Sucker Punch for making this.
Among Us (multiplatform) – No game was able to bring me together with more people, while reminding me why I shouldn’t hang out with people regularly anymore.
Doom Eternal (multiplatform) – One of the most intense first-person shooter experiences I’ve ever had. A non-stop nail-biter that’s not ashamed to be over the top and ridicluous. A fun, intense ride from beginning to end.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Xbox/PC) – A beautiful platformer with a melancholic story that expands the world of its predecessor significantly.
Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox/PC) – In a year where traveling was basically impossible, Flight Simulator essentially created a videogame version of the planet for you to travel around in. See how they did it here. It’s a huge accomplishment and it was very soothing and oddly moving for me to see the world through this thing.
Tetris Effect/Connected (multiplatform) and Tetris 99 – The 21st century continues to bring new and fun ways to play one of the greatest games of all time.
The Press Box – A fun podcast that covers everything that’s happening in the mainstream media and on Twitter.
Why Is This Happening with Chris Hayes – Interviews with fascinating people about what’s happening in the world. Chris Hayes is on fire this year (see here) but I appreciate what he brings to the podcasting world as well, which is a huge inspiration for Culturally Relevant.
Waypoint Radio – I’m a latecomer to this show but has what I think is the most thoughtful commentary on videogames that I’ve been able to find. Check out their Last of Us Part II review for a good demonstration of this.
Extra Hot Great – A delightful show (co-hosted with my collaborator Tara Ariano) that covers all the goings-on in the world of TV.
The Next Picture Show – An always-reliable film review show with the smartest film critics on the internet.
Jeremy Renner Files – Why did Jeremy Renner have an app? This podcast, fashioned like a True Crime story, takes that question deadly seriously.
Dead Eyes – Have you ever had one rejection shape the rest of your life? Connor Ratliff may have! He explores that concept in this amusing and moving podcast.
Good One – Song Exploder but for jokes. Jesse David Fox does a great job probing comedians on these in-depth interviews.
Upgrade – Consistently excellent and insightful Apple-focused tech talk.
The Vergecast – A more generalist tech news podcast with some smart tech reviewers.
Gangs of London – Sadly the show is only available on AMC+, so it can be a bit of a chore to actually get access to it. That said, it is wonderfully entertaining trash with some amazing fight sequences directed/choreographed by action extraordinaire Gareth Evans. I absolutely loved it and binged the whole thing in three days.
Cheer (Netflix) – Director Greg Whiteley’s Cheer is one of the finest and most visceral works of documentary filmmaking I can recall. It made me care about cheerleading, brought to life the physical difficulties of doing it well, and made me care about the dramas of these people’s lives.
Medical Police (Netflix) – I can’t believe I watched this show in 2020, as it feels more like a lifetime ago. A fun parody by the folks behind Children’s Hospital.
The Workouts of Jeanette Jenkins (Popsugar) – Working out is tough when you can’t go to the gym due to a pandemic. I’ve tried other workout regimens (e.g. Nike+) but I’ve found Jeanette workouts to be easy on the body while also being suitably intense.
MyNetDiary (app) – I took some baby steps towards getting more healthy this year and using MyNetDiary to log my calories and track my weight was a huge part of that.
Paprika (app) – Paprika is a great place to store recipes and create shopping lists. It also has a killer feature: Stripping out all the text from an online recipe and organizing it into just the ingredients and directions. Pretty useful for a year where many of us had to learn how to cook more often.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, consider supporting me on Patreon.
Every day for the past 8 years, I’ve been recording one second of video every day of my life and stitching them together to form a document of my life that year. You can see the past versions of some of my videos here.
This year for my 1 Second Everyday video, I decided to try something different: I narrated the entire video so that I could share some reflections about my life and about what’s happened during this very eventful year for all of us. I hope these thoughts can help you as you’re reflecting on how your life has changed too.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and thanks for watching.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading these past four years to try to make sense of what’s been happening in America. Much of what I read provides analysis and context on the news, but every now and then I’ll find something that transcends this and taps into some feeling, some emotion, some idea that I think is critical to understanding our current times.
I wanted to share seven articles that have done this for me. Why seven? This entire exercise is arbitrary anyway, so it might as well be seven. (If you want to see every article I’m reading, I tweet them out from this account). Here are five pieces that have defined the Trump era for me, in no particular order:
Headline: “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People”
Key excerpt: I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see (do you make anywhere close to the median American salary? Less? Congrats, this tax break is not for you). I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.
What it captures: More and more, I’ve realized that disagreements about politics are fundamentally disagreements about whether we as a society should care about fellow humans. Should everyone have the right to vote? Should all have access to healthcare? If people fall on hard times, should they be able to depend on their government or their fellow (wo)man for help? Should parents seeking safety in America have confidence that their children won’t be ripped from them? In general, only one major political party in the United States is for policies like gutting the social safety net, removing people’s access to healthcare, and essentially codifying an “Everyone for themselves” mindset. And if we can’t even agree on whether or not you should give a crap about having compassion for others, it’s hard to find any other middle ground. On that note…
Headline: “The Cruelty Is The Point”
Key excerpt: Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.
What it captures: For quite a while, my mind had a difficult time pretzel-twisting itself into figuring out why people who seemingly have no reason to support Trump would not only vote for him but be proud endorsers. After reading this article, whenever I had difficulty understanding what I was seeing in the news, I’d return to this simple yet strikingly accurate headline: The Cruelty Is The Point. Things don’t need to make more sense that that. There’s a portion of the electorate that not only condones Trump’s attacks on minority groups; they relish it. It doesn’t matter that Trump’s policies would lay waste to their way of life. He makes them feel good and ultimately that’s more important to them than literally anything else.
Headline: “Three Cheers for Socialism”
Key excerpt: Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions. This is at once the most comic and most tragic aspect of the excitable alarm that talk of social democracy or democratic socialism can elicit on these shores. An enormous number of Americans have been persuaded to believe that they are freer in the abstract than, say, Germans or Danes precisely because they possess far fewer freedoms in the concrete. They are far more vulnerable to medical and financial crisis, far more likely to receive inadequate health coverage, far more prone to irreparable insolvency, far more unprotected against predatory creditors, far more subject to income inequality, and so forth, while effectively paying more in tax (when one figures in federal, state, local, and sales taxes, and then compounds those by all the expenditures that in this country, as almost nowhere else, their taxes do not cover). One might think that a people who once rebelled against the mightiest empire on earth on the principle of no taxation without representation would not meekly accept taxation without adequate government services. But we accept what we have become used to, I suppose.
What it captures: The past few years have revealed to me that many Americans cannot imagine a better world than the one we live in. One in which a medical event doesn’t have the capacity to be financially ruinous. One in which children don’t have to fear execution due to a crazed school shooter. One in which huge swaths of the population don’t live in constant mortal fear of the police state. One in which the government can play a meaningful role in curbing a pandemic. I hope for the sake of all of us this election, and for the sake of the rest of the world, Americans can imagine a better world in which it doesn’t have to be like this.
Headline: “With Impeachment, America’s Epistemic Crisis Has Arrived”
Key excerpt: As congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein warned in 2012, the GOP as become “an insurgent outlier: ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” The machine was primed and waiting for someone like Trump. Now, with his erratic and indefensible conduct, he is accelerating the breach, pushing the right into ever-more cult-like behavior, principles laid aside one after another in service of power. That is what a tribalist like Trump wants: for communication and compromise across tribal lines to become impossible, so that loyalty becomes the only measure and everything is reduced to pure struggle for dominance. If he makes it through impeachment unscathed, he and the right will have learned once and for all that facts and evidence have no hold on them. Both “sides” have free rein to choose the facts and evidence that suit them. Only power matters.
What it captures: One thing that strikes me about the past four years is that it’s become ever more clear that people live in two separate versions of reality. There are no more agreed upon set of facts that undergird our decisions and arguments; there isn’t even an agreement that facts are important. Instead, the GOP is largely driven by tribalism — an unwavering loyalty and belief in their leader, regardless of any decisions or mistakes he makes. It’s a terrifying thought and I’m uncertain if our country as a whole will ever find our way back to the truth.
Headline: “An American Spring of Reckoning”
Key excerpt: Race, to the degree that it represents anything coherent in the United States, is shorthand for a specific set of life probabilities. The inequalities between black and white Americans are documented in rates of morbidity and infant mortality, wealth, and unemployment, which attest that although race may be a biological fiction, its reality is seen in what is likely to happen in our lives. The more than forty million people of African descent who live in the United States recognize this reality, but it’s largely invisible in the lives of white Americans. As with men, who, upon seeing the scroll of #MeToo testimonies, asked their wives, daughters, sisters, and co-workers, “Is it really that bad?,” the shock of revelation that attended the video of Floyd’s death is itself a kind of inequality, a barometer of the extent to which one group of Americans have moved through life largely free from the burden of such terrible knowledge.
What it captures: There has been so much great writing about the murder of George Floyd and the protests that have roiled America in its wake (I’d recommend Ashley Reese’s commentary, this interview with Bryan Stevenson, and Wesley Lowery’s reporting on the matter). But I feel like Jelani Cobb’s piece for The New Yorker elucidates the fundamental reason why Floyd’s death was such an eye-opening moment for many Americans. It kicked over a rock for people and revealed to them what festered underneath: that we are a country in which some people inhabit a different reality than others, and there’s a lot to be done if we’re going to fix that.
Headline: “Human sacrifice and the digital business model”
Key excerpt: And so a pattern emerges that is larger and more consequential than the specifics of the latest political flare-up. It is not the arguments or ideas of any political group, but the structure of the digital platforms that sets the tone of the culture as a whole. And what is the structure? It is an arena for perpetual conflict driven by an accumulation of grievances collected in a mass program of decentralized surveillance. We are incentivized, by the coded logic of the social media platforms where public engagement now takes place, to find reasons to hate each other. The algorithms that encourage and reward particular behaviors on Twitter and Facebook play on our deepest human instincts and desires to create spectacles of symbolic violence and sacrifice. Much of the time, the violence and spectacle has the appearance of a game or a light amusement. To take it too seriously, therefore, is to risk being an alarmist, and likely of the reactionary sort. But it is precisely the gamelike aspect of the platforms that keeps us playing. Playing and paying because the point, finally, is profit.
What it captures: I’ve written about Geoff Shullenberger’s piece in the past, but I continue to think it is incredibly helpful in understanding online behavior today. Social media platforms are currently designed in a way that make us want to destroy each other. In recognizing this fact, perhaps we can attempt to carve out a better future for our online lives.
Headline: “How the Pandemic Defeated America”
Key excerpt: The countries that fared better against COVID‑19 didn’t follow a universal playbook. Many used masks widely; New Zealand didn’t. Many tested extensively; Japan didn’t. Many had science-minded leaders who acted early; Hong Kong didn’t—instead, a grassroots movement compensated for a lax government. Many were small islands; not large and continental Germany. Each nation succeeded because it did enough things right. Meanwhile, the United States underperformed across the board, and its errors compounded. The dearth of tests allowed unconfirmed cases to create still more cases, which flooded the hospitals, which ran out of masks, which are necessary to limit the virus’s spread. Twitter amplified Trump’s misleading messages, which raised fear and anxiety among people, which led them to spend more time scouring for information on Twitter. Even seasoned health experts underestimated these compounded risks.
What it captures: “Each nation succeeded because it did enough things right.” No country was perfect in its handling of the Coronavirus but they did enough things correct that they aren’t living with the reality we are right now in America, where cases are spiking, infections are happening at the rate of about one every second, and where winter looks like an increasingly bleak time. America is unique in its failure in that we couldn’t meet the minimum bar to control this thing. With our underinvestment in public health, the rise of anti-intellectualism, and the specter of minoritarian rule upon us, we are finally reaping what we’ve sown.
“Your stories are so good, and I bet you have many more of them just waiting to get out into the world. Let me know if you want me to help you get them out into the world.”
I spoke these words to legendary character actor Stephen Tobolowsky 11 years ago. At the time, I had recently created The Slashfilmcast podcast. Writer/director Kevin Smith had been one of our first guests. Stephen had also appeared on the show to promote his storytelling film Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party. We had just cracked 1,500 listeners per week. I felt like there was nothing the medium of podcasting couldn’t do.
To my great surprise, Stephen took me up on my offer and The Tobolowsky Files was born. Each week, Stephen told a series of stories from his experiences in Hollywood. How he made Groundhog Day. Working with Mel Gibson Bird on a Wire while his son was being born. What it was like to read the script for Memento the very first time.
Early on in the podcast, Stephen asked me what I thought about him doing stories that weren’t strictly showbiz related. Of course, I said yes. That led to our fourth episode, The Alchemist, a devastating story that Stephen tells about his mother’s passing. To this day, it’s one of the most powerful pieces of storytelling I’ve ever heard. That’s when I knew we had something special.
The podcast grew and took on different forms. A man named Jeff Hansen asked if he could put the podcast on Seattle Public Radio. Adam Zacks invited us to Seattle where we performed our very first live show. In 2017, I directed a movie called The Primary Instinct, a concert movie featuring Stephen’s storytelling. Stephen used his stories to get two book deals with Simon and Schuster.
Stephen’s life and my life also changed. I uprooted my life, moved to Seattle, and eventually ended up working at a small tech startup called Amazon. Stephen started getting more high-profile work and becoming more recognizable. He got major roles in The Goldbergs, Californication, and eventually, Silicon Valley. He went from “Hey, it’s that guy that I can kind of vaguely recognize!” to someone who was getting swarmed in public places. Eventually, he joked, he could no longer go to Ralph’s without being recognized — a major imposition.
The podcast’s release schedule started fluctuating dramatically. Each episode consisted of roughly 5,000 words of Stephen’s original writing. Initially, Stephen and I were cranking these episodes out on a weekly basis. In the early days, it felt like the podcast was a hole in the wall of a dam; Stephen had spent so many years writing down notes and shaping narratives, and the podcast finally allowed his words to flow freely as they’d always desired to do. But as time went on and we both got more busy, the time between episodes eventually grew from one week to several weeks to several months to several years.
In June of 2017, we published episode 83 of the podcast, with a promise to come back the following year. That obviously didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. In the time since then, I’ve felt an even greater responsibility to help get Stephen’s stories out into the world in a way that was as impactful as possible.
Over the past few months, Stephen and I have been painstakingly recording and editing more of his stories. We wanted to bank a bunch of them so we could release them weekly. So people would have something to look forward to.
I’m pleased to announce that beginning today, there will be a brand new season of The Tobolowsky Files, with new episodes every Monday through the rest of 2020. We are also launching a new YouTube channel, featuring Stephen’s stories told in front of a live theater audience (filmed pre-COVID). The latter project came together through the massive effort of many people who loaned us their time and expertise, including Valentina Vee, Jon Berry, and Tyler Schirado. I hope you enjoy this latest version of the podcast – yet another form for Stephen’s stories.
Stephen and I have kept in touch and our friendship continues. It is one of the most unexpected, rewarding friendships of my lifetime. Stephen’s kindness, understanding, and faith in me has helped me through some challenging times. I hope this new season can help you through the rest of the year.
I’ll close by sharing an email (excerpted) that we received from a listener who I’ll refer to as K from India. K shares their love of the podcast in powerful terms.
I can’t express in words just how much listening to your stories has changed my life, but I’m going to try.
I began listening to the tobolowsky files podcast when it first came out. I revisited each and every episode this month and I’m quickly making my way through them since you’re such a compelling storyteller.
I have been heartbroken the past year and these wonderful stories have helped me get through this incredibly difficult time. The way I see it, your stories are about being lost and found, and I hope that one day I will also be found just like you were.
I love how you derive meaning out of everything that happens to you, connecting them to literature, philosophy, science….you transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, Stephen. I don’t know anyone even in my real life who is able to do that…
Your stories are a source of guidance for me. It has been the reason why I want to get out of bed. Being heartbroken can really crush you, as you can imagine. They’ve given me a sense of purpose, and I can’t thank you enough for that. They make me feel like….like life matters.
❤️ Sending you lots of love.
The beautiful thing about stories is they can bring us together. They can help us find universality in the specific. And maybe, just maybe, they can make the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Stay safe and happy listening.
I hope everyone is having an okay weekend dealing with the sheer tonnage of news that’s occurred the past week (most of it bad).
Since I hate myself, I spent some time this week watching Antonio Campos’ new film, The Devil All The Time. This film’s cast is incredible, but do not watch this movie if you are looking for something to pick you up and make you feel better!
That said, it’s one of the top 10 movies on Netflix so most of you probably watched it. What did you think? Did you find it illuminating about the nature of evil and humanity? Or a bit too over the top, as I thought it was in my video review above?
Charlie Kaufman’s latest film I’m Thinking of Ending Things is arguably his most inaccessible work yet. I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about it, reading about it, and dissecting it. Here’s the best explanation I’ve been able to come up with (Note: Spoilers, obviously).
It’s been a long time since I’ve made a video essay as researched as this one, and it’ll probably be a long time until I do one again. It’s just too much work to do on top of my full time job to become a regular thing, but this movie was so compelling (plus I had a brief opening with the holiday weekend) that I pushed through to make it happen. I hope enjoy it.