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(REPOST): Spike and Mike’s Outlaw Animation

Rebeller, the movie website celebrating “Outlaw Cinema,” recently announced that it’s folding, due to a complicated set of circumstances related to some horrific misdeeds by a producer connected with its parent company, Cinestate. On the overall situation, the thoughts on the matter of my old friend Sheila O’Malley largely mirror my own.

I wrote one piece for the site, published back in March, about the old Spike and Mike’s Animation Festival. Because the site is going offline, and with permission, I’m reposting the piece here:

Spike and Mike’s Outlaw Animation

by Stephen Silver

Back in 1990, there wasn’t exactly any easy way to view strange, esoteric, animated shorts. The launch of YouTube was still 14 years away, and even Adult Swim was more than a decade off.

Into the breach stepped a pair of Californians named Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble, better known as Spike and Mike. In the late 1970s, the two founded Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation. Then in 1990, seeking to exhibit some more risqué, adult-oriented fare, they established Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. It was a strange subculture, full of oddballs, but one that would massively influence the next three decades of American animation.

The festivals, which continued for a dozen years, traveled around the country to raucous audiences, something like Rocky Horror Picture Show meets The Grateful Dead. “Like a concert for nerdy animators,” animation director Mike Mitchell called it. There were costumes, and inflated sex dolls passed around and even a dog named Scotty, who would run around the stage between films. I was a frequent attendee of the Sick and Twisted Festival’s annual stops at the Coolidge Corner theater while at college in Boston in the 1990s.

Not only did the festival give birth to a wild scene, it also featured work from a long list of animators who would go on to prominence in the world of more mainstream animation, guys like Mike Judge, Craig McCracken, Bill Plympton, John R. Dilworth, Don Hertzfeldt and others. The Spike and Mike epoch is the subject of a new documentary, Animation Outlaws, which has been showing at film festivals, including Woodstock and Slamdance.

The director of Animation Outlaws, Kat Alioshin, was part of the Spike and Mike scene. While a college student near San Diego in the late 1980s, she worked as a flier distributor in those pre-internet days.

“We’d hit up the gun shows, or the football matches, or baseball games or concerts — we’re talking thousands and thousands of fliers,” Alioshin said. She also worked at the box office.

Mellow Manor was the name of the production outfit that produced the shows, and it took its name from the street where Spike, Mike and others associated with the scene lived together in a group house in Riverside, Calif.

In the early days, the festival sourced its submissions mostly from Mike’s travels to Europe, where he attended events such as the Cannes Film Festival, Cardiff Animation Festival, and the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. There, he would make connections with filmmakers, and talk to them about bringing their work to U.S., which had historically lacked a robust animation festival scene.

It was clear there was demand for a more adult-oriented festival by 1990, which gave rise to Sick and Twisted. The original festival continued, a la Coca Cola, with a modest addition to the title: Spike and Mike’s Classic Festival of Animation.

“They would do regular shows at 7 o’clock and 9 o’clock,” Alioshin said of the pre-Sick and Twisted era. “Then they would do a midnight show, where they would show stuff a little bit more risque. At some point, they were turning down some animation, where they thought it was just too much, and we’d have to monitor that [it was] 18 and older.”

One thing that inspired the launch of the Sick and Twisted festival was the rapturous response from a college crowd to a screening of Danny Antonucci’s 1987 Lupo the Butcher, a three-minute short featuring a frustrated butcher and a series of extended accidental dismemberments. Antonucci would go on to create the considerably less bloody Cartoon Network series Ed, Edd n Eddy.

“The response to [Lupo the Butcher] was kind of the catalyst that said there are animators doing this kind of work out there, and there’s an audience for it,” Alioshin said. The Sick and Twisted Festival, once it launched, tended towards the scatological, the perverse and the violent.

The first Sick and Twisted lineup was shown at Wheeler Auditorium at the University of California at Berkeley in 1990. It was soon a huge hit, filling theaters around the country.

“There’s a lot of animators that work in that world who really in their heart is to be sick and twisted,” Mike Mitchell, director of Trolls, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and many other Hollywood animated movies, says in the documentary. “And so, Spike and Mike was a safe place for them to go, when they wanted to be crude and rude.”

The 2015 movie Sausage Party, for which producer and star Seth Rogen teamed up with animation directors who spent their careers in children’s fare but were looking to put much more perverse ideas in play, saw a similar dynamic play out.

“When they got to Sick and Twisted,” Alioshin said, “they actually started generating some of that content themselves, hiring and getting animators to do production with them and for them.”

One critic described 1993’s Sick and Twisted lineup as “32 of the worst things you could show to your baby brother or sister.”

As the festival went on through the years, it would debut new shorts with each installment. But certain films became mainstays of the festivals, such as the “No Neck Joe” series, from Craig McCracken, who would go on to create The Powerpuff Girls:

And then there was The Dirty Birdy, a seven-minute short about a bird standing on a tree branch and repeatedly attempting moon a cat, to repeated violent retaliation. The film, which could spawn dozens of think pieces or graduate theses about sexual harassment and #MeToo, was created by John R. Dilworth, who would go on to create Courage the Cowardly Dog:

Alioshin describes Snookles, by Julia Stroud, as her personal favorite:

Alioshin has gone on to a professional career in animation, with credits that include Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride and James and the Giant Peach.

The documentary consists of clips from 65 of the animated films, as well as numerous interviews with the animators and others from the scene. Working in animation has given Alioshin access to many of the people who participated in the film, including Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton, who made films in Spike and Mike’s Classic festival and have since each directed multiple Pixar features. They appeared for their documentary interview “on their lunch hour,” she said.

Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit, is interviewed in the documentary, and is shown thanking Spike and Mike from the stage when he won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in the early ’90s. Also interviewed is “Weird Al” Yankovic, who frequented the festivals and even used to play his accordion on stage at them. Seth Green, the actor who would go on to create Robot Chicken, says in the documentary that “when Sick and Twisted started, I know that I had found my people.”

Mike Gribble, the half of the duo who typically hosted the shows, died of cancer in 1994, but the festivals continued into the early 2000s. Spike and Mike’s occasionally gets one-off revivals, including at each year’s San Diego Comic-Con. But one saving grace for fans of the festivals is that the majority of the key shorts from that era are available on YouTube and other online platforms.

That shift has put into place a dichotomy that’s also in existence throughout the world of entertainment: There may be fewer barriers to getting one’s work out there, but at the same time there are more barriers on monetization.

“That access of any animator being able to put a video on kind of changed the idea of going to a theater to pay to see it,” Alioshin said.

Animation Outlaws was scheduled to be shown at March’s Albany Film Festival, with another screening scheduled for The Fox Theater where it all started, Riverside, in May. (The Albany Film Festival has been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak; no word yet on the Fox Theater show, though tickets remain on sale for now.) The documentary is awaiting distribution.


The Cradle of the Best and the Worst: Some thoughts on Minnesota, policing, and the last few days in America

When I tell people I’m from Minnesota, I get a few different reactions, beyond the usual observations about Prince, The Replacements, the sports teams, or the colorful local politicians.

It’s often assumed that I had never met a racial minority until I left (damn, that Chris Rock joke about Prince and Kirby Puckett.) In the last five years or so, no thanks to  Fox News propaganda about the Somali community, others have raised with me the assumption that the entire Twin Cities metro area is under Taliban-style sharia law. So if any good comes out of the last week, perhaps the world will know for sure that neither of those things is true.

I’ve been watching the horrible events in the Twin Cities for the last week, and it’s been very surreal, unbelievably sad, and absolutely infuriating. I haven’t been able to get to sleep very well any of the last few nights.

I love Minnesota, and I’m proud to be from there. If you know me, you know I talk about Minnesota all the time, even though I haven’t lived there since I graduated from high school almost 25 years ago. My Minnesota upbringing is something that’s a huge part of what I am.

But something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past week is there’s an ugly side to the place where I grew up, a history of discrimination and racial disparities, that I didn’t allow myself to see for a really long time. I should have seen it earlier, but I didn’t. Other writers who come from Minnesota- Rafi Schwartz, Jon Krawczynski, Steve Rushin- have written similar things in recent days.

I don’t blame my family or teachers for this. I was taught, I like to think, good and positive values by my family, my schools, and Jewish institutions. I always learned a lot in school about black history and the civil rights movement, and even participated in a black-Jewish dialogue program through my synagogue in high school.  And I’m always happy to see, to this day, that Jewish community leaders are at or near the forefront of most social justice actions in the Twin Cities.

When you move to somewhere like Boston, or New York, or Philly as an adult, as I did, you learn certain things about aspects of the towns’ ugly racial histories, like the Boston busing crisis or the MOVE bombing.  But it’s a little different when it’s where you grew up.

I just don’t think it was standard procedure, at the time that I was growing up, for kids to be taught about things like how African-Americans are treated by police, or the local history of redlining. With the benefits of age, hindsight and the passage of time, I’ve started to get it.

I grew up loving the Minnesota Twins, but I’m not sure how old I was when learned that their former owner Calvin Griffith,had once admitted, in a drunken tirade, the reason why he moved the team from Washington, D.C. to Minnesota: “I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota… It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ball games, but they’ll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it’ll scare you to death. It’s unbelievable. We came here because you’ve got good, hard-working, white people here.” When Target Field was built in 2010, the Twins placed a statue of Calvin Griffith in front of the stadium. 

I always known that Minnesota has that majority, Scandinavian monoculture that I was never a part of as a Jew- think of the hunting neighbor in A Serious Man– which other minorities aren’t a part of either. But I’d imagine black people and immigrants are even further removed from that than Jews were.

Speaking of the Coen Brothers? Fargo is, in most people’s estimation, the greatest Minnesota movie. What’s it about, after all, if not hidden darkness beneath a veneer of Minnesota Nice?

What really clicked for me was five years ago, when the Philando Castile shooting happened outside Minneapolis, and high school classmates of mine were posting to Facebook about how he should have complied more and therefore deserved to die. Which, if you remember anything about the details of that case, is some true horseshit. Of course, the Mohamed Noor/Justine Damond case happened in Minneapolis a couple of years later, and everyone took the opposite side, maybe owing to the cop being a black Somali man and the dead person being a pretty white woman.

Since then, I’ve seen people in Minnesota do things like elect the proto-Trump Michele Bachmann to Congress, frequently spread horrific and racist lies about immigrant communities in Minneapolis, and host Donald Trump for a rally at Target Center. Last fall, the same square between the arena and First Avenue which just a couple of years earlier had hosted thousands of singing, crying people mourning Prince’s death, went on to host a snarling crowd in MAGA hats and “Cops for Trump” t-shirts. The cradle of the best and worst, once again.

As we’ve seen lately Minnesota, like a lot of blue states, probably isn’t as progressive as it likes to think it is. Which isn’t to say they’d get any more progressive, especially racially, if Republicans took over. More likely, the opposite.

So that brings us to last Monday, when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck until he died, as three other officers watched and did nothing.

What followed were protests and burning and looting and anger, taking place all over the country and even in smaller cities where you wouldn’t expect it. It’s opened up about ten different major culture war flash points, as well as endless arguments over Antifa, “outside agitators,” and who’s ultimately to blame for the unrest. I’ve seen one unbelievable sight after another on television, mostly in specific parts of cities, whether Minneapolis, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago or Washington- that I know very well.

I saw a police officer drive-by pepper spray a peaceful crowd on bikes, on the same downtown Minneapolis block where I walked with my kids one day last summer. I saw a gang of baseball bat-wielding thugs, the kind of big aggro shitheads normally seen punching people in the parking lot at Eagles games, menacing Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood and breaking a local journalist’s face. After more than two years of writing a column about crime involving Apple products, I watched the looting of Apple Stores in several major cities.

I’ve also seen police officers, in the Twin Cities, arresting a CNN crew on live television, firing at a citizen’s porch, and doing all sorts of terrible, indefensible things to people who don’t deserve it.

The issue of policing, especially centered on race, has been a highly fraught one, really, for decades. I don’t get the sense that much as changed, except for the arrival of cell phone cameras. Had George Floyd’s death not happened on camera, I’ve got a feeling we’d have gotten a story that barely resembled the truth, and that story probably would have stuck.

I have police officers who I consider my friends. I’ve covered the police and crime as a journalist, and I have admiration for what they do. Most of them do a dangerous job very well.

But that’s the thing. I’m a white guy who grew up in one suburb and who lives in a different suburb. I’ve never had any reason to have a negative interaction with the police. The closest thing was I’ve had to one was when I got pulled over, last year, by an officer in my town who cited three different driving violations, and I was let off with a warning for all three.

I have two young sons. I might have to worry, one day, about having to pick them up from a police station after they partied too hard. I probably don’t have to worry that they’ll get shot by the police. Black people I know have a very different view when it comes the worries they have about their sons.

Over the last few years, I’ve also noticed other some things about policing in America, and the reaction to it. Much of which was gleaned from the work I’ve done in the media, including from my experience working in TV news a few years ago.

For one thing, city police departments play an extremely outsized role in how crime is covered by media outlets in this country, as way too many crime stories reported by the news use the police report or statement as the primary source, if not the only source. Also, there are massive PR efforts afoot to push police’s version of events, and to play up fluffy stories like cops buying shoes for homeless people, or police department lip-syncing videos. I implore everyone to listen to the “Kitten Rescues, Lip-Syncing & Christmas Traffic Stops” episode of Citations Needed, quite possibly the most illuminating podcast episode I’ve heard in the last few years.

Another thing I’ve learned, possibly as a result of all that, is that significant amounts of everyday people – and not necessarily conservative-identifying ones –  treat it as a bedrock belief that police can do absolutely no wrong.

No matter how egregious and brutal the police misconduct, no matter if it’s caught entirely on tape, there’s a significant number of people who will reflexively defend it, and make excuses for it. Police unions may do this, in a particularly amoral way, but at least it’s their job to do it. But for civilian bystanders to do the same? They’re just choosing to. It’s treating the police as a matter of tribalism and fandom, which brings with it a lot of the many problematic aspects we’re used to seeing with other kinds of toxic fandom. And that’s not something that’s good for law enforcement, either.

This hasn’t happened, for the most part, with the George Floyd video. But once some time passes, especially if there’s a trial? I don’t expect that to remain the case. There will absolutely be “I Stand With Derek Chauvin” Facebook groups before long.

There’s something really dark and bloodthirsty about the way civilian stans react to police brutality and misconduct. Even beyond all the “Karen”-instigated call-the-cops-on-a-birdwatcher stuff, a lot of civilians, if they’re not just being fanboys, think of the police as their own personal goon squad. We’ve all seen civilians demanding from the sidelines for the police to knock the heads of people they don’t like.

Back in the summer of 2016, I spent a day covering the protests at the Democratic National Convention, here in Philadelphia. It was an 80-something-degree day, and a wild scene, with thousands of protestors from different factions, lots of arguments between Hillary and Bernie partisans, and even a 51-foot joint that was paraded down South Broad Street. All in all, it was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever spent as a reporter.

There was, as you might expect, a huge police presence. The police and protesters, though, mostly got along, much more than the different protesting factions did with each other. I saw them chatting with each other throughout the day, and I believe the whole day concluded with single-digit arrests, compared to hundreds of them at the RNC in the same city 16 years earlier.

But when I got home, I read Facebook and newspaper website comments wondering why the cops hadn’t broken out the nightsticks, like Frank Rizzo used to. This is the go-to sentiment for a lot of Philadelphians of a certain age, who simultaneously argue that the city was a dystopian hellscape in the ’70s, that Rizzo “kept the streets safe,” and that we’ll never solve the pathologies of today unless we get back to Rizzo-style ass-kicking. That crime rates were much higher in Rizzo’s time than they are today is never quite squared in that whole worldview.

If you’ve read Rick Perlstein’s brilliant book Nixonland, you’ve probably thought of it constantly over the course of the last week. You may remember, in particular, that rank-and-file civilians really, really loved it when Mayor Richard Daley’s Chicago police put the billy clubs to hippies in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic convention. The more things change…

This sort of bloodlust has been stoked in the past by President Trump, who has called at rallies for police to rough up suspects. And the president is clearly hoping, shades of Nixonland, to make like Nixon in ’68 and ride fears about rampant social unrest to re-election. The difference, of course, is that Trump is the president right now. He can’t exactly run on the premise of putting a stop to the sort of thing he didn’t stop as president in the first place. And it’s not like there’s a single moment, since this all started, when the president has shown anything even resembling leadership.

But then again, I’m not naive enough to think that, if Trump loses, these issues and national pathologies are going to go away along with him. They’re way older than Trump, and while a Biden presidency might bring about some policy changes around the margins, I don’t get the sense those conversations are going to end anytime soon.

At that rally in Minneapolis last October, Trump appeared with the frothing neo-fascist chief of the Minneapolis police union, Bob Kroll, who put out a statement Monday that called Floyd a violent criminal and vowed to fight for the jobs of the four fired officers.

I don’t know what the policy solution is to tragedies like the Floyd killing and all that followed, as there’s clearly not an easy one on offer. But a part of it has to be getting violent, racist, and/or dangerous cops off the streets, and to reign in people like Kroll and the FOP in Philly, who have a nearly unblemished record of getting fired bad cops reinstated, usually with back pay.

Then there’s the cartoonishly thuggish cop unions in New York, best known for unhinged social media posts, and who most recently exposed the personal information of Mayor De Blasio’s daughter. This comes less than a year after they whined like little babies when the killer of Eric Garner was finally fired, five years after the fact.

Last Saturday, I went for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River, in what was my first visit to the city of Philadelphia since coronavirus started in early March. I knew protests were scheduled for that day, but had thought they’d be over by the time I was there. In fact, when I looped around a huge march was approaching the Art Museum.

It was angry, but peaceful, with a crowd of all kinds of races and ages. All the burning and looting was quite a ways away. I feel like that’s been the dynamic in a lot of parts of the country. There are many, MANY people showing up to protest, in cities where this sort of thing doesn’t normally happen. This thing has struck a chord in a huge way.

And while certain knuckleheads are doing a lot of damage, that’s not everyone out there, or even most people. Especially not the large crowd in Minneapolis, on the I-35 bridge, that was protesting peacefully when a semi truck barreled towards them. (It now appears that was an accident, although I saw at least one Facebook warrior the other day defending the driving into a crowd, because “walking on the highway is illegal.”)

No, the protests weren’t caused by the Russians, or by bots, or by George Soros, and you can easily discount the credibility of anyone who says they were. Whether “outside agitators” was a thing or not, I have no idea, though I’m not convinced Antifa is an organization at all, much less a terrorist one.

I’m on record as strongly opposed to trying too hard to emphasize positive things in negative times, especially from a news standpoint, as that’s a way to pretend horrible events weren’t so horrible. That said, I’ve found some true inspiration from recent events, including both police officers who have done the right thing, and reporters who have done amazing work from the front lines.

And I’m also in awe of the Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, the Minneapolis restaurant cofounded by my high school classmate Yoni that’s emerged as a community gathering place and relief spot during the crisis- and even reportedly was targeted by white supremacists for their trouble.

Black lives matter. It shouldn’t be the slightest bit controversial to say that, nor is it necessary to change the “black” to “white,” much less “blue.”

I don’t know how this is going to go, or how it’s going to end. I’m guessing not well, and the rebuilding is going to be long and painful, even if there wasn’t a pandemic going on at the same time. I can only hope and pray for peace, for greater understanding, and a better America, a better Minnesota, a better Philadelphia, and a better world than the one we’ve seen for the last week.

In the footsteps of Hyman Roth: Reflections on a visit to Cuba

pinkcar“Just so you know, I’m going to be quoting ‘Godfather II’ for the whole trip,” I said to a roomful of our traveling companions, as well as numerous times to my wife, prior to our visit to Cuba. An indication of my American solipsism, along with my tendency to make absolutely everything about movies? Yes and yes.

Nevertheless, in the seven days we spent in Cuba, I took in a lot more, about history, about socialism, and about the way national myths are constructed. Quite an illuminating journey, and one that I really hope Americans are going to be continue to be able to take.

My wife and I traveled to Cuba as part of a delegation of around 30, mostly associated with our synagogue, Temple Sholom in Broomall, although not everyone on the trip was a member. The purpose of our trip was to meet with and deliver aid to the small Jewish community in Cuba, and we all traveled on education/religious visas. I also did some journalism on the trip, but the Cuban government didn’t know about that.

We visited Havana, Santa Clara, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos, before returning to Havana at the end. I wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about my interactions with the Jewish community in Cuba, and their struggles in obtaining traditional Jewish foods, here. I also wrote for AppleInsider about the country’s nascent Apple subculture. This post is for the rest of my observations from the trip, that didn’t make it into the other pieces.

And yes, I took the advice of this piece, listing cliches to avoid while reporting on Cuba. In none of my writing from the trip will you see references to Cuba being “frozen in time,” a “forbidden island,” or to expressing that I’m glad I got to see Cuba “before it changes.” I also went places besides Havana.

On the trip, we visited the small Jewish community, who we visited in five different places on the island. There aren’t many of them, they don’t have rabbis, the population is aging, and (per the JTA link above) they can’t even get challah or bagels. But they’re keeping up hope, and are very thankful to have American visitors.

The Jews in Cuba, virtually unanimously, say they’re not worried about anti-Semitism in Cuba, but very much worried about it in the United States. They’re also very Zionist, and one staffer at the big synagogue in Havana was even wearing a Mossad t-shirt.

However, they’re very much not fans of Donald Trump, something they had in common with just about everybody on our trip.

About a half dozen times over the course of the year between our booking the trip and actually leaving, the Trump Administration announced new travel restrictions to Cuba, although thankfully none of them affected our trip.

You probably know some version of the history. Cuba was, and is, a communist country that was allied with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The U.S., for all that time and ever since, has held an embargo in place preventing goods from reaching the island. The idea is that strain from the embargo will force Cuba to overthrow their government, but 60 years on, that hasn’t happened and shows no signs of doing so any time in the future.

Screen Shot 2020-02-13 at 5.18.55 PM

President Barack Obama, in 2015, normalized trade relations with Cuba, even visiting the country the following year. But the Trump Administration has since reversed some of the Obama-era changes. Not all though- Cuban rum and cigars are still allowed into the country, which I’m guessing came due to pressure from various Trump cronies.

Where does this all leave Cuba? The nation now finds itself dependent on income from tourists, both the dwindling amount from the U.S. and those from other countries. Therefore, Cuba ends up with essentially a bifurcated society in which tourists spend money and live like kings, while the natives live on rations and other scraps. Tourists even use a different currency (“CUCs”) than Cuban citizens.

Yet even in a country with no democracy and not much freedom, there is a great deal of hustle. For example: We visited the Cohiba cigar factory in Havana. We were told that while workers at the factory are paid a negligible daily stipend, every employee, per longstanding tradition, gets five cigars a day. Which they then, of course, sell.


Have a cigar

From what I saw of Cuba, it certainly didn’t make me wish for America to turn to that specific strand of socialism. Then again, I don’t believe that Bernie Sanders, or even those to the left of him, are seeking to turn America into Cuba. Denmark, maybe.

The country, meanwhile, is festooned with iconography of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. At the bookstores, every book is about them. Makes one feel kind of bad for the current First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Raul Castro, whose picture is absolutely nowhere. Meanwhile, The current president is Miguel Díaz-Canel, but his name is rarely mentioned, there are no pictures of him anywhere, and I just had to look up his name because I didn’t remember it.


An incongruously funny picture of Fidel Castro.

Yet ironically, the Fidel Castro/Donald Trump parallels are uncanny. Both have dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies, disrespect for democracy, deep ties to the Russians, a weakness for giving key government jobs to relatives, and a tendency to deliver televised speeches that go on for hours. Also, both have inspired absolutely insane fan art. Trump is Castro, Castro is Trump.

Also, there’s a Rosenbergs memorial! I wasn’t sure if Fidel put that up because he thought they were innocent, or to thank them for being guilty. Probably the latter.


The other famous effect of the embargo? 1950s muscle cars, everywhere! Most of them incredibly well-preserved, especially in the paint jobs, although one we rode in had an empty space where the car radio used to be.

No, I didn’t quote The Godfather: Part II for the entire trip, but I did notice some familiar things. Meyer Lansky, the real-life Hyman Roth, built the Riviera, the Havana hotel that was next to ours. “And there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town!”


We also visited the Hotel Nacionale, another pre-revolution mob stronghold, which includes a special room featuring pictures of all the dignitaries who have visited the place over the years. It’s an eclectic mix of athletes, entertainers, and bloodthirsty dictators. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen the pictures of Bashar al-Assad and Wade Boggs side by side.

No, the Superman Show doesn’t exist, and hasn’t since the revolution. But “Superman” was a real guy, and this piece from 2015 by Mitch Moxley, which looked into his mysterious backstory, is a masterpiece of international reporting.

Speaking of movies, only a handful of Hollywood films were shot in Havana during the Obama-era thaw. One of them? That’s right, Fast & Furious 8. Our hotel was right near the spot where Vin Diesel’s car went into the ocean:

On the entire trip, I saw only one movie theater, and it appeared to be closed. Yet despite that, and the embargo, every Cuban I met seemed to have nearly encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood movies. The talented film critic Monica Castillo, a couple of years ago, visited some of the island’s theaters.

Also, I saw Steven Spielberg’s picture all over the place. That might be because we went to a lot of Jewish places, and he must have gone to all of them, too

Yes, we visited Ernest Hemingway’s old estate, including his pool, where Ava Gardner used to swim nude:


Throughout the trip, our tour guide gave us the government-approved version of history, complete with some tale tales about “miracle medical cures” that its doctors have developed (other countries do this too, Israel especially.) She would go on to imply that the microphone she was using was bugged by the government.  Much of the trip brought to mind Yakov Smirnoff’s old joke: “In America, you can say whatever thing you want, about Reagan. And in Soviet Union, you can say whatever thing you want, about Reagan.”

The Internet? We were able to get it in our hotels only, although I’m told for actual Cubans, access is unreliable, censored and incomplete.


A street vendor in Havana sports a Kobe Bryant jersey, the day after the NBA legend’s death.

The first time we logged on, we got about 15 alerts about Kobe Bryant’s death. The next day, we learned there was an earthquake in Cuba, leading to fearful texts from just about everyone we know. The quake, alas, was on the other side of the country, and we didn’t feel it. Though we’d have been pretty screwed in an the event of a tsunami, since our hotel was a block from the water, protected by a tiny seawall that got overtopped more than once.

Also, as you may have heard, Cuba is a baseball country, and the home nation of numerous baseball players you probably know. We even visited a practicing baseball team. A deal was in the works to make it possible for Cuban baseball players to come to the major leagues without having to defect, but, you guessed it, Trump scuttled that as well.


It was interesting, though, that the Cuban national team shirts we saw for sale all had the names of players like Yasiel Puig, who have defected to the U.S. We got them for our kids, although I vetoed the purchase of an Aroldis Chapman jersey, for both domestic abuse and Yankee reasons.


Cuba is one of those places that I’d known of for my entire life, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit it. I don’t know which direction things are going to go there, but I really hope for there to be more freedom for the people on the island, and more opportunities for Americans to visit them there.

Jeff Tweedy: Deep Cuts

So, back in February, I interviewed Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It was one of my favorite interviews ever, and we talked about his music, his book, and his conversion to Judaism.

There was a ton in there that didn’t make it into the final interview, largely having to do with Tweedy’s parts in movies and TV shows,  so I thought I’d put that right here, with some clips embedded:

Wilco’s music, while not quite a pop radio mainstay, is often featured in movies and even
in TV commercials; an episode of the Showtime show Billions last year even had two
characters engage in a heart-to-heart over the band’s album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and what it meant for the doomed relationship between Tweedy and Jay Bennett:

There was even an acclaimed 2002 documentary about the band, I Am Trying To Break
Your Heart, and Tweedy had a guest-starring run on the sitcom Parks & Recreation,
which he said came about because lots of the show’s writers and performers were fans of him and the band.

Wilco – “Heavy Metal Drummer” (Jeff Tweedy’s son) from paranoidandroid on Vimeo.

“That’s where the flattering part ends because I think the character they were looking for was a washed-up Midwestern rock star, and they said I was the first person they thought of.”

One of the more memorable uses of Wilco in film was the scene in the 2014 film
Boyhood, in which the band’s song “Hate It Here” is playing in a car as Ethan Hawke’s character explains and praises the song to his teenaged son (Eller Cochrane.) While he likes the scene and the film, Tweedy says it’s not quite what it’s like when drives around his own sons.

“Ethan Hawke’s character in that scene was a lot more didactic towards his kid than I feel like I try to be with my kids, and it was very cool to be included in that movie… I think when Spencer and Sammy and I are in the car listening to music it’s much more as peers than me trying to interest them in what we’re listening to. I think what Ethan was doing in that scene was more teaching them how to listen deeply.”

Seeing his sons as peers goes beyond music singalongs, and Torah study. In the
documentary 17 years ago, Spencer is shown drumming to the rhythm of the Wilco song “Heavy Metal Drummer” and asking Tweedy to guess the song. The two released an album together in 2014, with Spencer playing drums.

The Big List 2017: Ranking Every Movie I Saw This Year

So this year I saw 240 movies, which were released in 2017 that I saw in 2017. This breaks my record from last year by a significant margin, for a few reasons: I had better access this year to both screenings and screeners, due in part to the advent of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and the Film Scribes podcast. I’m also writing in more places this year.

Also, my friends in the film publicist world, both the local Allied reps and various national folks, went the extra mile this year, which is greatly appreciated. And I’d also liked to thank the Online Film Critics Society governing council, especially Dewey Singleton, for really coming through with delivering better access this year for OFCS members.

For the purposes of this list I’m including official, Oscar-eligible 2017 releases, as well as films I saw at film festivals that do not have a specific release date in any other year, whether 2016 or 2018 (so that omits Chappaquiddick and Thoroughbreds, which you can look for on next year’s list.) You can read the 2016 version of the list here, 2015 here,

As always, you can read all of my reviews at Rotten Tomatoes and on my Splice Today author page, and you can read my expanded Top Ten list article here, and my look at the year’s top documentaries here. You can also listen to and subscribe to the podcast, and come to our event at the Prince Theater on January 9. 

Thank you all, once again, for reading my reviews this year and listening to the podcast. Even after more than 20 years, I still can’t believe that I actually get to do this.

Without further ado..

The Big List 2017:

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Get Out
  3. The Florida Project
  4. Lady Bird
  5. Call Me By Your Name
  6. Dawson City Frozen Time
  7. Coco
  8. The Post
  9. The Shape of Water
  10. Baby Driver
  11. Princess Cyd
  12. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  13. Wonderstruck
  14. Marjorie Prime
  15. Lucky
  16. Let’s Play Two
  17. Wonder Woman
  18. The Disaster Artist
  19. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
  20. mother!
  21. Mudbound
  22. Icarus
  23. Risk
  24. Logan Lucky
  25. Wormwood
  26. Wind River
  27. Alaska is a Drag
  28. Long Strange Trip
  29. The Breadwinner
  30. Lady Macbeth
  31. Get Me Roger Stone
  32. The Work
  33. Jane
  34. Obit.
  35. BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  36. Columbus
  37. Battle of the Sexes
  38. The Big Sick
  39. The Beguiled
  40. It
  41. I, Tonya
  42. Spider-man: Homecoming
  43. Thor: Ragnarok
  44. Dunkirk
  45. American Made
  46. The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected
  47. Last Flag Flying
  48. A Ghost Story
  49. Blade Runner 2049
  50. The Lego Batman Movie
  51. The Greatest Showman
  52. Atomic Blonde
  53. Detroit
  54. The Square
  55. Nocturama
  56. Faces Places
  57. One of Us
  58. Quest
  59. I Called Him Morgan
  60. Colossal
  61. The Little Hours
  62. Five Came Back
  63. A Gray State
  64. Ex Libres The New York Public Library
  65. Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
  66. Long Shot
  67. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
  68. May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers
  69. All The Queen’s Horses
  70. Oklahoma City
  71. Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent
  72. The Force
  73. Darkest Hour
  74. A Quiet Passion
  75. Girls Trip
  76. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
  77. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  78. Logan
  79. John Wick Chapter 2
  80. Okja
  81. Their Finest
  82. The Hero
  83. Beauty and the Beast
  84. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
  85. The Hitman’s Bodyguard
  86. Brad’s Status
  87. Dean
  88. Marshall
  89. Menashe
  90. First They Killed My Father
  91. Rough Night
  92. Strong Island
  93. Gilbert
  94. Step
  95. LA 92
  96. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
  97. 11/8/16
  98. Loving Vincent
  99. Last Men in Aleppo
  100. City of Ghosts
  101. Beauty and the Dogs
  102. The Wall
  103. Human Flow
  104. Gook
  105. Brigsby Bear
  106. The Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis
  107. The Ballad of Lefty Brown
  108. At the Drive In
  109. Let It Fall: Los Angeles, 1982-1992
  110. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
  111. Tickling Giants
  112. Thelma
  113. Gifted
  114. Gerald’s Game
  115. Graduation
  116. Personal Shopper
  117. All the Money in the World
  118. Victoria & Abdul
  119. Brawl in Cell Block 99
  120. Murder on the Orient Express
  121. Ingrid Goes West
  122. After the Storm
  123. The Last Laugh
  124. Dina
  125. Gaga: Five Foot Two
  126. AlphaGo
  127. Cries From Syria
  128. The Fate of the Furious
  129. Crown Heights
  130. The Problem With Apu
  131. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
  132. All These Sleepless Nights
  133. The Women’s Balcony
  134. The Man Who Invented Christmas
  135. Megan Leavey
  136. The Lost City of Z
  137. It Comes at Night
  138. Contemporary Color
  139. Kedi
  140. In the Fade
  141. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
  142. California Typewriter
  143. Philadelphia and the Invention of Movies
  144. Disgraced
  145. Whitney: Can I Be Me
  146. Elian
  147. Ferdinand
  148. Karl Marx City
  149. Alien: Covenant
  150. Roman J. Israel, Esq.
  151. Phantom Thread
  152. Molly’s Game
  153. I Love You, Daddy
  154. Wait For Your Laugh
  155. The Lovers
  156. The Lure
  157. The Incredible Jessica James
  158. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
  159. Beatriz at Dinner
  160. Wonder Wheel
  161. Mobile Homes
  162. The Death of Louis XIV
  163. Kong: Skull Island
  164. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  165. Goon: Last of the Enforcers
  166. England is Mine
  167. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
  168. A Bad Moms Christmas
  169. A Cure For Wellness
  170. Raw
  171. Donald Cried
  172. Land of Mine
  173. Landline
  174. Bright Lights: Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
  175. The Final Year
  176. Cars 3
  177. Boss Baby
  178. Justice League
  179. Chasing Coral
  180. The Dinner
  181. Patti Cake$
  182. Carrie Pilby
  183. Whose Streets?
  184. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
  185. I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore
  186. Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
  187. Holy Air
  188. Scaffolding
  189. Bloody Milk
  190. Everything, Everything
  191. Good Time
  192. Power Rangers
  193. Lemon
  194. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  195. Lost in Paris
  196. The Zookeeper’s Wife
  197. Voyeur
  198. Nobody Speak: Trials of a Free Press
  199. Rebel in the Rye
  200. The Human Surge
  201. Beware the Slenderman
  202. To the Bone
  203. Person to Person
  204. All Eyez on Me
  205. T2: Trainspotting
  206. War Machine
  207. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
  208. Despicable Me 3
  209. The Last Word
  210. The Bad Batch
  211. Sister of Mine
  212. The Glass Castle
  213. The Great Wall
  214. The Hatred
  215. Wilson
  216. Snatched
  217. Split
  218. Song to Song
  219. Free Fire
  220. Sweet Country
  221. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
  222. CHIPS
  223. Pitch Perfect 3
  224. Fun Mom Dinner
  225. Most Beautiful Island
  226. Table 19
  227. The House
  228. Going in Style
  229. The Space Between Us
  230. Goodbye, Christopher Robin
  231. The Circle
  232. Downsizing
  233. Baywatch
  234. The Mummy
  235. Fifty Shades Darker
  236. Bright
  237. Suburbicon
  238. The Dark Tower
  239. The Only Living Boy in New York
  240. Fist Fight

Did not see (reputedly good): Hostiles, Stronger, A Fantastic Woman, Foxtrot, Citizen Jane: Battle For the City, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rat Film, LBJ

Did not see (reputedly bad): Transformers: The Last Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Emoji Movie, The Book of Henry, The Snowman, Daddy’s Home 2,

My 20 Favorite Things I Wrote in 2017

2017 was quite a year for me, as a writer. I’ve been full-time freelance for seven of the 12 months, and in that time I’ve gotten to do a lot of stuff I’ve been talking about doing for years, including starting a film critics group and podcast, and even taking steps towards putting together a book proposal. I’ve also expanding the outlets I’m writing for, with hopefully more to come in the new year. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. The Many Kinds of Baseball Families: A League of Their Own at 25” (, June 12.) Roger Ebert is a formative influence on me as a writer and I probably wouldn’t be a film critic today if not for him, so it was a thrill to finally have my work on the site that bears his name- especially while writing about a film that’s always meant a lot to me.
  2. The Story Behind That Warehouse” (, August 9.) Most people who live in the Philadelphia suburbs know the warehouse, but most don’t know the story behind it. So I looked into it and discovered the amazing, 60-year story that starts with a rock single from the 1960s.
  3. Big Screen Blues” (Broad Street Review, June 5.) I’ve been complaining for a long time that there isn’t a great movie theater, or enough movie screens, in Philadelphia, so I wrote it.
  4. Political Correctness is Not Killing Comedy” (Screen Rant, October 4.) Much as I hate to disagree with Mel Brooks, I once again flogged a longtime hobby horse of mine here.
  5. Bruce Prichard, Wrestling’s Brother Love, Brings Show to Philly” (, July 24.) I got to talk to the guy who played Brother Love in WWE- and now hosts one of the world’s best podcasts- before his recent live show.
  6. Fist Fight is Ugly and Sinister” (Splice Today, February 17.) I wrote a lot of movie reviews this year, but this one, of the year’s worst movies, 8was probably the angriest.
  7. Is the Mystery of Ga-ga, Everyone’s Favorite Summer Camp Game, Finally Solved?” (Tablet, August 2.) A year after I looked into the summer camp sport’s beginnings, I heard from a guy who says he invented the game himself.
  8. Markelle Fultz and the Catch-22 of Playing Hurt” (NBC Sports Philadelphia, October 25.) I wrote about how insane it is to vilify athletes for not wanting to play hurt.
  9. The Final Fall of Pete Rose” (Splice Today, August 11.) I wrote about how Jim Gray was right: Pete Rose has been his own worst enemy, and continues to be.
  10. The Documentaries of 2017: When Best Laid Plans Go Beautifully Awry” (Living Life Fearless, December 6.) I looked into why most of the year’s best documentaries ended up much differently from how they were originally planned.
  11. How the NFL Anthem Controversy (Mostly) Missed Pennsylvania” (50 States of Blue, December 8.) My first big essay for the political site at which I’m now Pennsylvania correspondent.
  12. Where Do the Muppets Go From Here?” (Screen Rant, July 27.) After the firing of Steve Whitmire as Kermit, I looked at what comes next for the Muppets franchise.
  13. Johnny From Dirty Dancing Pops the Question to State Mate” (Philly Voice, May 23.) My wife and I went to see the “Dirty Dancing” stage musical for our 10th anniversary- and after show, the actor playing Johnny proposed to the actress playing Penny . She said yes, and I interviewed both of them a few days later.
  14. “The Case For Casting Kyle MacLachlan” (Living Life Fearless, October 6.) I made the case why “Twin Peaks: The Return” should mean renewed stardom for its leading man.
  15. Philly Geek Awards Celebrate Nerds Far and Wide” (, August 28.) I was happy to cover the Philly Geek Awards for the first time, as it honored everyone from hackers to doctors to political activists.
  16. Has Game of Thrones Been Foreshadowing Daenerys’ Death?” (Screen Rant, September 11.) I tried my hand at Game of Thrones speculation, in pointing out a whole bunch of random references to a single arrow striking Khaleesi.
  17. The Chappaquiddick Film Couldn’t be More Timely- So Why the Delay?” (Living Life Fearless, November 28.) I covered the Philadelphia Film Festival for four different publications, and this one dealt with a film that hasn’t been released it- so I wrote about why.
  18. Three Billboards, Lady Bird Among the Best of the Philadelphia Film Festival” (Splice Today, October 31.) I also looked at some of the best films of the festival (and the year.)
  19. “SuiteWorld 2017 Highlights Part 1 and Part 2 (, April.) At my former day job, I returned to my CES roots and covered a big tech event in Las Vegas.
  20. Lessons From the Wonder Woman Wars” (Screen Rant, June 30.) I look at the many controversies- feminist, political, Israeli- related to the release of Wonder Woman.

Craig Finn: St. Louis Park Interviews Edina

craig_finn_press-1-e1470258303313A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to interview Craig Finn, longtime frontman of The Hold Steady, about his new album and upcoming solo show. The interview was published the other day on PhillyVoice; you can read that here. 

Naturally, I had some questions for Finn about our shared Minnesota heritage, and about the Twins, that wouldn’t fit in a Philadelphia publication; so I’ve added that below:

SS: On the Minnesota thing, I was happy to hear references to Edina and snowbanks and things like that- “the North Stars went South,” that was a good lyric to hear. What do you think about the legacy of Minnesota music? I know Prince passed on last year and there was a lot of talk about that. How do you feel about that, and your place in it?

CF: It’s always a tricky thing, just because I’ve been in New York since 2000 and The Hold Steady started in New York and I kind of got a lot of my notoriety but I continued to sing about Minneapolis, so it confuses some people on some level.

Minneapolis is my hometown, and even though I’ve been in New York 16 years now I still feel not so much like a New Yorker but like someone who grew up in Minneapolis who’s living here. I mean, the music scene in Minneapolis is really strong, and continues to be, especially for a city of its size. Growing up, I was fortunate to catch a time where I saw sort of the trinity of rock bands, The Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum, all at smaller places. So, that was very influential on me. So it seems like now it continues to be a home for great music, and obviously the hip-hop scene in Minneapolis has become a huge thing there and it continues to evolve. I don’t feel as in touch with it as I used to but I continue to be impressed when I do plug in.

SS: I always tell people that all that stuff was going on with The Replacements and Husker Du a few miles from my house when I was growing up but I was like five years old so I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t think I discovered The Replacements’ music until I was in my 20s and living in New York.

CF: I hit right at the right time.

SS: I like to tell people that when I lived in New York in the early 2000s a friend from Minneapolis visited me, we were walking around the Lower East Side and he said “I recognize all these street signs from Lou Reed lyrics.” Then I heard you guys’ music and I heard all the stuff about 494 and Lyndale and all that stuff.

CF: I think a lot of people have told me when they visited Minneapolis for the first time they were like “wow, I already know all these names.”

SS: So what about the Twins? And optimism about this year?

CF: I think they’ll lose less than 103 games. That would be going in the right direction. So that’s about as much optimism… I mean, they haven’t really made any moves, and they don’t seem to be able to deal Dozier. So, I don’t know that we can expect a great turnaround. I think… 90? We just aren’t that good, and I don’t know why we think we’ll be better this year.

SS: Well, they seem to have put smart people in charge, so that’s a step in the right direction.

CF: Smart people have to make some moves, though!

SS: So what do you do to follow the Twins from the road, or even from New York?

CF: The MLB, the app. I’m a pretty big fan of just turning on the audio, the radio. I used, in better years, I got the package, if I was going to be home a lot in the summer, but I don’t know, there’s just no need to plug in to watch them lose this much. I’d rather just listen to the radio if they’re gonna lose all the time.

SS: Do you have any blogs or podcasts you use to follow them?

CF: I read Aaron Gleeman, and I do the Star Trib, those are the big ones. They used to have a good one, I can’t remember her name, she was a woman… I think it was Batgirl.

SS:: Yea, it was Anne Ursu, Batgirl.

CF: Yea, she was great.

SS:: She did the thing with the Legos.

CF: Yea, I remember she was showing Pat Neshek’s delivery with a lego setup.

SS: Yea, I think Pat Neshek signed with the Phillies.

CF: I think he follows me on Twitter.

Note: As you can see in the thankfully restored archives of TechnologyTell, I wrote back in July 2012 about my thoughts on Minnesota music; apologies for using a couple of the same anecdotes both times.



All I Want for Hanukkah (repost)

The following post appeared on TechnologyTell’s Entertainment section on December 7, 2012. With Hanukkah a day away, and due to much of the TechnologyTell archive appearing  to have disappeared from the Internet in the last couple of days, I reproduce it here: 

Essay: All I Want For Hanukkah is A Great Hanukkah Movie

Saturday marks the first night of Hanukkah. After eating latkes, lighting candles and giving the kids their presents, I plan to sit down in the living room with my family to watch a classic Hanukkah movie.

Except that last part is impossible. Because there aren’t any. 

Yes, that’s right. Despite Jewish people not exactly being underrepresented among the ranks of Hollywood decision-makers in the last hundred years or so, there is not a single classic movie associated with Hanukkah. And that really needs to change.

This list of  the top ten Hanukkah movies is comprised mostly of obscure TV specials and forgettable direct-to-video affairs. The only ones that were released in theaters are “The Hebrew Hammer”- which is only partially about Hanukkah- and Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights,” a little-seen animated movie adaptation of Sandler’s famous “Hanukkah Song.” Neither is anything close to a holiday classic.

While it’s not the most religiously significant holiday on the Jewish calendar, the Hanukkah story is one of heroism, adventure and miracles- just about the most cinematic thing I can imagine. However, cinema has been slow to embrace the Maccabees.

Why not a Maccabees movie? Steven Spielberg never felt like this was a project worth pursuing?  Harvey Weinstein has been running movie studios for more than two decades- why didn’t he ever make a Maccabees/Hanukkah film? It would fit right in with the recent “Munich”/”Defiance”/”Inglorious Basterds” mini-genre of “Jews kicking ass.”

Such a film would also become a point of cultural pride for young Jews the world over, while also serving as a holiday television staple. After all, the last time Hollywood made an epic motion picture about the biblical origin of a Jewish holiday- 1956’s “The Ten Commandments”- it remained a TV staple for six decades.

Of course, there was a plan in place, just last spring in fact, for a movie about the Maccabees, from a director who’s an Oscar winner, a proven box office draw, and even had directed a previous religious epic. But unfortunately, I’m not sure such a film would become the point of Jewish pride I have in mind, were Mel Gibson’s name attached to it.

Then again, the news of Gibson’s departure from the Maccabees project led to both a memorable Ebook from collaborator Joe Eszterhas and to one of the best tweets of the year, from Doran Simmons:

So come on, Hollywood, get on this. Imagine the tie-in opportunities: Commemorative dreidels! Hannukkah gelt! A video game, in which the goal is to make the oil burn for eight days!

My two boys’ gentile friends will always have “A Christmas Story.” I want my kids to have a constantly looping holiday classic of their own.

My 20 Favorite Things I Wrote in 2016

A personal ranking of my favorite published writings this year:

1. “The Ga-ga Saga”- Tablet. A piece 30 years in the making, as I trace the question of where, exactly, the summer camp sport of Ga-ga came from.

2. “Phillies Fans Cheered Chase Utley- and There’s Nothing Soft About It”– CSNPhilly. I defend the majority of Philly fans against the sports radio hordes who demanded they boo longtime a longtime Phillies hero when he came back to town with the Dodgers.

3. “Sam Hinkie is Gone- But the Hinkie Wars Rage On” (The Cauldron)– My overview of the Hinkie wars, post-Sam Hinkie- and I still can’t believe my byline appeared on  

4. “Protesting Clinton’s Crime Record” (Splice Today) My report from the campaign rally when former President Bill Clinton and an activist yelled at each other- the coverage of which led to the back and side of my head appearing on multiple network newscasts as well as Ava Duvernay’s acclaimed documentary 13th.  

5. “Brandeis University Hosts Historic Lenny Bruce Conference” (Tablet) I returned to my alma mater to report on the most cursing-and-Yiddish-filled academic conference in recent history.  

6. “Bernie or Bust at the DNC” (Splice Today) On a ridiculously hot day I reported from the streets outside the Democratic National Convention, where I saw everything from a 90-foot joint to a Christian cult that chased Bernie Sanders into the Philadelphia Convention Center, and also met Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.  

7. “Politicalfest DNC Exhibitions” (Broad Street Review) Also at the DNC, I reported on a series of political exhibits, and drew from them a valuable lesson about the meaning of politics. 

8. “PC Isn’t Strangling Comedy” (Splice Today). I reviewed the anti-PC documentary Can We Take a Joke, and objected in full its premise.  

9. “It’s Always Sunny in La La Land” (Broad Street Review). I reviewed my favorite movie of the year, as it opened the Philadelphia Film Festival.

10. “Kimmel Center in Talks For Philly Run of Hamilton” (Philly Voice) In my first Philly Voice piece I broke the story that everyone’s favorite revolutionary musical may be heading to town.

11. “20 Years a Critic” (this blog) My commemoration of my 20th anniversary as a film critic

12. “My Family’s Bridge to Brooklyn” (Tablet) I tell the story of my family’s decades-long relationship with the long-defunct TV series Brooklyn Bridge; for this story I interviewed Happy Days’ Marion Ross.

13. “No, Tim Kaine Did Not Hold a Rally With Only 30 People” (Blasting News.) I wrote a lot of debunkings of silly campaign stories this year; this was probably the one that the most people read.

14. “Batman v. Superman is a Disaster” (Splice Today) I went all the way to San Francisco to see one of the worst superhero movies ever made.

15. “Fans Petition to Shut Down Rotten Tomatoes Over DC Movie Reviews” (Screenrant) And not because I’m on the take from Disney or Marvel…

16. “Midnight For Midtown II: Scenes From a Restaurant’s Final Day” (The Lightning Strike) I reported from the final day in business for Philadelphia’s Midtown II Diner.

17. “A New Low: The Gross Tabloid Attack on Malia Obama” (Blasting News.) Defending the right of the First Daughter to go to Lollapalooza.

18. “No, Jon Stewart Couldn’t Have Stopped Donald Trump” (Medium) There were lot of bad conservative talking points this year; here’s a rebuttal to a pretty dumb liberal one

19. “Pederson Will Be Eagles Coach” (Fox29) There’s not a lot about my brief, unhappy tenure in local TV news that I look back on with pride, but I did help the station become the first in town with the news of the new Eagles coach.

20.  Prince, Music Legend and Oscar Winner, Dies at 57” (Screenrant); “My Thoughts on Prince” (this blog.) Prince was so important that I wrote two different obits of him.

Thanks for reading, everyone!