Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Dec. 18)

Dec 18, 2017

When the credits come up at the movies, the pages in a book run out, or the last commercial rolls over the end of a television episode, the story might be over. But the discussion is just getting started. Here at Act Four, we’ll get together every week to talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. We’ll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world.

Hi everyone! A couple of important notes before we begin this chat.

1) Since this will be our last opportunity to hang out until January 8, 2018, due to the holidays, this chat will run two hours. If I can be of help with year-end thoughts, or with last-minute present suggestions, I am delighted to be of service.

2) I'm declaring it totally fair game to discuss details of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in this chat. As I have written, I was quite frustrated by the movie, especially by the extent to which what I perceived to be its flaws outweighed its considerable visual and actorly virtues. THAT SAID, one thing I will absolutely not tolerate in this chat is disparagement of people for  how they feel about the movie in any direction; we've seen far too much of that already. We can discuss substance, but we are not going to impute views to each other or treat each other with bad faith in this chat. Shall we begin?

Thank you for your articles about the mediocrity of The Last Jedi. I walked into the theater yesterday with a pocket full of tissues, sure I'd weep my way through the movie like I had with Force Awakens and Rogue One...and my Kleenex never left my back pocket. Not a tear, not a sigh escaped me during our viewing. Leia flying back to the ship, the bad emo boyfriend Kylo Ren making "you up?" Force phone calls to Rey just to gaslight her, the ever distracting Benecio Del Toro Benecio Del Toroing it up, just no. Too many things pulled me out of the story. It was long and meandering (that slow speed chase nearly put me to sleep..."I know what'll dishearten the Resistance! Inertia!"). I left the theater thoroughly bummed out and yet since everyone loves this movie, I'm left to hold my low opinion here in the closet, only coming out to share with you like minded lot. So thank you!

To be fair, I found parts of "The Last Jedi" genuinely emotionally compelling! Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill and Adam Driver are a terrifically balanced actorly troika, and I found the conversations between Rey and Kylo Ren to be one of the best elements of the movie. (I read them as sincere, rather than an effort at gaslighting; to me, Kylo is a complex, conflicted figure, but if he doesn't land that way for you, I can totally see how your mileage would vary.) I think Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo is somewhat mishandled, but there's never been a case where I felt like her acting didn't pretty much knock it out of the part, and the revelation of her real plan was one of the more moving and better-executed twists of the movie. My complaint isn't that the movie left me cold; it's that it left me alternately engaged and baffled.

You wrote a tweet about assuming when an actress of note sort of drops off the radar you assume sexual harassment or worst is the cause. Kind of had a similar thing about those actresses whose mothers tightly manager their careers such as Katherine Heigl or Charlie Theron. Rethinking it that if had barely 18-year-old daughter going to "make it" in the movie industry, you better believe I'd be there to overprotective. Actually there's a scene about this with Greta Scarcchio as Sandra Dee's mother/manager in Kevin Spacey's passion project Bobby Darrin biopic "Beyond the Sea."

Hmmm, that's a really interesting theory. Though if I read your point correctly, I'm not sure I'd use Heigl and Theron as points of comparison, since their careers are in very different places: Theron is a bona fide movie star who can anchor an action movie, dive into a giant franchise and make an impression, and do interesting indie work. Heigl, by contrast, has starred in a couple of ill-fated television shows, and her movie career is sort of stalled. So I'm not sure being tightly managed by a parent at the beginning of a career is necessarily predictive of future success or failure.

I think I get what you're saying about appreciating the potential of the Star Wars universe. I will need to read your piece again when I'm not at work (on my lunch break!) When I was young, the thing that captured me was "you are special, you are important, and exciting things will happen to you." As I've aged, I think the thing that speaks to me more is the redemption story. No matter who you are, you've got this history, this mix of good and bad, and what are you going to do with it? How will you move forward? And I confess, I need a movie that cheers on the resistance these days as well.

I totally understand all of that! Because I am a nerd, I actually think the idea of the Jedi, and the prospect of being chosen, receded fairly quickly for me in the ranking of things that attracted me about "Star Wars." I always identified with Princess Leia, and I don't think that's entirely about gender: I tend to like characters who -- whatever their station in life at the beginning of the story, and whatever their special talents -- basically have to put their backs into it and work really hard to get things done. This is a statement of general taste, but I like characters who are in the messy guts of the world, rather than engaged on private vision quests. That's not to say I think the private quests in "Star Wars" are bad; I'm just not oriented such that those are my prime interest.

And if I'm being honest, the political details of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" were such that it  made it hard for me to feel like the movie is any sort of stirring commentary on our political situation. If you need something rousing, may I suggest the wonderful British period movie "Pride," which is a lovely, sharply-observed movie about what happens when a social and economic movement come together, with private and political gains for people on both sides. It's great.

Were you upset that Poe was unqualified or because he was male?

I think it's dumb that after a single moral lesson, the living leader of the Resistance just turns over leadership of the movement to someone who has not actually demonstrated that he gets long-term strategy in a substantive way.

Also, this question  is an example of the sort of bad faith and snipiness I'm talking about. We can do better than this, thanks.

Can't say the movie doesn't take place at Christmas time and going to your spouse's X-mas office party can be he'll on Earth without being taken hostage by mercenaries. BUT for me a Christmas movie is one you see a lot on TV during December. I see Die Hard pretty much any of the 12 months of the year yet only really see "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 30th Street" or any of the many "A Christmas Carol" adaptions ain December. Also picking up someone at the airport can also be another hell on Earth without those pesky hostage-taking mercenaries, but by Die Hard Part the Christmas setting was totally dropped without any fuss even frim the hardcore fans.

Yeah, I think this is a sensible rough dividing line. Obviously there are movies that are set at Christmas and movies that we intensely associate with the Christmas season, and being the former doesn't necessarily make one the latter. I saw some joking to this effect earlier in this year with folks (insincerely) suggesting that "The Godfather" ought to be considered a Christmas movie, given the sequence set during that season. I don't think anyone actually agrees with that, but it's a good illustration of the extent to which "Die Hard"-is-a-Christmas-movie-style thinking can get stretched to its logical conclusion.

Alyssa, can you recommend some movies I can take my teens to see during the holiday break? They are excited to see "The Last Jedi," but it's not real clear after that. The last two movies we saw together were "Wonder Woman" and "Ghostbusters," and they liked both. They are certainly capable of something a little more sophisticated but they haven't shown much enthusiasm for, e.g., "Darkest Hour." Thanks for any help you can offer!

I can totally try! I do think this is a tricky season for blockbusters and comedies, the two genres you guys seem to have enjoyed most recently, but that doesn't mean there aren't options. "Thor: Ragnarok" is still in some theaters, and while I had some personal quibbles with it, it's funny and visually kinetic. 

You could also try "Murder on the Orient Express," with the note that it stars Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey in "The Last Jedi." I found it surprisingly moving; Michelle Pfeiffer is great. And it's a good multi-generational family movie if you want to make a larger endeavor of this particular trip to the cinema.

Do they show any indie inclinations? If so, you could try "Lady Bird" on them, since it's about an actual teenager (and her parents). I'm not sure how old your teenagers are, but I would probably recommend against "Call Me By Your Name" as a family outing, and depending on their ages, they might not be old enough for it at all; it's not a salacious movie, but it is fairly sexually and emotionally intense. If they are old enough to watch it, it is the kind of thing I would positively have died watching with my parents at that age.

Also happy to recommend streaming suggestions, if you'd like.

HAS THIS MSNBC SHOW BEEN CANCELLED.

No.

Haven't seen the movie, but from the reviews, I go to a Star Wars movie to see a Star Wars movie so this "it's so because it isn't very Star Wars-ish" comes across as weird to me. Like reviews of latest release of a romcom

The OP noted that they didn't get all of their first question in this post, so I'm copying the relevant part of their subsequent post here: "Meant to type that reviews praising a new Star Wars movie for its lack of Star Wars-ness is like a new romcom getting great reviews praising its lack of romance and comedy."

I think part of the challenge here is that there's some reasonable disagreement about what constitutes "Star Wars"-ness. There are some generally agreed-upon elements: the Jedi, the Force, space travel and space battles, aliens. But I think Lucasfilm thinks that certain elements, among them a menacing dictatorial political system and a scrappy movement opposed to it, are more essential to a "Star Wars" movie than I believe them to be. I'd prefer to see the movies evolve, but I know I'm not necessarily speaking for a settled majority here.

How can he affect things in the real world, like whacking that tree?

Maybe Force Ghosts are different than real ghosts? I do not feel like I can provide a definitive answer to some of the phenomenological questions raised by "The Last Jedi," but if anyone wants to weigh in, go nuts.

Aren't the Rebels radical religious terrorists?

Sonny Bunch, who writes a weekly piece for Act Four, would probably agree with you about this.

Greetings from the OP who posed the question last week re trying to predict which pop culture tropes will endure vs. those that soon will abate. I read your Wednesday discussion on the topic, and was interested that you took the macro approach of larger phenomena. I'd been thinking of the micro tack, details like slang, clothing fashions, etc.). Consider, e.g., the word "cool" from the jazz world and then the Beat generation, which just last week popped up on the WaPo website in the title of the review of a book about Snoopy -- vs. the '60s slang "groovy," which has long been cringe-worthy. In fashion, look at wardrobe in movies and TV series over the decades (classic clothes and hairstyles that the character Mary Richards wore after the first season or so of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which except for some large collars still look timeless -- vs. the exaggerated should pads and big hair of the women on "Dynasty." Then there were the now-extreme-looking men's ultra-wide lapels and neckties, and loud fabrics of the '70s (leisure suits, anyone?).

Yeah, I'm not entirely sure I can offer a predictive schema about which details will last. When it comes to the "cool" / "groovy" distinction, I feel like "cool" was a more broadly-applicable term, while "groovy" was meant to conjure a very specific set of aesthetics and feelings that themselves fell out of fashion, and couldn't be repurposed for a post-psychedelic age. But if anyone else has a better theory on this question, I'd love to hear it; I think it's a fascinating query, and not just because billions of dollars of fashion, advertising and pop culture revenue depend on it.

I'll admit that "The Crown" did a better job of making me understand what was the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956 and what were the causes than "The Hour" did even though one only really focuses in on it for two episodes and the other spend the whole season on it although did have to deal with the mysterious death of aristocratic debutante Ruth Elms (played by actress Vanessa Kirby aka Princess Margaret). Still neither really explains that well how and why it ended.

Yeah, I think a weakness of "The Crown" this season is its tendency to let various plot points slide a bit, relative to (and occasionally to the detriment of) whatever's going on emotionally in the series. I'll have more thoughts on the whole season of "The Crown" next week, but I finally got around to reading Pamela Mountbatten's "Daughter of Empire," which desperately makes me want a prequel/spinoff series to "The Crown" that focuses on the Mountabattens, and that specifically spends an entire season (if not more) on the transfer of power in India.

Do you think there is any way to show the German aspects of the Royal Family? It's usually level as a criticism, but nothing wrong with being German or of German roots (should point out that "German" is still the most common ethnic origin of Americans). Remember learning that because of their Germaness first Hanoverian King of Great Britain were viewed by the general public as quite different and distinct from the loathsome upper classes and aristocracy and why the Royals were often not the targets of populace uprisings of the time in the same.

I actually think "The Crown" does this fairly well. Mary of Teck speaks German in the first season and the second does an interesting job of exploring how his time in Germany and his sisters' marriages to German princes influenced Philip. It also has a good plot involving Edward and Hitler that I think is fairly well-done. You might need a series or a movie set in another era to really get at the points you're trying to make, but I do think this is something "The Crown" deals with in a reasonably balanced fashion.

Not everyone who puts on a uniform is a hero, but they do difficult jobs that the rest of us don't want to do. Patriotism is often a cover for coerced obedience to bad policy.

I respect individual members of the military tremendously; I'm a granddaughter of veterans, and for three years, I worked closely with a woman became an Air Force wife over the course of our partnership, which gave me a new sense of the sacrifices military families make. In general, I think it's wise to remember that members of the armed forces have a very different and much more hierarchical work environment than most of us are used to, and that it's unwise to extend or withdraw our respect for them as individuals based on the policies they're sent to implement. That doesn't mean we can't draw distinctions about the personal conduct of individuals as they carry out their assignments; there's a clear moral distinction between the men who carried out the My Lai massacre, and their comrades who reported them and tried to see them held accountable. I don't know if that distinction makes sense, but it's what I try to use as an operating principle myself. 

While I was writing my comment about action movies, it occurred to me that I also worry about collateral damage in shows like Law & Order. I was watching an episode of Trial by Jury. A young policeman had covered up his partner's crime because that was what he was trained to do--have his partner's back. He had no part in the crime. Scott Cohen, the investigator for the DA's office, tried to get the DA to back off on him because he had a wife and 3 month old daughter, but she refused because the victim was dead. I often see that a defendant with a wife/husband and kids or elderly parents etc.is convicted and I wonder what happens to the innocent family. They've probably spent a fortune on the attorney and now do not have probably their primary breadwinner and parent and may end up homeless or very deep in debt. I don't think criminals should get off, but what happens to these innocent family members?

I don't necessarily have much to add, other than to note that you've identified a major limitation in the ability of the procedural format to address the criminal justice system in a holistic manner. The episodic format, and the plot beats required in each episode means there simply isn't time to follow up with the people on the periphery of the story. 

That said, I think you might really enjoy Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's wonderful non-fiction book "Random Family," which follows two women, one of whom goes to prison, leaving her kids with family and friends, and the other of whom has to to raise her children after her partner is incarcerated. It's a heartbreaking book, but at times, a reasonably hopeful one. It's simply one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

I no longer want to watch most action movies. I worked for a major insurance company for 20+ years. It started with Con Air. As the plane crashed through Las Vegas, my first thought was "My God! How much is all that damage going to cost, and basically just to save Nicholas Cage?" Or possibly it was the Blues Brothers causing all that damage with good intentions but total stupidity. I can't watch car chases, etc., without thinking of the insurance consequences. And I also worry during car chases that an innocent pedestrian, or, even worse, a child, could be in the way and could be severely injured or killed. It's unrealistic that it doesn't ever happen.

Uuuf, I can totally understand how stressful this must be, even if it's not something I personally experience. I don't know if you've ever seen the action parody "Hot Fuzz" -- my guess is probably not -- but one of the things I appreciate about it is how in the central shootout, the movie makes very clear how every exchange is non-fatal (but not non-consequential). It's a sharp commentary on how many action movies reach the same result, but without any of the careful planning.

A few weeks ago I watched the series finale of Longmire, and I have to say that it was pretty terrible in my view. It blatantly contradicted many of the nuanced themes that had been building over the course of the show, especially the last few seasons, in favor of a simplistic and "feel-good" ending that came out of nowhere and felt like it was from a different show. In large part this was because the finale featured swift, highly implausible, and out-of-character developments for most of the main characters that seemed to go in the exact opposite direction the show had been slowly developing them up until the final episode. This finale won't ruin the series for me, I will just pretend it does not exist when I revisit earlier episodes, but I could understand if it did taint all that had come before for some people. Do you think that bad endings to TV shows or other serialized fiction should taint (or even ruin) or at least cause you to seriously reevaluate what came before from a critical perspective? What about from a pure entertainment perspective?

I don't watch "Longmire," so on the subject that is prompting you to write in here, I would be curious to know if other fans of the show feel the same.

In general, I don't tend to take endings to television shows terribly seriously, especially when it comes to comedy. "How I Met Your Mother" totally marginalized the central mystery of who the mother was and what her relationship with Ted was like in its finale (and really in its final season), and I understand how frustrating that was to a lot of people, but I found enough of what was going on there emotionally plausible that it couldn't spoil the pleasures of what had come before. In a similar way, the finale of "Parks and Recreation" definitely leaned towards the series' most optimistic impulses in a way that didn't engage deeply with the show's dark streak, but I understood why the showrunners went in that direction. Seeing Ben and Leslie doesn't moot all the hard truths the series captured over the years about the media, the electorate and scandal-driven local politics.

I do think this is trickier in serialized drama, especially if the events of the story seem inconclusive or not in keeping with what we've seen before. I'm both awaiting and anxious about the end of "Game of Thrones" for this season. But I can't imagine that the ending, however hotly we end up debating it, will take away the pleasure I've felt from the show (and the novels) for years.

Hi Alyssa, love the chat! I've just finished watching season 2 of The Crown (Netflix). I enjoyed the second season, but not as much as the first. In particular, there isn't a scene I go back to time and time again for it's excellence. In the first season (Episode 7, Scientia Potentia Est), I find myself continually re-watching the Queen's confrontation with the government. I LOVE that scene and I don't get the sense there's something similar in the second season. I suppose the story with the Kennedys might approach, given that POTUS Kennedy presumably planted her comments. However, the story-line seems forced. I find myself a bit disappointed. What are your thoughts on the second season? Myself, I will watch Season 3 out of curiosity for the story, but there is not much in Season 2 to commit me. Thoughts?

If it's okay, I'd like to save this for next week, when I'm planning a longer week on the second season of "The Crown" as a whole. If you're desperate to discuss, email me: alyssa.rosenberg@washpost.com. We can chat.

It needs a rogue, a Kate McKinnon as a female Han.

I don't necessarily think that our heroes and rogues need to be perfectly gender balanced, but I truly miss the element of roguishness in "Star Wars." Maybe we'll belatedly get the return of Lando Calrissian we so badly deserve; Ross Douthat laid out precisely what we're missing in his absence early today, and I am in full agreement (at least on questions of tone).

Hi Alyssa, I initially thought that the latest Star Wars, episodes 7-9, had its story roughly mapped out over three movies. But Rian Johnson seemingly scrapped the storylines set up by JJ Abrams/Lawrence Kasdan about Rey's parentage and who Snoke was, I'm not so sure. Do you think they're actually making the story up as they go along, laying track in front of the train - and does that mean JJ Abrams and screenwriter Chris Terrio have their work cut out for them in cleaning up the mess they inherited?

I have no inside information about the development of the "Star Wars" franchise, but I would be extremely surprised if the plot of the main storyline is not carefully and centrally planned a very long way out. The corporate control over these sorts of movies is so tight that it's impossible for me to imagine that they're figuring it out as they go. Whether Kylo Ren is lying to Rey (or simply wrong) is an interesting question; I have a critic friend who is convinced that she's a clone. But I can't imagine that the answer to it is yet to be determined.

Thank you for your thoughts. Didn't mean that having your mom as your manager or at least VERY involved in an actress' career would lead to great or terrible career. Just meant that the "stage mom" is usually a woman leaving through her daughter's success or the daughter is just a naïve child still needing their mom which of course can be the case as well. But a mom has a vested interested keeping the "creeps" away that people paid by how well the client does. Well, you'd hope so. Also realize that as Anthony Rapp and others showed, but just daughters, but sons as well.

Yeah, I think those sorts of relationships are obviously very complicated, and generally the result of more than one motivation. I don't think any parent can be blamed for wanting to protect young children working in an adult-dominated industry, but that also doesn't mean that parents inherently have the best sense of how to shape a long career for their children (if that's in fact what their children want). For the sake of both professional development and personal relationships, I imagine it's probably better for parents to stop managing their children when those children come of age.

Can I just say for the record that I didn't realize that Benecio Del Toro was Benecio Del Toro? Like, I looked him up in IMDB after the movie to see "who is that guy doing his best Benecio Del Toro impression?" Unrelated-- Daisy Ridley has really nice teeth. Whenever something happens to make her yell, that's what I notice.

Maybe that says good things about Del Toro's ability to disappear into a role, but that was not exactly the reaction I had!

I agree with your view in many respects. Lots of pieces of the plot were contrivances or distractions. There was about an hour in that movie that didn't need to be there in the Finn/Poe stories and that hurt their characters. Placing the entire story in a 24 hour chase scene made little sense. We're given almost no information on the overall galaxy and how things got to this point. But I still came away very excited by where the movie took the mythology and the overall direction of the series compared to The Force Awakens, which felt much more like a reheated New Hope. The Rey/Kylo/Snoke scene, Rey/Kylo fighting together, and then Rey/Kylo face-off was probably the best thing the series has seen in 3 decades and will stand up against the most memorable scenes in the first trilogy. I'm very curious to see what you think as we whiplash back to JJ Abrams for the third movie. Not just shifts in tone, humor, storytelling, but the way The Last Jedi worked to burn down a lot of the obvious plot devices Abrams had set up, both figuratively and literally.

Like I said in a previous answer, I think it is unlikely that either J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson is making decisions about overall tone or specific plot developments with a great deal of independence. So I'm not sure I anticipate a great deal of whiplash here, though I do think I will miss Johnson's visual panache, which was one of my favorite things about "The Last Jedi."

... and Jake Peralta is obsessed with Die Hard, then "Brooklyn Nine Nine" is a Christmas TV series!

Hah! I will pass this along to the showrunner, Dan Goor. I'm sure he'll enjoy it.

I think more than a few people took another look at the claims that Katherine Heigel was "difficult" after stories about Steven Seagal came out, especially since there's that photo of his hand on her breast.

Uuuuf, yeah. I would be curious to see if she steps forward with anything.

Ms. Rosenberg--You're such a Debbie Downer about Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Many people love the escapism, and you spoil it! Do you think your job depends on being an intellectual wet blanket? Do you have any fun?

Well aren't you the arbiter of other people's fun. In fact, my job at the Washington Post is to write about the intersection of politics and culture, so yes, it's specifically my job to take seriously the politics and ideas in big franchises like "Game of Thrones" and "Star Wars." I also don't happen to think that I show the most respect to things I love, very much including the "Star Wars" franchise and "Game of Thrones" by turning off my brain when I think about them, or suggesting that they shouldn't be treated the same way I'd treat art with different valances. Wanting things to be the best version of themselves is all about maximizing both fun and respect. (Plus, diving deep into a fictional world is fun.)

Show that they released that Roseanne is coming back on March 27th. Mean it seems like a new thing, but old TV shows came back before but more for TV-movie-of-the-week stuff rather then limited series run. But curious if anyone LOVED any the recent ones like The X-Files or Gilmore Girls

I didn't adore either one. Folks in the chat, if you had strong feelings either way, speak up.

Yes please! My teenagers are 16 and 18, fwiw, and I hear you about "Call Me By Your Name." We have already established that it's way too awkward to watch movies about sexuality together.

If they like "Star Wars," you might try the "Clone Wars" series; you'll have to buy seasons of it on Amazon (standard disclaimer: Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post), but my husband and I have recently started watching it and found it highly worthwhile. If they want something smart and superheroic, you might try the first season of "Legion," which is streaming on Hulu; it was one of the new shows that gave me the most pure pleasure this year, and it's stylish and twisty, but not too long, perfect for a holiday binge. For movies, have they seen the previous round of "X-Men" movies? I don't know what your tolerance for violence is, but it doesn't really ramp up until the stand-alone "Wolverine" movies, and it could be interesting for them to see how superhero movies have evolved, even in the last couple of decades.

We're in the middle of a glut of comic book/fantasy/scifi entertainment that would have caused 12-year-old Me's head to explode. It's a little shocking to have so much available that I'm at the point of having to winnow out the weaker stuff. I was dazzled by the Stanley Kubrickian LEGION and was reconnected with the otherwordly MR. ROBOT this season. INHUMANS - not so much. Do you have favorites?

As I just told another reader, I loved "Legion." Just so stylish and fun and strange. Aubrey Plaza is just tremendous.

I think it was David Weigel (recently in the news cycle) that the Galaxtic Empire is so evil to a kind of cartoon level that it's pretty hard to to take pieces praises it too seriously.

I certainly don't take pieces that praise the Empire seriously, though I agree that Kylo Ren has brought some excellent emotional, if not political, nuance to the First Order.

"And if I'm being honest, the political details of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" were such that it made it hard for me to feel like the movie is any sort of stirring commentary on our political situation. " Hmm. Actually, it's right there under your nose. Parts 4 - 6 were all male dominated. Sure, Leiah was a significant character that made substantial contributions to the story but the entire milieu was driven by the male dominated Empire and Jedi religion. In parts 1 -3, while we're still talking about male major characters, women were making serious inroads into the power structure of the male dominated universe. Namely, Queen (and then Senator) Amadala of the Naboo lead a rebellion against the Trade Federation. And now, we have Rogue One, with the clear Protagonist Jen Erso, and Parts 7 - 8 with Rey and the entire Rebellion run by women right up to the very end. Did you notice that, except for the obviously dying Luke Skywalker, the males were primarily villains or bit parts, like Finn and Poe? In my estimation, instead of "The Last Jedi", Part 7 could have been named "The Rise of The Women" or something equally pithy as the SW franchise transforms itself from a "Men being bad" franchise into a "Girl Power" franchise. (Don't get me wrong. I'm not against it. I just think that most people miss the obvious change of the power dynamics by gender because they're so invested in the individual characters, the politics or the religion and, of course, the frequent explosions.)

Acknowledging that (some) of this is true, we're talking past each other: I'm talking about the internal political dynamics of the world, not the representational politics of the franchise.

A comment rather than a question, re Murder on the Orient Express. My family saw it as a three-generation movie outing over Thanksgiving (grandparents in 70s, parents in 30s and granddaughter aged 13) and everyone enjoyed it. However, I was startled to hear my son (aged 35) complain that it used "that old trick of having everyone be guilty"--I had to remind him that Murder on the Orient Express was the book in which Agatha Christie invented that trick solution!

Hah, that's funny! Did he appreciate it more after you told him?

From one of your older followers: It seems as though there's been a great explosion in pop culture during recent years -- compared to in my youth, or my parents' -- which I suspect is due to the proliferation of media (social and otherwise). Agree? Or have I forgotten more than I can recall?

Let's discuss in this week's newsletter!

Will the current women’s clothing fashion for “cold shoulders” (i.e., cutout shoulders) be to the 2010s as those ginormous shoulder pads were to the 1980s? Discuss. Need to know to inform last-minute Christmas gift buying. Also, where can I buy cold-shoulder “fan jams”? I think those would make the quintessential 2017 family photo.

I think those sweaters are insane and hideous and incomprehensible, but I am also always freezing. I hope they will go away quickly, but in the meantime, it's not as if anyone is forcing me to wear them.

On the transfer of power in India, see The Viceroy's House--admittedly it's one movie rather than an entire mini-series. The inclusion of the "Churchill map" was quite controversial in Britain and was apparently put in to please Prince Philip.

It's on my list of things to watch, but I want to finish up reading "Freedom at Midnight" first! 

Thanks for your thorough debriding of The Last Jedi, which after viewing I'd bet was probably the result of two things: a convenient way for Disney to wrap up the storylines they considered deadwood (the old cast and the missteps from TFA) to clear out the way for sequels featuring beautiful people for years, and once Rian Johnson had checked those boxes for Kathleen Kennedy, he was free to make a meta commentary on the franchise rather than a straight entry into it. I didn't hate it as much as you, but I walked out thinking I might not see the next one opening weekend until more reviews came in. The one thing that I haven't seen a full discussion on yet is the vast majority of critics rating the movie highly. While I'm prepared to accept that most critics nowadays tend to have very different tastes than the vast majority of the people who go to the movies, what I don't quite get is those reviews not accounting for the problems with the plot, since I always thought that was something most professionals valued more highly. Thoughts?

This is a really interesting question to me, something I've discussed extensively in private with my critic friends who had reactions to the movie more in line with my own. I don't want to speak out of school about the substance of those conversations, or to speculate on the motives of critics who disagree with me. But the response to the movie has made me feel like my criteria for judging a "Star Wars" movie are probably very different than those other people are using. That's fine! With a movie with an audience this big, viewers are also going to bring in a very different range of expectations, and it's reasonable that our reviews should reflect that range of responses.

I can say that while there are many, many great and wonderful people in the military, there are still some who joined because they had run out of options or who joined to get away from negative influences, and sometimes they wind up meeting other people who have significant flaws. That said--I knew a guy who, before our 2005 deployment to Iraq, took a stroll in a thong and cowboy hat late one night, running into our brigade commander, and then earned a Bronze Star in Iraq because he stepped up when it was important. So, I guess, appreciate that we do volunteer to put our lives on the line in America's name, but don't put us on a pedestal.

I very much appreciate this perspective, and I"m sure other readers will as well.

Which the Crown did a particularly poor job of explaining except for the very strange implication that Philip was involved as the man with his back to the camera (it's a novel theory), and without having watched Scandal I'd have been totally lost. And instead of a book from the daughter of the man who came up with the disaster, perhaps something like Nisid Hajari's Midnight's Furies might be a better source? I mean, professional journalists doing a lot of research are still considered somewhat objective, one would hope?

I've read "Midnight's Furies" and I love it! And the point of reading something like "Daughter of Empire" is that it's dishy; not that it's an objective work of history. A great, fictional series about the Mountbattens would clearly be informed by both perspectives.

I totally understand what the OP working for an insurance company is going through, I'm having the same problems when watching action movies myself. I'm studying national security and counter terrorism legislations and now I can't watch an action movie without saying how ridiculous all this could happen (car chase, plane hostage situation, people escaping by helicopters in the middle of big cities, etc.). For me, the first time I realized how my studies was killing my passion for action movies was with the last James Bond movie (really a villain using an helicopter in downtown London and having the helicopter crashing onto Westminster Bridge, come on!).

It's really interesting to hear from all of you coming to the same conclusion from different directions. None of this means I'll give up covering action movies, of course, but I appreciate how they might be harder for people to watch, given our various circumstances.

And that's a wrap, folks! I hope those of you who are celebrating Christmas will have a lovely holiday, and that the New Year brings rest and a much-needed reset to all of us.  See you on January 8. You'll all be in my thoughts.

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Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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