Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Feb. 11)

Feb 11, 2019

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.

Greetings, chums! I have a teething baby and a bout of insomnia that woke up me up at 3:30 this morning, so this chat might be a mite loopier than usual. On the plus side (or on an additional plus side, depending on how you see loopiness), I watched "High Flying Bird" with my husband this weekend and would love to talk about it. Ditto Marlon James' "Black Leopard, Red Wolf," which I am actually rationing out to myself because I don't want it to end! So let's get to it. I'll be transferring over a few questions from last week's chat, which I had to cancel unexpectedly.

Sorry if you've written it already, but have you checked out "Derry Girls" yet? I like all all-female cast, but whatever its message or agenda, it's first and foremost just funny. Wish that "Ghostbusters" remake had also learned that lesson.

I haven't, but I think you make a wise point here. When you're gender-flipping or racebending an existing bit of intellectual property, that's a nice place to start, but the most successful reimaginings are going to think in very specific ways about how that change matters to the stories and the jokes. The "Ghostbusters" remake waved at some ideas about sexism, though not nearly as successfully as "Spy," which was an original riff on spy tropes did. To take James Bond as an example, it wouldn't be very interesting to simply dress up a lady in some tuxes and have her do some cool stunts. Instead, a more intriguing riff would explore what it means for a woman in a particular kind of British society to have a violent profession, and one that involves a certain use of sexuality. Ditto for a black Bond, which people have been agitating for years. The idea of a black man with a license to kill could work as a kind of science fiction, but it might be even more interesting to think what a black Bond might have to do and how he might have to present in order to do his work. Gender or race flips can be a hook, but they're not a whole movie or series in and of themselves.

Just read The Independent's article on Liam Neeson, and while his story is very disturbing, I admit I'm a little in awe that he would actually share that experience with such directness without trying to paint himself in a more flattering light. The specifics of this interview aside, personally, I find it refreshing whenever celebrities say what's actually on their minds instead of giving rote publicist-approved answers, even if the honesty is uncomfortable. I don't get people whose reaction to a story like this or cringe-y comments about #MeToo, for example, is to basically act like the celeb's PR manager and ask why they can't just say the right thing or be quiet. What are your thoughts on the article, and what do you think makes for a good or compelling celebrity profile/interview? How much do people actually value honesty versus wanting their faves to say what they want to hear?

This is a good and tough question, so I'm going to save it for the newsletter.

I was watching the BAFTAs last night, primarily to see if First Man would win anything since Claire Foy and Josh Singer got nominated, and I was a little disappointed to see pretty much the same winners that emerged from other film awards shows. I don't know how much of an overlap there is between voters in the Academy, guilds, and other groups, but why do you think people end up awarding the same people, particularly in the acting categories, even in a somewhat topsy-turvy Oscar season like this one? Is it just inevitable to see a consensus form with the sheer number of award shows and how long they go on for? Group think?

It depends. There's a fair amount of overlap between the voting membership of the BAFTAs and the Academy. Ditto with the guilds and the Academy because Academy members are generally members of their respective guilds. The SAG Awards in general have been a good predictor of overall Oscar victories because the actors' branch of the Academy is large.

I do think there's some consensus-forming overall. The Golden Globes tend to be a little further out because they're voted on by a truly separate membership, and one with fairly idiosyncratic tastes. But over time, as the awards roll out, certain things start to gain momentum, and voters, as with politics, sometimes decide to vote for things they think can win. I agree it's rather dull, but rather than getting too concerned about it, I generally use it to give myself permission to enjoy all the hoopla and not get too steamed about the results.

I realize it was a million years ago but A Very British Scandal on Amazon prime, it's not exactly Jeff Bezos v National Enquirer but where else did someone try to have an exlover killed and end up killing a dog? Rather.

Hooooboy. I dearly hope that Amazon Prime shows are not, in fact, predictive, or we're all in a lot of trouble.

What were your standout roles for Albert Finney?

Will you think I'm cheesy if I say "Erin Brockovich"?

An article you wrote about the Buffy episode Restless was referenced on one of my favorite youtube channels that does Buffy episode reviews/analysis. It gave me that odd feeling you have when you realize that two friends from completely different parts of your life know each other. Anyways, the article you wrote was really great and I'm really glad I found it even if it was in a strange round about way. And for anyone who enjoys Buffy, I highly recommend the Passion of the Nerd channel on youtube. It's really fun, just like these chats!

Awwww, that is just delightful and makes my very, very sleepy day. Can you send me the link, please? I have to say, I really miss the brief period when the internet felt more like that. I actually met my best friend and maid of honor through our blogs, and I just don't know if stuff like that is as feasible anymore.

I saw The Favourite this weekend and really enjoyed it. Even though I didn't understand the ending. Have you had a chance to see it, and can you explain what we're supposed to take away? Was Abigail a cold-schemer throughout or did she evolve into that? And what is the lesson - that Abigail was doomed to become the new Lady Sarah? That doesn't seem quite right. Help!

I haven't yet! Though I've read a certain amount of the history. I'll allow other readers to chime in, as long as you mark your comments for plot points (do not worry about spoiling me, as I don't particularly believe in the concept).

Haven't yet watch Season One, but I think I found Season 2 more of a mess than the current one, but maybe the mess was more interesting? I don't want to be a "hate-watcher" or "so-bad-it's-good" person. If something on TV stinks, it stinks and change the channel. But this new season is probably better on all levels, yet the nonsense of Season Two wasn't more enjoyable, but I guess maybe more memorable and had a more "what is this and where is this going?" pull if that makes any sense?

Watch season one! It's ridiculous but compelling.

So watched the Ted Bundy documentary series on Netflix over the weekend and I realized I hadn't actually seen any of these "true crime" shows or podcasts, but I seen the mockery of them i.e. "American Vandal." I noticed all the needless bits in this series. Hadn't really watched "true crime" since old reruns of "American Justice" back in junior high school and today's true crime seems so dressed-up and clunky compared to those older shows. Do I really need the camera to zoom into the person's eye while he or she is being interviewed or cheesy reenactments? Not really.

It's always fascinating when you see the well from which a trope or cliche has sprung, isn't it? I don't know if you're familiar with Sarah Weinman, but I've always loved reading her on true crime as a genre. Bill James' "Popular Crime" is also a great read if you're looking to step back from the genre and think about it in more context.

I read that Albert Finney didn't care about awards at all and I don't think that stopped fans from saying "it's tragic he never won an Oscar."Besides, many people who "never won an Oscar" likely win a bunch of other wards like BAFTAs and SAGs, what's the difference between one and another?

Given the influence of American pop culture around the world, I do think Oscars were and are meaningful to a lot of actors. That said, there's a difference between thinking it would be nice to win an award and realizing that you can live without one, especially if the kind of work you're interested in doing just tends to be different from the sort of work the Academy tends to honor.

I remember the Betty White's Snickers commercial or the Ryan Reynolds' Hyundai commercial at the SuperBowl, but then remembered seeing them loads of time afterwards. The thing I realize the first time this year was, "Wait, regardless of the quality of the commercial, I'll be seeing them a ton after this." Commercials aren't movies, we see them over and over again in a short period of time and then sort of disappear without missing them that much and the makers do that on purpose.

The Super Bowl tends to encourage us to think of commercials as art, but their real purpose has never gone away: it's to get us to buy stuff. So if you hate a Snickers spot, but a week later find yourself craving a Snickers, it's all the same to the company.

When I read a mainstream piece about how Donald Trump's State of the Union was great and persuasive makes me realize why exactly I didn't like it. When I read a mainstream piece about Stacey Abrams' response was really bad actually makes me see why I don't agree with it. Actually also happens where a bad movie review makes me realize why I like that movie and a good review makes me why I hated that movie. Does anybody else have this experience?

As a critic who has certain tastes and opinions that are divergent from some of my peers, I sympathize with you! Rather than castigating myself over it, or trying to pick apart why other people's opinions are wrong, I've sort of settled in a place where I try to make the best case for my reaction, and accept it if people don't agree with me. I'm definitely never going to convince my husband that "Southland Tales" is a work of genius (especially after I made him watch it at midnight on a weeknight when we weren't even dating), but I've gotten better at articulating what I love about it. Similarly, I probably couldn't convince most of you that Michael Bay's "Pain and Gain" is a work of genius, but that's okay with me. Our idiosyncrasies often define us as much as the places where our tastes diverge from the mainstream. 

After another nearly sleepless night due to James Henry's teething, mom Louisa announces that she's planning to stop by at the pub en route home from work to pick up some whiskey, reminiscing about how her own mother used to rub a little on her gums when SHE was teething (dad Martin remarks that her mother was a "dipsomaniac"). Later, Louisa tries using a bracelet of amber beads that the day-care owner recommended and gives them to all her teething clients (which Martin dismisses as a placebo); after the family dog gets hold of it and the string breaks in the process of Louisa's retrieving it from the beast, resulting in scattering beads everywhere, she misses a few beads in the clean-up process, after which sometime later the baby must have found a bead on the floor and stuck it way up his nose. Doc Martin is easily able to expel it by blocking the other nostril with his finger, then inhaling forcefully into the baby's mouth. You'd enjoy the episode for sure, not to mention you'd be so grateful there aren't any amber beads up YOUR baby's nose (are there?).

This sounds so insanely stressful that I think I would have a panic attack while watching it. SO MANY UNSAFE THINGS! We've been giving our kid hunks of frozen mango in a silicon feeder, which so far is a MASSIVE hit, especially since the utensil is great for gesticulating, whamming on the high chair and tossing to the floor as part of our ongoing experiments with gravity.

There is so much TV that in an attempt to pace myself I have been slow to start a lot of shows. However, many of the shows I have watched regularly are wrapping up, and instead of feeling ready to move on, I mostly want to go into a period of mourning and maybe give up TV all together. That said some fo this feels very cutting off one's nose to spite their face, with regards to trying to connect via mass culture. Maybe it's related to the lack of a mainstream like you've written about. (I'm pretty ambivalent about that.)

I SO sympathize with this, and I wonder if I can suggest a potential cause of your melancholy. I've always been kind of behind on television because I cover TV, movies, books, music videos and really whatever else strikes my fancy. But since I got back from maternity leave, the sheer amount of stuff I'm behind on has gotten unmanageable, and I haven't always known where to start. (Also, I'm taking some time to do some editing, so I'm even more strapped for time.) I think part of what I worry about is picking the wrong thing: what if I ended up invested in something that no one wants to read about (and that I can't share with other viewers). I think there's just a lot of decision paralysis, whether you're professional or just watching for fun. It's overwhelming.

He will always be Daddy Warbucks to me. (Says the now 41 year old who was OBSESSED with Annie as a child.)

The chat demands video of you singing "It's A Hard Knock Life."

The one item that always seems to be missing from his take is that all of the press I've seen is looking at this through a very american lens of race relations, while it would be nice to get some background on the Irish view of race relations in Ireland happening during a war. I don't know that much about UK history regarding race except colonialism certainly comes into play though they were very much against slavery by the time our civil war took place.

Yes, there's obviously a significant context question here.

Hi, Alyssa-- I did a search of the Post site and couldn't locate the commentary where you detailed your distaste for "Green Book," but I seem to recall you were quite insistent that it's a bad movie. (I'm familiar with other critics' complaints about its flaws.) Could I trouble you to summarize your reasons again? And, yes, I'm asking because I think it did deserve to be nominated for a best-picture Oscar (but not to win). Thanks!

I have not seen or written about "Green Book," which came out while I was on maternity leave.

I enjoyed season 1 as it was visually very interesting, although the plot lines were ridiculous. I've also enjoyed Legion for pretty much the same reason. Any other shows that were artistically amazing enough to cover up their writing deficiencies?

"Game of Thrones," at times? I kid a little bit, but I do think the show's spectacle has sometimes papered over some of its problems.

Even as a cord-cutter, I've gotten this because I don't want to "invest" my time into something that's not worthwhile. Or on the contrary, get sucked into a new show that takes too much time to finish. That's why often, I just put on an episode (GoT, or example) that I've seen but enjoyed, or go to the old staples of HGTV or Food Network shows.

We're making a conscious effort to watch stuff that is new to us at home after falling into ruts with this sort of thing. Our most recent watches: "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" which I thought was wonderful and also much darker than I expected, and "High Flying Bird," which I'm super-eager to discuss if anyone else has seen it!

He also turned down a knighthood.

I am not sure I would have the fortitude or conviction to do that, honestly. Good for him! A clear theme of this chat is that not caring is liberating.

I haven't seen the Bundy thing on Netflix, but I was reading this article on it the other day, and I have to say, I think (without seeing the show), that I agree with it. What are your thoughts on this? Here's a quote from the article, to give you an idea on it. "There is no such thing as a gentleman killer. Bundy was not special. He was not a genius. He was a pathetic misogynist so wounded by rejection he killed young women to feel powerful. In allowing his jailhouse interviews to narrate the show, the documentary allows Bundy — all over again — to wrap his meaningless life in self-aggrandizing fictions."

I am generally not that interested in serial killers as people, which is one of the reasons "Zodiac" is one of my favorite movies: it's a serial killer movie that simply isn't about the serial killer at all.

At the other extreme, Mick Jagger reportedly campaigned relentlessly to get knighted, and when he was finally selected, Queen Elizabeth was so put-off by him that she had her son Prince Charles dub Jagger instead.

As monarchs go, she's a pretty enjoyable one (especially from this side of the pond).

Doctor Who (since 2006), especially under showrunner Steven Moffat, who seemed to routinely use fast edits and special effects to hide plot holes that Mack trucks could easily pass through.

Another voice heard from!

An even more interesting guy than I already thought. He turned down the lead in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, got the lead in TOM JONES, and made a bundle from it, setting him up in his 20s not to need ever worry about money.

One thing I will be curious about is who, if anyone, from the current crew of Marvel superheroes, decides to do something interesting once they've made their obscene pile of money, and who decides to continue, Smaug-like, adding to their horde.

Apologies, Alyssa--it was your colleague Sonny Bunch. For what it's worth, I hope you do get to see the movie at some point.

No worries! Sonny and I are rarely mistaken for each other, in our opinions or in anything else, but it's generally an honor.

Okay, my lovelies, I've got to scramble. Thank you all for a wonderful Monday afternoon. Next week, we're off for the holiday, but I'll see you all soon!

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