Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg (RESCHEDULED FOR Dec. 11)

Dec 11, 2019

Is your favorite book or show over? The discussion here is just starting. Pop culture writer and editor Alyssa Rosenberg will be online every Monday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Pop Culture Live, where she'll talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. She'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. Submit your questions comments on pop culture and her latest columns.

Read Alyssa Rosenberg's columns or catch up on past Act Four Live chats.

Follow Alyssa Rosenberg on Twitter here.

Greetings, everyone! Thanks for your patience with me as I had to reschedule earlier this week. I've been crashing on a major project that will launch in the new year, and I'm excited to share it with you. Mostly, I want to talk about "Watchmen," but I also want to talk about the emergent debate about the new "Star Wars" trilogy. And I'm curious what you're all loving at the moment. So let's go!

According to Noah Baumbach his ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh likes "Marriage Story," Still do you any entertainment journalist will ask her about it?

I can't decide if she deserves to have the final verdict on the movie in some way, or if it is sort of insulting to put her in the position of weighing in on work that isn't hers and that is the product of a man she isn't married to anymore, just because we expect her to have a strong reaction in some direction. Ultimately, I think "Marriage Story" is so sympathetic to both of its protagonists that it's hard for me to feel like it makes any sense to turn the conversation around it into a relitigation of a real divorce. It's so contrary to the spirit of the  (excellent) movie to see it that way.

I'm somebody who is half Jewish, but Jewish on the wrong side (I know a lot of people who hate phrasing "wrong side" when explaining having Jewish heritage, but not through the matrilineal descent so I apology for unintended offense). So curious what I'm suppose to do know that my President (although unsure if he considers himself to be "my" President) has told me being a Jew isn't not a religious affiliation or heritage, but a nationality?

My sense is that the initial reporting around this was significantly misleading and that the executive order doesn't really say what the coverage suggested that it did. 

My marriage ended when my husband left me for another woman. It's still raw, but I feel that while he had the central role is it, but so did I and so did the other woman. Do you think Greta Gerwig gets a pass for being a homewrecker? Maybe that's a loaded term or anti-feminist, but still, taken away a woman's agency isn't a good thing including that woman's agency to ruin lives. Putting all the blame on Greta Gerwig and ignoring his role isn't the right thing to do, but that doesn't mean she has zero role to play. Gerwig knew this man had a pregnant wife and yes that's his responsibility, but she still she knew he was married and his wife was pregnant. It just feels like her public persona of this counterculture unaffected bohemian woman means she is kind of getting a pass.

My understanding is that Baumbach and Leigh separated before he and Gerwig got together, but  timelines like those are always going to be contested. I'm simply not that interested in adjudicating responsibility for the split or judging anyone involved in it. Neither Baumbach, nor Leigh, nor Gerwig is a friend or relative of mine, so I just don't have a personal stake in figuring out who's right, who's wrong, who's good, who's bad, etc. In general, that's the approach I take to gossip, as opposed to allegation of criminal violations or moral wrongdoing with professional implications. I can find it interesting, but I try not to invest too much in the lives of people I don't actually know.

I've been watching the TV series STUMPTOWN largely because I like the comic book on which it's based. I don't love the show, something about the feel is off for me, and it's bringing up a lot of pessimistic feelings I about the state of the relationship between publishing and the TV/Film industries. Years ago I heard someone describe modern super hero comics as "R&D for film and television adaptations" and recently I've gotten the feeling that this can be applied to no-superhero comics and prose books. It feels like the only stories being told are the ones that can be adapted into series, and that these adaptations will expand and flatten the source material in a way that I don't love. Am I seeing things or just catastrophizing?

I can both totally understand why you feel glum about the state of publishing, and I want to offer a couple of potential bright spots for you. I think it can simultaneously be true that pop culture writ large feels more homogenous and timid and that good, original work is still being made, even if it takes a little more effort to find it. Movies like "Marriage Story" and "Parasite" still exist! Novels like Charlie Jane Anders' "The City in the Middle of the Night" and "This is How You Lose The Time War" still get published. There are even still unpredictable adaptations: "Unbelievable," a Netflix adaptation of a ProPublica investigation, is one of the best television shows I watched this year. "Watchmen" has turned into an incredible reeimagining of existing intellectual property in a way that's exceeded my wildest expectations. Your unhappy streak may be the result of a combination of bad luck and major trends in the entertainment industry, but it's also not the only path; you'll find more interesting stuff. Maybe your fellow chatters can help you find it.

Since you haven't had a chat since that article, something I realized after parking my behind in a lounge chair for 4 hours Thanksgiving weekend (leftover breaks helped) - it's not just that you're right about the scenario (I'm avoiding spoilers) you're raising as the most important scene in the movie, but that the more I thought about it, the more it points out what Scorsese missed: the interpersonal relationships between De Niro and the daughters and wife were the most interesting part of the movie. That shouldn't be a surprise, because when your main character is left dying and alone at the end of the film, his journey there becomes critical - but also, it's pretty clear that the main Hoffa and assassin storylines are concocted fantasy and didn't really deserve as much attention as he gave them. In contrast, watching this man alienate his family and become loyal to people who could discard him in a second? That's the best story that could have been adapted from the weak material. This was an ok movie, but it could have been a great one if Scorsese had followed the old maxim about telling the most interesting tale of the protagonist's life at that time he'd have made a much better film.

Oh, this is very interesting. I don't know that I necessarily agree that the movie needed to be rebalanced, though it certainly could have been shorter. I think it's a testament to the work the actresses do in the movie that I feel that way, and that you see the difference between the way Peggy and her mother and stepmother see her father.

...is a wonderfully entertaining comedy-mystery with a perfectly-cast ensemble. Chris Evans (cast against type), Ana de Armas (the disembodied girlfriend in "Blade Runner 2049"), and Daniel Craig (a southern detective referred to as "CSI-KFC") are all utterly captivating. "Knives Out" is my favorite movie of the year so far, passing "Ford v Ferrari" (pun intended) and "Once Upon a Time Hollywood" (which I consider Tarantino's least-satisfying movie). What's your favorite movie of 2019?

I have to be honest: I ultimately found "Knives Out" kind of empty, and since I just haven't had time to write the piece that I intended explaining why I felt that way, I'll tease it out here. Ultimately, I felt like the movie treated Ana de Armas' Marta with the same shallowness that the family did. The movie tells us what they know about her: that she's tough and resourceful and principled. We learn nothing about her mother other than her immigration status. We learn nothing about Marta's aspirations or her sister. The movie lacks the "you're like family" condescension that defines Marta's employers' attitude towards her. But subtracting a negative isn't entirely an improvement. 

I think I get "Watchmen" on a lot of thing, but not. Here is just one. So who crushed Laurie Blake's car?

I think one theory was that it's Doctor Manhattan letting her know that he heard her joke, though I think based on the latest episode, that's probably impossible. My personal guess would be that it's Dan Dreiberg, the most significant character from the original "Watchmen" who has yet to be accounted for; we've seen that his ship is in Tulsa, and my guess has been that he's the D Adrian Veidt was begging for rescue in his macabre message. But I could be wrong!

Love or hate the Zack Snyder film adaptation of "Watchmen" had a pretty stellar cast and wondering if there was any you imagine in the HBO TV show?

Can you rephrase the question? I think you've got a missing verb. Also, as much as the Zack Snyder adaptation had issues, the cold open of it is pretty amazing.

Any thoughts on Bill Hemmer is taking over Shepard Smith’s 3 p.m. slot?

That's more a question for my husband, the Fox News expert, than for me! 

I only ever watched "The O'Reilly Factor" once and one thing the struck me was how little "political" coverage there was. Sure there was stuff at the top, but the main second block was about some small city or town in Southern California where they had planted what they thought were nice-looking plants all along their main street yet didn't realize until it was too late that at night the plants were super stinky. Compared to shows like Rachel Maddow where it's nearly always all politics, I guess I kind of understood the appeal since I think of older folks I know and they aren't interested in politics and who is up and down every night. I guessing "dumb" [fill in the blank] i.e. dumb college administration or dumb city council] is a staple of Fox News?

I do think a critical part of the Fox News ecosystem is blowing up what are actually hyper-local or minor news stories into ominous signs of national collapse. As a result, the audience may think that they're not watching political news, per se, but they're being inculcated with a very specific worldview.

I watched The Irishman even though I wasn't as excited about it as I had hoped, and sadly it lived up to (or down to) my expectations. I've enjoyed some of the thought pieces I've read discussing the movie as a mediation on toxic masculinity, but as an entertainment vehicle I found the movie too long and just a bit dull. But my biggest issue is with the de-aging special effects. I just found them off-putting and not convincing. It kind of felt like the Uncanny Valley - I just couldn't get past the sense that I'm watching computer generated faces on these actors. I really hope this isn't a long-term trend in moving-making or that the technology improves quickly.

I will say that the faces bothered me less than the disconnect between how old the actors looked and what their bodies were capable of doing, particularly in the grocery store beating scene. I do think this technology has made fairly amazing strides in the last decade, but I also understand why it remains so profoundly disconcerting, and I get why directors are tempted to experiment with it.

I don't really have a question, but I've been digging this season of Castle Rock and am a little sad it seems to have gotten lost in the TV shuffle between the hype around Watchmen and the Disney+/Apple TV launches. The cast is excellent, and I think it's built off the themes of trauma, redemption, and America as a haunted land that the first season introduced in really interesting ways.

Any other "Castle Rock" fans here? Anything you're loving reading on the show that you can recommend?

It was filmed mostly in Belfast and it's based on a novel entitled "In the Wood" and there's very little actual Dublin City in "Dublin Murders" and mostly interior of police station and woods near an isolated suburban tract housing in some bedroom community.

I assume that's because the Tana French books are collectively known as the Dublin Murder Squad series?

Any predictions for election results in the upcoming parliamentary elections in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland?

Absolutely none.

Do going forward is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II going to be our Doctor Manhattan or did they cast somebody else if they ever show us stuff from before meeting Angela? Was Yahya Abdul-Mateen II also doing the voice in the scene of Angela and Doctor Manhattan's first meeting?

Certainly for the purposes of the next episode, I would think he'll continue to be our Doctor Manhattan, and I'm pretty sure he did the voice work. Also, it's worth noting that this "Watchmen" story is conceived of as a one-off, and that Damon Lindelof does not have plans to continue it himself. So if there's a second season of "Watchmen," maybe it won't even include Doctor Manhattan at all; I'd be interested to see what they did if someone else came on board and this became a sort of anthology series.

Who out of the cast of Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" who would you like to see play a role (not for same character, but just that actor) in the TV show adaptation?

I mean, I quite like a lot of those actors and would watch many of them in just about anything. But I cannot say this is a particular desire that has ever crossed my mind.

I'm not a huge Snyder fan but liked his adaptation overall. As stated, the casting was excellent and I wasn't that put off by his recreation of the comic's scenes. I even preferred his closing "big event" to Moore's. I woulda rethought his music choices, though.

In certain cases, I definitely agree!

That was the argument for years about Woody Allen just let his arts speak for itself. I don't what happened and it's none of my business anyhow. But where is the line. Gerta Gerwig… leave her alone, but Woody Allen is fine to concern ourselves with? Tittle tattle on a divorce is something I would rather talk about that perhaps accuse an totally innocent man of child molestion (and I get many including myself doubt he is innocent). I've never met Woody Allen or Mia Farrow or Soon-Yi Previn or Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's now adult adopted daughter yet ENDLESS coverage has been made about including in this Live Chat. If anything, a simple man leaving his wife for another woman (or not) seems less consequential that debating whether a man is guilty or innocence for sexual molestation of his 5-year-old daughter in 1991 because he makes a lot of movies that get award and critical attention.

I'm confused about the point you're trying to make here. Alleged child abuse is different from adultery, and it makes sense for people to treat those allegations differently. If you're saying that the allegations that Woody Allen abused Dylan Farrow are sort of a proxy for discussing his separation from Mia Farrow, I think that is a mistaken assumption.

I suppose she's generally well respected but I think her body of work earns her a higher profile than she has. A lot of actors would've coasted after a big hit like DESIGNING WOMEN but she went on to do great work on 24 and LEGION and now WATCHMEN. Don't know that I've seen her give a bad performance.

I think she's been in a lot of okay stuff, in addition to the very good stuff. I agree she's great and I enjoy watching her, but conversations like this do always remind me that it's hard to calibrate exactly how much recognition a given actor should get, or to quantify what the proper amount of respect might look like.

I will be diving into Watchmen over the holidays, but I have never seen the Snyder movie. Should I do so before watching Lindelöf's version, or is that not helpful?

Read the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comics instead. They're a masterwork of the genre and they'll give you the grounding you need. Snyder's movie is almost a panel-by-panel adaptation, so it's much more worthwhile to read the comics.

pronouns always specify multiple pronouns? He/him/his or he/him and she/her/hers or she/her or they/them/their....rather than just the one that defines whether to use masculine, feminine or third person plural? Is there a situation in which someone would specify he/him/their? or She/them? Or is it a situation of just trying to make it easier for the person receiving the information by reminding them that there is more than one way to use a gendered pronoun in reference to a person? Because I have to admit that I sometimes see it as a little insulting that I am not being trusted to understand that she also means her and hers.

I think it's literally just people specifying the cases, and that it's probably not worth that much thought.

I don't it was Jean Smart's vehicle that was smashed, but it was Regina King's although Jean Smart was the one who witness it falling out the night sky?

Yes, I think that's right.

Are you listening to the podcast Dolly Parton's America by the host of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad (sp?). It's such an amazing deep dive into not only her music, but also into American culture, history, the culture of the South, etc. It's addictive!

It's on my list for our next long trip! My husband did the third season of "Slow Burn," by my friend Joel Anderson, and the BBC's "Fatwa," over a drive to New York this weekend, but maybe we'll listen to it over the Christmas holidays if we can get the toddler to nap on the train (honestly, the chance of that happening is probably zero).

I'm bummed that MR. ROBOT's final season is ending with so little attention. I get that the 3rd season was not great but they're killing it in Season 4. One of the hazards of Peak TV, I guess.

And not the only one. 

Marriage Story reminded me very much of 1982's Shoot the Moon with Albert Finney and Diane Keaton. The couple is divorcing, seems to be the right thing to do and each sees it as inevitable. But divorcing doesn't take away the history between the couple, the responsibility of both as parents and the admiration they can still have for one another amid the arguments. Albert Finney in the diner with all four girls, out of control then dropping them at school "How does she do it?" broke my heart. He couldn't tell his wife that but damn if he didn't recognize she could do things he couldn't.

Yes, I think that melancholy sense of feeling like you once knew someone very well, and either don't know them, or don't have the standing to talk to them in an intimate way anymore is a really difficult emotion to capture, and very powerful when done well.

I was reading the story about no women directors being nominated for the Golden Globes, and one person said "this is a system-wide problem," which sort of rang false for me. Yes, Hollywood has a sexism problem, but several women did make great films in 2019. That's the accomplishment, and they are great regardless of whether the Hollywood Foreign Press Association thinks they're great. And I kind of feel that way about Jean Smart. She's good, even if no one thinks she is (but many do).

I find it incredibly liberating to remember that awards shows only have as much power as we give them, and that they reflect the opinions of a narrow group of voters rather than some sort of objective standard of value that we all have to submit to.

I was reading the Alex Pappademas essay "The Decade Comic Book Nerds Became Our Cultural Overlords" As the trailer for WONDER WOMAN 84 just dropped I was thinking about how when the first WONDER WOMAN came out, the online reaction had so many women talking about how it was something they waited their whole lives to see. There was something similar the happened with the release of BLACK PANTHER, and it made me think, fairly sympathetically, that this must explain why some fans are so defensive of these films as meaningful art. The thing is, I don't get that feeling from the films and I feel profoundly left out. If I hadn't been able to enjoy a tv show at the time WW came out, I would have worried that I was falling into a deep depression where I couldn't enjoy anything.

I want to talk about this at greater length and with greater consideration, so I'm going to save it for a newsletter post if that's okay.

As somebody who is a Regina King fan, I know she is in no way a limited actress, but that bar first meeting seduction scene is a sweet spot for her since I've seen her do that type of unaware-yet-sly, disdainful-yet-playful, exasperated-yet-intrigued stuff in previous projects.

Yes, she was wonderful. Watching her anchor "Watchmen" has been a total delight.

Seems the latest season of "The Crown" as sparked an interest in Queen Elizabeth II's only daughter. I think the one tidbit of information that stuck out for me was Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's plan to fly to Buckingham Palace to propose to her. He had the jet fueled and ready and calling called to the Queen. http://www.scotsman.com/news/obituaries/idi-amin-1-660737 Also if you ever entitled to the use the title "Princess Royal" you'd use it, right?

True confession: Amtrak used to let you choose from a huge variety of titles when you were signing up for their frequent traveler program, and I got letters addressed to Princess Alyssa Rosenberg for years. It was hilarious.

I was wondering if you have an answer for this. Has any piece of arts and entertainment really given you an insight why Donald Trump is our President?

Honestly, probably "Pain & Gain," a movie I both love and am horrified by. Here's me on it in 2013, when it was released, and revisiting it in 2016.

Okay, folks! I have to get going, but I hope you're all having a great Wednesday. We'll reconvene on Monday.

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