The Best Podcasts of 2018

Every list of “Best Podcasts” being published right now is wrong, as they prioritize professional standards and storytelling over the strength of the format — how DIY it is. Also, I am a reporter for a living and want to spend roughly 0.0 percent of my downtime listening to people analyze The News.

Here are the podcasts I listen to the most, in no order except how readily they came to mind as I counted.

The Bruenigs. Wonk husband and journalist wife (she happens to work with me) discuss news, life, and bad opinions.

Your Kickstarter Sucks. The concept alone would make a good podcast — two funny people go through a “six pack” of wretched Kickstarter concepts. The bonus is that the funny people are actually funny.

The Best Show with Tom Scharpling. Needs no explanation.

I Don’t Even Own a Television. Like those infinite number of “friends make fun of bad movies” podcasts, but for terrible books.

The Treatment. Elvis Mitchell talks to movie people.

Bullseye. Jesse Thorn talks to movie people and other kinds of people.

Chapo Trap House. There is really nothing as good as this when a few of the hosts get rolling. I still laugh at the moment when Will warned that the excerpt of a column he was about to read was “pure brain cancer” and Matt responded: “Feed it to me.”

Discord & Rhyme. Music nerds go through albums track by track. Disclosure: I have been on this one.

The Dig. Daniel Denvir interviews people doing interesting things on the left.

Slate Money. I’m allowed a couple of “normie” shows, right? This is relentlessly interesting about impenetrable topics.

Beyond Yacht Rock. The creators of “Yacht Rock,” a decade-plus later, sit around and make up genres then go through a top ten list that epitomizes said genres. Examples: “Stat Tracks” (songs about lusting after way-too-young women). “Nu-wop” (80s doo wop revivalism), “Divorcecore” (songs by middle-aged men about how it all went wrong).

The Next Picture Show. Movie critics watch an old movie then a new one and they talk about them.

Sh!tpost. A guide to the worst of the online far right.

The Weeds. Wonks!

WTF with Marc Maron. Go ahead and hate, but he has good guests and he tends to pull them somewhere interesting. Just skip the first 2 minutes of promotions and uninteresting updates on his life.

The Age of Napoleon. Like Hardcore History but with imposter’s syndrome.

The War Nerd. The intros are always too long, but Gary Brecher talking through all sorts of conflicts was great in column form and it’s great here.

Unpopular Opinion. I’ve been on this one, too! LA comedians discuss a world gone wrong.

View from the Cheap Seats. Listening to the Sklar brothers is the only way I can understand sports.

Movies of 2017

It was a busy year, for reasons no one on the Internet needs remembering. The version of me that could watch 75+ new movies in a year is gone, long gone. The version that actually was around for first weekends of blockbusters and date movies, and had time to watch movies on planes — he’s still kicking.

Stuff I still need (or “need”) to see: I, Tonya; Call Me By Your Name; Phantom Thread; The Florida Project; Coco;  The Post. (No, there was no special premiere for all Post employees. There were several DC screenings and I wasn’t invited to any, NOT THAT I’M BITTER.)

  1. Get Out
    Everything about this worked for me — the enraging villains, the social commentary, the goofy friend and his cop-out ending.
  2. Lady Bird
    Greta Gerwig can do no wrong.
  3. I, Daniel Blake
    Prime Ken Loach, the sort of white-knuckle class war drama that nobody else can make without getting accused of ripping off Ken Loach.
  4. Blade Runner 2049
    Too long, and a few too many sops to the genre (why does the evil replicant hench-lady crush the memory stick instead of using it to see what K’s been up to? Oh, because she’s evil), but so gorgeous to look at. I am a sucker for world-building, and the work done here to take the decaying world of “Blade Runner” and make it decay further for 30 years was fantastic. Six months later I still can see those grey acres of wriggling “protein farms.”
  5. The Big Sick
    If Judd Apatow wants to keep handing the keys to younger comedians with good stories, fine by me. Half winning, relatable rom-com, half painful culture clash, and all of it works.
  6. Dunkirk
    It’s a good war movie, what else do you people want?
  7. Logan
    The kind of superhero movie that justifies the genre — though I’d say that about “Deadpool,” too, revealing how bad my taste is. I wasn’t sold on the X-Men comics being part of the movie’s reality, and it was a little on-the-nose to watch an ailing Hugh Jackman fight a brainless clone of Hugh Jackman at pivotal moments. But I haven’t felt this tense during a movie in years, and haven’t said “fuck!” as much in public as I did during moments when Logan and Lore brutally murdered the hapless henchmen who kept coming after them.
  8. Baby Driver
    Too long, especially since Edgar Wright has effectively made fun of the “you think he’s dead, no wait he’s back, no he’s dead, but what’s this” climax. The absence of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost means a lot less to sit with and quote back to your friends when it’s over. But extremely fun while you’re watching.
  9. The Disaster Artist
  10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
    I for one embrace our Gerwig-Baumbach overlords.
  11. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  12. Thor: Ragnarok
  13. The Shape of Water
  14. Oasis: Supersonic
  15. The Founder
  16. Okja
  17. The Lovers
  18. Logan Lucky
  19. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  20. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
  21. Beatriz at Dinner
    Extremely effective, if a little stage-bound, drama about clueless rich white people interacting with the underclass. One thing that stuck with me was how Salma Hayek was shot — not as the bombshell letting her hair fall over her decolletage, but as a short, savvy woman loomed over by arrogant no-nothings. Also contains one of my favorite performances of the year — David Warshofsky as a tightly-strung suck-up to John Lithgow’s clearly amoral real estate tycoon.
  22. A Ghost Story
  23. T2: Trainspotting
  24. I Am Not Your Negro
  25. Wonder Woman
    Far too long, but the World War I battle scenes make up for it.
  26. The Lost City of Z
  27. Darkest Hour
  28. Downsizing
  29. The LEGO Batman Movie
  30. The Beguiled
  31. Landline
  32. Kong: Skull Island
  33. Alien: Covenant
  34. Table 19
    Harmless and effective Duplass brother dramedy about a bunch of misfits who find happiness at a wedding no one wanted them to attend. Extremely ropey at times, but I shed an actual tear at the end of it, so respect must be paid.
  35. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
    It’s fine. The best parts add something new to the canon — Carrie Poppins! The worst parts make me dread how Star Wars movies will be part of our rote holiday tradition until Disney stops making money on them.
  36. Justice League
  37. Life
  38. A United Kingdom
    The kind of story that you can’t believe nobody’s adapted yet — as South Africa implemented apartheid, a black king of Botswana took a white, English wife, and was banned from returning to his country for years as diplomats alternately schemed and crapped themselves. It’s all very well told, but in a movie-of-the-week way. Also, how many more times do we have to watch Clement Attlee get owned in British historical drama? The man created the modern welfare state, and we have to watch him make incompetent grabs for power (“The Crown”) and cynically do the bidding of racists to acquire uranium (this movie).
  39. Split
  40. Colossal
  41. War for the Planet of the Apes
    These movies just leave me cold, and I guess I’m the only one.
  42. It Comes At Night
    Answering the question, at last: What would a post-apocalyptic drama look like if Terrence Malick directed it? The answer: Half tense, half pretty dull and un-engaging. Director Trey Edward Shults has now made two very Malick-y movies that offer a semi-interesting spin on an established genre. Good for him, I guess!
  43. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
  44. The Fate of the Furious
  45. Cars 3
  46. Free Fire
    “What if we spent an entire movie on just one shoot-out” is an idea that made sense to way too many producers and actors.
  47. Snatched
  48. Wilson
    “Ghost World” is feeling more and more like a fluke — the rest of Daniel Clowes’s wince-inducing slice-of-life comedies do not work when transferred from page to screen. Lots goes wrong here — Judy Greer as the cute neighbor who will obviously set things right drains the misery out of the script — but probably the best example of what’s lost in translation is a scene in which Woody Harrelson’s titular misanthope sits and watches a tree lose its leaves. In the comic, it was a one-page gag; in the movie, it’s shot like one of those Qatsi movies, all shutter-speed and emotional string sections.
  49. The House
    There are moments when the comic actors are really grooving, and you wonder why critics said this was a formless mess. Then you get to the third act and it’s a formless mess.
  50. Ghost in the Shell
    Boy, this one wasn’t helped by the existence of “Blade Runner 2049.”

June 12-22: “The Show That Never Ends” is on tour

I spent the last four years writing “The Show That Never Ends,” a history of/argument for progressive rock music, and it comes out on June 13. You should buy it no matter where you live. But if you are lucky enough to live in one of several east coast/central time zone cities, you can buy it AND meet me AND hear me talk. What have you done to deserve this?

Here are the events and the relevant details.

Dave Weigel and Tom Scharpling (“The Best Show”) discuss “The Show That Never Ends”
7:00 p.m.
The Strand
828 Broadway (& 12th Street)
New York, NY 10003

Dave Weigel signs copies of “The Show That Never Ends”
7:00 p.m.
Book People
603 North Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78703

Meet Dave Weigel, author of “The Show That Never Ends”
1:00 p.m.
Cactus Music
2110 Portsmouth
Houston, TX 77098

Book signing
7:00 p.m.
2511 W 4th St.
Wilmington, DE 19805

Book talk with Scott Tobias
7:00 p.m.
Volumes Books
1474 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

Book talk with Jack Shafer
7:00 p.m.
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008


From time to time, until November 8, people last year would ask me how much I was loving the political circus. “It must be the story of your career,” they’d say.

“Well, yes,” I would say. “Much like Joan Didion got the story of her career when her husband and daughter dead.”

Hyperbole — it’s our new lingua franca. I’d reported on politics for most of my life by the time the 2016 election began, and knew that elections typically devolved into gaffe-policing and guides to which ads were false. (Usually not most of them.) But 2016 was, as the documentarian Adam Curtis put it, a defeat for journalism, in which people like me were reminded how little people want to hear information that rumbles their worldview. My worst memory of the year is not anything from a rally; it is becoming part of the problem, and telling friends on election night that early returns suggested their favored candidate would win.

Lots of hairshirting already; I don’t need to add more. Once I got some distance from the election, I felt bursts of pleasure about what good had come out of the year.

Crank up the listicle-maker.

I wrote a book. After 12 years of daydreaming and 3 years of writing, I finished my history of progressive rock; it’s being edited now for a June 2017 release. The panic I have about articles (did I leave in any clunk? Will a grammar scold hunt me down?) is multiplied 1000fold but this is a lifetime goal that cost me a personal life and feels worth it.

I made new friends. This happens every fours, and while I’m not sure how much longer it can happen — do I want to be passing out on the Gillibrand campaign plane at age 39? — it’s always a joy. You develop a little patois on the campaign bus, and (assuming you’re not singularly annoying) you share it with people who are chasing the same deadlines as you. You trade transcripts; you let her have a question because he has a follow-up because you asked a question already.

I survived a car crash. Wasn’t planning on it, but a small nightmare finally came to me. I was making good time on the road from Madison to Green Bay (to De Pere, first), when a traffic stoppage came out of nowhere and I spun off, taking a car with me. The permanent damage has been a right thumb that no longer bends. And that is it. I could have died, I didn’t, and have never felt the same since.

Movies of 2016

I do a version of this every year. The campaign and my book deadline made this year’s explorations a little more limited — which is fine. I have maybe 10 more to see in order to not be befuddled by award season.

  1. Moonlight
  2. La-La-Land
  3. Sing Street
  4. Everybody Wants Some!!
  5. Don’t Think Twice
  6. Hell or High Water
  7. Love & Friendship
  8. Manchester by the Sea
  9. The Witch
  10. The Childhood of a Leader
  11. Jackie
  12. 20th Century Women
  13. Captain America: Civil War
  14. Weiner
  15. Doctor Strange
  16. Arrival
  17. Deadpool
  18. Moana
  19. Hidden Figures
  20. 10 Cloverfield Lane
  21. Midnight Special
  22. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  23. The Lobster
  24. Hail, Caesar!
  25. Finding Dory
  26. Lion
  27. Eye in the Sky
  28. Zootopia
  29. Sausage Party
  30. All the Way
  31. The Nice Guys
  32. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  33. Captain Fantastic
  34. Genius
  35. Don’t Breathe
  36. Knight of Cups
  37. Kubo and the Two Strings
  38. The 13th
  39. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
  40. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
  41. How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things That Climate Can’t Change)
  42. Florence Foster Jenkins
  43. Kung Fu Panda 3
  44. Weiner-Dog
  45. Keanu
  46. Star Trek Beyond
  47. The BFG
  48. The Neon Demon
  49. Cafe Society
  50. X-Men: Apocalypse
  51. Pete’s Dragon
  52. Suicide Squad
  53. The Greasy Strangler
  54. Ghostbusters
  55. Zoolander 2
  56. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
  57. Independence Day: Resurgence
  58. Ride Along 2
  59. Warcraft
  60. Central Intelligence
  61. Demolition

Both sides do it!

I’ve been traveling for work, so — maybe blessedly — I didn’t initially see this AP story by two reporters I like very much personally. It’s no patch on them when I say that “Welcome to the Trump-Clinton conspiracy election” is a textbook-ready case of how the search for equivalence can wreck a piece of journalism.

The problems previewed by the headline get worse in the nut graf.

Donald Trump and his surrogates hint at a mysterious “illness” afflicting rival Hillary Clinton. Pushing back, Clinton warns of murky ties between Trump and the Russian government, insinuating that her Republican opponent may be a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two problems here. One: The ties between Trump and the Russians are by no means as “murky” as the conspiracy theory that Clinton’s doctors (and her campaign schedule) are covering up a devastating illness. Two: The Russia talk is not a pushback on the “Hillary’s health” stuff. It’s been happening independently; indeed, Clinton was been pushing it before Trump elevated the health rumors.

The second point is just obviously misleading, while the first requires the application of blinders that characters the worst both-sides journalism. Much of the story deals with the ways Trump has tried to exploit Internet theories about Clinton’s health, and how Clinton’s pivoted from that to an attack on Trump’s embrace of kookery more generally. The “but Russia!” equivalence platter is saved for the final two grafs.

In the aftermath of hacked Democratic emails, Trump encouraged hackers from Russia to find Clinton’s missing State Department emails, an apparent invitation for a foreign power to intervene in a U.S. election.

Clinton’s team frequently points to Trump’s ties to Russia. Her campaign has a page on its website devoted to a Q-and-A about Trump’s “bizarre relationship” with Russia, fueling an unproven theory that Trump is a shill for Putin.

So on the one hand, Trump is elevating theories that rely on rumors or forged medical records; on the other, Clinton’s accusation that Trump “is a shill for Putin” is “unproven.” But the first attack is baseless; the second is political rhetoric based on — wait for it — reporting from the AP.

I’m not fond of quickie campaign “fact sheets” like “5 questions every voter should ask about Donald Trump’s bizarre relationship with Russia.” Question 5 suggests that “Trump publicly encouraged further Russian espionage to help his campaign.” That’s true, though Trump later tried to pass it off as a joke. Question 4 is fishier, noting that “some suggest” that Trump’s as-yet hidden tax returns might reveal deals with Russian oligarchs. But the basis is a 2008 quote from Trump’s son Donald: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”

Question 3 suggests that Trump would fulfill a Russian “wish list.” Again, there’s a basis: He has talked about lifting sanctions on Russia, and he rather uniquely among Republicans has said he wouldn’t contest the annexation of Crimea. Question 1 quotes a few instances of Trump praising Putin.

But Question 2 is the humdinger. Asking why Trump “surround[s] himself with advisers with links to the Kremlin,” the Clinton campaign… explains the links several Trump advisers have to Russia. The outdated page spends the most time on Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager until this month. The “kill shot” on Manafort is generally understood to be the AP’s August 17 story on his secret work for Ukraine’s pro-Russian faction.

Donald Trump’s campaign chairman helped a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party’s efforts to influence U.S. policy.

So, on the one hand, Trump’s campaign and surrogates are speculating wildly — and in some cases, citing bogus medical information — to question whether Hillary Clinton’s health has collapsed. On the other hand, Clinton’s campaign is citing Trump’s public statements, his family’s public statements, and the financial ties of campaign advisers to say that he’s shilling for Russia.

I am wracking my brains, and I can’t imagine how these two stories were conflated. In the quest to say that Both Sides Do It, the AP elevated Trump’s conspiracy-mongering about Clinton’s health to the level of his campaign’s well-reported Russia friendliness; it downgraded that friendliness to the level of a conspiracy.

The word for this is not “balanced.” It’s “pathetic.”

On “Welcome to Earth”

Apparently, for years, people have misremembered Will Smith’s alien-punching “Independence Day” quip as “Welcome ta Urf” and not the clearly enunciated “Welcome to Earth” that one of our most beloved and marketable stars actually delivered.

General consensus: People be racist. And I spend a lot of time on the Internet, so I can confirm that people are pretty racist.

However, I wonder if there’s a less ethnocentric reason for the wide misremembering of the scene. Thinking of it, I remembered Will Smith chomping on a cigar as he punched the alien. With a cigar in your mouth, “Welcome to Earth” would indeed sound more like “Weh-come ta Urf.”

I remembered it wrong. First, Smith punched the alien. Then he said “Welcome to Earth.” THEN he grabbed a cigar (he was just carrying one), put it in his mouth, and said: “Now that’s what I call a close encounter.”

Because humans have evolved to minimize the amount of trauma we remember, we have forgotten that second, clunk-tastic quip. Indeed, many “Welcome ta Urf” memes use the photo of Smith and the cigar, suggesting that people conflate the two lines and their relative use of Smith’s mouth and teeth.

In conclusion, racism is over. Congratulations, everyone!

Stop shaming me for shaming airlines on Twitter

People like to complain about things on the Internet. People also like to complain about the vast amount of Internet devoted to complaining. I rise today to defend an unjustly maligned form of gripe: Twitter-shaming airlines for bad service.

Since Twitter became the main method by which journalists talk to each other, some have spoken out against the microblogging tool as a way to yell at airlines. To wit, just to quote people I know in DC:

And, most relevantly, here is Jack Shafer reacting to my gasket-blowing about a botched American Airlines flight today, which as of this writing might strand me in O’Hare for seven hours and cancel two in-person interviews.

Here, I would refer to the wisdom of Ricky from “Trailer Park Boys.” If you’re inclined to nag someone for using Twitter to talk to an airline, make like a tree and fuck off.


1. A problematic flight is a time-suck at every level. If I’m on a work trip, I likely spent a few hours setting up interviews, a rental car, a hotel room, etc. A late flight or blown connection means I erase that work and start over. Emails, phone calls, online wrangling to reshuffle plans. You can see why the person doing all that might also take to social media to say “hey, this is no fun.”

2. Stranded airplane time is arguably the most unproductive time. Trying to do work? You need to hunt for a place to charge your device. Oh, and most planes don’t have places to do that, and neither do (most) airplane restaurants.* No, you’re likely be spending this time in a cramped space, at high risk of proximity to a baby (loud but harmless) or someone who doesn’t want to dirty his hand by using it to block a cough.** You could make a phone call, but you can’t exactly tell people to call you back, because — optimistically — you want to be in the air. Also, how effective are you when your brain is calculating and recalculating whether you can make a connection or land before Hertz shuts down?

The answer is “not very.”

3. Twitter gets results! Honestly, most of Twitter — the part I love most — is bullshit self-promotion and joke-telling. Do you need that in your life? You do not, fun as it is.

Ah, but airline-shaming — airline-shaming is a shotgun wedding of stupid form to beautiful function. As popular as Twitter is, it’s easier to reach a human being at an airline there than it is over the phone. Let’s use the example I’m most familiar with, today’s. I needed to connect in Dallas to a flight to O’Hare, which would connect me to a Sioux City flight. (I note here that I woke up at 4:10 am to do this.) Two stupid events intervened. One: A plastic bag had blown on the plane’s wheels earlier that day, and melted a bit. That took twenty minutes to clear. Two: A plane in O’Hare needed a part, so our (already delayed!) flight was chosen as the vehicle to bring it. Another twenty minutes.

I was supposed to land at 12:41 in pursuit of a 1:34 connection. Good enough! Instead, I spent 40 minutes watching as the arrival time crept just late enough to likely guarantee that I would arrive as the gate closed. (Let’s say 1:24, to be safe.) At 12:05 I tweeted:

Will you slam the doors to my connection and strand me in the airport overnight? Flight 3404 to SUX. This delay is outrageous.

At 12:30, this DM came through:

We’ve alerted ORD of your tight connection. We can’t guarantee that they can hold the connection, but they’re aware. In the event you don’t make it, you’ve been protected on the next flight to SUX, which is at 8:39p.

See? That… technically did not solve my problem at all. But that confirmed my presence on the airline’s radar, and gave me something to point to if I’m screwed again. (A few times I’ve been given airline miles and whatnot to make amends.) In a pre-Twitter world, what would I have had? Maybe, maybe, some ear time with a call center staffer who could not help.

In conclusion, hail Twitter. And fuck O’Hare. I swear if I give myself a 20-minute connection, I sprint across the entire airport. If I have a three-hour connection, I get a two hour 40 minute delay and spring across the entire airport.

*Some appreciation here for Minneapolis, with its identical but convenient bars that plunk down stools right in front of outlets.

**Not to capsize an already-irritating post with something yet more irritating, but if you have an Apple Watch — yes, yes, I know — and do not engage in some light walking or aerobics every hour, you get an alert shaming you to do so. Getting that alert when stuck in a tarmac’d airplane is a special sort of shit-nudge.

Movies of 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
The praise for this movie has reached the rare incandescence granted to the sort of religious texts that start cults, or to the first season of the Sopranos. Goddamn if it ain’t earned. It’s hard to avoid metatextual details here (How, how did George Miller outdo his earlier movies 30 years later?), but the movie stands without them, all unforgettable imagery and eyeball-burning stunts — one long chase scene that never let you stop feeling the stakes. The acid test of a great movie is whether you smile when you remember it. This one passes.
2. Spotlight
Forget what I said about smiling.
3. Amy
4. Mistress America
Noah Baumbach’s work has inspired and frustrated me in equal measure, but Greta Gerwig is the best thing that ever happened to him.
5. Sicario
6. Inside Out
7. Ex Machina
8. What We Do in the Shadows
9. The Martian
10. It Follows
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
12. Tangerine
13. Creed
14. The Big Short
15. Clouds of Sils Maria
16. Ant-Man
17. While We’re Young
18. Straight Outta Compton
19. Brooklyn
20. Love and Mercy
21. The Hateful Eight
22. Trainwreck
23. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
24. Magic Mike XXL
25. Spy
26. The Revenant
27. Mr. Holmes
28. Steve Jobs
29. Jurassic World
30. Kingsman: The Secret Service
31. Far From the Madding Crowd
32. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
33. People Places Things
34. The End of the Tour
35. Paddington
36. Queen of Earth
37. Pitch Perfect 2
38. Spectre
39. Crimson Peak
40. Joy
41. The Overnight
42. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
43. Welcome to Me
44. Jupiter Ascending
45. Truth
46. Maggie
47. Furious 7
48. The Wolfpack
49. Tomorrowland
50. Black Mass
51. Chappie
52. Terminator: Genisys
53. Fantastic Four
54. Ted 2
55. Fifty Shades of Grey
56. The Human Centipede: Final Sequence
57. Aloha
58. Hot Tub Time Machine 2
If a truly great movie raises your dopamine levels, a truly bad one makes you want to sit down and drink in the sorrows of wasted talent. A murderer’s row of talent is, well, murdered — Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, all subsumed by a dark, homophobic saga of revenge and greed. Like light devoured in a black hole, otherwise wonderful people become grim.

I have opinions about the new ‘Star Wars’

tl;dr It was okay and most people will like it, but it offered virtually none of the fresh ideas and visuals that make sci-fi interesting.

So: “The Force Awakens!” I plunked down my $17 to see this in 3-D, and everything went as well as you could hope, with good friends arriving on time to sit together and two of said friends going in on a large popcorn. But I left in a sour mood, partly because I had to wake at 5 am for a flight, partly because, to paraphrase Brian Wilson, it’s so sad to watch a sweet $200 million squandered on old ideas.

Things Which Were Good

BB-8. It’s cute. Slightly disturbing to see copies of this droid celling in electronics stores for a year, based on the strength of that first trailer, but we all know that “Star Wars” is in large part a toy-flogging record.

The new cast members. We were programmed to like them, of course, in that masterful 18-month ad campaign. (Remember the first cast photo was a black-and-white “candid” of a read? Remember the instant debate and hot-takery, a dark Force nightmare of what Internet was to come?) But I’ll be damned if they didn’t live up to it. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are perfect, like the character traits of Luke Skywalker split into two British people who can actually act. (Okay, Mark Hamill got better over time.) Adam Driver, whose “huh?” factor was apparently a worry for marketers, finds a perfect use of his play-doh looks and oddly threatening shape. Speaking of:

Kylo Ren’s tantrums. Something we hadn’t seen before: A villain with Force powers who, instead of taking defeats in stride, starts flipping out like a kid who got Madden 2K15 instead of 2K16 for Christmas. If the filmmakers were committed to rebooting Darth Vader (and it worked, if the number of kids I see in Kylo Ren masks tells us anything).

That big death scene. An indescribable asshole on Twitter — but I repeat myself — spoiled it for me. That I felt myself getting weepy anyway is a testament to how well it was handled.

The action, in general. To appreciate it I’d point you to a copy of the prequels, which I still refuse to hate. In his dotage, George Lucas was a strange and coma-inclined director, whose idea of an action scene was two people (or one person and a CGI droid) standing in a frame, jumping around each other, as the audiences’ eyes wandered to the obvious green-screen scenery. JJ Abrams, for all his lack of imagination, makes this action move, with characters conquering the frame and skirting what looks to us like actual danger.

Things which are bad

World-building (or lack thereof). Did you want some haggard character to sit down and explain the last 30-odd years since the defeat of the Emperor? No, neither did I. But in the words of Sonny Bunch:

An attentive viewer is left wondering why the victory at the close of “Return of the Jedi” led, 30-odd years later, to a fascist empire that looks to have inherited all of the old toys. Dig around online and you can kind of figure out that the Republic got cocky and disarmed, but there’s no sense of how the First Order arose. Speaking of…

The First Order. Oh, the potential of this idea. The Empire collapses, and a younger, meaner, more capricious fascist force rises. These villains are obviously aware of what brought the Empire low: Boondoggle super-bases that had weaknesses their enemies could exploit and explode. So what do the new villains do? They re-use the resources of the Empire, from troop armor to war ships, and they… build a boondoggle super-base that can be blown up if its weakness is exploited.

Music. If I say “hum ‘Duel of the Fates,’” or maybe more helpfully refer to it as “the Darth Maul song,”

Few people argue that the new movie’s music is memorable; maybe they argue that Williams did something warm and subtle with “Rey’s Theme.” But the dominant argument seems to be that the music is forgettable because it doesn’t have to overcompensate for stupid filler scenes. Eh.

Deux ex machinas (machinae?): Like Ryan Vogt asks, what caused R2D2 to wake up from stasis, other than the fact that the movie was about to end? Like Sonny Bunch asks, how did Rey know what Force suggestion was — not how to do it, but what it was — given that she’s skeptical the Force even exists? There’s a larger metatextual problem here, and it’s that science fiction imagined space travel advancing with much more ease than it imagined communication technology advancing. So, in a galaxy where ships can travel light years in seconds, nobody has the ability to google (or flibbertiwock, or whatever it would be called here).

Nothing new to look at. This was the problem that left me lowering my rating of the film. Even the weaker George Lucas-verse properties put in effort to create weird new worlds. We never saw an undersea Star Wars city until “The Phantom Menace.” We never saw a clone factory until (ugh) “Attack of the Clones.” We never saw a lava planet until the genuinely great final battle of “Revenge of the Sith.”

Abrams’s “Star Wars” just gives us the best of what we saw and liked already — a cynic might think they adapted the toys and playsets that sold the best. If this wasn’t Lucasfilms approved, you’d call it plagiarism.