“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”: Planting the Seeds of Revolution

Hunger Games

(Note: This review contains spoilers for the first movie but nothing major for the sequel.)

The Hunger Games movies represent a rarity among Hollywood franchises: uncommonly intelligent and socially conscious, littered with terrific performances and supported by unobtrusive special effects. Director Gary Ross’ original is far from perfect, but it provides a compelling introduction to a post-apocalyptic world rife with commentary that rings true in our present moment, and Jennifer Lawrence’s capable lead performance provides an unconventional and appealing lens for exploring media manipulation, reality television constructs, cultures of violence and oppressive powers. Though Ross’ directorial ineptitude skewers the numerous action sequences and the PG-13 rating limits the onscreen bloodshed to the point of desensitization, The Hunger Games asks questions that other blockbusters, especially ones based on popular novels for young people, wouldn’t dare touch.

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Take 5. Actually, Take 7.

Lou Reed

Not caught up on the latest happenings in and around Hollywood? Fear not, because my Take 5 columns will catch you up in no time. Since September, we’ve lost two major pop culture icons in Tom Clancy and Lou Reed. We’ve ushered Breaking Bad off our television screens, replacing it with tons and tons of new fall shows, most of which aren’t as good as Breaking Bad. We’ve been graced with tons of compelling new music, from pop superstars like Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus to promising newcomers like Lorde and HAIM. We’ve come to terms with the breakup of the Jonas Brothers, but we’re not quite over talking about Chris Brown‘s depressing antics.

And I’ve been taking notes. Read on for the last seven editions of Take 5.

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Three More Thoughts on the 2013 AMAs

JT

Even though I live-blogged the entire three-hour behemoth last night, I have lots to say about the 2013 American Music Awards. The live-blog format is necessarily limiting, and I’ve revised or expanded many of my opinions since the show aired. With that in mind, here are three big takeaways from this awards show (one of the silliest around, don’t forget.)

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The M&M Report, Episode 11: Bound 2 Be Great (Or Not)

Yeezus

Listen to Episode 11 here.

Welcome to the M&M Report once again! This week, Devin and I started with a special guest: Alex Patel, also known as my roommate and a fellow podcast host. Alex and I talked about our love for the Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele and Devin realized that he wants to watch this show more regularly.

(Listen to Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s interview with NPR’s Terry Gross here. Fascinating stuff.

After we said goodbye to Alex, I talked about my underwhelming experience with Thor: The Dark World, which led into a conversation about the state of Hollywood blockbusters. Are they really dead? What can “save” them? Do they need saving? We tackled all of those questions and more.

Finally, the claws came out during a discussion of Kanye West, inspired by the release of his baffling music video for “Bound 2.” Kanye’s a controversial guy, and we had some controversial opinions.

We’ll be taking a break next week so you can enjoy your turkeys and pumpkin pies in peace. We’ll be back two weeks from today with a discussion of the new Coen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis among other topics. Also, we haven’t forgotten about Devin Doesn’t Like Things – it will be back in full force before you know it.

As always, thanks for listening. We’ve really enjoyed experimenting with this podcast over the last 11 weeks, and we’re very grateful for everyone who listens. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Stick around for the time breakdown below:

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Live-Blogging the 2013 American Music Awards

AMA

Sleazier than the Grammys, stuffier than the VMAs, less legitimate than either one, The American Music Awards are the unfortunate middle child of music awards shows. The only time anyone cares how many American Music Awards an artist has won is during the American Music Awards. This is the show that gave us David Hasselhoff dancing to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” in 2011 and crowned Justin Bieber the 2012 Artist of the Year. In other words, don’t expect high art.

And yet – the American Music Awards are a fun, if frustrating, thermometer for the current temperature of popular music. Last year’s show brought us Carly Rae Jepsen and PSY, but also Taylor Swift and Stevie Wonder. You have to take the good with the bad.

Whether the awards mean anything or not (they don’t), the show should provide some interesting moments. Will Justin Timberlake do something unexpected to cap off his busy year, or will he rest on his laurels? Will Miley Cyrus descend further into mayhem or restrain herself? Will Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line demonstrate why they’re country’s two hottest superstars right now, or will they continue to make us wish for Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert instead?

Follow along starting at 8pm Eastern for my reviews of each performance on the American Music Awards, airing on ABC.

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“Parenthood”: Campaign Strategy

Parenthood

In this week’s episode of Parenthood, Crosby Braverman (Dax Shepard) bribed a man to vote for his candidate after finding out that he couldn’t register to vote on Election Day. The real fraud in this season of NBC’s ratings-starved family drama, though, has been everything involving Christina Braverman’s monumentally implausible bid for mayor of Berkeley, California. From her discombobulated campaign strategy to her questionable motives, this storyline reeked of transparent manipulation and lacked the unvarnished realism of the show’s previous high points.

“Election Day” resolved this storyline, which has been careening towards a particularly unsustainable outcome all season. How did Jason Katims and his writers choose to conclude the Berkeley mayoral race? Read on to find out.

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3 Reasons to Read Jody Rosen’s Taylor Swift Profile

Taylor

I might be a little biased, in that Taylor Swift is one of my personal favorite artists and Jody Rosen is one of my personal favorite music writers, but I can’t think of a better piece of pop-culture journalism/criticism all year than Rosen’s profile of Swift, which is on the cover of New York magazine this week and debuted on the Internet Sunday night. Here are three reasons this lengthy profile is worth your time – even if you’re a T-Swift hater. (Also, shame on you.)

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The M&M Report, Episode 10: Implausible Delights

Gilmore Girls

Click here to listen to Episode 10.

This week on The M&M Report, Devin and I invited our friend and colleague Rachel Lomot to chat about two sentimental relationship shows starring Lauren Graham.

NBC’s Parenthood is currently struggling with a troublesome story arc, even though many of its other stories are firing on all cylinders. Rachel and I discussed Christina’s implausible bid for Berkeley mayor, Julia’s possible dalliance with guest star David Denman, and the awesomeness of Max Burkholder and Ray Romano as Max and Hank.

Gilmore Girls ended its run a few years ago, but Devin and Rachel had lots of thoughts on it. They didn’t talk nearly as fast as Lorelai and Rory, but they did dissect the show’s less believable storylines and debate what made the show work so well. Devin might have even dropped a profanity. (No promises.)

Next week, Devin and I have lots of exciting topics planned, and another special guest in the works. In the meantime…thanks for listening!

Click through for the time breakdown.

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“Thor: The Dark World”: Holy Competence

Thor: The Dark World

There’s nothing especially wrong with Thor: The Dark World, the latest in a seemingly endless string of Marvel projects leading up to the megalith The Avengers 2. The special effects are serviceable, the story moves along at an enjoyable clip and the performances are almost uniformly solid.

But there’s nothing especially right about it either. Needless convolutions cloud an already questionable narrative. Natalie Portman’s love interest Jane Foster is as bland and underwritten as any character of her kind in recent memory. Director Alan Taylor offers little visual distinction from Kenneth Branagh’s appealing but forgettable original. A week from now, give or take a Tom Hiddleston or a Kat Dennings, nearly everything that happens in Thor: The Dark World will be a distant memory.

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The M&M Report, Episode 9: Must Listen

Kacey Musgraves

Click here to listen to Episode 9.

This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I talked about a variety of topics, ranging from country music and sketch comedy to pop culture criticism and the concept of “must-reads.” Along the way, we learned that Devin doesn’t much like country music, Mark doesn’t much like Florida Georgia Line, and neither of us much likes how SNL is handling its race problems.

First, Mark monologues about the highs and lows of this week’s CMA Awards, from the feuding factions to the excellent hosts. (Also, check out Mark’s CMA Awards live-blog, featuring grades for every performance.)

After that, Devin and I turn once again to Saturday Night Live, which is handling criticism of its lack of racial diversity with the maturity of a nine year-old.

After that, we dive into one of my favorite segments we’ve done yet, discussing the many purposes that pop culture criticism serves and putting the spotlight on two critics we really enjoy: Wesley Morris of Grantland and Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress. We mentioned Morris’ review of 12 Years a Slave and Rosenberg’s pieces on House of Cards and Parks and Recreation during the show. Give them a read if you have a chance – we think they’ll be worth your time.

We closed with a popular segment, returning by popular demand: Devin Doesn’t Like Things. This week, Devin takes on the concept of the “must-read.” It’s a very nice rant.

Be sure to watch out for next week’s show – our friend and colleague Rachel Lomot will join us to talk about Parenthood and Gilmore Girls. In the meantime, thanks for listening!

Stick around for the time breakdown below.

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