The M&M Report: “Us”

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Devin and Mark, along with horror correspondent Kevin Werner, debate and discuss Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out. Listen here.

Listen to Sean Fennessey’s interview with Peele. Read Reggie Ugwu’s profile of Lupita Nyong’o. Ponder Jordan Crucchiola’s interpetation of the ending.

Subscribe to Devin and Kevin’s politics podcast Friendly Fire.

And subscribe to The M&M Report!

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The M&M Report: Spring Movie Roundup

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It’s been an unusually active year for major motion pictures. Looking at the box office receipts might not tell the whole story — many of this year’s most interesting movies have drawn low grosses, thanks to some combination of weak-willed marketing and ill-considered scheduling.

Money doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Allow The M&M Report to fill in the rest. We’ll walk you through a non-comprehensive list of 2018’s highlights. But first, Devin, let me throw it to you — any theories on why we’ve been so excited to head to the multiplex so far this year?

Devin: Good movies are coming out! People realize that it’s possible for a film released early in the year to be commercially and critically successful. Get Out, which came out February of last year, probably did a lot to shift expectations, but the early months have been underserved relative to the rest of the year for awhile. Maybe there was an outdated perception that good movies didn’t come out during Oscar season? But to some extent this is just speculation.

In any event, I think it’s a positive development, even if all of movies covered here didn’t land in the way Black Panther did. Mark, what do you think is going on? And is there any credence to the idea that the plethora of good films this spring has anything to do with middling television?

Mark: I think it’s always tough to make blanket assertions about The State of Film or The State of TV. But I myself feel more engaged in what’s happening on the big screen right now. As summer movie season has become increasingly engulfed by massive spectacles designed to attract international audiences, the weirder, smaller movies that tend to draw me to the theater get pushed to spring and fall (or to Netflix, but that’s a separate conversation). The increasing fragmentation of the TV landscape means it’s now far easier to be “caught up” on movies worth seeing than it is to be “caught up” on new television that might be worth watching. And you don’t need a plethora of cable subscriptions or passwords from your friends and relatives to go see a movie — it’s hard to beat the simplicity of walking up to a counter and purchasing an immediately redeemable ticket.

I’m pleased about the number of intriguing films from respected or interesting directors that have come out recently, because it’s a reminder to check yourself whenever you’re tempted to utter the phrase, “Movies are bad now.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, and an entire medium doesn’t crumble in one either. Here are a few examples to prove the point.

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Things I Loved This Year: Small But Not Forgotten

Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: two movies that ought to have been huge hits, but weren’t.

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Some movies seem destined to falter at the box office — they’re bad, they’re lazy, they’re weird, they lack star power, they’re in another language. It’s often a shame to watch those movies’ inevitably meager box-office returns, but you saw the disappointment coming, so it’s easier to manage and rationalize.

But other movies seem tailor-made for runaway blockbuster success and yet struggle to find it. Often, you can blame the marketing, or the distribution, or an accident of fate. The best you can hope for is a fruitful run on home video and streaming.

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“Star Wars”: The Franchise Awakens

BB-8I’m not the right age to have Star Wars imprinted on my DNA. I’m too young to have seen the original movies when they stormed theaters from 1977 to 1983, and too old to look past the tonal and narrative flaws of the prequels. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie I wasn’t particularly clamoring for and didn’t really need. I like the originals just fine and found the prequels interesting as a fill-in-the-blanks exercise, but the cultlike devotion to the franchise has always eluded my grasp.

That’s not to say I wasn’t swept up in the multimillion dollar hype machine for this decade-in-the-making sequel, the first Star Wars movie produced without the guiding hand of creator George Lucas. I’d have to be made of stone not to feel some enthusiasm the sight of the movie’s young stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega parading across the late-night talk shows or the typically taciturn Harrison Ford grinning from ear to ear at the climax of the teaser trailer. But I watched approvingly from the margins, regarding the entire spectacle as another uncomfortable mix of creativity and commerce. I never fully engaged with the excitement, even as I recognize, respect and appreciate that others did.

(Avoid reading the rest of this review until you’ve seen the movie. I spoil some things.)

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“Happy” Trails: Can’t Bring Me Down

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It might seem crazy, what I’m ’bout to say: you might be hearing Pharrell’s “Happy” for a long time to come.

After ten weeks at number one, the buoyant “Despicable Me 2” theme song bowed out of the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 to make room for John Legend’s “All of Me” on May 10th. Nonetheless, the song crossed over from “big hit” to “phenomenon” right around the beginning of March, when Pharrell performed the track on the Oscars, rousing the likes of Lupita Nyong’o and Meryl Streep from their seats and charming a global audience with the song’s infectious energy. It’s only grown in ubiquity since – tribute videos, a charming cover by Majesty Rose on American Idol, even the source of some teary-eyed musing on Oprah. (The song even played a role in an overseas issue of free speech, as a group of Iranian youths were arrested for posting a video of themselves dancing to the song last week.)

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“G I R L”: More Savvy Than Sublime

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It’s been a year of Pharrell, and this week is particularly Pharrell-y. The number one song on the pop charts? “Happy,” by Pharrell. The best musical performance on the Oscars? “Happy,” by Pharrell feat. Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The most talked about hat? Pharrell’s Grammy hit, which just sold for $44,100 to Arby’s.

Oh, and Pharrell has a new album out this week. Is it any good? As I wrote in my review for The Eagle, it’s good enough. No one’s calling this a breakthrough for Pharrell, and for good reason. Some good songs, but nothing game-changing. It’s more The 20/20 Experience than FutureSex/LoveSounds, to put it in terms of Justin Timberlake, as the album’s throwback aesthetic does frequently.

No matter. “G I R L” will sell well, and it will keep Pharrell in the pop-culture conversation for at least a little while longer. Meanwhile, he’ll have to work a little to pursue that EGOT. Judging by his eternally fresh-faced complexion, he’s got plenty of time left.

The M&M Report, Episode 23: Ty Meems

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Listen to Episode 23 of The M&M Report here.

(Note: “Ty Meems” is “The M&M Report” Travoltified.)

This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I sat down as soon as the Oscars to unwind with thoughts on Ellen DeGeneres, Lupita Nyong’o, Steve McQueen, Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, pizza, selfies and much more.

Thanks for listening!