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Monday, February 8, 2016

REVIEW: “Outsiders” a WGN America original

by Melissa Parkin
The first thing a casual viewer thinks of when hearing WGN America is either sports programming or off-air sitcom reruns. It’s not until the past couple years that the forty-year-old network has stepped outside its comfort zone and into original programming. Since making headway, WGN America has produced the highly acclaimed period drama Manhattan and the dangerously sexy supernatural series Salem. Added to the roster this year comes the Paul Giamatti/Kurt Sutter original show Outsiders.
In the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky rests mountain-folk known as the “Farrell Clan.” Having shunned the conventions and comforts of society, these people live in isolation just outside the fictitious town of Blackburg, where locals fear their unwelcomed presence on the rare occasion these outlaws make their way into town.  The Farrell’s’ idyllic, homesteading way of life suddenly comes under attack as a mining company gains approval to evict the clan from their beloved mountain, to obtain the precious materials buried beneath the land.
This distressing news comes at an opportune time for Asa Farrell (Joe Anderson, “The Grey”), who has been imprisoned upon his return to the clan after spending a decade in ordinary society. Given that every other member of the clan is illiterate, Big Foster (David Morse) regrettably sets Asa free for his abandonment, as he needs him to read the eviction notice stapled at the bottom of the mountain. In town, widowed Deputy Sheriff, Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright, “The Bridge”), tries to warn his superiors regarding the inevitable bloodshed that will follow if they try to force out the unruly mountainfolk. His concerns are overlooked, and he’s now saddled with the ill-fated undertaking of having to remove the Farrells from their land.  
News of the eviction results in a power struggle in the clan as monarch Lady Ray (Phyllis Somerville) delays turning over her authority to Big Foster. As retribution, Big Foster leads a raid in Blackburg against a mobster that goes sideways, resulting in a tailspin of events.
In the hands of lesser minds, “Outsiders” could quickly dissolve into a ridiculous attempt to glorify violence with the use of hillbillies as a catalyst to convey the evils of coal mining. As a welcomed surprise to the network’s growing catalog, the series surpasses expectations with deeply layered subplots, compelling performances, and cleverly crafted dialogue. Its true endowment, however, rests in its perfect cast of character actors. Kyle Gallner (“The Walking Dead” and “AmericanSniper”) proves only further just how underrated he truly is with his portrayal as the charming backwoodsman Hasil Farrell, holding his own amongst a very talented, eclectic troupe.  Accompanying him is “Sons of Anarchy” alum Ryan Hurst, who steps back in to familiar territory as another ruffian outlaw, and David Morse as the aggressive and psychotic Big Foster. Thomas M. Wright, however, claims the title as the series’ official scene-stealer in his turn as the depressive Deputy Houghton.
Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between “Outsiders” and Kurt Sutter’s prized “Sons of Anarchy,” which is an amazing accomplishment for such a fresh faced series. Just as “SOA” paid homage to Hamlet, it’s impossible not to note the undertones of Macbeth in “Outsiders.” With copious amounts of moonshine, hunting, and criminal undertakings, fans of “Sons” and “Justified” will revel in WGN America’s unyielding newcomer.
It’s definitely a must-watch.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

An Odd Confession

In Episode 256, Germar confesses about an odd thing he does with women and you'll love him or hate him for it. It's a personal pod, and a good one. But first, a quick shout to Legends of Tomorrow. In 2015, Germar had awkward kinda breakups with like five different friendgirls. So what's his issue? Click and find out. Edit: Totally forgot the theme song . . . smhh.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Michael Bay's "13 Hours"

by Melissa Parkin

Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi tells the harrowing true story of the Islamic militant attacks against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. At the time of the coordinated assault, the city has been deemed as one of the most dangerous places on Earth. As a result, all countries, with the exception of the United States, evacuate their embassies in the region owing to the threat of militant attacks. An off-the-books U.S. Consulate, called the Annex, also remains, protected by a team of six former military members turned CIA security contractors.

The U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, arrives in Benghazi with the hopes of reassuring peace in the city by holding a press conference. With an understaffed protection detail and local pro-American militia safeguarding the Ambassador, the Annex team, stationed only a mile from the Consulate, is brought in as Stevens’ drivers and backup security. On the morning of the September 11th anniversary, suspicious behavior is spotted outside the compound. Come nightfall, a group of Islamic militants overrun the Consulate, forcing the guards to take Stevens and United States IT personnel Sean Smith into a safe room.

Overwhelmed as the radicals set the building ablaze, the security detail radios the Annex team in desperation for them to come to the rescue. Locked and loaded, the contractors (James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, David Denman, and Pablo Schreiber) await the order, but ultimately hit a wall when their chief rejects the petition out of fear of redirecting the militants to attack the CIA Annex. Defying the demand to stand down, the outnumbered contractors bravely dispatch to the Consulate in hopes of rescuing their fellow countrymen.

After the melodramatic disaster that was Pearl Harbor, having Michael Bay at the helm of another real life war film should only inspire eye rolls and aggravated moans. His movies are notorious for their overindulgence of unnecessary detonations, pyrotechnic explosions, shaky-cam, and style-over-substance storytelling. Film buffs have even scathingly deemed these gratuitous trademarks as “Michael Bay-isms”. With powerful, modern-day war films like American Sniper, Lone Survivor, and Zero Dark Thirty placed in the hands of critically acclaimed directors, Bay’s undertaking only seems all the more problematic. In truth, it’s cringe-worthy, and you haven’t even taken a seat in the theater.

On the surface, “13 Hours” seems to play into all the archetypes seen in virtually every other American war film, right up to the pregnant wife at home. Given that this is based on the book of the same name by Mitchell Zuckoff and the actual Annex Security Team, it throws into sharp relief that these instances are in fact reality for our servicemen. What the film notably strays from, for better or for worse (depending on the viewer), is outright endorsing any political affiliations. It focuses solely on the intrepid ex-military men who combated wave after wave of militia fire. The runtime leading up to the attack does lag in some scenes, but once the going gets tough, the pacing is positively breathless. The acting is superb, the fights are well choreographed, and even Bay manages to impress, proving he’s far more capable of guiding actors than CGI robots. Some might not appreciate certain filming choices, particularly his use of shaky-cam. Thankfully, the techniques are still tolerable, and in some ways, they add to the grit of the narrative. It’s easily Bay’s best movie since 1996’s The Rock, and it’s elevated by a soaring score by renowned composer Hans Zimmer.

The film does comes out at a time when its subject matter is at the height of political controversy, but its likeliness to sway the public’s opinion one way or the other isn’t too high. What “13 Hours” does achieve is stirring our appreciation for the servicemen and women who brave these battles against impossible odds.

4 out of 5 Stars

Monday, February 1, 2016

Germar Talks White Dude as Michael Jackson

Germar his thoughts on the latest race-based controversy. You should share AND watch, in that order, because his thoughts here are the best thoughts and all correct. But really listen because it's probably not what you think.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

#OscarsSoWhite LTC-G Edition

Illustration by Taylor Callery
It's Episode 255 and y'all done did it. There's enough foolishness on Facebook that Germar finally had to explain to you all the things about #OscarsSoWhite that he possibly can in under 45 minutes. He wasn't even interested until a lot of stupid got really loud. Maybe white people are just waayyyyy better at everything. Lots of statistics floating around. Cherry pick much? Outliers. Sample size. Opportunity. Legacy. History. Race. Majority. Average. Bias. Have any of you ever taken courses in anything?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

TV REVIEW: "Shadowhunters"

by Melissa Parkin

Adapted from Cassandra Clare’s worldwide best-selling The Mortal Instruments book series comes FREEFORM’s attempt to cash in on the young adult fantasy craze with “Shadowhunters”. The story centers on Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara), a New York City artist, who on her 18th birthday discovers the underbelly of an impossible world filled with vampires, werewolves, demons, and angelic hybrids.

As it turns out, Clary’s run-of-the-mill mother, Jocelyn has been hiding her daughter from the past and the magical properties that come with said knowledge. Jocelyn was once a Shadowhunter, a member of an elite order of guardians who slay demons and protect mankind. After Clary quite literally runs into Jace (Dominic Sherwood), a gorgeous demon-hunting bad boy, she notices he’s quite taken aback.

“You have the sight,” he mutters.

Little does Clary know that this chance encounter results in a domino effect that forever changes her life.

The Mortal Instruments is a sprawling urban fantasy world that rivals Harry Potter with its vast creature count, complex mythology, and universal laws. Shadowhunters are Nephilim offspring, which means they are of both human and angel decent. This dwindling race eradicates demons using powers granted to them by etching runes into their skin and weapons with Steles.


Well, runes are magical symbols that give Shadowhunters abilities of all sorts, from speed to invisibility. A stele is a blade made of the heavenly metal adamas used to draw them onto objects/flesh.

And apparently, us muggles, or “mundanes” as we’re referred to here, shouldn’t be able to see Shadowhunters and Downworlders. They’re invisible to the human eye. Now, “What’s a Downworlder?” you ask. It’s pretty much every other class of creature that doesn’t possess angelic blood. Vampires, werewolves, warlocks, witches, faeries, you name it. Then there's the rogue Shadowhunter, Valentine Morgenstern, who kidnaps Clary’s mother in his quest to recover the Mortal Cup, one of the three divine items given by the patron angel Raziel to Jonathan Shadowhunter, the first Nephilim. The Cup possesses magical transformative properties that can turn mundanes (humans) into Shadowhunters, just by drinking from the goblet. Plus, Shadowhunters also save on time and transportation fees by using various portals, five-dimensional doors that can rapidly transport them all over the world.

And the complexity doesn’t stop there, by any means, but you get the picture.

Even over the course of a 585 page book, the introduction to this series, City of Bones, is a lot to digest for a reader. For a television viewer, the story is painfully convoluted when the creator crams half that material right into the 42-minute pilot episode. Fans took issue over the rushed world building in the 2013 silver screen adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, yet Ed Decter doubled down on the critique when creating “Shadowhunters”.

Setting aside the problem of pacing, plenty of other issues plague this TV newcomer. MTV’s new fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles delivers the goods on the CGI front, only emphasizing how weak the special effects are for “Shadowhunters.” The overall production lacks value. Despite Mortal Instruments: City of Bones not being a perfect movie, the film still nailed the aesthetic of the novel, especially the majestic gothic architecture of the New York Institute. In “Shadowhunters,” we’re introduced to some strange high-tech police department instead. Plus, the choreography isn’t filmed well. The weapons look like toy lightsabers. There’s a blatant lack of chemistry between the two leads. The majority of the acting is subpar at best, excluding the delightful Alberto Rosende. And the script generally falls flat, even becoming cringe-inducing at some points with its clunking and cheesy dialogue. Even the gorgeous faces and six-pack abs can't mask the flaws.

What made the book series so special was not just the elaborate world, but the character complexities that drove each person. In “Shadowhunters”, everyone’s been whitewashed to clichés and stereotypes. For an avid reader and massive Cassandra Clare fan (such as myself), you most likely won’t appreciate this rendition. As for a newcomer to the intricate world of The Mortal Instruments, this televised version will most likely leave you scratching your head in confusion due to the inexhaustible information dump during the first two episodes. Is it possible that the Shadowhunting realm should remain only in print? For now, the odds sadly lean heavily in favor of yes.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Germar Recapped Bachelor Ben's Premiere

It's two weeks too late. Germar recorded this Bachelor recap & review for another channel, but it wasn't used. So, why let it go to waste. Hilarious comparing this Germar to the guy from the vlogs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pretty Little Liars: "Of Late I Think of Rosewood" recap & review

by Melissa Parkin

On Tuesday, FREEFORM--the new name for ABC Family--launched, with the Winter Premiere for PLL.

Summer’s finale hinted at the impending danger awaiting the Liars upon their return to the town of Rosewood five years after “A”’s reveal. Hanna’s taking the fashion world by storm in New York. Spencer’s political aspirations have taken her to D.C. Aria’s pursuing her artistic passions in Los Angeles, and Emily seems to have lost her way in sunny California. And…that’s about it. For anyone who caught the Thanksgiving special back in November, none of this is news.

And this snooze-fest of exposition isn’t the only pain that will have to be endured. After investing years of interest in the show’s beloved couplings, everything has gone up in smoke upon this winter’s return.

Hanna’s engaged to . . . someone who isn’t Caleb.

Spoby is no more.

Emily didn’t rekindle her relationship with Paige, even though they both wound up on the west coast.

And the forbidden romance between Aria and Ezra is nothing but a distant memory.

Anywho . . . .

After extensive rehabilitation, the courts believe that Charlotte, a.k.a “A,” may be ready to be reintroduced into society. Given how broken her home life has become, Charlotte is the only real family Alison has left. To ensure Charlotte’s best chances to be freed, a hopeful Ali begs her old friends to put in a good word. Time may heal all wounds, but half a decade still isn’t enough for Hanna, Emily, Aria, and Spencer to be overly forgiving. Old habits die hard though as they eventually (and nonsensically) cave into Alison's request by speaking up on Charlotte’s behalf. They tell the courts that they are no longer afraid of “A,” despite the fact that she tried killing them all on more than one occasion.

Everyone flat-out lies…except Aria, who breaks down in front of the judge and confesses to the extent of her PTSD. Despite her heart-wrenching statement and the extensive documentation, the courts still decide to release Charlotte into Alison’s care. Disillusioned by the verdict, the Liars drown their feelings in alcohol.

Lots and lots of alcohol.

When they awaken the next morning, the town’s painted red with a dead body on the grass outside the church; it's Charlotte. Despite the murderous history of Rosewood, everyone simply assumes Alison’s sister committed suicide . . . after just being released.

Yeah, because that makes sense . . . .

The Liars go to the funeral, only to see the illustrious Sarah Harvey in attendance. Upon the service’s dismissal, Alison’s past fling, Officer Lorenzo, informs the girls that they shouldn’t leave town. “Why?” Because Charlotte . . . was murdered!


Yeah, no one’s remotely shocked here.

The decision to time jump was apparently implemented to reinvigorate the series, but if the winter premiere is any indication of this show’s shelf life, then PLL isn’t looking too good.  

(editor's note: I absolutely LOVED this episode. Maybe I'll write or record something.) 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

MOVIES: best of everything of 2015

by Melissa Parkin

As we kick off the New Year and struggle to keep our resolutions, it only seems fair that we give 2015 a proper sendoff. And what better way to do it than highlighting the best films of the year? But what makes a "Best" list anyway? Are they the Oscar bait films that make critics drool? The highest grossing movies of the year? One man’s poison is another man’s treasure. Genres, fandom, filmmakers, and more influence this choice.

Sure, I can talk about how Leonardo DiCaprio might finally get an Academy Award, or that Tarantino released yet another cult classic, or rave endlessly about just how amazing Star Wars: The Force Awakens is. But here at Look to the Cookie, I’m going to shake things up a bit by recognizing some otherwise overlooked films in a “Best” list.

Best Original Concept:

The passionate kiss in the rain, the good guys defeat the baddies,  the underdogs save the world at the last minute, blah, blah, blah, blah. We know the drill, because we’ve seen it all….

Or have we?

When a truly original concept hits the silver screen, it earns the respect of humble moviegoers. We revel at the thought because it's only once in a blue moon that such a pleasure comes our way. For this treat to arrive in the form of the horror genre simply blows our minds, as the category is plagued by even more cliches than chick flicks.  

When said concept is about a sexually transmitted demon stalking its prey being played in all seriousness though…

You may have just lost us.

Admittedly, the pitch to this John-Carpenter-esque film sounds like a Syfy channel movie that could rival the ridiculousness of Sharknado. But in the hands of Robert David Mitchell, It Follows surprised audiences worldwide in the best way possible.

After having sex with her new boyfriend for the first time, Jay (Maika Monroe) discovers that she’s the latest victim of a fatal curse transmitted only through intercourse. Death will follow her wherever she goes, taking the guise of either a loved one or a stranger, until it catches up to her and murders her in brutal fashion. It may not seem like much of a threat given that it only ever moves at a walking pace, but this demon is unrelenting. It can’t be killed and will haunt you the rest of your life.

Like that drunken wedding video of you…

Only worse.

Accompanied by Rich Vreeland’s ’80s inspired electro score, It Follows pays homage to classic horror films with a genuinely unnerving premise that leaves its viewers in deep discussion concerning its overall message. Any fan of the original Halloween will eat this up like a kid at Wilky Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

Best Surprise:

Married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an acquaintance from Simon's past, after relocating back to Los Angeles. Their perfect lives soon enter a tailspin as mysterious gifts and uninvited encounters plague the pair at their home. Sensing an unspoken tension between her husband and his old classmate, Robyn delves into their past, only for her to begin questioning the very man she married.

Trailers can be a powerful thing. A brilliant one can make even a bad movie look amazing, à la Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. In unfortunate cases, it can have the reverse effect. Dramatic moments of silence, background ticking effects, jump scares, screen static, sinister music, and the Insidious producer namedrop put together, and Joel Edgerton’s full-length feature debut couldn’t look anymore generic. Cue the eye rolls and head banging.

Among last year’s slew of underwhelming thrillers like Return to Sender, The Boy Next Door, and Knock, Knock, this character-driven chamber piece about past ghosts turned out to be a resounding breath of fresh air. Despite its underwhelming and cheesy trailers, the film actually subverts the clichés and conventions of the genre with masterfully crafted storytelling and its superb cast. For any moviegoer wishing for an escape from the by-the-books formulaic thriller, The Gift is most certainly for you. Let the creepy stares ensue.

Best Underviewed Feature:

James Ponsoldt’s "The End of the Tour"

The End of the Tour focuses on late author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), recounted by journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) who interviewed the novelist during a Midwest book tour twelve years prior to Wallace’s suicide. This film doesn’t require any flash to tell its story, focusing solely on the provoking conversations exchanged between the two lead stars. 

Reflecting on the brilliant perception of the late writer, The End of the Tour shows just how thought provoking a film can be purely on the merit of its sophisticated, yet natural dialogue. Its execution allows viewers inside the mind of a tortured writer without ever resorting to the pretensions typically found in these biopics. The End of the Tour is a heartbreaking, thought provoking, and insightful rollercoaster ride of emotions. The fact that it only brought in a measly $3 million at the box office makes it criminal.

Best Soundtrack:

Forced to fill in for her sick roommate, shy college senior Anastasia Steele interviews the mysterious billionaire Christian Grey for the newspaper. After literally stumbling through the meeting, she discovers she’s left an impression on the man. Given Ana’s sexual inexperience, Christian sees her as the perfect submissive partner, and he inserts himself into every aspect of Steele’s life. The pair enters into an affair, and Ana soon discovers her new man’s dark secret playing on the boundaries of pain and pleasure.  

Officially written as Twilight fan fiction, E.L. James set the literary world on fire with this dark contemporary romance that was only destined to hit the silver screen.

Okay, if you’d have told me a year ago that 50 Shades would be on any "Top List," especially one written by me, I would have undoubtedly been like….

Yet, here we are.

The story centers on a rich, yuppie businessman with peculiar extracurricular activities.

No, we’re not talking about Patrick Bateman here. But this concept is equally disturbing.

With Mr. Grey’s behavior drawing comparisons to that of manipulative cult leaders, it’s really, really hard for us to think of him as a plausible love interest. Anastasia even refers to him as a serial killer, at the sight of his hardware shopping list! Run away, girl! Just run away!

Yet, Christian still manages to brainwash the impressionable young woman and gets her to do his bidding.

Not weird at all….

Say what you want about the movie, but it’s not so easy to knockdown the soundtrack. With Beyoncé’s “Haunted” and the 2014 remix of “Crazy in Love” taking place on this playlist, it’s pretty hard to go wrong from there. Then add Annie Lennox’s rendition of “I Put a Spell On You,” The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” Skylar Grey’s “I Know You,” and Ellie Goulding’s critically acclaimed “Love Me Like You Do,” and you have record gold. Just try not to picture Christian Grey stalking you, as he's quite notable for….

Best of luck to Leo come Oscar season.

And on that note....

Indie Music: Daniel Grinberg "Short Stories"

by Germar Derron

"80 Years" started. I heard noise--a quiet but very audible hiss beneath a very been there heard that guitar. My eyes rolled so hard that I still have a headache. And then the vocals began. I'd unfairly rushed to judgment. The vocal paired with the guitar was like the perfect wine with the perfect steak. For the first time, during a review, I clicked that little heart on Soundcloud, then I clicked "follow."

The album is titled Short Stories. That's a very appropriate title. If I could rename it, I might choose ft Alex. Her vocals are beyond beautiful--they're perfectly placed, dripping with something I want badly, and highly emotive.

Short Stories, the title, works because each song does feel like a selection from a book . . . of short stories. Yes, most songs tell a story. No, no they don't, but some do. But I don't really mean beginning, middle, end, rising action, and resolution. I felt what I feel when I read a good story, when I listened to Short Story--agreement, pain, warmth, and curiosity plus wonderment.

I'm not surprised that I like Short Stories. After all, this was my life for years. Some call it indie pop or pop rock. I called it coffeehouse rock. And maybe that classification unfairly limits what this is. It's standard coffeehouse content until the band kicks in, and the backing vocals--with a nice arrangement, mix, and production throughout.

Clearly, I lean heavily towards any track featuring Alex, but Aveva Dese snatched my ears on "House of Dreams." Overall, the artists are talented and versatile. The sound is consistent, but the vocalists and instruments don't mimic performances, including the same vocalists on multiple tracks.

While the lyrics aren't complex, they are important and purposeful. I like it. "Thanks."

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