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Big Movies

Reviewed

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Michael Jordan of People

Photo by Mike Chai

In Episode 626, meet the Michael Jordan of people. It's another epi about all of the EQ, emo IQ, people stuff. But this one includes real-world examples, comparisons, reasons, purposes, and MORE. Follow the people's MJ everywhere @GermarDerron.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Guns: It's Not About Mental Health


In Episode 625, at this point, Germar Derron is the only person worth hearing from that you haven't heard from about mass shootings. It's not a mental health issue. Follow the original everywhere @GermarDerron.

Indie Music: Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz, "The Loss We've Won"

 by Germar Derron


Timely.

I listened to this album after another senseless mass shooting in the United States--the fourth or fifth within just a few short weeks. It helped. Apparently, Anders and O'Bitz are known for their social commentary and immersive moods. I may not be in a place to dissect commentary, but the immersive mood calmed me.

None of the nine tracks here sound uplifting in the traditionally bright, loud, or fast sense. And, honestly, sometimes that pleasant plucking can agitate or even infuriate. But even without the smiles and rainbows, something about The Loss We've Won feels hopeful. Somehow, the overall mood of the project appeals to an inner, likely repressed, longing or necessity. They've crafted a feeling more than a sound.

A common debate poses this question: do we listen to music that fits our mood, or do we listen to music to change our mood? Somehow, here, Anders and O'Bitz answer "yes" to both questions. Often, when the soul saddens we turn to nostalgia, like the music of our past--a time when life was light and joy-filled. Sometimes we turn to pop or dance--shiny, sparkly things that distract--instant mood boosters. The Loss We've Won fits the mood of this dark moment, while still promoting peace, calmness, and relaxation.

While listening to "Family Song," I felt this missing familial love before I read the title or noticed the clearer than glass lyrics.  

This perfect immersive experience is not coincidental or even mere serendipity. A well-balanced mixed and carefully considered arrangement bears the weight of all this goodness. 

The project is summed perfectly in its title. This is not "The Loss." It's either "the loss we've earned" or "in the losing, we have won." Under either understanding, it is what it is and we experience it all together. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Moment I Knew it Wouldn't Work

Photo by Jens Johnsson

In Episode 624, Germar recalls moments in five of his many many many many romanytic relationships, where he knew it would not work forever ever. Many. It gets deep--much deeper than just dating. Follow many many many everywhere @GermarDerron.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Indie Music: Chris Forte, "Backyard Astronomy"

 by Germar Derron



Backyard Astronomy is the sonic equivalent of an academic degree in music. No, listeners will not walk away four years later with a piece of paper, wedding gigs, and students. But here, Chris Forte does mimic four years of musical exploration and progression. The tracks represent a journey through genres, regions, and eras.

Forte touches at least six different genres here, but the project could probably be divided fairly into equal and opposing halves. Half of the album could be a jazz combo, recorded live. And that would be a "jazz" combo in the broadest sense: skilled and educated musicians having fun with various genres, standards, tempos, and rhythms. That half of the album sounds rough, raw, and unpolished--mirroring the experience of a combo playing at a recital, coffeehouse, bar, or lounge.

The other half of the album sounds just a tad smoother and more polished. It might be called educated easy-listening or elevated elevator music. And I mean easy-listening and elevator music in the most complimentary ways. These tracks would work anywhere, for any audience. And that ubiquity does not diminish the obvious talent, skill, and musical IQ. Even on this more universal half, Backyard Astronomy remains a scholarly pursuit, and without pretentiousness.

By including the titles "Covidy Blues" and "Quarantine Coronatones," Forte does not conceal the album's impetus. And pieces of it do recall that period where we all dusted off our horns and keys and wondered and worried about the future. But these aural reminders here are somehow not accompanied by angst or melancholy. These pieces bring a sense of peace and relaxation. 

If peace, relaxation, jazz, funk, easy listening, and free education are your turn-offs--"wait, there's more!" Despite its title, "Messed Up World" may be the most hopeful and overall pleasant sounding and inspiring song to come out of the 2020 pandemic. Then later, "Baby Steps" defines cinematic. It's the spy movie worldwide conspiracy theme that 2022 needs.

At any other time in our history, I might call this uneven or inconsistent. But today, we get this. It perfectly parallels the past two years, while always looking up and ahead, with hope.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Complaining

Photo by Alex Green

In Episode 623, Germar delivers another best. podcast. ever. Recently, a local pastor did a whole sermon on why you shouldn't complain. He's dead wrong. If you don't wash your butt, don't follow Germar everywhere @GermarDerron.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Indie Music: Ajay Mathur, "Talking Loud"

by Germar Derron

 

Some may say that Talking Loud by Ajay Mathur is by-the-book Americana. It might be. But it is definitively American. From the first note of the first song, it evokes American summers, America in the 80s, American sunshine, American barbecues, and American love. Talking Loud is not annoyingly dated or nostalgic for nostalgia's sake. This is 1987 summertime, summer fling, feel-good American in the best way.  The album feels like when you watch a movie and it opens with a song that you forgot you loved from decades ago. 

Beyond the nostalgic warm fuzziness, throughout the album, Mathur displays sweetness and sincerity. Multiple tracks and lyrics present clear messaging that pushes toward positivity but doesn't hint at chastisement or judgment.

If Mathur makes a misstep here, it may have been in an area not under his control. Some combination of production, mixing, and mastering may be missing the musical point. Yes, this is indie music. But the lyrics, melodies, and instrumentation are so good that this doesn't need to be "garage" or DIY. Most of the album plays a bit jagged and ragged, where a smooth "sheen" and a bit more vocal processing makes this radio-ready. And that's a positive, even though radio may not be an ultimate goal.

A couple of tracks sit adjacent to Dave Grohl on the softer tracks of the Foo Fighters' 2005 double album hit In Your Honor. And I believe that's the ceiling here--a reasonable and achievable goal.

Under the American and 80s umbrella of this project, Mathur does tour, or sample from, a few other genres. "Don't Want the Phone to Ring" features classic pop storytelling. And the title track, "Talking Loud," if remixed and released decades ago would top the rap charts. And even today, "Talking Loud" stands out as a special song in this collection. 

I never do ratings, but if I did, this earns a solid 3 of 5 stars. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Rankings: the Theeuhtahr [Updated: 5/15/22]

You love lists and Look to the Cookie doesn't do enough of them. Plus, Germar's life has shifted from music, to film, to . . . stage. And because he sees so many theatrical productions, he will rate and rank them here. Additionally, you're going to click this link because you want to know where your production ranks. This list does not include grade school or "junior" productions.

And remember, a score of 5.5 does not equal 55% failure. It means that the show was better than 55% of all shows.

Photo: Josh Sisk

37. Silent Sky (the 2020 pandemic, Michiana) 6/10 This is the toughest entry. People involved in this production will think I'm a hater. But a large component of the scores is "rewatchability." And even though this show may be better technically than "Mermaid" or "Wonka," it's not something you'd watch again and again. And that might not be fair, because we sing along to the hits from "Wizard of Oz," "Mermaid," and "Rock of Ages." But rules is rules. To justify this ranking, I'll include quotes from audience members: "the leads lacked chemistry" "I didn't get the set" "where were they supposed to be" "it didn't really catch me" "I didn't get the lights" "why are those stairs so big?" COVID-era shows are tough.  

36. The Wizard of Oz (2013, Southern Arizona) 7.2/10 Monkeys flew, witches melted--an all-around technical achievement. But it was also three hours long and you know how it ends.


35. It's a Wonderful Life (2018, East Central Indiana) 7.2/10 The leads dazzled. But you really have to love this era of storytelling, to love this show, in 2018.


34. Willy Wonka (2019, East Central Indiana) 7.2/10 It's always all about the Oompa Loompas! It was Wonka . . . wacky and colorful and kid-friendly.


33. The Wizard of Oz (2021, East Central Indiana) 7.2/10 One of the best family-fun summer experiences imaginable. Great performances, but a super non-traditional show.


32. Black Super Hero Magic Mama (2022 Baltimore, north) 7.2/10 These stories, writers, and performers are important. As a loud proud Black man, I love this. But I've never really loved Black "message" stories. In part, "we" tell them a lot. And I lived it, so I understand its import and accuracy. But as an audience member, I'm unfortunately always a choir member (where writer/director is a preacher). A few special performances and fun tech made this well worth the price of admission. 


31. 2 Across (the 2020 pandemic, Michiana) 7.2/10 Pandemic plays = smaller shows, smaller casts, smaller sets, smaller audiences, smaller applauses, smaller laughs. Two people talking on a train is a tough sell, even when it's perfect.


30. The Complete History of America (Abridged) (the 2020 pandemic, Michiana) 7.2/10 Tough to believe that three non-professionals (cast members) could pull this off--but they did.

29. The Little Mermaid (the 2020 pandemic, Michiana) 7.2/10 Full disclosure: Germar works on most of these productions. He failed this production. Amazing performances, but inconsistent tech and art direction. #maskup  


28. Harvey (2020, Central Indiana) 7.2/10 Each cast member played their part to perfection. Also, see above: It's a Wonderful Life.

27. A Musical Christmas Carol 7.3/10 (the 2020 pandemic, Farmland Indiana) The same perfect performances that we now take for granted from this production company. BUT a really poor technical outing. Me thinks "the -VID" strikes again.

26. The Hunchback of Notre Dame 7.3/10 (2021 Farmland Indiana) "Hunchback" is one of the oddest shows that people absolutely adore. Great performances and decent tech, but overall inconsistent.

25. Is Edward Snowden Single? 7.3/10 (2022, Baltimore, in the city) The story . . . ummmm is maybe the worst one on this list. But then it does pull together nicely at the end, and I appreciate that. The production was about as good as any on this list. It was immersive and technically creative. The co-leads performed perfectly. And the venue played its part superbly. 


24. Mamma Mia! (2021, East Central Indiana) 7.3/10 This theatre consistently does the biggest best most-crowd-pleasing-fantastical-colorful-creative-imaginative shows of all community theaters. Mamma Mia! definitely kept that streak alive.

23. Mamma Mia! (2019, Michiana) 7.3/10 This Sophie SANGS. Beautiful cast. The director and choreographer put professional stamps all over this thing.

22. Tarzan (2019, East Central Indiana) 7.3/10 They used a real baby! They swung on vines and climbed trees. Go-ril-las stole the show. 

21. Scrooge: The Musical (2017, East Central Indiana) 7.4/10 Classic and timeless tale, done by a big diverse cast. Costumed fun.

20. Into the Woods (2019, Central Indiana) 7.4/10 Talented cast. The set designers and builders optimized, and creatively utilized, a tight space.


19. The Music Man (2019, Michiana) 7.5/10 The best ensemble performance ever. 


18. West Side Story (2018, East Central Indiana) 7.5/10 Every time Maria was on stage was the best thing you've seen on a stage. Rosalia . . . Anita . . . . Tony.


17. Now and Then (2019, Michiana) 7.6/10 Casual and modern. And by the end of the show, it's life-changing.


16. Cinderella (2018, Tour) 7.6/10 Beautiful set, world-class dancing, but no soul.

15. Into the Woods (the 2020 pandemic, Farmland Indiana) 7.6/10 Pitch perfect ensemble singing. 

14. The Little Mermaid (2018, East Central Indiana) 7.6/10 Ariel nailed it. And the magic of the sea was felt throughout the performance.

13. Big River (2019, East Central Indiana) 7.7/10 I can't decide if the show is a story about:   1) two cons on the run; 2) crazy Tom Sawyer; or most likely 3) a love story between a white boy with a heart of gold and a runaway slave. Five outstanding performances made this a tough call.


12. First Date (2020, Michiana)  7.7/10 A show for people born after 1984, who would rather see a movie than a play. A home-run from the director.

11. Of Mice and Men (2019, East Central Indiana) 7.7/10 Tough tough show, made better and worse by excellent performances.    

10. Animal Farm (2012, Southern Arizona) 7.9/10 Beautiful, moving, and important. When those pigs started walking around in their overalls, you couldn't help but feel the hopelessness of the cycle. 

9. Peter and the Starcatcher (2018, East Central Indiana) 8/10 Odd. And one of the best stagey mcstage plays of all time. And who doesn't love Peter Pan?


8. Sister Act (2019, East Central Indiana) 8.5/10 F.U.N. Also, it's sexy (or it could be), funny, and colorful. Everyone in the cast got a chance to shine.


7. Glitterus: Dragon Rising (2022, Baltimore, downtown) 8.6/10 A world premiere. It's an inclusive "Wizard of Oz/Wiz," by and for millennials. Tech knocks this down a bit. "Community theatre" production, professional-level singing.

6. Matilda (2020, East Central Indiana) 8.7/10 Story? Weak and common. Writing? Random and superfluous. 8000 kids dancing in perfect sync, and singing in perfect harmony with perfect pitch in perfect Harry Potter accents? Nailed that shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

5. My Fair Lady (2017, East Central Indiana) 9/10 The perfect Eliza. Perfect direction.


4. [title of show] (2021, Michiana Indiana) 9.1/10 Four people. Four chairs. No set. These emeffers pulled it off. Good choreography and sick vocals made this an instant classic.
Photo-David DuFour

3. Rock of Ages (2018, East Central Indiana) 9.3/10 If you like the 80s, or listen to the same 10 songs on some whack work FM stations, you'll love this. Plus, it's sexy and makes no sense.

2. Annie (2018, East Central Indiana)  9.5/10 THIS is cheating. Cute little girls, performing classic choreography, to Jay Z's most popular song.

1. Beauty and the Beast (2019, Farmland Indiana) 9.6/10 Everyone sang everything like Whitney sang The Star-Spangled Banner. Plus, they DANCED--DANCING in a show, in Indiana!!! I guess when you collect a check, you get the steps right.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Power Rankings: the Marvel Cinematic Universe [updated 05/13/22]

You love lists and Look to the Cookie doesn't do enough of them. So here are the rankings and reasons for the 28 released Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as determined by the entire LTC staff that wears glasses and has dark skin . . . named Germar.


28. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness 5.9/10 This. Is not good. The Illuminati and all of the multiverse were wasted here. It's a cartoonish, contrived, and poorly presented fan-service fanmade YouTube indie, written by someone that just finished their first film class. Even that ridiculous third eye looked ridiculous. Is this supposed to be horror or horrible? What happened to the Marvel haha? A waste.

27. (26) The Incredible Hulk 6.5/10 This film works on just about every level. It ranked poorly solely because the field is stacked. Bringing in the Abomination for a show-stopping city-smashing finale was genius. Seeing hints of the Leader was cool. Edward Norton did what he does; he killed it. Some parts drag, but it's about as good as a live-action Hulk film could be outside of The Avengers.

26. (25) Ant-Man and the Wasp 6.5/10 THIS. This is what people are talking about when they say that "superhero movies aren't good" and that "they're all the same" and that they "hate Marvel movies." The best scene takes place mid-credits. Yes, it's sci-fi or fantasy or something, but they break all the rules they made. It's not very funny. And they should have just called it Ant-Man 2

25. (24) Eternals 6.6/10 Not a bad film, but no one bats 1000 forever. The post-Thanos MCU is looking real mediocre. Great characters. Awesome power sets. But also, slow-paced with mostly ho-hum action.



24. (23) Captain America: The First Avenger   6.6/10 Updated Opinion: I've fallen asleep to this many times.  Surprise motherf*cker! (that's a Dexter reference) Honestly, I can't even get through this now, but I remember what it meant then. I'm not a Captain America fan. This film made me care about him. They poked fun at him. He was a guy and not an Uncle Sam poster (except for when he clearly was, but that wasn't by choice). Most importantly, my female non-nerd friends thought this film was dope and not just because the Human Torch starred in it.

23. (22) Thor  6.7/10 Thor Updated Opinion: This is the worst version of Thor. But it's not a bad intro to a damn good trilogy.  The only movie on the list that is absolutely awful. Whenever I hear someone say they liked Thor, I want to punch them in the face very hard. I watched this awful film twice because my ex's sister-in-law convinced the family that it was good. They all hated it. I feel like Thor was the most cartoony or comic-y of the movies. If you liked this movie, you're probably a Thor fan or hardcore comic fan, or you have absolutely terrible taste, or you want to feel my fist.


22. (21) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings 6.7/10 This entire era of movies follows a similar cadence: 1) deep and often explosive beginning; 2) giant, but thin final battle; and 3) uhhh the middle ummm uhhh slower, expository ummm bridge to the final battle. Shang-Chi features amazing characters and decent lore. The story is hopefully one that will prevent MCU critics from saying, "they're all the same movie." It's Awkwafina's best. And still, I wanted more.

21. (10) Black Widow 6.7/10 Everyone will think this should be higher, but again, every movie can't be their best. And they've put out some damn good picture shows. Serious knocks here for being very predictable right down to who would appear in the post-credit. But this is the best action-movie action in a woman-led and dominated action movie ever. 

Photo: Jay Maidment

20. (19) Doctor Strange 6.7/10 Ok, MCU fans stahp it. Every next film cannot be their best film. This was good film, but mediocre in this collection. They've perfected the genre, and now they can crank them out in perpetuity. But Doctor Strange lacked the team dynamic and history that recent entries contain. And while the movie remained active, it wasn't the action of "Winter Soldier," "Ultron," or "Civil War." Yes, magic, but still. Dormammu ending perfect.


19. (18)  Iron Man 3  6.7/10 Initially, I liked this more than most. But for some reason, I cannot fathom sitting through it again. Ughhhhh. I loved the Mandarin thing, but was this really an Iron Man movie? I appreciated the Mandarin ruse because we weren't ready for the actual Mandarin yet.  I understood the stuff with the kid, but really? There were two iron men that rarely got to suit up. Annnd the weird fire volcano people . . . . Annnnd Pepper became Iron Man and Fire Lady . . . .  Annnnnnd how did this get ranked so highly? Oh, there were lots of suits fighting at the end--that was cool. Although it was wise of the writers, I never bought RDJ's portrayal of PTSD

18. (17)  Iron Man 2  6.7/10 Updated Opinion: It bores me. No one liked this film, but me; I understand that. But hey, I have a sense of humor. Drunken Iron Man dancing and fighting, stolen suits, HAMMER and weapon malfunctions, the bird, the Widow . . . c'mon!!! 

17. (16) Spider-Man: Homecoming 6.7/10 I was wrong. This is good. Maybe I just hit that age where cutesy teen movies lose their charm. If I have, this is a sad sad time for me. Michael Keaton can do no wrong. And Marvel's actually inspired inspiring casting excites me--sexually (so many shades of brown). This version of Spidey is the most realistic, which often means boring. Tobey > Tom > Andrew

16. (15) Spider-Man: Far From Home 6.7/10 Because I initially hated Homecoming, this movie seemed flawless in comparison. It's fine. All of that Spidey building in Captain America, The Avengers, and that awful first movie finally paid off. This is fun and MCU connective and logical and different from the other twenty-something films. If you know Mysterio, then you knew the story. Still, the spectacle, the possibilities, and the performances made it all worthwhile anyway.

15. (14)  Captain America: The Winter Soldier   6.8/10 Somehow this average flick fooled the world. It wasn't nearly as clever as you think.  It did, however, make Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a much better series. The action, especially between Cap and Bucky dwarfs the other non-ensemble films. This rendition of Falcon fits nicely. The Winter Soldier appeared as he might in my dreams and nightmares. Oddly, I enjoyed it more the second time.  Expectations? Hype?

14. (13)  Ant-Man  6.9/10 I found this film to be the least "Marvel-y," which is fine. Because it wasn't a typical Marvel film, it was American film-making 101 and quite predictable. If you like mediocre movies, you will LOVE this. That said, they did pull this off well.

13. (12)  Thor: Ragnarok 7/10 Updated Opinion: It wasn't as silly as I remembered. I get it now. I like it now. Watching the three "Thors" back to back to back really helps this entry. Comedy is fine, but comedy in every single line of dialogue for an hour straight is weird. This is the first movie EVERRRR where every actor played the role of comic relief. Beyond that, it was somewhat amazing--beautifully shot, amazing performances, and CGI excellence. They get bonus points for a decent villain, an Executioner sighting, and a Planet Hulk nod.

12. (11)  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 7/10 They almost did it again. Odd that this film isn't more connected to the Avengers part of the universe. It was hilarious, but almost not a movie. The typical conflict and tension were non-existent. The twists were predictable in a typical way. The B-villain and story were laughable. But to be fair, how do you follow one of the biggest films of all time--the biggest, most universally loved, surprise hit since The Matrix? They almost did it. 


11. (10)  Thor: The Dark World   7.5/10  Yes, I appreciate this film more than most of you, but that's because I get things and stuff. Yes, the bad guy was weak, unimportant, and not memorable, but so what. They took a big cue from The Avengers, and made a film that was fun, funny, action-packed, and included a beginning, middle, and end. I only hated that it was so short.

10. (9)   Avengers: Age Of Ultron   7.5/10 Updated Opinion: And now that the Infinity Saga is done, this is a good filmNot a good film, but a HUGE film. They attempted to pack too much into one film. Ultron and Spader dominated. Why do Ultron, and later the Vision, exist and how? . . . not that important really. They attempted an attempt at explanations all over this thing. Nothing made sense, but it was a wild and fun ride.

9. (8) Avengers: Endgame 7.7/10 Like its portioned-prequel, this is more of an experience than it is a film. Unlike Infinity War, this isn't very good. It is a somewhat perfect--albeit predictable--conclusion. But most importantly, this IS the biggest film event ever.

8. (7) Captain Marvel 7.8/10 Updated opinion: I let one scene, expectations, and the lack of a super-powered ensemble ruin what was otherwise a damn good movie.  First of all, women are superior to men in every way. Secondly, I prefer women-led movies. Room (starring Captain Marvel herself) is the best film of the last five years. And Captain Marvel is not a very good movie . . . like at all. It may be an important movie (not on Black Panther's level, or Wonder Woman's but important). But importance does not equal entertainment. This should've been better.


7. Spider-man: No Way Home 7.9/10 The number one DON'T SPOIL THIS MOVIE of all time did not disappoint. It went as expected, but the music. the feels. the redemption. Not a great film, but a top moment in pop culture history.

6. Iron Man   8/10  I never understood why you feel so strongly and positively about this film. I re-watched it. It's solid, and really solidly establishes the entire universe. I had far more fun with 2 and maybe even 3, but this is a far superior film.

5. Black Panther 8.4/10 Deep. I have no jokes here. Even though this wasn't the best film, or my favorite film, it is by far the most important. Had it been less predictable, with a T'Challa that was cool and mysterious like in Civil War, it's a 10/10.

4. The Avengers   8.5/10 Updated Opinion: Post-Infinity Saga and after seeing most of these films multiple times, the champ has tumbled. But still, long live the king.  Nailed it. THIS is what I want to feel every time I pay $50 for popcorn, soda, and Raisinets. What can I say that hasn't been said before? The most balanced movie I've ever seen, if you forget that Hawkeye is also sort of an Avenger. 

3.  Captain America: Civil War 8.7/10 #TeamIronMan all day! This IS actually "Avengers 3: Civil War," but it doesn't lose points for that. Marvel Studios does an unbelievable job of adding characters, combining worlds, and progressing their universe. It's very well balanced. It loses points (and me) in some of the more verbose scenes. The dialogue wasn't too complex, just too much. The conflict was simple and obvious--show us more of that. Spider-man was flawless. Black Panther was more flawless. 

2.  Guardians of the Galaxy  9/10  People that don't include this in their top two also get punched in the face.  80s references "never go over my head" because "there ain't no thing like me but me" whore. The flick's fairly flawless. 

1. Avengers: Infinity War 9.1/10 No, this isn't a movie, but it's THE best movie-going experience unless you get down like Pee-Wee Herman. I saw it 2.5 times, in theaters, because I just needed to see Hulk get dat ass beat one mo' time.  

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Mothers, Black Folk and Mental Health


There's no reason to protect her anymore. But much more importantly, it is so far beyond time for Black people to get their mental health right. PLEASE listen and learn. You CAN be a much better you, for everyone, with counseling and maybe medication.   

 
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