From Student to Speaker – Inspiring the Artists of Tomorrow

From Student to Speaker

By Christopher Pickhardt

I was invited to speak at my Alma mater, William Paterson University, as part of a panel discussion with other alumni, where we would share our achievements since graduation with students and elaborate on how we incorporated all we learned at the University into our careers. This enlightening event took place yesterday in the shadow of New York City in Wayne, New Jersey – just a short ride over the George Washington Bridge.

This engaging conversation between my fellow alumni and I and the crowded room of students (of varied majors) and faculty, was immensely enjoyable. There were three of us seated at the front of the Martini room (William Paterson’s cozy multi-media theater) in Hobart Hall aka the Communications building and we couldn’t have been more diverse in our chosen professions, yet as similar in our stories. We took turns telling our tales, reviewing our days at the University and each imparted tidbits of useful information and wisdom to these young studious minds.

The students were privy to the “war stories” of a career broadcast journalist who had most notably reported from the Wall Street trading floor on 9/11 and from the front lines of 2005’s Indonesian and Indian Tsunami disaster, where she stayed for seven weeks. The kids also heard from a career salesman and marketing guru who moonlighted as a children’s author – all after serving in the Marines when he was young. And they heard my story, as an actor, a writer, filmmaker and freelance videographer.

It was truly a privilege to be able to go back in time for a moment and recount my days in William Paterson’s Hobart Hall and praise the professors whom inspired me – like Chriss Williams, my film-making professor or John Rhodes, my adviser and journalism professor who helped me secure my internship at Late Night with Conan O’Brien when he was still at NBC in new York. These two pros, among others, showed me that you can make a difference in the world and provoke a spark within the artist that will eventually produce the grand flames of creativity within.

I was able to share my experiences as a struggling actor, filmmaker and freelance videographer and how important it is to remain focused on your career path. I answered many questions on craft, technique and especially how I market myself in the fast-paced world of social media we are currently in right now, where self-promotion is absolutely vital because nobody will work as hard for you as YOU.
Additionally I broke down my daily, weekly and monthly routines and how they related to my overall BIG PICTURE goals. How it is so easy to fall into the time-wasting traps that the internet offers and how fast we can slip into procrastination.

And lastly I explained how vital it was to ensure that an artist not only considers oneself a business person but that the artist dutifully maintains his creative endeavors in a manner that works AS a BUSINESS, and not merely as a hobby. This is of paramount importance if one wants to not only be successful, but desires to be seen as a creative professional and hence, taken seriously within the industry.

If there was one piece of advice I was able to relay to the students that for me, held real value was simply how important it was to believe in yourself. If you do not believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your dreams, nobody will. My belief in my talents, my dedication and passion are what have guided me on my journey through the failures and successes and kept me afloat during the hard times when it seemed my career aspirations were out of reach.

I also said to them how special it is to be an artist and how audacious it is to pursue a career in the arts, where the odds of success are often spewed onto the budding artist with the grimmest of patinas, yet it is the inherent rebellious nature of the artist to face the obstacles and naysayers with a stiff upper lip and proceed forward regardless – for the artistic hunger will surely override the roadblocks that the real world enjoys throwing at the creative soul.

In all, it was a great feeling, being up there with my peers in front of all those students during our afternoon panel discussion and later on during an evening panel as well, where I was the sole speaker. It is my hope, that together, the three of us left these kids with a sense that it IS possible to achieve success if you are willing to put in the work, to take the time to hone whatever craft is relevant to your chosen profession and how necessary it was to find a strong work ethic; which they must develop in school because it is the discipline that will follow them throughout their life in all their various endeavors. If they could take away even a morsel of these themes from our discussions and apply them to their lives, there is no reason that one day they could not end up sitting in the very seats we were sitting in, speaking to a future generation of William Paterson students about THEIR success. That would make me very happy.

Advertisement

An Evening at my Alma Mater

Chris Kim Lesley Stahl
From L to R: My girlfriend Kimberly, Lesley Stahl and I at the reception that preceded the wonderful lecture.

By Christopher Pickhardt

Last night I had a wonderful experience at my Alma mater, William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey (which I graduated from in 2002 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications). Along with several other alumni, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend a lecture and discussion with “60 Minutes” broadcast journalist and co-editor Lesley Stahl, as part of William Paterson’s annual Distinguished Lecturer Series.

This was a very interesting and engaging lecture, which was preceded by a dinner with the Dean and other William Paterson faculty and administrative staff. Ms. Stahl’s lively lecture covered her long and varied career at CBS which began right as the Watergate scandal was breaking and also covered the challenges of being a female journalist in a mostly male-dominated field in the 70’s and concluded with her respected contributions to “60 Minutes,” where she still contributes today. There were some fascinating tidbits, immensely useful advice for students and a terrific Q&A afterwards, where Ms. Stahl shared that she is in the midst of completing a new book which will chronicle her life as a grandparent.

I think the most interesting topic for me was the evolution of journalism from its print heyday to the fast-paced digital realm it is vastly residing in today. Ms. Stahl’s lecture really made an impact on me and enticed deep reflection about the media era of today. In the age of the internet, where any and all information is only a fingertip away, we tend to forget how far “information” has come. It is almost alien to imagine a time where news traveled slowly via countless local and nation newspapers, from telegrams and wires and largely from mouth-to-mouth. We tend to take for granted how much work and effort was put into researching a story and checking the facts in advance of an impending print deadline. Today with the click of a button one can find just about any information they want on the world wide web, written by God knows who and often without the smallest hint of credibility. Of course the major news outlets still follow traditional journalistic guidelines as they manage their internet counterparts, but they are but a fraction of the news-gathering entities online today in the wild, wild west of the world wide web.

The Information Age is a double-edged sword at best and an abomination to fact-based education at its worst and it is up to us individuals now to do the fact-checking, because with the onslaught of content and the enchanting power of advertising dollars, domains are pumping out legions of “click-bait” articles designed to allegedly increase their readership (with eye-catching headlines) and in turn attract the coveted revenue dollars instead of focusing on putting out actual information. In many cases sadly, MISINFORMATION is the law of the land, as readers flock to get their fix of slanted and or distorted versions of stories that may or may not align with the actual facts of the day and usually just serve to feverishly stir the pot of whatever the topic of the day happens to be. More than ever before, readers must be vigilant and shrewd when seeking news and lean on skepticism until proven otherwise. In other words, question everything. Which in a way, is kind of what journalism is all about. The tough questions are usually the right ones to ask. Yes, it was truly a memorable evening and one I was honored to be a part of.

One unexpected bonus from this grand evening occurred during a conversation I had with the head of alumni relations – whom after hearing a brief synopsis of my experience and achievements since graduation, asked me to participate in an upcoming alumni panel discussion where we would share our accomplishments with current students, answer questions and flesh out how we incorporated our educations at William Paterson into our careers. Having participated in a similar event in the past on two separate occasions at another local college [where I co-taught a workshop on independent film-making], I was eager to be a part of it.

I always enjoy public speaking and anyone who knows me is aware that I am not exactly an introvert. I have always been comfortable talking in front of people and love inspiring others with my world view or past experiences – which is always thrilling, especially if they can occur in the same discussion.

You may see the University’s official event page below:

http://www.wpunj.edu/news/detail.dot?id=6b6b6438-e9bf-4a76-8e28-5e9376d6642a

 

 

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Immortan Joe 2.png

Review:
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
**** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

There is no other way to say it, Mad Max: Fury Road is ABSOLUTELY MIND-BLOWING! This film is EVERYTHING you have been wanting and SO MUCH MORE! If you are like me and have been eagerly awaiting another installment of the iconic Mad Max franchise with baited breath, you can now rest easy because George Miller’s long-in-development opus has finally arrived for us to consume with glee.

Let me first just begin by saying that all the waiting and false starts on the road to this film’s completion have been totally worth it. George Miller has outdone himself with this incredible piece of cinema. He has orchestrated one of the GREATEST ACTION FILMS I HAVE EVER SEEN in my life! This movie is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride from the first scene to the very last. Stunts are pulled off on this film that I was jaw-dropped to witness. How people did not perish while making this movie is beyond me. The choreography and precision that must have been instituted to capture Miller’s grand vision must have been incredible. I would wager that each day’s safety meeting was comprehensive to say the least.

I imagine that during the pre-production meetings of the film, Miller was telling his creative team that no costume is too absurd, no vehicle too excessively impractical and no touch of oddity is off the table. ANYTHING goes in this wild vision of the worst future you can imagine. No director has had more fun executing his vision and who could blame him. This is the kind of movie director’s dream of making and the kind every actor wants to be a part of. George Miller has assembled all the right people and ingredients to bring his dream to life. The cast is spectacular, the cinematography breathtaking and the production design, costumes and vehicles SO OVER THE TOP that you will be salivating over your shirt through the biggest smile you have ever experienced. I found myself in awe whilst watching this movie and marveled at the amount of work that went into making such an extravaganza of excessive adrenaline. I wouldn’t even know where to begin such a process.

Miller is a genius and a true maestro of tension; having planned out every shot of this masterpiece over many years in his head and pasted together a moving freight train that keeps you glued to the screen for two hours. At one point I was ready to chew on my belt to get me through the intensity on screen.
THIS IS WHAT MOVIES ARE ALL ABOUT. Forget the “cause” films, the romantic dramas, the historical epics and the Merchant Ivory period pieces. THIS is why we happily allow theaters to extort our money from within our pockets. All those other genres are well and good, but this action-packed bonanza is why we go to the movies. Mad Max: Fury Road is ENTERTAINMENT in its purest form, and I have never been happier to shell out some greens.  I walked out of the theater feeling more energized, more entertained and more pleased than I can ever recall. And that is saying A LOT. Hours have passed since I left the screening and I can’t stop thinking about this movie.
GO SEE MAD MAX NOW!

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsmen the Secret Service

Review:
Kingsman: The Secret Service
*** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

Kingsman: The Secret Service is A LOT better than I expected. I must confess I was not that interested in seeing this film from watching the trailer. It just seemed like nothing I had not seen countless times before. But after giving it a chance, I was won over – mostly due to Colin Firth, who is always excellent. Here he was no different.

Without getting into the plot, it is basically a James Bond-ish group of ultra secret agents, whose members are dropping like flies. So Firth, a veteran agent, needs to recruit a new, younger agent to join the ranks of the other Kingsmen, which are led by the “Q”-esque Mark Strong and Michael Caine as the wise elder agent.

Firth’s character finds the son of a deceased agent who is of course a rough and tough street hooligan with grand potential, but lacking in couth and refinement. But his shortcomings are greatly overshadowed of who this kid COULD BECOME with the right guidance. So this punk is recruited to join a handful of other hopefuls in a winner-take-all competition to be the next addition to the Secret Service.

Here lies the second act’s training sequences and plot revelations – most notably the nefarious tech-world Billionaire played by Samuel L. Jackson, who is using his influence from the tech industry to basically create the world anew in a plan so complex and so over the top that it winks to us in a tongue in cheek fashion. Jackson plays the part with an odd lisp, which was more distracting to me than effective. But regardless he was good in the part.

There are some fantastic action sequences on display here – especially one set in a church, which features some astounding choreography and cinematography – a lot of which was ONE TAKE! Great stuff, albeit completely devoid of believability and riddled with some delightfully-violent deaths. Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake and X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) handles the action swimmingly and peppers the film with his usual fast-paced style. The ending is a shout out to the early Bond films, with some ridiculous moments and some disappointingly cheesy special effects. Still, it was entertaining and worth a watch.

TUSK

TUSK.jpg

Review:

TUSK
*** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

I’ve seen a lot of movies in my years – some of which were gruesome and/or revolting, but NEVER have I seen anything quite like Kevin Smith’s TUSK, which manages to be grotesquely revolting while also provoking grand laughter.

I have wanted to see this film for some time and finally did so last night with my girlfriend. We both sat there wide-eyed and jaw-dropped at the display of creative barbarism on display here. This is a return to form for Kevin Smith – who is a filmmaker that can be hit or miss, but will always be a creative voice I admire and follow intently.

Mr. Smith is an inspiring and entertaining figure whom I respect a great deal. He is a genuine, down to earth honest guy who loves film and LOVES to talk – which may be his biggest gift in a career that has spanned 20 years now, since 1994’s CLERKS. But it is his return to film with TUSK – after a three year hiatus, that has reinvigorated him as an artist and I can see why.

TUSK is a ballsy and brave outing for a filmmaker who is best known for comedy (with the exception of 2011’s Red State) who with this film, GOES WHERE few people would choose to venture after twenty years in the film-making business. I applaud his efforts for orchestrating the madness of TUSK and for wrangling up a terrific cast to bring his insane script to life.

The film’s characters were both memorable and bizarre, with a creepy tour de force performance by Michael Parks as the film’s creepy story-telling villain and a BRAVE performance by Justin Long (who deserves special mention for enduring what must have been a grueling makeup process). Also look out for a surprise cameo role from an always bizarre actor we all love (who will remain nameless) in a fake nose! Yes, there are some very fun makeup effects in this film, which are vital to the story-line and service the BIG centerpiece and heart of the film.
TUSK features one of the most HORRIFYING images I have EVER seen in my life and much like The Human Centipede, succeeds in presenting a nightmare tale of depravity and sadism while impressing us with a top notch showcase of amazing makeup! This film will stay with you most definitely, but unlike Centipede, Tusk has many redeeming aspects – the least of which being the vast dark comedy that is peppered throughout the perilous circumstances on screen.

This is a horror film, yes, but not a scary one or one that uses gore as its main character. TUSK is in a way, a redemption story of a guy who is basically an asshole and through a life-changing (to say the least) experience, he ironically finds his humanity.

I would have given the film 3.5 stars, but there were some slow moments that brought its rating down a bit, but regardless it is one of Kevin Smith’s best efforts in a long time. Watch TUSK if you haven’t already. You won’t regret it. But if you do, just eat ice cream afterwards to make yourself feel better.

The Professionalism of the Golden Rule

Chris Pickhardt - Mischievous Resized2
We should all know better by now.

By Christopher Pickhardt

In my travels and throughout my experiences in life and in my career I have come to the conclusion that the core values I was raised with truly mean the world – especially in regards to interpersonal relationships.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to respect all those you come in contact with, for you never know what the future will hold. A simple gesture of grace or kindness today can add up to a lot in two years. I believe wholeheartedly that what goes around really does come around.

Common courtesy is sadly, something that seems to be struggling to survive in our present hectic society where people forget or dismiss the importance of timely correspondence. In the business setting, this is of paramount importance, because professionalism has many factors and none are more important than getting back to people, even if it is with a simple quick email or short text message. In the end, your reputation will precede you.

Always take care to treat others as you would like to be treated; it’s not known as the Golden Rule for nothing. It’s an expression that endures because its meaning will never lose value and those who perpetuate it, will surely live a life rich with blessings, good fortune and prosperity.

And lastly, Paul Newman once said to a tardy Bruce Willis (on the set of 1994’s “Nobody’s Fool”), that “punctuality was the courtesy of kings.”

Mr. Newman made a wise statement because we all struggle with being on time every once in a while and especially in a business setting, it is most definitely a major disrespect and disruption to others to be consistently late – especially without notifying your peers ahead of time that you are running late. I can’t stress enough how important it is to properly manage your time and be diligent to keep on schedule. Coming from someone who has been late now and again, it is a character flaw that I always strive to avoid…especially in my career.

The good news is that tomorrow is a new day and you can always start fresh and work to rebuild yourself in pursuit of a refined YOU. Each and every day do something productive that will enrich the quality of your life and help you to pursue your endeavors and dreams. Don’t lose hope. It is NEVER too late to change your life for the better or in other words, begin anew.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

94

Review:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

*** ½ stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, as usual, Wes Anderson has made a quirky and enchanting film that immerses us in a world that is unmistakably his. With the usage of vibrant colors, clever camera movements, off-beat if not outlandish characters and elaborate set designs, Anderson leaves his unique signature all over his films that add a nuance and style which serve to further envelope the viewer in the story.

Wes Anderson is in a small club of film-makers whom have cultivated their storytelling style to such a recognizable degree that if one was to flip through the channels without knowing who a film’s director was, could almost immediately deduct the maestro just by the visuals, or the script and by the accompanying elements. Regardless of whether or not this particular film may be said director’s finest work, their fingerprints would be evident all over the place. Visionaries like Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, David Lynch, Steven Spielberg, Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, David Fincher and more recently Christopher Nolan and Alfonso Cuaron (I may have missed a few) have crafted works that are unlike their contemporaries, simply by employing techniques in such a carefully-crafted and deliberate manner that we recognize their brushstrokes with ease.

In other words, you know you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie and with The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is no different. At the core, this is a murder mystery/who done it story with layers of vast eccentricity and rich comedy – which is both subtle and slapstick, depending on the moment. The characters all have clear agendas and motivations, which when blended together create a crazy troupe of people all running either away from or after each other. Mad-cap would be one way to describe this film or “this is SO a Wes Anderson film” would be another. You know what you’re getting and it is usually highly inventive and ultra creative. Anderson just doesn’t tell the usual stories; he spins yarns that are unlike most films out there – stories that have a lot of heart and look at the world through an off-center point of view that is very playful and free of cynicism. In a way, Wes’ films have a very childlike innocence to them and I mean that as a high complement. It takes a very intelligent and clever artist to craft stories that can so vividly show us human behavior in both a cartoonish and deeply realistic fashion. Not an easy tightrope to walk, but Anderson finds a way. That is what makes him special.

The cast here is superb (as always), which is led by Ralph Fiennes as the Grand Hotel’s omnipresent concierge who takes Zero – an ambitious lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under his wing and on the adventure of his life (and for his life). The supporting cast includes Anderson regulars and newcomers such as: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, F. Murray Abraham (in his nicest work in years), Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman and many more (mostly in cameos).

The eclectic casting, which has become the norm in Anderson’s films, is a wonderful and exciting element that further grasps our attention and draws us into the story. I am so happy that the trend of piling a huge assortment of name talent in a single film; which was ubiquitous in 40’s, 50’s and 60’s cinema, has made a comeback of late – probably picking up steam in the mid – late 90’s (with films such as Heat, The Thin Red Line, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, Pulp Fiction and HBO’s And the Band Played On) and gaining real momentum with Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films in the early 2000’s.

Today large casts are in full stream – with actors lining up to work with pedigree directors, often in small parts because they believe in the film’s story or just want to be a part of a unique collaborative experience and sometimes, just want that paycheck. Regardless, it is to the film’s benefit and us the viewers get to reap all the benefits. Even when a film isn’t that great it is still fun to see tons of actors working together – sometimes much like a crazy recipe (Expendables for example). Who would have believed back in the 80’s that we’d actually get a film with Stallone and Schwarzenegger together?! It seemed like a dream that would never come true, but now we’re heading for our 4th collaboration of these two icons with this year’s Expendables 3.

I recommend The Grand Budapest Hotel for those seeking to see a nice, entertaining clever little movie that is original and fun which is not a sequel, a prequel or a TV/video game adaptation or based on a teenage book series. This is a film for real cinema lovers but one that is not pretentious or too avant-garde to follow. It’s almost a throwback to classic Hollywood – which given a lot of today’s films, is a welcomed surprise.

 

House of Cards – Season 2

89

Review:

House of Cards – Season 2

**** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

Having just finished House of Cards season two a couple nights ago I felt it was necessary to express how much I admire this show. From the very first episode of season one I was hooked – enthralled is more like it. And season two is even better…SO much better. I didn’t think that was possible.

I love political movies; the ins and outs of Washington, the corruption, the intrigue – it is all so captivating. Here in House of Cards, we are given an ever broader view of just how dirty that town is. I will concede that this is a fictional depiction of how American politics works and there are surely some extremes and liberties displayed, which serve the drama and tension of the story-line. However I am certain that a good amount of what we see here actually does go on.

Politics is just a dirty, power-hungry enterprise which is ripe with favors, alignments and concessions on all sides. In many ways Washington is a circus populated with puppets, puppeteers and figure-heads that fight in public and shake hands over laughs and bourbon in private. In effect, the joke is on us – the PEOPLE who buy into the farce that is American politics.

Our vessel for this look into the political matrix is the diabolical and determined Frank Underwood, played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey. This is his world and anyone who gets in his way is toast. Spacey is pitch-perfect in this role and he commands every scene with vigor and a steadfast determination which he shares with his audience when he often breaks the fourth wall to verbalize his inner monologue. He is the most charming, intelligent monster we have seen on screen in recent memory. It is rare that you find yourself both rooting for and against the show’s protagonist – who in turn also serves as the antagonist to other characters. That is a very interesting dichotomy and probably why the show is so intriguing.

Spacey’s supporting cast is also magnificent – lead by the always wonderful Robin Wright – who is doing her best work here as his equally-calculating wife Claire. Together they plow through Washington, doing anything and everything necessary to accomplish their goals and often stepping on people to get there. Casualties are all over the House of Cards canvas, with some truly shocking moments and unexpected twists and deaths. Michael Kelly is excellent also as Underwood’s right hand man Doug Stamper who exemplifies a mix of creepiness, servitude and blind allegiance; vowing to do whatever his master commands. Is season two, he is given a lot more time to flesh out this character and man, does he have problems to sort out. Raymond Tusk (played by Gerald McRaney) is given a lot more to do this season as well; his role serving as a fantastic manifestation of the supreme capitalist – a billionaire corporate tycoon maddened by power and hungry for the ear of President Walker. Michael Gill who we see a lot more of this season (as said President Walker) does a terrific job of showing us a man who is being played on all sides and at every turn by his supposed allies. At times he is almost paralyzed and it is not until he learns to show some strength, that he begins to regain his footing as the Commander in Chief.

I imagine many, if not all presidents in real life are in similar situations as Walker finds himself here – caught in the middle of dire national issues, foreign scandals and inter-office politics all the while hoping to do what he feels is right and possibly trusting the advice of people who may or may not have his best interests at heart.

This is an amazingly compelling show on all levels and I hate that I must now wait a year for season three. The perils of binge-watching are truly a double-edged sword. I can’t wait for that theme song, that incredible score, to kick in once again; which precedes a whole new chapter in Frank Underwood’s journey to the top. This is one of the few shows that I sit through the opening credits for EVERY time. I just love the score that much and adore all that GREAT time-lapse footage of the streets of Washington. It is such a cool introduction montage and I am thankful to David Fincher for creating that for us (not to mention, overseeing the show itself).

I know this program is based on a popular BBC series (and novel) of the same name, which I am very interested in becoming familiar with. I imagine the inner-working of the British Parliament must be just as intriguing, if not more, than the inner bowels of Washington, but I hesitate to venture into that material in fear of potential spoilers for the American House of Cards I have become so enchanted by. I am sure this version deviates from the British source material, but I am sure there are enough similarities that could possibly ruin certain big revelations down the road. So, I guess I will wait for the American run of House of Cards to play out then maybe I will visit the BBC version. Alas, the waiting is indeed the hardest part.

The Wire – Season 2

76

Review:

The Wire – Season 2

**** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

I finally finished The Wire – season 2. WOW, I LOVED it. I think I may have even enjoyed this season more than season one. I loved the whole docks element, which I thought was a really interesting element to the whole Baltimore crime world. You do not often see the life of a dockworker fleshed out on television or in the movies, but thankfully HBO enjoys presenting original and engaging content. We are introduced to a whole new world within The Wire and meet a pack of new and interesting characters.

I thought Frank Sobotka was a very intriguing (and tragic) character and I always liked Chris Bauer (especially since his performance as Machine in 8mm!) And the character of Sobotka’s son Ziggy: what a sad, lost sole he was – a totally relatable character. I think we all know someone like that or have at one point or another. James Ransone totally nailed that part. You feel bad for him simultaneously while being utterly frustrated by him. He is one of those guys who just can’t get out of his own way.

Nick Sobotka is a great character too – he’s the guy who is caught in the middle with the pressure of truly tough choices weighing on his shoulders…he’s the one who has to watch out for not only Ziggy but for his family. He tries to do the right thing but when temptation to do the wrong thing is too great, he reaches a dire crossroads. I could relate to him quite a bit, for he is the guy who most represented the everyman and like his uncle Frank, did what he felt was the best thing, for the right reasons – even if it was the wrong choice in the end. This is truly great stuff – in the realm of Greek tragedy really and apropos.

The docks and its relation to the human trafficking story-line were very interesting, as was the Greek crime syndicate and its Russian crossover. I liked that we saw criminals from all ethnicities in this season. When was the last time you saw a villain portrayed as a Greek smuggler? In fact, “The Greek” himself, played by Bill Raymond was completely believable and unique. I will confess, that at first I felt The Greek should have been a bit more menacing, but in retrospect now that I have seen the entire season, I think the casting was just right. Raymond’s performance exhibited a less-is-more, less stereotypical and almost un-assuming quality, which is what the role requires.

As always, the procedural element of The Wire is very interesting and I can see why this show has such prestige to it, for it is so exacting and intricate in its details. And I love the politics within the police department and the ensuing in-fighting. Rawles and Valchek will go down in history as two of the biggest hard-ass pricks to ever grace the screen, although at times Rawles (John Dolman) allows for some likability to shine through every once in a while. I love Lt. Daniels (Lance Reddick), Lester (Clark Peters) and Bunk (Wendell Pierce) of course and Dominic West’s McNulty is such a classic example of the worn-out, tortured great cop, which Dominic West plays TO A TEE. I also loved the addition this season of Amy Ryan as Beatrice (or Beattie). Ryan is always great and here she adds a touch of real character, playing someone you feel like you’d run into in your daily life. Ryan is a wise addition to the team, as her character is an eager go-getter who craves the action and suppresses a subtext of quiet desperation, which is very interesting.

And lastly, Omar – has there ever been a better loose cannon? He’s just awesome. Michael K. Williams is truly a revelation in this role! The criminals that populate this show are so engaging, as you judge and root for them at the same time: from Omar to the troubled Bubbles (Andre Royo) to Idris Elba’s Stringer Bell (whom I respect for his dedication to the job and love how he is in business school, wanting to be the best business man he can be), we’re captivated by these flawed people and we’re hanging on their every move, hoping they’ll come out on top. It is an interesting dichotomy to say the least – especially since all these characters are at odds with each other one minute then aligned the next. This show is just so dynamic and rich! We get a true sense for what it is like to be in this world and we certainly don’t want to be a part of it, except for maybe looking in through double-sided glass. Bring on season 3!

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

REVIEW:

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

***1/2 STARS (out of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

Ron Woodroof is a hero. Sure he’s also a drug-taking alcoholic with a penchant for unprotected sex with prostitutes who inevitably contracts HIV and AIDS, but if not for that laundry list of flaws, our protagonist would not have his mission and the other AIDS-addled citizens of Dallas in the late 1980’s would have never gotten the alternative treatments they needed to battle the most horrifying new disease of the 20th century.

Suffice to say, Woodroof (played brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey) contracting AIDS was a bitter/sweet and tragic push the fighting-AIDS movement received during that very scary time in America’s history. During those early years when AIDS first began popping up amongst mostly Homosexuals, people were terrified and confused – their heads muddled with rumors, misinformation and even for some, biased hatred towards those they assumed were spreading this plague via reckless debauchery.

Additionally, there are even conspiracy theories out there that the US Government created AIDS in a lab in an attempt to eradicate the Homosexual population in the wake of the free love movements of the late 1960’s to 1970’s. Those claims are still open for debate, but given the intense unbridled fear which populated large portions of America in the early 80’s – especially amongst right-wingers in Washington, not to mention the added immeasurable profits fighting this disease could garner for the big pharmaceutical industry – taking all that into consideration, almost anything is possible.

This engaging film tells the story of Woodroof’s own battle with AIDS, the perils of early AIDS-pharmaceuticals like AZT (which in early stages was being tested at dosages that became lethal in many patients) and Woodroof’s eventual enterprising idea of trafficking (for lack of a better term) herbal and alternative AIDS supplements into America from Mexico, which were deemed illegal by the highly-corruptible FDA and distributed to patients free of charge via a membership “club” with monthly subscription dues of $400.00 where they could then retain the treatment they needed as a safer alternative to the hospital’s guinea pig AZT testing.

Woodroof gains some allies who assist him in his operation: Rayon (exceptionally played by the always great Jared Leto), a male transvestite who is also an AIDS patient becomes his partner in the operation and Dr. Eve Saks (the very sympathetic Jennifer Garner), is Ron’s hesitant doctor who eventually sees how flawed the hospital’s testing is and decides to back him up in his quest. Steve Zahn is Tucker, a local police officer who sympathizes with Woodroof’s plight and seems to always show up just when Ron needs him. Griffin Dunne shows up as Woodroof’s expatriate doctor in Mexico who supplies him with the alternative medications and lastly Dallas Roberts as Woodroof’s thankless lawyer David Wayne who has to deal with Ron’s adversaries – such as the FDA lackey Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill), the hospital’s imposing Dr. Sevard (Dennis O’Hare) and eventually the subjugating IRS.

This film is an amazing story of courage, rebellion and drive – all in the face of certain death and legal punishment. Most people faced with the diagnosis of AIDS would quietly just go with the doctor’s orders and hope for the best. Ron Woodroof was not one of those people and his tale was one of consistent strides in the other direction – a middle-finger to the establishment and a smoking gun highlighting the overreaching flawed hands of the Food and Drug Administration whom lost its integrity long ago. The FDA sold its soul to the pharmaceutical companies and today especially to the agribusiness industry (especially the monstrous MONSANTO), where regulation really just means profit-protection for corporations.

Woodroof was a prime example of a leader, a man igniting a movement who did not fear his opponents or bow to the status quo. He was a fighter who got past his own prejudices and banded together with others afflicted with the same debilitating fatal disease as him. Dallas Buyers Club is an excellent companion film to And the Band Played On, Angels in America and Philadelphia, for it underscores not only the physical plights AIDS’ victims endure, but also the bureaucracy of the health care industry and especially the negative stigma those afflicted carried on their backs daily like a Scarlett Letter.

You will surely be hearing more and more about this film as the awards season heats up. Its stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto will most certainly be shoe-ins for consideration in the top acting and supporting categories, but long-shots for the trophies at some of the bigger awards due to the film’s subject matter. Regardless of awards though, this is a powerful film with wonderful performances – with McConaughey and Leto giving their career-best turns (not to mention amazing physical transformations into emaciation).

It is utterly remarkable how effective and educational a film like this is. What could have been just a column in an old magazine is now told on the big screen in a way that completely envelopes the viewer and takes us to a time and place we were not necessarily privy to – an important time during a turning point in our culture. Films are about entertainment most of all, yes, but they also need to educate and enlighten its viewers. That is the true power of art and no medium accomplishes this better than film – it is THE art form of the 20th century and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The industry just needs to remember how powerful it really is and focus less on profits and more on integrity. More films should accomplish what Dallas Buyers Club has and more often.