Tag Archives: amazing

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Spoiler-Free Review:

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
**** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

All I can say is the following: WOW, AMAZING, INCREDIBLE and AWE-INSPIRING.

I will break the mold a tad here and present my thoughts on this film in a rather unorthodox fashion today. As a longtime fan of the Star Wars franchise I have been through a lot over the years, which I am sure the other millions of fans can identify with as we have watched our beloved film series (the originals) evolve from a staple of our childhood entertainment to a mediocre trilogy of films (the prequels) that were supposed to be so much more.

This very (dare I say) traumatic emotional roller coaster us fans have experienced with this hallowed franchise also speaks volumes to the strained relationship we have had with Star Wars’ iconic creator George Lucas. It is this relationship with Luca’s world that makes the highly-anticipated arrival of this seventh film in the series so welcomed and is the reason why I have chosen instead to compose a thank you note to The Force Awakens’ creators instead of a traditional review. Here goes…

Thank you J.J. Abrams for making a respectful, perfectly crafted film FOR THE FANS to enjoy and not just solely as a corporate money grab. I found myself just sitting there in the theater entranced at times, like I was 6 years old all over again. It is clearly evident that this long-awaited film was made for the fans BY a fan. Each note and moment was exceptionally crafted, from the first frame to the PERFECTLY chosen last.

Thank you Kathleen Kennedy first and foremost, for taking the reins of Lucasfilm, secondly, for steering the franchise in the right direction and most importantly, for entrusting this grand responsibility to the perfect filmmaker, J.J. Abrams. I know Steven Spielberg also had a hand in referring Abrams for this job and for this assist Mr. Spielberg; I tip my hat to you.

Thank you Lawrence Kasdan for coming back to the world of Star Wars to write this film with J.J. (with additional early writing by Michael Arndt). Your contributions to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were remarkable and with The Force Awakens, were again paramount to this newest film’s success. You are a master of character and your voice is heard through these legendary characters’ dialogue.

And I would be remiss to not say thank you to the man who started it all, Mr. George Lucas. Sure us fans have some gripes and axes to grind about your countless tinkering with the original films we hold so dear, but our opinions and outrage have come from a place of love. Love for the world YOU created and painstakingly crafted for the rest of us to enjoy. Your vision, that grand horizon of adventure and imagination was so vast and enthralling that we were captivated from the moment we laid eyes on that impending Star Destroyer chasing that tiny spaceship through the dark abyss.

I applaud your ability to wrangle up the best people to help hone your creative vision and for the technological advancements that have come from those early blossoming days of Industrial Light and Magic. Film itself owes you a debt of gratitude and I raise a glass to your efforts and to your wise decision to pass the torch (or lightsaber) to Disney and allow it to burn forever.

I am one VERY satisfied fan and I feel very confident in the direction this new trilogy is headed. I feel good about the groundwork that is being laid down for Episodes VIII and IX and have the utmost trust in what Disney has in store for us, now that they are in control of the greatest film franchise in movie history. It was truly worth the long wait and I am counting down the days to the next one.

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MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

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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!

The Wire – Season 2

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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!