I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Editor
BILLIONS: SEASON ONE
Not rated, 687 minutes.
Creator: Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Akerman, Kelly AuCoin, Toby Leonard Moore and David Costabile
With hundreds of scripted series to watch on television and streaming services, it’s hard to keep up with the Joneses.
A smart premise and a good cast can be two of the many components to lure you into a new series. Such is the case with Showtime’s BILLIONS, starring Paul Giamatti (JOHN ADAMS), Damian Lewis (HOMELAND) and Maggie Siff (SONS OF ANARCHY).
The show begins on a no-holds-barred note, where we find Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades bound and gagged on the floor. Suddenly a woman’s heels come into frame, before putting out a cigarette and urinating on the savvy U.S. attorney’s chest.
These bold and shocking images never quite match what unfolds in the rest of the series. The opening seemingly promises that you’re in for a wild ride, which in some cases you are. However, if you can’t handle the characters’ forced nature and a series that loves to speak in analogies, BILLIONS is all dollars and no sense.
BILLIONS sets up a promising story about a hedge fund king named Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Lewis) who comes under investigation by Rhoades. It manages to put the hook in you at the start, but as the show progresses and the tone goes off the rails, it’s difficult for it to hold your attention and inspire a desire to see it through.
While episodes do get better as the series pushes on — such as the ninth episode, which shifts its focus to Axe’s wife Lara (a very good Malin Akerman) and offers insight into her influence on one of the world’s most powerful men — there are simply superior politically-driven shows (HOUSE OF CARDS, NEWSROOM) that entertain and ask bigger questions.
Extras: The four-disc collection includes all 12 episodes of the debut season, interviews with the show’s creators about crafting the language of the series, a behind-the-scenes look at some of the show’s characters, and a featurette on lighting and the difficulties of shooting in and around New York.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the minds behind films such as SUPERBAD and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, take their comedic talents to a new medium, only the results are not good.
Featuring the voices of Rogen and Kristen Wiig, SAUSAGE PARTY is an R-rated animated comedy about supermarket items that go an adventure of self-discovery after falling out of a store cart.
What sounds like the most ideal popcorn entertainment suffers from a lack of stinging satirical wit, quotable dialogue and fun characters. While there are a few strokes of genius, such as the brutal realization the items are made for human consumption and a scene that recreates D-Day, SAUSAGE PARTY is all too shocking and crass to digest.
Extras: A gag reel and line-o-rama, a making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes (“The Booth,” “The Great Beyond,” “The Pitch” and “Seth Rogen’s Animation Imaginatorium”).
It’s 1951 and Logan Lerman (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) stars as a Marcus, a Jewish student from New Jersey who is granted an academic scholarship to a prestigious college in Ohio. His acceptance to the school also serves as way to avoid the draft that is sending men his age to fight in the Korean War.
Not too long after his arrival, Marcus discovers very little of the freedom he had hoped for. Mandatory chapel attendance, roommates assigned by way of religious background and the pressure of joining a Jewish fraternity adds to his already stress-covered plate — not to mention his struggle with sexual repression and cultural disaffection.
In many ways, INDIGNATION serves as a touching and riveting companion piece to 2007’s ATONEMENT, where the world tears away at moments of joy. The film is filled with some of the year’s best literary swordplay — including one memorable scene between Marcus and the school’s dean (a never-better Tracy Letts) — and stands out as a powerful drama.
Extras: A featurette on connecting the past with the present within the film and bringing Philip Roth’s best-selling novel to the screen.
A24, the studio behind films such as recently released MOONLIGHT and Oscar-winning ROOM, very rarely makes a false step in their cinematic athleticism. However, this only comes from their films that are released theatrically. Their DirecTV exclusive titles are not quite built to run.
One such movie, MORRIS FROM AMERICA, is an occasionally moving tale about a father (Craig Robinson) who moves from the U.S. to Germany with his rap-loving 13-year-old son (Markess Christmas). It’s a culture-clash film that builds a hopeful ground, but along the way it suffers from a few narrative cracks.
Extras: A deleted scene, a making-of, bloopers, casting tapes and an audio commentary with director Chad Hartigan (THIS IS MARTIN BONNER) and star Robinson (THE OFFICE) and newcomer Christmas.
Also available on DVD and streaming: BLACK SAILS: SEASON 3, BUBBA HO-TEP: Collector’s Edition (available through ShoutFactory.com), DAREDEVIL: SEASON 1, FIVE NIGHTS IN MAINE, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE(don’t bother) and TAXI DRIVER: 40th Anniversary Edition.