Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Preston Barta // Editor
With its storied history and stark landscapes, Texas is a filmmaker’s dream. Joining the ranks of TENDER MERCIES and THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, this week’s Hell or High Water does Texas proud.
Written by Taylor Sheridan (SICARIO), HELL OR HIGH WATER is a modern American Western set in West Texas that takes its genre’s classic conflict and shakes it up with surprising twists.
Chris Pine (STAR TREK BEYOND) turns in his best performance yet as Toby, a cowpoke trying to save his family’s ranch from the bank. To keep his family’s boots on their land, Toby develops a desperate scheme to get out of debt by robbing the banks trying to foreclose on him, which requires the assistance of his hot headed ex-con brother Tanner (an unhinged Ben Foster).
The only problem: A near-retired Texas Ranger named Marcus, played with much delight and charm by Jeff Bridges, and his partner, Alberto (an excellent Gil Birmingham), are following their tracks, and Marcus isn’t going out without some justice being served.
Don’t take this film at surface level, as the plot reads familiar on the page. But as mentioned, the narrative detours this film makes, along with its addition of an upbeat energy and dark sense of humor, take it from being a NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN knockoff to something truly special and worthwhile.
Read Jared McMillan’s review here.
Extras: Filmmaker Q&A, the red carpet premiere and three insightful featurettes (Enemies Forever, Visualizing the Heart of America and Damaged Heroes).
This Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney-starring comedic drama about a dysfunctional family going through a painful divorce marks a career high for filmmaker Noah Baumbach (MISTRESS AMERICA). It was released 11 years ago, but still rings true today and presents character moments that replicate life in some of the most messed up ways.
With the Criterion Collection doing what they do best (restoring picture quality and supplying supplemental material to peak your interest), THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is this week’s most worthy addition to your collection.
It’s a film that reaches for deeper meaning through a series of absurd circumstances, while also capturing the awkward way in which we move about through life.
Extras: New interviews with the filmmakers and stars, a new conversation about the music of the film, a documentary featuring on-set footage and cast interviews, audition footage, trailers and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones and an interview of Baumbach by novelist Jonathan Lethem.
Based on the bizarre, true story of two hustling dudes (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) who score a massive weapons contract with the U.S. government, War Dogs howls more than it bites and never lives up to the absurdity it promises.
Director Todd Phillips (THE HANGOVER trilogy) can craft a slick and entertaining movie, and a good chunk of this film is presented through that lens, but WAR DOGS is far too long and familiar to fully embrace.
Read James Cole Clay’s review here.
Extras: General Phillips: Boots on the Ground (a behind-the-scenes look on how Phillips brought a Rolling Stone article to the big screen), Access Granted (a featurette on the real story) and Pentagon Pie (a weird animated sing-along with rats).
This stop-motion feature set in Japan stands as a great piece of art on its own, but it also was a refreshing breeze in the late summer. A young boy named Kubo (voiced by GAME OF THRONES’ Art Parkinson), voices magical stories by playing a three-stringed instrument called a shamisen, through which he magically animates pieces of paper into a living origami puppet show. One day Kubo ignites a long-dormant vendetta when he accidentally summons a spirit, Raiden the Moon King (a menacing Ralph Fiennes). With Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey.
Read my full review here.
- Feature Commentary with Director/Producer Travis Knight
- Japanese Inspiration – The LAIKA creative team and the cast discuss the inspirations for the story.
- Corners of the Earth – Filmmakers and crew discuss the challenges of the varied landscapes and locations in KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS.
- The Myth of Kubo – Cast and filmmakers discuss the story at the core of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS.
- Introduction by Director/Producer Travis Knight – Director/Producer Travis Knight introduces “Kubo’s Journey.”
- Mythological Monsters – The filmmakers and crew discuss the new techniques they used to create the terrifying antagonists. Learn how each monster differed in scale, design, and execution.
- Braving the Elements – A particularly challenging aspect of filming was animating water and rain effects. Discover how LAIKA was able to animate water in the context of a stop-motion film.
- The Redemptive and Healing Power of Music – Learn how traditional and contemporary musical styles were combined by Academy Award®-winning composer Dario Marianelli (ATONEMENT) to infuse the film with such a heartfelt sound.
- Epilogue by Director/Producer Travis Knight – Director/Producer Travis Knight discusses what attracted LAIKA to KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS.
Werner Herzog (GRIZZLY MAN) is not your average filmmaker. He shows you both sides of every coin. In this case, with his latest endeavor, Herzog exhibits the wonders and horrors of the connected world. This riveting documentary not only touches on the fundamentals and history of the internet, but it also provides a much deeper understanding of its past, present and future. It’s scary stuff.
Also available on DVD and streaming: HANDS OF STONE (our review), I.T. (2016), MECHANIC: RESURRECTION, ONE-EYE JACKS (1962) — Criterion Collection, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (available through ShoutFactory.com) and YOGA HOSERS.