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
THE TWILIGHT ZONE: The Complete Series
Not rated, approx. 78 hours. 34 min.
Creator: Rod Serling
Cast: Rod Serling, William Shatner, Robert Redford, Don Rickles, George Takei, Carol Burnett and Robert Duvall
Anthologies are all the rage these days. From AMERICAN HORROR STORY to BLACK MIRROR, this popular form brings together new talents and endless possibilities.
Rod Serling’s classic television series THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964) is a prime example of the old-school anthology. While most of these kind of series today showcase a new story arc each season, THE TWILIGHT ZONE kept its show feeling fresh and absorbing by featuring a different science-fiction or fantasy tale each week.
There’s no denying the series’ impact on the world. It took our minds through new windows, shared universal truths, departed from the norm of its era and redefined television. Through its unique lens, THE TWILIGHT ZONE asked viewers questions about morality, power, ethics and humanity.
Now you can travel to another dimension with family over the holidays, as the complete series heads to Blu-ray this week. The special 24-disc box set contains all 156 episodes in spectacular high definition and comes loaded with bonus material to entertain for days on end.
Watch an episode (such as the William Shatner-starring “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”) and you’ll be impressed by how even at nearly 60, it causes one to think critically about one’s life, how we communicate and understand our existence in a complicated, challenging world.
Extras: Original pilot version with Serling’s sponsorpitch, interviews and audio commentaries with cast and crew, isolated music scores, radio dramas and more.
SUICIDE SQUAD: Extended Edition
Not rated, 134 min.
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne and Viola Davis
While it’s not quite the disaster that many critics have led it on to be, this movie is no studio-saving wonder either. It’s somewhere between, featuring some fun characters to admire, stitched together with a lazily assembled story.
Now 11 minutes longer with an extended cut, SUICIDE SQUAD features more of the same bad guys (Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jai Courtney) beings good guys, while even badder guys (Cara Delevingne) have an agenda of their own that may involve your typical superhero movie third-act sky beam and a disposable army.
This movie is a giant mess, but it’s a compelling one for all the wrong reasons. It’s more of a step than a leap forward, but DC is on the path to recovery. Here’s to hoping next year’s WONDER WOMAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE do more than just look the part, but feel it, too.
Extras: A collection of featurettes and behind the scenes that invite viewers into the legacy of DC Comics’ villains, how the actors whipped themselves into shape, the weapons of each character, how the filmmakers achieved their action sequences, along with a funny gag reel.
When you watch the 1959 BEN-HUR today, it doesn’t exactly hold up well: it’s an endless, boring parade of talents “acting.” So why studios decided to remake the original Charlton Heston epic is understandable.
The story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother (Toby Kebbell), is certainly one worth being told on the big screen again. It’s got deception, love, glory and stunning chariot race sequences.
While the messy tone and goofy aesthetics (a dreadlocked Morgan Freeman and poorly rendered visual effects) don’t earn the film gold, it has enough charm and absurdity to mark it a stupid, fun popcorn flick to enjoy.
Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, music videos, a story on the story’s legacy, and a featurette on the cast and the epic chariot race.
This lovable film shares the story of a wealthy woman (an always great Meryl Streep) who loves music more than anything and wants to perform in front of a big audience. The only thing is she can’t sing a single note in key.
The trailer sells this as your annual Oscar-bait biopic, but there’s so much personality, so many good performances (most notably Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg) and so many laughs to be had that it’s quite the treat.
- My interview with Simon Helberg – FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS’ Simon Helberg dishes about Meryl Streep, talks good-bad movies
Extras: The music and songs of Florence Foster Jenkins, designing the look of the film, from script to screen, a Q&A session with Streep and more.
Say what you will about the Obamas’ politics and views, but their love story was meant for the big screen. SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU takes us back to the first date Michelle (Tika Sumpter) and Barack (Parker Sawyers) ever went on, in an engrossing walk-and-talk style that tips its hat to Richard Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE trilogy and breathes humanity into two iconic figures.
- My interview with Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter – SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU gives the genial origin story of the Obamas
Extras: A commentary with writer-director Richard Tanne, and original artwork and animations.
Sometimes older films require a lot of patience. Famous Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s 1972 ROMA — a poetic comedy-drama that features a series of loosely connected episodes set in Rome — certainly requires several cups of coffee to appreciate its artistry. But if you’re a lover of classic cinema, culture and the Criterion Collection, ROMA is a great addition to your film collection.
Extras: Audio commentary featuring Frank Burke (author of Fellini’s Films), new interviews with filmmakers and friends of Fellini, images from the Felliniana archive of collector Don Young, the trailer and an essay by film scholar David Forgacs.
Also available on DVD and streaming: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950): Criterion Collection, END OF A GUN, EQUITY, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: SEASON 2, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, KLOWN FOREVER (our review), MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (our review), MORGAN (our review), SLASH, and STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY.