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
From snazzy suits to twisted tales of truth, this week’s Blu-ray releases bring quality to the home viewing experience.
Director Scott Cooper (CRAZY HEART) knows how to effortlessly bring the best out of his actors and capture a story’s atmosphere. His latest, BLACK MASS, shines the spotlight on his own skilled hand, which also directs Johnny Depp to his most haunting performance in years.
This true story follows the most infamous violent criminal in the South Boston history books, James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp). Brother of Sen. Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), Whitey became an informant to help the FBI get various mobsters who also happen to be his rivals.
So while his old buddy, FBI agent John Connolly (a terrific Joel Edgerton), protects him from the law, Whitey gets an all-access pass to do whatever he wants with no consequences.
What ultimately makes this film memorable is Depp’s performance. With his seamless look, he really transforms himself into the ruthless psychopath that is Bulger. The story itself may be dense, and some stars’ talent may be wasted (Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard and Adam Scott), but Cooper presents all his cards in this well-composed and digestible crime drama, nearly giving us a winning hand.
Extras: A terrific feature on manhunt for Bulger and how Depp immersed himself in the role.
Steve Jobs has been the subject of many documentaries and films, both good and bad. His last feature portrayal, 2013’s JOBS, starring Ashton Kutcher, leaned more toward the latter in its overly sentimental lack of focus.
Enter the pros. Filmmaker Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and a cast led by Michael Fassbender (12 YEARS A SLAVE) all paint a picture of Jobs to not just be looked at but studied.
Boyle tells the story of Jobs through an unconventional three-part structure centered around the executive’s biggest press events (the Macintosh, NeXT and the iMac). Though this particular lens, audiences get a firm understanding of Jobs, how he failed, how he succeeded, and how he took Apple back from a state of near-bankruptcy into the industry giant of today.
Fassbender plays Jobs with the immersive and indelible power of an actor wearing his role like another layer of skin. He shows Jobs as both an innovator in public and a “poorly built” man behind closed doors.
This can especially be seen in the scenes between Jobs and his daughter Lisa — played by Makenzie Moss at age 5, Ripley Sobo at age 9 and Perla Haney-Jardine at 19 — whom he initially refused to acknowledge but later reconnected with during the humbling moments of his life.
The chief intrigue of the film, however, comes from Sorkin’s skilled pen. Sorkin ignores the standard biopic formula and instead invokes Jobs’ humanity. We bear witness to a man who is difficult to get along with for his arrogance and ego, yet a man who is imbued with a subtle, slow-building warmth through which Sorkin makes Jobs accessible.
Extras: A making-of featurette and two perceptive feature commentaries.
Cinephiles love when movies plunge us into Hollywood’s Golden Era (case in point: HAIL, CAESAR!). Modern actors reviving iconic figures from the past is an experience to witness, even if they focus on someone whom most are unfamiliar with.
Trumbo takes us back to 1947, where we meet screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and other Hollywood figures who are blacklisted by studios because of their political beliefs.
The film uncovers a great story, which is more relevant now with the current election than you know. However, like Spotlight, Trumbo takes a story of powerful truth and presents it in the most basic way possible, leaving the weight of the film’s success on the shoulders of the writers and actors.
There’s no sense of style or risk with the film, but you can’t deny that Cranston gives a winning performance.
Extras: The story behind our titular character and how Cranston became him.
Character actor Jackie Earle Haley has made some interesting career choices, such as donning the frightening sweater of Freddie Kruger in 2010’s remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but perhaps his most interesting one thus far is trying his hand in directing — and what a great move it is.
CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES stars John Travolta and Dan Stevens (DOWNTON ABBEY) in a story about a group of men who make a dangerous investment that puts them in deep with the mob. Resembling Quentin Tarantino in his prime, the film acts like the opening scene of PULP FICTION, and it does so with much style and wit.
Extras: Deleted scenes and cast interviews.
Also on Blu-ray/DVD and streaming: THE 33, THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION, ESTRANGED, GIRLS: SEASON 4, LABYRINTH OF LIES, PEAKY BLINDERS: SEASON 2 and TOGETHERNESS: SEASON 1.