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
This is a crowded movie release week for home viewing, especially for movies based on true stories. So let’s get started.
Although it’s been awhile since they’ve teamed up, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have a rich history together. Having worked together on SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and THE TERMINAL, the duo have not lost their fastball.
Up for Best Picture this year, BRIDGE OF SPIES tells the story of lawyer James Donovan’s (Hanks) task to defend and barter an exchange for a Russian spy (an excellent Mark Rylance) during the Cold War.
Despite its all talk and no action approach, the film never feels tedious or dull. This is likely due to the sharp script penned by the Coen brothers (upcoming HAIL, CAESAR!). Their clever style is a perfect mix for Spielberg’s old school filmmaking.
If you’re a fan of Spielberg and cautionary tales of history, you’ll benefit from seeing this remarkable film.
Extras: four insightful behind-the-scenes featurettes.
FREEHELD has all the ingredients to be a big Oscar contender, featuring a winning cast (Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell and Michael Shannon) and a plot of interest. It tackles the story of a New Jersey police lieutenant (Moore) who battles to secure her pension benefits when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
While the film means well, its characterization and safe-drama direction are not sturdy enough to mark it a memorable film, while films such as CAROL and SPOTLIGHT engage sensitive material and take risks that with come with big rewards.
Extras: a making-of and historical featurette, the Oscar-winning documentary short by the same name and feature audio commentary.
Political movies are a tough sell, even when it deals with American politics. Moviegoers tend to gravitate towards stories of escapism — and who can blame them? Some movies know how to handle the subject with care, but the idea of revisiting the troubling times that happen in political circles just doesn’t put butts in seats.
Like FREEHELD, OUR BRAND OF CRISIS was another Oscar bait flop in the eyes of critics and audiences. After the success of Argo, which won the coveted best picture prize in 2013, the same producers at Warner Bros. sought to capture the same triumph. However, while Sandra Bullock gives a worthy performance, this story of aiding a Bolivian politician adds nothing new to the political genre or conversation.
Extras: Sandra Bullock: A Role Like No Other featurette.
The true story of the suffragettes in England is a compelling account.
It was a time when the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement were forced to go against the state for their rights. Despite the film’s uneven continuity and bleak tone, SUFFRAGETTE boasts a talented ensemble (Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep) and explores the history of women’s activism in a way that intrigues us to want to learn more about it.
Extras: a feature commentary, an inside look at the history and making of the film.
This newsroom drama details the 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report investigating former President George W. Bush’s military service and subsequent backlash.
Showcasing the talents of Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, TRUTH conducts an interesting investigation of its own by digging into the changing face of journalism.
While it doesn’t shape its material quite as well as SPOTLIGHT in the world of big business and political clout, it asks enough of the right questions to hold our attention.
Extras: deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes and a Q&A with cast and filmmakers.
Also on DVD and streaming: BATMAN: BAD BLOOD, FALLING SKIES: SEASON 5, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: SEASON 2, HELLIONS, THE KEEPING ROOM, THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, MAN UP, MERCY STREET, ROCK THE KASBAH, SHOW ME A HERO: SEASON 1 and SNOW WHITE (Diamond Edition).
Feature Photo: Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) meets with his client Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet agent arrested in the U.S. in DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures’ dramatic thriller BRIDGE OF SPIES, directed by Steven Spielberg.
Previously published on DentonRC.com.