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
Just when you thought Puritans couldn’t be any scarier with their usually wide-brimmed hats, shifts and petticoats, some filmmakers thought to add the element of the supernatural, gray undertones and the one of the most frightening animals to ever be put on screen.
THE VVITCH is the type of film for which you cannot prepare someone, no matter how much time and effort is spent laying the groundwork.
Since it released, it has caused much of a stir — and now that it’s being released on DVD this week, more people can witness how impressive a debut filmmaker Robert Eggers conjures up. It’s a historical exploration that ferociously ratchets up dread, superstition and paranoia to a grand degree.
Set in 1600s New England, THE WITCH (spelling the title correct from here on out) follows a family (Anya Taylor-Joy, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie) as they leave their settlement to live alone in the wilderness. Once a witch steals their youngest child, however, wickedness enters their lives, making their brave new life a grave mistake.
The film may not be as scary in the moment as audiences may want or expect, but it possesses a particular morbid layer of tension that comes crawling underneath your skin later once your thoughts fully form.
The sheer terror mostly comes in the details — charting the historical with bizarre sequences of physical mutilation, psychological ploys, and one terrifying goat named Black Phillip (he’s already turned into a celebrated figure on the Internet).
It’s said a good horror film is one that sticks with you, one that you can’t shake for days. A good horror film makes you scared to turn off the light and run when you could have walked. THE WITCH is one of those very films, and it’s worth purchasing to add to your collection.
Rated R, 92 minutes.
Extras: Audio commentary with Eggers, design gallery, a Q&A at the film’s premiere in Salem, Massachusetts, and a featurette on folklore.
DIRTY GRANDPA – When the film isn’t undermining one joke in the rush to the next, DIRTY GRANDPA has a plot that follows a recent widower (Robert De Niro) who convinces his straitlaced lawyer grandson (Zac Efron) to accompany him on a road trip to Florida. Going on this trip every year was a tradition he shared with his dearly departed, and he’s not going to let something as little as her death stop him from having a good time.
From there, the story is shamelessly abused as an excuse for the two actors to commit all sorts of debauchery, including but not limited to drinking, drugging and partying themselves stupid.
Viewers may want to proceed with caution, as the film contains some of the most revolting things you’re likely to see in a movie this year. Whether it’s catching your grandpa in his alone time or seeing a sexpot (Aubrey Plaza) twerk her way into his heart, the film earns its title. The last, stilted scene of the film also won’t do you any favors, ending Dirty Grandpa with a sex scene that is far more awkward than titillating.
By the end, you may have occasionally laughed, but DIRTY GRANDPA is nothing more than an exercise in wink-and-nudge boorishness that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Rated R, 108 minutes.
Extras: A making-of, an unfiltered audio commentary by the filmmakers, a featurette on seduction and the Daytona heat, and a gag reel.
THE PROGRAM – Directed by Stephen Frears (the upcoming FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS), THE PROGRAM centers on Lance Armstrong’s recovery from cancer and his use of performance-enhancing drugs to win seven consecutive Tour de France victories.
Ben Foster (THE FINEST HOURS) nails Armstrong’s persona and mannerism, as one would anticipate from Frears’ skilled direction. However, John Hodge’s script never pushes its narrative pedals hard enough to make us become emotionally invested and understand the complex nature of Armstrong.
Rated R, 103 minutes.
Also available on DVD and streaming: DEMENTIA (2015), MR. SELFRIDGE: SEASON 4, THE NAKED ISLAND (1960): Criterion Collection, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: SEASON 3 and THEEB.