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 // Features Editor
We have seen grifter movies enough times where it no longer has the novel appeal, but with FOCUS, filmmakers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (CRAZY STUPID LOVE) hone in the art of deception with a scintillating narrative that (and I mean this as a compliment) never tries too hard to overwhelm.
Will Smith plays Nicky, a con-man who has all the angles covered at all times– in other words he’s “focused.” After a failed conning by the prodigy Jess (played by Margot Robbie), the duo team up in a mentor/intern dynamic that turns into something more after a high stakes betting scam at the Super Bowl. After Nicky abruptly ends their professional and personal relationship, they unexpectedly cross paths again three years later when they discover they are after the same mark, a double-dealing race-car driver (Rodrigo Santoro).
Where most films of this ilk rely on curtain calls and slight-of-hand to be captivating, FOCUS showcases the jaunty nature of the business while letting the two leads have a fun, breezy relationship. The only issue with the film is Robbie is at times treated as a prize to be won, but this perspective could be result of the voyeur’s perception rather than the filmmakers.
FOCUS is never too clever for its own good, while still managing to be an out of the ordinary film. Luckily, for Smith and Robbie, the duo have an undeniable charm that carries this duplicitous escapade.
– Cole Clay
The Blu-ray Combo Pack Extras Include:
- Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con
- Will Smith: Gentleman Thief
- Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts
- Deleted Scenes
- Alternate Opening
When it comes to Disney sport films, critics tend to roll their eyes. All too often does Disney play it too safe and try to manipulate our emotions, but hey, their films are made to be seen by a wide audience. So you can’t expect a lot of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. However, since this is a family-friendly zone, McFARLAND, USA is about as good as sports films get.
The story is as follows: After an incident, Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) finds himself having to move his family to the only job at the only school that would hire him. He has his doubts about the town (insert movie title), but after some time goes by he notices that the students of McFarland High School have a unique potential. They may not have the talent to lead a football team, but they can run. So Coach White forms a cross country team and transforms the students into championship contenders.
Costner is a dependable actor for the most part, especially movies with sports set as the background. Even when his movies are terrible, and Costner has been in some terrible movies, he always brings such charm and heart to his roles. But while Costner carries the film in a big way, much of the film’s strength comes from the runners themselves and their unique, individual stories. They each work hard, get up before dawn and support their families by working in the fruit fields. It offers a powerful immersion into their culture and taxing lifestyle that is part of their work.
McFARLAND, USA could have easily been rendered a clichéd portrayal, but Caro has a careful hand that poignantly depicts the harsh reality of life in a migrant community and showcases an awe-inspiring story about a town that came together and had hope. Of the new additions this week, this may be the good-hearted film to see.
– Preston Barta
The Blu-ray Extras Include:
- McFarland Reflections – Join Kevin Costner with Coach Jim White and members of the 1987 cross-country team as they look back on the bonds they forged and the opportunities they were given.
- “Juntos” Music Video – Performed by Juanes
- Inspiring McFarland – See the strength and perseverance that brought a community together.
- Deleted and extended scenes
I have to give the Wachowskis some credit— they paint pretty fascinating sci-fi universes. Ever since THE MATRIX they have been creating some of the most visual worlds around. They also have come up with some unique concepts. For instance, in their latest feature, JUPITER ASCENDING, Earth and thousands of other planets are all owned by different families who use them to farm in order to create a forever young potion. There’s something in this idea that draws your interest, but everything else around it causes you to shake your head with frustration.
It’s clear the Wachowskis’ ambitions extend beyond just this one story. With a universe as rich as the one they created here, there are so many directions they can take the story. It’s just unfortunate that their ambition is wasted on a story that doesn’t seem to capitalize on such a universe.
In the film, Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a woman who dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of scrubbing toilets. Sound stupid already? Let’s continue— But when Caine (Channing Tatum), some genetically engineered “pointy-eared bastard,” arrives to Earth to find her, Jupiter begins to feel as though her life was made for something more, which is true. She soon realizes that she is royalty. She is the reincarnation of the mother of some otherworldly rich folk.
You will either find this idea pretty neat or ridiculous. Just depends how you like your sci-fi. With all its aliens, elephant and lizard faced species, there is a lot to admire within (or laugh at). Aesthetically speaking, this is a dazzling feature. Like AVATAR, it’s crazy to imagine how much thought the Wachowskis put into creating all the things they did; that’s the mindblowing aspect. However, one wishes that they would focus their minds on penning a more engaging script and characters.
– Preston Barta
Both the 3D Blu-Ray and Blu-ray Combo Packs include:
- Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us
- Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior
- The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter
- Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds
- Bullet Time Evolved
- From Earth to Jupiter (And Everywhere in Between)