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
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD | 120 min | Rated R
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton and Josh Helman
Just when you thought the recent wave of rebooted franchises had run out of gas, along comes MAD MAX: FURY ROAD— George Miller’s non-stop concerto of clanking iron, splattering blood and broken bones.
When the theaters were last graced with a MAD MAX film (BEYOND THUNDERDOME starring Mel Gibson in the title role), Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” topped Billboard, Ronald Reagan was president and disco was still dying. Miller’s grand return over three decades later features new tools of absurdity, an even madder Max, and a much grander exploration of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Earth.
In FURY ROAD, audiences return once more to a shattered humanity in a stark desert landscape. Amidst the chaos, there are two rebels who just might be able to restore order: Max Rockatansky (a silent-but-deadly Tom Hardy), the mad man of action wrestling with his dark past; and Imperator Furiosa (a showstopping Charlize Theron), a woman seeking nothing but a return to her childhood homeland known simply as “the green place.”
As a fan of MAD MAX films, the franchise’s inventiveness and artistry still holds strong, going even further than anyone could have ever imagined with the help of modern gadgets and CGI. Strange weapons and contraptions abound anew: road warriors throw explosive spears with reckless abandon at large, rumbling cars and tanks that spit fire out of their exhaust. It’s otherworldly and quite the fitting spectacle. There is no such thing as “too much” in the desolate landscape Miller has created. While occasionally weird and often over-the-top, the absurdity works wonderfully in service to the renewed wasteland.
– Preston Barta
This bittersweet drama directed by Brett Haley and starring Blythe Danner opened this year’s Dallas International Film Festival, and it kicked it off in a big way.
The story tells of a widow named Carol (Danner) who is forced to confront her fears about love, family, and death. After her routine is broken, Carol makes new friends (Martin Starr) and decides to start dating again (Sam Elliot).
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS received rave reviews from its premiere at Sundance back in January, and the same praise carried over in Dallas. It showcased felt performances and proved that even if things get bad in life, there’s always greatness in the world.
– Preston Barta
- Our interview with producers Rebecca Green and Laura D. Smith
- Our interview with writer-director Brett Haley and star Blythe Danner
GOOD KILL reunites director Andrew Niccol with Ethan Hawke. Previously, they worked together in an excellent sci-fi film titled GATTACA (1997). GATTACA brought up many social issues while also being an entertaining film, and this is exactly what GOOD KILL is. It brings up many significant issues, but it’s also an extremely well-made and well-acted feature.
GOOD KILL is a war-drama about a family man (Ethan Hawke) who questions whether using drones is an effective way of fighting combat.
This is a thought-provoking piece with real human characters with real moral conflict. It doesn’t pull any punches by any means, as it shows the sheer ugliness of war and its ambiguities. It also forces the viewer to think about so many issues, such as the drone program, combat in general, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s powerful, haunting and well worth renting.
– Preston Barta
In the comedy THE D TRAIN, a specific event occurs that completely changes the trajectory of the film’s tone, context, and comedic perspective. Jack Black and James Marsden play opposite each other in two off-kilter performances that have the intensely likable actors playing two insufferable characters.
Imagine the random guy on Facebook from high school that’s obsessed with re-hashing the past and is straight up thirsty for attention of any kind– that’s Dan Landsman (Black), who’s in the process of planning his 20-year reunion with the iron-fisted intensity of a Dark Ages tyrant. Well, he’s not that bad, but just realize that he’s super annoying to his former classmates with his possessive attitude and “try-hard” mentality. Black lures the paunchy Dan to hammy comic relief that becomes putty in his own hands but retracts that affable grin into crippling guilt– and you have to commend co-directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel for pushing the boundaries.
With their experiences in both studio and independent projects, these filmmakers know how to play both sides of the industry coin (they previously co-wrote the comedy YES MAN along with Nicolas Stoller). They have discovered that blending the best of both worlds can lead the audience into the unknown with eclectic humor and deep character moments.
THE D TRAIN has a lot of panache and a solid vision. However, in the end, it just can’t quite stick the landing in the film’s final minutes. The jokes become too broad when we get to the impending reunion, and it’s unrealistic conclusion is an isolating experience that will divide audiences.
– Cole Clay