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 & Cole Clay // Film Critics
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES | 144 min. | Rated PG-13
Director: Peter Jackson Stars: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner and Benedict Cumberbatch
While THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES may leave some fans of the book scratching their heads, director Peter Jackson gives a stronger adventure and more enjoyment than its predecessors. From the first frame to the last, the film is a thrilling achievement to behold. The action in this year’s edition is unrivaled by the previous Middle-Earth installment.
If you have watched the previous two parts, you know that the film completely goes off the rails in terms of following the source material. Many fans found that this trilogy’s greatest faults are the unnecessary plot threads and lack of character focus. As you’ve seen in the first two installments, Jackson seems keen on making sure his HOBBIT trilogy connects to his LORD OF THE RINGS motion pictures. At certain points throughout the narrative, the story pulls audiences away from Bilbo and the dwarves to instead follow Gandalf (Ian McKellan), as he goes off on his own adventure to uncover the growing evil Lord Sauron (LOTR villain) and his armies.
Jackson also spends more time with characters that he added in (Legolas especially) than those who were in the actual book written by Tolkien. You would think that the story would be more about Bilbo, but THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES leans more towards Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the changes that he undergoes. Maybe Jackson forgot the book is called “The Hobbit.” But we’re not too sure.
Now, LOTR had its silly moments here and there, scenes that made you laugh or grin amidst the seriousness. Though, those scenes were refreshing changes of mood, such as Legolas (Orlando Bloom) sliding down the stairs on a shield while shooting orcs (THE TWO TOWERS), or Legolas bringing down the Oliphants (THE RETURN OF THE KING). With THE HOBBIT, not only, but especially THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, moments like this follow each other like canned laughter. Here, the more serious scenes are a refreshing change to all the cheesiness and exaggeration. Depending upon if you a fan of the books or not, some may find this engaging, while others may sigh with disgust.
– Preston Barta
Blu-ray Extras Include:
- Recruiting the Five Armies
- Completing Middle-earth
- The Last Goodbye: Behind the Scenes
- The Last Goodbye Music Video
- New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 3
INTO THE WOODS | 124 min. | Rated PG
Director: Rob Marshall | Stars: James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Billy Magnussen and Johnny Depp
Based on the first trailer for Disney’s INTO THE WOODS, the musical fantasy film looked to be an uninspired rendition on the Stephen Sondheim musical. And no surprise that it’s largely a platform for A-listers to flex their musical theater chops without actually putting in the level of work that Neil Patrick Harris put in for his Broadway performance in HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.
The first half of director Rob Marshall’s (CHICAGO) film is a simply adorable tale of a baker (James Corden) and his wife’s (Emily Blunt) attempt to track down four distinct items in the dreaded woods after a witch (Meryl Streep) has cursed them from having a child. What starts off as an irreverent tale that interconnects several beloved fairy tales becomes a moral lesson that asks what happens after the happy endings.
This causes INTO THE WOODS to lose its appeal due to a disjointed plot that’s a revolving door of narrative tones that fails to discover its identity. Marshall has the ability to keep the film feeling contained with a foreboding darkness despite the over-stuffed narrative flaws.
Not that I have much knowledge on Sondheim’s catalogue, but it’s the songs and performances that serves as the stickum that holds the film together. A standout performance by Chris Pine as the prince who was trained to be “charming not earnest” hits a fever pitch with the duet “Agony” accompanied by Billy Magnessen (THE EAST). The winsome pair Corden and Blunt gives an unexpected boost, while Anna Kendrick as Cinderella underwhelms. Overall, INTO THE WOODS is just fine and doesn’t justify the presence of all the stars that are showcased.
Blu-ray Extras Include:
- Never-Before-Seen Sondheim Original Song: “She’ll Be Back” – Meryl Streep performs a compelling new song that sheds a little more light on the Witch’s relationship with Rapunzel. This never-before- seen composition was penned especially for this movie by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, and is seen here exclusively on Blu-ray and EHV. With introduction by Director Rob Marshall.
- There’s Something About The Woods – Journey into this mysterious forest to discover how this compelling, new musical was made. Meet Director Rob Marshall and his award-winning team of artists and craftspeople, see how the woods were brought to life…and what they represent to the story…and to all of us.
- The Cast As Good As Gold – Emily Blunt. Anna Kendrick. Chris Pine. James Corden. Johnny Depp. Meryl Streep. Meet the remarkable cast of this musical movie, and hear of their affinity for this Broadway classic.
- Deeper Into The Woods – Journey even further into the development of the film in these 4 segments:
- From Stage To Screen
- Magic of the Woods
- Designing the Woods
- The Costumes of the Woods
- Music & Lyrics – Get direct access to the musical song segments from the film, with optional sing-along lyrics.
- 5 Golden Eggs (Easter Eggs)
Angelina Jolie’s second go-around in the director’s chair, UNBROKEN, may be a little too polished and safe in its telling, but it gives its audience plenty to admire. It’s an uplifting yet daunting experience that tells the story of a man, Louis Zamerini, who fought against impossible odds to survive.
Jolie has a firm hand on what’s happening on screen. You can really tell that she cares deeply for the material and story of Zamperini. While I haven’t seen Jolie’s first film, IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY, she surprised me with her storytelling capabilities here, especially because she doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the story.
With Jolie’s diligence, Roger Deakin’s always-keen eye as the cinematographer, and Jack O’Connell’s (STARRED UP) star-making breakout performance as Zamperini, the appropriately titled UNBROKEN is an engrossing deconstruction of man beaten to his core. It’s a therapeutic experience that sends reminders of the important things in life, such as family and faith.
– Preston Barta
Blu-ray Extras Include:
- Deleted Scenes
- Inside UNBROKEN
- Prison Camp Theater: Cinderella
- Cast and Crew Concert, Featuring Miyavi
- Louis’ Path to Forgiveness