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
It happens: a movie that’s not all bad gets eaten alive. We saw it happen with this year’s ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS and more recently with SUICIDE SQUAD. Not to say these movies don’t have their buckets of problems, but in no way should they be deemed a bad apple.
Admittedly, 2012’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN wasn’t all rotten. Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman was the shining prospect that keeps things alive. Perhaps that’s why Universal Pictures decided to throw out Kristen Stewart’s fair-skinned princess in favor of Hemworth’s ax-wielding hero.
Serving as both a prequel and a sequel to SNOW WHITE, THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR follows the journey of the Huntsman and fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain), while two rival queen sisters (Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron) duke it out in full FROZEN fashion.
To break it down rather briefly, the movie has some serious narrative problems and head scratching aspects, like why the film is titled WINTER’S WAR when no war takes place.
Every scene is sort of connected to each other, but really, we lurch from one attempted emotional beat to another, with little to no gravitas in any of them.
What does work is the humor and the chemistry between the actors. It’s clear everyone in this film is having a great time on the set. It’s especially shown in the 30 minutes of extra features that are included with the Blu-ray release, which warrants picking this film up alone.
There will be some audiences who will find a beat in it, whether it’s the action or Hemworth’s charming smile. However, for those who enter with a heart as cold as the ice queen of this story, just let it go, chuckle and have a good time.
Extras: As mentioned, this film is loaded with bonus content, including a hilarious gag reel (and it’s finally an actual gag reel), multiple making-of featurettes, and an informative feature commentary with director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan.
If October seems too far away, the good news is that you can own and rewatch THE WALKING DEAD’s stiff and clumsy sixth season all over again.
Alright, to be fair, some big moments happened in Season 6, but compared to the series’ fifth outing, it doesn’t sink its teeth into you as much. Instead of giving it to you straight and injecting an adrenaline shot into heart, a lot of pointless audience manipulation took place, such as the non-death of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), which became a massive point of contention.
THE WALKING DEAD has always had an issue juggling the stories of its large ensemble. The first half of Season 6 was a big crisis (an approaching hit coming from a band of crazies called the Wolves), but the way the writers handled working the different characters in their different locations while all that was going on proved to be a difficult task.
But then again, we would get solid episodes like the fourth episode of the season, titled “Here’s Not Here,” which provided us with an engaging backstory for Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and a nice solo-swing for John Carroll Lynch as Eastman.
So overall, Season 6 was an appetizing mixed bag. It’s easily one of the messiest seasons from the series, but hopefully Season 7 will be more consistent with its excitement and chewier.
Extras: Audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a making-of, and a Blu-ray exclusive alternate scene featuring Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan.
In a lot of ways THE NICE GUYS represents the buddy movie genre at its best. It’s a film that packs as much charm and humor as it does bullets. And boy, is it a blast!
Like most films of the genre, Shane Black’s latest features an odd couple of private eyes (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) who initially don’t get along, but soon become fire-forged friends as they navigate 1970s Los Angeles searching for the missing daughter (Margaret Qualley) of a Department of Justice agent (Kim Basinger).
Black’s witty style, layered storyline and fun atmosphere are unmissable here. And while his screenplay may play heavily on the strengths of his leads, the film is so damn charming that it keeps your laugh levels at an all-time high.
Crowe and Gosling are a dynamite team. They prove to have that hot-to-the-touch chemistry that can’t be written or forced. Crowe excels as Jackson Healy, the tough-guy enforcer. He warmly embraces his middle-aged skin and boasts a rare twinkle unlike any performance of his we’ve seen before. Gosling, on the other hand, hams it up as Holland March, displaying a quality he debuted in his role from 2011’s CRAZY STUPID LOVE, but brings full-frame here.
At times, the story may get clunky or push a joke too far, but the narrative is superior to the usual buddy-cop genre film. Surprisingly, it has a lot of heart and depth, making THE NICE GUYS one of the more satisfying features of the year.
Extras: A making-of and a featurette on director Shane Black.
After 25 years of waiting, Ashley James “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell) wields his chainsaw once again for the Starz original series ASH VS EVIL DEAD.
What was supposed to be a new feature film and fourth entry to the franchise, became an idea for a TV series instead, which is better for fans because that means more time with Groovy Bruce and his Deadite exterminating cronies.
After much time has past since Ash’s last encounter with evil, our now middle aged anti-hero is still his same joke crackin’, cock-sure self, picking up strange ladies and bringing them back to his trailer. One night, Ash and woman get a little carried away over some dobbies and open up ‘Necronomicon Ex-Mortis’ (also known as ‘Book of the Dead’ and ‘Naturom Demonto’ in the original EVIL DEAD script). Thus wakes the Deadites once again and fun ensues.
ASH VS EVIL DEAD brings back all the best elements from the original EVIL DEAD films, but also manages to add more depth and excitement by introducing new characters and storylines. Seeing Campbell step back into the iconic role is just as funny and great as ever. He still manages to wear Ash like a chainsaw in hand and a boomstick in the other. The newbies, Ray Santiago as Pablo and Dana DeLorenzo as Kelly (co-workers of Ash’s from the Value Stop), hold their own and are just as entertaining to watch as Campbell’s Ash. They are completely fleshed out and bring a great dynamic to the show.
If you a fan of the original series, this is, of course, worth the purchase. If you’re new to the franchise but are favor gore-flavored, slapstick material, you needn’t worry one bit. The king has returned, and Season 2 can’t come soon enough (Oct. 2).
Extras: Audio commentaries on all episodes, Inside the world of Ash, How to Kill a Deadite, and the Best of Ash.
Also available: MAGGIE’S PLAN (read Gwen Reyes’ review here), RATCHET & CLANK (read Jared’s review here), THE STRAIN: SEASON 2 (read a full review here), and WIENER-DOG (read our interview/review here).