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
Video game movies don’t exactly have the best track records in Hollywood. While there are a select few that managed to sweep in some dough, there hasn’t been a single adaptation that has received the reception they were hoping for.
Based on the popular video games, WARCRAFT had all the markings of a promising adaptation: It’s got orcs, warlocks, magic and a unique world to immerse ourselves in. However, it also contains too many characters and stories to keep up with. And if you try to squeeze all those inventive elements into a tight two-hour running time, you’re likely to set yourself up to be swallowed whole.
Filmmaker Duncan Jones (son of the late David Bowie) is capable of handling complex sci-fi features and telling them in an intimate fashion. Despite how rich Jones’s MOON and SOURCE CODE are, WARCRAFT is unquestionably a much larger film. It would be a daunting task for anyone to adapt, as it includes sweeping imagery, motion-capture performances and an AVATAR’s worth of visual effects.
The ultimate problem is the filmmakers concentrated too much on making the world look the part instead of feeling the part. Some characters are good, some are bad, and others start good and turn bad, but all have no reason for doing what they do. They just exist and do things without any motive behind them, which is surprising given the consummate filmmaker Jones is.
Extras: An interactive journey through the graphic novel with a never-before-seen motion comic; featurettes on the challenges the cast encountered with their characters, the stunts and visual effects and an overview on the creation of the digital characters; a history lesson on the fandom behind the game and film; deleted scenes and a gag reel.
Jaume Collet-Serra’s B-movie sleeper-hit THE SHALLOWS was an impressive feat for a film that features only a woman (Blake Lively), a bloodthirsty shark and a bird.
Lively gives audiences a lively performance, which highlights her ability to carry a film on her own as well as her action hero physicality.
Collet-Serra has worked with horror elements before in his remake of House of Wax, yet he uses many noteworthy camera tricks to keep the tension high, without getting caught in the high tide of tropes we have seen in many shark films over the years.
While THE SHALLOWS isn’t nearly as great as it could have been, it provides audiences with a solid popcorn night on the couch.
Read James Cole Clay’s review here.
Extras: Bonus materials include deleted scenes and four featurettes that go behind the scenes with Lively.
THE NEON DEMON
Rated R, 117 min.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote, Desmond Harrington, Karl Glusman, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves
Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE) is an indisputably bold filmmaker. His latest is far from perfect and nowhere near Refn’s best work, but it is still worthy of appreciation if you pop in the Blu-ray/DVD with the right expectations.
Elle Fanning (MALEFICENT) gives a captivating turn as Jesse, a 16-year-old runaway (who plays 19) trying to make it big in Los Angeles. Her youth and beauty are so influential that they begin to work to her favor almost immediately on her arrival. But more than that, Jesse’s stunning features seem to encapsulate and draw in those around her, while repelling her peers (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote).
Though the film misses some of its marks, THE NEON DEMON will be remembered as a great experiment gone somewhat askew. Rather than adopt cheap cliches and formula like so many other filmmakers, Refn embraces complex themes to tell an astounding original story. It’s not the be-all, end-all Refn film that we could hope for, but it has much to offer to the patient viewer.
Extras: Audio commentary with Refn and Fanning (worth the purchase alone), a super short featurette about the film and a behind-the-soundtrack (the importance of the film’s score and how it’s Refn’s most musically demanding feature yet).