Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Preston Barta // Editor
Set in a world where animals have evolved and live much like we do, ZOOTOPIA puts us in the paws of a rookie bunny cop (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) and a cynical con artist fox (Jason Bateman) who must work together to uncover a conspiracy.
Disney is known for incorporating social values and commentary into their fun story lines. It’s a mystery itself that a movie aimed at children could be so thrilling, while also providing audiences with an authentic look at what happens when different people and cultures find themselves in the same space. When it happens, it’s not always peaceful and perfect: Bias and prejudice exist in the film’s titular city, much like our own world.
The film presents this notion in a smart and subtle way, never overstepping its bounds or becoming too heavy-handed. Kudos to directing duo Bryon Howard (TANGLED) and Rich Moore (WRECK-IT RALPH) on that front.
If you’re in desperate need of some cinematic Tylenol in a sea of headache-inducing children’s movies, look no further than ZOOTOPIA. It’s a wondrous example of how Disney can mix the classic with the new, and arrive at something that’ll hop straight into your heart.
Read Bill Graham’s review of the film here.
Extras: Candid conversations with the filmmakers and artists behind the film, an alternate opening, deleted scenes, and a sneak peek at some of the hidden Easter eggs that make reference to Disney’s most beloved films and characters.
The most recent conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in a new wave of war movies that depict the harrowing realities of these engagements. Some films, such as Lone Survivor, may focus more on the action than the politics, but almost all have a message of some variety about war. The same can be said of Michael Bay’s new film, 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI.
Starring John Krasinski (THE OFFICE) and James Badge Dale (THE DEPARTED), the film avoids the expected trappings by focusing on the true story of the soldiers who took action during the 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Bay (TRANSFORMERS) sells every gunshot with kinetic style. Each explosive scene engrosses you in the moment of each battle. However, where the film falls short is its human drama and characters. Without real characters, interpersonal conflict or even the slightest hint of personality, the effect is no different than watching a buddy play CALL OF DUTY.
Read my full review here.
Extras: A featurette on the story behind the film and a making-of.
Led by George Clooney and Josh Brolin, this 1950s satire follows a group of Hollywood something-or-others who are tasked with finding one of their own after he’s been kidnapped.
The Coens are no strangers to narratives involving kidnappings, the key ones being RAISING ARIZONA, FARGO and THE BIG LEBOWSKI It’s one of their favorite cinematic explorations and a perfect setup for characters to bum around and make idiotic decisions.
While the Coens engage in the familiar, they have always proved they have more muscle underneath the hood. HAIL, CAESAR! is an eccentric farce about the silliness of early Hollywood productions.
Read Courtney Howard’s review here.
Extras: Featurettes on recreating the Golden Era, capturing the time period with the actors, costume design and directing the musical scenes.
ANOMALISA is geared towards a very specific crowd. You are either an arthouse film lover or a devoted fan of filmmaker Charlie Kaufman (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND). If you’ve seen the film’s trailer, you may know it spins together a human story with stop-motion animation. So if its narrative of a man (David Thewlis) crippled by his ordinary life doesn’t grab you, its first-rate visuals will.
The story is a bit whiny and complain-heavy, but you can’t help but admire the sort of different filmmaking Kaufman pushes. Everyone of his films are unlike the usual crop we’re used to, and that in itself is something worth commending. While his latest, ANOMALISA, may divide its audience, one thing is for sure: they’ll never forget it.
Also available on DVD and streaming: THE ABANDONED, THE CONFIRMATION, EVERY THING WILL BE FINE, JARHEAD 3: THE SIEGE, JOURNEY TO SPACE, KILL YOUR FRIENDS, LE AMICHE (1955): Criterion Collection, THE MARTIAN: Extended Edition, MR. RIGHT, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, ROOTS (1977): The Complete Original Series, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Director’s Cut, TOUCHED WITH FIRE, A WAR, and VINYL: Season 1.