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
A recap of the fun and misfortunes of Day 2 at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX:
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE KILLING OF THE SACRED DEER is a great companion piece to pair with Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! The key difference, however, is Lanthimos knows how to properly balance polarizing imagery with a rich, metaphorical language. His dialogue and the way it’s delivered is otherworldly. It’s all played in a matter-of-fact manner, where characters are extremely forward with each other and are nearly robotic in their nature.
The paralyzing film follows a Cincinnati surgeon with some skeletons in his closet. When our protagonist, Steven (Colin Farrell), unexpectedly reconnects with the teenage son (Barry Keoghan) of a man he once lost on the operating table, some sinister events of biblical proportions happen. No one in Steven’s family (Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic) is safe, and it drives the doctor toward the unthinkable.
SACRED DEER is a film that doesn’t just crawl under your skin; it lives there. It attaches itself like a leech, forcing you to face feelings you may not want to, haven’t before or thought you could feel. This is why Lanthimos is a master filmmaker: he knows how to cook your nerves on high heat. So prepare to laugh when you feel that it is not appropriate, shriek when it pushes your buttons and walk away with a different perspective about your surroundings. [by Preston Barta]
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER opens on Oct. 20 and expands in the following weeks.
I have to be honest. I was apprehensive about seeing this film. One, the teaser and movie stills make it feel too familiar, like obvious DRIVE. Two, it’s a Netflix film. While I love to binge watch their shows like STRANGER THINGS and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, I don’t feel they have quite settled into their own in terms of filmmaking. Netflix’s OKJA was OK enough, and probably the most aesthetically-pleasing film they have put out thus far, but WHEELMAN puts everything else that Netflix has done in the rearview.
Frank Grillo (THE PURGE: ANARCHY, CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER), a recognizable face that needs to be a household name among the film community, stars as a getaway driver who is thrusted into a high stakes chase across town when a bank robbery, as you could probably guess, goes horribly wrong. But where the story steers into a new direction is by its strict focus.
The film barely abandons the site of the titular character’s car. This concept slips into the greatness of the phrase, “aim small, miss small.” Too many films run themselves off the track when they try to over complicate their plots. Something in the same vein of JOHN WICK, here is a man who just wants to earn some cash to support his family. We can all relate to that. But sometimes when things get sticky, you gotta take matters into your own hands.
The best way to describe WHEELMAN is it’s a cross between DRIVE (mainly just because of its getaway driver storyline) and LOCKE. The latter comparison is why this film elevates itself beyond the mindless entertainment you may be expecting. The fact that it keeps the audience in the driver’s seat and the intensity at an all-time high, we are all the more involved. It’s a glorious beginning for Netflix to start cranking out more daring, bold work. [by Preston Barta]
WHEELMAN has an encore screening on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 12:15 a.m., and it releases on Netflix on Oct. 20.
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE
Genre mashups can be fun, but you better make damn sure you know what tone you are trying to evoke. ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is no doubt a crowd-pleaser that wears its heart on its bloody sleeve. Thats fine and well, but a Christmas-zombie-musical has got to have a reason for its existence rather than, “Well, this sounds fun!”
While the plotting and erroneous elements of the film made its 107-minute runtime drag, the cast is uber talented. They have skills on their feet and a stage presence that quickly gets the music kicking with pop tunes and ballads that seem straight out of the Disney Channel. Can’t necessarily blame the talent involved as ANNA & THE APOCALYPSE provides them with plenty of time to showcase their gifts. Maybe it’s bombast; just is a matter of taste.
It’s highly possible that star Ella Hunt could find her niche in the BBC-esque genre world. Her facial expressions and plucky attitude could inspire filmmakers to write parts specifically for her. This horror mashup lunges at your attempting a big bite, yet only grabs a nibble. [by James Cole Clay]
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE has an encore screening on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 12:15 a.m.
There’s no film at Fantastic Fest quite like the Bosian/Spanish language film MAUS. This film from director Yayo Herrero was made to divide the audience and its subjects — a couple who are lost in a forest looking to catch a flight to Sarajevo. He’s German and she’s Bosnian, and the political unrest between the territories is hitting a turning point.
This film blends supernatural beings with genocide and haunting images from its protagonist who controls an odd piece of jewelry that can release unspeakable horrors. MAUS works and should be seen at Fantastic Fest; in fact, it’s quite the perfect film for the festival. It’s one where you can just relax and let loose as this film is not mainstream, or even arthouse material. [by James Cole Clay]
MAUS has encore screening on Thursday, 4:15 p.m.
Tune in tomorrow for Day 3, where we will provide some thoughts on THE SQUARE, GEMINI, 1922, 78/52, SUPER DARK TIMES, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 and REVENGE.