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
Fantastic Fest is littered with many features to stew on and talk about with friends in the lobby – and we got a few of those to discuss – but it’s not without its ones that are simply fun.
BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99
In the case of S. Craig Zahler’s BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, a beefy Vince Vaughn must save his family by repaying a debt in prison. Before Vaughn’s character, a rather normally named Bradley Thomas, is placed behind bars, he’s painted as an honest man trying to keep the roof over his family’s head. Problem is, he was let go from his job working for a car shop because “the times are tough.” This sad fact, turns Bradley to a life of slinging dope, a living that doesn’t rest on his dignified shoulders. While it enriches his life with nice possessions and keeps his wife smiling (Jennifer Carpenter), who is pregnant with their first child, it’s only a temporary setup and a recipe for inevitable disaster.
Things go south, of course. Bradley is ambushed by the police and is sent to prison for seven years. Not only does Bradley have to pay the price for his crimes, but he also has to pay the price for messing up his deal. His wife is kidnapped, and it’s up to Bradley to put his morale aside and do the unexpected to keep her and their unborn daughter alive.
As you could imagine, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 is brutal. It doesn’t even have a rating, which tells you the blood might run thick, and it absolutely does. But the film saves all its explosive violence for the second half — a smart decision to raise the stakes and develop compassion for the characters.
Vaughn has entered the ring of compelling action characters and proves himself to be an actor that can play just about anything. While we may see his face and immediately think of DODGEBALL or OLD SCHOOL, any thought of those comedies quickly fade away as Vaughn commands the screen and takes you on one of the most entertaining and gruesome rides of your life. [by Preston Barta]
BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 has an encore screening on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 8:45 p.m. The film will release theatrically on Oct. 6.
THE SQUARE is one of those movies that throws content at you and it’s up to you how you brew the stew. The plot is difficult to describe — but to make an attempt, it’s about a Swedish art museum director named Christian (a very good Claes Bang), whose life becomes a comedy of errors as he prepares for his next great exhibit. Along the way, he forms new relationships (including Elizabeth Moss, who plays a journalist that’s curious about Christian’s work agenda and ego) and has some bizarre encounters — including an artistic demonstration where a man jumps up on a dinner party table while enveloping the personality of a primate. (Pictured above: It’s a spectacular, nearly 10-minute long scene.)
Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund is no stranger to making you feel anxious and uncomfortable. Not so much in a disturbing way, but like watching a friend make an embarrassing mistake. He embraces this technique in his 2014 Fantastic Fest-favorite FORCE MAJEURE, where a father, without hesitation, flees from his family when an avalanche nearly wipes out their ski lodge. Östlund delves even further into these complicated human moments with THE SQUARE. Whether it’s a young boy pestering Christian to clear up a miscommunication on his behalf or Moss’ character confronting him about his intentions, it’ll cause you reflect on the dirt from your own past.
There’s so much to unpack in THE SQUARE. I can see many audiences ignoring its overarching themes and being quick to dismiss it as a pointless narrative. Truth is, Östlund just wants to drop you in a very real, but also fantastical situation to see what you make of it. Whether you relate to it or not, you’ll be entertained by its eccentric nature. [by Preston Barta]
THE SQUARE has an encore screening on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 5:15 p.m. The film will release theatrically on Oct. 27.
Alfred Hitchcock’s PYSCHO is in the pantheon of discussed and dissected films. The storied filmmaker has his own cinematic language that’s been picked apart to no end.
The documentary 78/52 is a hyperbolic celebration of the iconic shower scene from PSYCHO. This is a fast-moving documentary that investigates every facet of the scene — from its musical score, editing, shot compositions, and social context of the era. 78/52 is a masterclass in film analysis.
Alexandre O. Philippe transcends this from being a simple love-letter that fans over a movie that has been talked to death. To include a creative brush of his own, Philippe paints his documentary off a beautiful black-and-white color palette.
From beloved filmmakers (Guillermo Del Toro, Eli Roth and composer Danny Elfman), novelists and film scholars (Bret Easton Ellis) and actors (Elijah Wood and Jamie Lee Curtis), the filmmaking team hit this analysis from all angles. The talent are put in a room and are played the scene — with each one bringing a different energy, story behind how they saw the film and what it means to them this day and age.
Elfman reflects on how his mother wouldn’t allow him to see the film as a child and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) discusses what it was like to see the film when the audience could not even comprehend what was on the screen. In 1960, PSYCHO elevated the cinematic language, the audience just wasn’t literate to it yet.
The title of the film comes from the amount of set ups and cuts that Hitchcock used in the three-minute sequence that killed the film’s leading lady, Janet Leigh, in the first third of the film. But Hitchcock wasn’t convinced that the scene would work for the film, as he wasn’t sure of the silence in the scene. It wasn’t until Bernard Hermann’s score came in that it tied the whole thing together.
78/52 is a valuable resource for any film fan, or filmmaker looking to dive deep in how Hitchcock composes his cinematic symphonies. This a sprawling look at film criticism and how it can enter the pop culture conversation. [by James Cole Clay]
78/52 has an encore screening on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 1 p.m.
A satisfying mystery boils under the surface, creating tension and a progression of information that causes the plotting and clues to swell into a climax that pieces itself together. Aaron Katz’s noir-esque satire of the Los Angeles film world, GEMINI, is a cool-to-the-touch film that falls into this tradition.
Katz’s casual approach to mystery starts with a slightly co-dependent relationship between a starlet at the height of her career, and her personal assistant as they’re dining at a suburban restaurant. The celebrity, Heather (Zoe Kravitz), is begging her assistant, Jill (Lola Kirke), to get her out of a film role she no longer wants to shoot. Heather is also recovering from a breakup with a Zac Efron level actor (Reeve Carney) while simultaneously hiding a romance with a female pop-star (Greta Lee).
Filmmaker Aaron Katz takes us through Jill’s world and her ingenuity to sleuth around to uncover clues that belong in the tabloids. GEMINI finds the mystery irrelevant at times when its greatest strength comes in its moody tempo that co-exists with the hectic backdrop of L.A. There are still aspects of the movie that are worth leaving unspoiled, and even though Kats isn’t interested in finding the most exciting conclusion, there’s a lot to be said for a film that isn’t easily categorized. It puts a premium on its storytelling while still remaining a chin-stroking puzzle. [by James Cole Clay]
GEMINI has an encore screening on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 4:15 p.m. An official release date it to be announced.