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
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Rated PG-13, 149 minutes.
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Zoe Saldana, Tom Holland, Scarlett Johansson, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Olsen, Josh Brolin, Carrie Coon, Chris Evans, Pom Klementieff, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston
Available Tuesday (8/14) on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD. It’s available on Digital HD today.
I think we all suffered a big gut punch at the end of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. While it left us with so many questions about the fate of our heroes, you can now watch the film on repeat to develop some new theories and be thrilled all over again.
In so many ways, INFINITY WAR has the look and feel of everything in the Marvel movie universe. But it also breaks away from the superhero norm to question what it means to exist. I wasn’t expecting a big purple villain named Thanos (Josh Brolin) to bring so much humanity to such a bloodthirsty character, but his objective is fully realized: He wants these six all-powerful infinity stones to eliminate half of the universe’s life in order to preserve it.
To make every superhero this bountiful would be impossible. Sometimes you have to sideline characters and lean on past movies to build the backstory. It’s unfortunate that many of those sidelined characters are female, but that’s always been a flaw in the Marvel movies.
The biggest takeaways are the role of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Marvel finally figured out how to handle Thor with last year’s RAGNAROK. Cumberbatch may be the MVP of the film, however. His powers are used in such fashion that just may put you on your feet. The way he interacts with characters like Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (a very good Tom Holland) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, who is mostly Bruce Banner in the film) proves to be more than satisfactory.
INFINITY WAR is fun and does a nice job of mixing all the tones from these characters’ other films, principally GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. But in a film with “war” in its title, you can’t expect all to go well for everyone. Big things happen. I’m just excited to see where things go from here, because this is peak superhero entertainment.
(Also, read Courtney Howard’s theatrical review here.)
Extras: The Blu-ray packaging of INFINITY WAR makes for some nice shelf jewelry. However, the bonus content is nothing to scream about. Aside from a solid audio commentary with the filmmakers and a 30-minute directors’ roundtable (digital only), all the other behind-the-scene featurettes are too polished. The talent will talk about how “awesome” an experience it was, but they don’t get into the details of what made those scenes awesome or much about how they were pulled off. It’s all a bunch of promotional pieces that you would see at Comic-Con. I don’t think they realize they don’t need to sell us further on the movie, because — hello! — if you are watching the special features, you own the movie.
- Strange Alchemy (5:08) – Share the thrill of characters from across the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) meeting for the first time, and discover why some were teamed up together.
- The Mad Titan (6:34) – Explore the MCU’s biggest, baddest villain, his trail of influence through the stories, and the existential threat he represents.
- Beyond the Battle: Titan (9:36) – Dive into the climactic struggle on Thanos’ ruined world, including the epic stunts and VFX, to uncover the source of its power.
- Beyond the Battle: Wakanda (10:58) – Go behind the scenes to find out how the filmmakers pulled off the most massive and challenging battle Marvel had ever attempted.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:07)
- Happy Knows Best (1:23) – Tony and Pepper spar over the details of their upcoming wedding—until a hassled Happy Hogan pulls up with an urgent request.
- Hunt for the Mind Stone (1:24) – On a darkened street, Wanda Maximoff and the wounded Vision attempt to hide from Thanos’ brutal allies.
- The Guardians Get Their Groove Back (3:20) – As Peter Quill and Drax quarrel over their failed mission to Knowhere, Mantis interrupts with news.
- A Father’s Choice (4:00) – Thanos confronts Gamora with a vision from her past—and with lying to him about the Soul Stone.
- Gag Reel (2:05)– Watch your favorite Super Heroes make super gaffes in this lighthearted collection of on-set antics.
- Audio Commentary by Anthony and Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely.
Digital exclusive extra:
- A Directors’ Roundtable (approx. 32 min.) – Eight amazing directors reflect on how their movies contribute to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s larger storytelling adventure.
This 1988 sequel to the 1985 cult classic is an entertaining follow up. It may be a complete rehash of the original film, in which a contained zombie virus falls out of the hands of the military and into the public’s, but the great energy and visual/special effects return to make this next Living Dead just as special and fun.
Even the two main cast members from the original RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, Thom Mathews and James Karen, return, but not as the same characters. It’s more like an AMERICAN HORROR STORY type of scenario that has familiar faces playing different roles. Although, there’s a hint of a possible connection between the characters in the first and second film during one key scene.
Scream Factory, which also assembled a spectacular restoration of the original on Blu-ray, keeps the consistency alive with the next chapter. They shine the light on a lesser-appreciated sequel and pack up supplemental material good enough to eat.
Extras: Available through shoutfactory.com/shop, PART II includes two new audio commentary tracks (actress Suzanne Snyder, and author Gary Smart and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths), a new (and my personal favorite) featurette on the visual effects, new interviews with the filmmakers and talent, a slew of archival content, trailers and TV spots, still galleries and to-die-for reversible cover art.
- NEW 2K scan from the interpositive
- NEW audio commentary with actress Suzanne Snyder
- NEW audio commentary with Gary Smart (co-author of THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths
- NEW Back To The Dead: The Effects Of “RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PT. II” – including interviews with special make-up effects creator Kenny Myers and special make-up effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson
- NEW The Laughing Dead – An interview with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn
- NEW Undead Melodies – An interview with Composer J. Peter Robinson
- NEW Interview with actor Troy Fromin
- Audio commentary with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor Van Lingen
- They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look At Return Of The Living Dead Part II including interviews with James Karen, Thom Matthews, Brian Peck, Kenny Myers, Susan Snyder, Michael Kenworthy, and more…
- Archival Featurette – Live From The Set
- Archival interviews with Ken Wiederhorn, James Karen, Thom Matthews and Kenny Myers
- Behind-the-scenes footage
- Theatrical trailer and teaser trailer
- TV spots
- Still gallery of posters and stills
- Still gallery of behind-the-scenes stills from make-up effects artists Kenny Myers and Mike Smithson
Here’s a film that almost fell under the radar, but then I saw the cover art for LOWLIFE and its high-praise from filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Some critics have even made comparisons to Tarantino’s PULP FICTION, because it’s a violent, unorthodox narrative with multiple storylines that collide. Those comparisons are valid, except Lowlife has less likable characters and not as sharp dialogue. Still, it’s a powerhouse of intrigue and shocking imagery.
The part-black comedy and part-crime melodrama centers on a luchador, an addict, an ex-con and some thugs who all have ties to merciless crime boss Teddy “Bear” Haynes (Mark Burnham).
Teddy is a dude who’s involved in all sorts of unshakable games, from sex trafficking to organ trafficking. Even the opening credits lay Teddy’s abhorrent nature on thick, as we see him dissecting someone he just murdered to harvest their organs.
The best element of the film is easily the luchador, who’s simply known as El Monstruo (a terrific Ricardo Adam Zarate). He’s the most complex of the bunch, because he’s fascinatingly prone to blackout rages like the Incredible Hulk. One sequence when he crushes a guy’s face with a propane tank will leave you stunned with disbelief. (Watch the clip below for that scene – though it’s more violent in the actual film.)
Although not everything jells together, LOWLIFE never loses its confidence in its ability to show you some of the most out-there things. It’s unpredictable, well-acted and aesthetically pleasing — a nice little gem.
Extras: Available today through shoutfactory.com/shop, LOWLIFE includes two different audio commentaries with the filmmakers and talent, a making-of featurette, short films and reversible cover art.
- Audio commentary with director Ryan Prows and cinematographer Benjamin Kitchens
- Audio commentary with director Ryan Prows and writers Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson and Shaye Ogbonna
- Making-of featurette
- Short films