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
GHOST IN THE SHELL
Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Juliet Binoche, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano and Pilou Asbæk
Available Tuesday on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K Ultra HD and Digital HD.
Based on the popular ’80s manga, GHOST IN THE SHELL is set in a futuristic world where cybernetic technology has made it possible to take one’s consciousness and place it into an entirely new body. Though it’s a common concept explored in titles involving artificial intelligence, this story goes further by pushing the notion of people being vulnerable to being hijacked and implanted with false memories. Not to mention humans’ appetite for replacing their organs with bionic body parts to intensify their way of life.
Scarlett Johansson plays Major, a cyber-enhanced human soul devoted to an elite task force that takes down the most dangerous criminals. Her skills are put to the ultimate test when terrorism reaches new heights and a mysterious cyborg (a very good Michael Pitt) begins to hack into people’s minds to control them. But as she prepares to face this new enemy, the truth of her past slowly unravels.
All of these plot points are fascinating to watch unfold, especially in a big-budget property that can afford the computer-generated effects to back up its engaging ideals. But GHOST IN THE SHELL is a visual wonder with an identity crisis. Fans of the source material will appreciate its attempt to capture the deep-rooted cult appeal, but newbies may find more nuts than bolts.
Extras: The Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment Blu-ray combo pack includes a making-of and two special featurettes (“Section 9: Cyber Defenders” and “Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy”).
LOST IN AMERICA (1985)
Rated R, 91 minutes.
Director: Albert Brooks
Cast: Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty, Garry Marshall, Michael Greene, Charles Boswell and Maggie Roswell
Available Tuesday on Blu-ray and DVD through the Criterion Collection.
Road trip films make up a well-traveled subgenre. Then again, there’s nothing quite like watching a movie about individuals who are fed up with their 9-to-5 jobs and hit the road in search of themselves, which is practically what happens in the hysterical Albert Brooks-directed LOST IN AMERICA.
In the newly restored Criterion Collection release of the 1985 film, Brooks and Julie Hagerty (AIRPLANE!) play a married couple in their 30s who quit their jobs to go cross country a la Easy Rider. But instead of riding a pair of motorcycles, they venture through the states in a Winnebago.
Take Brooks’ quick wit and knack for situational comedy, add Hagerty’s gentle heart and charm, and you arrive at a lovable destination. Not to mention that LOST IN AMERICA also showcases the best scene of someone getting fired and quitting their job at the same time.
Extras: The Criterion Collection release includes new conversations with Brooks and filmmaker Robert Weide (CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM); new interviews with Hagerty, executive producer Herb Nanas and filmmaker and screenwriter James L. Brooks; a trailer; and an essay by critic Scott Tobias.
Also available this week: BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM, BLACK BUTTERFLY, THE BOSS BABY, THE FINAL MASTER, GIFTED and UNFORGETTABLE.