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 // Editor
Rated PG, 127 minutes.
Director: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge and Glen Powell
While some films examine issues such as racial injustice and gender inequality in ways that help audiences understand the world and think more carefully about it, HIDDEN FIGURES encourages its viewers to see the world in a more simplified form.
Filmmaker Theodore Melfi (ST. VINCENT) finds a powerful narrative in the untold story of the influential women (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) whose brains were behind NASA’s successful launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, but he holds the film back from reaching its full potential by embracing a warm and fuzzy storytelling method that’s too safe.
This particular approach may irritate some adults who are wanting something with more dirt under its nails, but on the other hand, it’s also the appropriate direction to take — considering how it opens its storyline up to a larger audience, most notably children.
Under the film’s exceptional acting and feel-good vibe, there is a strong message that encourages one to want to do math. As fun as it is to watch superheroes fly around the globe and save lives in comic book adaptations, it’s inspiring to see real ones who are passionate and use their brains.
Extras: A making-of, a featurette on filming in Georgia, deleted scenes, gallery, an audio commentary by Theodore Melfi and Taraji P. Henson.
SILICON VALLEY: SEASON 3
TV-MA, approx. 300 minutes.
Creator: John Altschuler, Mike Judge and Dave Krinsky
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Josh Brener, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Amanda Crew, Zach Woods and Matt Ross
While I may be completely biased because I love this show, its creator (Mike Judge) and its cast (Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller and Matt Ross among others), SILICON VALLEY is one of the best series on television. Even after three seasons, it manages to expose more aspects of business, amaze with its characters and sting with relevancy.
Naturally, SILICON VALLEY’s third outing picks up where its second season left us: Richard Hendricks (Middleditch) was voted out as CEO of his own company and demoted to Chief Technology Officer, and is now threatening to quit and sue to regain his intellectual property.
There’s a lot at stake this season (a necessary direction to take to keep things fresh), with even more going on with all its side characters, but the show continues to showcase its strength in balancing both the hard truth of running a company and making its audience laugh — and that’s good TV.
Extras: Deleted scenes.
VEEP — which now would make more sense being called “Peep,” because of Vice President Selina Meyer (an always magnetic Julia Louis-Dreyfus) being made president when the acting POTUS suddenly stepped down at the end of Season 3 — is entering its sixth season next week. So if you haven’t caught up, now is the time to binge and purchase its laugh-a-minute fifth season.
Like SILICON VALLEY, VEEP gets down to the nitty-gritty. Season 5 takes many unexpected turns, all of which lead to a brutal finale. The dry humor and fast pace are still there, but things are only getting better for the viewer’s enjoyment. So best hop on that bandwagon.
Extras: Deleted scenes and audio commentaries.
Rated PG, 104 minutes.
Director: Chris Wedge
Cast: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover and Amy Ryan
Many thought this movie was never going to come out. Its release date kept getting pushed back and its silly storyline about a monster living inside the engine of a high school teen (Lucas Till) seemed, well, too silly.
As surprised as you may be to read this, if you can accept this movie for what it is, it’s harmless viewing for the whole family. Whether you enjoy it for all the wrong reasons or enjoy because it’s fun, kid-friendly entertainment, MONSTER TRUCKS has some heart.
Extras: A gag reel, deleted scenes, production diaries, and three featurettes on making the film and creating its characters.
Let’s face it. When people buy new houses in horror movies, it never ends up being a good investment. This is especially true for a trio of twenty-somethings (Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas and Lucien Laviscount) who purchase a house off campus which contains the secrets to a malevolent entity called the Bye Bye Man (Doug Jones).
While there are admittedly a few moments of intrigue in THE BYE BYE MAN, including a rather wild opening, there’s nothing new or exciting about this dead-teenager fest to persuade you to want to see what’s lurking in the shadows.
Extras: It includes both the theatrical cut and an unrated version that adds three minutes (and doesn’t improve anything).
- Movie Review: ‘THE BYE BYE MAN’ – BOOOOOO! (by Courtney Howard)
- Douglas Smith confronts creepy challenges head-on in ‘THE BYE BYE MAN’ (by Courtney Howard)
- ‘THE BYE BYE MAN’ director Stacy Title and producer Trevor Macy carve scares out of a buried story (by Courtney Howard)
This buddy-cop/black comedy stars Michael Peña (CHIPS) and Alexander Skarsgård (BIG LITTLE LIES) as two corrupt Albuquerque detectives who run around a movie that’s barely linked together by it scenes. The cast do their best to ignite filmmaker John Michael McDonagh’s Tarantino-esque dialogue, but the jumbled plot and forceful attempts at humor mark it forgettable.
Extras: A featurette with the film’s quirky cast.
Also available this week: BRIMSTONE (read Jared McMillan’s review here), LION (read Courtney Howard’s review here), THE PHANTASM COLLECTION, TONI ERDMANN (read Courtney Howard’s review here), THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964): The Criterion Collection and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967): The Criterion Collection.