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
Good musicals are rare these days. Cinema has grown since the Golden Age and more has to be done for audiences to forgive a world that is off singing and dancing in la la land.
Damien Chazelle’s LA LA LAND is one of the most appeasing films as of late. It has memorable dance sequences, a vivid color palette and enchanting imagery to stun for days. On the other hand, what doesn’t work is how its story unfolds beyond its second act.
It begins as a love letter to Hollywood and its dreamers, focusing on the love between an aspiring actress (a lovely Emma Stone) and a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling). From here we go through the NOTEBOOK motions we’re used to seeing in romance films where our leads fall for each other but circumstances put their relationship to the ultimate test.
Much of LA LA LAND feels disingenuous and lacks the storytelling boldness of Chazelle’s previous film WHIPLASH. The stars align too neatly and don’t allow Chazelle to push the narrative to a more genuine direction, even if it does have a beautiful fantasy sequence at its end.
- Emma Stone reveals the creative freedom she found in ‘LA LA LAND’ (by Courtney Howard)
- Filmmaker Damien Chazelle’s ‘LA LA LAND’ brings texture to a Technicolor world (by Courtney Howard)
- Movie Review: ‘LA LA LAND’ – falling in love has never been this easy (by James Cole Clay)
Extras: A slew of featurettes (including how they closed down the freeway for its opening, the great party scene, Gosling’s piano skills, Chazelle’s passion project, music of LA LA LAND, John Legend’s acting debut, the look of the film, the epilogue, singing the demos, a love letter to Los Angeles, and Gosling and Stone’s chemistry), song selection, and audio commentary with Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz.
April’s Criterion Collection releases
Speaking of LA LA LAND, why not watch the movies that inspired it? Both THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964) and THE YOUNG GIRLS ROCHEFORT (1967) from director Jacques Demy are being re-released through the Criterion Collection with a quality upgrade in 2K.
Like LES MISERABLES, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG sings every line of its French dialogue, which may throw some for a loop. However, if you’re a fan of tender-hearted pop-art operas, its romance of an umbrella-shop owner (Catherine Deneuve) being separated from her handsome mechanic lover (Nino Castelnuovo) by war is easy sync up with.
Between the two Demy-directed musicals, THE YOUNG GIRLS ROCHEFORT is the more accessible film that better reflects the spirit of LA LA LAND. The French musical centers on two sisters (Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac) who leave their hometown of Rochefort to find some romance. Like LA LA LAND, it’ll have you recreating its story beats in your living room and give you the most for your money this month.
Time hasn’t treated many of Francis Ford Coppola’s movies well. Despite THE GODFATHER trilogy and 1979’s APOCALYPSE NOW, his films feature questionable acting, scattered direction and unnatural story progressions. His 1983 film RUMBLE FISH, starring Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke as brothers involved in the gang scene, definitely falls into that category. Despite seeing some of today’s biggest stars in their prime (Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage and Chris Penn) and Criterion’s packaging, RUMBLE FISH depends on sentimental value for appreciation.
Extras: Each title varies. From special documentaries, interviews, audio commentaries, archival footage or interviews, deleted scenes and trailers, the Criterion Collection doesn’t disappoint.
Sometimes five times is a charm. Five times have we’ve seen vampiric warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale) in the middle of a growing conflict between vampires and werewolves. Although no film in this universe could ever reach the heights of success as most of today’s franchise entertainment, BLOOD WARS is the first fun addition to keep these undead films alive.
- Movie Review: ‘UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS’ gets a feminist transfusion (by Courtney Howard)
Extras: The original movie graphic novel and four featurettes (“The Evolution of Selene,” “Building a Blood War,” “Old & New Blood” and “The Evil Evolved”).
Young law student Harper (Tye Sheridan) feels that his stepfather (Stephen Moyer) is responsible for his mother’s accident that put her in a coma. While trying to drown his sorrows, Harper meets tatted-up criminal Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen) who decides he will off his stepdad in exchange for $20k. The rest is a game of morality. As cool as this film could have been, it makes a wrong turn, arriving at a dead end.
- Fresh On Demand: ‘DETOUR’ and ‘THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE’ (by Jared McMillan)
Extras: Deleted scenes, a making-of, interviews with writer-director Christopher Smith and star Sheridan, and a theatrical trailer.
Also available this week: THE AFFAIR: SEASON 3, ANIMAL KINGDOM: SEASON 1, CATFIGHT, THE DAUGHTER, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (read James Cole Clay’s theatrical review here), THE MARINE 5: BATTLEGROUND, MEAN DREAMS and TAMPOPO (1985): The Criterion Collection.