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
THE LION KING: The Circle of Life Edition
Rated G, 88 minutes.
Director: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Rowan Atkinson, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg
Available today on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
“Circle of Life” still resonates among fans and new generations. While on the surface one may perceive THE LION KING to be an innocent animated film about animals roaming the Pride Lands, mature themes can be contextualized within its grand adventure.
The 1994 classic is a monumental achievement for many reasons. For one, its story about a father’s son struggling to develop identity and meaning in the world touches on a truth that many live-action movies with human characters fail to realize. Specific examples include the central lion cub Simba’s (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) disobedience to his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and the rebellious phase in his adult years (when he is later voiced by Matthew Broderick). It’s a tragic storyline that resembles stories of Shakespeare and the Bible, elevating its kid-friendly entertainment to a level parents can also appreciate.
This brings us back to the “Circle of Life” concept, which is also happens to be what Disney titled the newly restored edition of THE LION KING. I was just 4 years old when I saw the film in theaters, and it held such a special place in my heart. Not only did it prepare me for the heartaches of life and adolescence, but it made me value the love my parents had for me. So, now that I have a child of my own, I can share this experience with him to keep the meaning behind this film alive.
The Circle of Life Edition is crisper than its 2011 Diamond Edition. The animation appears to be better rendered in its high-definition quality, and its bonus features and box art make for a more worthy addition to the Disney collection.
Extras: The Walt Disney Home Entertainment release includes a brand new sing-along version of the film, an audio commentary with filmmakers, special galleries, countless featurettes (recording sessions, animation, a break down of the original story pitches, and insights by Broderick and Nathan Lane) and classic bonus features (available on digital only).
Rated R, 121 minutes.
Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress and Rob Huebel
Available today on Blu-ray, DVD, Ultra 4K and Digital HD.
Critics weren’t too kind to this action-comedy remake during its summer theatrical run, and understandably so. It’s nothing groundbreaking like the meta-perfect 21 JUMP STREET films. However, if you can swallow all of its absurdity, BAYWATCH is not half bad. It’s actually quite entertaining and further solidifies the greatness that is Dwayne Johnson.
Like all these revamp movies, the story is about drug lords. Some bad people are doing a lot of bad things, and it involves drugs. So it’s up to an elite team of lifeguards (including Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach and others) to stop them.
Littered with butt shots and genitalia jokes, BAYWATCH is a two-hour flex-off lathered in sun oil. Not every joke lands (many are expectedly immature), but the energy brought by Johnson and Efron is simply unbeatable. Audiences will especially get a kick out of Johnson calling Efron every boy band in the book.
Extras: The Paramount Home Media Distribution release includes an 5-minute longer extended cut, deleted scenes and three featurettes (“Meet the Lifeguards,” “Continuing the Legacy” and “Stunts & Training”).
A watchmaker (Michael Biehn) makes a stop at a local diner and sees that there is a building on fire across the street with people still trapped inside. Like a comic book superhero, he decides to run in and save them. His act of heroism gets him noticed by the wrong people. As the clock continues to tick and more murderous people show up in hopes of burying him, our protagonist learns that he may not be the person he thinks he is.
Of the same DNA as A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, 1991’s TIMEBOMB is a film that was lost to the sands of time. After watching its restored Blu-ray release, I’m not sure why, because it has all the ingredients necessary to be the next iconic action film.
TIMEBOMB’s drama is admittedly dated, but its action, spectacular stunt work (almost JOHN WICK -style) and full-tilt pace make it an explosive film to own.
Extras: The Scream Factory release only comes with the original theatrical trailer.
BORN IN CHINA
Narrated by John Krasinski (THE OFFICE), BORN IN CHINA shares the wonders of its titular country’s animal habitats. It’s a sweeping, and occasionally depressing, documentary that focuses primarily on three different animal families: snow leopards, golden monkeys and pandas.
Disneynature movies may be structured to manipulate our emotions (dishonest editing, added sound effects, forced humor and narration), but they remain one of the more educational and entertaining pieces of documentary filmmaking about the reality of the animal kingdom.
With BORN IN CHINA’s picturesque landscapes, informative facts and animal variety, Disneynature’s latest is bound to please all ages.
Extras: The Walt Disney Home Entertainment release includes a handful of featurettes, a music video by American Authors and a special clip on how to get involved with Disneynature.
Also available this week: BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN, BLACK SAILS: SEASON 4 (our review), BRING IT ON: WORLDWIDE #CHEERSMACK (apparently they still make these), ELEMENTARY: SEASON 5 (our review coming next week), GOTHAM: SEASON 3, THE LION KING 1 ½, THE LION KING 2: SIMBA’S PRIDE, MY COUSIN RACHEL, NCIS: SEASON 14 (our review coming next week), THE ORIGINALS: SEASON 4 and STAR WARS REBELS: SEASON 3.