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
Ben Affleck has three directing works and an Academy Award to prove he’s capable at calling the shots. Unfortunately, his latest film, LIVE BY NIGHT, is a missed opportunity and his weakest entry yet. Despite a few dazzling scenes of action and decent performances (Chris Messina and an underused Elle Fanning), this story about organized crime during the Prohibition era looks the part more than it feels the part. It’s a bit of a snooze.
Extras: An audio commentary with Affleck, deleted scenes (also with commentary), creating the classic car chase, a look at the men and women of Live By Night, and a featurette on author Dennis Lehane.
In the latest entry from Illumination Entertainment (THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS, MINIONS), Sing’s contrived story follows Buster Moon (voiced by a lively Matthew McConaughey), a koala who presides over a once-grand theater. Buster gets the idea of holding a singing competition to grab the public eye, and five contestants emerge: a dapper mouse (Seth MacFarlane), a divided gorilla (Taron Egerton), a timid elephant (Reese Witherspoon), an exuberant pig (Nick Kroll) and a punk-rock porcupine (Scarlett Johansson).
Extras: SING just may pass THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy up with the most extras ever. It includes several music videos (go figure), character profiles, a making-of, mini-movies and much, much more.
Spain has many unique filmmakers, but few have resonated as lavishly in the international film market as Pedro Almodovar (THE SKIN I LIVE IN, VOLVER). With his latest entry, Julieta, Almodovar weaves together many of the elements from his best works to craft a simple but elegant narrative about the universal emotion of maternal guilt. It’s largely told through flashbacks, a device that strengthens the impact viewers endure during its story about a brokenhearted mother (Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte in the character’s earlier years) trying to reconnect with her daughter after years of separation.
Extras: JULIETA includes two featurettes — “Portrait of Julieta,” “Celebrating Director Pedro Almodovar” — and one iTunes exclusive, “Meet the Filmmaker.”
Murder mysteries can be so enjoyable to watch. However, finding a good whodunit is rare. There seems to be only a handful of movies that offer the thrill of solving a crime with an arresting sleuth.
The awkwardly titled A KIND OF MURDER aims to tell a different type of mystery about an architect (Patrick Wilson) who has a taste for crime stories and finds that his own wife (Jessica Biel) becomes part of one. The character’s fascination interestingly leads to reality, and the film deserves points for that along with its striking production design. But beyond that, the murky characters and how the story unfolds hinder the experience.
Extras: An exploration of the ‘60s look, and featurettes on the noirish characters and the psychological aspects to the story.
While rotoscoping (in which live action is traced to create animated sequences) and America’s first mass school shooting may not make an ideal good time at the theater, TOWER certainly is an evocative and inventive feature to behold if you can stomach its content. The documentary recounts the 1966 tragedy at the University of Texas in Austin. Instead of a taking a traditional approach, filmmaker Keith Maitland combines archival footage and animation for one of the year’s best documentaries and films.
Also available this week: ART BASTARD, ASSASSIN’S CREED (our review), BEING THERE (1979): The Criterion Collection, COLLATERAL BEAUTY (our review), FIRE AT SEA, IN DUBIOUS BATTLE, INSECURE: Season 1, MISS SLOANE (our review), MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970): The Criterion Collection, and ROBOCOP 3: Collector’s Edition.