Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
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.