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
Of all the movies releasing this week, THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT offers the most bang for your buck (extras and packaging included). It may be a weird little movie, but it’s easily the most fun you’ll have watching a foreign language film this year.
In the story, God (Benoit Poelvoorde) is “real, and he lives in Brussels.” God’s daughter Ea (an excellent Pili Groyne) describes him as cruel, running the world from his computer desktop. (I’m not making this up.)
The instigator of the movie’s plot, Ea infiltrates his office and releases the death date for every person on the planet. From there, the film is a comedic affair filled with zeal and love, following Ea as she searches for six new apostles. These six people are our outlet to view the world from the perspective of broken, battered and bruised individuals.
Director Jaco Van Dormael (MR. NOBODY) helps us learn about these people and look at our own lives with overwhelming positivity. It resembles the visuals and kookiness of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.
Extras: A 21-minute making-of, a 10-minute interview with Van Dormael on the idea behind the film, a 7-minute interview with Poelvoorde on accepting the role without having read the script and his own beliefs, special-effects featurette (a montage on how the visuals were put together), a Home Cinema episode with Van Dormael, “E Pericoloso Sporgersi” (a 1984 short film), the film’s trailer and a booklet featuring another interview with Van Dormael.
Rated PG, 113 minutes.
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House , Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement and Alan Tudyk
Just when you thought you finally got the songs from FROZEN out of your head, another collection of catchy and thoughtful tunes arrive for your children to belt out. Disney’s MOANA shares the enchanting story of a young Polynesian woman (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) who uses her navigational strengths to save her homeland by sailing to a fabled island, with the help of a legendary demigod named Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). With its pitch-perfect casting and grand story of self-discovery, MOANA is the family-fun, lesson-filled adventure to adore.
- Win a Digital Copy of Disney’s ‘MOANA’
- Read Courtney Howard’s full, 5-star review here
- Finding the music inside ‘MOANA’ with Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Beyond the sea: The tech behind ‘MOANA’
- ‘MOANA’ and the culture consciousness in animation
Extras: I hope your kids like bonus features, because MOANA comes with a sea-full of them — “Inner Workings” (the theatrical short film), “Gone Fishing” (a mini-movie about Maui deciding it’s time to take charge of the ocean and catch his next meal), “Things You Didn’t Know About” (a collection of featurettes that includes interviews), deleted scenes, music videos, audio commentary with the filmmakers, and many more features (costume design, music, Easter eggs and animation).
Every year is littered with biopics, but Pablo Lorrain’s JACKIE replaces predictable story beats with haunting experimentation. Through its unique combination of Mica Levi’s scary-good musical score, Natalie Portman’s should-have-won-the-Oscar lead performance and Noah Oppenheim’s memorable screenplay about the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination from the eyes of the iconic first lady, JACKIE is a towering achievement.
Extras: A featurette about the story (“Jackie to Camelot”) and a gallery.
Like so many before him, filmmaker Dito Montiel (A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS, FIGHTING) does his best to seek the reality of war and explore the concept of veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. You have to admire Shia LaBeouf’s leading performance and Montiel’s ambition for trying to approach the material with an unconventional method; however, MAN DOWN blows its overall message out of proportion with an unapologetically manipulative and sloppy story.
Extras: An audio commentary with Montiel and military consultant Nick Jones Jr.
This quick black-and-white gothic horror film will literally leave you jaw-dropped from some of its disturbing images and losing your lunch over its grotesqueness (a corpse milk bath, silhouettes and figures wandering in the dark). It centers on a woman who is swallowed by her darkest desires after tragedy strikes. While it’s an arthouse film that leans heavier on style over substance, it remains a commendable effort from filmmaker Nicolas Pesce (upcoming PIERCING).
Also available on DVD and streaming: 100 STREETS, 45 YEARS (2015): The Criterion Collection, THE AMERICANS: Season 4, COLORS (1988): Collector’s Edition, I AM MICHAEL (our review), INCARNATE (our review), THAT ’70s SHOW: The Complete Series, TRESPASS AGAINST US and YOU ME HER: Season 1.