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
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.