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
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
Rated R, 118 minutes. (theatrical)
Unrated, 121 minutes. (director’s cut)
Director: John Badham
Cast: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Donna Pescow and Denny Dillon
There’s no doubt SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER changed the game in 1977: It made an international star out of John Travolta, made platform shoes and big hair cool, and incorporated music into cinema for the better. However, watching the film today, 40 years after its theatrical release, it’s hard to ignore how unpleasant of an experience it is.
For someone who hasn’t seen the film, one would think SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER would be a charming film about a handsome Brooklyn teen who coasts through his working week to tear it up on the dance floor on the weekend. While it’s partially about that, it’s also infused with dark and vulgar themes that make it unbearable to watch nowadays.
As hip as Travolta looks strutting everywhere he goes with his cocky, suave bravado, his character, Tony Manero, is simultaneously a disgusting human being that you just want to sock in the face. He’s undeniably a crude racist, flaunting ethnic slurs around with his group of pals to shocking levels. His treatment of women is even more appalling.
Take for instance a scene near the end of the film where Tony fails at making a half-hearted attempt at the defilement of the main love interest, Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney). Then there’s an equally as revolting sequence where Tony’s friends, one by one, proceed to make sexual passes on a drunken woman. Tony may not partake in the abuse, but he certainly doesn’t help the situation by asking the woman if she feels satisfied with herself.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER may have the moves, a great disco soundtrack and captivating sequences of characters cutting a little rug, but it’s hardly a movie worth celebrating on its 40th birthday.
Extras: Includes the director’s cut and theatrical version, commentary by director John Badham (theatrical version only), ’70s Discopedia, “Catching the Fever,” “Back to Bay Ridge,” “Dance Like Travolta with John Cassese,” “Fever Challenge!” and a deleted scene.
A DOG’S PURPOSE
Rated PG, 100 minutes.
Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, Bryce Gheisar, K.J. Apa, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Britt Robertson, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Pooch Hall and John Ortiz
On a much lighter note, A DOG’S PURPOSE is a sweet family film. While personally I am apprehensive about seeing dog movies, because I can barely contain myself when it comes to animal emotions, author and co-screenwriter W. Bruce Cameron set out to make a story where the dog doesn’t die in the end as in OLD YELLER and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS.
Our central dog (voiced with charm by Josh Gad) may live a handful of lifetimes, but the film fills the viewer with more hope about the purpose of a dog than some of the aforementioned canine films. Starring Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton and Britt Robertson, A DOG’S PURPOSE is a treat to devour.
- Movie Review: ‘A DOG’S PURPOSE’ – Many doge. Much tears. Amaze. (by Courtney Howard)
Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, “Lights, Camera Woof!” and “A Writer’s Purpose.”
April’s Twilight Time releases
This month’s Twilight Time releases are slower in their pace but remain engaging works of cinema to behold.
The batch includes 1966’s THE FORTUNE COOKIE (a clever black comedy that stars Jack Lemmon as a cameraman who is tackled during a football game and is persuaded by his lawyer brother-in-law — played with class by Walter Matthau — to fake the seriousness of the injury), 1941’s YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH (Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire marvelously pair up for a comedy-romance-musical about showbiz, war and miscommunication), 1966’s HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole shine in a comedy caper that centers around a forged art sculpture and people’s reputations) and, lastly, 1988’s ANOTHER WOMAN (Woody Allen directs a mature drama that focuses on Gena Rowland’s college professor character approaching 50 and reliving key events in her life as her present life falls apart).
THE FORTUNE COOKIE is not rated, 126 minutes (Grade: A-). YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH is not rated, 89 minutes (Grade: B+). HOW TO STEAL A MILLION is not rated. 123 minutes (Grade: B). ANOTHER WOMAN is rated PG, 81 minutes (Grade: B-).
Extras: Each of the films come with its own unique extras — some of which include audio commentaries by various film historians and talent, isolated score tracks and original theatrical trailers.
The 2002 original film THE RING came out at the perfect time. Technology wasn’t as intense as it is now, and VHS tapes and house phones were still in the picture. However, when you take the concept of a video clip showcasing a creepy girl coming out of a well, and the viewer has seven days to pass it along or he or she will die, and you throw it into cyberspace, it can get a little silly if not done right. Unfortunately, RINGS doesn’t hold the same water and drowns in its own absurdity.
Extras: “Terror Comes Full Circle,” “Resurrecting the Dead: Bringing Samara Back,” “Scary Scenes,” and deleted/extended/alternate scenes.
This impactful documentary is based on a treatment that civil rights activist James Baldwin wrote for a book he never completed before his untimely death from cancer. It’s a life-affirming video essay that analyzes the nuances of race and class in America during the civil rights movement and recent past (most notably the 2014 unrest in Ferguson). While Baldwin died in 1987, his words still hold power in our current social climate. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and directed by Raoul Peck.
Extras: An interview with Peck, Q&A sessions with Jackson and Peck, and a video photo gallery.
- ‘I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO’ – Eternal voice speaks volumes on race in America (by Preston Barta)
- Movie Review: ‘I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO’ – history is present (by Preston Barta)
This is one of those horror movies where the less you know the better. What I can say is that it stars Emile Hirsch (INTO THE WILD) and Brian Cox (THE BOURNE IDENTITY) as morticians who receive a mysterious homicide victim with no apparent cause of death. What follows is a lean and frightening homage to occult films that offers some new slices of its own.
- Fresh on Demand: ‘DETOUR’ and ‘THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE’ (by Jared McMillan)
- Fantastic Fest Day 2: ‘AMERICAN HONEY’, ‘AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE’ and more (by Preston Barta and James Cole Clay)
Also available this week: THE AGE OF SHADOWS, BEYOND THE GATES, CAMINO (2015), THE COMEDIAN (read Courtney Howard’s review), GOLD (read Courtney Howard’s review), JERRY MAGUIRE: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, THE LAST SHIP: SEASON 3, MINDGAMERS, THE RED TURTLE (read James Cole Clay’s review here), THE RESURRECTION OF GAVIN STONE, THE SALESMAN, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION and STREETS OF FIRE (1984): COLLECTOR’S EDITION.