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
A few years ago when M. Night Shyamalan’s name would pop up on the screen during movie previews, chuckles would soon follow. It’s shocking to think that the writer-director who once showed signs of being the next innovative filmmaker would hit such a wall and produce schlock like THE HAPPENING and THE LAST AIRBENDER. But the good times can’t always roll.
After nearly a decade of experimenting with big-budget filmmaking, Shyamalan wisely tones down his scale and finds his creative groove again with SPLIT.
SPLIT is set up to be your basic man-abducts-teenagers story, but as Shyamalan showcased with 2015’s THE VISIT, he paints by everything but the numbers. His latest is actually an incredibly clever and fun take on classic thriller movie tropes.
The story centers on three teenagers (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) who are abducted by a man named Kevin (a very good James McAvoy), a psychiatric patient afflicted with dissociative identity disorder who has at least 23 different personalities.
You could certainly call SPLIT a postmodern take on confinement thrillers. What makes it stand out is how it plays with its genres. At times it can be chilling (as shown when one of the girls manages to escape the room, with one of Kevin’s more creepy personalities on the other side), while at other times it can be quite hysterical (look out for one sequence involving another one of Kevin’s personalities expressing his thoughts on Kanye West jam sessions).
Not everything in its story adds up to a whole number, as the film goes on, SPLIT begins to venture into more fascinating components. The final act is principally audacious, delving into a complete other level of reveals that are largely crowd-pleasing and bold.
Suffice to say, Shyamalan is back and has me eagerly awaiting his next move.
Read my full theatrical review from Fantastic Fest 2016 here.
Extras: A making-of, a featurette on McAvoy’s many faces and another on Shyamalan’s process, deleted scenes and an alternate ending.
At last year’s Thin Line Fest, Denton was treated to an exceptional documentary about climate change with its opening night film, HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD AND LOVE ALL THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE. Filmmaker Josh Fox explored the world and showed us its true shape through stunning images and heartbreaking firsthand accounts.
Leonardo DiCaprio seeks to do the same, but you can’t help but feel that his film, BEFORE THE FLOOD, feels slightly disingenuous and manipulative. It’s hard to believe that many will give it to Leo straight when he’s Leo. Perhaps it’s his deep pockets, ability to afford the best (great cameras, helicopters and Trent Reznor to compose the score) and land interviews with high-up figures such as the Pope and President Barack Obama. Compared to Leo, filmmaker Fox interviews people who are impacted the most. The important leaders say touching words that need to be heard, but they don’t hold water compared to the regular folks out there who are truly suffering.
BEFORE THE FLOOD presents the basic facts and plays it rather safe. But if it takes a big Hollywood actor traveling around the world with an expensive camera to make more people aware, then by all means, see this film.
Extras: “5 Things to Know About the Warming Arctic” and deleted scenes.
Starring Michael Keaton in a Grade-A performance as McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc, THE FOUNDER is a rare biopic in which its hero is also its villain. Filmmaker John Lee Hancock (SAVING MR. BANKS, THE BLIND SIDE) takes the origin story of the mighty fast-food restaurant chain and spins up a cautionary tale on the perils of success. It’s a fascinating and heartbreaking exploration of too much of a good thing that will leave you feeling guilty for even looking at a Big Mac.
Extras: The story behind the story, a press conference with the cast and filmmakers, a cool time lapse video of building a McDonald’s, and few featurettes (Keaton playing Kroc, the real McDonald brothers and a peek at the production design).
Also available this week: BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (1999): The Criterion Collection, HOME FRIES: SEASON 2, KILLJOYS: SEASON 2, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION, PUNCHING HENRY, SLEEPLESS, TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995): COLLECTOR’S EDITION, TEEN TITANS: JUDAS CONTRACT and WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942): The Criterion Collection.