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
When we watch movies, we often can see ourselves reflected on screen because of a filmmaker’s specificity. No matter how extreme the subject, the more detailed a director is with his or her film, the more you’ll connect, because individuality is what unites us.
After watching nearly a 100 films so far this year, no film has floored me quite like Julia Ducournau’s RAW. The storyline may turn you off immediately, but sometimes it’s those bold experiences that truly stand out.
Ducournau’s feature debut shows no signs of being made by an amateur. Her unspoiled film about a young vegetarian named Justine (Garance Marillier) who grows an impulsive taste for human flesh isn’t portrayed in the hardcore manner its story suggests. RAW is a rather sweet and imaginative coming-of-age tale about the unbreakable bond between sisters.
The horror aspect of the film, most notably the cannibalism that may be turning your stomach as you read this, stemmed from Ducournau’s thoughts on genre misrepresentation. Ducournau saw an opportunity to tackle this repression and explore a part of humanity that no one wants to see. As humans, we naturally cringe at the thought of a person devouring another, because it’s repulsive and violent. However, Ducournau finds the humanity within the grotesque and keeps your limitations at bay.
Extras: No extra content.
CBS’s television series
Some of these shows have been around for over a decade. While they follow a crime-of-the-week format, you see characters come and go, and develop over the course of its seasons. You can occasionally tune in to any of these series and be OK with missing some of the previous episodes, but you may fail to pick up on the nuances that make each of them the engaging shows they are.
ELEMENTARY: Season 5
This is an amusing modern spin on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson’s relationship. After five seasons, what remains consistent in ELEMENTARY is the dynamic between Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock and Lucy Liu’s female Watson. Both bring a fun energy to each episode, despite the less-than-original procedural angle to the show.
NCIS: Season 14
Not rated, about 16 hours and 56 minutes.
Creator: Donald P. Bellisario and Don McGill
Cast: Mark Harmon, Pauley Perrette, Sean Murray, Wilmer Valderrama and Jennifer Esposito
Available today on DVD and Digital HD.
If you had a child the year this series started, they would be on their way to high school right now. If a show has been around for 14 seasons, it has to have some appeal. While I can’t say that I’ve watched every single episode of NCIS, I can say the episodes I have seen, including many from Season 14, have grown into one of the more believable crime shows on the tube. It’s a crime drama that’s both serious and lighthearted, and a gripping narrative for anyone who likes fascinating stories with good humor and fun character interactions.
CRIMINAL MINDS: Season 12
Now, CRIMINAL MINDS is a series I have watched front to back. I have long been intrigued by its overall arc. Its twelfth season is admittedly an adjustment. We lose one of its key players (Thomas Gibson) early on due to an on-set debacle (Google it), but we gain a new one (Adam Rodriguez) and see the return of another (Paget Brewster). The crime stories lack the intensity of some of the show’s previous entries, but one thing is for sure: The familial aspect of its crime-solving team is as good as any FAST & FURIOUS movie. Even Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi makes note of it in one of Season 12’s better episodes.
HAWAII FIVE-O: Season 7
Not rated, about 17 hours and 55 minutes.
Creator: Peter M. Lenkov, Leonard Freeman and Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park and Masi Oka
Available today on DVD and Digital HD.
I was late to this rebooted series. Truth be told, I came onto it probably a year or two ago when I learned that University of North Texas alumnus Peter Weller (star of 1987’s ROBOCOP) directed a few episodes. If you’ve ever seen his directed work on SONS OF ANARCHY and JUSTIFIED, you know there is more fascination there than his mere ties to Denton. Though he only directs one episode in Season 7 of HAWAII FIVE-O (Ep. 14), the surrounding episodes are just as refreshing a dose of action-packed escapism as Weller’s singular wave.
Extras: The CBS Home Entertainment series releases include a variety of different features, such as audio commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reels, table reads and tributes videos.
1983’s MR. MOM is more relevant to me now than ever before. It also speaks volumes about gender roles in the workforce. When Michael Keaton’s character is laid off, he switches roles with his wife. He becomes a stay-at-home dad, a job that proves to be tougher than he envisioned. The Shout Select series release is a sweet trip down memory lane that parents can show their kids and wholeheartedly enjoy.
Extras: The Shout Select series release (available exclusively on shoutfactory.com or any participating Movie Trading Co. stores) includes an original theatrical trailer and a reflection featurette with select members of the cast and crew.
MEGAN LEAVEY may put a dent in your tissue supply, but it works because, at its core, it is a human story about a soldier (Kate Mara) and her dog. Mara (HOUSE OF CARDS) carries the film and delicately handles her titular role as her character transforms from a screw-up to a determined fighter. The film had plenty of opportunities to push the sentimental envelope, but all the filmmakers believed in the true story, and we have the endearing MEGAN LEAVEY to thank for it.
Extras: The Universal Studios Home Entertainment release include an inside look at how Megan Leavey and her dog learned to trust each other.
ALL EYEZ ON ME
The tagline for ALL EYEZ ON ME reads, “the Untold Story of Tupac Shakur,” yet all the narrative beats covered could be found reading Wikipedia. Filmmaker Benny Boom’s take on the gunned-down Shakur is thoroughly entertaining and showcases a star-making performance in Demetrius Shipp Jr., but he fishes with too wide a net. The cradle-to-the-grave story is tired and needs a fresh spin, or incredible characterization of its subjects to provide any lasting power.
Extras: The Lionsgate release includes deleted scenes, a making-of, “Becoming Tupac” featurette, Shipp Jr.’s audition and a conversations featurette.
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS
Henrietta Lacks’ contribution to medical research is undeniable. She’s someone whose name you may not know, but whose life has greatly impacted those who suffer from major diseases. Lacks died of cervical cancer at the tragically young age of 31, but her life is “immortal” due to the studies done on her body unknown to her. And though the performances turned in by Rose Byrne and Oprah Winfrey are sincere, the HBO film (kind of) about her life takes too broad of an approach in its storytelling to capture the importance of its subject.
Extras: The HBO release includes a featurette in which the cast and crew discuss the legacy of its titular subject.
Also available this week: BAND AID (our review), DOCTOR WHO: Series 10 Pt. 2, FIRST KILL, THE FLASH: Season 3, KEVIN CAN WAIT: Season 1, THE LAST FACE, LOWRIDERS, NARCOS: Season 2, PARIS CAN WAIT (our review), REBECCA (1940): The Criterion Collection, ROUGH NIGHT (our review), SECURITY and SUPERNATURAL: Season 12.