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 // Features Editor
Rated PG, 103 minutes.
Director(s): Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Evan Rachel Wood, Sterling K. Brown, Josh Gad and Alfred Molina
Available today on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.
The Frozen films certainly have a cute snowman and catchy songs, but there are also thematic elements that adults can grasp. The six-years-later sequel, the simply titled Frozen II, digs deeper into that true-to-life sandbox.
It’s an adventure that sets out to answer some linger questions posed after its 2013 predecessor, such as the source of Elsa’s (Idina Menzel) powers. Accompanied by returning smile-generators Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), and sassy reindeer Sven, Elsa embarks on a journey to uncover secrets and face off against new threats.
As a movie, it may not flow as organically as its original. It’s not the freshest of story ideas, either. Many moments align quite well with Thor: Ragnarok. It also can be confusing for parents to try to explain what it’s about. But the more I watch it, the more it clicks and surprises me. It doesn’t have the surface appeal of the first Frozen, but it’ll still melt away the iciest of hearts, especially when Elsa sings “Show Yourself” and sheds a tear while doing it.
As far as its 4K presentation goes, this may very well be the best 4K movie I have seen yet. The lighting (yes, in an animated film) is absolutely stunning. Because the film’s story involves the classical elements, each one lights up the screen. Whether it’s the life-like ocean waves or the colorful fire spirit (a cute salamander named Bruni), each frame is striking.
- 16 Spoiler-Free Things We’ve Learned About ‘FROZEN II’
- Courtney Howard’s theatrical [Review] ‘FROZEN II’ Gets Lost in the Woods
Extras: The Disney release doesn’t contain any special features on the 4K disc, but the Blu-ray features over an hour of bonus content, including a sing-along version of the movie. What’s great about the extras is that they can entertain kids. There’s one segment – titled “Did You Know???” – that provides fun facts about the film like what other Disney characters are hidden in plain sight and what the significance is of various earthly elements.
Additionally, there are outtakes (in the recording booth, not an animated addition like the end of a Toy Story movie); deleted scenes and songs (not animated, storyboard versions); music videos and other fun specials.
Rated PG-13, 130 minutes.
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Toni Collette, Ana de Armas, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Noah Segan and Christopher Plummer
Available today on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.
Rian Johnson’s follow-up to 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a sharp-as-ever whodunit that brings together one of the most impressive casts. The ensemble includes Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Don Johnson and Ana de Armas, among many other notable talents. And the story revolves around the death of an eccentric family’s patriarch (Christopher Plummer) and the investigation that follows.
Knives Out operates like a dramatized argument at the family dinner table. Each character has unique qualities that make them a joy to be around or watch them get played for a fool. You gotta love Craig’s southern drawl, Curtis’ don’t-care attitude and de Armas’ regurgitated lies. They all amount to a highly entertaining murder mystery that has all the twists and turns and unfiltered character exchanges to stamp it as one of 2019’s most satisfying films. It’s a real treat.
In 4K, the colors and contrast are what immediately stand out. The rich mahogany of the mansion and Chris Evans’ snazzy dusters are a few of the stinging components that give Knives Out a visual punch.
- Fantastic Fest closed the book on another great year with Rian Johnson’s ‘KNIVES OUT’
- [Interview] How Rian Johnson engineered a perfect whodunit with ‘KNIVES OUT’
- [TIFF Review] ‘KNIVES OUT’ – Rian Johnson’s sleight-of-hand mystery hits like a brick with all its fun surprises
Extras: Fortunately enough, there are special features on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs. Like most of Johnson’s home releases, they come packed to the gills. He’s a filmmaker that greatly believes in the home-viewing experience, and he wants to show just how much fun he had shooting his movies.
If you make time for one feature, however, make it the audio commentary with Johnson, cinematographer Steve Yedlin and actor Noah Segan. I could listen to those folks talk shop, crack jokes, and educate all day.
Rounding off the extras, there are deleted scenes (with optional commentary), an in-theatre commentary by Johnson and a cast Q&A, a top-of-the-line multipart documentary, marketing gallery and viral ads.
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
Rated R, 135 minutes.
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, Courtney B. Vance and Stellan Skarsgård
Available today on 4K Ultra HD Steelbook and Digital HD.
It’s been 30 years since the film release of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. Starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, the Cold War thriller was a massive theatrical hit. It even launched a series of successful Clancy adaptations that now has the likes of Big Tuna (John Krasinski) wearing Baldwin’s shoes as world hero Jack Ryan in the Amazon series.
While Harrison Ford may be the most popular of Ryans, The Hunter for Red October is arguably the best movie in the series – and the entry that best captures the spirit of Clancy’s character. But bottom line, this is Connery’s film. As Soviet submarine commander Captain Marko Ramius, he steals every moment.
To celebrate its three-decades-long existence, Paramount Home Entertainment has fashioned an impressive limited edition steelbook. Hold this metal jacket in the light, and the red tint could be seen from the moon. It sparkles and will class up your movie collection.
Thanks to a fantastic color reproduction (emboldening the yellows and giving the reds added exuberance), this film goes anywhere but down in 4K. The shadow definition is exquisite, with inky blacks contrasting wonderfully against bright highlights. The fine lines and pores are easily identifiable (particularly in scenes where the characters are sweating in anticipation). Likewise, the threads and fibers on the clothing are more apparent.
Fans owe it to themselves to pick up this extraordinary 30th-anniversary edition.
Extras: The 4K disc includes a commentary by director John McTiernan. The Blu-ray contains the filmmaker’s commentary, a special featurette and a theatrical trailer.
QUEEN & SLIM
It’s difficult not to compare Queen & Slim with Bonnie & Clyde. However, rather than do wrong and collect fame along the way, title characters Queen (newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) are caught in a situation they never asked to be in.
They were enjoying a first date together when on the way to take Queen home, they are pulled over by a disgruntled white police officer. One simple thing leads to another, and the officer reacts out of frustration for finding nothing to convict them with (other than a minor traffic infraction) and draws his weapon. Queen, a defense lawyer, proceeds to record the situation when she’s shot in the leg. The shaken officer goes to tackle Slim. Out of fear for his life, Slim shoots the officer dead.
Confused about whether they should try to stick around to explain themselves or runaway (because Queen knows good and well that there’s little justice to be had), they ultimately flee the scene and travel from state to state to find freedom.
Queen & Slim, splendidly directed by Melina Matsoukas (HBO’s Insecure) and written by Lena Waithe (Master of None), is packed with all kinds of meaning and food for thought. It speaks volumes about what’s presently going on in the world. It’s not a one-dimensional portrait of society, either. There are times when the story pumps the breaks to show how both sides of the law can misinterpret situations and go off in the wrong direction.
With the knock-out performances, symbolic characterization (a Martin Luther King and Malcolm X-like dynamic), and astute observations, Queen & Slim is worthy of its crown.
In 4K, the pulsing hip-hop soundtrack, atmospheric sounds, and sharp images bring the movie to life. A lot of care and heart went into the film’s making, and the picture and sound quality back it up.
- Travi Leamons’ theatrical [Review] ‘QUEEN & SLIM’ – Better to surrender than expect a black Bonnie & Clyde
Extras: The Universal 4K-Blu-ray combo release includes bonus content on discs. There are four featurettes – “A Deeper Meaning” (an encompassing behind-the-scenes that features interviews with the cast and crew, “Melina & Lena” (the collaboration and relationship between the writer and director), “Off the Script” (Waithe reads select moments from the screenplay) and “On the Run with Queen & Slim” (similar to the first, but new perspectives and insights).
Additionally, there is a beautifully simplistic cover art of the two central characters with unique and clean text just below their image.
Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham and William Jackson Harper
Available today on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Todd Haynes (2015’s Carol and 2002’s Far From Heaven), Dark Waters is a classic David versus Goliath tale of uncovering secrets. Actor Mark Ruffalo must have a thing for films about elaborating on nasty truths. With this, best picture-winner Spotlight and his upcoming Newsflash (about CBS newsman Walter Cronkite and the JFK assassination), we can expect Ruffalo to say once again, “They knew!”
Jokes aside, Dark Waters is a compelling piece of true-story entertainment. It’s nowhere near as dull as its disc cover art may lead you to believe, which features mostly frowning actors and a blue and gray color palette. The story centers on Ohio lawyer Rob Bilott (Ruffalo) and his legal battle against chemical manufacturing company DuPont.
The film opens in 1975 West Virginia as several teens (one of whom is Bilott) go swimming in a lake that is later sprayed with chemicals. From there, we fast-forward to 1998 Cincinnati. Bilott is making it good in the attorney world and is asked to represent a family friend (Bill Camp) who claims that chemicals have ruined his farm, and he has the evidence to prove it. Thus, sparking this twisted tale of sweeping things under the rug and Ruffalo’s character shaking it out.
Haynes begins his film on a standard foot, but as things progress and you reach the first half-hour, you’re pulled into the fight. The tension continuously cranks up until your fingernails are chewed down to the nubs. Through its slow-burn pace and exceptional performances – including Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman – Dark Waters reminds us that we may not be as protected by our systems and institutions as we’d like to think.
- James Clay’s theatrical [Review] ‘DARK WATERS’ a conventional legal drama that uncovers literal toxic truths
Extras: The Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Blu-ray-DVD combo release includes three featurettes (“Uncovering Dark Waters,” “The Cost of Being a Hero” and “The Real People”).