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
Whether you’re searching for a quality romance to send you crying into a box of tissues, get you hot under the collar, make you laugh, or leave your heart feeling full, love is in the air with this week’s home entertainment releases.
Available today on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection. (Critic’s tip: Take advantage of Barnes & Noble’s 50% off Criterion sale by picking this up at a reduced price.)
Welcomed into the Criterion Collection this week is Noah Baumbach’s stinging drama Marriage Story. The Squid and the Whale filmmaker brings a bona fide and terrifying perspective of divorce to the cinematic plate. It doesn’t shy away from the consequences of marital conflict and custody disputes, but it also doesn’t drive the audience so far into the ground that coming up for air seems impossible. Marriage Story is an incredibly human experience, with surprising bursts of humor, that movingly illustrates the transition of love.
The film opens by having protagonists Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) share a list of strengths shown in their partner to a mediator. (These very lists can be found inside the six-panel Criterion packing, complete with messy handwriting and page wrinkles for a lifelike replication.) Charlie, a low-key theater director, calls attention to Nicole being “infectious” and “competitive,” as well as being someone who knows how to push him and give him space. Nicole, a site-specific actress, highlights how “annoyingly good” Charlie is at being a dad and how he takes all of her moods steadily and doesn’t make her feel bad about them.
Through this, it’s evident right away that Baumbach isn’t taking sides. Although it may seem like much of the story is devoted to Charlie, he isn’t free from his marital failures. Sexual infidelity and ignoring each other’s needs contribute to their marriage’s demise. Baumbach treats both spouses with understanding and insight. Neither is perfect, and neither is evil.
Marriage Story explores all aspects from both sides, including the household’s split, the effect on their son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), and their upended social lives. Additionally (and arguably most powerfully), the film examines how a couple’s behaviors and interactions can be stored away and used against them in divorce. (Look out for one heartbreaking courtroom scene and the already memed argument sequence.)
Like any movie that involves the emotional upheaval of divorce, the words fly like swords, but they also comfort. Without spoiling the conclusion, there are realizations and expressions of love that enter the atmosphere to soften the blow. As much as Baumbach removes the Band-Aid, he gently sticks it back. Because of this, Marriage Story deserves an honored place in the pantheon of films about family and the legal system. Thus, making Criterion the perfect home for it.
Extras: The Criterion Blu-ray pack release is a sparkling marriage of audio and video with an insightful assortment of bonus material. The extras include a remarkable feature-length making-of that captures the emotionally powerful set, from Baumbach’s direction and the blocking of scenes to navigating the characters’ psychological motivations.
The remaining supplements consist of many interviews. What’s striking about these conversations is that they don’t merely feature the talent and filmmakers fawning of Baumbach’s genius. They touch on various topics, including why Baumbach does multiple takes and how they worked together to create a claustrophobic atmosphere for the film’s story.
Lastly, novelist Linn Ullmann contributes a pleasant short essay commenting on the film’s depiction of marriage and divorce.
PARAMOUNT PRESENTS COLLECTION
For any classic movie collectors out there, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment has recently launched a new way to market library titles under “Paramount Presents.” They include remastered discs, new featurettes and discussions, and a consistent packaging to make your shelf look appetizing.
Rated PG (though PG-13 is more accurate — don’t forget about the brief scene of nudity), 87 minutes.
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker
Cast: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Lorna Patterson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Barbara Billingsley
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year is the 1980 spoof disaster movie Airplane! It cemented star Leslie Nielsen’s place into the comedy hall of fame and arguably changed the face of comedy altogether. It also managed to cram a staggering number of jokes and sight gags into its 87-minute runtime. Lines like “Don’t call me Shirley” have been quoted so often that anytime anyone mentions the word “surely,” you can’t help but punctuate the moment with the Nielsen zinger.
Although some elements probably wouldn’t pass muster from a 2020 standpoint, you cannot deny how massive its influence is. It spawned the Scary Movie franchise and an entire cycle of films and television shows that match its stirring of density and dexterity. Who knows if The Simpsons and Family Guy‘s carnivalesque sensibilities would be around if the Airplane! model didn’t land first? Few comedies cast a full shadow, which is ironic considering we’re talking about a movie holding up as something singular when it’s an amalgamation of other works of entertainment. That’s a sign of fine art — and yes, surely, I’m being serious.
Extras: The Paramount Presents Blu-ray contains a new filmmaker focus segment with writer and directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker. Additionally, there is a new Q&A (filmed this January), an isolated score and an archival audio commentary with the filmmakers.
Interestingly enough, screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin was initially dismayed to learn that producers planned to hand his supernatural romance over to Airplane! director Jerry Zucker. He thought the filmmaker would turn 1990’s Ghost into a slapstick comedy. However, Zucker steered the drama toward a well-mixed tearjerker and madcap farce. It enabled Whoopi Goldberg to turn in an Oscar-winning performance as con-artist psychic Oda Mae Brown. So, it worked out for the better. And we have 30 years of swooning, thanks to Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, a pottery wheel and the Righteous Brothers’ love jam “Unchained Melody.”
Like Airplane!, Ghost is equally as groundbreaking for redefining what constitutes a summer blockbuster. The romantic fantasy, about a murdered Manhattan banker trying to communicate with his lover beyond the grave, extinguished surefire winners like Total Recall, Die Hard 2 and Back to the Future Part III at the box office. The ghostly weeper was also crowned the top-grossing film of 1990, and for a good reason. It brings together many different themes and genres (the shadowy demons that pull wicked souls to hell are scary) while featuring well-drawn characters you can root for.
Buy, watch and fall in love all over again.
Extras: The Paramount Presents Blu-ray contains a new filmmaker focus with Zucker and vintage features such as a filmmakers’ commentary, a making-of, a theatrical trailer and a study of the famous love scene.
PRETTY IN PINK (1984)
Late filmmaker John Hughes built an impressive career out of exploring teenage archetypes. 1986’s Pretty in Pink, which he wrote but didn’t direct, examined slightly different patterns compared to his other works, with the inclusion of a nerdy outcast, a rich prince and a determined young woman. There are ingredients similar to Hughes’ other movies, but the way they are put together and cooked makes Pretty in Pink worth owning and sharing.
Making its debut on Blu-ray with a 4K remaster, Pretty in Pink is a charming slice of reality. (It also happens to be one of the best-looking filmic 1080p transfers that I’ve seen yet.) The beautiful rendering is supported by a narrative decked with wonderfully specific oddities, substantial character dynamics and a stellar soundtrack. Even though its creator may have been imperfect (see if Sixteen Candles holds up), and its successes may have been happy accidents, it sure carves out a lot of relevant stuff about teen romance and coming of age.
Extras: The Paramount Presents Blu-ray contains a new filmmaker focus on director Howard Deutch, an isolated score and vintage features (the original ending and original theatrical trailer). However, these extras are mostly about how the finale was changed, and Hughes came up with a fast solution.