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
Today’s film market is all about the sequel. Franchising is such an important factor in turning a profit — particularly in summer, which is flooded with additional installments of both recent and distant movies past.
Though producing a sequel is a common decision among studios, the results are hit-and-miss. This week’s home entertainment releases, however, all strike gold.
ALIENS: THE 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Rated R, 157 minutes.
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, William Hope and Jenette Goldstein
Ridley Scott is a tough act to follow. His 1979 sci-fi horror feat, ALIEN, was a cinematic breakthrough that blended two standard film genres in gripping fashion.
With its success, a sequel was ordered almost immediately. It just took until 1986 to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. Thankfully, that time led to an outstanding, action-packed continuation that is commonly hailed as one of the best sequels of all time.
Coming off the hot heat of 1984’s THE TERMINATOR, filmmaker James Cameron recognized the most important ingredients in Scott’s original film and changed the tone to avoid telling the same story twice.
Continuing the arc of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the franchise’s fighting heroine, Aliens adds a little more acid-spitting monsters, impregnating facehuggers and screams.
With Vietnam fresh in the minds of the generation, Cameron got the idea to make the film about a band of soldiers (including Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein) who accompany Ripley for an in-and-out rescue mission. Things, of course, get bloody and combat ensues after the unit finds out the location is an alien nest.
Thirty years later, ALIENS still holds up flawlessly. The 20-minute extended cut improves upon the theatrical release and looks sharper than ever. The sound warrants its Oscar win and the extras come fully loaded with fun material.
Extras: The anniversary set features both the theatrical and special edition versions of the film, as well as audio commentary with Cameron. Also: deleted and extended scenes, and an all-new documentary feature, titled “The Inspiration and Design of ALIENS.” It also includes a new cover with collectible art cards and a book featuring art from the Dark Horse Comics ALIENS series.
- NEW – The Inspiration and Design of ALIENS featurette
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Superior Firepower: Making ALIENS
- Superior Firepower: Making ALIENS Enhancement
- Pre-Production Galleries
- The Art of ALIENS
- Gateway Station and Colony
- Vehicles and Weapons
- Cast Portrait Gallery
- The Art of ALIENS
- Deleted Scene Montage
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Rated PG-13, 147 minutes.
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Tom Holland and Daniel Brühl
CIVIL WAR is every inch a blockbuster in the best sense of the word, but it also delves into the repercussions of being Earth’s mightiest heroes. This is what takes the movie from being your typical superhero movie to the level of a great drama. With its ambition, scope and surprising emotional depth, CIVIL WAR will set both head and heart running, and that is the secret to its thrill.
The story begins with Captain America (Chris Evans) leading the new team of Avengers (Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson and Elizabeth Olsen) around the globe to stop some of biggest known threats. Unfortunately, one stop on their justice tour against mercenary villain Crossbones (Frank Grillo) involves an international incident and no small amount of collateral damage. In its wake, mounting political pressure leads to regulations that force superheroes to register with the government.
While some players, such as Iron Man (an emotionally riveting Robert Downey Jr.), are on board with this idea, others don’t see a reason to be policed, sparking the titular “civil war.” The conflict pits our heroes’ powers against one another rather than toward common enemies.
CIVIL WAR takes its time and allows viewers to collect their bearings. Despite the ridiculous character count, both established and new, the Russo brothers (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER) orchestrate multiple layers of plot while simultaneously telling a relatable story about principles and loyalty, all without rushing the narrative or making it feel overstuffed.
Extras: A lengthy two-part making-of feature, two featurettes that concentrate on the road to CIVIL WAR with Iron Man and Captain America, a gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, a must-listen-to audio commentary with the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and an exclusive sneak peek at Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange (starring Benedict Cumberbatch).
- United We Stand, Divided We Fall: The Making of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Part 1 & Part 2 – As the tension mounts, sides are chosen and lines drawn. Learn more about the characters on each side— from Captain America and Iron Man to the latest recruits. In this complete behind-the-scenes look at a landmark in the Marvel saga, we’ll examine their stories through exclusive footage and interviews and discover just what went into selecting the Superhero teams, filming the epic action sequences and introducing Black Panther and Spider-Man to the MCU.
- Captain America: The Road to CIVIL WAR – Explore the First Avenger’s fascinating evolution from loyal soldier to seasoned, conflicted hero who questions authority.
- Iron Man: The Road to CIVIL WAR – From Gulmira to Sokovia, delve into the development and evolution of one of the most iconic characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Gag Reel – Break the tension of this high-stakes conflict with some hilarious outtakes featuring the lighter side of your favorite Superheroes.
- Deleted & Extended Scenes – Check out never-before-seen footage that didn’t make the final cut of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.
- Audio Commentary – Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deliver scene-by-scene insight and explain the storytelling challenges they faced creating the third installment of the CAPTAIN AMERICA franchise.
- Open Your Mind: Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE – Exclusive Sneak Peek – Go behind and beyond the scenes as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes his journey to the big screen.
THE CONJURING 2
Rated R, 134 minutes.
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Simon McBurney and Franka Potente
It’s 1977, and Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are sent on the behalf of the church to investigate a malicious spirit that’s haunting a single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her four children in Enfield, London.
The story in THE CONJURING 2 functions as its own entity and is separate from the Perrons’ tale in the 2013 original. What sets the sequel apart is that it deals with not one, but two evil figures: the one haunting the Hodgson family of Enfield and another attached to Lorraine herself.
Director James Wan has come a long way since the first SAW film, and has matured into a true master of horror. The sense of peril here is constant, the set pieces roar with breakneck intensity, and the direction is fluid, even at its most frantic. Take the plunge.
Extras: The disc includes deleted scenes and five featurettes, including talks with the real Hodgson family and a fun look at creating one the film’s most scary spirits — the Crooked Man.
- The Enfield Poltergeist: Living The Horror
- THE CONJURING 2: Hollywood’s Haunted Stage
- Creating Crooked
- Crafting THE CONJURING 2
- Sounds of Scary
- Deleted Scenes
Also available on DVD and streaming: THE BIG BANG THEORY: SEASON 9, DE PALMA, THE FITS, FRANKENSTEIN: COMPLETE LEGACY COLLECTION, LONGMIRE: SEASON 4, MARAUDERS, THE MEASURE OF A MAN, POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING, THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM (1939): CRITERION COLLECTION, THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE — 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION, THE WOLF MAN: COMPLETE LEGACY COLLECTION and WONDERS OF THE ARCTIC.