Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Preston Barta // Editor
Oscar-hungry movies tend to strategically time their releases to peak with nominations, or the Academy Awards itself. If distributors set it up right, a wave of nominations and award wins could boost the box office and DVD sale numbers.
Here are some of the hopefuls whose titles and talent you may hear announced come Sunday night.
Of the nominated juggernauts, Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is the one to catch up on before the cinematic super bowl. Perhaps you’ve heard a lot about Casey Affleck’s masterful performance as a man with a great deal of pain behind his eyes. But the film surrounding his performance is equally as good, causing viewers to smile through the tears and hold their loved ones tighter.
The film’s beautifully wrought story begins in Quincy, Massachusetts, where we find Affleck’s Lee Chandler, a solitary jack-of-all-trades at a local apartment complex. The death of his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), sends Lee up the coast to face further news of his brother making him the sole guardian of his teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
As emotionally draining as the material can be at times, especially one sequence involving Lee’s former lover (a terrific Michelle Williams) and their children, Lonergan’s script captures the humor and heartache of real life. It doesn’t play toward Hollywood’s standards or wallow in either drama or comedy. Lonergan knows when audiences need to laugh and lament.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA doesn’t necessarily have the sort of neat resolution you may have come to expect, but what it does have are real people whose lives you want to be a part of and an unforgettable experience that’s rich with all of life’s pain and joy.
Extras: A making-of, deleted scenes and an engaging conversation with Lonergan about his filmmaking process.
Spain has many unique filmmakers, but few have resonated as lavishly in the international film market as Pedro Almodovar (THE SKIN I LIVE IN, JULIETA). There is a lot to devour while watching his movies, from the exceptional stories he constructs to the lush colors he fills them with.
This statement couldn’t ring more true with the Criterion Collection packaging of his 1988 Spanish language WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.
The loaded titled film spins a complex narrative set in late-1980s Madrid in the love nest of actress Pepa (Almodovar regular Carmen Maura) and her married lover Ivan (Fernando Guillen). Pepa comes home one day to find out she has been dumped via an answering machine, forcing her to participate in an uproarious 48-hour dance around town to find him.
While the story starts off a bit slow, it picks up speed in the second quarter and doesn’t quit by delving into a comical journey of coincidences and the fury of women scorned. Well-acted (even a young Antonio Banderas pops up) and stunningly photographed, it’s well worth owning.
Extras: The Criterion release includes new interviews with Almodovar, Maura and producer Agustin Almodovar; a new discussion by film scholar Richard Pena about the film’s impact; a trailer; a new English subtitle translation; and an essay by critic Elvira Lindo.
In HACKSAW RIDGE, Andrew Garfield (SILENCE) plays American army medic Desmond T. Doss, a man of God who refused to carry a weapon while he made his way into one of World War II’s bloodiest battles.
Much of Mel Gibson’s film falls into sap-filled land of Nicholas Sparks — most notably the film’s first quarter — but once the story takes to boot camp and the ridge itself, Gibson shows us the directing skills we’ve been missing in his 10-year absence. Co-stars Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey and a scene-stealing Vince Vaughn.
- Read our theatrical review of HACKSAW RIDGE
- Read our interview with actors Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey and Andrew Garfield
Extras: Deleted scenes, Veteran’s Day greeting with Gibson, a comprehensive documentary detailing the making of the film and the true story, and a theatrical trailer.
Designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford’s latest trip down the rabbit hole is one that may require a long shower to feel human again. It’s far from being an easy film to digest, but its story of an art gallery owner (a never-better Amy Adams) being haunted by her ex-husband’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) novel leaves a lasting impression. Supported by staggering visuals, crushing themes and captivating performances (look out for Michael Shannon’s turn as a grizzled Texas lawman), NOCTURNAL ANIMALS claws its way into your memory.
Extras: Three featurettes focused on Ford’s process for creating the story and the developing the overall look of the film.
The comedic Netflix series about two friends (the always great pairing of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) whose husbands leave them for each other is back for more laughter and tears. The second season of Grace and Frankie doesn’t come without its faults, but the quality, true-to-life entertainment remains intact. Look for some incredible guest-starring turns from Sam Elliot and Ernie Hudson.
Extras: A gag reel.
Also available on DVD and streaming: ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM: SEASON 2, BAD SANTA 2 (read Jared McMillan’s review here), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2014), BLACK WIDOWS, DOCTOR WHO: THE RETURN OF DOCTOR MYSTERIO, MILDRED PIERCE (1945): Criterion Collection, NASHVILLE: SEASON 4.