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 you watch a documentary, filmmakers want you to connect with the subjects on screen without drawing attention to the camera’s presence. In other words, documentaries are built on structuring absences.
The often moving and spectacular documentary CAMERAPERSON breaks down that wall and makes what is normally invisible, well, visible. Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, who’s worked on such films as CITIZENFOUR (our review) and Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 9/11, assembles footage from the past 25 years of her career to create an emotionally rich memoir.
While the film seemingly is a collection of random clips, it delves into the complicated relationship between a subject and the person filming it. Take, for instance, a moment in the film where you see young children in a foreign country playing with an ax. As a human, you want to intervene and tell the kids to stop before they get hurt. On the other hand, you want to capture truth as a filmmaker. It’s important for viewers to see horrifying, saddening or upsetting images in this medium because it’s the material that causes us to stop and think about the choices we make in our daily lives.
There are many segments in the film that touch on a deeper level of humanity while simultaneously showing how heartbreaking and difficult the job of a camera operator can be. It may take some time to adjust to CAMERAPERSON’s structure and understand what it’s trying to say right away, but soon enough it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks and leave a lasting impression.
Extras: You can always expect the Criterion Collection to roll out with the great bonus features. It includes Editing CAMERAPERSON (a new program featuring Johnson, producers Marilyn Ness and Danielle Varga, and editors Nels Bangerter and Amanda Laws), In the Service of the Film (a roundtable discussion with Johnson, producer Gini Reticker and sound recordists Wellington Bowler and Judy Karp), excerpts from two 2016 film festival talks with Johnson (including one between her and filmmaker Michael Moore), The Above (a 2015 short film by Johnson), trailer, and an essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda and reprinted writings by Johnson.
DIRTY DANCING: 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Rated PG-13, 101 minutes.
Director: Emile Ardolino
Cast: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Rhodes and Kelly Bishop
Available Tuesday through a Limited Edition Collector’s Box Set, on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
Yes, I know. The part where Patrick Swayze lifts Jennifer Grey above his head is one of the single most important dance moves in film history. It’s recreated in entertainment all the time (see 2011’s CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.). But DIRTY DANCING — which turns 30 this year — is about so much more than that iconic lift.
The film engages growing up, abortion, backing ourselves out of corners and a song that shouldn’t be sung at a bar in karaoke but that we do anyway. It’s a classic. Even though I’m not giving it a perfect 5-star rating — because, c’mon, it’s flawed to boot (plot holes, stereotypes and clichés aplenty) — it’s a fun guilty-pleasure film. The choreography and songs still hold up, and you can’t help but have the time of your life watching the sparks between Johnny (Swayze) and Baby (Grey).
Extras: This anniversary edition includes more than six hours of bonus content, including a never-before-seen intimate interview with Swayze, a “Happy 30th Birthday” salute with celebrity fans, outtakes, deleted/alternate/extended scenes, cast interviews, two filmmaker commentaries, music videos and much more.
VICE PRINCIPALS: Season 1
TV-MA, about 269 minutes.
Creator: Jody Hill and Danny McBride
Cast: Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Georgia King, Sheaun McKinney, Busy Philipps and Shea Whigham
Available Tuesday on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
After the success of EASTBOUND & DOWN, Danny McBride and Jody Hill bring their talents together for an even funnier series: VICE PRINCIPALS.
Starring McBride and Walton Goggins (THE HATEFUL EIGHT, JUSTIFIED), the darkly comedic HBO series puts the two actors against each other as they compete for popularity in a high school and the newly opened principal position. But once the school board appoints a high-achieving outsider (a very good Kimberly Hebert Gregory) as the principal, the duo form an unnerving partnership.
Arson, bloody fist fights and spitting in the enemy’s coffee — VICE PRINCIPALS is just as insane as one would expect. McBride and Hill are professionals when it comes to shocking viewers and making them laugh, but with this new series, their brand of comedy is supported with intelligent plotting. It contains a good balance of humor, heart and social commentary.
Extras: Deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and nine audio commentaries with the cast and crew.
Rated PG-13, 123 minutes.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Christopher Mann, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp, David Jensen, Nick Kroll and Michael Shannon
Available Tuesday on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is no doubt an important one: They’re the couple at the center of the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling that overturned laws against interracial marriage. But oftentimes in movies that are based on true stories, we hope they say more than what we can read in a newspaper article or book. As we’ve come to know, film is a visual medium and it gives filmmakers the opportunity to impact us in ways we could never get from words on a page.
Unfortunately, as talented as writer-director Jeff Nichols (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, MUD) has proven himself to be, he has lost his touch to give his movies the heart they deserve.
His latest film, LOVING, showcases commendable performances and a story worth hearing — especially in times like this — but its cut-and-dry application doesn’t breathe the life it needs to make it a truly great film.
Extras: Making LOVING, A LOVING Ensemble, Loving v. Virginia, Virginia: A LOVING Backdrop and feature commentary with Nichols.
Procedural films can be gripping and informative. Just look at last year’s DEEPWATER HORIZON, which tapped into the mostly uncharted world of oil drilling. LIFE ON THE LINE, starring John Travolta and Kate Bosworth, similarly does this with linemen and powerline technicians.
It’s a highly dangerous line of work, and the film does a great job of making that fact known when a small town in Texas is hit by a deadly storm. However, unlike DEEPWATER HORIZON, the dramatic story built around the profession is too goofy to take seriously.
Extras: “Life on the Line” music video by Fiona Culley and featuring Darius Rucker, a behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast and crew, and a trailer gallery.
With music legend Leonard Cohen’s death still so fresh in mind, a documentary about him seems fitting. His process for writing music, his deep voice and past are worthy of exploring on screen. Unfortunately, LEONARD COHEN: I’M YOUR MAN lazily uses a tribute concert to take up most of its run time and fails to offer enough details about the musician to deem it an impressive portrait.
Extras: An audio commentary with director Lian Lunson (“Waiting for the Miracle to Come”), additional performances and a conversation with Leonard Cohen.
Also available on DVD and streaming: THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX, AMERICAN PASTORAL (read Jared McMillan’s review), ANTIBIRTH, BEYOND REDEMPTION, DESIERTO (Read Courtney Howard’s review), DON’T LOOK DOWN, THE EAGLE HUNTRESS, FRANK & LOLA, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: Season 3, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, LITTLE SISTER, NERDLAND, PENNY DREADFUL: Complete Series, QUANTUM LEAP: Complete Series, THE TAKE and TROLLS (Read Courtney Howard’s review).