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.
Denis Villeneuve, who directed the hugely arresting PRISONERS (2013) and spinned a web of real curiosity with ENEMY (2014), takes on the drug war along the U.S. and Mexico border with SICARIO. The word “sicario” means “hitman” in Spanish, but don’t let that reflect your judgement, as this film is of much more depth than HITMAN: AGENT 47.
Oscar vets Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin co-star in this action drama written by SONS OF ANARCHY actor Taylor Sheridan. The film finds Emily Blunt – who has become quite the action star after EDGE OF TOMORROW – as a sensible FBI agent drafted to aid a task force that is fighting the war on drugs.
Now, I’ve never been to Juarez, Mexico – the city SICARIO highlights – but I’ve heard more than a handful of horror stories about that place. SICARIO does a great job of putting the fear of God in audiences by showing Juarez for what it is. There’s no sugarcoating it in this story; it’s one of the murder capitals of the world, and this film shows you all its bones.
No film this year will have your teeth grind harder than SICARIO. It’s sheer intensity and pulse-pounding energy is sure to give your heart its full day’s work. Sheridan’s script doesn’t miss a beat either, never sidestepping anything. He frees the material from beaten movie conventions, and does so in a very skilled manner.
There’s just something about Villenueve’s films– he’s just makes them so damn exciting. He assembles strange vehicles for actors to come together on, while simultaneously taking on a genre that may feel familiar and injecting it with new life.
– Preston Barta
SICARIO opens at AMC Northpark and Cinemark West Plano tomorrow, and nationwide on Oct. 2.
With its story of a high school student (Nat Wolff) befriending his next-door neighbor (Mickey Rourke), who’s also a retired CIA hitman, ASHBY pushes through its clichés and presents enough compelling concepts to keep audiences interested.
The film showcases strong performances, especially from Wolff, and mixes elements from great action-comedies (HOT FUZZ, THE MATADOR) with an endearing coming-of-age tale. It’s sad without being mawkish and comical without being detracting from emotion. It’s a quiet winner to seek out.
– Preston Barta
ASHBY opens in select theaters tomorrow.
Dallas: AMC Stonebriar
Narratively speaking, this film doesn’t have much going on. However, audiences will find themselves having a hell of a time by kicking it with Jason Schwartzman (RUSHMORE) and laughing until it hurts.
In 7 CHINESE BROTHERS (a shout-out to the song by REM), Schwartzman plays a lonely, down-on-his-luck alcoholic named Larry who lives with a snorting French Bulldog in a small Austin apartment. He spends most of his time talking to his pup and arguing over the bargain liquor at his corner convenience store.
Larry isn’t the best guy around, but you can’t help but root for him. Schwartzman is tasked with carrying much of the film’s humor, whether it’s the gags (where he imitates a fat kid getting out of a pool) or witty banter (scenes with his dog)– it doesn’t come up short.
Sometimes the chances of being a little strange and different can pay off. 7 CHINESE BROTHERS is endearingly unusual and funny.
– Preston Barta
7 CHINESE BROTHERS is screening at the Texas Theatre at 7 p.m.
Last year WILD grabbed some Academy Award nominations and demanded to be seen for its prestige. It loudly screamed to be considered and respected by all. That film should have taken a page out of the book of WILDLIKE, a true independent drama that capitalizes on subtlety, but doesn’t skimp on the performances. The gauntlet has been thrown WILDLIKE is a superior movie with its focus on character rather than premise.
Mackenzie (Ellie Purnell) is a 14 year old who has recently lost her father while living in Seattle. With her mother in a drug treatment facility she is sent to live with her uncle (played by THE HURT LOCKER’s Brian Geraghty) in Alaska. Things seem all fine and well until that jerk face starts molesting her. Mackenzie, like any sane person hits the road with a chip on her shoulder and the will to survive. She then attempts to become tethered to an aging hiker, Rene (Bruce Greenwood), who blows her off.
Mackenzie feels like prey in the urban landscapes she has lived in, but soon realizes as she grows closer to Rene that he wants zero from her sexually. WILDLIKE navigates the terrain on what it takes to survive not only in nature but in civilization. Purnell brings him A-game and goes toe-to-toe with a more than skilled Greenwood. She has received comparisons to Kristen Stewart. Dully noted, but try not to box her grounded performance in with the likes all Bella Swan just because they both reside in the Pacific Northwest. WILDLIKE is the real deal, a raw piece of filmmaking that doesn’t hold your hand through this walk in the woods.
– Cole Clay
WILDLIKE is screening at the Texas Theatre today at 5 p.m.