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
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
Rated PG-13, 118 minutes
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger and Holt McCallany
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray and various digital platforms.
Sometimes a relatively generic story can be redeemed by a confident central performance, as proven with 2012’s JACK REACHER, starring Tom Cruise.
In the JACK RREACHER sequel, NEVER GO BACK, Cruise reteams with the director of THE LAST SAMURAI, Edward Zwick, to give us, well, a generic story that cannot be redeemed by its confident central performance.
Based on the novel by Lee Child, NEVER GO BACK follows Reacher (Cruise) — a former Army military police commander — as he springs back into action when a fellow Army major (Cobie Smulders) is accused of treason. Reacher suspects foul play and will stop at nothing until the uniformed law enforcement can handle the truth.
Meanwhile, there’s a more personal dilemma on Reacher’s hands involving a woman who claims he is the father of her 15-year-old daughter (a miscast Danika Yarosh). It seems out of place and preposterous, I know.
The screenwriters of the sequel (Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz and Zwick) soften up Reacher to turn the lens to action and melodrama. Reacher has a few sprinkles of the characteristics we saw in the 2012 film, but the sequel abandons its brains, adds unnecessary plotting and cliched characters when it could have been more effective.
Extras: Includes a JACK REACHER exclusive illustrated short story (“Everyone Talks”) and over 80 minutes of bonus features — Reacher Returns (your average behind-the-scenes/making-of), An Unexpected Family (a detailed look at Reacher and his relationships), Relentless: On Location in Louisiana (a 25-minute exploration of the film’s shooting locations and set designs), Take Your Revenge First: Lethal Combat (a focus on the film’s big scenes of action and actors’ preparations), No Quarter Given: Rooftop Battle (crafting the film’s action-packed finale) and Reacher in Focus: With Tom Cruise and Photographer David James (a unique discussion of on-set still photography).
Rated G, 88 minutes.
Directors: Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts and Ben Sharpsteen
Cast: Mel Blanc, Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones, Charles Judels, Christian Rub and Evelyn Venable
If you missed your chance to snag the 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition of PINOCCHIO back in 2009, before Disney closed their vault and copies of the special release were selling for a $100 on eBay, we have good news: the beloved 1940 animated classic is returning to stores, and this time with more special features.
PINOCCHIO was a monumental achievement in many ways. No only did it feature state-of-the-art hand-drawn effects, it was a different kind of story for Disney to tell. In the film, there are no princesses, castles or, in the best sense of the word, a main hero. Its tale of a wooden puppet who embarks on an adventure-filled journey to become a real boy is quite an experience.
Compared to the kind of material Disney churns out today, PINOCCHIO is frightening and all too real to anyone who lives in the real world and has messed up. While, yes, there’s magic, a talking cricket, a giant whale and a blue fairy, this film goes to show the truth of the world in a magnificent way: You have to work hard for the things you want. Nothing is handed to you. And yes, you will make mistakes along the way, but it’s whether you learn from them or not that defines who you are and the person you will become.
Extras: Disney is always great about making their releases well worth buying, and this is especially true with this Signature Collection. It comes packed with bonus content, including a look at the original artwork, the material and concepts that never made it to screen, a restored 1927 short (“Poor Papa”), deleted scenes, sing-alongs, a making-of, and much more.
Coming from the director NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and NACHO LIBRE (Jared Hess), you have to realize his next movie is going to be weird, but in a great way.
MASTERMINDS is an altered account on one of the largest heists in history about a group of amateurs (Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson) who decide to rob Loomis Fargo of $17 million. Let’s just say comedy and debauchery ensues.
Completed with by a great supporting cast (Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones), the film is here to make you laugh at some buffoons that got in the way of themselves escaping with millions of dollars. Come for the farce of life, stay for the hysterics of fiction.
Extras: The Imperfect Crime (a featurette about the true story).
With its inspiring true life story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (a heartwarming Madina Nalwanga), along with the inclusion of Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o acting as Mutesi’s mother and David Oyelowo (SELMA) as her mentor, QUEEN OF KATWE has all the right moves to touch you on a deep level. While its scenes are very fast paced, the Disney-produced film finds a nice balance of teaching culture, love and powerful lessons about never giving up.
Extras: A making-of, a behind-the-scenes featurette and sing-along with Alicia Keys, a music video with Ugandan hip-hop duo Young Cardamom & HAB, deleted scenes, and an audio commentary with director Mira Nair.
Also available on DVD and streaming: BALLERS: SEASON 2, BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN (read Courtney Howard’s review here), POLTERGEIST II: COLLECTOR’S EDITION and POLTERGEIST III: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (available through ShoutFactory.com).