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
Weather can be one cold-hearted foe, especially for characters in movies. There’s something fascinating about watching people react to the most ruthless of storms. Whether it’s a gigantic tornado (with or without sharks), a stormy sea, a blizzard – you name it – it’s fun to watch.
When looking at cinema and ungodly forecasts, there are the obvious titles – such as TWISTER, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and THE PERFECT STORM – but we want to go deeper and look at more unique films about mankind versus weather.
For this week’s throwback Thursday, here are four films worth (re)visiting in preparation for Disney’s release of THE FINEST HOURS (our review here).
Today Frank Marshall (JURASSIC WORLD) is best known as a movie producer, but in the late 20th century he was trying to make a name for himself as a director. As one of Stephen Spielberg’s soldiers, Marshall helmed a trio of man-versus-nature movies beginning with 1990’s ARACHNOPHOBIA and capping off with 1995’s CONGO. In the middle, though, lives an icy film called ALIVE that still haunts my thoughts from time to time. I mean, why would a film about cannibalism not haunt anyone’s dreams?
ALIVE is based on the true story a Uruguayan rugby team whose flight went down in the middle of the Andes Mountain in 1972. Lead by Ethan Hawke (Nando) and Josh Hamilton (Roberto), ALIVE uses man’s struggle against nature to showcase just how far people will go to survive. No one wants to eat their fellow man, their friends, but what are you to do when the bodies start piling up and the food is running out.
The fact that the film is based in reality makes it even more disturbing. This could have just come from the minds of a writer and director, but many of the scenes in ALIVE – including all the snacking and awful battles against winter and time – were true and embellished for dramatic effect. Which begs the question: what would you do if faced with the same situation? I, for one, would bring some spices.
– Gwen Reyes
THE MIST (2007)
THE MIST is based on the novella by Stephen King of the same name. It’s a story filled with trickery that’s daring in its sentiments and exquisite in execution. Director Frank Darabont has made a helluva name for himself adapting King’s work (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE) with a complete understanding for the political elements that are underidden in a film filled with suspense and one really, really messed up conclusion.
David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son are among a group of people trapped inside a local supermarket when a strange and inexplicable “mist” comes through their quiet little town. Just imagine if the absolutely delightful town Stars Hollow from GILMORE GIRLS went bananas and the townsfolk started forming factions and offing one another.
This truly is an excellent piece of work that takes the unpredictability of the weather and turns it into something otherworldly. Forget about the spooky elements, it’s the psychological torture that makes this film undeniably suspenseful.
While most “natural disaster” films focus on the physicality of braving the weather, THE MIST braves for something a little more intricate that’s difficult to reckon with and is a gut-punch that has divided audiences.
– James Cole Clay
NOAH features the storm of all storms, where God flooded the Earth to wash away humanity’s misdeeds. And while the story of Noah is pretty cut and dry – Noah was good, built an ark, the flood happened and happily ever after – Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH is not like that. His version is dark, tests your limitations, makes you think, makes you feel uncomfortable and challenges your morals and values.
While the religious community was upset with its lack of dedication to the bible, as a movie fan, it’s reminiscent of THE SHINING and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. It features these rock Transformers (fallen angels) and has all this added content that is really quite interesting.
You may come out scratching your head and may never watch it again, but there’s no denying you’ll come out talking about the film. NOAH is a testament (hah) to how good of a filmmaker Aronofsky is. He’s willing to take risks and not play it safe.
– Preston Barta
TAKE SHELTER (2011)
Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a blue-collar worker, adored by his family and respected by his small-town community. He then starts to have hallucinations regarding an incredible storm that could come and destroy their quaint existence. These visuals grow so strong that it comes to feel more like premonitions, and causes Curtis to obsess on his family’s safety. He starts repurposing a storm shelter on his property, sinking all of their savings into this endeavor, and everyone starts to question his sanity…including Curtis.
Marked by a mesmerizing performance by Shannon and a stunning debut from Jessica Chastain, TAKE SHELTER is constantly building in its own puzzle. We never really find Curtis to be perilous or dangerous, even as he wavers between conviction and doubt. However, we realize more the suspicion that surrounds him as a danger than the possibility of the storm. As his wife, Samantha, Chastain wears the strain of their turmoil on her face, as the oncoming storm mirrors the probable doom of their family’s existence.
One of the first features by writer/director Jeff Nichols, he lulls a sense of comfort into the viewer as Curtis tries to stay grounded, and then hits them with a different visual to bring them into Curtis’s unwanted reality. It’s a fantastic mix of surreal over the canvas of everyday life, with emotions erupting at the right moments (the cafeteria scene is vintage Shannon). The ending, which will define Curtis’ sanity, is left both ambiguous and certain to elicit different emotions and conclusions. TAKE SHELTER is one of the best independent films of the decade.
– Jared McMillan
THE FINEST HOURS opens in theaters tomorrow and tonight in participating early viewing theaters.