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 // Features Editor
CHAPPIE isn’t quite the misstep to send Niell Blomkamp’s career the way of the Wachowskis (JUPITER ASCENDING), but it’s nowhere near the organic richness of Blomkamp’s first feature film, DISTRICT 9.
Set once again in Johannesburg in the near-future, CHAPPIE opens the same way DISTRICT 9 did, with mock news footage establishing how the police have commissioned an elite team of android crime-fighters (ROBOCOP style) in an attempt to restore law. These droids, called “Scouts,” are the brainchild of inventor Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), whose creation is hailed by Tetra Vaal‘s CEO (a might-as-well-be-a-cardboard-cutout of Sigourney Weaver) to the consternation of a jealous colleague named Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman and mullet).
Vincent’s design, dubbed “The Moose,” is big; however, it requires a human pilot (like PACIFIC RIM). This idea isn’t fully realized yet, and understandably so, as it’s an expensive war machine. Deon and Vincent’s rivalry set in motion a series of events that bring Johannesburg on the brink of chaos, thus leading Deon to create the world’s first true artificial intelligence– Chappie (a terrific Sharlto Copley).
Despite its threadbare plot and obvious ROBOCOP nods (among other films of the genre), CHAPPIE is entertaining to boot. With its stunning urban landscapes, gangster-talking metal hero and all-party-in-the-back bad guy (Jackman), Blomkamp puts forth an admirable experimentation. Don’t expect a serious dead-on-point film like DISTRICT 9, but a fun, loving one that will both warm your heart and put a smile on your face.
– Preston Barta
The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes:
- Alternate Ending
- Extended Scene: A Very Bad Man
- Eight Featurettes:
- Chappie: The Streetwise Professor – An inside look at Chappie and casting Copley to play the robot and his performance via motion capture.
- Arms Race: The Weapons and Robots – Get a deeper look at the real-world firepower tech and the design of the “Scout” robots & “Moose.”
- Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects – The film’s VFX artists discuss the pre-production design process.
- From Tetra Vaal to Chappie – An in-depth exploration of the scriptwriting process, the early concept design work and other aspects of pre-production.
- Keep It Gangster – A behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating an authentic South African gangster world featuring interviews with NINJA and ¥O-LANDI VI$$ER.
- The Reality of Robotics – Discover present day robotics capabilities and next generation artificial intelligence, featuring an interview with Robotics Professor Wolfgang Fink.
- Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting – Discover the history of the real world locations in the film and the role these setting played in the fictionalized version of Johannesburg.
- Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts & Special Effects – A look at the film’s high-action stunt sequences.
- We Are Tetravaal – Weaver, Jackman & Patel discuss their characters & on-set experiences.
- The Art of Chappie Photo Gallery
We have seen pieces of media that focus on resurrection. Let’s see you got 1989’s PET SEMETARY, 1990’s FLATLINERS, and I believe the Bible touched on this a time or two. All have more resonance and ask more ethical questions than David Gelb’s (JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI) THE LAZARUS EFFECT.
Taking place in a lab a group of scientists (Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover and Evan Peters) are about to achieve a scientific breakthrough that will enable them to bring the dead back to life. But of course something goes wrong and that’s when the yawning starts. Trust me, THE LAZARUS EFFECT has a been-there-done-that vibe right from the start.
The overqualified cast and crew have a worthy production company in Blumhouse (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, INSIDIOUS) backing the project, but it’s hard to shake that been there/done that vibe right from the start. This is the C-SPAN of back from the dead movies.
The wafer thin thematic elements take a formidable conceit and turn it into a plot that outright refuses to take any chances. It just doesn’t make sense that out of the two films in Gelb’s directorial filmography, the one about an 80-year-old man rolling sushi is the one with all the panache.
– Cole Clay
The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes:
- 2.40:1, 1080p HD video
- DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English sound
- English SDH and Spanish subtitles
- Creating Fear: The Making of The Lazarus Effect
- Playing God: The Moral Dilemma
- Deleted/Extended Scenes
Make no mistake, Vince Vaughn (THE INTERNSHIP) is a likable guy, and if this whole acting thing doesn’t work out he’s got a great fall back as a motor-mouthed door-to-door salesman. Vaughn’s mantra hasn’t changed, but instead of slowly getting to a place where he can deliver a nuanced performance, he rattles off nonsensical jargon, trying to search for his next catch-phrase, which has been so not money for the past decade.
I had some hope for UNFINISHED BUSINESS, as the cast has the promising comedic chops of Dave Franco (NEIGHBORS) and Tom Wilkinson (THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL), who usually ignites the screen, but not this time. Also, there’s Sienna Miller (AMERICAN SNIPER), who is in comeback mode, in a supporting role as a shrew-y sales competitor. All of these folks hit ground-level with a monstrous thud.
Vaughn plays a down on his luck salesman who takes his only two employees (played by the two gentlemen mentioned above) to Germany in hopes of landing a lucrative business deal that can save his swarf business that probably isn’t worth saving to begin with.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS has Vaughn teaming up again with Ken Scott (DELIVERY MAN) in a rather dubious attempt to show off his sensitive side. The underdog brand of comedy has worked time-and-time again for Vaughn and it’s familiar territory for Scott, but the tired act from the principal cast is the least of this film’s worries.
A dull script by Steve Conrad (THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS) is void of any laughs and is full of narrative deadweight (shame on you Steve Conrad– you’re writing the wrong movie). His writing typically works well with the everyman persona that Vaughn is grasping straws to attain. Check out the underrated 2005 comedy THE WEATHER MAN instead, which just may be Conrad’s best work to date.
– Cole Clay
- Deleted Scenes
- Show Me Your Business: Making of UNFINISHED BUSINESS
WELCOME TO ME | 105 min | Rated PG-13
Director: Shira Piven
Stars: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Wes Bentley, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, Alan Tudyk and Tim Robbins
WELCOME TO ME is a dark toned comedy where Kristen Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who goes off her psychiatric meds, wins the lottery and buys her own talk show.
This is a neat enough premise to warrant your attention, and the cast is strong enough to pull you in; however, it’s a film that ultimately leaves you on the fence. You feel unsure because it so often makes you feel dirty, uncomfortable and annoyed. Sure, there have been great movies that have left you feeling a little strange and weird, such as last year’s FRANK, but there are no rewards here.
Tonally, this film is all over the place. There will be these great, grounded moments that work within the world of the film, such as Klieg exorcising her personal demons and re-enacting moments from her past. It’s really quite a fascinating exploration. But then, those moments will be shoveled aside by these rather absurd and ridiculous moments that throw this story in a tail-spin, including how quickly she spends her money (making it seem more like a scene out of BRIDESMAIDS) and how she ditches her clothes to walk completely naked through a casino (a scene that comes from out of nowhere and functions like a shortcut to “serious acting”).
Despite how uneven this film is, I have to commend Wiig for taking on such a challenging role that is both emotionally and physically daring. After exiting SNL and taking on big projects such as BRIDESMAIDS, she could have made an easy cash-grab by making other movies just like it, but she didn’t do that. She chased different and complex roles, with films like THE SKELETON TWINS, A GIRL MOST LIKELY and HATESHIP LOVESHIP. Yeah, sometimes the movies around her performance don’t always stick (much like this one), but you can’t help but admire how bold she is, especially here.
WELCOME TO ME showcases strong performances in a narrative that needs more tightening and understanding of what kind of film it is. It will often offer riveting insight into the idea that “television makes us all narcissists,” but it loses grip on its ideas and doesn’t really say much in the end.
– Preston Barta
- Special Featurette