Sundance Film Festival – 2010 Highlights

Cyrus (dir. Duplass Brothers) – Indie film directors switch to more mainstream fare with John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill in a nice looking comedy-drama.

Buried (dir.Rodrigo Cortés) – Ryan Reynolds stars as a contractor in Iraq who wakes up buried in a wooden coffin with only a candle, knife, and cell phone. Very interesting circumstances could make for a real test of Reynolds’ talents.

Jack Goes Boating (dir. Philip Seymour Hoffman) – Hoffman’s directorial debut of a stage play he starred in. A romantic comedy set in NYC, starring Hoffman and Amy Smart.

The Killer Inside Me (dir. Michael Winterbottom) – Winterbottom is one of the most dynamic British directors working today and this film looks to be just as mind-blowing as previous work. Casey Affleck stars as a small town sheriff who is secretly a serial killer, finding it harder and harder to hide his crimes.

Holy Rollers (dir. Kevin Asch) -Jesse Eisenberg takes on his first purely dramatic starring role as a Hasidic Jew lured into the drug trafficking business.

High School (dir. John Stalberg) – In what is being billed as a stoner EPIC, the valedictorian of his high school realizes he has to get drug tested and this will reveal he’s a pothead. His plan to remedy this is to fix the drug tests of the entire graduating class to test positive for marijuana. Stars Adrien Brody as Psycho Ed, check out the pic above 😀

Hesher (dir. Spencer Susser) – Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the total opposite of his character in last year’s 500 Days of Summer. He’s a burnout, locked up in his trailer with nothing but hate for the world around him, and eventually becomes the mentor of a 13 year old boy. Natalie Portman co-stars.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (dir. Eli Craig) – I love the premise: Two rednecks, who are actually kind men, are believed to be psycho killers by a group of teenagers from the city who try to kill the pair. This could either be a big letdown or a genius film. Stars Alan Tudyk.

Film 2009 #180 – Ballast

Ballast (2008)
Directed by Lance Hammer
Starring Micheal Smith, Jr., JimMyron Ross, Tarra Riggs

It begins with the discovery of a man who killed himself with pills. His body is found in his home during the winter in a Mississippi Delta township and has a life-changing effect on the last three members of his family.

In the hands of a Hollywood studio this film would have felt the need to be over-emotive in its themes. Instead, first time feature director, Lance Hammer shows considerable restraint. Reactions are subdued and brooding, a truer reflection of how people deal with tragedy in their families. The landscape of rural Mississippi during the bitter winter adds to the tone of grief felt by the three main characters of the film. It’s interesting to note that the landscape is so wide open yet the characters all seem to be constrained and locked up in how they interact.

The plot follows Darius (Smith, Jr), Marlee (Riggs), and James (Ross). Darius is the deceased brother who attempts suicide on himself after discovering his brother. After recovering from the attempt, he delivers his brother’s will to the ex-wife and estranged son. Their various problems in life come to the surface and through their tense relationships with one another they come to an understanding.

The film presents an angle of the African-American experience rarely seen on film. Typically, we see only urban black youth in our theaters and Ballast focuses on the rural experience of the culture. The economic struggle appears more desolate and hopeless mainly because of the void-like expanse of nothingness surrounding them. Hammer chose to use local non-professional actors in the film and the choice results in amazing performances. The sadness and anger is so natural and real and truly displays the after effects of a suicide on the people left behind. The most revelatory aspect of the film is its abruptness. Throughout the film, jump cuts are used but most importantly the beginning and conclusion of the film are sudden. There’s a lot about the past we can assume from passing pieces of dialogue. As for the future, there are lot of plot points left unanswered but it fits with the cinéma vérité like tone of the picture. At the end, Ballast exists as a slice of life depiction of people dealing with tragedy across all fronts of their lives.