Ballast - Directed by Lance Hammer.
12-year-old James (JimMyron Ross) owes thugs $100, so he arrives at the home of Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith, Sr) and threatens him at gunpoint to fork over money. Lawrence had recently injured himself trying to commit suicide after discovering that his twin brother, Darius, died of a fatal drug overdose. Meanwhile, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), Jamesí mother, gets involved in all the altercations. The plot sounds like it could be compelling given its summary, but so many scenes lack dramatic tension and simply feel bland. Writer/director Lance Hammer expects the audience to infer the relationships between each character and their significance to the thin narrative. Thereís clearly much more going on beneath the surface, but Hammerís weak, unimaginative screenplay doesnít allow you to care about what happens to any of the characters, which makes it difficult to become absorbed by what youíre watching. The pace moves at such a sluggish rate that itís often sleep-inducing. On a positive note, Hammer does a decent job of using bleak, muted colors through cinematography that compliments the filmís overall melancholy tone. With a more imaginative script and stronger attention to character development, Ballast could have been much more engaging and poignant rather than often tedious and dull. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Alluvial Film Company. Opens at the Film Forum
Religulous - Directed by Larry Charles.
This provocative, hilarious documentary follows comedian Bill Maher as he pokes fun at the absurdities of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism and Scientology. He claims that it doesnít make sense that people of logic and reason believe in religion, especially stories in the bible that involve people living a few hundred years and living in the belly of a whale. Many of the interviews have laugh-out-loud moments when Maher points out concepts that donít make sense, such as an ďex-gayĒ man who married an ďex-lesbianĒ woman while embracing the Christian faith. Contrary to evidence, the man says that homosexuals are depressed about their sexual identity. Maher keenly points out that those observations are rather judgmental. None of the truly funny bits will be spoiled here, but itís worth mentioning to look out for a congressmanís brutally honest confession about the non-requirements for being a congressman in the United States. What makes the film surprisingly intruguing, though, is how Maher thoroughly examine religion while clearly articulating his own beliefs and not sounding like a total buffoon or psycho. His argument that the strong belief in religions nowadays has led to wars and bloodshed sounds quite provocative and will stir up a lot of anger in religious people. Does Maher expect you to become angry? He probably expects a wide variety of reactions. Either way, he has every right to question something that interests him even if others take it for granted. It would have been slightly more enlightening to viewers had director Larry Charles mentioned 18th Century philosopher David Hume, who wrote about the difference between those who believe in miracles and those who donít. What it comes down to, according to his conclusion, is that some people need evidence to believe in something while others donít need any. Bill Maher simply falls into the former category and heís courageous to be unashamed of it and, most of all, to approach it in a lively, imaginative way. You may not agree with all his conclusions, but if youíre willing to keep an open mind about religion and arenít easily offended, youíll find Religulous to be wildly entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Lionsgate.