Ballast (Lance Hammer, 2008). Last month, Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema posted a list of the “Top 10 American Indie Filmmakers Missing in Action”. Lance Hammer was #1. As of now, Ballast is Hammer’s only feature as director. In fact, his IMDB page lists nothing after 2008 (before Ballast, he worked on visual effects for a couple of Batman movies as well as Practical Magic). This is almost as interesting as the film itself, which is earnest and gets the most out of its small budget and largely amateur cast. The characters avoid stereotypes, and the actors are “real” without seeming out of their depth as actors. The film is a critical fave ... Roger Ebert admitted it made him cry. I’d like to see more from Hammer, but for me, this is more a good start than a masterpiece. #365 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.
Pride & Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005). As with the other Joe Wright films I have seen (Atonement and Anna Karenina), the director makes his presence known. The camera moves about like Wright has channeled Max Ophüls, and for the most part, that dazzle is in service to the film rather than existing on its own (the problem with Anna Karenina). Ultimately, though, the movie hangs on the actors, and give Wright credit for creating an atmosphere conducive to fine collective performances. The actresses playing the sisters have commented on how easily they bonded, and how much they appreciated Brenda Blethyn’s presence as both the mother of the film and the Mum of the actors. This shows through on the screen ... there is nothing cloying about the sisters. Carey Mulligan makes her film debut, Rosamund Pike is mostly just beautiful (although her beauty is quirky, and she is giving a good performance, letting us know there is something beneath the surface besides shyness). Keira Knightley has to carry the film, and she’s up to the challenge. Much of the supporting cast is also good, although I admit I wasn’t much taken with Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy. Better than Bridget Jones’s Diary. #638 on the TSPDT 21st century list. 8/10.
The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Lothar Mendes and Alexander Korda, 1936). I’m not sure why, but I think of H.G. Wells as a 19th-century figure. I suppose it’s that the works Wells is most famous for came at the end of that century: The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds all came between 1895 and 1898. But Wells lived to see the end of World War II. He was alive when Orson Welles performed his infamous radio version of War of the Worlds. So it should be no surprise that Wells wrote the “scenario and dialogue” for this version of his 1898 short story. But surprised I was when his name turned up in the credits. The film itself is a quick and at times funny story about a mild-mannered man chosen by a God to have the ability to perform miracles. His first miracle is to make a candle light burn when it is turned upside down ... his last miracle is to stop the rotation of the Earth. And he gets there in 82 minutes. Things get preachy at the end, and after accepting the original premise, I never got much involved in the proceedings. Roland Young is winning in the title role, and along the way we get the ever-entertaining Ernest Thesiger and the lovely Joan Gardner, whose talents admittedly are more visual than thespic. 6/10.