Sometimes I still watch real films, though I rarely write about them. Here's one: Ballast. This festival favorite, just now on DVD, is set in the Mississippi Delta and explores the ways that broken African-American families interact in tiny towns where they must all continue to move within the same radius. Lawrence's brother, who lived with him, has killed himself and he's retreated into his own mind, barely speaking. He begins to emerge only when his brother's estranged son begins coming around after the funeral, ostensibly to steal money from Lawrence but seemingly more intrigued by the idea of Lawrence as a potential new father figure. A bond begins to form between Lawrence, the son, and his mother, but soon we see that that this new family unit will likely disintegrate in the same fashion as the older one, and the film ends with mother and son drifting away again. Ballast is beautifully shot, much of it with hand-held, using natural light and sound. It never telegraphs how we should feel about these characters nor over-explains their motivations. It's completely real in the best possible ways. And most people will hate it.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed Zemeckis' take on The Christmas Carol. What could have easily turned into a pure, dumbed-disaster full of Carrey's Scrooge making funny faces and fart jokes is actually pretty faithful and affecting. Which is not to say that there isn't an overload of special effects (including one completely unecessary chase scene, as a terrified Scrooge runs from the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come). Also: if filmmakers want to prove to us that 3-D is no longer just a gimmick, they're going to have to deliver me one film that doesn't rely on a few extraneous bits of random shit popping out of the screen. But when the technology is used simply to add depth, it certainly works well: the vision of snow-covered London looks pretty fantastic. Zemeckis' performance-capture technology has also been significantly improved since The Polar Express days. Though the actors themselves are still nearly unrecognizable at times, they no longer have the weird "dead eye" quality everyone remarked on with that earlier picture. All in all, probably a better film for families to see during the holidays than this year's baffling Thanksgiving releases of Ninja Assassin ("Come on, grandma, let's go see these kick-ass ninjas!") or The Road (a little bit of apocalypse for dessert, perhaps?).