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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze


Ballast [Blu-ray]


(Lance Hammer, 2008)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Alluvial Film Company

Video: Kino Video



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:36:14.893

Disc Size: 23,196,786,160 bytes

Feature Size: 16,865,064,960 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.99 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: November 10th, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



Dolby TrueHD Audio English 926 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 926 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps)



English (SDH), English, French, Spanish, none



• Director supervised high-definition digital transfer from the 35mm interpositive
Ballast Scene Development - A 37-minute making-of feature charting the evolution of several scenes through the improvisational conflict sessions and two-month rehearsal process that gave form to the final film - in HD!
Original theatrical trailer
A new essay by film critic Amy Taubin





Description: A double prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival and one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2008, Ballast is a stunningly evocative story of personal catastrophe and communal redemption. In the cold winter light of the Mississippi Delta, three lonely people stumble under the weight of a shared tragedy. Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith, Sr.) is paralyzed with grief after the loss of his twin brother. Twelve-year-old James (Jim Myron Ross) drifts into the perilous orbit of local teenagers while his single mother, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), is too exhausted from her menial job to interpret the clues. When sudden violence forces mother and son to flee their home in the night, they alight desperately on Lawrence s property. Though this provides safe harbor, it rekindles the fury of a bitter, longstanding conflict. Writer-director Lance Hammer and his gifted cast of local, non-professional actors have created an unflinching, profoundly humane story of lost souls forced by circumstance to seek solace in the most unlikely of places.



The Film:

This visual style owes a strong, self-conscious debt to the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who, over the last dozen years, have shaken up the world cinema scene with their grave, beautiful, urgent films, including “Rosetta,” “The Son” and “L’Enfant,” about the everyday struggles of ordinary people. Though Mr. Hammer is clearly taking cues from the Dardennes, among the most influential filmmakers working today, his movie is the latest in a tradition of homegrown realism rooted in Italian neorealism and nurtured by avant-garde cinema and documentary traditions. Before there was “Ballast,” there was “The Cool World,” Shirley Clarke’s still-vibrant 1963 drama about black gangs in Harlem, and “Killer of Sheep,” Charles Burnett’s 1977 masterpiece about a poor black Los Angeles family.

“Ballast” doesn’t need to reach the sublime heights of “Killer of Sheep” to earn its rightful due: it’s a serious achievement and a welcome sign of a newly invigorated American independent cinema. Mr. Hammer, a Southern California native whose background studying architecture is evident in his graceful compositions and sensitivity toward forms — Lawrence’s body at times looms larger than his tiny house — hovers near his characters without ever piercing their skin. He doesn’t draw blood, but he does do something so many movies forget: he captures the rhythms of life. Using caressing natural light, he watches and waits as Lawrence smokes another cigarette and James circles this big man like a puppy. He follows Marlee across the yard and James across the field. He catches their footfalls, the sounds of their breath.

Excerpt from Manohla Darghis at the NY Times located HERE



Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Ballast appears on Blu-ray in a modest single-layered transfer from Kino. The image quality shows some grit and minor grain. Described as 'director supervised high-definition digital transfer from the 35mm interpositive', it probably looked quite similar to this theatrically. Visuals look a shade greenish and there is some digital noise - more prevalent in the darker areas of the frame. The grain has a nice even texture without adhering to blockiness. This 1080P Blu-ray looks quite good in supporting a rewarding presentation of the film.  We can't ask for much more.



















Audio :

The TrueHD 5.1 track is fairly flat. The film's dialogue is realistically scattered and poor communication is one of Ballast's many representations. Separation is minimal with some rain and car noises - audio in the film itself is quite sparse. Ballast is more an expression of visuals and the track's weakness don't hind the viewing by any means. My Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.



Extras :

Extras are not abundant with about a 1/2 hours worth of 'Scene Development', described as 'making-of feature charting the evolution of several scenes through the improvisational conflict sessions and two-month rehearsal process that gave form to the final film', a trailer and some liner notes with an excellent essay by Amy Taubin. It can be such an emotionally exhaustive experience that you don't really require much more in the way of supplements. This isn't a film that needs dissection - but rather personal digestion over time. Ballast says enough within its frames of the feature film.



Ballast evokes memories of Frozen River and the work of the Dardennne brothers - and that praise can't get any higher. It is a pure masterpiece in the new mold of modern realist cinema and the modest Blu-ray supports the best presentation for your home theater. At the price offered, or even much more - this is the easiest recommendation of the year. 

Gary Tooze

October 31st, 2009





About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze








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