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November 14, 2008|By Chris Kaltenbach

My Name Is Bruce *** ( 3 STARS)

An exercise in self-indulgent filmmaking at its most endearing, My Name Is Bruce casts beloved grade-B horror star Bruce Campbell as obnoxious grade-B horror star Bruce Campbell, and wonders what would happen if the cinema worlds created for his films became real.

At least, that's kind of what it does, in a we've-got-to-come-up-with-a-coherent-plotline-for-this-film sort of way. But mostly, what My Name Is Bruce does is give its director-star endless opportunities to make fun of himself. Fans - and they're a dedicated lot - will eat it up, of course. But what's surprising is that the film has genuine laughs and smart-aleck asides that will keep even nonfans happy (although it helps if you at least like the genre).

The film has the on-screen Campbell, an obnoxious twit who abuses fans as much as he abuses the craft of acting, recruited by the residents of Gold Lick, Ore., to save them from a vengeful Chinese demon, the dreaded Guan-di, whose specialty is decapitating his victims. Campbell at first thinks the whole thing is a joke engineered by his agent and, when he finds out it's all too real, does what any God-fearing actor would do in a similar situation. He runs.

Of course he comes back, and there's a climactic showdown of sorts. It's all played for good-natured laughs (at one point, a disgusted townie asks Campbell, "Don't you have a bad movie to make?") and the supporting cast, especially Grace Thorsen as the potential love interest, has great fun being in on the jokes. Evil Dead this isn't - but then, what is?

Rated R . Time 84 minutes.

Ballast *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)

Ballast is a film that goes nowhere and everywhere, a film of universal themes about people who rarely have movies made about them, people with whom its audiences may have little in common - save for a shared humanity and a desperate need for ... something.

First-time writer-director Lance Hammer has made an extraordinarily brave and beautiful film, filled with characters who don't say much and don't do much, save search desperately for something to give their lives meaning and direction. Set in the deepest recesses of the Mississippi Delta, a black community so far removed from the national consciousness that it seems from another planet, the film centers on a storekeeper (Michael J. Smith Jr.) emotionally crippled by the suicide of his twin brother. His estranged sister-in-law (Tara Riggs), a former addict struggling to stay physically and emotionally clean, has her hands full with her son, James (JimMyron Ross), whose only connection to the world (and it's a tenuous one at that) is the crack he buys from the kids at school and the TV screen he stares at blankly every afternoon.

Ballast offers slim rays of hope for these three, who are so alone against the rest of the world that they're scared to admit it. It's a frustrating film in that its characters resolutely defy convention, and its story offers no epiphany, no one moment when everything becomes clear. But even as it stubbornly resists any sense of closure, it cautiously reminds its characters and its audience that hope, and the future it promises, is sometimes more a matter of conviction than revelation.

Rated R . Time 96 minutes.

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