My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on two short films and the debut feature film by director Carroll Ballard.



Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

What an incredible feature debut from director Carroll Ballard! Armed by Francis Ford Coppola (who produces) with a fantastic cinematographer by his side, Caleb Deschanel, Ballard makes a “kids movie” that is so much more than that.

The first third of the picture is truly astounding. From the breathtaking shipwreck sequence to the stunning images of the boy and his horse on the island, THE BLACK STALLION opens with beauty and power. Ballard tells his story with pictures, not words, and as my dad mentioned while we watched it, this film would be a great demonstration to film students. Some of the images are unforgettable and that’s mostly because they tie so perfectly with the internal journey of the boy.

If STALLION falters at all, it’s in the middle section when he returns to the states. But it soon recovers thanks to Mickey Rooney, giving perhaps his best late-career performance. From visual montage to seemingly-improvised character moments, Ballard’s movie is not one with an agenda. He takes its time and focuses on the small moments, like a less indulgent Terrence Malick.

The conclusion of the picture is a bit fantastical… I mean, the whole movie is somewhat of a fable that touches its toes in realism. However far-fetched the ending might be, it’s magical and definitely moved me. For this viewer and filmmaker, THE BLACK STALLION is a work of art and further proves that Ballard is one of the most under-valued American filmmakers of his generation.

Watched on Tubi


RODEO (1969)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

The second of two short films by Ballard currently programmed on Criterion Channel, RODEO is the raw examination of that world I’ve always wanted to see on screen. The first several minutes take their time an observational camera, standing back to capture the gritty characters and world of bull/bronc riding. The second half becomes something else altogether. Ballard creates a sort of fever dream during one ride and it is a spectacular use of camera and cutting, exhilarating to watch and unforgettable. This was truly the sign of a unique voice in cinema coming to be.

Watched on Criterion Channel



Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Ballard’s document / day-in-the-life of a house cat is a clever short film. It moves slow at first and meanders like the titular character’s path around town but then when we get to the parking lot chase, it takes off. The camera work and cutting are frantic but clearly precise under Ballad’s direction. They truly create the feeling of fear as we watch Priscilla go through the gauntlet. It’s a well done piece and another sign of what was to come.

Watched on Criterion Channel.