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Compelling ensemble drama
+Good drama +Good directing +-Slightly less visually slick and stylish than higher budget dramas -A lot of characters to keep track of, hence less time for character development
The basic story is of a Moroccan hustler named Khaled who lives in Amsterdam at the center of a complicated web of love, crime, deceit and true friendship. He steals to survive, and the script is like a snapshot of Khaled's life at it's most important crossroad - when all of his chickens have returned home to roost, and when his life could slow down dramatically or spiral completely out of control.
Through Khaled's story the viewer meets _______, a warm hearted man who lives and travels with his partner _______; Hanna, a German on a holiday from hell with her two battling parents; Roos, an impressionable Dutch girl whose two crazy brothers have joined Khaled in a life of crime; John, a charming visitor from New York whose wife (played by Marisa Tomei) is too erratic for him to handle but too rich for him to leave. Khaled's brother has been trying to bring him news from Morocco, but gets tangled up with a police detective who is hunting Khaled down.
This is a film showing an Amsterdam as a reluctant melting pot of diverse families - NOT a Disneyland of pot and prostitutes. It seems like a place where it's easy to pass through, but to actually live and survive there is difficult. The overlapping of stories will remind some of other films like "Crash" and "La Linea", and also of grittier ensemble dramas like "Traffic" and "Life is Hot in Cracktown".
Don't be turned off by the slightly video/television look of the film, especially its opening scenes. It is definitely a film worth watching and appreciating.
Teenage Dirtbag (2009)
Honest emotion shines through the unsure film-making
****No major spoilers, just a comment about how characters unfold*****
This film gets off to a slow start that is not helped much by the film-making, which shows a lot of promise but is not confident or consistent.
Luckily I stuck with it and watched a really nice romantic story unfold between the two leads. Thayer is a layered guy with a haunting persona, expressive face and an incredible knack for creative writing. His scenes in their writing class were the best aspect of the film in my opinion. The female lead was good at times but generally not so well matched for her co- star.
All characters outside of the male lead were slightly two dimensional and under-written. Thayer's sister (played by the director I think) has the potential to blossom but she would have needed a couple more lines towards the end of the film (I would have liked to see what the two women spoke about when the female lead asks to speak to her).
Technically the film is so-so. The visuals are basic and do the job OK but the dialogue sounds dubbed and really takes away from the drama.
When the writing was good it was EXCELLENT and when the two leads had romantic tension (like when Thayer has his head pressed against hers by the lockers) the film showed moments of BRILLIANCE.
I would definitely watch the next film from this writer/director, especially if she gets a slightly bigger crew to help her tell her compelling stories.
Last Chance Harvey (2008)
Wasn't expecting this from director of Jump Tomorrow
Great acting and good direction - but sort of a random departure from the freshness and quirkiness of Joel Hopkins' first feature. I saw Jump Tomorrow on an airplane (British Airways I think) and it was such a great find! Live today and jump tomorrow was a great philosophy (and decent short term cure for depression). I remembered it years later and wondered if the director would follow up with something equally interesting.
Last Chance Harvey good but...dare I say a little bland?
Either way I'm glad Joel is working again I'll definitely watch out for the next one.
Pig Hunt (2008)
Rocky Road at first but a STRONG finish (No specific spoilers but I AM commenting on the script structure)
One of the basics of screen writing is that in the second act you've really got to shake things up for the climax to really mean something. This film, IMHO, got AWESOME as soon as a minor character dies, triggering a series of death/vendetta moments to follow. It took a lesson out of the George Romero guidebook, which is that the tension can't all be "outside". Little mutinies and unexpected stumbled-upon enemies can really amp up the excitement.
Since the acting quality is not so evenly distributed (sorry, it's just not!) I really could have done without the long winded first act and a half. I'd have preferred to spend a bit longer seeing the cat-and-mouse sequences unfold.
With that said, I was impressed with this project. Really liked the diverse cast of friends and foes, the makeup and the effects. I'm guessing that's where the budget went, although to be honest I thought this movie cost a lot less than it turns out it did.
Summary: Creative horror premise, good gore factor and bonus points for possibly THE most random assortment of characters to ever hunt each other on screen.