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The Films of Joel Hopkins

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Last Chance Harvey (January 9/09)

Though saddled with virtually every single romantic-comedy convention one could possibly imagine, Last Chance Harvey nevertheless manages to break through its admittedly hackneyed structure to become a surprisingly charming piece of work - with Dustin Hoffman's thoroughly compelling turn as the central character certainly standing as the film's most overtly positive attribute. The actor stars as Harvey Shine, a musician whose pathetic existence is alleviated after he meets a lonely airline employee (Emma Thompson's Kate Walker) while in England for his daughter's wedding. Filmmaker Joel Hopkins has infused Last Chance Harvey with an unapologetically manipulative sensibility that's at its most egregious in the opening half hour, as Harvey is portrayed as an almost epically morose figure who essentially comes off as the living embodiment of Murphy's Law (ie he loses his job, his flight is cancelled, his daughter wants her stepfather to walk her down the aisle, etc). It's only as Harvey encounters Kate that the movie first starts to genuinely engage the viewer, and there's ultimately little doubt that Last Chance Harvey fares best during the tentative couple's early getting-to-know-one-another conversations (which are, admittedly, more than a little reminiscent of Before Sunrise and its sequel). By the time the inevitable fake break-up rolls around - one that is, even by the genre's standards, particularly needless - it's become awfully easy to overlook the film's various deficiencies thanks to the engaging (and downright palpable) chemistry between the two stars. The movie's place as a well-crafted example of feel-good storytelling is subsequently impossible to deny, and it's certainly refreshing to encounter a romance revolving around a pair of older characters.

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The Love Punch (May 16/14)

Written and directed by Joel Hopkins, The Love Punch follows divorced couple Richard (Pierce Brosnan) and Kate (Emma Thompson) as they team up to steal a pricey diamond from a callous businessman - with the film detailing the pair's preparations for and execution of said heist. Filmmaker Hopkins has infused The Love Punch with an almost unreasonably lighthearted feel that's evident right from the word go, and it's clear that, for a while, the movie is about as breezy and entertaining as Hopkins has surely intended - with the effervescent atmosphere heightened by charming work of stars Brosnan and Thompson. (It doesn't hurt, either, that the actors' chemistry together is palpable.) But the film, which has essentially been geared towards one's parents, can't sustain its playful vibe for much longer than about a half hour, as the narrative begins to seriously run out of steam past that point - with Hopkins' continuing efforts to liven up the proceedings (ie there's even a car chase!) only compounding the progressively tiresome feel. The inclusion of several eye-rollingly hackneyed elements (eg a song is interrupted by an honest-to-god record scratch) paves the way for a heist-focused third act that's just not very interesting, while the nigh interminable final stretch, devoted to Richard and Kate's will-they-or-won't-they-reunite antics, ultimately confirms The Love Punch's place as an underwhelming and forgettable endeavor that squanders the efforts of its charismatic leads.

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