Monday, April 25, 2011



Told mostly in flashback, Sam Moussavi's Amateur Hour is the story of a successful director, "Hayward" (Mark Halpern), financing his first film... by conducting a heist.

His band of then-fledgling filmmakers-cum-criminals is an oddball assortment.

Joey Ibanez as "Richie Boy" is dedicated to the twin endeavors' success... but not so dedicated that he won't complicate matters by synchronizing with the Mayan calendar instead of his co-conspirators' watches.

"Apollonia" (Carolina Monte Rosa) is the luminous, under-appreciated muse of the vaguely morose Hayward. She creates costumes and storyboards for both the planned film and the heist, barely minding, it seems, living in the virtual shadow of Hayward's red-dressed Risky Business-style fantasy girl (Ena Vladi).

For heist-funding purposes, Hayward, Richie Boy, and Apollonia expand their ranks with would-be criminal types of questionable aptitude. Irishman "McGuinn" (Joe Isenberg) is their inside man at the farm whose goat-auction money is their quest. The twinkle in his eyes belies the low wattage behind them. For one thing, he carelessly waltzes his girlfriend, "Persephone" (Caroline O'Grady), into to a crime-plotting meeting. Wild-haired muscle-man "Hardy" (Michael Saltzman) speaks almost entirely in guttural gibberish. Bespectacled "Maynard" (Thomas C. Bartley), who specializes in security alarms, seems the most competent of the caper crew, though he did recruit the other two lugs.

While countless indie films focus on the tribulations of aspiring filmmakers, Amateur Hour refreshes the genre with an original concept. And rather than the usual slapstick, it's almost stately in its execution.

Technically, Amateur Hour is quite accomplished. It has consistently handsome cinematography (shot with a RED One camera), excellent sound, and a fine soundtrack by Tom Nassif and Thievery Corporation. I'd quibble with a detail here and there, such as the hard-audio cuts in early blackout scenes and a couple of jump-cuts that look more like glitches than creative choices. But, in contrast with its title, Amateur Hour is a real movie made on a small budget ($50,000).

What keeps the film afloat is its affection for its ensemble and some winning moments of quirk. Among my favorite touches are the nicely drawn storyboards that map out the caper and occasionally morph into amusing animations. Also amusing, and a little poignant, are Hayward's attempts to interest his fellow felons-to-be in investing in his film.

Some running gags are both entertaining and arguably run into the ground, such as Hardy's mumblemouth, and Hayward's T-shirts with oblique pop-culture references, and the gang's Pulp Fiction-like enthusiasm for a tasty beverage (Virgil's root beer). I've met more than a few indie filmmakers with Hayward's distant mien, so I can't argue with the verisimilitude in the writing and Mark Halpern's fine performance. However, viewers may find it hard to warm to the character.

All told, Amateur Hour stands up as an indie film made at a modest price with solid technique, and representing a distinctive aesthetic. It's a film quite comfortable in its own skin, defiantly unhurried.

Sam Moussavi tells the story of making this, his first feature film, at

Film: "Amateur Hour"
Director: Sam Moussavi
Film's website:

Amateur Hour Trailer from Austere films on Vimeo.

Review written by Justin Fielding
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Reel Zine
© Reel Zine 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment