John Shepard, Lyra Olson, David Melissaratos, Maxwell C. Blackriver
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
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"JT vs. The Good Guys" Review
Chris Shimojima was the writer/director for Madeleine Zabel, one of the highest praised shorts by The Independent Critic from this past year. Having successfully screened at Vancouver International Film Festival, Madeleine Zabel continues on the film festival circuit but, it would seem, has struggled a bit given the difficulty one will have in pegging it into any specific genre and because Shimojima's dialogue the film connoisseur rather than the everyday filmgoer.
With this film, JT vs. The Good Guys, Shimojima was advised by a peer to consider doing something simpler and, perhaps, with even a bit more actual action in it.
First off, this was bad advice. Shimojima has a natural gift for dialogue and an inherent ability to structure it into a cohesive, quality short film. While every filmmaker must learn how to create a film that exhibits both artistic integrity and is at least modestly attractive to audiences, the notion of needing to "simplify" is hogwash and just plain bad advice.
That said, JT vs. The Good Guys is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. Shimojima takes a topic that is culturally relevant, that of bullying, and creates a film that defies expectations and creates challenging assertions along the way. This is a "simpler" film, one could say, but it contains enough of Shimojima's insightful voice to remain an involving film.
JT (John Shepard) is a bully - or he was a bully? In the initial moments of this 12-minute short, it's not exactly clear whether or not JT has amended his ways or is simply putting on a show of bravado. JT vs. The Good Guys is a film about bullying told, at least on a certain level, through the eyes of a bully who begins to experience that which he has created. JT's relationship with Sam (Lyra Olson) is on the way out as she seems to prefer the kinder, gentler artsy type personified by Wade (David Melissarotos). The action that follows centers around a game of ultimate frisbee and an increasingly aggressive role reversal of victim becoming perpetrator and perpetrator becoming victim.
Or does it?
Shimojima's film, even in the short span of 12 minutes, manages to build enough suspense and to create enough unpredictability that you'll find yourself wanting to keep watching it and, perhaps, even wishing it would continue to unfold. Our leading trio of actors is strong, with John Shepard exuding a sort of fractured adolescent machismo that makes you wonder exactly where all of this is going to end up. Lyra Olson is strong as the former girlfriend, whose emotions often feel like that ball swinging back and forth across the table during a game of ping pong. Melissarotos also shines as the new beau, an artsy type with an air of condescension that constantly makes you wonder.
I admit it. I may be in the minority, but I find myself preferring the complexity and layers of a film like Madeleine Zabel over the more straightforward approach of a film such as this one. Both films, however, reveal an up-and-coming talent with a gift for dialogue and a vision strong enough to create cohesive, entertaining stories both simple and complex.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic