Friday, January 20, 2012

Short Film Review: JT vs. the Good Guys

Fighting The Good Fight

      A traditional high school film unfurls with less excitement than a trip to the dentist, a dentist, in fact, with credentials best exemplified by this smiling buffoon of Bond lore. Convention elucidates, often blithely, a celebration of Mr. Drab and Mr. Dull, figures whose genetic code reads, in the strictest interpretation: Minutia of mundanity. Boring and banal, let's be honest, are two words deathly undeserving of cinematic treatment. Thankfully, an exhilarated gasp and animated fist pump later, Chris Shimojima's (Director of Madeleine Zabel, reviewed by yours truly) newest short, JT vs. the Good Guys, competently circumvents convention, revealing a nontraditional high school film with gusto.
      Rejecting the simplicity of the subject matter, Shimojima presents a stylistic deconstruction of an aggressor's fractured psyche; specifically, the de facto high school bully who's forced to confront his classmates' (victims perhaps) simmering resentments. With a kinetic style indicative of robust talent, thematic weight uncharacteristic of a short, and uncanny visual language uncommon in a fledgling enterprise, Mr. Shimojima unleashes a vibrancy best suited for feature-length directorial work; unquestionably, the highest praise one can bestow upon a nascent filmmaker.  

      A motley group of high school students gather at a soccer field. A beautiful establishing shot, highlighting a vivacious swath of trees, underscores the exquisite beauty of nature. These teenage composites assemble for one purpose: An ultimate Frisbee game. The focal point of Shimojima's narrative is JT (played with stern confidence by John Shepard), the eponymous protagonist, whose clumsy, tough-guy persona is put to the crucible. Beset by a fading courtship with the archetypical popular girl, Sam, whose idea of romance resides in the heart of a quiet, budding musician, and a confluence of acrimony from schoolmates, once scorned by the central bully, JT becomes the victim of his own creation. But the brash, "You'll Refer To Me As A Badass" bully never surrenders his roughshod impulses, shattering any potential notion of moral redemption. JT vs. the Good Guys is, after all, a poignant portrait of a youth culture, deluded by surface engagements, predicated, prima facie, on tangential relationships. Despite an epiphanic moment, which generally would usher an arousal of change, the incorrigible spirit of Chris's antagonistic protagonist lingers prominently. 
      JT vs. the Good Guys is not a peerless advertisement of action, but is a ballad of movement with eclectic flourishes, which demonstrate dynamic camera sophistication. With a large cast featuring commendable performances from John Shepard (JT), Lyra Olson (Sam), David Melissaratos (Wade), and Maxwell C. Blackriver (Kevin), Shimojima mines compelling nuggets of emotion from the central players. Spurred by an aggressive, constantly moving camera, with a polar juxtaposition both tonal and thematic, Chris elicits meaning through short bursts, where emotions and ideas are compressed into an economical arrangement. It's effective, thrift filmmaking, bolstered by a wide variety of camera angles, tracking shots, foreshadowing, handheld footage, and a Soderbergh-esque sequence towards the end, which, borrowing tenets of impressionism, conveys emotion through image. An impeccable use of music binds the narrative together, conveying intermittent bouts of psychology. When JT's classmates pin him to the ground, sweatshirt violently draped over his face, for instance, Shimojima's score adopts a serene flutter. The bullying accelerates as JT surrenders all fortitude, leading, climactically, to a real, emotive shock. I will not spoil the scene, but there is, in Scorsese-esque fashion, an underlying cruelty to Shimojima's examination. 

      Shorts, Chris would be the first to tell you, evolve through trial and error. Because of an increasing variety available for immediate consumption, aspiring filmmakers, undeniably guided by an artistic imperative, must furnish something both entertaining and luminous. It is difficult to manifest, with a running time south of 20 minutes, the skills necessary for feature-length direction. In an email Shimojima intimated this sentiment exactly: "the toughest thing [is] showcasing long form skills, but working with an idea that necessitates the short form." The paradoxical limitations of short films, therefore, present enormous narrative and creative difficulties. But provocative, momentous work can be achieved—JT vs. the Good Guys is an affirmative reminder.
      Ultimately, Shimojima illustrates the harsh realities, in natural and reverse form, of bullying. And he posits this pivotal question: After a bully is bullied, will he steadfastly remain a tormentor of the weak, or, buoyed by his comeuppance, transform into a redeemable, modest figure? An emphatic answer awaits your viewing pleasure.

9 out of 10

JT vs. the Good Guys from Chris Shimojima on Vimeo. a short film 2012, drama, 12 min A short portrait of youth through the eyes of the antagonist: the high school bully...


written and directed by CHRIS SHIMOJIMA
director of photography GARRETT HARDY DAVIS
music composed and arranged by CHERYL KRUGEL-LEE
photographed in Allendale, NJ


  1. Nicely done film! Really enjoyed it.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Chris is an undeniable talent :)

  2. A very intriguing piece here. J.T. is very much a layered bully, not the stock character shown in oh so many high school films, nor are "the good guys" these completely helpless nerd types who get revenge in some grandiose cafeteria/play ground stand off. I enjoyed seeing J.T. unravel, watching as he took everything that happened as some sort of threat and responding aggressively. And I love how the kids took him down as a group, calling him on his behavior and bloodying him just enough to make their point. I also loved his almost pathetic attempt to recover his equilibrium at the end with all the bragging.

    Shimojima has an amazing talent and I hope to see a long feature from him someday. He made me feel as though I were standing on that soccer field with those kids. The cast was excellent, all very natural. Kudos to them as well. Thanks for sharing this, Matt.

    1. Terrific insights, Mel! You really captured the essence of the thematic through-line. It's difficult to add nuance and depth to a character whose screen time is limited to ten minutes, but Shimojima managed it effectively. And the ending was an unexpected treat. I'm happy the character did not undergo the cliche denouement where he realizes his foibles and discovers a righteous path. It was pleasantly bold.

      The cast was excellent. And there was a real visceral feel in the proceedings. I'm sure Chris appreciates your kind appraisal. Let's hope Hollywood or big-money producers start catching on to him too :)

  3. Hey this was pretty good! Shimojima has some real talent. I was kind of taken aback once I realized how brutal JT's peers were getting or the fact that they were even fighting back. You don't necessarily expect that from good guys however good for them. Plus, I was literally bug eyed to the thought that they just might have killed JT, accidentally. I mean this short was great and I loved the music. In the end, I feel like this is typically what happens for some bullies; they have a moment of clarity and then unfortunately they regain their ignorance.

    1. Thanks for watching and reading! And I'm happy you enjoyed it. More people need to see it!

      I felt the same sort of horrid sensation when JT's peers exacted their revenge. It had a real human quality to it that elevated the stakes. It seemed all too familiar.

      The music was terrific. One of the strongest qualities of the short. It was vital to the deliberately emotive tone. And JT's psychological make-up mirrored the music seamlessly. Plus it added flair and excitement.

      Your final observation exposes such earnest truth. It is an unfortunate reality, but reality nonetheless.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  4. I enjoyed the layering in this piece. Beautifully shown. Thanks for sharing this find, JT.