Monthly Archives: November 2014

Review: The Shoot

[Originally posted on Nerdly]

Stars: John Adams, Toby Poser, Sam Rodd, John DiMaggio, Claire Denis, Doug Spearman | Written and Directed by John Adams, Toby Poser

The-Shoot-cast

Put simply, this is a mess. And not the good kind of cinematic mess that’s so overflowing with ideas the filmmakers can’t fit them all onto the screen without throwing coherent storytelling out the window. No, this is the other kind of mess – the kind where the script runs out of gas halfway through and the film carries on anyway.

What story there is in The Shoot concerns Tommy and Dougie, a pair of middle-aged rockers in dodgy debt up to their ears who decide that robbing a fashion shoot in the desert is their express ticket to solvency. Tommy’s wife Maddy works as a costumer for the shoot so it’s pretty obvious things aren’t going to go well. Things take a turn for the violent when the hired security/slumming actor with a gun starts taking shots at the duo and the corpses begin to pile up. Dougie inexplicably executes one of the crew and decides that, in order for him and Tommy to get away clean, all the witnesses need to die. Seems reasonable enough.

What follows is not a series of tense stalking sequences punctuated by searing violence but forty-ish minutes of aimless wandering, mean-spirited gross-out comedy and cod philosophising about binary states of morality. Some of these elements could work if the script had a consistent tone or any of the actors seemed vaguely interested in anything happening onscreen, but as it happens everyone just looks like they’re waiting for the next bus.

It says a lot that the best performance in the movie is given by John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender and Jake!) as a politely menacing loan shark. This would be a good thing, except that he only ever appears in one scene early on. Frankly, the rest of the film is so contrived, aimless and frankly boring that I would have much rather the plot shifted focus to DiMaggio’s character and left the utterly charmless leads far behind. Unfortunately we’re left to Tommy and Dougie, who inevitably turn on one another after it’s clear the film’s about to end soon.

Things turn out well for some of the characters until you remember that nothing whatsoever was resolved, but that’s apparently okay because – according to a perfunctory enough final shot – Tommy’s relationship with Maddy was supposed to be the main thing the whole time. I guess that’s why there was that protracted, otherwise completely gratuitous shot of the two having sex at the beginning. Right?

Except Maddy doesn’t have anything to do in The Shoot except be threatened with rape by the loan shark and let the leads know that there are expensive jewels on her set. Her superfluity to the film’s story – other than as a plot device – is even highlighted in that first shot, in which her ceiling-stretched legs are the only part of her visible. She’s barely half a character, which is still more than the rest of the flattened showbiz stereotypes that populate the supporting cast can say.

All of this would be par for the no-budget pet project course if not for the fact that The Shoot was written and directed by John Adams and Toby Poser, who play Tommy and Maddy respectively. You’d think a male/female directing team – especially one that’s presumably also a couple – would push each other to do better when it came to fleshed-out characters, but evidently they got stumped at the earlier roadblock of making their damn film entertaining.

I find it hard to write about this film because it’s difficult to remember anything of importance or interest that happened in it. When even the cast look bored by the movie they’re being paid to be in, how can an audience be expected to put up with this shit? I appreciate the amount of work Adams and Poser put into The Shoot, because according to the credits they did most everything on set. But it seems that at some point they started spreading themselves far too thin to make anything worth seeing, and unfortunately hard work is but one of many ingredients required to make a good movie. If that was all it took anyone could be Stanley freakin’ Kubrick.

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Review: Billy Club

[This review originally appeared on Nerdly]

Stars: Marshall Caswell, Erin Hammond, Nick Sommer, Max Williamson, Mark Metcalf, Mathew Dunlop | Written and Directed by Drew Rosas, Nick Sommer

billy-club-poster

I’ve always had a soft spot for slashers with a decent gimmick, so I was delighted when Billy Club‘s penchant for baseball-related violence was revealed. Too many horror movies are content to stick to the humdrum formula of having a nondescript masked killer stalk the nubile teens of Camp Lake Name with no more of a unifying theme than having surfboard impalements be the chief cause of death; not so this film. Here bats, balls, diamonds and even – especially – pitching machines all have a central role to play in the slaughter of Billy Club’s innocent-but-not-quite-so-innocent victims, and the movie is all the more enjoyable for it, despite some ultimately negligible production flaws.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The film’s story chiefly takes place fifteen years after a set of grisly murders on a Little League baseball field (which we see in juddering but effective flashback) where we meet Bobby Spooner, a softly-spoken James Dean wannabe who’s reunited with his old baseball buddies Danny and Kyle in self-proclaimed former tomboy Alison’s bar. After catching up and establishing an appropriate level of sexual tension between Alison and Bobby, the gang decide to play some ball and reflect on their dearly departed teammates before inexplicably deciding that heading to their dead coach’s forest cabin and getting loaded is the perfect way to memorialise them.

Oh, and some homeless guy gets brutally murdered by a psychopath in a fetish catcher’s outfit with a spike-ridden baseball bat in the first scene. But that probably won’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie, right?

Wrong!  No sooner do our lovable bunch of goofy hicks and the central couple arrive at the aforementioned cabin than the batter arrives to take them all out one by one. There are some grisly moments, certainly, and the villain himself serves exactly the right purpose in looking like someone I’d run a million miles from if we ever crossed paths, but much of Billy Club is firmly entrenched in horror-comedy territory, with one of the death scenes in particular being an abject lesson in farce. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that psychedelics are involved.

All told, there actually isn’t a whole lot of murder to be found in the movie, as Billy Club‘s latter half mainly develops the relationships between the three leads (there’s a somewhat unconventional love triangle between Bobby, Alison and Kyle, of whom the latter two used to date) and, crucially, sheds light on the bullying incident fifteen years ago that connects the past and present murders. The revelations of the story are convincingly put across, with some younger performers in flashback sequences giving even some of the adult actors a run for their money. And while it’s no surprise to discover who’s really behind that catcher’s mask, the climax – ending up at the same diamond where it all began – nicely ties the film together with the ribbon that is an on-the-nose but extremely satisfying victory for the forces of non-psychopathy.

That all sounds simple enough, and I’d be perfectly happy with the movie I’ve just described. However, there were some minor elements that I could have done without, like an almost completely unnecessary subplot involving a police detective and a couple of other red herrings that threatened to lead into interesting territory but ended up adding nothing but running time. But that’s not to say I ever stopped enjoying Billy Club or got bored; I was on board for the whole ride (all 90-ish minutes, the perfect length for a throwaway flick), which is really the best thing you can say about any film, right?

While there were some technical tics that would give me pause in a studio-produced film – on the whole, the cinematography is clear and consistent, but it occasionally tries to be artier than it can pull off; some of the acting comes off as hammy and insincere, but that might just be down to the occasionally tin-eared and expository dialogue – the confidence with which the filmmakers tell 90% of their story on what was clearly not the highest budget shines through and ends up making Billy Club  far more than the sum of its parts.

And for a film like this – for any film – that’s a goddamn home run.

[Sorry. I couldn’t resist!]

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