And I do mean pleasure! I'm not being overly generous to tell you that Shoot-Out is a triumph, a surprising, well planned, well acted, well shot, well scored and well directed triumph. Shoot-Out is a prime representative of the very best kind of independent short film. It knows the story it needs to tell, and it tells it perfectly within the exact time constraints that it requires, without hubris or self-indulgence, but with one hell of a memorable beginning, middle and end.
Shot in glorious black and white, Shoot-Out is the story of a Basketball Hustler named House Washington (excellently portrayed by Executive Producer Tyshawn Bryant). House always wins! The man has never lost a game for money, and street ego drips off of him like neon sweat in a Gatorade commercial as he trash talks and boasts of his career of taking fools' money. That's all until a mysterious stranger (Daniel Sol's J.C. Matado) arrives with skull-cracking skills of his own. What does (the other) J.C. have in store for House? A wager far beyond the usual thousand-dollar game of H.O.R.S.E., indeed far beyond anything House has played for up until now.
What follows is an incredibly well choreographed and photographed basketball game between equals, laced with remarkably natural dialogue and realistic action. I promise no spoilers in this one, but let's just say it culminates in an ending that is a complete shock that, sure as Smirnoff is sour, I didn't see coming! Folks, I'm not easy to fool. Shoot-Out has an ending that made me feel as if a knot was untying in my chest, like the dominoes had been perfectly set up and finally knocked down, or a house of cards the size of a Trinitron just went three rounds with an Earthquake.
What's Shoot-Out's secret weapon? Writer/ Director David Branin! Branin takes a somewhat single-layered story (this is a short, after all), and adds pacing and dialogue, and a more than healthy dash of unconventional and daring directing. This is one writer who really should be directing his own material! From the believable blocking and script extrapolation, to the challenging camera angles and kick-ass Basketball choreography, to his ability to tastefully use foreshadowing clips, to his intelligent choices of when to utilize the shaky, hand-held camera work to when to hold still and let the actors do their thing, David Branin really delivers.
Not that he could do it alone. While the entire ensemble crew is worth their weight in Air Jordans, special kudos have to be handed to editor (and sound mixer) Damon Stout, whose smooth cuts and seamless transitions are a compliment to the story, and, of course, to composer Rudy Mangual, who sets every mood and enhances the action without being conceited enough to try to compete with the sounds and visuals of the movie itself. Whose visuals? There's no question that this is David Branin's film, but the capable Ivan Rodriguez is one Director of Photography I'd gladly buy a beer for, considering his talent for bringing Branin's mind to the screen (just don't challenge me, there, Ivan!). Branin's partnership with actor and Executive Producer Bryant has paid off here, as good old Tyshawn is as good an actor as he is a Film Manager.
But hey, I was what I gleefully refer to as "Funkin' Druck" when I saw it right? Naturally my old "Aunt Ethyl" lubed my movie viewing wheels that night, right? Wrong! The joy of Shoot-Out is in the repeated viewings. The sober viewer who now knows the ending will be elated over how well the gears mesh together as they turn toward that finale I was telling you about. When you see the dotted eyes and crossed tease within the final clincher sequence you'll know what I mean, because you'll want to see it again.
What does it take to make a good film? Scope, acting, directing and editing, and if you're really lucky, a good and complimentary musical score. Shoot-Out takes the Pepsi Challenge against bigger movies of its kind, and wins the free throw. Therefore, I'm not the slightest bit exaggerating when I award Four and one half stars out of Five to Dream Regime Productions' Shoot-Out! Tyshawn and David have got what it takes, kids, and they've certainly got a feature film in their future. Let's just hope it's not this one. Shoot-Out is nearly perfect as a short film, taking neither too much or too little time to tell its tale. In brief, Goldilocks would choose the "just right" Shoot-Out, assuming our girl could handle the subject matter! Let it take you by the hand and blow your little mind, while I shoot my way from the three point line into the next reel.
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