22 September 2007

uber-indie: Universal Traveler and Dream of Life


Universal Traveler

starring: Alicia Fuss, Matt Walsh, and Abby Bader
cinematography by: David Macnutt
original score by: Keith Pishnery
written and directed by: Patrick Meaney
$350/12 min/Middletown, CT

A poetic sci-fi head trip about the nature of time and space, Universal Traveler is at the same time utterly compelling and confusing, fascinating and frustrating. The story follows two scientists (Alicia Fuss and Abby Bader) trying to develop some technology having to do with nanobots. The test is stolen and the subject (Matt Walsh) gains the ability to transcend time and space. Naturally, it doesn't end up being a positive thing. And that's where I lost track of what was going on.

Maybe it's because I'm not big into sci-fi or maybe it's because Patrick Meaney's script is more concerned with ideas than connecting the dots between them, but I found the film difficult to follow. Narratively, the final few minutes seem detached from the rest of the film. However, that's not as big of a problem as you'd think. Universal Traveler is primarily a visual film, the kind where the plot serves merely as a convenient excuse for nifty camera work. So, to say the plot doesn't make sense isn't all that important when considering the filmmaker's goals. Those visuals are quite good, even bordering on impressive. Cinematographer David Macnutt shows us a nice range of images, all handled adeptly. There's some camera placements that don't work all that well in the context of the larger scene, but you'll have that on a film like this. And be warned, it has the standard "student film acting" that we've all seen far too often.

Dream of Life

starring: Lauren Katz, Steve Deluca, Jon Cimmino, Robert Cutts, and Jordan Rennert
cinematography by: Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert
written and directed by: Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert
6 min/Mamaroneck, NY

Much like Universal Traveler, Dream of Life is a visually-based film. The plot, such as it is, involves a failed robbery where the criminal (Lauren Katz) is inexplicably taken down by a machine gun (yes, a machine gun). In the moments before she dies, she imagines an alternate scenario. The film leaves a lot of questions unanswered, such as: why are they breaking into what looks to be a school building? why is it being defended with a machine gun? and why is it snowing confetti at the end?

The answers, I think, revolve around the fact that Dream of Life is essentially a music video. The plot isn't important. In fact, you could argue that Meaney and Jordan Rennert aren't all that concerned with it from the beginning. They want to shoot cool stuff, and this gives them a reason to. The fact that it doesn't make any sense whatsoever is meaningless to them.

The problem lies in the fact that it isn't meaningless to their potential audience, who will require things like story and character development and acting. There's no question that these guys can create nice images. In fact, these images are very, very good. But, there's no reason for them to exist in the films. They just look cool.

From here, Meaney has two likely career paths. He could rather easily become an interesting music video director, and there's nothing wrong with that. His talents seem perfectly suited for it. But, if he wants to move into features, if he wants to become a filmmaker, he's going to have to do a lot of work on storytelling and working with actors to create characters that are more than cardboard representations of real people. Is he willing or able to put in the work? Time will tell.

You can check out these and other films by Patrick Meaney at the Respect Films official webpage and MySpace page.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.


Patrick said...

Thanks for the review Lucas. As the director of the films in question, I don't agree with everything you're saying, but we're definitely on the same wavelength and that's a good thing. Keep up the good work on the blog.

lucas mcnelly said...

yeah, generally i really liked your stuff. there just wasn't any story there, and you gotta have story, you know?

hopefully the review was helpful in some way. sorry again for the delay. it's been crazy around here.