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November 7, 2010

Movie Review: Life in Transit

I had the opportunity to attend the DVD release of Life in Transit this past weekend. The feature film from the Phoenix-based company Vertical Blu films was an ambitious effort. Now, I ascribe to the message and theme that Vertical Blu has. They are a community-based company and proudly identify themselves as ‘grassroots filmmakers.’ That’s cool. The film, though, can be summed up pretty succinctly: missed opportunity.

I really wanted to enjoy this film more than I did. The concept, what I knew of it, was a good one. A young man, on a bus ride back home after losing his dreams, contemplates suicide. Through his interactions with the bus riders, though, he slowly comes around to the fact that life is worth living. Feel good stuff, right? It’s a Wonderful Life on a Greyhound. I dig it. I would have liked that. What Life in Transit is, though, is not developed enough to be anything as powerful as its promise. Directed by Daniel Gourley and written by Cori Orlowski, the film falls a little flat. From the technical aspects that ranged from gorgeous panoramic vistas to out of focus close ups was, as you can probably guess, hit or miss. Color correction needed a bit of work and the lighting design based off of blown out windows can be successful, but it is a fine line a gaffer walks to pull that off.

The best part of Life in Transit comes in the form of the two leads, Annie Boon and Mitchell Wyatt. Both of them have a natural charisma that rose above the sometimes sub-standard material they were working with. When the film worked, it worked in conjunction with them. Other cast members held up their end of the bargain (the always fun Gino Calabro and Jennifer Rio come to mind), but, like the rest of the film there were two levels of performance here. The actors I’ve mentioned are the cream of the Life in Transit crop.

Story wise, the film was hit or miss as well. There were spots where characters were able to rattle off witty, pithy dialogue that enhanced the visual component. In other parts of the film, the dialogue was forced and ‘on point’ to the point that we missed the point. The story structure was unique, and was working for a great deal of the film, until five or six unforeseen denouements were crammed into what should have been the third act. My students call me a “Story Nazi” for a reason, I guess.

Life in Transit is really a tale of two films. Half of what Vertical Blu has put together is a well done, no budget drama that is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. The other half is a student film that not only looks, but feels rushed. 

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