Monday, 21 April 2014

Time of My Life

Director: Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray
Writer: Harmoni McGlothlin
Producer: Robyn Ray
Cast: Josh Williams, Tony Williams
Country: USA
Year of release: 2007
Reviewed from: DVD

Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray? Could he be any relation to Sir Frederick Olen Ray, the auteur behind Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Evil Toons, The Phantom Empire etc? Yes indeed, this is Fred’s eldest who has been shadowing his father for most of his twenty eight years, working as Second AD, Production Assistant and other crew roles, sometimes in front of the camera too, on FOR movies such as Cyclone, Terminal Force, Hybrid and Biohazard. Let’s face it, what better education could there be?

Well now young Christopher is itching to make his own first feature but rather than simply doing the B-movie equivalent of asking Dad to borrow the car, or assuming that he knows it all now and charging ahead. he has very sensibly started with a simple but effective short film, which functions as both practice for him and a calling card for the rest of us to watch.

Four actors, one set. Tony Williams is Gator, a Florida fisherman who supplements his income by running drugs for gangland boss Thomas (Josh Williams). Thomas’ goons Bob (Bill Lambert) and Jackson (David Ramirez) have trussed up Gator in a warehouse where his screams won’t be heard so that Thomas can politely enquire what has happened to the quarter-million dollars’ worth of dope that the fisherman was supposed to deliver.

It’s not a new set-up: how many short films are there which consist primarily of a sharp-suited gangster interrogating some poor sod? Lots. In the years immediately following the release of Reservoir Dogs, it was practically the only story that any aspiring film-maker seemed to know. But Ray makes his film work by keeping things simple. Crisp black and white photography by Lance Mitchell (who was assistant camera operator on titles like Gary Graver’s Veronica 2030 and Jim Wynorski’s Lost Treasure) gives the film style and hence gravitas and the director frames his shots with a sharp eye. The opening shot of the gangsters walking in is terrific: everything in the sunlight is bleached into non-existence, making it seem as if the men are strolling from a great cosmic emptiness into the monochrome claustrophobia of the lock-up. There’s another memorable two-shot in which drifting cigar smoke makes a point that would probably have been done with complex CGI in an equivalent scene in a Hollywood blockbuster.

Anyway, the gist of the plot is that Gator is knocked about until he explains where the dope has gone. But Thomas doesn’t believe his series of stories and counters them with brutal twist-tales of his own, illustrated with cut-aways, also in black and white. Eventually Gator turns the tables, to some extent, by admitting where the drugs have really gone.

It’s a smart little script, telling us just as much as we need to know about these two characters - neither of them exactly sympathetic - so that we care what happens to them in the end. Time of My Life is exactly what a short film should be: a concisely told, adroitly constructed snippet of someone’s life, a moment in time that illuminates, for a moment, a larger, unseen story somewhere.

The director also handled the editing (as Chris Ray). Writer Harmoni McGlothlin is not, as I first assumed, a pseudonym but a real person. Producer Robyn Ray (Chris’ missus) is, I believe, not the casting director of that name. Brian Bellamy, who has worked with Lance Mitchell since they were Best Boy and Best Boy Electric on Femalien II nine years ago, is credited as First Assistant Camera.

The special effects make-up is by Ron Karoska (Wishmaster III and IV, Dead and Rotting, 2001 Maniacs, Candy Stripers) and the special effects props by Carl Soto, who worked with Mr Ray Senior on Hybrid. Former pro wrestler Ric Draisin was stunt co-ordinator.

You need two things to make any film - skill and talent - and this little gem ably demonstrates both. Copies of Time of My Life are available from the director for ten bucks plus shipping, with whatever funds this raises being put towards his first feature. It’s good to see a young filmmaker showing such entrepreneurship (especially when he could surely rely simply on the goodwill that his family name brings) so I recommend chancing a tenner on this film to support the next generation of independent Hollywood talent.

MJS rating: B+

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