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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Down Time (2001)

"This is how it always works. They just yell 'man down!' The guards come in and cart them away."
- Slim (William Van Nolan)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: August 21, 2003

Stars: William Van Nolan, Peter Quartaroli, Sam McBride
Other Stars: James Anthony Cotton, David Fine, Mario Montes, Joy Garner, Sir Dyno, Lowdown, Taydatay
Director: Sean Wilson

MPAA Rating: R for drug use, language, some violence, and nudity
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: March 18, 2003
UPC: 012236138372
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- C-C-C- C-

DVD Review

Down Time, a prison film produced on a shoestring budget by ex-convict turned film student Sean Wilson, is the latest in a long line of direct-to-DVD premieres from Artisan Entertainment. The studio loves to buy up the rights to ultra-low-budget independent releases, slap on some fancy cover art and menus, and then reap the profits from rentals and sales.

Slim (William Van Nolan), a small time drug dealer, finds himself in prison after a friend sells him out and a sale goes wrong. Slim isn't built for prison life at first, but slowly, he discovers what must be done to survive life behind bars, and what kind of man he really is. Except everyone has doubtless already seen countless cruel "real" depictions of life in jail in everything from The Shawshank Redemption to Scared Straight. And nothing that much happens to Slim, anyway. He plays a lot of cards and gets beaten up a few times, but the most dangerous thing he faces is boredom (not unlike the viewer).

Director Sean Wilson seems to be overreaching a bit, trying to give the story weight, despite the familiar subject matter. I do give him credit for trying to create something more impressive than his obviously limited budget would allow (note the "warehouse" with the top of the set showing, or the "sheriff" whose only costume is a small, Old West-style star on his shirt). Most of the time, his digital camera is locked down, filming static conversation scenes. Occasionally he goes handheld, but the jittery movements rarely feel like a response to onscreen emotion rather than simple jostling by the cameraman. Wilson does try for a few more inventive scenes, as when he shows Slim going through withdrawl, but it just looks like he's zooming the camera in and out.

Wilson wrote the script as well, basing it on his own days in prison while stringing together every genre cliché from the past 100 years of cinema history (there isn't one line spoken or plot twisted that hasn't been seen before, likely in a better movie). What grates on me the most is the faux-authentic dialogue. It's supposed to sound "tough" and "real," but instead comes off as script clippings from a particularly hammy episode of Oz. Says a DEA Agent to Slim at the start of the film: "You're not going to be so tough when some n***** is going up your a**! Get out of here, you make me sick." Yeah, me too.

Wilson's clumsy dialogue is certainly not done any favors by a cast of amateur actors (including a few minor rap stars). They bring enthusiasm to their roles, if not any particular skill (though lead William Van Nolan does handles the job ably). The same could be said of Wilson, too. He hasn't made a very good film, but it was his idea, after leaving prison, to make a movie about his experiences, and he did it.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: I wouldn't be surprised to find that full frame is the original aspect ratio for an independent film like Down Time, but the back of the box indicates that "this film has been modified," so who knows. Otherwise, the image isn't pretty, but the limitations seem to stem from the source materials, which were filmed on the cheap and with varying equipment. The majority of the film looks like it was shot on digital video, and looks crisp, but flat, without the rich colors and depth of film. Other scenes are fuzzy, as if recorded on regular analogue equipment. Aside from a severe digital edge to some early scenes, I saw no errors that could be attributed to the DVD mastering. The transfer doesn't look great because the film doesn't look great.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio fares slightly better than the video, but is still obviously the product of a limited budget. Both DD 5.1 and 2.0 mixes are included, and they sound more or less the same. Most everything is confined to the center channel, and dialogue has a flat, unnatural quality, and it sometimes difficult to make out due to background noise on the track. Effects and score are mixed out a bit to the mains, and even less to the surrounds (I barely noticed any activity from the rears). A serviceable presentation of the low-budget feature, I suppose.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Eastside, Urban Jungle, Road Dogs
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Sean Wilson
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Low Down Music Video Pond Fulla Convicts
Extras Review: Sean Wilson contributes an enthusiastic director's commentary, during which he describes how the film was financed and produced independently. He points out which cast members were amateurs, which were ex-cons, and which were friends of the production. He's proud of his movie, and perhaps blind to its faults, but he offers some interesting information on how to get a movie produced in your spare time.

Also included is a music video from Low Down, the trailer, and spots for Eastside, Urban Jungle, and Road Dogs.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Down Time is a laudable, if not entirely enjoyable, indie effort from Artisan. The DVD isn't bad, despite the confusion over the proper aspect ratio, and genre fans might want to give it a rent.


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