The Mess Hall

» With Prisoners (2017, Hong Kong)

With Prisoners - Neo Yau Hawk-sau as Leung Yick Fan

Is it a good thing, ultimately, that this whistle-blowing film seems a little tame? That the boot camp abuses suffered by the juvenile offenders in Hong Kong’s Sha Tsui Detention Centre don’t seem to be as shocking as those in many other prison movies (which is not to say that gratuitous elbow strikes, and asking a detainee to clean a toilet with his fingers and then clean his teeth with the same fingers, and assorted other beatings and demeanings are not abusive). It’s a good thing for Hong Kong, isn’t it, if Sha Tsui (which caters for juveniles and young adults from 14 to 25) is not as rotten as some other prisons. Somehow, though, the film seems a little pallid and limp. (more…)

Posted on October 20th, 2017 at 5:08 pm. Updated on October 20th, 2017 at 5:08 pm.

» Pixote (1981, Brazil)

Pixote - Fernando Ramos da Silva as Pixote

Pixote: A Lei do Mais Fraco (’the law of the weakest’) is celebrated for (or rather enjoys a reputation for) its unrelenting grimness. And for good reason. If you looked in the dictionary and it said: grĭm a. harsh, joyless, pixotish - you probably wouldn’t baulk… provided that you didn’t know that Pixote is sometimes translated as PeeWee, which doesn’t sound quite so grim.

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Posted on October 5th, 2017 at 8:19 pm. Updated on October 5th, 2017 at 8:19 pm.

» Ozzy (2016, Spain / Canada)

Ozzy - Ozzy is led into the cellblock for the first time

Ozzy isn’t quite the new Toy Story 3 (2010); it lacks much of the cleverness and multi-dimensional appeal of the earlier animated feature. But as another heart-warming movie about discarded anthropomorphic beings longing to be reunited with their families, it happily shares something of the same vibe. (more…)

Posted on September 21st, 2017 at 9:56 pm. Updated on September 21st, 2017 at 9:56 pm.

» A Prayer Before Dawn (2017, France / UK)

A Prayer Before Dawn - Joe Cole as Billy Moore

‘Locked up in a Turkish prison’ has been the most reliable shorthand description of the horror of being a foreigner locked up abroad (or of any worst imaginable horror, really), probably since Midnight Express (1978). But the ordeal of Briton Billy Moore in A Prayer Before Dawn might have a few people viewing Thai prisons as the new high water mark. Or low water mark.

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Posted on August 12th, 2017 at 8:55 pm. Updated on August 12th, 2017 at 9:07 pm.

» Star Slammer (1986, USA)

Star Slammer - Suzy Stokey as Mike and Sandy Brooke as Taura

You have to feel for the prison ship’s newest prisoner, Taura (Sandy Brooke). Not only is she (vaguely) innocent, but she has to wear a different, more revealing uniform to every other prisoner and sport a horrible ’80s perm. Mind you, she’s not on her Pat Malone on that last count. (more…)

Posted on August 4th, 2017 at 9:23 pm. Updated on August 4th, 2017 at 9:31 pm.

» Alien 3 (1992, USA)

Alien 3 - Sigourney Weaver as Lt Ellen Ripley

By chance, an article appeared in my Saturday paper about Sigourney Weaver and the strong women she has played. It drove me to rescue Alien 3 from a stack of unwatched DVDs, where it had languished for many years, and finally check it out. (more…)

Posted on July 18th, 2017 at 9:54 pm. Updated on July 18th, 2017 at 9:54 pm.

» From the Queen to the Chief Executive (2001, Hong Kong)

From the Queen to the Chief Executive - David Li as Cheung Yau Ming

With Hong Kong’s approaching transition from British sovereignty to that of the People’s Republic of China providing an intriguing backdrop, this is an oddly dispassionate film highlighting the plight of 23 juvenile offenders sentenced to be held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. They are serious offenders who would rather a definite sentence - and a release date - than the uncertainty as to when the Government might choose to release them, and the attendant fear that they might ultimately be treated more harshly than adults under the same circumstances. And they worry whether the elected Chief Executive in the new special administrative region of China will be less benevolent than his British predecessor, Governor Chris Patten, so they push for a decision prior to 1 July 1997. (more…)

Posted on June 30th, 2017 at 11:05 pm. Updated on June 30th, 2017 at 11:05 pm.

» Tomorrow La Scala! (2002, UK)

Tomorrow La Scala! - Jessica Stevenson as the director, Victoria

Who would think that getting a bunch of murderers involved in a prison production of Sondheim’s musical adaptation of Sweeney Todd - the vengeful, serial murdering barber - would be a good idea? Why not get the local chapter of Sexaholics Anonymous to make up the chorus of Don Giovanni as well? But not only is this the basis of this BBC production, it appears - extraordinarily - that it was inspired by just such a production in which its director, Francesca Joseph, was involved. (more…)

Posted on June 22nd, 2017 at 10:01 pm. Updated on July 17th, 2017 at 10:20 pm.

» Moron 5 and the Crying Lady (2012, Philippines)

Moron 5 and the Crying Lady -

It’s a colossal problem for one-joke comedies when the one joke is not not particularly funny. (more…)

Posted on June 11th, 2017 at 8:53 pm. Updated on June 11th, 2017 at 9:13 pm.

» Mean Frank and Crazy Tony (1973, Italy)

Mean Frank and Crazy Tony - Tony Lo Bianco as Tony Breda and Lee Van Cleef as Frankie Diomede

This is also known as Escape from Death Row, but why, I’m not sure. For starters, there is no Death Row, and secondly, why would you even bother to seek an alternative title to Mean Frank and Crazy Tony, for goodness’ sake? (more…)

Posted on May 17th, 2017 at 9:33 pm. Updated on July 30th, 2017 at 1:02 pm.