The Mess Hall

» The Last Castle (2001, USA)

The Last Castle - Robert Redford as General Eugene Irwin and Paul Calderón as Dellwo

The Last Castle has many of the hallmarks of a Shawshank; a classic battle of strategy between principled prisoner and corrupt warden, an imposing prison setting (the magnificent, fortress-like Tennessee State Penitentiary), and similar production values. But it doesn’t quite have the same impact… maybe because its message is a little muddier. (more…)

Posted on July 21st, 2016 at 9:14 pm. Updated on January 1st, 2017 at 9:02 am.

» Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars (1995, USA)

Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars - Gail Harris as May and Annie Wood as April Conner

May Conner (Gail Harris) is 19* and in prison. She’s a Miss Goody Two-Shoes… a little naive when it comes to crime and punishment, and is unused to prison lingo. “They found a second set of finger things.” “Prints,” says her street-wise older sister, April (Annie Wood). “Prints, right.” (more…)

Posted on May 16th, 2016 at 9:59 pm. Updated on July 9th, 2016 at 6:13 pm.

» The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015, USA)

The Stanford Prison Experiment - Michael Angarano as 'guard' Christopher 'John Wayne' Archer and 'prisoners'

I’m not aware of any other psychology experiment that has spawned three films; I don’t think that poor Ivan Pavlov can boast even one movie, notwithstanding Pavlov’s Dog (2005). And I’m not sure why, after two perfectly sound movies in Das Experiment (2001) and The Experiment (2010), it was seen to be worthwhile to make yet another film based on Dr Philip Zimbardo’s famous 1971 experiment examining the psychology of prison - its impact on prisoners and guards. (more…)

Posted on March 28th, 2016 at 11:59 am. Updated on March 28th, 2016 at 11:59 am.

» Vendetta (1986, USA)

Vendetta - Karen Chase as Laurie Collins, with a wrist lock on Kay Butler (Sandy Martin)

Vendetta has all the standard ’80s trademarks you’d expect - prisoners with big hair and wearing workout gear like they’d just stepped out of a Flashdance or Let’s Get Physical video - but no-one (at least in prison) seems to be held accountable for much. Wasn’t glasnost an ’80s thing? (more…)

Posted on March 21st, 2016 at 8:00 pm. Updated on March 21st, 2016 at 8:00 pm.

» No Escape (1994, USA)

No Escape - Ray Liotta as Captain John T Robbins

It’s the underpinning socio-ethical positions here that I find even harder to fathom than the whole action-movie-implausibility thing. Which is saying something. (more…)

Posted on February 22nd, 2016 at 2:02 pm. Updated on February 22nd, 2016 at 2:02 pm.

» In the Custody of Strangers (1982, USA)

In the Custody of Strangers - Emilio Estevez as Danny Caldwell

There are many movies about juvenile prisons; far fewer about juveniles in adult prisons. This made-for-TV film claims that an estimated 479,000 juveniles were placed in adult jails across the US each year; other sources suggest that the figure on any one day was then around 5,000. If the purpose of the film was to draw attention to this issue and bring about a reduction in the numbers of youth in adult jails, it does not appear to have succeeded. With violent crime committed by youth on the increase, almost every US State subsequently passed laws making it easier to lock up young people in adult facilities. (more…)

Posted on December 25th, 2015 at 4:17 pm. Updated on December 25th, 2015 at 4:30 pm.

» Jailbird Rock (1988, USA / Argentina)

Jailbird Rock - Robin Antin as Jessie White and Robin x as Echo

I think it was when Warden Harold Bauman (Ron Lacey), in dismissing any idea of his prisoners putting on an artistic performance, said, “They’re not here to have fun. They’re here to be miserable,” that my wife asked, “Don’t you get sick of the same, same things all the time?”. Or it could have been earlier, such as at the arrival of the prisoner who doesn’t deserve to be in prison, or the tough prisoner running the show, or the ineffectual warden and his corrupt second-in-charge, or the earnest counsellor pushing for reform… It could have been at any point in the film, really. (more…)

Posted on November 22nd, 2015 at 5:10 pm. Updated on November 22nd, 2015 at 5:12 pm.

» Dance of the Steel Bars (2013, Philippines)

Dance of the Steel Bars - Joey Paras as Allona and Dingdong Dantes as Mando

I think nearly everyone has seen the YouTube clips of the dancers from the Philippines’ Cebu Provincial Detention & Rehabilitation Center. Because of those clips I expected this film - which I knew had been based around the prison’s stunning dance-based reforms - to be essentially a dance film… with a few dramatic threads attempting to hold it together. I couldn’t have been more wrong; to its credit (and no doubt its commercial disadvantage), it’s a prison drama with just a few dance routines woven into it. (more…)

Posted on November 15th, 2015 at 5:11 pm. Updated on November 15th, 2015 at 5:11 pm.

» Kalima Sharaf / Word of Honour (1972, Egypt)

Word of Honor - Ahmed Mazhar as the Warden and Farid Shawki as Salem Abu El-Naga

It’s refreshing, I guess, to have a prison movie about relationships that doesn’t involve a prisoner coupled with a guard or a doctor or psychologist. Instead, this features two solid, admirable relationships built on trust. Or maybe one that is solid, and one that appeared solid. And two that are not. (more…)

Posted on October 24th, 2015 at 4:59 pm. Updated on October 24th, 2015 at 4:59 pm.

» Prison Break: The Final Break (2009, USA)

Prison Break: The Final Break - Aisha Hands as Guard Cowler and Sarah Wayne Callies as Dr Sara Tancredi

Not the TV series, exactly, but what was (until they announced a new season to run in 2016) the final feature-length Prison Break episode, which is supposed to stand on its own and be like a condensed fifth season. It’s a little tricky for me; I watched the first series, enjoyed it, but immediately lost interest once it went into a second, third and fourth season. There are consequently a few gaps in my understanding of what happened in-between, which Mr Google has since been kind enough to attempt to fill. (more…)

Posted on October 18th, 2015 at 3:41 pm. Updated on October 18th, 2015 at 3:48 pm.