The Mess Hall

» Fortress 2: Re-Entry (2000, USA)

Fortress 2 - Christopher Lambert as John Brennick with a touch of sunburn while in 'The Hole'

Who could forget the original Fortress (1992) and its magnificent intestinator? There’s nothing in this sequel to match it, sadly, although each prisoner does receive a new behaviour-modifying neural implant that also expropriates the optic nerve and allows ZED, the prison’s all-knowing computer, to relay each prisoner’s vision onto staff-monitored screens. Which is sort of handy. (more…)

Posted on December 27th, 2016 at 7:31 pm. Updated on January 1st, 2017 at 9:01 am.

» Vast / Inside (2011, Netherlands)

Vast - Sigrid ten Napel as Isabel

This is a short (49-minute) but poignant portrait of a 16-year-old girl in a juvenile detention centre. Perhaps the first thing to note is that ‘vast’ in Dutch does not mean expansive, but rather ‘fixed’ or ’set’; the film deals with her inability to break away from the things that have formed her - to deal with them and attempt to move on. (more…)

Posted on December 16th, 2016 at 8:12 pm. Updated on December 16th, 2016 at 8:12 pm.

» Край / The Edge (2010, Russia)

The Edge - Ignat (Vladimir Mashkov)

Don’t be fooled. Although this is set in a gulag, it’s far from a movie about prison life, or labour camp life. It’s a film about one man’s passion for trains - steam trains, with a touch of romance thrown in. And a bit of concussion. ‘Concussion’ in the broadest sense imaginable, so that at times it is used interchangeably with shell shock. (more…)

Posted on December 8th, 2016 at 8:26 pm. Updated on December 8th, 2016 at 8:28 pm.

» Fiore (2016, Italy)

Fiore - Daphne Scoccia as Daphne Bonori, with Josh in his cell in the background

Director Claudio Giovannesi taught at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome for a number of months in order to get a better appreciation of the centre and its inhabitants. It paid off. This is a finely observed, stripped down, silence-rich portrait of an incarcerated young woman, and of her budding romance with a young man who is held in the male section of the same facility.

(more…)

Posted on October 4th, 2016 at 9:24 pm. Updated on October 4th, 2016 at 9:24 pm.

» Red Heat (1985, USA)

Red Heat - Linda Blair as Christine Carlson

Red Heat has an (undeserved) reputation as an exploitative Women in Prison film. Not surprising, perhaps, given that’s how it’s marketed these days. But its standout feature is not sleaze, but the same sort of xenophobia that characterises prison films like Midnight Express (1978) and In Hell (2003). Who would have thought? (more…)

Posted on September 6th, 2016 at 9:02 pm. Updated on September 6th, 2016 at 9:02 pm.

» Spoiler (1998, USA)

Spoiler - Gary Daniels as the 'spoiler' Roger Mason

“The most exciting breakout movie of all time,” the DVD blurb claims. Well, not quite. (more…)

Posted on July 23rd, 2016 at 10:45 pm. Updated on July 23rd, 2016 at 10:45 pm.

» 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.