I’m afraid I wasn’t a big fan of the first filmed version of Henri Charrière’s life story, Papillon (1973), starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. I thought it tedious, and a disappointing retelling of the boisterous, if largely fanciful, written account. And I’m not all that keen to go back and revisit it to see if that judgment was a little harsh, having just watched the remake… which I think is an improvement.
Posted on December 8th, 2018 at 8:38 pm. Updated on December 8th, 2018 at 8:46 pm.
Back in October 2017 Alex Greenwood wrote to me to see if I could identify a movie from a grainy still he had found on the internet of a bald guy in prison fight scene. Being notoriously poor at such things (and, it turns out, not having seen the movie, or even heard of it), I was unable to assist. But Alex persisted, and persisted… and found it himself. And this is it, fighting bald guy and more.
Posted on October 6th, 2018 at 5:34 pm. Updated on October 6th, 2018 at 5:34 pm.
The 2008 ‘kids for cash’ scandal in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County resulted in two judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, ultimately receiving sentences of 28 and 17½ years respectively for taking kickbacks from for-profit juvenile detention centres (enhanced by giving children unnecessary or excessive sentences to prolong their stays there). Children were branded as delinquents and sent to the centres for as little as mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page, being found in a vacant building, and cursing another child’s mother, and the case is cited as the inspiration for this movie. None of the affected children, to my knowledge, were champion archers… but there were several thousand victims, so there could well have been champion archers, philatelists, lacrosse players, trichologists and kids whose other skills withered as they endured unnecessary spells in custody. (more…)
Posted on June 14th, 2018 at 8:58 pm. Updated on June 14th, 2018 at 8:58 pm.
Chess. It features in so many prison films, and I’m never sure if it hearkens back to a time before TVs were allowed in prisons and prisoners were assiduous chess players, or whether it is just filmmakers’ code - a lazy shorthand way of telling the audience that this person is a master strategist. That said, only a week or so ago I visited a juvenile prison where several young Aboriginal boys were huddled around a chess board, and another giant chess set adorned the yard; maybe it’s making a comeback. In any event, there’s no chess played here, in this film. (more…)
Posted on May 14th, 2018 at 8:58 pm. Updated on May 14th, 2018 at 9:08 pm.
I’ve seen a surprising number of people (OK, four, maybe) write in to movie sites asking for the name of the prison movie where an innocent American man escapes a Russian prison in a secret compartment in a truck or a train. I’m nor sure why it’s quite so forgettable or, if it is, why people later want to retrieve its name. This is the film; it’s called Gulag, and it’s a train, not a truck. (more…)
Posted on January 22nd, 2018 at 8:45 pm. Updated on January 22nd, 2018 at 8:45 pm.
You know when a guard starts frisking a naked woman in the shower room that the technical advisor on prisons took a sick day on the day that scene was filmed. Or it’s that sort of movie.
Posted on December 24th, 2017 at 3:12 pm. Updated on December 24th, 2017 at 3:12 pm.
For starters, I’m not sure why this horror movie is called The Chair. Yes, there is an electric chair, but it doesn’t make an appearance until the last few minutes of the film, and it doesn’t even loom large over the preceding action. It’s a little like calling The Shawshank Redemption ‘The Beach.’ (more…)
Posted on November 25th, 2017 at 9:13 pm. Updated on November 25th, 2017 at 9:13 pm.
A young kid with a bit of potential but a tough upbringing starts up a criminal gang with three of his mates. Much later, in his late teenage years, he (with another of his gang) is caught red-handed inside a shop they are burgling; he gets two years in prison, plus six cuts with a heavy cane. He survives by reading and writing letters and telling stories. His mate is not so lucky; he is repeatedly raped and becomes a gang leader’s wyfie (woman). After his release the young man’s fortuitous pursuit of a romantic interest narrowly saves him from joining his other three gang members in a criminal exploit that goes horribly wrong. The others nonetheless elect him as the fall guy, but once the trial begins they belatedly, and ruefully, admit that he wasn’t there. They hang. He doesn’t. It’s a story that takes almost 2½ hours to tell. (more…)
Posted on November 16th, 2017 at 9:22 pm. Updated on November 16th, 2017 at 9:22 pm.
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.
Who would have thought that a film set entirely on Devil’s Island would have not all that much to do with prison… and ultimately more to do with tax evasion? (more…)
Posted on September 16th, 2017 at 11:00 pm. Updated on September 16th, 2017 at 11:00 pm.