The Welcome Speech

» The Archer (2017, USA)

The Archer - Bailey Noble as Lauren Pierce

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.

» La 4ª Compañía / The 4th Company (2016, Mexico)

The 4th Company - Manuel Ojeda as Colonel Chaparro in front of the Dogs, including Andoni Gracia as Combate (68) and Adrián Ladrón as Zambrano (10)

This is prison movie fusion; a football story à la The Longest Yard (1974) and (2005) and Mean Machine (2001), combined with - and in the context of - an extraordinary story of high level corruption in a Mexico City prison. It’s not entirely congruous; it’s a bit like dropping the Birdman of Alcatraz into the middle of Corcoran State Prison while ‘gladiator day’ fights as depicted in Felon (2008) are staged around him. (more…)

Posted on June 9th, 2018 at 4:57 pm. Updated on June 9th, 2018 at 4:57 pm.

» Jogo de Xadrez / Chess Game (2014, Brazil)

Chess Game - Priscila Fantin as Mina

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.

» Seventeen Years (1999, China)

Seventeen Years - Liu Lin as Tao Lan

Seven minutes. Just seven minutes of action inside the prison, and yet it says more about the impact of incarceration than most movies set entirely within prison walls. (more…)

Posted on March 20th, 2018 at 7:22 pm. Updated on March 20th, 2018 at 7:22 pm.

» Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017, USA)

Brawl in Cell Block 99 - Vince Vaughn as Bradley Thomas and Don Johnson as Warden Tuggs

The copy-cat phenomenon is not unknown in prison; suicides, escapes, riots. And prison movies, too, it seems. We saw it in 2015 with the close releases of Riot and Vendetta, both featuring cops who go into maximum-security jails to avenge the killing of their wives. Recently, we’ve had two Indian movies, Lucknow Central and Qaidi Band (2017), both with innocent prisoners following their pop-stardom dreams in prison bands. And here, hot on the heels of Shot Caller (2017) - released just seven weeks earlier - is another action flick about a man embarking on a mission of extreme prison violence in order to protect his wife and child. (more…)

Posted on January 17th, 2018 at 8:48 pm. Updated on January 17th, 2018 at 8:48 pm.

» 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.

» 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.

» Millionaires in Prison (1940, USA)

Millionaires in Prison - Chester Clute as Sidney Keats and Raymond Walburn as Bruce Vander.. unable to conceal their reaction to the food

How do five millionaires behave when they land in prison at the same time? “I see no reason why the Warden should object to uniforms by our own tailor,” moans Harold Kellogg (Thurston Hall), pulling at his ready-made prison uniform. “.. No style, poor material and probably even secondhand,” whines his partner-in-crime, Bruce Vander (Raymond Walburn), in total agreement. And there are plenty more jolly japes as the rich newcomers turn up their noses at the prison food and bunk beds, have to do manual labour… and mix with poor people. (more…)

Posted on May 4th, 2017 at 10:30 pm. Updated on May 4th, 2017 at 10:30 pm.

» A Violent Prosecutor (2016, South Korea)

A Violent Prosecutor - Jeong-min Hwang as prosecutor Byun Jae-wook

How many TV shows and movies have featured unorthodox police investigators being told to drop a case, yet the detective obstinately stays involved in spite of their superior’s instructions? That’s what happens here… but the investigator finishes up getting framed for the suspect’s murder. Which is perhaps not quite so orthodox. (more…)

Posted on January 1st, 2017 at 9:52 am. Updated on January 1st, 2017 at 9:52 am.

» 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.