» The Prison (2017, South Korea)

The Prison - Han Suk-Kyu as Jung Ik-ho (front), with (at left) Kim Rae-won as Song Yu-gon and (at right) Jo Jae-yoon as Hong-pyo

There is much that is familiar in The Prison. It owes a good deal to The Guys from Paradise (2000) and On the Job (2013) - both films about prisoners sneaking out of prison to commit major crimes, and then sneaking back in with perfect alibis - yet it somehow manages to be very much its own film. It features a cop and a kingpin. And copious amounts of corruption. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on September 5th, 2017 at 10:18 pm. Updated on September 5th, 2017 at 10:18 pm.

» Turn Him Loose (1929, USA)

Turn Him Loose - Bobby Vernon as Jerry in the can

OK - I admit that this doesn’t really meet too many of my prison movie criteria. The thing is, I was looking for a prison comedy starring an Australian silent actor I’d never heard of - Snub Pollard - and hadn’t realised that the collection in which Turn Him Loose appeared starred Bobby Vernon, and not Snub. Or that the film was not quite 13 minutes long. Or that despite the promise that it shows Vernon “[finding] himself on the wrong side of prison bars while tracking a beautiful underworld gun-moll”, he is never locked up long enough to even lose his boater hat. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on August 26th, 2017 at 9:41 pm. Updated on August 26th, 2017 at 10:06 pm.

» Welcome to Central Jail (2016, India)

Welcome to Central Jail - x as Superintendent y and Dileep as Unnikuttan

This is a saga: a movie long enough to be broken by an interval, and long enough to remain, in essence, a wistful romantic comedy as it shrugs off big slabs of slapstick, political intrigue, corruption and brutality. And, because it is an Indian film, mandatory singing and dancing. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on August 19th, 2017 at 9:40 pm. Updated on August 19th, 2017 at 9:40 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

» First Circle (1992, Canada / France)


‘”… A classic” - The New York Times’ - trumpets the blurb on my DVD and my expectations are raised. It’s a long film, three hours (or three hour-long episodes) and midway I’m struggling both with this description and to maintain interest. How could I get it so wrong? I decide to look up the review: “The First Circle is a very sad film. Not because of the austerity of its place and time (a special Soviet prison camp for scientists in the late 1940’s), nor because hopelessness would seem the only rational philosophy under a tyranny as effective as Stalin’s. Rather it’s because the movie is such a wan and ineffectual testament to the novel it is based on, as well as to the life and career of its extraordinary author, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 Nobel Prize-winning Soviet writer.” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on July 29th, 2017 at 9:59 pm. Updated on August 12th, 2017 at 9:09 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

» The Hangman: Shepherds and Butchers (2016, South Africa)

The Hangman: Shepherds and Butchers - Garion Dowds (second from left) as Leon Labuschagne and other exhausted guards after wrestling seven resistant prisoners to the gallows

“You cannot ask a man to be both shepherd and butcher at the same time,” spits defence counsel John Weber (Steve Coogan) in his closing address to the judge and his two assessors. On trial is a teenaged prison guard and father, Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds), accused of killing seven black African footballers one rainy night. There is no doubt he shot and killed the men, but Weber asks the Court to find that Labuschagne’s actions were the direct result of the inherent trauma in his job: caring for men on Death Row, reading the Bible to them, dealing with their families, then taking their measurements, leading them to the gallows, and even rehanging them if the first drop did not produce the desired effect and the condemned man was being strangled slowly at the end of the rope. Both shepherd and butcher. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on July 9th, 2017 at 1:13 pm. Updated on July 9th, 2017 at 1:13 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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