The Mess Hall

» Escape (1980, USA)

Several years ago I copped some mild abuse after suggesting that Billy Hayes, the hero of Midnight Express (1978) – a film that shares more than a few things in common with this one – might have got off lightly by escaping so soon into his sentence for smuggling a large quantity of hashish. It’s the same moral dilemma here; addict Dwight Worker (Timothy Bottoms) is caught smuggling cocaine at Mexico City’s airport in 1973, and yet two years into a seven-year sentence we catch ourselves cheering him on in his audacious bid to escape from the notorious Lecumberri Prison. Both films retell true life stories. (more…)

Posted on November 17th, 2019 at 8:27 pm. Updated on November 17th, 2019 at 8:27 pm.

» Women of San Quentin (1983, USA)

“Look, I sure wasn’t the first to admit it. But there are things that you and the other women officers can do in a prison that a man can’t do. They look at a man in this uniform and their gut response is that it’s the enemy. They look at a woman in this uniform and their gut response is it’s still a woman. That’s what women can do for a prison.” (more…)

Posted on November 8th, 2019 at 7:21 pm. Updated on November 8th, 2019 at 7:21 pm.

» O.G. (2018, USA)

O.G. is not quite OMG!; it’s too quietly intense, too much of a slow-burn. But it’s an outstanding prison movie. (more…)

Posted on October 27th, 2019 at 11:24 am. Updated on October 27th, 2019 at 11:30 am.

» Man of Will (2017, South Korea)

Man of Will retells the real-life story of nationalist hero Kim Chang-Soo, who much later, as Kim Koo, became the sixth and last Premier of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea. But the film doesn’t bother with any of the irrelevant stuff, concentrating instead on what was really important: the two years he spent in jail. (more…)

Posted on October 7th, 2019 at 8:40 pm. Updated on October 7th, 2019 at 8:40 pm.

» The Mustang (2019, USA / France / Belgium)

I’m not really interested in the nags, despite my great-grandfather having been a highly respected horse-breaker, and like Dr Paul Gendreau I’m a little sceptical of the direct impact that animal programs have on recidivism, no matter what amazing things they can do for the prison environment. But this evocative, beautifully shot film brings two old-fashioned occupations – horse-breaker and criminal – together in splendid fashion, and no-one really gives a toss whether there are fewer criminals in the world because some have learned to break horses. (more…)

Posted on September 3rd, 2019 at 9:31 pm. Updated on September 3rd, 2019 at 9:31 pm.

» P Storm (2019, Hong Kong / China)

The fourth movie in the Storm franchise [following on from Z Storm (2014), S Storm (2016), L Storm (2018), from which I have been successfully sheltered in each case, and not counting the yet-to-be-released G Storm], this again features William Luk Chi Lim (Louis Koo) as a super-committed investigator from Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).  (more…)

Posted on August 27th, 2019 at 9:57 pm. Updated on August 27th, 2019 at 10:10 pm.

» Locked Up (2017, USA)

With a bit more imagination this could be a much better film… and still be pretty awful. (more…)

Posted on July 14th, 2019 at 1:11 pm. Updated on July 14th, 2019 at 1:15 pm.

» El patio de mi cárcel / My Prison Yard (2008, Spain)

My Prison Yard - Violeta Pérez as Rosa and Verónica Echegui as Isa

I watched this film with, I’m sorry to say, less than perfect comprehension… after the failure of several pathetic attempts to find good English subtitles. I was a little bemused to subsequently find a reference in one review to a duck in the prison, which I thought I’d missed, only to learn that it resulted from the translation of the mistranscribed ‘El pato de mi cárcel’. Sadly, outside of English I am always finding ducks or missing them (whichever is wrong). (more…)

Posted on March 19th, 2019 at 3:38 pm. Updated on June 13th, 2019 at 3:39 pm.

» Anime perse / The Jail: The Women’s Hell (2006, Italy)

The Jail: The Women's Hell - Yvette Yzon as Jennifer Estrada, making a gruesome discovery

Somehow, this film slipped past the gatekeeper. But if I ever wanted to remind myself why I avoid exploitative Women in Prison movies, this would do the trick. (more…)

Posted on February 25th, 2019 at 3:36 pm. Updated on June 13th, 2019 at 3:37 pm.

» The Jail of No Return (1994, Hong Kong)

The Jail of No Return - Little Blackness on the bamboo bed

At first blush, this is a wacky story of an island prison somewhere in Asia, ruled by a maniacal American, and featuring much creative brutality and some innovative implements of torture; the sort of film to which adolescents might be attracted. It was a bit of a surprise to learn later that it is based on a true story from the 1960s: that of the experimental penal colony Pulau Senang, just off the coast of Singapore, and the riot which led to its closure. (more…)

Posted on February 15th, 2019 at 3:32 pm. Updated on June 14th, 2019 at 8:37 pm.