The Mess Hall

» Escape from Pretoria (2020, UK / Australia / USA / South Africa)

The difficulty with an escape movie based on a real-life escape is that you know the outcome even before the action starts. Whatever suspense that might be built into the story – the risks taken, the panicky times when they are nearly discovered, the obstacles that threaten the plot’s success – you know will amount to nothing. Come to think of it, that applies to virtually every escape movie, true or otherwise. Every action movie, in fact.  (more…)

Posted on August 1st, 2020 at 8:49 pm. Updated on August 1st, 2020 at 8:49 pm.

» Women Without Names (1940, USA)

This story seemed a little familiar, and it took me some time to work out that it is a reworking of Ladies of the Big House (1931), both films based on the same play by Ernest Booth, written while he was serving a sentence in San Quentin. In all, Booth served around 30 years in prison, so he knew more than most about the caper… but less about women’s prisons, one would imagine. And even less about happy endings, you’d think, but he knew enough about successful theatrical formulae to make sure his story had one.  (more…)

Posted on July 11th, 2020 at 4:48 pm. Updated on July 11th, 2020 at 4:48 pm.

» Larceny (2017, USA / Mexico)

Dull and implausible seems to be the consensus of those who have seen this film, also known – a little bewilderingly – as Maximum Security. And yes, dull and implausible it is. (more…)

Posted on May 14th, 2020 at 12:27 pm. Updated on May 14th, 2020 at 12:35 pm.

» The Forgiven (2017, UK)

From a distance, the post-apartheid South Africa after Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994 appeared to be an exemplar of how two sides of a civil war might be united. Its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) appeared a model for how a new democratic government might deal with human rights violations perpetrated by both sides, the oppressors and the oppressed, and from that build an inclusive future for all. Up a weeny bit closer, The Forgiven shows some of the fragility of that new order as it seeks to establish itself; the persistence of deep-seated racism, the attempts to undermine the process, and the toll taken on the TRC as it bore the weight of expectations from both the black and white communities. Oh, and all of that in prison. (more…)

Posted on April 3rd, 2020 at 8:59 pm. Updated on April 3rd, 2020 at 9:06 pm.

» Tomorrow’s Joe (2011, Japan)

Tomorrow’s Joe is a reworking, 40+ years down the track, of the boxing manga Ashita no Joe, which had already inspired a 79-episode TV series, two feature films (one anime) and another spin-off. It’s a Rocky-esque rags-to-not-quite-riches underdog story, with prison setting the tone for what is to come.  (more…)

Posted on March 13th, 2020 at 11:17 am. Updated on March 19th, 2020 at 3:49 pm.

» Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story (1980, USA)

So, the whole shocking story of Alcatraz’s 29-year life as a Federal Penitentiary comes down to just two incidents, does it – the May 1946 failed escape attempt known as the ‘Battle of Alcatraz’, and the June 1962 escape bid that may or may not have been successful? Oh, and a bit of filler in-between about Clarence Carnes and Robert Stroud. Nothing else, it seems, was shocking, or part of the whole Alcatraz story. (more…)

Posted on March 7th, 2020 at 8:14 pm. Updated on March 7th, 2020 at 8:14 pm.

» Alcatraz (2018, UK / USA)

This latest Alcatraz film is ‘inspired by real events’. It is low budget and low on authenticity. It is also, sadly, at the low end of the interest scale. (more…)

Posted on February 24th, 2020 at 6:49 pm. Updated on February 24th, 2020 at 6:49 pm.

» Onna keimusho / Women in Prison (1978, Japan)

Two themes run throughout this short movie: the betrayal of women by men, and sleaze. Sleaze, I think, wins. (more…)

Posted on December 22nd, 2019 at 11:33 am. Updated on December 22nd, 2019 at 11:33 am.

» 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.