The Mess Hall

» Blessed Benefit (2016, Jordan / Germany / Netherlands)

Blessed Benefit - Ahmad Thaher as Ahmad Thaher Farraj

Advertised as a comedy-drama, this has all the drama and comedy of a shrug. But it’s delightful. (more…)

Posted on May 22nd, 2018 at 8:42 pm. Updated on May 22nd, 2018 at 8:42 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.

» Vyfster: Die Slot / Five Star: The Final (1986, South Africa)

Vyfster: Die Slot - George Ballot as Skollie, on the run

‘Five star’ is an ironic reference to the Pretoria prison in which this film, and before it the mid-’80s, escape-filled, 14-part Vysfter TV mini-series, is set. Vyfster: Die Slot takes up, apparently, from where the mini-series rather abruptly left off. (more…)

Posted on April 30th, 2018 at 9:20 pm. Updated on April 30th, 2018 at 9:20 pm.

» The Sting II: Perfect Exchange (1993, Hong Kong)

The Sting II - Tony Ka Fai Leung as Chung Chor-Hung and Andy Lau as Mandy Chin

This is not a sequel to the 1973 film The Sting starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and seems an equally unlikely sequel to the 1992 Hong Kong film The Sting (starring Andy Lau, who appears in both apparently unconnected films in very different roles). A comedy-drama, it has, if nothing else, an English title which is much less abstruse than the literal translation of its Cantonese title – reportedly 36 Esteemed Cons: To Steal the Sky and Change the Moon. (more…)

Posted on April 18th, 2018 at 10:02 pm. Updated on April 18th, 2018 at 10:02 pm.

» Paddington 2 (2017, UK / Others)

Paddington 2

I thought that I was too old for Michael Bond’s Paddington books to have been around when I was young. I was wrong. I thought, too, that I might be too old (read ‘cantankerous’) to enjoy a movie featuring a proper, English, whispery-voiced, marmalade-loving, animated small bear. Wrong again.

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Posted on April 1st, 2018 at 8:49 pm. Updated on April 1st, 2018 at 8:49 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.

» Death Row (2007, USA)

Death Row - Elias Castillo as The Killer

As far as low budget horror films go, this one by the Quiroz Brothers is not so bad. As far as low budget death row horror films go, it is not about a death row, per se, and the term ‘horror’ doesn’t exactly fit, either. But it is decidedly, indisputably, inescapably low budget. (more…)

Posted on February 18th, 2018 at 12:37 pm. Updated on February 18th, 2018 at 12:41 pm.

» Women’s Slammer (1991, USSR)

Women's Slammer - Venera Nigmatulina as Madina Galieva

This is the alternative title of the video (on YouTube) which translates literally, it seems, as something closer to ‘Women’s Scum’. Or sometimes, intriguingly, as ‘Women’s Jelly’. The film’s original title, Life is a Woman, doesn’t appear to have ever had much traction. (more…)

Posted on February 4th, 2018 at 3:40 pm. Updated on June 15th, 2019 at 3:49 pm.

» Carpinteros / Woodpeckers (2017, Dominican Republic)

Woodpeckers - Jean Jean as Julian Sosa

The Najayo Prison for men at San Cristóbal, about an hour out of Santo Domingo, is right next door to the Najayo Women’s Center of Correction and Rehabilitation. So close that the men in the old prison, if they can get to a high window on the upper storey, can pass messages to the women next door, and vice versa, by an elaborate, bespoke sign language. ‘Woodpecking’, they call it. “The thing is that when the woodpeckers drill their holes they grasp onto the tree – the same way that the guys climb to the windows and grab onto the rails so they can talk to us,” one of the women says. Or you can choose to make up your own explanation.

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Posted on January 28th, 2018 at 11:18 am. Updated on January 28th, 2018 at 11:18 am.

» Lucknow Central (2017, India)

Lucknow Central - Deepak Dobryal as Victor Chattopadhyay, Rajesh Sharma as Purushottam Madan Pandit, Farhan Akhtar as Kishen Mohan Girhotra, Inaamulhaq as Dikkat Ansari and Gippy Grewal as Parminder ('Pali') Singh Gill

I’m not the most ardent fan of modern Bollywood productions; most are too long for my liking (this one weighs in at just shy of 2½ hours) and I generally find the musical interludes grating and intrusive. But at least in Lucknow Central (and Qaidi Band, another just-released Indian film about the formation of a jail band) music is integral to the plot, and (despite what was an apparently poor reception from Indian filmgoers) it’s a far-from-disastrous prison film. (more…)

Posted on December 31st, 2017 at 9:07 pm. Updated on January 12th, 2018 at 8:35 pm.