It’s Good Friday as I’m writing this… and pondering, fittingly, the allusion to Barabbas in the title. What can it mean? One thread of the film concerns a man who has mightily affronted the authorities, and whose non-judgmental love for a prostitute has ‘healed’ her. A little familiar, you might think. But there’s no guilty rogue spared here while an innocent man goes to his death; the man awaiting execution is very much guilty (of the premeditated murder of a policeman), and none of those who walk free, or go unpunished, are of Barabbas’s ilk… and nor do they pave the way for the other man’s execution. (more…)
Posted on April 30th, 2019 at 3:39 pm. Updated on June 13th, 2019 at 3:40 pm.
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 December 9th, 2019 at 1:12 pm.
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.
It’s the future: 2011. Back in 2002 out of control tax rates had triggered a Depression, with half the population forced out of work. In response to soaring crime rates and civil unrest Congress made new offences (such as gun ownership, ho ho, tax evasion and speech code violations) capital crimes, alongside murder and treason. Smoking has become an offence against the Clean Air, Clean Minds Act (2005) and carries a minimum one-year term. And the execution of all the new Death Row inhabitants has become a mass entertainment commodity in a privatized Virtual Reality prison system. (more…)
Posted on January 12th, 2019 at 3:23 pm. Updated on June 13th, 2019 at 3:25 pm.
Before Fortress (1992) and its famous intestinator was this low budget flick, set in 2045 and boasting a very similar device: a ID transmitter/receiver inserted into the pulmonary plexus that not only tracks prisoners’ whereabouts, but allows guards to remotely cause pain to any part of a prisoner’s body (teeth, stomach etc), simply by choosing the relevant button on the remote control. Other than that – and the satellite prison’s sex droids (robots known as ‘pen pals’ which provide sexual favours to the well-behaved prisoners) – it is a pretty standard escape movie. (more…)
Posted on December 23rd, 2018 at 11:35 am. Updated on December 23rd, 2018 at 11:41 am.
A “combination of commercialism and penal reform” is how prison Warden Bledsoe (Hal Orlandini) describes the “unique experiment” that is his women’s prison’s operating model. It’s not unique, one suspects, and it’s not penal reform, but it is commercial: the renting out of its prettier prisoners at the local bordello. (more…)
Posted on December 15th, 2018 at 9:13 pm. Updated on December 15th, 2018 at 9:20 pm.
I’m afraid I wasn’t a big fan of the first filmed version of Henri Charrière’s life story, Papillon (1973), starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. I thought it tedious, and a disappointing retelling of the boisterous, if largely fanciful, written account. And I’m not all that keen to go back and revisit it to see if that judgment was a little harsh, having just watched the remake… which I think is an improvement.
Posted on December 8th, 2018 at 8:38 pm. Updated on December 8th, 2018 at 8:46 pm.
Back in October 2017 Alex Greenwood wrote to me to see if I could identify a movie from a grainy still he had found on the internet of a bald guy in prison fight scene. Being notoriously poor at such things (and, it turns out, not having seen the movie, or even heard of it), I was unable to assist. But Alex persisted, and persisted… and found it himself. And this is it, fighting bald guy and more.
Posted on October 6th, 2018 at 5:34 pm. Updated on October 6th, 2018 at 5:34 pm.
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.
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.