» The Informer (2019, UK)

The Informer has a little more complexity than most action thrillers. But not so much that it explains why IMDb’s précis (“An ex-convict working undercover intentionally gets himself incarcerated again in order to infiltrate the mob at a maximum security prison”) pretty much misses the point entirely. ‘Intentionally gets himself incarcerated’, yes, but he returns to prison extremely reluctantly, and only when two figurative guns are pointed at his head – one by the mob and the other by the FBI. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on February 15th, 2020 at 8:22 pm. Updated on February 15th, 2020 at 8:22 pm.

» Division 19 (2017, UK / USA)

We have seen it before in other films: entrepreneurs making money by putting prisoners on show for public entertainment. There have been fight clubs [Ring of Death (2008), for example, or Undisputed III: Redemption (2010)] staged for the benefit of gambling rings or internet subscribers, execution lotteries [Deathrow Gameshow (1987), Absolute Aggression (1996)], kill-or-be-killed contests for TV audiences [The Condemned (2008), Turkey Shoot (2014)], death races [Death Race (2008)] and many more. But this takes things in a different direction. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on February 1st, 2020 at 10:13 pm. Updated on February 1st, 2020 at 10:13 pm.

» Çakallarla Dans 2: Hastasiyis Dede! / Dance with the Jackals 2 (2012, Turkey)

Good prison comedy is a bit like the perfect crime: trickier than it looks. And it proves much too tricky in this case, although there are so few prison scenes it would be most unfair to label it a prison comedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on January 27th, 2020 at 11:13 am. Updated on January 27th, 2020 at 11:20 am.

» Capharnaüm (2018, Lebanon and others)

To be honest, this doesn’t really come close to being a prison movie… but it’s a stunning film, nonetheless, and has a few fascinating prison scenes (shot in Roumieh Prison), and tells the grim backstory of a young boy who is in the juvenile section of that prison, serving a five year sentence for wounding. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on January 19th, 2020 at 8:52 pm. Updated on January 19th, 2020 at 8:52 pm.

» Stars and Roses (1989, Hong Kong)

Q: How many films are there of first world citizens being held in prison in foreign states that have different political systems, different standards of living, or different concepts of what is reasonable treatment of its prisoners? A: Quite a few. And you can add this one to the list. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on December 30th, 2019 at 8:23 pm. Updated on January 19th, 2020 at 9:07 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

» Gefangen / Locked Up (2004, Germany)

For years I avoided this movie, aware that there was a hardcore version, Eingelocht, and fearful that this less graphic version would still be an inane, plotless vehicle for gratuitous ‘erotic’ scenes – like so many WIP movies. The good news is that while it boasts shower scenes and a strip search and a rape and a stabbing in the anus and some consensual sex, it’s mostly in context. Sort of. The not-so-good news is that it is pretty much plotless, much of the acting is abysmal, and it is immediately forgettable. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on December 9th, 2019 at 1:06 pm. Updated on December 9th, 2019 at 1:16 pm.

» The Number (2017, South Africa)

The Number is based on Jonny Steinberg’s non-fiction book of the same name, based in turn on interviews with Magadien Wentzel, a former high-ranking 28s gang member who served time in the Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. Both inside and outside jail, Wentzel has, it seems, so far defied the gang’s dictum that the only way out is through death.  The film sheds light on the mysterious workings of the brutal, ritualistic, militaristic prison gangs in South Africa which maintain their traditions of well over a hundred years… and from which Magadien decides to walk away rather than see his son follow the same path. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on November 23rd, 2019 at 8:27 pm. Updated on November 23rd, 2019 at 8:27 pm.

» 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

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