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By midlandsmovies, Apr 26 2020 10:00AM

Escape from Pretoria (2020) Dir. Francis Annan

Based on the real-life prison escape by three political prisoners in 70s South Africa, this new drama is adapted from the book Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison by Tim Jenkin, one of the escapees.

Jenkin is played by Daniel Radcliffe whilst Daniel Webber plays his friend and fellow campaigner Stephen Lee. The two are sentenced to prison time after a leaflet bombing campaign in support of the banned ANC group (famed for Nelson Mandela’s support and subsequent imprisonment). And the two white men are chastised in court for throwing away their white privilege in Apartheid South Africa.

As they are stripped of their clothes and possessions, the film shows us the typical hard-ass curmudgeon guard stereotype who explains how bad things will be in prison. At this point, hints of the Shawshank Redemption and similar jail movies came flooding back – however, it’s to the film’s credit that the real story takes off in another direction.

If it wasn’t for it being a true tale, audiences may not have believed their plan which simply involves them copying the keys to the prison doors. Away from their rigid routine, intriguing scenes of the group testing their devices – from carving tools in a woodwork classroom to adapting a broom – keep the audience informed of their plans and the fantastic performances are believable and likeable.

The film’s tension rises as they begin testing the keys at night after lockdown. Getting further and further each time, the film’s nail-biting trial and error approach and escape attempt scenes are the very definition of edge-of-the-seat thrills.

Unfortunately, the politics take a bit of a backseat at times but the underlying reasons for their escape from their incarceration means audiences will support them the whole way. With a thrilling finale, Escape from Pretoria is an engaging and exciting true life story of a daring true life break out.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 16 2020 07:16PM

Midlands Review - The Haunting of Alcatraz

Directed by Steve Lawson


High Flier Films/Creativ Studios

Can you make a film set on Alcatraz Island but film it around the Midlands? Well, Leicester-based horror director Steve Lawson attempts to give that a go in his new film The Haunting of Alcatraz.

With many legends set within the infamous walls over the years, we open up with a bloody bang of a beginning. An inmate manages to trick a guard who ends up giving him a blade (from a pencil sharpener no less) and a swift suicide leads to more mysterious deaths as the film progresses.

With Aura, Hellriser and Time, And Again under his belt Lawson again aims big with this film. He introduces us to Charlie Schmidt (Tom Hendryk) who comes straight out of college in 1937 to get a job as a prison guard. With the jailhouse routines explained by The Warden (Mark Topping excellently channelling some of the pious and cruel barbs of Shawshank’s Samuel Norton), he begins his shift.

But it isn’t long until Charlie’s bright young mind starts to investigate the strange deaths at the prison, yet despite warnings from a fellow guard (a very creepy Chris Lines) he continues to explore the bleak cellblocks.

Filmed at the disused Gloucester prison no less, Lawson does a more than admirable job convincing us this local made film is actually set in the bay of San Francisco. The British cast also do very well with American accents. So much so that I had to look up Chris Lines who is in fact from Stoke and not the US Deep South. And with good use of stock footage, it’s sometimes only the overcast UK weather that hints that we’re not in sunny California.

The film takes time to build its plot and Charlie eventually crosses paths with Helen Crevell’s nurse Sherry and together they begin an awkward bond of friendship, and perhaps more, which alleviates some of the more morbid aspects of the story.

Their relationship sadly leads into the middle third of the film which needed a few more scare scenes to keep the horror aspect at the forefront. And as it slows you start to notice the slightly functional camerawork – more variety in the shots could have helped visually – and some of the more cliched dialogue. Plus for a large prison, there seems to be very few inmates incarcerated. Almost none to be exact and a couple more tense scenes in this middle section sure wouldn’t have gone amiss.

However, the flashing lights and spooky sounds combined with a screeching soundtrack do just enough to keep you guessing at the film’s cryptic narrative and what could be lurking in the secretive “Cell 13”.

As Charlie uncovers further corruption, as well as possibly some supernatural goings-on, the movie definitely, and wisely, picks up the pace towards its conclusion. And later on Charlie’s enquiries into visions and voices leads to him unfortunately finding himself stuck in a cage (although not with The Rock alumni Nic Cage).

With traces of Shawshank and the Green Mile mixed with horror elements, The Haunting of Alcatraz’s does extremely well to create a convincing setting to hang its story around. Despite the obvious budget limitations, the film’s mix of penal punishment and cagey corruption drags it over the line before the illusion breaks.

And so, although you’re advised to stay well away from creepy “Cell 13”, it’s recommended you definitely head towards this disturbingly dark tale set at the infamous and sinister prison known as ‘the rock’.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jul 21 2018 07:00AM

Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018) Dir. Steven C. Miller

Sylvester Stallone’s Escape Plan (2013) was a straight-to-video b-movie where Sly’s ‘prison consultant’ was double-crossed and sent to a facility he needed to, well, escape from. With a cameo from Arnie during his post-Governor period, at best the movie was considered a guilty pleasure for the elderly comeback duo. More of the same here right? A resounding “no” actually.

Whatever that low budget film had going for it is lost here in an unbelievably bad (and unintentionally hilarious) mish mash of dull action, bad acting and sci-fi! Yes, sci-fi. The plot sees his colleague Shu Ren (Huang Xiaoming) end up in a prison that is more Tron: Legacy and Running Man than it is a modern prison.

Neon lights, smoky corridors and laser doors (!) replace any sense of even a semblance of reality and by the mid-way mark I half thought the ending would reveal them to be in space. The sets are small, badly lit and cheap looking and the lighting is abysmal.

It’s strange Stallone can arrange the production of a film as good as Creed and something as dreadful as this movie. The prison’s nickname is “the zoo” – a metaphor of caged animals so simple it’s something a child would come up with – and ex-wrestler Dave Bautista shows up but brings none of his great Guardians or Blade Runner 2049 charm.

Additionally, he and Stallone are barely in it – the two stars are support at best – and the ridiculousness continues with prison guards who look like Daft Punk. With the inclusion of lightning bolts that flow through prisoners like the three storms from Big Trouble in Little China and a robot doctor (seriously??!!) it’s perhaps one of the funniest films of the year. But no one’s laughing WITH it I can assure you.

“It’s bad to be back”, Sly says in an action one-liner which means nothing – yet summing up this film to perfection.


Midlands Movies Mike

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