Movie Review: ‘The Mind of Mark DeFriest’

Less than 15 minutes into the “The Mind of Mark DeFriest,” the subject of this documentary — a prisoner in shackles — turns to the camera and asks, with a laugh, “Do I seem crazy? Can we have an honest opinion from the peanut gallery?”

Don’t answer that question.

At least not yet. As you watch the rest of Gabriel London’s compelling film unfold, your opinion about the sanity of its titular subject may change, more than once. In 1980, at the age of 20, DeFriest was sent to a Florida prison for the theft of some tools. That four-year sentence ultimately stretched to 105 years after repeated escape attempts and other erratic, less-than-model behavior that raised questions about his competency.

The opinion of psychologist Robert Berland — who, early in DeFriest’s sentence, testified that the prisoner was faking signs of mental illness — has certainly changed. London’s film centers on the efforts of Berland, who, along with DeFriest’s wife and lawyer, has been trying in recent years to get the Florida parole board to recognize that Berland’s earlier expert opinion was in error, and that DeFriest is — indeed, that he probably always was — psychotic.

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This makes for a dramatic tale. But so do De­Friest’s firsthand accounts of his seven escapes (out of 13 attempts), which show why he was dubbed “Houdini” by the press. DeFriest provides lively interviews, some of which are unfortunately garbled by bad phone connections. London supplements these with animated reenactments of his exploits, sometimes narrated by actor Scoot McNairy, who reads from DeFriest’s journals, letters and court transcripts. This prisoner comes across as someone with great native intelligence, if not always the best judgment.

Of course, cleverness, as several people interviewed for the film note, is not the same as sanity.

After an earlier version of the film was shown at film festivals last year, late-breaking developments in DeFriest’s case forced London to update the movie, which now includes something of a surprise ending.

But the biggest surprise may be the way London turns the portrait of an escape artist into a powerful indictment of the American prison system, which many reformers, London included, argue merely warehouses the mentally ill.

★ ★ ★

Unrated. Contains obscenity, sexual content, drug references and brief violent imagery. 92 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘Queen and Country’

Like John Boorman’s semi-autobiographical “Hope and Glory,” the sequel “Queen and Country” uses war as a backdrop for hijinks and easily-healed heartbreak.

Taking place nine years after Boorman’s 1987 film, which looked at the London Blitz of World War II through the eyes of a boy who doesn’t really understand the gravity of his situation, the new film presents the Korean War from the distant, somewhat sardonic perspective of a young British army conscript more interested in chasing women than in defending democracy.

The saga’s now-almost-grown hero, Bill Rohan (here played by Callum Turner), is a baby-faced sergeant teaching typing on a British military base while waiting to be shipped off to combat in the early 1950s. Revolving around Bill’s friendship with fellow recruit and reprobate Percy (Caleb Landy Jones) and the hero’s doomed romance with a beautiful but unattainable member of the upper class (Tamsin Egerton), the film toggles, at times awkwardly, between scenes of romantic melodrama and episodes of sometimes coarse comedy, most of which derives from Percy’s theft of an antique clock from his regiment’s priggish commanding officer (Brian F. O’Byrne).

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Another plot line, played mostly for laughs, has to do with Bill and Percy’s campaign — enabled by their company’s resident slacker, or “skiver” (Pat Shortt) — to embarrass a by-the-book officer named Bradley, portrayed by a nicely put-upon David Thewlis. When a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is applied to Bradley, a World War II veteran, late in the film, the offhandedness of it seems weird.

There’s a lot of that in “Queen and Country,” the title of which, like “Hope and Glory,” is delivered with a healthy dose of irony. War is not always tragic, Boorman seems to be saying, and sometimes everything really does turn out fine in the end. When a soldier returns from Korea with a leg blown off by a land mine, he cracks a joke about “putting his foot in it.”

Featuring a reprise by David Hayman as Bill’s bumptiously patriotic father, Clive, and an updated version of older sister Dawn (Vanessa Kirby) — now married with children in Canada, but no less wild — the film is something of a chimera. A little too silly to be taken seriously, yet also too heavy to get all the laughs it very clearly craves, “Queen and Country” at least shows where Boorman’s schizoid, if less than wholly satisfying, sense of storytelling comes from.

★ ★ ½

Unrated. Contains obscenity, nudity and a sex scene. 115 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘The Salvation’

“The Salvation” is nothing new. In fact, it feels a little dated, but that may please fans of the practically abandoned Western genre. The movie, by Danish director and co-writer Kristian Levring, doesn’t break new ground, but the story efficiently sets up the old battle of good vs. evil, and excellent acting makes up for middling special effects.

Mads Mikkelsen plays Jon, a Danish soldier who moved to America with his brother to find a better life and set up a home on the range for his wife and son. Seven years later, his family finally joins him. But no sooner do they step off their train than they are murdered by a couple of despicable drunks. Jon wastes no time getting his revenge. He hunts down the pair and kills them, only to realize that one of the thugs is the brother of a powerful goon named Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

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Delarue supposedly serves as the protective guardian of a nearby town, but really he terrorizes and extorts its residents. And when he finds out a killer is in their midst, he holds the whole town hostage until the citizens give up his brother’s murderer. All roads lead to a showdown, naturally.

“The Salvation” is a bleak movie about harsh living, and there is plenty of violence, although none of it is particularly gruesome compared to what we see on screen these days. The gunshot wounds that look like ketchup splotches make the villains seem a little less scary, but superb acting from a cast that includes Jonathan Pryce and Eva Green helps rectify that. Green is especially haunting in a wordless role as a scarred and tattooed woman who was kidnapped by Native Americans as a child only to be “rescued” by Delarue’s brother and forced into marriage.

Surprises are few and far between in “The Salvation,” but for Western fans looking for a fix, it’ll do the trick.

★ ★

R. Contains violence and sexual situations. 92 minutes.

GSC Student Art Show Reception Planned

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Works from the Eighth Annual Student Juried Art Show are now on display in the Fine Arts Center Spears Gallery at Glenville State College.

The show features art submitted by GSC students which will be on display until Friday, April 17, 2015.

The public is invited to the opening reception and awards ceremony on Monday, March 23, 2015 beginning at 4:00 PM.

The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 AM until 2:00 PM and one hour before all Fine Arts Department musical performances.

For more information contact Associate Professor of Art Liza Brenner at or call 304.462.6346.

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