Big Papillon

DATELINE: Renewed Classic

Rami & Charlie.

Perhaps every 50 years or so, a movie needs to be re-made.

This gives a new generation of actors a chance at grand roles, and an audience unfamiliar with the original to see a version that is in tune with the times that half-a-century causes.

Take Papillon, the Devil’s Island classic tale that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman so many years ago. Those who remember will tell you how great they were.  Those who see Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in the recent version will not understand how these two could be surpassed.

Yes, this remake is brilliantly done: in ways that the other never touched:  such as the motif of bowels as hiding places. Money pellets are within the mess of diarrhea to be searched. This film is brutal in its sadism and disgusting conditions, perhaps even more appalling than the original.

Henry Charriere’s true story of a man battling the odds of prison condemnation is always a good yarn of hope and hopeless. Director Michael Noer manages to convey the power of a literary classic.

We particularly liked the sequence when the warden has a showing of 1933 King Kong while the repugnant, fat turnkey is in dalliance with a young whelp while Papillon plans his escape.

There is a chemistry between Malek and Hunnam that transcends the original pairing of actors who were stars for more distinctive, discrete audiences. These new young stars have rapport and remain in tune as their relationship blossoms. In a scene Malek plays a mime who performs for Hunnam in a Paris dream sequence.

Hunnam notes it is too soon for a “proposal” in one scene, but the fearless director makes his song of bonds between oddball men quite effective.

Lost City & Lost Spirit, Zed Renamed Z

DATELINE:  No Bomba Here

 Zed

An old-fashioned epic journey was once the purview of great films and studios. Think David Lean or John Huston. To tackle a grand mystery, the disappearance of an explorer and his son in the 1920s seems to be the stuff of legendary movies.

Lost cities and their discovery also play in the ballpark of great historical drama.

Yet, something may have become lost in translation when it comes to The Lost City of Z.

Without a doubt, many facets of the Percival Fawcett saga are well-produced, well-acted, and directed with an old-style elan by James Gray.

So, where did the audience become lost? Nowadays, your viewership is weaned on cartoonish plot-holes with noisy special effects, but this film resists the urge for going that way. It paid the price with quality unappreciated. This is not your father’s Indiana Jones.

The film is an adventure in the classic Royal Geographic Society tradition, perhaps better suited to a miniseries from BBC.

Fawcett’s most significant discovery was that the RGS was filled with racial prejudice against ancient tribal societies in 1910. Imagine that! Prejudice that South American natives might not produce a classic civilization thousands of years ago!

Brad Pitt originally planned to play the obsessed British explorer, but wiser heads moved on to Charlie Hunnam, who certainly has come a long way since the days of the British Queer as Folk cast. He is quite perfect in the role, even aging with subtlety from 1906 to the 1926 when Fawcett ostensibly disappeared in the jungle.

Perhaps the understated, stiff upper-lip manner is truly anachronistic and misunderstood, leaving audiences cold.

The best part of the film for us was the role of Robert Pattinson, lately taking secondary co-star parts, sidekick to the hero. He is a delight.

Here he may come across as the next Gabby Hayes, or Ralph Bellamy, but Pattinson’s transition from cute vampire to character actor may have just given his career a new, untold longevity.

By the wayside, snippets of familiar classical music are tossed around like rose petals, which may be the truly greatest criticism we can muster.