Police Gazette Movie Review: Papillon (2017)

Police Gazette publisher Steve Westlake just got back from TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) where he attended the world premiere of Papillon, the new action/adventure film starring Charlie Hunnam, pictured below with Mr. Westlake.

Since pretty much all prison dramas, by their nature, are set in one location, “epic” is not normally a word you would attach to them. Even The Shawshank Redemption, which spanned a long period of time, was constrained by space to such a degree it could not have the grandness of scale one thinks of when using the word. But if there is such a thing as an “epic prison drama,” Papillon is it.

This story, based on the real-life memoirs of Henri Charrière, spans a long period of time, but also encompasses multiple locations in two hemispheres, as well as numerous escape attempts. There’s an epic “feel” to the story that’s just not possible in other prison dramas.

In the story’s telling, Danish director Michael Noer has pulled together such wonderful set pieces, I think it’s possible this movie gets Oscar nominations for production design, cinematography and costume design, not to mention sound mixing, which is top notch and provides icing on the cake for the already excellently choreographed fight scenes. For acting, Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek give fine performances, but the real find here for American audiences is Roland Møller who is transfixing as Papillon’s escape-colleague Celier.

This movie is endlessly being compared to the first adaptation of Henri Charrière’s memoirs. Some comparisons are maybe interesting and some maybe unfair. But that movie came out 44 years ago. In the end, 90% of the actual ticket-buying audience will never have heard of the original Papillon, let alone seen it. So the new one really needs to be judged on its own merits.

On that note, some have criticized the portrayal of jazz-age Paris as overly idyllic, a fantasy that never actually existed. I happen to love this approach. The depiction of a colorful, noisy, vibrant Paris provides the perfect contrast to the bleakness to come and gives it a dream-like quality that you can image Papillon sees in his sleep during his most desperate moments.

One minor criticism I might have of Papillon’s character development might be it’s never made clear exactly what motivates him to endure the years of solitary confinement and the other horrors. What gives him the strength to carry on and remain sane? This is only a minor concern since it’s easy to chalk it all up to pure pride and ego. From the beginning, Papillon is portrayed as selfish and self centered, someone who believes he’s smarter, stronger, and better than others, particularly his jailers. He’s the type who will survive with his wits intact just so he can spite the warden—played by Yorick van Wageningen—and anyone who thinks they have him beaten.

This personality trait is also at the heart of Papillon’s most important character arc. In the beginning he is only looking out for himself, using others to get what he wants. But this changes during the course of his relationship with Louis Dega (Malek). Papillon starts by using Dega only for his money. But as the movie progresses, Papillon more and more often risks his own personal well-being coming to Dega’s aid. This, even more than the escape itself, is the core of the story.

The movie, as a movie, also contains a sort of arc of quality that parallels Papillon’s arc of conscience. It starts out with what some might call a touch of superficiality and cliché in the writing and performances. But perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, all aspects of the filmmaking rise in quality as Papillon’s character and affection for Dega develop. There is a fight scene in the shower—one of the perfectly rendered fight sequences—and it feels as though everything from that point forward enters a higher level of expertise. Acting, dialogue, pacing, depth of feeling all kick up a notch. So a superficial person finds his depth and connection as a superficial movie does the same? A bit too metafictive? Okay, moving on.

A word about blood and guts. As I already mentioned, the fight scenes are very well done and even include one with a fairly graphic disemboweling. But, this being set in the French culture, you can’t have a complete violence profile without a good guillotine scene, and this movie provides a corker.

On a serious note, in the question-and-answer segment following the screening I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival, star Charlie Hunnam was asked if he thought the depiction of solitary confinement in the movie was relevant in today’s American society. Hunnam replied they had thought about that during production, and they hope the studies and debate about that method’s use today will continue to a sane resolution. Not all of us are Papillon.

There’s a lot to think about with this new telling of the Papillon story, and the more you think about it, the more this movie will grow on you.

Rating: 4 1/2 Police Gazette medals

Movie-Review Rating Explanation
Five Police Gazette medals: You will think of this movie every day for the rest of your life.
Four medals: A well-crafted work of art.
Three medals: Some parts don’t work, but gets the job done.
Two medals: Garbage in, garbage out; bad approach executed with technical skill.
One medal: Don’t see. It’ll make you want to die, and assisted suicide is illegal.

Police Gazette Publishes New Plays by Famed Off-Broadway Playwright Leonard Melfi

Also Contains Shocking Details of Leonard’s Mysterious Death and Disappearance.

Two plays by world-renowned Off-Broadway playwright Leonard Melfi have just been published for the first time. The Violinist is the last play Leonard ever completed. It’s full length, just as stunning as any of his earlier works, and also one of his most autobiographical. “The Son of Redhead” is a mesmerizing one-act tragicomedy Leonard wrote in the 1980s. But he gave away his only copy and never thought to track it down. Years later, brother John did the tracking and found it.

Also included is “Leonard’s Final Odyssey” by his brother John, which reveals all the details surrounding Leonard’s mysterious death and disappearance. What happened could have been—and was—something from one of Leonard’s own plays. Leonard Melfi died in New York City on October 28, 2001, but was not laid to rest in the Melfi family plot in Binghamton for almost six months. The tragedy, the mistakes, the cover ups, the lies, the desperate search for a beloved family member, friend, and shining light of American avant-garde theatre… all revealed here for the first time.

Leonard Melfi is best known for his one-act “Birdbath”—which plumbs the depths of love, desire, and ambition—and his contribution to Oh! Calcutta!, the longest-running revue in Broadway history. In praise of Leonard, superstar playwright Edward Albee said “Years ago, there were many serious and daring individuals in Greenwich Village under 30 as well as young playwrights, myself included. It was a wild and vital time, and no one was more vital than Leonard.”

You can get The Violinist and The Son of Redhead: Two Plays by Leonard Melfi at Amazon. Also like the official Leonard Melfi Facebook page. And read this review of the book in the Wilmington StarNews.

Hitler Highlights and Fun Facts from Police Gazette Book Hitler Is Alive!

Only in the Police Gazette!

Subjects explored in the new book Hitler Is Alive!

-Eva Braun’s secret diary entries lament that her man is always away ruling the world and doesn’t have any time for her. But later entries reveal how when the cat’s away, the mice will play!

-Gisela Fleischer Hoser claimed to be Hitler’s daughter and told the Police Gazette, “I rather hope that my father is still alive and reads these lines to learn that his only daughter has married a Jew.”

-Argentina was perfect for escaping Nazis. A quarter million German immigrants already lived there and leader Juan Perón made no secret that he welcomed former members of the Reich whose European welcome had worn out.

-The Soviet Union gave more support and direction to the Socialist Reich Party, the successor to the Nazi party in post-war Germany, than to the West German Communist Party. Why? Only the Police Gazette knows!

-Letters between Hitler and Mussolini unintentionally reveal Hitler’s real reason for not throwing a full assault against Great Britain and ending the war in Western Europe. They show Mussolini being led by the nose by a master manipulator.

-Hitler’s personal physician, Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger, developed a procedure called the “silk-cord operation” that could temporarily paralyze parts of the human brain. Did he use it on Der Fuehrer before his escape from Berlin?

-The Police Gazette‘s last Hitler-Is-Alive report in May of 1972 says it is “sending one of its top investigative reporters to find out” if Hitler is still at his “heavily guarded fortress in a remote region of Patagonia” and to “be on the lookout for this important article.” The reporter was never heard from again….

All the original articles from this granddaddy of all conspiracy theories, plus new commentary and analysis that’s sure to entertain as well as inform. Go here to read rave pre-release reviews.

Click pic to see more and reserve your copy today…

Rave Reviews for Hitler Is Alive!

Open Road Media and Mysterious Press have teamed to release Hitler Is Alive!, a Police Gazette collection edited by Steven A. Westlake, head of the company that manages this website and all things Police Gazette.

Already the verdict is in. And Hitler Is Alive! is a winner. Read these pre-release reviews:

From Booklist, the leading trade journal for libraries and booksellers:
“Editor Westlake joyously collects a cavalcade of these breathless accounts, filed by intrepid deep-cover reporters, of Hitler’s Antarctic compound; sexually frustrated Eva Braun’s obtained diaries; and the clandestine documents, X-rays, and blood analyses that prove Hitler’s corpse wasn’t Hitler’s corpse (or that Hitler had children, or that Hitler was secretly a Jew, or . . . well, you get the idea). Ridiculous alt-history fun.”
—Daniel Kraus

From Amazon Vine Voice (averaging 4 out of 5 stars):
“A great read.”
—Jerry Saperstein, Hall of Fame Reviewer

“Highly recommended for conspiracy theory buffs.”
—Kilgore Gagarin, Top 500 Reviewer

“The writing is superb. Pulpy yes, but stylistically solid. Therein lies the true enjoyment in this fascinating piece of period journalism. The articles are so well written that a reader is compelled to follow along in the story with very little effort. Masterfully edited with original illustrations and great story selection so you can also enjoy it as an interesting work of alternative history speculative fiction. I’m very enthusiastic about a collection like this.”
—Dirk Drudgler, Top 1000 Reviewer

“Better written [than the National Enquirer] and more entertaining. If you are interested in gonzo history and conspiracy or just want to read some great, outlandish ‘history,’ this book fits the bill.”
—Kevin Fontenot

“There is such a draw to the content, you almost want to believe what you are reading. It is interesting to see tabloid writing collected and treated like a cultural artifact, which it definitely is.”
—Bryan Newman

“This is an interesting and meaty collection of the theories that are still being floated on the subject. Regardless of how you view the actual possibility that Hitler lived on, it’s a fun and hugely entertaining read.”
—Lauri Crumley Coates

“Worth reading through and thankfully it is a big lark, or is it?”
—Narut Ujnat

From GoodReads, world’s largest site for book recommendations:
“Believable in the way the X-Files is believable or that a congressman will believe and quote ‘The Onion’ as a source. A fun romp through a history that never was.”
—Joseph (evilcyclist)

All the original articles from this granddaddy of all conspiracy theories, plus new commentary and analysis that’s sure to entertain as well as inform. Go here to see Hitler Highlights and Fun Facts covered in the book.

Click the pic to visit Amazon, and order your copy today!