Animal Men

Point Blank: adapted from the Donald Westlake novel The Hunter by Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, and Kate Newhouse; directed by John Boorman; starring Lee Marvin (Walker), Angie Dickinson (Chris), Keenan Wynn (Yost), Carroll O’Connor (Brewster), Lloyd Bochner (Carter) and John Vernon (Mal) (1967): God knows John Boorman has his flaws as a director, but lack of ambition isn’t one of them. Here, he takes a straightforward novel of revenge by Donald Westlake and makes it burningly trippy and subjective without losing the narrative momentum or bleakness of the original work. Lee Marvin is great as the lead, a master thief and burglar betrayed and left for dead by his partners. The rest of the cast is strong. Many read the movie as being borderline supernatural — is Marvin’s character really alive or is he a vengeful spirit? — and the film supports both the supernatural and natural interpretations of events. Remade as Mel Gibson’s Payback. An essential 1960’s thriller. Highly recommended.

The Fly: written by George Langelaan and adapted by James Clavell; directed by Kurt Neumann; starring David Hedison (Andre Delambre), Patricia Owens (Helene Delambre), Vincent Price (Francois Delambre), and Herbert Marshall (Inspector Charas) (1958): I’ll be damned if I know why this is set in Montreal. I guess the original short story was. Only one of the leads attempts a French-Canadian accent, and the maid’s attempt at a French-Canadian accent occasionally slips into a Hollywood Irish brogue. One of the big-budget horror hits of the 1950’s, The Fly now seems unthrilling and painfully slow. The spider-web sequence is great, though, and the Fly prosthetics still possess the ability to startle. Lightly recommended for historical reasons.

Ant-Man: based on the character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby; written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd; directed by Peyton Reed; starring Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Michael Douglas (Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne), Corey Stoll (Darren Cross), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), Anthony Mackie (The Falcon), and Michael Pena (Luis) (2015): Jolly heist film masquerading as a superhero origin story. This would make a terrific pilot for a TV show — indeed, it’s a much more suitable TV project than Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. The large cast is affable, some of the writing is cleverly non-stereotypical, and the ‘shrunken’ sequences are nicely imagined. A brief scene showing the ‘original’ Ant-Man and Wasp in action against a nuclear missile is actually the most spectacular and interesting effects sequence in the movie. More of that! Recommended.

The Day of the Jackal: adapted by Kenneth Ross from the book by Frederick Forsyth; directed by Fred Zinnemann; starring Edward Fox (The Jackal) and Michael Lonsdale (Lebel) (1973): Tense, documentary structure and tone make this fictional account of a 1963 assassination attempt on then-French President Charles De Gaulle seem like a docudrama, to the extent that its events have often been confused with reality. This is one of the great thrillers of the 1960’s, on par with The Manchurian Candidate. Edward Fox makes a suave cipher as the paid assassin who goes by the moniker ‘The Jackal,’ and French actor Michael Lonsdale is excellent as the police detective who leads the efforts to stop him. Old-school Hollywood director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here To Eternity, Oklahoma!) was never better. Highly recommended.

The In-Laws: written by Andrew Bergman; directed by Arthur Hiller; starring Peter Falk (Vince Ricardo), Alan Arkin (Sheldon Kornpett), Richard Libertini (General Garcia), and Ed Begley, Jr. (Barry Lutz) (1979): Hilarious comedy from a co-writer of Blazing Saddles sends Alan Arkin and Peter Falk on a spy odyssey around New York and New Jersey and ultimately to a (fictional) Central American banana republic whose dictator collects Black Velvet paintings and practices ventriloquism with his ‘talking’ hand. Falk’s character is a CIA agent who is also the soon-to-be father-in-law of Arkin’s daughter. Arkin plays a high-strung dentist who gradually comes unstrung as the plot unfolds. The film juggles verbal comedy and slapstick with great elan, and the actors all succeed marvelously. A young David Paymer shows up as a helpful NY cabdriver, while Ed Begley, Jr. plays a CIA wonk. Dreadfully remade in 2003 with Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks in the Falk and Arkin roles. Highly recommended.

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