For a dark comedy, this one is pretty good. It’s edgy and extreme, funny without being too cutesy, and very well acted. Ben Kingsley plays Frank, a mob hit man with a problem…a drinking problem. And, like all serious addictions, it starts to affect his work. Now, when the normal guy/gal has their drinking affect their job, it’s one thing…but when a hired killer is drunk, it’s a little more serious of a problem. Sent out to San Francisco to “get clean” by his mob-boss uncle (who’s having other problems as well), he gets a job in a mortuary and joins AA. After meeting a girl, who is oddly indifferent to his profession, Frank cleans up, only to have to go back home to help his uncle with some “family” business. I’ve seen Kingsley in some mildly amusing roles, but this is pretty broad for him. And he pulls it off masterfully. And while he shines, and the other cast also holds their own, the real star of this one is the script. Sharp and witty, it’s a must see for anyone who doesn’t mind a little killing with their comedy!

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James Bond meets The Day of the Jackal meets Fargo. Sounds strange, I know but watching four-time Bond actor Pierce Brosnan play a tired assassin is a strange thing to imagine. But, Brosnan does not let that stand in his way of making the role his own…he really seems to have fun with his character here. This is a dark comedy but much of the comedy is pretty light. I mean, unlike Fargo, this one does not use the murders as a source of the humor. The humor comes from the characters’ unusual personalities, especially Brosnan’s. Plot is simple here: a down-and-out businessman meets a down-and-out hit man in Mexico City where both are on business…Brosnan for a hit and Greg Kinnear’s businessman for a career-make-or-break client. They strike up a conversation which leads to a camaraderie which leads to a close friendship. These are both are hard-to-read people. On the exterior, it seems like it’s just Brosnan’s character who is the complicated one (he covers his complications with wisecracks, swearing, and liquor), but Kinnear’s complicatedness comes out slowly and more subtly throughout the film. I mean, Brosnan practically has a nervous breakdown in the middle of the film. But, the Kinnear character is just as fragile as Brosnan is. It’s a hard movie to describe because it has so many levels but what I can describe is that I enjoyed it tremendously.

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The Day of the Jackal was a surprise to me. I have tried other 1960s/1970s-era spy films and had not liked them…The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Odessa File, etc. When this Fred Zimmemann film came on cable one night, I begrudgingly thought I would give it a go, but expected I’d be turning it off quickly. I didn’t. I was totally engrossed in the story and captivated by the inner workings of the main characters. The story begins in the 1960s with a failed assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle and leads us into a web of intrigue about a secret French organization that is determined to succeed in killing then President de Gaulle. This film plays like a documentary, which makes it slower-paced and more intense. Mostly filled with unknown actors (or at least actors who are not known to me) with the exception of Derek Jacobi…playing a Frenchman, no less…The Day of the Jackal demands all of your attention. If you take your eyes away from the screen for a second, an important detail might be missed. I’ve watched this one several times since I first saw it and each viewing, I catch something new…something that makes me like the film even more. From start to finish, this one captivates…it is truly one of the best, most taut spy thrillers ever made.

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For a movie that takes place all in one small apartment (and mostly in one room of that apartment), this film sure has enough suspense and entertainment to fill anyone’s appetite for a good thriller. Director Alfred Hitchcock used this “one room” confining effect also in his 1948 thriller Rope, loosely based on the Leopold/Loeb murders. In Rope, Hitchcock seemed to be forcing the camera work around the room…seeming lost at times on which action to focus. In 1954’s Dial M for Murder, Hitchcock takes what he learned in Rope and improves on it. The camera is more fluid and less confined to the small area. The interaction with the characters does not seem too “crowded” as it often did in Rope. At times, in Dial M For Murder, the audience forgets this is a movie set mainly in just one room. This film is often overlooked in the Hitchcock filmography, mostly because it is not one of his best—but, that does not mean it’s not a good thriller. It just means Hitchcock directed so many good films that some of the smaller ones don’t get the attention they deserve. As for the plot of Dial M for Murder, you will just have to rent it and find out……

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