Tag Archives: Kenneth McMillan

Malone (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit-man saves town.

Richard Malone (Burt Reynolds) is a former CIA hit-man who decides that he’s had enough of the dirty business and wants to retire. He uses his savings to leave the profession and travel the countryside. On the way his car breaks down and he’s forced to push the vehicle to the nearest small town service station, which is run by Paul (Scott Wilson). Since the parts to repair the transmission will take several days to arrive he stays at the place and befriends Paul’s teen-age daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb). He also becomes aware of a plot by billionaire Charles Delaney (Cliff Robertson) to buy up the town and force everyone to sell and if they don’t they end up dying. Despite his initial reluctance Malone ends up getting involved in the dispute and becomes Delaney’s number one target in the process.

The movie is based on the novel ‘Shotgun’ by William P. Wingate, which in turn was modeled after the formula from the western Shane. It reminded me more of High Noon particularly the way Malone single-handedly takes on not only Malone, but all of his cohorts during a gun battle at the end, but without that film’s strong emotional impact. The story and characters are highly uninspired and this thing is aimed towards those that like their action flicks on a very simple and predictable level.

Reynold’s presence is the only interesting ingredient. This was during the downside period of his career where he was desperately trying to get back to the tough guy action roles that had made him famous. However, during the 70’s his action guy persona worked more in the humorous vein where his character would always approach the situation with a twinkle in his eye and funny side-quip, but here he’s all stiff and serious. To a degree this proves he’s a good actor in that he can play either type of role effectively, but the funny-Burt is far more entertaining than the serious one. Either way it’s doubtful that this middle-ager would’ve been able to run so vigorously and climb onto the rooftop of buildings as he does when he gets onto Delaney’s estate and I’m pretty sure a stunt double was used since we only see him doing this from a distance.

An element of the film that audiences today may take issue with is his relationship with the teen girl who starts to admire him to an emotional extreme. Clearly she represents the Brandon deWilde role from the Shane film, but the fact that she is underage and starts to have a romantic interest in the 50-year-old and he in her and even kisses him on the mouth may make certain viewers uncomfortable.

As for the villain he is as dull and transparent of a caricature as it gets and Robertson plays him very poorly by conveying no menace on the screen and creating zero tension. It would’ve worked better had Kenneth McMillan, who plays the sleazy sheriff would’ve been cast in the Delaney part as he’s an actor with genuine panache and owns whatever scene he’s in no matter how big or small the role.

The ironic thing about this otherwise mindless excursion is it’s all about this far-right nutty guy who wants to take over the government to ‘save the country’ and even requires all his followers to say a corny patriotic-like pledge and yet it wasn’t even filmed in the US, but instead British Columbia, Canada. Even more frighteningly is that given today’s political climate it doesn’t seem quite as farfetched and over-the-top as it once did.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harley Cokeless

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Carny (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway joins the carnival.

Bored with small town life and an overly-protective boyfriend (Craig Wasson) Donna decides at the age of 18 to break-free of her restraints and travel the countryside by working in a carnival. She befriends Frankie (Gary Busey) who works as a clown and she gets a job as one of the strippers before eventually working the string joint booth while slowly adapting to the shady ways of the gypsy-like lifestyle.

The carnival atmosphere is well-recreated and was directed by Robert Kaylor who years earlier helmed the documentary Derby, which was a behind-the-scenes look at life on the roller derby circuit and this film works much the same by fully immersing the viewer into the dark aspects of a tough environment while also exposing the personalities of the people who work in it. The revealing story manages to be both hard-hitting and intriguing.

The tone though stays too much on the negative side until the viewer feels almost bombarded with one unpleasant situation after another. There’s never anything redeeming and you’re made to feel tense waiting for the next uncomfortable twist to come about, which gets overdone. Certainly there had to be some good times and bonding that occurs and the film lightly touches on this at the very, very end, but I felt more of that should’ve been sprinkled in throughout.

There’s also too many con-games and underhanded shenanigans making me wonder if all carnivals were really this bad , or is it simply playing-it-up for dramatic purposes. The ending in which everyone works together to pull off an elaborate con on a meddling crime boss (Bill McKinney) comes off too much like a poor rendition of The Sting. Some potentially intriguing storylines get dropped; like what happened to Donna’s psycho boyfriend when he finds out that she has left him? I was fully expecting him to come back into the picture at some later point once he tracked her down, but instead he gets forgotten.

Robertson is a famous songwriter and musician whose been around since the ‘60s, but he grew up working in the carnival circuit and helped put his real-life experiences and insights into the script. His performance is okay, but the soundtrack he composed for the film is too upbeat and does not jive with the dark, moodiness of the plot.

The performances are the best thing. Foster usually plays characters that are confident, but here she is someone who is unsure of herself only to acquire an edge as the story progresses. Kenneth McMillan is engaging as the nervous, stressed-out owner and Meg Foster is good as a woman who’s become hardened from being on the road too long. Gary Busey is a standout too even though he sometimes gets mocked today for his weird behavior off-screen, but this guy was at one time considered a serious up-and-coming star and his presence here shows why.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Kaylor

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Serpico (1973)

serpico

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cop fights corruption.

One of the followers of this blog has requested that I review this movie, so today we take a look at Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) a policeman who fought against corruption that plagued New York’s police department during the ‘60s. Even though many of his partners on the force would accept under-the-table payouts from criminal elements in exchange for ‘looking-the-other-way’ he wouldn’t and when he would tell his superiors about it nothing would get done. Instead they would transfer him to other precincts only for him to find the same problems there. It was only when he decided to report the issue to the New York Times that people started to take action, but in the process he also made himself a mark and vulnerable to having his unhappy comrades set him up to be shot while on-duty.

The film is based on the Peter Maas novel, which in turn recounts the life of the actual Frank Serpico and the events he went through while working on the force between the years of 1959 to 1972. Not only does he remain alive today, but according to recent reports is even considering, at the ripe old age of 79, a run at political office. Equally interesting is that he and Pacino roomed together during the summer that this was filmed and became close friends.

It’s been years since I’ve read the novel, but I felt this film sticks closely to what actually happened and the always reliable Sidney Lumet manages to keep things exciting and insightful. The dialogue is sharp and the on-location shooting, which was done in every borough of New York except Staten Island, gives the viewer an authentic feel of the city as well as the police environment.

The film also does a successful job at showing the drawbacks of accepting bribes without ever getting preachy or heavy-handed. One might think, like many of Serpico’s partners do, that taking some kickbacks isn’t that big of a deal, but then the film shows in one brief moment a policeman shoving another man’s head into a toilet when he doesn’t ‘pay up’, which hits home how the police become no better than organized crime who would notoriously demand ‘protection money’ from business owners.

The only thing I didn’t like was the music, which was too loud and jarring. Fortunately it’s put in only sparingly, but its melodic quality takes away from the grittiness and the film works far better by simply relying on the ambient sounds of the locations that the scenes are in. In fact this is one movie that could’ve done fine without any music at all.

Pacino is fantastic and I loved how the character starts out as this clean shaven, boyish looking fellow only to grow into a bearded, long haired guy as the story progresses, which symbolically connects with the way he becomes savvier to the system. The character also sports earrings long before it became vogue for males to wear them.

Tony Roberts does well as one of the few cops that sides with Serpico and tries to help him in his fight and F. Murray Abraham can be spotted near the end as a member of a vice squad who tries setting Serpico up to be killed. This movie also marks the film debuts of character actors Alan Rich and Kenneth McMillan. In my mind this is also the debut of Judd Hirsh. Some sources state that his first onscreen appearance is in Jump, which came out two years earlier, but I watched that film and couldn’t spot him anywhere, but her I was able to spot him right away.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1973

Runtime: 2Hours 10Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Partners (1982)

partners

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be gay.

A serial killer targeting gay men is on the prowl. When one of his victims turns out to be the son of an influential politician pressure is put on the police force to find the culprit. The police chief (Kenneth McMillan) feels he has no choice but to pair Sgt. Benson (Ryan O’Neal) a straight cop with Kerwin (John Hurt) who is a gay desk clerk at the station. They are to masquerade as a gay couple in hopes of infiltrating the gay underground and find clues to the elusive killer, but their contrasting personalities and lifestyles threaten to blow their cover before they can make headway.

This film was controversial at the time of its release for its overuse of gay stereotypes and there are indeed some especially at the beginning, but the film’s biggest offense is that it is just plain boring. The idea that two cops could be forced to pretend to be a gay couple or have one of them pose naked for the cover of a gay men’s magazine as part of their investigation is dubious enough, but had it been funny I might have forgiven it. Unfortunately this thing can’t even elicit a few chuckles.

The idea that Kerwin would automatically fall in love with Benson while working together simply because he is another man is absurd and makes about as much sense as a heterosexual male falling for every woman that he meets, which of course doesn’t happen. The Benson character is also quite callous and disrespectful to Kerwin while showing blatant homophobic tendencies and being a confirmed ladies’ man, so I didn’t see what there was about him that Kerwin would have fallen in love with anyways.

Benson’s transformation to being more sensitive to gays and their issues during the course of the story might have been more compelling had it been better written. However, his liberal use of the word ‘faggot’ makes the film seem quite dated and wouldn’t be heard in a movie today especially from a character that is supposedly a protagonist.

Hurt plays the gay caricature well, but the idea of placing someone on such a dangerous mission without having any undercover experience of even knowing how to use a gun seemed stupid and unrealistic. Out of all the characters McMillan’s comes off best and he even manages to be slightly amusing, but unfortunately isn’t seen enough. Character actors Jay Robinson and Sydney Lassick can be spotted very briefly.

This was intended to be a parody of Cruising, which was released 2 years earlier and was a much more serious and graphic look at a true life killer of gay men. That film starred Al Pacino and will be reviewed next Monday.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 30, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Burrows

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD

Eyewitness (1981)

eyewitness

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Janitor loves news reporter.

Daryl (William Hurt) is a nighttime janitor at a large Manhattan office building. He spends his otherwise lonely existence obsessing over a local news reporter Tony Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver) and records every news broadcast she is in and watches them each night when he gets home. Then a murder occurs in his office building and Tony covers it for her program. Daryl tries to use his inside knowledge to get closer to Tony, but is reluctant to tell her all the information he knows since he fears that it was his friend Aldo (James Woods) who committed the crime.

Hurt, who usually plays the intellectual type, does well here in the low-key role. Weaver is also excellent doing what she does best which is playing a tenacious no-nonsense woman who can take care of herself. My favorite part with her is when she is accosted by a couple of men with guns, but doesn’t scream, keeps her composure, and manages to get away.

The romantic angle is the film’s strong point. Tony’s on-camera interview with Daryl when she tries to get more information out of him, but he instead gushes about his undying love for her is funny. It is refreshing that when Daryl tells Tony about how he obsesses over her she doesn’t freak out and consider him a stalker, but instead is charmed by it. The two use each other for their own purposes, but the viewer is giving the impression that these are genuinely nice people who just have very contrasting personalities and approaches, which is what makes the budding relationship interesting. However, having them go to bed together and confirm their affections for each other seemed anti-climactic as it was more intriguing wondering if Tony really was starting to have feelings for Daryl, or just using him to get information and the film should have stayed at this level until the very end.

The mystery portion gets lost in the shuffle. The film is slow with very little tension. There are a few good action moments, but there needed to be more. The scene where Daryl almost gets crushed in a trash compactor had definite potential, but needed to be played-out longer. The part where he and Tony are attacked by a dog is very intense, but the climatic sequence where Daryl is chased by the killer through some horse stalls is certainly slick and well-shot, but it comes too late and I had already become bored and detached with it. The identity of the killer was a definite surprise, but it is also a bit preposterous and a little too convenient in the way it somehow manages to tie all the characters into it especially Tony.

Director Peter Yates does some excellent on-location shooting of New York City especially with the crowded streets and neighborhoods as well as Central Park, but the musical score is sparse and lacking. There is a pleasing jazzy score near the beginning that has a nice easy going beat to it, but then outside of a few tense moments there is nothing. This creates a film that is too quiet. Adding an urgent score could’ve helped make it more compelling, or at the very least given it more energy and personality.

There are a lot of familiar faces in supporting roles, but the majority of them are wasted. Morgan Freeman and Steven Hill as the police investigators who banter endlessly
with each other are dull and useless. Kenneth McMillan as Daryl’s handicapped father is dynamic, but pointless to the story as a whole. Christopher Plummer is always reliable, but he has done better. James Woods is good because he is a master at playing unhinged characters and I liked the casting of Irene Worth as Tony’s mother simply because she looked almost exactly like what Sigourney would end up looking when she reaches that age. This is also a great chance to see Pamela Reed in an early role as Daryl’s fiancée.

The film ends up biting off more than it can chew and the idea of mixing a cutesy romance with a murder mystery doesn’t gel and leaves a sterile effect in both areas.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 13, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming