Tag Archives: Warren Oates

Blue Thunder (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A technologically advanced helicopter.

Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a LAPD officer still suffering from flashbacks from his time in Vietnam while working now as part of the air patrol division where he mans a helicopter at night and gives assistance to the cops on the ground.  Due to his expertise he is given the chance to helm the first advanced helicopter called Blue Thunder, which has abilities to fight crime like no other machine before it. As he tests out the new product with his partner Richard (Daniel Stern) he overhears a conversation, through using the machines built-in microphones that can pick up voices from inside buildings, talking about using Blue Thunder for nefarious means. Frank records the conversation and then gets hounded by the bad guys who are led by his lifelong rival from his army days F.E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell). To escape their clutches Frank boards the helicopter and flies all over the city of L.A. while waiting for his wife Kate (Candy Clark) to get the incriminating tape to a TV-station where it will be broadcast for the public to hear, but Cochrane, who is an expert pilot as well, gets into another helicopter and tries to shoot Blue Thunder down.

The script was written by the prolific Dan O’Bannon who also wrote the scripts for Alien and Total Recall. He got the idea for this one while living in L.A. and constantly having a police helicopters routinely fly over his neighborhood at night. The original script was darker in tone and portrayed Frank as a psychotic who steals the helicopter and terrorizes the city until he is finally shot down, but that idea got nixed and like with most big-budgeted Hollywood projects got toned down to help appeal to a wider audience.

Personally I would’ve found the original idea more interesting as it also contained political overtones that get completely washed over here. The story here is pretty generic with one-dimensional villains and situations simply thrown in to create cheap conflict and nothing more.

What impressed me though was the modern visual style and effects. It hardly seems like a mid-80s movie at all let alone one that was actually filmed in late ’79 and early ’80. The overriding sentiment has a trendy feel and the cinematography is vivid and colorful. The helicopter action is the film’s biggest selling point and no matter how dippy the story gets the exciting aerial footage more than makes up for it. I loved the way director John Badham captures all sides of Los Angeles from its glitzy skyline to its more grimy and rundown working class areas. It’s also nice to have a REAL helicopter REALLY flying in the air over the city instead of computer generated effects, which makes many of today’s movies look fake and cheapens them while still keeping many of the ‘80s action flicks superior.

Scheider has never been a leading man that I’ve found particularly impressive as his presence seems transparent. However here his laid-back demeanor nicely contrasts with McDowell’s hyper one and makes the bad guy seem even more vindictive. Stern is engaging as Scheider’s partner and it’s too bad this wasn’t made into a buddy movie with Stern’s character staying on for the whole time. Clark is also enjoyable particularly with the wild look that she elicits with her eyes and the car chase that she has with the cops in an abandoned lot of a drive-In theater.

This also sadly marks Warren Oates last project. It was filmed in 1980 and he did a few other films after this one, but this was released last. Oates is one of the most distinctive character actors to ever grace the screen and even in a bland supporting role like the one here he still finds a way to enliven it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Badham

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The White Dawn (1974)

white dawn 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trapped in the artic.

In 1896 three whalers inadvertently become lost from the rest of their crew and stranded all alone on an artic island. There is Billy (Warren Oates) who is the impulsive and belligerent one of the bunch and Daggett (Timothy Bottoms) who is more quiet and introspective as well as Portagee (Louis Gossett Jr.). After wandering in the snow and cold for many days they finally come upon an Eskimo tribe who takes them in with food and shelter. The men though never seem to fully appreciate what the Eskimos have done for them while at times even exploiting their kindness, which eventually leads to tensions from both sides.

Filmed on-location on Baffin Island in northern Canada it is based on the novel ‘The White Dawn: An Eskimo Saga’ by James Houston who also wrote the screenplay. He lived with the Inuit people during the 50’s and 60 and helped spread their art and culture to the rest of the world. The film though doesn’t seem all that revealing. Much of what happens is rather predictable and with scenes that tend to ramble. There are also other moments that are a bit bizarre like the scene during a celebration where two girls take off their shirts and then lock lips and proceed to blow air into each other’s mouths at an accelerated rate that might’ve been more interesting had it been explained what exactly they were doing and why.

The characters are dull and transparent in Oates’ case genuinely unlikable. The Eskimos lack any individual distinction and most viewers will fail to find themselves emotionally attached to anyone onscreen. The film probably would’ve worked better had it been a smaller tribe and just one person that they had rescued.

There are also a lot of scenes featuring animal deaths and cruelty that may upset some viewers. On the one hand I liked that it kept things real and hunting is certainly a part of their culture especially at that time, but some of it does get graphic. One scene has the group grabbing a goose from different ends and then literally pulling it apart while later on they slaughter some walruses that are peacefully bathing in the sun.

The film’s dark ending is interesting and the time the three attempt to escape from the tribe by stealing one of their boats is also intriguing, but otherwise I was aloof with it most of the way. I admire the attempt of bringing the Eskimo culture to a wider audience and the film really isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a particularly gripping either.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Phillip Kaufman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973)

the thief who came to dinner 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detective hounds jewel thief.

Webster (Ryan O’Neal) is a bored computer programmer who has grown cynical of the business world and decides to become a modern day Robin Hood. He does so by stealing paperwork listing illegal activities of a corrupt politician (Charles Cioffi) and uses this to blackmail him into giving the addresses of his rich and equally corrupt pals. He then robs them of their jewels while with the help of a local fence (Ned Beatty) resells them and keeps half the profits. He even manages to get into a hot relationship with a beautiful woman (Jacqueline Bisset), but just as things start to click insurance investigator Dave Reilly (Warren Oates) gets on the case who’s determined to expose and nab Webster anyway he can.

The film, which was written by Walter Hill and based on a novel by Terence Lore Smith, has a slick even smug attitude about it. It has some interesting ingredients, but never really gels. Webster pulls off these robberies with such relative ease that they are barely interesting to watch. The scene where he gets rear-ended by an old lady and then chased throughout the streets of Houston when he cannot produce proper identification to the police is fun, but there needed to be more of this and the otherwise laid-back pace does not help.

the thief who came to dinner 2

Despite his good looks O’Neal is a weak leading man although here he isn’t too bad. Still the supporting cast easily upstages him especially Oates and had he been made the star this film would’ve been far better. The scene where his car breaks down while tailing O’Neal and then having O’Neal turn around to help him fix it is quite amusing as is Oates’ final act of defiance towards his superiors after he gets fired.

Austin Pendleton is quite funny as an obsessed chess player and Beatty is great as a caricature of a ‘good ole’ boy’ Texas con-man and he really deserved more screen time. Bisset is wasted, but looks beautiful as always and I really digged her ritzy, spacious house that outside of a two lamps had no furniture at all.

The production has very much of a European flair, but its sophisticated façade quickly wears thin. You keep waiting for it to catch its stride, but it never does making it fluffy and forgettable including its wide-open non-ending.

the thief who came to dinner 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

The Border (1982)

border

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Border patrol isn’t easy.

Charlie Smith (Jack Nicholson) is a guard new to the border patrol who must learn to deal with the ugly realities that come along with his profession including becoming more and more pressured to get involved with the corruption that goes on there.

This is a stark presentation with an authentic atmosphere that at times makes it seem like a documentary. The viewer becomes submerged in this intelligent study on a serious and important issue with a result that is nothing short of enlightening. Unlike most other Hollywood movies nothing is over-the-top or melodramatic. It doesn’t try for shock value nor resort to clichés. The narrative is straightforward and uncompromising while offering no easy answers or annoyingly false wrap-ups.

Director Tony Richardson takes an expectedly humanistic approach and yet doesn’t seem inclined to push any type of agenda. This film has a look and feel different from any of his other films. He is known primarily for his wacky comedies (Tom Jones, The Loved One) and yet this film is grainy and grim. Much of that is due to the excellent use of natural lighting. This film has a very serious tone throughout and yet for some reason doesn’t end up being oppressive like some of those other ‘important’ pictures. It is also well paced with a riveting and compelling finish.

Nicholson gives a sensitive and sincere performance and a rare turn seeing him underplay everything. Valerie Perrine is very good as his wife and having her spend lavishly while oblivious to the poverty around her makes for interesting insight. Warren Oates is top-notch as always in support as Charlie’s supervisor. His character is brimming with a potential confrontation with Charlie and it is unfortunate that the movie doesn’t pursue this further.

Overall this is a strong picture that deserves more praise and attention and one of Nicholson’s best performances.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 31, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Richardson

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Split (1968)

the split

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbery during football game.

Since today is Superbowl Sunday I wanted to come up with a film from the 60’s with some sort of football theme and decided to dig this one out of the obscure pile that has just recently been released onto DVD through the Warner Archive label. The film has two special distinctions. For one it is the first movie to ever get an R rating under the MPAA’s then new rating system. It also shows scenes from two actual football games. The first one is a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Atlanta Falcons that was played on December 3, 1967 and won by the Rams 20 to 3. The second game shown was one played a week later between the Rams and the Green Bay Packers where the Rams also prevailed by a score of 27 to 24.  Both games were played at the L.A. Coliseum with the plot of this movie taking place at another part of the stadium during these games although it is clear that the scenes involving the actors was done on a studio soundstage.

The story, which is based on a novel by the prolific Donald E. Westlake, involves a group of criminals who pull of a daring robbery during the football game, but when it comes to splitting up the money things go awry and they are soon turning on each other.

The crime itself isn’t all that interesting and tends to be a bit plodding with a minimum of suspense. Having things go wrong at the end and the group start turning on each other is redundant since they had been bickering amongst themselves from the very beginning. The characters are all unlikable making it hard for the viewer to get wrapped up into the plight of which of them gets the dough and which doesn’t. Personally I was hoping they would all just get killed off and no one would get any money because their constant yelling and fighting quickly becomes tedious and tiring.

The film’s one main highlight is a fight between Jim Brown and Ernest Borgnine, which carries the novelty of the fact that the two had a similar type of confrontation just a year earlier in the film Ice Station Zebra. Here, like in that film, Borgnine seems to get the best of Brown, which doesn’t make any sense because Brown was athletic, muscular and twenty years younger. There is also a scene where Borgnine puts his fist through a picture on the wall and shatters the glass. However, not only does he not wince in pain, which would be expected, but it somehow doesn’t even cause him to bleed.

Brown can sometimes be good in certain supporting roles, but as a leading man he can’t carry the picture. His facial expressions make him look like he is almost bored and just walking through the role. I know he was a great Hall of Fame running back, but that doesn’t mean he will turn into a great actor and casting him in lead roles of major studio pictures seemed awfully risky.

Warren Oates is terrific as always in a supporting role as one of the group’s henchmen. Donald Sutherland is also really good as another member of the group. I loved his Cheshire cat-like grin as well as his bowl haircut that gives him a creepy look. Julie Harris also sports a different style of hairdo from her usual short cut and she looks attractive as well as being near perfect in her part as an icy cold bitch that has no qualms about torturing a man to death in order to find her money.

SPOILER ALERT!

One of the biggest problems I had with the film was a plot twist that should have made it more interesting. It involves the James Whitmore character who plays the landlord of Diahann Carroll who is Brown’s girlfriend and hiding the stolen money in her apartment. Whitmore enters her place when she is alone and tries to rape her. Seeing an old wrinkled guy attacking a hot young black woman is wild in itself, but he also finds a machine gun in her dresser and holds it like he is masturbating with it and spews its bullets into her body like it is his ejaculation, which I found to be edgy and cool. He also finds the money and takes it for himself while making an anonymous phone call to the police to implicate Brown as the killer. However, when the police detective played by Gene Hackman investigates the case they quickly find out it was the landlord who did it, but it was never explained or shown how they came this conclusion as well as the fact that they end up killing him, which is completely glossed over and mentioned just briefly when the other characters read about it the next day in the newspaper. To me this created a major plot hole that needed to be filled.

The film also has a twist ending that doesn’t work and is very confusing. It happens as Brown is walking through the airport at the end with his share of the money and he hears what sounds like Diahann Carroll’s voice calling his name and he turns around with a shocked expression before the frame freezes and cuts to the credits. However, Carroll’s character was clearly killed and Brown saw the dead body, so how did she come back to life? Some viewers have stated that they think the voice was all inside Brown’s head, but that still needs to be explained and would normally prove frustrating to the viewer, but since the film is so bland it really doesn’t matter.

I feel I am being very generous in giving this picture 5 points, but the direction is fast paced and nicely compact and the jazzy Quincy Jones score is groovy. However, it certainly isn’t worth missing the big game for, nor any other game for that matter.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gordon Flemyng

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video