Warren Oates

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In The Heat Of The Night Review


Excellent
Forty years on, In the Heat of the Night is still a movie with an importance that resonates. There aren't many movies that are turned into TV series twenty years after they premiere, after all: Carroll O'Connor (who else) stepped in to Rod Steiger's shoes for eight seasons as the moderately racist police chief Bill Gillespie, who gets an unexpected mess on his hands when a dead body shows up on his otherwise small town streets and, perhaps more troubling in his eyes, a black man (Sidney Poitier) arrives unannounced as well.

Of course it turns out that Poitier's Virgil Tibbs is also a police detective, and in one of cinema's least logical plot twists, he is asked by his supervisors back home to pitch in with the murder investigation. All sides are reluctant, at least until the crime is ultimately solved and everyone comes to understand a bit about the other side of the fence. (How that got Tibbs to stick around in redneck central for two sequels and eight years as a TV show is never really explained.)

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Badlands Review


Excellent
Terrence Malick introduced his odd yet highly compelling filmmaking style in this 1973 feature, inspired by the long murder spree of Charles Starkweather (here Kit Carruthers, played by Martin Sheen). Carruthers is a garbage man who spies Holly (Sissy Spacek, who narrates disaffectedly) twirling her baton, soon after he's shot her family dead and they're on the run, living in the woods and the badlands of the northern midwest as they try to get to Canada to make a hastily planned escape. Body counts rise, but Malick isn't overly concerned with the violence. He takes us inside the heads of this bizarre duo, the quiet sociopath Kit and the even quieter neurotic Holly. One of cinema's most curious character studies and probably still Malick's best film.

Blue Thunder Review


Very Good
When John Badham's Blue Thunder came out I was just a kid, but the film made quite an impression on me. I didn't actually see it. And I suspect that most of the kids who told me long rambling stories about it didn't either. It was one of those school yard legends, like the one about the woman in the apartment across from the middle school who gets undressed in her window for all the world to see, or the one about the kid who was skateboarding a swimming pool and found a machine gun in the deep end. Blue Thunder was just the sweetest thing we could imagine. I mean, it was a helicopter that flew silently (so the story went) and it was all high tech and it could kill a million people in a few seconds. This was the Cold War and something like Blue Thunder just seemed too incredible. This was Ronald Reagan's secret weapon against the commies.

Of course, like all schoolyard tales it was too good to be true. "Blue Thunder" wasn't a top clandestine Commie-busting nuke firing super secret weapon; it was a cool looking helicopter that the cops used to control rioters. When I actually saw the movie a few years later, I was bummed to say the least.

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Two-Lane Blacktop Review


Excellent
Two-Lane Blacktop came out the year I was born, so I can only imagine the duel it must have fought with Vanishing Point, a nearly identical -- though ultimately less satisfying -- romp across American in a fast car. This time we're given two nameless drag racers (James Taylor and Warren Oates) kicking each other's butts as they jet from small town to small town en route to the finish line in Washington D.C.4, with a couple of side characters in tow. The ending is an infamous classic "what the!?" moment in film history. Check out the DVD for commentary from Monte Hellman that attempts to explain it.

Stripes Review


Extraordinary
This sloppy but popular comedy stands just behind Bill Murray's best movies -- Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation -- in quality, but stands with them in establishing the film comedy as we now know it: irony-soaked, lowbrow, and funny. As late as the mid-'70s, too many film comedies were earnest, cute throwbacks without a single real laugh. (Thank God for Mel Brooks, who made the only consistently funny comedies of the decade.) Supposedly hilarious films like Shampoo and The Goodbye Girl (or insert another '70s comedy here... I'm having trouble remembering any of them) now seem naïve and lame -- all the more so for trying to be trendy and sophisticated. Such films tried harder to please the critics than the crowds, not by being highbrow but by being frothy.

All that was dead the moment Bill Murray threw the candy bar in the pool in Caddyshack. Critics hated Caddyshack, and called Saturday Night Live skits "mean-spirited," but for everyone else, it was finally OK to be crude, clever, offensive -- and funny. Subsequent films like Stripes, often featuring one or more cast members from SNL (Murray, et al.) or Second City TV (Harold Ramis, John Candy), set the mold. The formula hasn't needed much tweaking since then, either; the successful comedies of recent years (There's Something About Mary, American Pie, etc.) owe everything to them.

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The Wild Bunch Review


Extraordinary
I am one of the few surviving appreciators of second bests. In hindsight, my second biggest crush in high school ended up being a much better person and is in fact the only person from high school that I keep in close contact with. Your second best is always the sneakier one, the more interesting and mysterious one. You've studied your favorite, your best, with the gumption and know-how of a private detective. You know them inside out. However, the second best is just a little less known, shrouded in an enigma; it's so irresistible that you sometimes forget why the first one is your best or favorite, but then you snap back in. If you're looking to get married soon, more than likely you will cheat or at least make out with your second favorite at some point. This is the way of the world, get used to it. It's all good news for The Wild Bunch, which happens to be both Sam Peckinpah's second best film (Straw Dogs is better) and the second best revivalist western ever made (after Unforgiven).

It's even got William Holden's second best performance (he was better in Network). He plays Pike Bishop, the head of an outlaw gang of ace criminals. We are introduced to the gang when it is nearly 10 men strong, but after a gunfight with Thornton (Robert Ryan), Pike's old partner turned bounty hunter, there are only six. Relentlessly chased, they quickly take an offer to hold up a train and steal 16 crates of rifles from it. They return to the Mexico town, still being trailed by Thornton. The only Mexican in the gang, Angel (Jaime Sánchez), insists on taking one crate so that the general who hired him won't take over his village. When they return to the general, they give him the crates and he gives them the money, but not before taking Angel and torturing him for trying to arm his village. An argument between Pike and his closest comrade, Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), sparks a return to the general's compound and stand off between the five remaining outlaws and the general's army, which consists of roughly 200 men.

Continue reading: The Wild Bunch Review

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Warren Oates Movies

Blue Thunder Movie Review

Blue Thunder Movie Review

When John Badham's Blue Thunder came out I was just a kid, but the film...

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The Wild Bunch Movie Review

The Wild Bunch Movie Review

I am one of the few surviving appreciators of second bests. In hindsight, my second...

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