Sunday, July 23, 2006

Appreciating Jack Warden (1920-2006)

"I happen to love this country. You know, we're not a bunch of zanies trying to bring it down!"
- Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warner - ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, 1976)

“Gruff but lovable” may be a cliched description befitting many a character actor but it seems today like it was coined solely for Jack Warden. Warden, who died in a New York hospital a few days ago of heart and kidney failure at 85, leaves behind 50 years of TV and movie work including Oscar nominated turns in 2 of Warren Beatty’s seminal 70’s films – SHAMPOO and HEAVEN CAN WAIT, a gracefully befuddled President in BEING THERE, and acted as newspaper editor over not only reporters Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN) but also performed the same task over reporters Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo (THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER).

A former boxer, Warden epitomized the best friend/mentor role in many films. If a movie needed a rough on the outside – soft on the inside coach, agent, former army man, or any weathered wizened figure of authority he was the go-to guy. A few TV shows tried to bottle his charisma – he took Walter Matthau’s role on the short lived BAD NEWS BEARS TV show and had a 4 year run as a wacky detective on CRAZY LIKE A FOX but it is his film work that will be his true legacy. That is if we respectfully forget the dreck –like his appearances in all 3 PROBLEM CHILD movies for instance.

In memory of one of the greatest character actors in film history here’s 5 Essential JACK WARDEN film roles :

1. Mickey Morrissey (THE VERDICT Dir. Sydney Lumet 1982) The ultimate best friend/collegue part played to perfection. His raised voice advice to his tragically flawed lawyer friend Frank (Paul Newman) - "He's a good man? Heh, he's the Prince of fucking Darkness! He'll have people testifying they saw her waterskiing up in Marblehead last summer. Frank, don't fuck with this case!"

2. Roy L. Fuchs/Luke Fuchs (USED CARS, Dir. Robert Zemeckis 1980) Sure this is a rude crude barely memorable Kurt Russell vehicle (didn't mean to make that pun) but Warden plays two roles - brothers. One good/one bad - the evil twin premise in early glory.

3. Judge Francis Rayford (...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL Dir. Norman Jewison, 1979) His crazy helicopter-piloting Judge character was an effortless yet edgy piece of work. Crusty insights abound as evidenced in this exchange with yet another disallusioned lawyer : Judge Rayford - "I found out what the meaning of life is." Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) - "What's that?" Judge Rayford - "It sucks."

4. Julian Marx (BULLETS OVER BROADWAY Dir. Woody Allen, 1994) Warden did great work in 3 Woody Allen movies (the others being SEPTEMBER & MIGHTY APHRODITE) but his timing and presence as theater producer Julian Marx makes this list for ace delivery of lines like : "That dame doesn't have a nerve in her body. I don't think her spinal cord touches her brain."

5. Harry Rosenfeld (ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN Dir. Alan J. Pakula 1976) Famous Washington Post editor Rosenfeld was a great fit for Warden's mentoring mania - admonishing Woodward (Robert Redford) - "Sit down. You know I'm glad you asked me that question. The reason I'm glad you asked me is because if you had asked Simons or Bradlee they woulda said, "You know we're gonna have to fire this schmuck at once because he's so dumb". His brisk appointing was classic Warden as well - "Woodward. Bernstein. You're both on the story. Now don't fuck it up!"

R.I.P. JACK WARDEN 9/18/20 - 07/19/06

More later...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Superman Reboots

Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) : But millions will die!
Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) : Billions! Once again, the press underestimates me.
(Dir. Bryan Singer 2006)

SUPERMAN RETURNS is one of the only Summer blockbusters I was interested in seeing (don't really care as much for PIRATES or X-MEN) and I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint. Its no SPIDERMAN by any means but its a highly enjoyable piece of pop art that stands up with the first 2 movies. When I originally heard that this project over a decade in the making was going to be based in the world of the 1978 SUPERMAN : THE MOVIE right down to the resemblance of Brandon Routh to Christopher Reeve and the appearance of Marlon Brando in old outtake footage needless to say I was a bit worried - I mean the recent TV shows LOIS AND CLARK and SMALLVILLE (both of which I've never regularly watched) created new modern premises and styles to house the Superman legend so why wasn't this return going to be its own new thing?

It turns out that the retro-lets-pick-up-the-story-as-if-
SUPERMAN 3 & 4 (no need to link to these attrocities) never happened is the best thing about SUPERMAN RETURNS. The John Williams theme still has majestic power and the epic tone is fully revived. Kevin Spacey is a suitable replacement for Gene Hackman as Luther though his new land scheme plan is a bit silly. Nice casting abounds - Kate Bosworth, Parker Posey, and Frank Lagella are all spot on. The film is dedicated to both Reeve and his wife Dana which like just about everything else I've mentioned is a nice touch.

More later...