Favorite stars in television and movies

Who is your favorite friend that you met in 1977 at a Halloween party in New Paltz?

Cate BlanchettThe evil Tom the Mayor, who I know from FantaCo wants to know: Who is your all-time favorite Movie Star, Male and Female, one only apiece? Also Favorite TV Stars, same rule, one apiece.

First off, the line between television and film has blurred tremendously. You find performers easily bouncing between the two media. But OK.

Movie star (male): after considering Mark Ruffalo and George Clooney, I ended up with Denzel Washington. He’s the actor who I’ve seen both early on and relatively recently: Cry Freedom (1987), Glory (1989); Mississippi Masala (1991); Malcolm X (1992); Philadelphia (1993); The Pelican Brief (1993); Crimson Tide (1995).

Also, Devil in a Blue Dress (1995); The Preacher’s Wife (1995); The Hurricane (1999); Remember the Titans (2000); The Manchurian Candidate (2004); Unstoppable (2010); and Fences (2016). There were two or three others I might have caught if I had had the time.

Movie star (female): ignoring Streep, for cause: Cate Blanchett, who often disappears into her roles. I’ve seen her in Oscar and Lucinda (1997); Elizabeth (1998); The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999); The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001); The Shipping News (2001); Notes on a Scandal (2006); Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007); Blue Jasmine (2013); Cinderella (2015); Carol (2015); and Ocean’s Eight (2018).

TV star (male): the late James Garner, who played two iconic roles, Bret Maverick in the western Maverick, and private detective Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. He also became the father figure in 8 Simple Rules after John Ritter died and lasted longer – a couple seasons – than any show losing its protagonist normally would.

TV star (female): excluding Betty White, I’ll go with the late Mary Tyler Moore, who was Laura Petrie in the Dick Van Dyke Show, a series I have on DVD. Then she was Mary Richards on her eponymously-named show.

Huh, I answered a similar question almost nine years ago.

Another question, this from Judy: Who is your favorite friend that you met in 1977 at a Halloween party in New Paltz?

That was a REALLY long time ago. You don’t expect me to remember that far back, do you?

Movie review: Fences, based on August Wilson’s play

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis were Tony winners in the 2010 Broadway version of Fences.

The movie Fences is quite extraordinary. Some critics said it may be the best self-directed film ever, with Denzel Washington as not only star and director, but producer as well.

Troy Maxson (Washington), a garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh, who had dreams, and arguably the talent, to have been a major league baseball player, had integration in the sport come sooner. His wife Rose (the magnificent Viola Davis) tries to keep him and their working-class family ship afloat.

Fences is an adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer-and-Tony-award-winning play. James Earl Jones and Mary Alice also won Tonys in the 1987-1998 Broadway production. Washington and Davis were Tony winners in the 2010 Broadway version which also won the award for best revival of a play.

Interesting video comparison between Jones’ and Washington’s performances here or here. Jones’ reading is sterner, while Denzel’s reading is garnering laughs.

I had seen a production of Fences at Capital Rep in Albany during the 1990-91 season with John Amos (Good Times, Roots) in the lead role, and that iteration, as I dimly recall, seemed less intense early on.

Denzel in the movie, though, is as ferocious as James Earl Jones was on the stage; that scene does not garner guffaws. Is it the different media, or six years that have passed that got him to revisit the character, or both, I can’t say. But what it does do is make the chinks in his armor even more profound.

The rest of the cast of Fences, the movie, is also strong. Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s good friend Jim Bono, Jovan Adepo as Troy’s younger son Cory, Russell Hornsby as his grown son Lyons, and Mykelti Williamson as his brother Gabriel creates a fine ensemble.

I knew fellows like Troy Maxson and his friends growing up, mostly the men of the church where I grew up. It stirred some strong emotions throughout. There’s a bit of my father there, for sure.

The Wife and I saw Fences on Martin Luther King’s actual birthday, naturally at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. The less you know going in, the better. Recommended.

MOVIE REVIEWS: Unstoppable, and Tangled

In the very beginning of the story, Flynn talks about the day of his death; interesting, that, in the dark tradition of Disney stories.

The 2010 movie Unstoppable, which I saw with my wife on Black Friday in Oneonta in lieu of actual shopping, is a very competently made thriller about a runaway train with toxic chemicals, and the heroic efforts of a couple of railroad hands, a veteran (played by Denzel Washington) and a guy just out of training (Chris Pine, who played young James T. Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek movie) in stopping said train. It reviewed surprisingly well, especially with the top critics. My wife’s stomach was in knots most of the way through, and mine wasn’t, but I enjoyed it as a pleasant diversion. “Pleasant?” my wife wondered aloud. Jaquandor’s take on the movie pretty much nailed it.

The movie was a production of Tony Scott, who last year created the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which I did not see, also starring Denzel Washington; from what I read, Unstoppable is the better movie, though it has no real villain, only a particularly incompetent worker.

I’m quite interested in the fact that the movie was based on an actual incident that took place on May 15, 2001.

As described here and here, the initiation of the incident in the movie was pretty true to life, with the railroad employee (played in the movie by Ethan Suplee of My Name Is Earl) not securing the air brakes, jumping off the train to do some track switching, then unable to get back on the accelerating locomotive. This occurred, though, in Ohio, not Pennsylvania; the train (the 8888, not the 777) never got faster than 47 mph, not over 70; and by the time the event that ends the ordeal – if you read about it, I suppose it’d be a spoiler – the train’s going much slower in real life.

The single thing that I found most distracting was the too-close-to-the-action TV helicopter. Yet I did “believe” the nature of the “breaking news” reporting, and the next morning, Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry was running in my head.

The annoying thing at this particular theater is that it had four commercials BEFORE the previews, two for auto companies (Chevy and Acura), and two for personal care products, one for a body wash that was soft-core porn, and so ridiculous that most of the audience laughed in derision. (As opposed to a genuine laugh for a Johnny Depp line in the preview for the Angelina Jolie film, The Tourist.) There were also previews for the new Narnia movie and the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit, neither of which I’m likely to see, but the latter used a posthumously-released Johnny Cash song to good effect.

Ethan Suplee and Denzel Washington shared no screen time in Unstoppable, whereas Washington played Suplee’s high school football coach in Remember the Titans.


Sunday afternoon, I saw Tangled 3D, with my six (“six and a HALF!”)-year-old daughter at a theater within walking distance of our house. It is being billed on the screen as Disney’s 50th animated film, which seems appropriate because I’m feeling rather 50/50 about it.
+ Interesting and fresh setup for the Rapunzel story, with a psychologically mean stepmother type that worked for me
– But the story occasionally drags, especially early.
+ A couple of great Alan Mencken-Glenn Slater songs, for the Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) character and some rowdy rogues;
– But the songs for Rapunzel, sung perfectly well by Mandy Moore, are mostly rather undistinguished.
+ Wonderful, occasionally stunning visuals, and moreover, great use of 3D, possibly the best I’ve ever seen, and I’m no big 3D fan. AT ALL.
– There is better chemistry between Rapunzel and her chameleon, or even between the lead male character, Flynn (Zachery Levi, who sings surprisingly well) and his nemesis, the horse Maximus, than between Rapunzel and Flynn.
Still, there’s enough story – plus, did I mention how great this movie looked? and probably even in 2D – to recommend it. It’s way better than the trailer suggests, that’s for certain, and better than I’ve described it, I suspect. I really did like it, as it had some excellent sequences. But I didn’t LOVE it.

BTW, my daughter remembers that in the very beginning of the story, Flynn talks about the day of his death; interesting, that, in the dark tradition of Disney stories.

This movie had about a half dozen trailers, all for animated 3D movies, including Yogi Bear (looks annoying), Cars 2, Mars Needs Moms (looks weird), and Gnomeo and Juliet; the latter had an audiovisual joke that more than one adult in the audience took as a reference to fellatio.
A Ken Levine post about Tangled and Leslie Nielsen jokes. Re: the latter, I was sad at his passing, as Airplane! is one of my Top 5 comedies, but I didn’t have anything to add except this: if you remember him as a serious actor, and I probably saw more than 75% of everything he was in between 1965 and 1971, his subsequent revealed humor was, if anything, even funnier.


30-Day Challenge: Day 1 – Favorite Actor

Who would I pay to go to see in most anything they were in?

I took on this 30-day challenge because I thought it would be interesting. And, just as important, quick and easy. But I got stuck on the first question.

I assume “actor” is gender-neutral in this case.

Starting to parse the category, I began with theater actors. But I don’t really see stage actors that often, though in fact, this year’s Tony nominations feature a lot of familiar names from TV and movies.

Favorite television performer: I could pick actors I watched in more than one series: Bob Newhart (Bob Newhart Show, Newhart); James Garner (Maverick, The Rockford Files); Mary Tyler Moore (Dick van Dyke Show, MTM Show); Jimmy Smits (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue). There are others who qualify because of other functions, such as Alan Alda (writer/director). I might have to go with Betty White, game player extraordinaire, who’s been on TV longer than I’ve been alive, because not only did I record a new Saturday Night Live for the first time in forever, I might even check out her new series on TV Land called Hot in Cleveland.

Still, when I thought about it further, it was always the movies that defined the question in my mind, fairly or not. Which is to say: “Who would I pay to go to see in most anything they were in?” I recognized that the leading males in this category were Robert Redford, Paul Newman (a couple of times together), Dustin Hoffman, and Denzel Washington. It might be Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti down the line.

But there were two actresses for whom I saw a large majority of their films in a particular stretch.

One was Jane Fonda. I saw well over half of the movies she was in between 1969 (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) and 1985 (Agnes of God), even the truly dreadful Rollover (1981), filmed partly in Albany, NY.

The other is Meryl Streep, whose output between 1977 (Julia, starring Jane Fonda) and 2009 (the mediocre It’s Complicated) I’ve seen maybe 70% of.

Eventually, Laura Linney will likely be in this category.
All pictures from LIFE magazine from the 1990s.

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