Another Newman/Richard Russo collaboration stems, this time, from Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a dying Maine town and its sad, depressed townspeople. Set in a former mill town, once the mill closed, the people of Empire Falls had nothing to do but be unemployed and desperate. Ed Harris plays main character Miles Roby, who is one of the stronger citizens of Empire Falls, considering he runs the local Empire Grill. But, this life is far from idyllic. Filled, like the novel, with an array of fun, colorful characters, this mini-series is not from one of Russo’s best works, in my opinion, but it still is a strong story that lends itself flawlessly to the screen.

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One of Paul Newman’s strongest performances is given here…in his fourth decade of film acting. Some actors start to rest on their laurels toward the end of their careers. Not Mr. Newman. Sidney Lumet’s movie features one of the strongest, fiercest performances ever put on screen, nevertheless one of Newman’s strongest. Starting out at the beginning of the film, Newman’s character is an alcoholic mess…rarely sober and never thinking about the law or his clients. He sees any new case as a way to buy more liquor…and even when the case of the century comes to him, he almost blows it. Crusty and unkempt, Newman is spot-on here as the attorney who has one last chance to save himself and his client. Can he do it? I would tell you, but I am insistent that people see this film that I wouldn’t dare.

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A fun, big budget romp that was one of the better “disaster” movies of the 1970s…mostly because of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, who anchor the all-star cast. Not much in the story department here…a fire starts in a high-rise which is poorly built because of cost-cutting. The nature of the “disaster film” beast is that they are not made to be GREAT films…they are made to entertain and thrill. This one does that in spades and even features some strong performances. If you want a good, mindless flick, you really cannot go wrong with this film.

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Based on a novel by one of my favorite contemporary authors, Richard Russo, this film is a small, unsung gem…just like the book. Telling the story of Sully, an aged laborer rural New York State who, between his quirky friends and bad health, is not having an easy time of it at late. Russo excels in stories like this…about small towns and small heroes who don’t do the big, grandiose things to get noticed…they do the little things that usually do not come with any form of notoriety…or even appreciation. They are the fathers and sons of the Everyman…and Newman is always your perfect Everyman…even here, in the twilight of his years. Quirky and slow in parts, this film, like the novel and Russo’s other novels, unveils itself slowly and cautiously. But, the unveiling process is a great ride!

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I’m not a pool shark. I’m not even a pool fan. But, I am a Newman fan, which makes this film good enough for me. Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, a young, brash pool shark who needs a lot of sophistication and polishing if he is ever going to become the best. Enter Minnesota Fats (expertly played by Jackie Gleason) who is just the one to add some polish to the young hustler. A romantic relationship with Piper Laurie distracts Felson too much for my taste, but the George C. Scott character as Fats’ manager makes up for the diversion. Scott is brilliant here…cocky and tough — I think it is one of his best roles. And, it is one of Newman’s best roles as well…he is perfectly able to balance on that bridge between arrogant jerk and engaging sweetheart. Watch this one for his and Scott’s performances alone…and you also might want to pick up a pool cue!

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One of Newman’s best roles…in my humble opinion. OK — it also happens to be the role he probably looks his best in. Does that have something to do with it — you betcha! Playing a two-bit street kid, one of his petty crimes finally lands him in a prison…and part of a chain gang. Not wanting to be there, he makes trying to escape his new occupation…getting caught and sent back almost as often as he attempts to flee. Newman is not the only reason to watch here…George Kennedy won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as one of the fellow inmates. And the other prisoners are also great…befriending Newman, cheering him on as he flees, and welcoming him back as he returns. Not a movie for all people…ladies, be where. This is the antithesis of a “chick flick.” But, then again, you can always mute it and just look at Mr. Newman!

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Paul Newman…Tom Cruise…Martin Scorsese. Heaven on film. A sequel 25 years after the fact, Scorsese takes over for The Hustler helmsman Robert Rossen (who died in 1966) and continues the story of “Fast” Eddie Felson…a hustling pool player who uses his exuberant charm and extreme good looks to his benefit at every pool table he plays. The tale Scorsese spins here is much different than Rossen’s tale of 1961. This film is more stylized and a little glitzier…at least as glitzy as pool halls can get. Here, Felson encounters a young man whom, seeing a lot of his young self in, he begins to groom into being a proper hustler. The protégée is crass and way to smart for his own good. Felson teaches him some of the lessons he learned over the years…though at times the protégée has trouble listening. The Hustler will always remain the quintessential Fast Eddie film. But, this one adds depth and experience to the aging hustler’s character.

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Why is this considered a love story? The two main characters hardly even touch until the VERY ending…so doesn’t that make it the antithesis of a romance? Based on Tennessee Williams’ drama, the dialogue says it all here. These two characters, Brick and Maggie, have so much passion…so much desire inside of them, it seems to be eating them alive. Yet, they also cannot be more distance to each other. Their passion is brooding… brewing…boiling under the surface… patiently waiting to explode. It’s more of a simmering romance than we’re used to today and that simmering element, I feel, increases the desire in the audience as well. We are not thrown right into a loving, uncomplicated relationship. We have to get to know these characters and understand them first. And this is fine with us, because they’re Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor and we don’t mind having to spend time with them. So, grab a sweetie and pull up a chair for this one. Something just might boil inside of you…

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Paul Newman stars in this journalism tangle that keeps you guessing the entire time. Akin to films like All the President’s Men, this one wraps you up in secrets so tight, you won’t be able to breath. Also starring Sally Field, who is good here as a naive reporter. Not one of my favorite actresses, Field’s homey qualities lend the right light on her earthy journalist character. The audience really can sympathize with her, which they might not be able to do if a more glamorous actress took this role. Newman does what he does best here — play the underdog who really no one should like but who sways us to like him with his charm and rugged demeanor. Trust me, you will want to go to journalism school after watching this one…especially if Mr. Newman can be your first big story!

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Fun and pure entertainment, this film won not only audiences around the world with its grifts and cons, but it won the Academy over as well, taking home the Best Picture Oscar. Newman and Robert Redford are back together (after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, along with director George Roy Hill (also a Butch Cassidy alum), for some high stakes shenanigans. The duo play two small-time conmen looking for that one magic job that will move them into the “con” hall of fame and set them up for life. A clever script and great performances by all…including Robert Shaw as one of the con-ees…makes this movie one of the best in its class.

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