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TV Review – Ethan Hawke Celebrates Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in HBO Max’s ‘The Last Movie Stars’ 

It’s hard to find a Hollywood power couple as endearing as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. In an age where cell phone cameras can capture private moments with relative ease, the notion of celebrity has taken on a different meaning. Decades ago, Newman and Woodward were superstars, and their marriage was an unusually resilient one, especially for those constantly in the limelight. But, as with any union, not all was idyllic, and Ethan Hawke dives into their legendary romance in a respectful way with the help of a few of his peers in the HBO Max documentary series The Last Movie Stars.

The Last Movie Stars
Courtesy of HBO

This six-part series begins the same way most meetings have for Americans throughout the pandemic: on Zoom. Hawke has invited a number of actors to join him in a conversation about the project he wants to create. He interviews Newman and Woodward’s surviving children about the experiences they remember and how public accounts of their parents differ from what they knew to be true. He enlists George Clooney and Laura Linney to read transcripts of interviews as Newman and Woodward, respectfully, which serve as informative narration as clips from their many films play on the screen.

This series is a dream for any film fan, an opportunity to engage with two of the historic greats through the eyes of adoring artists who express how much they owe to these formative screen legends. When Martin Scorsese joins the Zoom, he expresses reverence for the Oscar-winning star of his 1986 film The Color of Money, and Linney, among others, details how Woodward was an influential mentor to her. Other voice actors brought on by Hawke, including Vincent D’Onofrio and Josh Hamilton, are passionate about the mark these two left on the industry, but none is more enthusiastic than Hawke himself, who often pauses to reflect on just how monumental they were in shaping the world of the movies.

The Last Movie Stars
Courtesy of HBO

So much of Newman and Woodward’s lives are covered over the course of these six hours, though Newman does seem to occupy a greater portion of the series’ focus. That is in turn explained by his own reflections that he doesn’t believe movie stars make good parents, and how he spent a great deal of time away from his family, despite a routine he established on one set to call home every single night. The competitive nature of their fame is also explored, as is the fact that it took Newman seven tries to win an acting Oscar. Newman’s struggle with alcoholism is very present, as is the work both Newman and Woodward did for those suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases, afflictions that ultimately befell them after years of philanthropy (Newman died of cancer in 2008 and Woodward, now 92, has Alzheimer’s and has retreated from the public eye).

The Last Movie Stars manages to bring these two screen personalities back to vivid life in a way that will certainly please those who grew up watching them. It also has the potential to attract a fresh generation of devotees, who may be new to the universe of cinema and unaware of just how much they both did in their careers or how they were seen by those within their industry. There are intimate moments that make them seem quite relatable, and which don’t always paint them in a perfect light. Newman’s rationalizing that he would never cheat on Woodward by asking rhetorically “why would I go out for hamburgers when I have steak at home” is one such instance, which understandably did not go over well with Woodward when she heard about it later. At the same time as it venerates its subjects for their impact on the trajectory of cinema, The Last Movie Stars reminds that they, like everyone watching, are merely human.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

All six episodes of The Last Movie Stars premiere on HBO Max on Thursday, July 21st.

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzerhttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, and is a contributing writer for The Film Experience, Awards Radar, and AwardsWatch.


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