Blogger’s Books: Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

Today I am featuring a non-fiction book from American writer, Maryanne.

Here is her own short bio.

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta is an international author, award-winning journalist, and public speaker. Her latest book “Be (Extra)Ordinary: 10 Ways to Become Your Own Here” can be found in Barnes & Noble bookstores.
She is the sole proprietor of her home-based business “Pear Tree Enterprises” ( She works as an editor, ghost writer, and public speaker.
Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta received a medal for “Best Speaker” at Toastmasters International. She was awarded Toastmasters Certificate of Appreciation for outstanding performance and valued contribution to Toastmasters District 83 Annual 2019 Conference.
Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta resides in New Jersey, with her husband, Dennis, and their beloved cats.

This is her book blurb for “Be (Extra)Ordinary: 10 Ways to Become Your Own Hero”

What’s holding you back from being the extraordinary person you were created to be?
Inspirational author and speaker Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta walks you through ten steps you can start taking today to elevate your life to next-level joy, success, and contentment. A survivor of intense bullying, Maryanne shares her hard-won wisdom to empower you to embrace your uniqueness, connect with the people who deserve you, and cultivate the courage to create the life you’ve always wanted.
You’ll learn how to love, respect, and advocate for yourself so you can become your own superhero–no cape required!

Here is an Amazon link that you can use to find out more, and buy a copy if you wish to do so.

Maryanne is also running workshops based on her book, and you can find out more about those from this link.

I am also giving workshops based on the book. The link is here:
The Workshops are $40 per class, but if someone is struggling due to lay-offs because of covid, I will get them in FREE!

Please try to find time to welcome Maryanne to our great community.

George Carlin: ‘Dumb Americans’

I didn’t know about this man until my friend Antony sent me a link to this clip of a standup performance from 2016.

***Be warned, there is a LOT of swearing in this 10-minute film***

He attacks obesity, shopping habits, and the standard of education in America.

But he does make some very relevant points that still ring true, four years later.

And not just in America, but in Britain too.

Space Force!

The Space Force! It must be here, they have a badge!

In Saner Thought

A Serious Lack Of Imagination!

By now most will be aware that we have a new a separate military branch, the Space Force…..and just last week the new “logo” was released…..

Notice anything?

The Pentagon’s new US Space Force is not Star Trek’s Starfleet Command, but their logos bear a striking similarity, the AP reports. President Trump unveiled the Space Force logo Friday, writing on Twitter that he had consulted with military leaders and designers before presenting the blue-and-white symbol, which features an arrowhead shape centered on a planetary background and encircled by the words, “United States Space Force” and “Department of the Air Force.” The logo, which bears the date 2019 in Roman numerals, also is similar in design to that of Air Force Space Command, from which Space Force was created by legislation that Trump signed in last month. (See a comparison of the Space Force logo and…

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What makes me laugh

I’m quite a serious person. I think too much, (especially on Sundays) then write about what I think. I have strange dreams, then write about those too. I look back on my life. often living too long in the past, and I complain about the weather. A lot.

But I do have a humourous side, and things do make me laugh, often out loud. But I don’t laugh at people falling over. I certainly don’t laugh at Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, or Eddie Murphy. I rarely laugh at sitcoms on TV, particularly American ones, and when people tell me that so and so is ‘hilarious’, I generally look blank, and wonder what they are talking about. But there are people who make me laugh, and shows that I laugh at too.

Eddie Izzard

Father Ted

Peter Kay

Sarah Millican

Dad’s Army

Woody Allen (As a stand-up)

Just a snapshot of some things that cheer me up to watch. Non-British readers may need some help with the regional accents. If so, please request a translation in the comments. 🙂

Escaping ‘That Wedding’

I might be busy on this blog tomorrow. As well as that, Ollie will certainly be getting a longer than usual walk, I assure you. Unless you have been in a coma for a very long time, you cannot fail to be aware that there is to be a Royal Wedding in Windsor on Saturday. Prince Harry is to wed his American bride, with all the trappings of the traditional pomp and ceremony adored by the people of this land.

Not adored by me of course, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I am not a Royalist, and if you have ever glanced at my other blog, you will be aware that I have made that clear, in no uncertain terms.

The circus has well and truly come to town. Thousands of television network reporters from all over the globe have claimed their spots and vantage points. The usual gang of deluded Royal fans have established themselves alongside the railings on Windsor’s streets, with many being in place since last week. News coverage of the event started last week too, and has now reached constant fever pitch on the BBC here. They go over and over about the route, what the bride will wear, and who is invited, or not. Recent ‘Breaking News’ declared that The Duke of Edinburgh is well enough to attend, quickly glossing over the fact that the bride’s father will not be around to walk her down the aisle.

Drilling into the tiniest details, we hear that she may, or may not, wear a tiara, loaned to her by the Queen. The wedding cake is in the hands of an American cake-maker, flown in for the job. It is going to contain no less than 500 of the finest organic eggs, sourced from Suffolk. Flavour will be supplied by 10 bottles of Elderflower cordial from the Royal estate at Sandringham, and 200 lemons all the way from the Amalfi coast. Sweetness and softness will be covered, as 20 kilos of butter and the same of sugar will be added.

I am sure that this is heartening news for the women who will spend their time visiting local food banks, to get enough stuff to provide their children with a meal today.

Let’s not forget the young lady’s engagement ring. This features a huge central diamond, flanked by stones taken from the ring of the late Lady Diana, Harry’s mother. A ring of such quality would ordinarily cost anything up to £100,000, but as it includes stones from the ring of Lady Diana, it is described as ‘priceless’. So, a few million at least, I’m guessing.

Great consolation for the workers in Windsor, earning £320 a week, on a minimum-wage, no-hours contract, I’m sure.

Whatever I think, and this is just the tip of my thought iceberg, the world will be watching, (including my wife) with one notable exception. Me.

And before everyone gets too excited, have a think about what happened the last time a member of the Royal Family married an American Divorcee.
I feel sorry for the girl. Life as she knew it is over.

Feud: A TV series review

Reading around the blogs this year, I was excited to see positive reviews for this TV series. I imagined it would only become available here on Netflix or cable, and that I might never see it. However, the reliable BBC bought the rights, and showed it on BBC 2 recently. As it is about well-known people in historical events, spoilers do not apply.

The feud in the title refers to the relationship between two former Hollywood greats, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford. Both past their best years, and unable to find work, they are finding life hard away from the spotlight, and struggling financially too. Joan Crawford sets out to find her own project, one that will give a starring role to an older woman. She buys large numbers of paperback books, reading through them until she finds the perfect story, a pulp-horror novel titled “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” She takes the idea to jobbing film director Robert Aldrich, and manages to convince him to not only direct it, but to invest heavily too.

But they need another older female lead, to play the role of Baby Jane, and he brings in Bette Davis. The two diva-like actresses have never worked together before, and their rivalry from the golden years of Hollywood soon surfaces. Aldrich also has to convince Jack Warner to allow him to use film studios, and to release the film when it is completed, not an easy task. Once filming begins, the troublesome pair soon clash, and make life difficult for everyone on set.

This is really my kind of thing. Great period feel, a wonderful cast, and that film within a film feel so familiar from the ‘old days’. Everything about this production screams ‘class’, and no expense has been spared to deliver a convincing TV drama of the highest order. Jessica Lange plays Joan Crawford with some flair, and a lot of pathos too. The studio system is examined, from casting couch to double-dealing, and actors treated as disposable commodities. So too the role of the bitchy gossip columnists, with Hedda Hopper played by the brilliant Judy Davis. British actor Alfred Molina is outstanding as the struggling Aldrich, trying to juggle the wants and needs of his difficult stars, alongside the demands of the studio bosses.

Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner displays that callousness and head for profit very well, though still comes over more as Stanley Tucci most of the time. Jackie Hoffman delivers well in a supporting role, as Mamasita, Crawford’s put-upon housemaid, managing to expand that part into one of the leads. But rising above all is the exceptional Susan Sarandon. She plays Bette Davis just right. Not trying too hard to look like her, but managing to capture the very essence of that famous film star. In a cast where nobody is bad or wasted, Sarandon steals the show, just as Bette Davis did from Joan Crawford, in the real story.

This is wonderful television for anyone interested in films and cinema. But it is also just as wonderful for anyone interested in well-made drama, and fine acting. It will have its detractors, I have no doubt. But for what it’s worth, I loved it.

Bred For Meanness

I first read this on the American website, Prole Center. I later reblogged a link to it on my other site, Redflagflying, in October 2013. I often come back to that post, and read it again. I think it is one of the most powerful and important pieces of American writing I have ever read. So, even though it is neither seasonal nor cheerful, I am publishing it today. These 3200 words are well-worth reading, I assure you. Especially for my American readers.

Bred for Meanness
by Joe Bageant

From our (ultra controversial) archives—January 12, 2006
Dispatches From America’s Class Wars [The Greanville Post]

Many years ago I worked at an industrial hog farm owned by the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe in northern Idaho. The place stank of the dead and rotting brood sows we chopped out of farrowing crates — bred to death in the drive for pork production. And it stank of the massive ponds that held millions of gallons of hog feces and rotting baby pigs, and every square inch was poisoned by the pesticides used to kill insects that hogs attract and the antibiotics fed to hogs from hundred pound sacks. The Coeur d’Alene Indians refused to suffer those kinds of conditions; they wouldn’t even manage the place. They contracted it out. As my friend Walter Wildshoe said: “Only a white man would work there.”

The hog farm, however, offered one company benefit. The white manager gave employees any young pigs that developed large tumors — those with tumors smaller than golf balls went to market with the rest of the hogs — or were born with deformities such as heads scrunched sideways with both eyes on the same side, or a leg that stuck out of the top of their body instead of the bottom. We employees would butcher and eat them. Among hog farm employees, all of whom were tough descendants of the Scots Irish mutt people, free pork of any kind was prized, deformed with tumors or otherwise. You never saw a Swede eat the stuff.

So I took these pigs home and, using a huge old butcher’s knife, slashed their throats in the woods, right in front of my two kids — ages two and four at the time — without flinching even as the pigs screamed almost like humans and thrashed around, splashing thick dark glops of blood everywhere. It bothered me not one bit, just like it never bothered my daddy or granddaddy. Nor did it seem to bother my children as they watched, just like it didn’t bother me as a child when my uncle handed me sacks of barn kittens to drown in the crick. And Walter would shake his head and say, “Only a white man would wrestle a hog with a butcher knife. An Indian would shoot the motherfucker with a gun.”

My point here is that we rural and small town mutt people by an early age seem to have a special capacity for cruelty, compared say, to damned near every other imaginable group of Americans. For instance, as a child did you ever put a firecracker up a toad’s ass and light it? George Bush and I have that in common. Anyway, as all non-whites the world round understand, white people can be mean. Especially if they feel threatened — and they feel threatened about everything these days. But when you provide certain species of white mutt people with the right incentives, such as free pork or approval from god and government, you get things like lynchings, Fallujah, the Birmingham bombers and Abu Ghraib.

Even as this is being written we may safely assume some of my tribe of mutt people are stifling the screams of captives in America’s secret “black site” prisons across the planet. Or on a more mundane scale of cruelty (according to CBS footage) kicking hundreds of chickens to death every day at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Wardensville, West Virginia, just up the road from where I am writing this. Or consider the image of Matthew Shepard’s body twisted on that Wyoming fence. All these are our handiwork. We the mutt faced sons and daughters of the republic. Born to kick your chicken breast meat to death for you in the darkest, most dismal corners of our great land, born to kill and be killed in stock car races, drunken domestic rows, and of course in the desert dusty back streets at the edges of the empire. Middle class urban liberals may never claim us as brothers, much less willing servants, but as they say in prison, we are your meat. We do your bidding. Your refusal to admit that we do your dirty work for you, not to mention the international smackdowns and muggings for the republic — from which you benefit more materially than we ever will — makes it no less true.

Literally from birth, we get plenty of conditioning to kill those gooks and sand monkeys and whoever else needs killing at any particular moment in history according to our leadership. Like most cracker kids in my generation, from the time I could walk I played games in which I pretended to be (practiced for) killing — Japs, Indians, Germans, Koreans, Africans Zulus (as seen in the movies Zulu and Uhuru!) variously playing the role of U.S. cavalry, Vikings a la Kirk Douglas, World War II GIs, colonial soldiers, and of course Confederate soldiers. As little white cracklets we played with plastic army men that we tortured by flame, firecracker, burning rivulets of gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid. And if atomic bombing was called for, M-80s and ash cans. We went to sleep dreaming of the screams of the evil brutes we had smitten that day, all those slant eyed and swasticated enemies of democracy and our way of life. Later as post-cracklets in high school we rode around in cars looking to fight anyone who was different, the “other,” be they black, brown, or simply from another school or county. As young men we brawled at dances, parties or simply while staring at one another bored and drunk. We bashed each other over women, less-than weight bags of dope, money owed and alleged insult to honor, wife, mother or model of car — Ford versus Chevy. In other words, all of white trash culture’s noblest causes. With the “fighting tradition” of Scots Irish behind us, we smashed upon each other ceaselessly in trailer court and tavern, night and day in rain and summer heat until finally, we reach our mid-fifties and lose our enthusiasm (not to mention stamina) for that most venerated of borderer sports.

Said meanness is polished to a high gloss murderous piety most useful to the military establishment. Thus, by the time we are of military age (which is about twelve) we are capable of doing a Lynndie England on any type of human being unfamiliar to us from our culturally ignorant viewpoint — doing it to the “other.” Sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, most of us, given the nod, can torture the other as mindlessly as a cat plays with a mouse. That we can do it so readily and without remorse is one of the darkest secrets of underlying the “heroes” mythology the culture machine is so fervently ginning up about the ongoing series of wars now just unfolding. And when one of us is killed by a rooftop sniper in Baghdad we weep and sweat in our fear, band closer together as Border brothers in the ancient oath of ultimate fealty and courage. And we meant it and we do it.

About half of the Americans killed in Iraq come from communities like Winchester, Virginia or Romney, West Virginia or Fisher, Illinois or Kilgore, Texas or … About forty-five percent of the American dead in Iraq come from communities of less than 40,000, even though these towns make up only twenty-five percent of our population. These so-called volunteers are part of this nation’s de facto draft — economic conscription — the carrot being politically preferable to the whip. The carrot does not have to be very big out here where delivering frozen food wholesale to restaurants out of your own car entirely on commission is considered a good self-employment opportunity. I’m serious. One of my sons did it for a couple of months.

Once you grasp the implications of such an environment regarding the so-called American Dream, the U.S. Army at thirteen hundred bucks a month, a signing bonus and free room and board begin to look pretty good. Even a nice long ass kicking tour of the tropics killing brown guys becomes attractive. Especially compared to competing with other little brown guys at home, humping “big-roll sod” across ever-expanding MacMansionland. In the process, we mutt people learn worldly lessons that the post graduate set raving about the jobless economy cannot know. For instance we know firsthand that there is no way to beat little brown sod balling guys willing to sleep in their cars and live on canned beans and store brand soda. Better to go “volunteer” for the Army.

Along with the military come those big bucks for college later, up to $65,000, which according to current wisdom is more than enough to buy your way out of the beans and soda pop car camp at the edge of the new Toll Brothers development. Maybe some poor kids do go to college on their military benefits. But personally speaking, I can count the number on one hand I know who ever did. Most of them were black. The rest seem to go to the local truck driving school (rip-offs designed to collect government money) or the ITI “vocational career training,” again designed to hoover up federal dough. Let’s be honest here: graduating from the average American cracker high school here in the suburban heartland is not exactly the path to Harvard Yard. Your best educational option is probably the one you are looking at on the matchbook cover.

Now that education has been reduced to just another industry, a series of stratified job training mills, ranging from the truck driving schools to the state universities, our nation is no longer capable of creating a truly educated citizenry. Education is not supposed to be an industry. Its proper use is not to serve industries, either by cranking out feckless little mid-management robots or through industry purchased research chasing after a better hard-on drug. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live responsible lives that create and enhance their democratic culture. This cannot be merely by generating and accumulating mountains of information, facts without cultural, artistic, philosophical and human context or priority.

“No one should be forced to dive into an ocean of debt to learn how the world works, much less escape minimum wage hell. It should be enough just to want to know. Then too, look at our educational institutions. Academia, at least from this outsider’s perspective, is an almost impenetrable veneer of elitist flatulence and toxic competition. Jesus, no wonder this country is in such sorry shape.”
– Arvin Hill, Texas philosopher

How in the hell did knowledge become so commoditized in America? Dumb question. After all, what do we expect from a nation of pickle vendors who will charge you for the air you breathe, and then make you beg for your change? At first blush, higher education and the working class Scots Irish mutt people seem to be oil and water. Maybe so. But the majority of them also have a snowball’s chance in Florida of getting a higher education. Especially when it comes to the institutions of learning that constitute our elite springboard into careers in law and politics, business and science. The Yales and the Harvards and Princetons.

For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, Asians constitute about 2% of the population but make up over 20% of Harvard graduates. About one third of Harvard graduates identify themselves as Jewish. Together Jews and Asians make up about half of Harvard graduates. Subtract these, plus the 15% minority quota and that leaves maybe 40% of openings for the 75 or 80% of white Americans who are not Jewish, Asian, Latino or black or whatever. Now throw in the skew of northeastern WASPs at elite universities and we are left with maybe 20% of openings for 60% of white Americans. It presents a sorry damned picture of liberal East Coast WASPs and Jews and minorities getting all the prime educational gravy. The neocon leadership is right when they tell working white Americans the system has been stacked against them by an unseen hand, though they never mention that their own kids are among the silver spooners rowing around in the Ivy League gravy boat.

I know I’ll get clobbered by Jewish and black critics for pointing this out. But liberal refusal to see white people as also being diverse, and seeing that some of them indeed need their own sort of affirmative action is exactly the kind of thing that helped the neocons lead these working white people buy the nose. Education is everything. You know it and I know it. And what the white working classes don’t know because lack of education has hurt you and me and them.

So why in the hell don’t we help this group of people into college and into the institutions that are elite springboards to careers in law and politics? Why not have affirmative action for Appalachian kids from the Ohio Basin or from the Deep South or anyplace else where tens of millions of kids grow up in houses containing not a single book, except possibly the Bible. Why don’t we do these things? Part of the reason is that this stubborn proud people does not whine beg or threaten its way to access to education, employment or anything else. And part of it is because we unquestioningly accept a system that calls greed and self-interest drive, thus letting the prosperous professional and business classes pretend there is no disparity around them for which they might just be partially responsible, even as they pay the maid and the gardener who lack health insurance a pittance — or see that their mechanic’s bill reads, “repare of fuul injection, $105.” And because liberals have driven secularism into the ground and broken it off, and need to actually adhere to some religious values — real ones — even if we don’t feel particularly inclined toward religion. (Psst! Everybody else in America DOES feel inclined toward it.)

So we will either see that Americans, religious or not, get educated equally so they won’t be suckered by political and religious hucksters. If not, then we must accept that uneducated people interpret politics in an uninformed and emotional manner, and accept the consequences. America can no longer withstand the political naiveté of this ignored white class. Middle class American liberals cannot have it both ways. It has come down to the simplest and most profound element of democracy: Fairness. Someday middle class American liberals will have to cop to fraternity and justice and the fact that we are our brother’s keeper, whether we like it or not. They’re going to have to sit down and actually speak to these people they consider ugly, overweight, ill educated and in poor taste. At some point down the road all the Montessori schools and Ivy League degrees in the world are not going to save your children and grandchildren from what our intellectual peasantry, whether born of neglect or purposefully maintained, is capable of supporting politically. We’ve all seen the gritty black and white newsreels from the 1930s.

A member of this peasantry, I quit school at age sixteen in the eleventh grade to join the U.S. Navy. I hated school, hated the social class differences in a small town that make life so miserable during adolescence, when one’s community and social status is being nailed down permanently for anyone planning on staying here. As a former young white cracklet I can say with all confidence that when you live with a rusty coal stove in the middle of the living room for heat, your old man smells of gasoline and motor oil no matter how much he bathes and your mom suffers from strange, unpredictable behavior due to untreated depression, you do not much feel like inviting the doctor’s daughter home. Or anyone’s daughter for that matter. Doctor’s son = College, career, golf, nice car and a bimbo. Redneck laborer’s son = Well, if you stay out of trouble, there’s always room for one more broad shouldered chinless pinhead stamping out bright yellow plastic mop buckets on the injection molds at Rubbermaid.

Thus, at sixteen and choosing options, I decided that launching fighter jets from the deck of an aircraft carrier to kill gooks and the notion of pussy and booze on some exotic foreign shore looked damned good. When I think about what happened to my boyhood friends who stayed home and put in 30 years at Rubbermaid, my choice doesn’t sound that bad even today. They all became redneck ultra-conservatives, mostly out of some sort of fear and bitterness that I can never seem to put my finger on. But I knew these people in a younger and more hopeful time. I know they were capable of — not to mention deserved — more than they got out of life. Maybe their bitterness stems from that.

Meanwhile, their kids do the same as they did. Go uneducated. Sometimes I walk the street on which I grew up. And when I look around I see the same kinds of kids as ever. They are all fatter, but they are the same cigarette-smoking, know-nothing white punks that I was, the tough sons and daughters of the unwashed. In my old neighborhood where over one-quarter of adults do not have a high school diploma, there are lots of yellow ribbons in the windows, Marine Corps and Army parent’s icons on the porches and scrubby lawns, evidence enough that you do not need an education to contribute something of value the far-flung perimeter of our expanding empire of blood and commerce. Pure meanness is highly valued in Caesar’s legions. Lots of Americans don’t seem to mind having a pack of young American pit bulls savage some flyblown desert nation, or running loose in the White House for that matter, as long as they are our pit bulls protecting Wall Street and the 401-Ks of the upper middle class.

The problem is this: pit bulls always escalate the fight and keep at it until the last dog is dead, leaving the gentler breeds to clean up the blood spilled. We mutt people, the pit bulls, have always been your own, whether you claim us or not. And until you accept that you are your brother’s keeper, and help deliver us from ignorance, you will continue to have on your hands some of every drop of blood spilled — from the sands of Iraq to the streets of East L.A. All the socially responsible stock portfolios, little hybrid cars and post-modernist deconstruction in the world will not wash it off.

About the author
The late Joe Bageant, TGP’s editor emeritus, justly called “the people’s sociologist”, carved up the time in his busy, hard working life to complete at least two classic books, Deer Hunting with Jesus, and Rainbow Pie, both often uncomfortably honest, outspoken journeys through the heartland of America’s white poor, its ruralitania, and especially its Southern Scots-Irish population

More overrated actors

Last year, I wrote some posts about overrated and underrated actors and actresses. My opinions were just that of course, my own opinions. However, those posts were well-received, and did generate some debate. I promised to add more, but became consumed with posting photos, and compiling A-Z challenges, so I didn’t get around to it. Some of the choices that follow are bound to be controversial. I know in advance that I am in danger of naming some names that are currently unassailable, cinematic icons to many viewers.

But anyway, here goes nothing…

In another post, I nominated ‘Blade Runner’ as my (current) best film of all time. So, you might be surprised to find Harrison Ford on this list. But I never liked that film because of him, although it might be his best role to date. Like many other stars, including many that I really like, Ford tends to play himself, whatever the role. The problem is that he is not that interesting. Whether being an action hero in ‘Star Wars’ or the ‘Indiana Jones’ films, or the solid policeman John Book in ‘Witness’, Harrison is always Harrison, just wearing different clothes. In his romantic dramas, he still comes across as a caring cop, or someone from the Secret Service. He has certainly avoided typecasting over the decades, but it made little difference. He was and always will be Harrison Ford, whether in a film, or walking down a street.

Tom Hanks is loved by millions. He has played everything from a tough army officer in ‘Saving Private Ryan’, to a clownish cop in love with his dog, in ‘Turner and Hooch’. He has grown up in the industry, going on to play serious roles in later life, in films such as ‘The Road To Perdition’, ‘Captain Phillips’, and ‘Sully’. His name can sell a film, endorse a franchise, and make millions of people get a warm glow inside. He is the new James Stewart, the all-American down-home boy who symbolises all that is good. Many of the films he has starred in have been excellent, and I confess to liking most of them a great deal. But other than ‘Big’ (1988), I never liked any of those films because of Hanks’ acting talent. I liked them for other things in them, and for the other cast members. Who doesn’t love ‘Turner and Hooch’? But it’s the dog we love, not the humans around it. Who do I remember most, in ‘Saving Private Ryan’? Barry Pepper, as Jackson the left-handed sniper. Giovanni Ribisi, as the medic Doc Wade. Joerg Stadler, as the German prisoner who returns to kill Stanley Mellish. That’s who, and because they were acting. Tom Hanks was being Tom Hanks, playing an army officer. Sorry Tom, it has never worked for me.

This post is not just about Americans though. Britain has its fair share of duds, playing to packed houses, loved and admired by legions of fans. But like those mentioned above, it becomes debatable whether or not they are good actors, or just bankable stars. Roger Moore died this year. Best known to most people for his numerous outings as James Bond, he was known to me from my childhood as ‘Ivanhoe’, the chivalrous knight in a long-running TV series. He later went on to star alongside Tony Curtis in ‘The Persuaders’, after becoming known nationally for his other TV character, ‘The Saint’. He starred in more than forty films, and almost all of them were awful, unable to be saved by his wooden presence, and trademark raised eyebrow. He started his career as a male model, featured on knitting patterns.
He should have stayed there.

Being voted ‘The World’s Sexiest Man’, or being in the list of the ‘Top 50 Best Dressed Men’ might be something to aspire to. Also being undeniably good-looking and attractive to women doesn’t hurt. But in my book, that’s not enough to make you a great actor, not even an average one. That the British star Henry Cavill seems to have been able to use those social credentials to achieve some status as an actor is beyond my comprehension. I won’t even list the lamentable catalogue of films that have launched him into star status, but suffice to say that I have watched only one of them, ‘The Cold Light Of Day’, where he is forgettable, in a below-par film, opposite Bruce Willis. Sorry Henry, your credentials just don’t add up.

Just one more to close this particular post, but there will be more to come, I’m sure.

I will close with another controversial submission. Leonardo DiCaprio showed great promise as a child actor. He starred in two of my favourite modern American dramas, ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’, and ‘This Boy’s Life’. He seems like a nice man, and has apparently avoided the personality defects that have afflicted so many actors who started as children. However, I just don’t get him. Take ‘Gangs of New York’ as an example. He was totally unsuited to the role, and playing opposite acting heavyweights like Daniel Day Lewis, Jim Broadbent, and Brendan Gleeson, his shortcomings left me feeling embarrassed to watch his scenes. Adored by Scorsese, he was launched into films that he just didn’t sit right in, like ‘The Departed’, where he was once again acted off the screen by Jack Nicholson (who will feature later) and -almost unbelievably- by Mark Wahlbergh too.
In ‘The Aviator’, he completely failed to convince me that he was Howard Hughes, even though the film was stylish, and very good to look at. I have yet to see ‘The Revenant’, for which he won a Golden Globe. But when I do get around to watching it, that will be because Tom Hardy is in it. And he is a very good actor indeed. Sorry, Leo (and sorry Cindy…) but you are on my list.

Feel free to agree (or disagree 🙂 ) in the comments below.

Underrated actresses

I know that it is correct to refer to actresses as ‘female actors’ these days, or just the plain ‘actor’, with no reference to gender. However, for the purposes of this post, you will have to forgive my use of the term. Or not, it is entirely up to you. Continuing the short series of actors that I consider to be either overrated, or underrated, I offer this selection. Some are very well known, others less so. But even the familiar names and faces perhaps do not receive the acclaim that they so richly deserve.

Outside of the UK, Eileen Atkins has received Tony awards, and Emmy awards. In this country, she was made a Dame, and received the CBE, as well as winning numerous awards and nominations for her theatre and television work. So why is she on my list, as underrated? There are many reasons. For one thing, very few film fans would recognise her face, or easily recall her name. In the modern era, she has been overshadowed by the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, and Emma Thompson. Younger actresses like Keira Knightley and Helena Bonham-Carter are far better known, and more highly praised. Yet Dame Eileen has other talents, besides her excellent acting pedigree. Along with Jean Marsh, she created and also wrote the scripts for the TV series ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, one of the most popular dramas to ever appear on TV. Her film career has run from 1966 until the present day, and you may well recall her in ‘Gosford Park’, ‘Cold Mountain’, ‘Major Barbara’, or ‘Robin Hood’. Despite her talents, she is rarely offered more than a character part or supporting role, which makes me sad. The next time you are thinking about British actresses, spare her a thought.

Scottish actress Kate Dickie has more recently come to my notice. Her wonderful performance in Red Road (2006) rightly earned her awards. After this, she got the part of Lysa Arryn in the huge hit TV show ‘Game of Thrones’, which I have never seen, and had parts in ‘Prometheus’, and the recent British film, ‘The Witch.’ But nobody is talking about her, and she is relatively unknown outside of Scotland, or to die-hard fans of Game of Thrones. Perhaps it is because she is not classically ‘attractive’, or that she is now 45 years old, I don’t really know. She deserves more attention, better roles, more leading parts. Casting directors please take note. She is very good. Very good indeed.

Lesley Sharp is another actress who might be described as ‘not beautiful’. That shouldn’t matter of course, but it does, like it or not. Her long career in British film and TV drama has led to her appearing in some popular series here, and her face is familiar, if not her name. You might have seen her in ‘From Hell’, with Johnny Depp. But she wasn’t the star, and you may not have known her name. I first noticed her in her debut film, the touching and amusing ‘Rita, Sue, and Bob Too’ where she played the acid-tongued wife, Michelle. Since then, I have followed her career with interest, finding that she always brings something to any part she is offered. She was in the Mike Leigh film, ‘Naked’, and Poliakoff’s ‘Close My Eyes’ too. However, she has rarely had a starring role, even on TV, and despite nominations, has won few awards. Check out her work, you won’t be disappointed.

Jennifer Tilly is a Canadian/American actress. (Not to be confused with her acting sister, Meg Tilly)
She has had a long career in film and television, since starting out in 1983. Many of her films have been frankly forgettable, but others are better known. If you have seen ‘Bullets Over Broadway’, ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’, or ‘Bride of Chucky’, then you have seen her. Perhaps you were not aware of it, but you did. Her distinctive voice has featured in films too, such as ‘Stuart Little’, and ‘Monsters Inc.’ Perhaps her most memorable performance was as Violet, the gangster’s moll in ‘Bound’. In that film, she took what could been a minor part, and turned it into the lead. She has worked on Broadway as well, but has sadly never had the serious breakthrough role she deserved. Since 2005, she has also become a professional poker player, and appears on television playing in large tournaments. Time she put away the cards, and someone gave her the part that makes her a household name.

Thora Birch was a child star in America. I didn’t know that much about her until she showed up in ‘American Beauty’, when she was seventeen. In 2001, I saw the wonderful Indie film, ‘Ghost World’. Birch played opposite Steve Buscemi and the lovely Scarlett Johansson, and stole the film away from both of them with a truly memorable performance. You might also recall her troubled teenager in the 1999 film, ‘The Hole’. But you probably remember that Keira Knightley was in it, and didn’t know who Thora Birch was. Or maybe you did? She took a long break from acting, and many of her later films went straight-to-video, or were only shown on TV. But she is in a new thriller to be released in 2017. Let’s hope that this proves to be the breakthrough she deserves.

Vicky McClure is one of the best things to happen to British acting in decades. She has received awards for standout TV roles, and her work with Shane Meadows on some of his films has been rightly praised too. After working on Meadows’ films ‘A Room For Romeo Brass’, and ‘This Is England’, she went on to act in many excellent TV dramas, eventually winning a BAFTA for her part as a police officer in the wonderful BBC series, ‘Line Of Duty’. So why is she also on this list of underrated actresses? (I hear you ask) Because she should be the star. She should have parts written just for her, and get the chance to flex her acting muscles across the world, and not just in her home country. She could be the female James Bond, or the next Judi Dench. At the age of 33, she has a long life ahead of her, and is without doubt one of the finest actresses of her generation. She just needs the recognition, and the chance to show her talent.

There you have six examples of female actors that I consider to be underrated, for different reasons. If you have never heard of them, then I hope to get you interested enough to seek out their work. If you don’t agree, or have your own suggestions, (yes you, Jimmy…) then let me know in the comments.