Mandel Maven's Nest And Then There's Russell Crowe

CROWE MUSIC

CROWE FILMS: Reviews and Commentary

I have since I'm at least 12 had passing fancies for particular rock or movie stars. Except for Bruce Springsteen and Humphrey Bogart, I've usually given them up when I realized that their talents didn't match my obsession. Then came Russell Crowe. And he's a 2-for-1'er as he's a musician, late of the band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts and oh that voice ruminates through unrequited love folk-rock ballads. That Voice would make for the greatest animated villain since Jeremy Irons' "Scar." But for photos, info and everything you could ever possibly want to know or see or hear about for documentation at Russell Crowe at Murphs Place, through which he communicates to his fans.
The photo background, for noncommercial use only, is from the UK Vanity Fair December 2003, by Annie Liebovitz.


In Hollywood, the Best Young Hunks Are Imported by Stephen Holden, The New York Times, February 16, 2003 (fair use excerpt):
"Like increasing numbers of male Hollywood stars, [Irish Colin Farrell], with his assumed mid-Atlantic accent, is an import, a faux American if you will. Others who have taken on American roles with macho images include Mr. Crowe, Mel Gibson, Hugh Jackman and Guy Pearce, all from Australia.
These imports are a breed apart from most of the home-grown stars being groomed as future Harrison Fords and Clint Eastwoods. . . . Why is it so difficult for young American actors to project a traditional male authority? Does it reflect a lack of professional training? Or has half a century of institutionalized teenage rebellion and the coddling of youth softened and infantilized the American man? In importing its all-American heroes, Hollywood is sending a message. Is it a distress signal?"


Holden missed just how eerily Farrell's career has been paralleling Crowe's (besides that Farrell spent a year in Sydney starting out):
They both began in TV: Brides of Christ (and other series) vs. BallyKissAngel
They both attracted U.S. critical attention with a small, violent indie movie: Romper Stomper vs. Tigerland
Their first Hollywood foray was a mediocre Western: The Quick and the Dead vs. American Outlaws
Their macho presence got them cast in war movies that didn't have a lot to do with soldiering: For the Moment vs. Hart's War
They had fun on screen playing a villain in a violent fantasy: Virtuosity vs. Dare Devil
They are very romantic while being loyal to femme fatales in twisty faux noirs that don't really make a lot of sense: Heaven's Burning and Rough Magic vs. The Recruit (all of these are cop roles for Crowe, but very unlike S.W.A.T)
In the same year, 2012, they were in satires of violent genre films: The Man With The Iron Fists vs. Seven Psychopaths. In 2013, Farrell even rode a horse in a family film, Saving Mr. Banks in parallel to Crowe in The Silver Brumby: King of the Wild Stallions.

Holden did, however, notice the key difference between their careers -- so far (besides that Crowe has way better taste in scripts these days):
"But for all his glamour and obvious comfort before the camera, Mr. Farrell lacks the intensity of Mr. Crowe. None of his performances has begun to convey the sense of an actor turning himself inside out to become someone else. He seems content for now to play an archetypal guy's guy . . .'"

And the comparisons are eerily continuing:
Both playing a sensitive gay family man: The Sum of Us vs. A Home at the End of the World.

Sword-and-sandal heroes in Gladiator vs. Alexander
Man coping in the wilderness: The Silver Brumby: King of the Wild Stallions or explorer captains: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World vs. The New World
Both were cops struggling with corruption in American Gangster vs. Miami Vice.

But Crowe probably has more in common with past movie men, including Toshirô Mifune. One tabloid has called this type "Ubersexuals" or "rough diamonds." Charles Bronson's death led to some nostalgic discussions of the portrayal of masculinity in film that also fit Crowe.
The Associated Press's obit by Bob Thomas (9/1/2003) quoted Bronson (fair use excerpts): "Maybe I'm too masculine," he said in a 1971 interview. "Casting directors cast in their own, or an idealized image. Maybe I don't look like anybody's ideal." Europeans appreciated this image more at first: "His blunt manner, powerful build and air of danger made him the most popular actor in those countries." And much like Crowe's early career, with later differences: "His status grew with impressive performances . . .But real stardom eluded him, his rough-hewn face and brusque manner not fitting the Hollywood tradition for leading men."

A.O. Scott's appreciation in the 9/2/2003 The New York Times suggests that this kind of masculine image fit a particular time and genre of movies and seems to think it only appeals to men (fair use excerpts):
"Mr. Bronson mixed it up with other roughneck character actors like Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy, whose faces and physiques suggest that the 1960's were good years to be an ugly man in Hollywood. And his looks fit perfectly with the ethic of macho melodrama that sustained [westerns and World War II combat epics] through their late, decadent phase. Good looks and good manners prove to be generally antithetical to masculine effectiveness; the heroes in these movies are a band of cantankerous, morally compromised tough guys who stake out the middle ground between the bad guys on one side and the ineffective, bureaucratic do-gooders on the other. . . He was a better actor than most of [the other action heroes] though a lot of his movies . . . were worse than theirs. But he had a kind of authenticity that most latter-day action heroes lack. What makes his movies appalling is also what makes them memorable: you can look into that leathery, slit-eyed, unhandsome face and catch an unnerving glimpse of your own angry, murderous, self."


From Slate: Boringus Maximus: How the historical epic died with Kingdom of Heaven by Ross Douthat, June 27, 2006: "But based on the evidence of the last few years, the rank of current actors who can convincingly portray a premodern hero starts and ends with Russell Crowe."

None of these analysts have noted the influence on Crowe of Richard Harris as a sensual bloke on the screen. The Film Society of Lincoln Center presented the film of Malcolm McDowell's theatrical memoir Never Apologize: A Personal Visit With Lindsay Anderson. A highlight of his fascinating presentation of memories, diaries, letters, and clips about a key figure in Kitchen Sink Realism is his discussion of Anderson's and Richard Harris's tumultuous relationship that produced the ground-breaking portrayal of British masculinity on screen in This Sporting Life (spoiler: yes, Anderson was in love with him). His description of Harris attending Anderson's memorial service eerily recalled Russell attending Harris's. (8/1/2008)

Separating the men from the boys by Susan Wloszczyna, in USA Today (fair use excerpt): < >"Among those pining for manlier men at the movies . . .is director Frank Darabont, creator of the manly Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile. 'I miss the days when you'd get The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen, these guys who were really crusty men who had lived lives," he says. "I miss Lee Marvin, Robert Shaw, Bill Holden. Probably the closest we have like that today is Russell Crowe'.
Crowe, who inspired the current run on derring-doers with 2000's Gladiator, could easily flesh out almost any historical role. 'He certainly has a heroic presence,' [Stephanie] Zacharek], a film critic at salon.com] says. 'He has masculinity as opposed to machismo. There's also something else going on there, a certain amount of gravitas and brains. Maybe the brains is the main thing that is often missing.'"


And there's also the Ozzie mystique: Australia has, after two centuries of rejection, won the role of the wish-fulfilment fantasy. -- Peter Conrad, in "Why everyone wants to be Australian," The Observer, December 5, 2004

From The Chris Matthews Show, June 12, 2005 (fair use excerpts):
The Lone Outrider was once a gung ho part of American popular culture. Think Gary Cooper, or Humphrey Bogart or James Dean. Today we've got to go to Australia for this sort. . .
Now we've got, some say, the greatest actor of our time, Russell Crowe - and no excuse for the trouble he caused in New York last week - but this chap picks up Oscar nominations with the swagger of some outback bloke reaching for a cold lager at the end of a hot day's work. These guys all reek of that frontier toughness that we Americans seem to have lost on the way to the city.
Russell Crowe told me this week [on Hardball 6/9/05] "I mean the reality of the Australian Outback [it's] a tough place."
They still see themselves as underdogs. They don't like Empires - don't like the sort who build them. . . you don't miss the bloody, wonderful anti-colonial attitude; an American instinct we Americans have lost.
Why did it take an Australian director, Peter Weir, to dig up something so clean and good in the American roots as he did with the Amish farmer in Witness, or Russell Crowe to bring alive an Irish American boxer from the Depression days?
. . . But most important they brought us something real, unfinished, not quite civilized, something with a bite to it and a yearning for the next best thing to our old beloved frontier."


Others characterize him as "the thinking-woman's bastard.". The Village Voice called him "the thoughtful roughneck." All right, so the tabloid exaggeration finally matched the reality when Crowe was here in New York City June 2005 amidst Cinderella Man promotional duties. For the benefit of those not familiar with the Big Apple's celebrity justice for those in need of anger management, here's background on Crowe's perp walk for fallen millionaires as OEDized by William Safire in The New York Times Magazine on September 15, 2002 (fair use excerpt):
"Perp walk burst into print in November 1986; Newsweek reported that Charles Hynes, the New York prosecutor, 'refused to parade defendants before cameras in the now-traditional perp walk that many prosecutors use to please the TV stations.'
The columnist Nat Hentoff, journalism's foremost defender of civil liberties, wrote that same month in criticism of publicity-seeking prosecutors who 'put defendants through what is called in the trade a perp walk' after alerting camera crews of the parade of supposed malefactors. 'Under such circumstances, even Mother Teresa would look extremely suspicious, especially if her hands were cuffed behind her back.'
Robert Morgenthau, Manhattan's district attorney, informs me that the phrase dates back to the mid-70's, when he and the TV reporter Gabe Pressman often clashed over the interests of the press and the public versus the rights of the accused. 'Gabe said, 'We need pictures to report your cases,' and I said, 'You're breaking my heart,' recalls the crusty D.A."
The Federal courts in 2003 upheld the right of law enforcers to continue using the perp walk.


This life: Why Russell Crowe is a real man, Aussie about town Amanda Platell [a columnist for the New Statesman and a former Tory spin-doctor] applauds the actor's raging fury, from Sydney Morning Herald, 11/17/2002 (fair use excerpt)
"The English may have perfected the lager lout, but the Australians invented him. That's why they love Russell Crowe, a New Zealand-born honorary ocker. He's a proper bloke: he gets drunk, punches people, treats women badly and vomits a lot. And he wears terrible clothes and looks as though he never washes. (sic)
That's what we call a real man. Australians like their men to be men. They would love the pictures of Crowe this week, dishevelled and unrepentant, having had a punch-up in a trendy Pom restaurant. . . Crowe is in Ned Kelly-hero territory now. They don't want James Bond, they want the Aussie battler, and Crowe personifies that. .
Australians are not known for their gentility or restraint. It's a hard country and despite the fact that it is now almost relentlessly middle-class, the idea of the Aussie battler fighting his way through the elements under a searing sun is deeply embedded in the national psyche.
But let's not forget the flip side to this is that Australian men fight for what they believe in, are courageous and have faith in themselves and their own. That's what I look for in a man. In a world full of new men, give me a red-blooded bloke any day. "


But here's the sensitive side of the bloke, that he posted on the TOFOG fan site 11/2002 when they cancelled an announced U.S. tour for 2003:
From Russell Crowe
My father will begin a series of operations in December to try and relieve the excruciating pain of what has been diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome in both of his wrists. With the recovery period plus the physical rehabilitation between operations I need to be at home and available to him and my family during this time. Though he may make a full recovery very quickly this is not the time to add pressure to him.
Though I love all aspects of my work, and it has certainly benefitted my family in myriad ways , the success of the last three or four years has also brought with it an undeniably massive level of stress, not only to me but to my immediate and extended family and to my friends and friendships.
Let me clarify something else. I am in love with Danielle Spencer but I dont get to spend nearly enough time with her. Dani has been very patient with all of the speculations of the past year or so which I thank her for. I feel a great need to wake up with her as many days of my life as I can.
To the fans of TOFOG all I can do is apologise. The band and the crew were looking forward to being on the road across America and seeing your smiling, crazed faces again. It is my hope that the quality of the new album will be some compensation.
love, Russell


And I think it's sweet that when Armani offered to do Danielle's wedding gown, RC quickly took his fiancée, mother and future mother-in-law shopping in Milan, then to Paris to select wedding rings, then to Yorkshire to visit his future grandparents who couldn't travel to the wedding Down Under. Instead of going to the BAFTAs.

And when the press again rushed to picture him as a roughneck by blowing up an incident in Toronto (after finishing filming Cinderella Man) with his bodyguard/trainer/companion "Spud," he did an open letter to his fans in The Sydney Herald Sun, August 29, 2004: "Why I bite my bodyguard" By Russell Cowe
I do wish I could say, as I am usually able, that it is all just hogswallop, but yes, Spud and I had a push around after work on a Friday night about a month ago.
It was a misunderstanding we easily cleared up the next day. And yes, it was over a conversation I was having with a young lady who is an extra on the film and a friend of Dani's and mine. She has been over to dinner a couple of times and Dani doesn't have any problem with me having a drink and a chat with the people I'm working with at the end of the week. Most Fridays she comes along and joins us.
The misunderstanding arose when Spud came over to tell me what he thought other people in the room (room being just a term; this was a private gathering for cast and crew only, held under a tarp stretched between trailers at base camp) might have been thinking of my conversation. I thought he was accusing me specifically of something and I took offence to it.
It doesn't surprise me that I'm overly sensitive to gossip and speculation and heartily sick of other people's "perceptions". People say and write more crap than I could ever care about and I just don't bother commenting on 99 per cent of it because that is all I would end up doing.
I love my family more than anything and react swiftly to any threat against them or people making unfounded and ridiculous accusations that question my loyalty. Spud was passing on other people's "perceptions" and I shot the messenger. . . .
We don't go out that much, so I suppose the paparazzi have to try to make something out of it when we do. To say we are homesick doesn't come close. We have been here since March. Dani and I have found ourselves whispering Woolloomooloo and wondering at the beauty of its sound.
I was a fool to let the situation with Spud get out of hand. Dani knows it, but more importantly, she knows that I know it. She also knows I love her completely and would do anything for her. Recently when she had a mild bout of the flu and was coughing all through the night, I brought her a green tea at 3am and she commented that having a husband was quite useful sometimes. The nerve of the girl! By the way, I'm sick to death of the magazine media portraying Dani as long suffering. I married a strong, sensitive, disciplined artist and so did my wife. Our temperaments are perfectly suited to each other and our chosen professions. . . .
[W]hile I am pretty close to making a deal to shoot a movie in Australia, it's not, as some wags would have it, to keep my family intact. It is simply because it is a great script with a director I respect. Same as usual. . .
I'll be home as soon as possible. I'd take a bullet for this bloke.


And while he's been trying to protect his son Charlie from the photographers, he did let loyal fans know of his feelings on his son's first birthday 2004:
dear charlie,
my beautiful boy.
this time last year i was on top of the ridge on mt. lourene that runs along the back of the farm. it was 3 1/2 weeks before you were due.
when i saw two vehicles peeling into the back paddocks my heart started racing, i knew you were coming. it took me 40 mins to get to the first car. then we went to our emergency 'get back to sydney'plan. however, the best laid plans of mice and men don't mean a damn.
the helicopter was held up fuelling, in that time the wind rose to a 60-70km/ph headwind coming from the south. it took 3 1/2 hours to do a 2 hour flight. your mother's waters broke at 8.30 or so in the morning, i saw the cars around 9 am, got to the main house around 10, chopper booked to arrive at 11, didn't get to the farm until 1pm, we landed in sydney at 4.30
i was just hoping your mum hadn't left for the hospital without me, she hadn't. she had waited. everything happened very fast after that. we got to the hospital around 5.30, they were sure pleased to see your mum, they'd been expecting her hours before. she had her parents and a midwife urging her to go to the hospital, but she didn't want to go to the hospital without your dad, she was super cool and stuck to the plan.
you were born at 7 mins to 7 on the 21st of december, one year ago today and i can truly tell you it has been the most wonderful year of our lives.you are a very special little boy,so affectionate and lovely.
i'm going to wake you up in a minute and give you your 1st birthday bottle, then later mum and i will take you on the harbour for breakfast,this afternoon your grandparents will come over and spoil the birthday boy rotten.thank you for coming into my life charlie boonker.
i love you. Dad.


The Alfred Lord Tennyson sonnet that inspired his second son's name:
If I were loved, as I desire to be,
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
And range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear,--if I were loved by thee?
All the inner, all the outer world of pain
Clear Love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine
As I have heard that, somewhere in the main,
Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine.
'T were joy, not fear, claspt hand-in-hand with thee,
To wait for death--mute--careless of all ills,
Apart upon a mountain, tho' the surge
Of some new deluge from a thousand hills
Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge
Below us, as far on as eye could see.


In his new family mode: Runocius servo prosapia liberi primoris was a phrase hand-picked by co-owner Russell Crowe for the crest of the breast of his Rabbitoh’s rugby team much-discussed new Armani-designed blazers. The club says it means, Run faster, protect the family, children first.

Hollywood's take on a good Aussie bloke: The sum of Russell Crowe's parts is now iconic by Dr. Katherine Biber, PhD in history, whose thesis was on masculinity and Australian cinema, in Sydney Morning Herald, 3/12/2002 (fair use excerpt):
"'For I'm a ramble-eer, a rollicking ramble-eer, I'm a roving rake of poverty, and a son of a gun for a beer." With this verse, Russel Ward opened The Australian Legend in 1958, his landmark history of the "typical Australian". The "typical" Australian was a man, rugged and laconic, a powerful presence in the Australian self-imagination; less apparent, Ward conceded, in reality. He was a myth, a fantasy. And he reappeared on our screens in the bodies of Chips Rafferty, Bill Hunter, Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown. And in our tabloids and gossip columns as Russell Crowe, as famed for his fornicating and fighting as for his thespian craft.
But is Crowe an Australian hero? It seems that, despite his vigorous assertions to the contrary, he is becoming an Australian icon scripted by Hollywood. . . Attempts to squeeze him into an archetypal American sex idol, exotic in his all-Aussie swagger, have the effect of making Crowe's genuinely larrikin conduct recede into mere posturing.
Early on, it seemed Crowe would carry the baton for his cinematic forefathers. Remember him in The Crossing in 1990? The opening scene shows him having sex with Danielle Spencer in a barn at dawn. Outside we hear The Last Post and realise that they have missed the Anzac Day service taking place at the monument up the hill. What could be more iconoclastic, more wry, more larrikin, more dinkum heroic Aussie bloke than that?
In the decade that followed, we read about Crowe's public antics. Punches were thrown to right unarticulated wrongs. He threw the full weight of his influence behind the campaign to save his football team, the Rabbitohs, themselves filling the iconic mould for the dogged manner with which they played against hopeless odds.
Fighting the good fight in the face of perpetual defeat is the plot of every mythical Australian narrative. Decent men, fundamentally flawed, resigned to losing: these are our national heroes. Crowe's early film career suggested that he was willing to play within these patriotic limitations. . . In Romper Stomper he was the despotic leader of a skinhead gang, pursuing the despicable national fantasy of a white Australia. In The Sum of Us he was . . .[p]laying the ultimate myth card, he was Thompson's son. It seemed that Crowe's place in the Australian canon was assured.
But then he went to Hollywood. Suddenly our national prototype was accumulating American heroic qualities. He was . . . the lone warrior, fighting for truth, justice and an Academy Award.
Accepting a role in Proof of Life, Crowe insisted that his character, a hostage negotiator, be Australian. It's all right until we see him, biceps bulging and lightly oiled, wearing fatigues and a tight singlet. With a swift, confident gesture he loads his machine-gun. In the cinema where I saw the film, the audience laughed: the Crowe that Australians recognised was becoming an American icon.
What followed was a series of engagements that confounded his candidature for Australian national heroism. He made off with his leading lady, another man's wife, and took her to his farm at Nana Glen (tick). He won an Academy award . . [and] accepted his statuette wearing his grandfather's war medals (tick). . . Receiving a BAFTA award for that film, he recited a poem that did not rhyme (cross). When a producer declined to telecast the poetry, Crowe assaulted him (tick). After the incident, Crowe telephoned the producer to apologise and ask him out for a beer (big tick).
Behind the folksy geniality, Crowe isn't quite the national hero we installed to fill the gynophobic, work-shirking role vacated by his forefathers. Certainly, the celebrity machine has been busily retyping aspects of his persona, creating a new hero over which he has no control. But maybe he is clinging ambivalently to archetypal Australian masculinity. Perhaps his fisticuffs, his ordinary song-writing and his local girlfriend are valiant attempts to reclaim his spot in the national fantasy."


Here's my reviews (and some added commentary) of Crowe's body of work:

THE MUSIC

CD: Gaslight

CD: Bastard Life or Clarity

CD: Other Ways Of Speaking

DVD: Texas

Concert Performance in NYC

MOVIES: CROWE ON FILM (incomplete)

Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews

Since August 2006, edited versions of most of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward and, since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.



A Beautiful Mind (with background info)

Bra Boys (emendations coming after 10/11/2008)

Breaking Up

Brides of Christ (OK, an episode of a TV mini-series, not a movie)

Cinderella Man

The Crossing

Efficiency Expert

For the Moment

Gladiator (with various appreciations of it as a "Chick Flick")

Heaven's Burning

The Insider

L.A. Confidential

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World -- (You can buy the 2 DVD set with deleted scenes and swimming views of Crowe.)

Mystery, Alaska

Noah

No Way Back

Proof

Proof of Life

The Quick and the Dead

Red Obsession (narrator) (briefly reviewed in 2013 Documentaries at Tribeca Film Festival)

Romper Stomper

Rough Magic

The Silver Brumby: King of the Wild Stallions

State of Play

The Sum of Us

Virtuosity

Tenderness

(updated 12/21/2014)

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Comments, corrections, additions, questions welcome! Contact Nora Lee at mandelshultz@yahoo.com

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