Mandel Maven's Nest: And Then There's Russell Crowe--
Reviews and Commentary on His Films

I haunted video stores and online video retailers so I could hold Crowe video festivals, as were many people judging by how many videos were out (and those Australian movies did get on North American-compatible video or on cable) that I missed in the theaters. His physical transformations over his 20 films before he became a big star, both intentionally and just from maturing and cigarette-smoking, are quite entertaining. (updated 10/29/2004)



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")

A Good Year

Heaven's Burning

The Insider

L.A. Confidential

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World -- (with marketing analyses)
(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
While Crowe intentionally followed this drama that brought him wide attention with the gay role in The Sum of Us to forestall fans associating him with the racist he played so vividly, in 2015 this film, that some publications called “obscure”, gained surprising notoriety when a photographic still from it was the only visual image on the “White Rhodesian” home page of the killer of nine African-American Bible-studiers at Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel Church, shocking and revolting the nation. At least his website full of other white supremacist photographs had the effect of getting the South to realize that the Confederate flag was a divisive, offensive symbol of racism. (7/2/2015)


Rough Magic

The Silver Brumby: King of the Wild Stallions

State of Play

The Sum of Us

Tenderness

Virtuosity

In the order I saw them (most recent first – so yes, I am way behind in posting my reviews!):
State of Play - here's an "editorial" preview from a fan's perspective:
--we first see Russell Crowe singing along with a Great Big Sea song ("The Night Pat Murphy Died" – probably from Road Rage) in his (messy) car.
--he has great rapport with Robin Wright Penn, such that their characters' complicated friendship and occasional romance since college is established even without the dialogue about them.
--he has such terrific interactions with Helen Mirren as the tough as nails editor who gets great lines that I wished there were more scenes with them together.
--he has a nicely increasing mentorship with Rachel McAdam's character, that thankfully doesn't get Hollywood inappropriately romantic (even though it doesn't quite make sense that there's no compromise between the Old and New Journalism, just that she converts from blogger to hard newsy).
--Ben Affleck surprisingly really steps up to Russell's level. You can feel that Russell inspired him to up his game.
--his girth not only works well for a slovenly journalist, but the film doesn't pretend that he's a super hero, even during a chase scene. --he's thinking all the time. Which is the best thing about Russell in the role – you can really see him always thinking.
So while this is not at the level of Russell Crowe in The Insider or A Beautiful Mind or even Cinderella Man, it's above Body of Lies (which I haven't gotten around to reviewing on this page). I loved the original mini-series, and missed some characters and situations, but the transfer to Hollywood political conspiracy thriller works well. (4/14/2009)

Once again, Hollywood studios couldn't figure out how to market a Crowe film. So they blamed the audience and actors' salaries.
From Studios keep aiming young as adults avoid movies, by Carl DiOrio, The Hollywood Reporter, 4/21/2009: "The picture's travails reflect this rude awakening in Hollywood: Older demographics may be resisting the recent enthusiasm for moviegoing. . . .'Not as many adults are going to the movies because of the recession,' a highly placed studio executive lamented. 'More and more, it's the kids who come out and support the pictures over opening weekend, and not as much the older adults.' . . .'Adults are a harder audience to motivate, and the problem with some adult movies is compounded by their not being high-concept films that you can boil down to 30-second spots,' a top studio executive said. . . .With films like State of Play, critical praise is nice but goes only so far. If the kids don't take notice, then it's fingers crossed for a successful DVD release to stanch some of the inevitable red ink -- though adult thrillers also have been a tough sell on shiny disc as well. . .'If these things were made for a reasonable cost, it wouldn't be a problem,' a studio executive groused. . .'Not a lot of them break through,' acknowledged another top distribution executive. 'With an R rating you're playing to an older audience, and the subject matter has to be something besides politics. People at the moment are kind of fed up with that stuff.'"
Rating High on Hollywood's List: Immature Audiences by Ann Hornaday, in Washington Post , 8/23/2009 uses SOP as an example: "If 2009 is remembered for anything in American cinema, it might be as the year grown-ups and Hollywood finally agreed to call it quits. . .Suddenly, movies for grown-ups are in the cross hairs. . .The middle range of high-end, relatively sophisticated movies made with glossy production values and well-paid stars might do well with critics and some filmgoers but, between star salaries and the high costs of marketing, fail to earn their keep. And many observers worry that this will influence Hollywood's decisions about which projects to greenlight. . .These are movies that are simply smart, well-made and directed at filmgoers with discerning but not necessarily adventurous tastes. . .more and more grown-ups are looking at the Friday paper and saying, 'Why bother?'. . .Consider: Russell Crowe couldn't get tushies in seats for State of Play or Body of Lies, the latter of which featured the added catnip of Leonardo DiCaprio. . . . Another Hollywood habit coming under scrutiny is the pathological focus on the Oscars. Increasingly, studios have saved their classy productions for the end of the year, spending tens of millions of dollars on Oscar campaigns that boost awareness and prestige -- and, the studios hope, ticket sales. The strategy flopped this year, Anne Thompson says. . .DiOrio. . .says it all comes down to one thing: marketing. 'It's less about whether there will be actual motion pictures and more about whether they're concepts that are easily marketed. You need to let the viewer understand what their moviegoing experience is going to be like in a very simple TV message, and that's not easily done unless you have something that can be boiled down to a [one-sentence synopsis]. And the [typical] modestly budgeted adult-oriented drama of the character-driven variety doesn't really lend itself to a convenient marketing hook.' . . .Producer Laura Bickford . . . 'As long as you can figure out a way to market these movies without spending your entire profit, they'll be made. The last 18 months have been just devastating. But in terms of audiences for these movies, they're there.'"


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

Cinderella Man is a shameless, old-fashioned sentimental bio-pic. And it works.
As one character says "It ain't about pugilism." But director Ron Howard pounds away at our emotions as much as Russell Crowe pounds his boxing opponents in the ring. Howard doesn't just push every emotional button in telling the amazing story of Jim Braddock, he milks every incident in what is just in its basic outline anyway a heart tugging story of the fall and rise of a decent dad battling the Great Depression. And, through frequent tears, it works. Despite serious flaws, it works because of the central acting and the period recreation.
Once again Crowe completely transforms himself for a role, not only unsurprisingly physically for the boxing rounds, as he spends a good part of the movie in nothing but trunks, and with a hard-scrabbled Joisey accent, but as a devoted, romantic family man. Crowe certainly sets a new standard of portraying masculinity on the screen as equally about being a devoted and responsible husband and father even while engaging in the most physical of occupations. The closest we've seen him reveal the other side was briefly in The Insider, but we've never seen him play such an unassuming good guy, such that scenes when Braddock has to put aside his masculine pride to provide for his family are staggeringly moving. His frequent gentle giant interaction with the wonderfully natural young children, in particular, are almost too sweetly touching. He is so captivating that you can see most of the actors in one-on-one with him rise to his level.
Paul Giamatti as his manager matches him in duets as they ping pong concentration and humor. Renée Zellweger with a wandering Jersey accent, though, doesn't have much to do in her passive loyal wife scenes with him and is actually stronger when she gets to flex some separate personality or where briefly there's some flare of conflict with her husband.
Crowe's intensity envelops both of them, as we see her melt more beautifully here than we've seen her on film in years. Surrounding Crowe like a Daumier tableau are marvelous character actors whose faces seem to be out of the gritty boxing game classic Body and Soul.
It is like two films. One is a sweet Father Courage tale bathed in beautifully golden brown chiaroscuro by cinematographer Salvatore Totino that makes you feel you are looking at tinted photographs from the 1930's, complimented by marvelous costumes from individuals to the crowd scenes. But then he equally puts us directly in the ring, as brutally as he captured football in Any Given Sunday and you do feel every punch, such that you involuntarily grunt out loud.
Helped by the masterful editing by Howard's usual partners Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill you also get inside Braddock's state of mind in each fight, a sympathetic technique I don't recall from other boxing films, including Raging Bull. Giamatti's chattering, in combination with the ring side announcers, explains the basics of the sweet science to seamlessly help you see the strategy with each competitor so they are not just repetitive slug fests but are each exciting matches.
I don't think Max Baer is portrayed uni-dimensionally villainous as the film of course builds up to their improbable match up, as he was as much a product of the media hype of his time (my mother-in-law does remember cheering on "Maxie" as a "Jewish fighter") with the sportswriters colorfully portraying Braddock's rise in ethnic short hand as well. Eve60 on the Perch quotes her 90-year-old uncle after he saw the film as to the fight accuracy, among other online sources: "I was in America 2 months in 1935 and my uncle took me to see the Bear - Braddock fight. The movie had a lot more action than the real fight. Baer was clowning around in the early rounds and ran out of steam after 6 - 7 rounds. I am sure Baer did not train properly but Braddock was a very clever boxer who kept out of trouble early when Baer was dangerous."
But what probably leads people to be able to criticize the portrayal is that so much of the period context is missing in the film or selectively stuck in, particularly as we haven't seen too many urban Depression movies and certainly not recently. Howard deliberately avoided Ken Burns's technique used so effectively in Seabiscuit of editing in newsreel footage or photographs to get across the impact of the Depression. Instead we literally get one headline on a fallen newspaper. The limited exposition, unfortunately, is put in the mouth of Paddy Considine, as a fictional unemployed broker turned drunken longshoreman and sometime vaguely Socialist community organizer and his dialog and role are just confusing and clumsily inserted. While the bulk of the film takes place 1933- 1935 when the New Deal was just getting off the ground, his stilted mouthing of working class resentments and activist solutions makes Braddock's apolitical responses sound practically Republican, as Braddock, in not seeing a governmental role in either the causes or the solutions, more than once refers to the Depression as a natural phenomenon, as if the docks are the Dust Bowl (and this is the best documentation of the actual work of grappling-hook wielding longshoremen since On the Waterfront as that accidentally was Braddock's training regimen). The Hooverville in Central Park where Considine somehow ends up is factual, but Mayor LaGuardia did not send in violent cops to break it up; instead the squatters were given work in WPA-type projects (according to Blackmar, Elizabeth and Roy Rosenzweig, The Park and The People: A History of Central Park). There's certainly no sense of the desperate optimism attached to Roosevelt's ambitious government employment plans (including bailing out the overwhelmed state home relief offices that Braddock pridefully detests applying to) as if showing how FDR used radio as a lifeline to stir people (and my mom still enthuses how those fireside chats were inspiring) would undercut the visual images of people listening to Braddock's fights.
The lack of period context is not helped by the music. While Thomas Newman's score is effective at building the tensions with each fight, particularly the throbbing percussion, it is simply odd that virtually only one period song is heard on the soundtrack, and the same cynical Eddie Cantor song is used twice, unlike the series Carnivale, which so effectively set the mis en scene with music, or how T. Bone Burnett could have advised, though again perhaps Howard didn't want anything else on his radio other than fight broadcasts.
Despite Howard's manipulative schmaltz that almost drowns the film, it is impossible to come out without cheers and tears and pride in basic human goodness. (6/27/2005)


While it was filmed in Toronto, the key action recreates a Queens landmark: See For a Forgotten Arena, an Unexpected Star Turn by Jeff Vandam, The New York Times, June 12, 2005 (fair use excerpt):
On the evening of June 13, 1935, millions of ears across the nation concentrated on the unlikely corner of 45th Street and Northern Boulevard in Long Island City, Queens. It was there that Jim Braddock, a k a the Bulldog of Bergen, challenged the fearsome Max Baer for the world heavyweight boxing championship.
The site was the Madison Square Garden Bowl, a 72,000-seat outdoor wooden arena that is featured prominently in Cinderella Man. . . Built by the owners of Madison Square Garden in 1932 as a summer stage for important bouts, the Bowl attracted big- and small-timers alike to a section of Queens rarely known for glamour. . .
During its short lifetime, the arena was known derogatively as the Jinx Bowl, as no titleholder ever won there. "It became known as a graveyard for champions," said David Margolick, author of the forthcoming book Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink. At the end of the 30's, the bowl was torn down. . .


Why is that Hollywood can't figure out how to market Crowe's movies?
Universal Rethinks Boxing Film Plan by Sharon Waxman in The New York Times, June 14, 2005 (fair use excerpt):
"An urgent meeting got under way in Universal City on Tuesday, as the executives who made the star-crossed film Cinderella Man mulled the miserable question of the day: What went wrong?
'In all honesty, we're asking the question, and we don't have the answers,' said Universal Pictures Vice Chairman Marc Shmuger, in an interview before the meeting. 'We certainly expected, and believed, that a movie that turned out this well, with this great story, that audiences responded to, would be able to fight its way into the marketplace at any time of the year.'. .
Executives and filmmakers behind the picture are inclined to blame their own decision to release it in early summer, a time for big, fat movies, with spine-chilling special effects and mindless plots. They acknowledge the challenge of the movie's tough subject matter -- boxing, of which the audience had a heavy dose in last year's Oscar-winning picture Million Dollar Baby [this was the primary reason my friends and relatives gave for not seeing the film - that film was so depressing and so recent]-- but did not see any serious damage from the phone-throwing antics that led to Mr. Crowe's arrest in New York shortly after his film's release.
. . . And at least some involved with the film wished they had simply kept it on the shelf until autumn. 'I look at each season as a living organism, and I don't think the season of summer is compatible with a movie of this type,' said Brian Grazer, a producer of Cinderella Man. He was at the Tuesday meeting and was among those who had pushed for a fall release. 'It's almost a scientific equation, the summer movies are big, exciting, fun events,' he added. 'It's biorhythmic.' . . .
The current film was initially scheduled for release at the end of 2004 but was delayed when Mr. Crowe injured his shoulder during the shoot. Universal then hoped to open the movie earlier in spring 2005, but Mr. Crowe was scheduled to shoot another film in Australia at that time (the movie, Eucalyptus, fell through) and was not available for publicity appearances.
. . . [I]n July 2003 Universal successfully released Seabiscuit, another underdog story set during the Depression, and hoped to repeat that experience. In recent summers there has generally been an adult drama to give moviegoers an alternative to mega-budget films, whether Road to Perdition in July 2002 or Saving Private Ryan in July 1998.
But in this case audiences have not appeared. Cinderella Man took in just $18.3 million on its opening weekend, not the $28 million projected by market research. Last weekend, the audience dropped by a disappointing 47 percent. . .The result has been a blue mood at Universal. 'There are hardly words to describe how we all feel,'' Mr. Grazer said. 'I feel like crying.'
Mr. Shmuger noted somewhat bitterly that he repeatedly heard the complaint from cinephiles that there are no serious, adult dramas on studio schedules. Now that there was one, he said, moviegoers did not go. 'Despite all protest to the opposite, that audiences are clamoring for an alternative, I guess what they're really looking for is what their behavior shows,' he said. 'That's terribly concerning.'"


From The Globe and Mail by Liam Lacey, July 2, 2005 (fair use excerpt): "Some of this year's disappointments can be credited to bad marketing decisions, say others. The entertainment paper Variety's editor-in-chief Peter Bart: If Cinderella Man had been released in the fall, it might have been a hit." Variety's Gabriel Snyder noted on June 20, "There's been plenty of speculation that Cinderella Man may have been better suited as a fall release than as a summer bow. But just a quick look at Universal's fall slate full of prestige pics makes one wonder: Where could they have fit the pugilism pic in? While the studio has acknowledged taking a calculated risk by releasing the pic in the summer, it was working from the successful template of 2003's Seabiscuit." Snyder had earlier in June gotten quotes from "Universal chair Stacey Snider about Cinderella Man's opening, 'Clearly we had hoped for a bigger start.' But she added U remains committed to the film. 'It's going to get the support from the studio through the summer. We see this as the beginning of a long run through the summer and through the awards season', she said.
As expected, the crowd was primarily older adults, with U's exit polls showing 66% of the aud over age 35. Aud was nearly even between men and women, with the surveys showing the aud 53% female. . ."


Anne Thompson in The Hollywood Reporter had the best analysis about the difficulties of marketing to adults who DO go to the movies. But Jack Matthews in the New York Daily News feels the Seabiscuit comparisons doomed the film.


Hate the Flick? Some Theaters Offer Refunds by Kate Kelly in The Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2005 (fair use excerpt):
"The exhibitors offering Cinderella Man refunds . . ."just really believe that Cinderella Man is a special picture," says Dick Walsh, film group chairman at AMC, the nation's second-largest theater circuit. 'It's first class up and down, almost certain to be nominated for Academy Awards, and we just wanted to do whatever we could to help'. . .
Over a steak dinner around the time of the movie's June 3 opening, Mr. Walsh and Peter Brown, chairman of AMC, told executives at Universal Pictures that Cinderella Man was one of the best movies they had seen recently. But the film took in just $18 million during its crucial opening weekend, and in the days that followed, it was eclipsed by the behavior of Mr. Crowe, who was arrested for hurling a telephone at a New York City hotel employee.
Stung by the movie's disappointing box-office performance, Mr. Walsh called Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution at Universal, to suggest the money-back guarantee. 'This is your call, Dick,' Ms. Rocco remembers saying. But she was thrilled with the idea. 'It's just their innovative way of trying to get a message across,' she says, 'and Cinderella Man, I think, will be a film...that people will remember.'
Since AMC and Universal share movie-ticket revenue, the decision to proceed was ultimately a joint one. But Mr. Walsh says he's pleased with last weekend's turnout for Cinderella Man, which has taken in $50 million since its opening. 'The drop it experienced from the preceding weekend was the least out of all the top-ten pictures [currently playing],' he says.
AMC plans to press forward in the coming weeks, and says that consumers so far are not abusing the offer. In rare cases, people did request their money back -- with no questions asked. . .


Can We Be Serious? The Backstory in Premiere Magazine, September 2005 by Peter Herbst, Editor-in-Chief: ". . .I’ve been saddened that a movie of this quality hasn’t found more viewers. There are lots of possible reasons: the release date (June 3, normally reserved for escapist summer fare); the marketing campaign (“When the country was on its knees, he brought America to its feet” freights the movie with a lot more historical significance than most audiences are looking for); even the title (confusing for most people, who don’t know that James J. Braddock really was the first “Cinderella story”). But I’m a little disappointed in the moviegoing population as well. When we don’t support the good stuff, it makes it even harder to get the next big serious film made."


From Anne Thompson in The Hollywood Reporter 12/13/2005:
"Why are you mounting such a concerted Oscar campaign after the disappointing performance of Ron Howard's Cinderella Man? Snider: We blew that. Perhaps because of Seabiscuit, we were overly optimistic about Cinderella Man's ability to compete and get noticed at that time of year. I do think that a big transportive entertainment has a place. I'd make that movie again. Our support of the movie is not frivolous, and it's not about the DVD campaign. We think the movie is genuinely deserving of awards recognition.'"


From Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal on 1/21/2006: "Working within the studio system that usually militates against excellence, Ron Howard lavished great care and skill on this tale of a boxer's fall and rise during the Great Depression. It's grimly fascinating to speculate on why audiences didn't respond to such good work. Because they now equate the Depression with being depressed? Because of an excess of uplift in the film, or uplift that overlapped the all-too-similar Seabiscuit? Or was it the ill-timed phone-throwing escapade of Russell Crowe? Whatever the reason, the film is now available on DVD, diminished only in screen size."


From Showbiz going Boffo! in HBO documentary by Susan Wloszczyna, in USA Today, 6/20/2006: "Take last summer's Cinderella Man . . . directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer. 'In Brian's mind, Cinderella Man was a shocking failure,' [Peter] Bart says of the well-reviewed boxing biopic headlined by Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. It went down with a count of just $61 million at the box office. 'I talked to Penny Marshall about that," [Bill Couturie, the director of Boffo!] says of the director of A League of Their Own who helped produce Cinderella Man. 'Brian wouldn't say anything negative about Universal's release date. But Penny was much more frank. 'It was a brown movie,' she said. 'You can't release a brown movie in the summertime. Brown movies are for fall.' She was right.'"


From James Bowman, author of Honor: A History, We Don't Need Another Superhero in The Wall Street Journal, 8/11/2006: "We may begin to suspect that American movie audiences scarcely know what the old-fashioned hero even looks like anymore, the sort who dares greatly and succeeds by mastering his enemies. On the rare occasions when we have seen one, as in last year's boxing movie Cinderella Man, he has been a box-office disappointment."



A Beautiful Mind is a stirring Hollywood bio-pic, with the pluses and minuses that implies -- with the dominant centrality of glowing star performances by Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly (whose talent beyond her beauty was finally recognized through the overwhelming Requiem for a Dream).
Yes, messy details of genius mathematician John Nash's life are creamed over for simplicity. But other than Good Will Hunting there haven't been a lot of successful mainstream movies about competitive mathematicians, and this is almost as ingenious, through the script cinematographical shades, and dizzying directorial angles, as Pi in demonstrating the internal workings of creative (and disturbed) thinking.
Though some complain that this is a simplistic view of mental illness as being curable with love and a supportive environment, it is more sophisticated than, say, Snake Pit, though the insulin therapy looks like the usual electric shock sequence and modern meds are mentioned in passing -- but the truth is a unique mind was able to assert itself over schizophrenia, or as the central tag line for the film says, something extraordinary happened. And certainly Mrs. Nash's role as an unstinting caregiver is given equal weight and we all know of people whose dedication just barely short of saintliness goes unsung.
Crowe and Connelly are so good that the film almost gives them short shrift -- you can practically hear a commercially-oriented Ron Howard yell "Cut!" just as they're climaxing in a scene, or maybe it's the whir of the digital video cutter. It seemed to jump too fast with little opportunity for reflection, particularly rushing through to the end, though the film does already come in at just over 2 hours. (And I'm quite sure there's a continuity error with his baby son's age, which confuses a key line.)
Crowe's performance, from the young socially inept graduate student to tormented genius at the peak of his powers slipping into insanity, to remission in old age staggeringly creates a whole person, physically and mentally, and I would have welcomed each of his scenes being a bit longer.
My old campus that's now Bronx Community College stands in for MIT (oy, is the building on the left of the domed library Language Hall and on the right Philosophy Hall -- or was it vice versa?) and Fordham, Manhattan College and Fairleigh-Dickinson stand in for other sites.
James Horner's music was surprisingly unobtrusive, but the closing Charlotte Church song was beyond maudlin.(1/6/2002)


Also probably contributory to Nash's recovery was the protective environment that Princeton provided and gets only a few minutes of screen time as Nash's lost decades are sped through much too quickly (yeah, and so it doesn't include confusing details of a complicated life with mental illness -- heck you want a complete biography, go read the book!): But see The Genius Behind The Tree, from The New York Times, 12/26/2001, by S. C. Gwynne, executive editor of Texas Monthly)

I again had seen 3 foreign movies in a row to justify seeing a conventional Hollywood thriller, as that's what Proof of Life is.
It's Casablanca crossed with Three Kings in that it's a very contemporary take on doing the right thing amidst a cynical world, but not as well written.
This isn't the first time that Crowe has channeled Humphrey Bogart, and he anchors the movie with sincere gravitas, particularly through in explanatory voice-overs with That Voice that's as definitive as Charlton Heston's.
I've read the background on the film from the Vanity Fair article that inspired it, to excerpts of the original script, to the reports of the two different test screenings, so I have a fair idea of what director Taylor Hackford edited out (and didn't even put into the DVD!), and something is lost and something is gained by his decisions.
What's gained are the taut action-adventure scenes, so that I didn't even notice until hours after when it rang a bell the line left in with its tabloid double entendre on the Crowe/Ryan relationship that caused Hollywood test audiences to titter.
The movie was specifically produced as a dramatic vehicle for Meg Ryan, but unfortunately it just stops stock still when she's on the screen. And it's not just that this is a macho man movie -- Pamela Reed as her sister-in-law steals the screen when they're together by playing a full-fledged character, reminiscent of the sister of similar kidnap victim journalist Terry Andersen. Everyone leaves the theater wondering why Crowe's character comes back to Ryan, with their on-screen chemistry limited to a naturalistic comfort level together.
The Van Morrison love song as the closing track makes little sense in context; too bad Crowe himself didn't sing the closer.(12/10/2000)


A Good Year - preview - Fans have ID'd the music behind the trailer: "From Anne S: Re The AGY Trailer -- "The song that you hear as background music is called 'Moi - Lolita'. It was a hit in France some years ago and was song by a very young girl called Alizée. As you can guess by the title, it is the story of a very young girl finding out her power on men. A little strange choice of song as it does not relate to the story." --- And from Ivani, "the other songs are 'Chance' by Athlete and '40ft' by Franz Ferdinand". (7/25/2006)

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

I went to see The Insider out of completist compulsion to prepare for the Oscars so schlepped to Manhattan in the pouring rain to pay $9.50 (and not letting myself buy popcorn in self-punishment). I missed it locally for budget matinees coz I figured I'd already read the whole story anyway (and haven't watched 60 Minutes since out of disgust), that it would be a fine movie to wait for cable, and Russell Crowe is such a hunk why pay to see him dowdy?
Well, I hadn't figured on uber visual director Michael Mann or just how incredibly magnetic Crowe is -- wow. Kevin Spacey really got a run for his money for Best Actor Oscar if the voters had seen Insider. By the end of the movie, I wanted Al Pacino off the screen (and his character does hog the end in self-aggrandizing self-congratulations, though his character's ultimate manipulation of his own media machine was a neat trick I hadn't read about in advance) just so I could eat more Crowe. Pacino does make an off-hand remark to Crowe's that he's a genuine American hero and this movie does build up to that (though then throws him away).
This is a complex movie with lots of bit players chewing the scenery--Gina Gershon must have been delighted to not play her usual sexpot by being an evil corporate lawyer-- and I lost track of who and where sometimes (I could have used those notations on the bottom of the screen that PBS uses, or even The X Files and there's some shots that just linger too long on fuzzy backgrounds, but who could have thought that the Tobacco Wars could be turned into an exciting--if long-- movie, quite similar in tension and build-up to Mann's Heat.
And fascinating choice of music meisters in Pieter Burke and Lisa Gerrard, usually categorized as New Age music, but here used very well to build tension.
Most critics thought Mike Wallace comes off deservedly poorly, but I thought they may have been too nice to him.
But Crowe blows Al Pacino off the screen, much as Edward Norton did to Richard Gere in Primal Fear. He completely creates and inhabits the character in every possible detail, the ultimate Method acting. How did Mann know he would do this so well?(3/12/2000)


Mystery, Alaska is written and produced by David Kelley so a TV maven should watch it anyway.
It's a sports romance (a genre I have a soft spot for, a la Bull Durham, Wind, Cutting Edge, etc.); this time it's hockey, with some similar themes to Slap Shot.
Certainly a movie for video not the big screen but OMG Crowe is knock out hunky and twinkle-eyed in it, swoonishly so, even all bundled up and even with skating almost as klutzy as me (with a very authentic Canadian accent).
The women in it are even intelligent and get some good lines. But it's basically a warm and fuzzy ensemble flick up in the Great North Cold.


L.A. Confidential is a big, bruiser, ensemble of a terrifically written, acted and photographed film noir and Crowe tears up the screen as a damaged and damaging cop. Where can all that rage come from? His interplay with Kim Basinger is magical, his pairing with Guy Pearce is balletic, and he takes over the screen.

Heaven's Burning is an Australian take on an American genre movie (like Malick's Badlands): violent couple on the lam from even more violent characters, here of assorted ethnic stereotypes. Crowe is pretty much just eye-candy, along with the Australian scenery. So much for him returning Down Under to show his support for the local film industry.

In Rough Magic Crowe gets to play the Clark Gable role from It Happened One Night though Bridget Fonda is too icy to be Claudette Colbert and he calls her "Slim" a la Bogey and Bacall (and his ersatz NY accent slips a couple of times). It's a charming "B" movie for video--filed oddly enough under "Occult" at my local chain video store-- and Crowe has a couple of emotive romantic declarations.

No Way Back is a hard-boiled “B” movie about how a man’s got to do what a man’s go to do-- and feeling mighty uncomfortable when women have to do it too, even when properly trained.
Channeling Humphrey Bogart’s principled defender of dead partners, Russell Crowe’s FBI agent Zack Grant battles the FBI, the Mafia, and the Yakuza out of vengeance and loyalty. While not quite a film noir because one strong femme fatale (Kelly Hu as Seiko) is killed off quickly and the weak second (Helen Slater) plays Mary as if she’s in a screwball comedy, it’s a solid guilty pleasure violent US cable movie, though the usual gratuitous sex is only anticipated and doesn’t involve Crowe.
With Slater generating neither heat nor chemistry, it’s a relief that there’s no definite romance. Rather the key relationship, and what raises this movie above the ordinary, becomes Zack’s with his Yakuza connection, Estushi Toyokawa’s Yuji, as they turn and twist from suspicion to trust, and back and forth, with continuing character revelations.
With all of Crowe's frequent flyer miles, it's a good thing this movie has been little seen because his forceful contretemps with Slater's flighty flight attendant over buckling seat belts recalls Jack Nicholson's request for toast in Five Easy Pieces and would doubtless cause flight attendants to be leery of him.
It's a credit to Crowe's script selections because with this and L.A. Confidential he could easily get typecast as violent, damaged cops with a sensitive core. For Crowe fans there are other visual and thematic resonances as well from his oeuvre.


Breaking Up is very much like About Last Night(both of which were based on off-Broadway plays) and has been surpassed by Sex and the City for its talky way of dealing with urban dating foibles but it's a change of acting pace to see Crowe be a contemporary lovelorn, if somewhat silly, mate to Salma Hayek, more like the songs he sings about with his band.

In Virtuosity Crowe gets to do an actor's favorite thing-- playing the villain. And he does this computer composite of all the leading serial killers certainly as a guy just out to have fun. While the film's story and effects have been so much been improved on by Matrix, his villain was more human-based than that.

For the Moment is a Canadian/Australian take on a story we've seen before, particularly in Yanks with Richard Gere, of lonely WW II trainees amidst lonely women whose men are going off to or are off at war.
But the Manitoba landscape is beautiful, and a luminous Christianne Hirt pairs effectively with Crowe's rambunctious, heavily accented Aussie pilot; his usual intensity surprises a tender romance facing the deadline of war. The characters are much more aware of their bittersweet situation, making it more complex, than most cliché movies in this gung ho genre, making this movie sweetly memorable.
Interesting how effective Crowe is in period pieces of the "when men were men" variety, and how That Voice rumbles in a poetry reading seduction, even in these movies from his younger, thinner days.


The Quick and the Dead is a very stylized Sam Raimi Western.
Crowe doesn't get too much to do amidst the dirt and the rain but glowers effectively as an ex-gunfighter turned preacher struggling to stay off the gun. The shaky Texas accent isn't his fault; Raimi kept changing the back-story of where the character was from. Evidently his larger role got left on the cutting room floor for the U.S. release, particularly his love scene with Sharon Stone, (it's annoying that we in the U.S. can't see this scene on video when the rest of the world can! You need Real Player for when you scroll down for this excerpt.) par for the course for one's first Hollywood movie. The elimination of the love scene does make narrative sense--otherwise it looks like "Cort" only Does The Right Thing in exchange for a blow job.


The Silver Brumby: King of the Wild Stallions brought me back to my pre-adolescent days. As I only have sons I don't know if 10-year-old girls are still into horses the way I was, with horse books and figurines all over my room and My Friend Flicka on the TV.
But in this lovely version of evidently a classic Aussie children's book you also get views of the High Country and Russell Crowe doing his own heavy horseback riding. Crowe made this movie for his niece, but I think even a 10-year-old girl would get a charge out of ALL the great scenery, not just the horses. Looking forward to the next time Crowe makes a western.


The Sum Of Us was a part Crowe fought hard to get, both because he wanted to surprise his Romper Stomper fans with a 180 degree reverse role as a regular gay guy living peaceably with his Dad and because he felt it was a very Aussie role, based on a local play.
Perhaps the Aussie slang kept it from being a gay cult hit on the order of Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert but its messages about family and tolerance are universal, and still relevant, as I was reminded of a news report of an author of a book about fathers and sons who has been travelling the world to get them to hug each other more often --he's been successful everywhere but Australia where he's only been able to get them to shake hands!
Crowe's amiable yet macho banter, familial interplay with co-star, and acting mentor, Jack Thompson, and male-to-male flirting and romance, are quite sweet and realistic.


Romper Stomper made Crowe's reputation to come to Hollywood and it is magnificent. Though I knew it was about Nazi skinheads in Melbourne, I still wasn't prepared for its intelligent, powerful, and kinetic story and style and just how much a skinny, tattooed, skinhead Crowe captures the formidable character and all the screen.
For background on the genres that doubtless influenced this film, and includes interviews with colleagues Jack Thompson and Russell Boyd, cinematographer of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, see Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story Of Ozploitation!


In Proof Crowe is a supporting actor, a sweet guileful dishwasher who becomes a tool between a blind, distrustful friend and a manipulative housekeeper. He is the movie's fulcrum, particularly in one non-verbal scene where everything becomes clear to him and the emotions that pass over his face in a few minutes are startling and revealing.

The Crossing must be the small-town-youth-in-the-Outback genre movie that Gillian Armstrong was rebelling against with My Brilliant Career.
But the tension of the girl's decision-making among the options of resisting marriage to stay in school, the intellectual art student ex-boyfriend wanting her to join him in the city, the rebellious girlfriend headed to the city, her obligations to her family and their farm, and the sheep-shearing bloke who has promised to stay and help his mum is thrown out of wack because the bloke is played so emotionally by Russell Crowe.
It was tough enough on even the most feminist audience that Judy Davis resisted Sam Neill in My Brilliant Career but RC's real-life then-girlfriend-now-wife Danielle Spencer (of the TOFOG song "Danielle") was faced with a hot-blooded, full-hearted characterization of a sexy guy totally in love, dealing too with family alcoholism and loss. RC's intensity quite builds up through the length of the one Anzacs Day portrayed.
The Canadian copy I got through www.videoflicks.com , had poor visual and audio quality, as if copies were made cheaply via EP; though I appreciated getting it at all, it does pop up on cable late at night.


The Efficiency Expert is useful for playing "6 Degrees" because Crowe supports lead Anthony Hopkins and has even less screen time than a very good Toni Collette in a heart-warming ensemble that pre-figures Mystery, Alaska. He's an ambitious, oily salesman within a family business who gets his just desserts by moving ahead in this wicked world. And why the heck was the version I saw on the Independent Film Channel "edited for content"?

Brides of Christ Crowe was in one episode ("Rosemary"?) of this note-worthy TV mini-series, playing Dominic Maloney, a greaser facing going off to the Viet Nam War. I put this in because I recently heard an interview where he emphasized that he made the decision after this not to continue to do episodic television and his performance here shows why -- he is way more intense than everyone else on the screen (including very good Brenda Fricker and young Naomi Watts). Before HBO raised the bar 20 years later, TV just couldn't handle him.

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