Russell Crowe

Man of Steel (2013, Zack Snyder)

Man of Steel is good. It’s really good. Not only is it really good, I like it enough for a 500 word special.

There’s always a moment in a good action movie when it eventually runs out of steam and one has to give it some thought. There’s a breather scene, in other words. For Man of Steel, director Snyder uses flashbacks to Kevin Costner (as Superman’s dad) for the breather scenes and they aren’t breathers. They’re these intensely emotional scenes in between the action, which often have intense emotions too.

The present action of the film takes place over a few days, maybe a week. David S. Goyer’s script never gets exact–he’s dealing with alien spacecraft and a man who can fly so speeding between two locations isn’t a problem–but it never feels rushed. Snyder gets in a few nice little human moments for Superman Henry Cavill, who’s usually busy flying around the planet.

Snyder and Goyer take a moderately realistic approach to a super-powered alien suddenly flying around the globe. They seem to err on the side of excess–why would anyone get so excited about a guy in a red cape when there are alien spaceships too–but they know how to manage it. Snyder’s not original in his approach (he acknowledges his sources in a cute way) but he applies them well.

Snyder’s assured direction would be the star of Man of Steel if he weren’t consciously putting Cavill front and center. Michael Shannon gets a lot to do and he’s great; he and Cavill play wonderfully off each other. There’s a lot of nice subtext in their scenes. Shannon always gives the impression he’s holding back a little, making a well-timed outburst all the more effective.

As Lois Lane, Amy Adams does fine. She has surprisingly little to do, even though she’s undeniably integral. She’s not the star and Snyder and Goyer’s economy doesn’t allow for her to have much to herself.

Costner and Diane Lane are both excellent as Cavill’s adoptive parents. Snyder gets away with implying a lot about their relationship; the music from Hans Zimmer, Amir Mokri’s photography and David Brenner’s editing are essential to those implications. Snyder doesn’t exactly require a lot from his audience, but he’s definitely setting certain bars higher than others. The fight scenes, while technically magnificent, are still rather simple. The character stuff… he veers towards the sublime.

And there’s an even mix of character and action, even for the supporting cast (so when they forget someone, it’s unfortunately noticeable).

Russell Crowe’s good in the Brando role, surprisingly so, even if he’s around a little much. Not around enough is Ayelet Zurer as Cavill’s birth mother. She’s fantastic in her scenes. Antje Traue doesn’t have enough to do, but Goyer still takes the time to give her a whole arc with Christopher Meloni’s military guy.

Man of Steel can’t be much better. Goyer, Snyder and Cavill (and Zimmer) hit all the right notes.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder and Emma Thomas; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Henry Cavill (Clark Kent), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Ayelet Zurer (Lara Lor-Van), Antje Traue (Faora-Ul), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Nathan Hardy), Harry Lennix (General Swanwick), Richard Schiff (Dr. Emil Hamilton), Michael Kelly (Steve Lombard) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Les Misérables (2012, Tom Hooper)

Thank goodness for Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen… otherwise, someone might confuse Russell Crowe’s performance as the most inept in Les Misérables. Actually, Crowe’s quite a bit better than Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried too. Redmayne just can’t sing–neither can Crowe, but it doesn’t impair his acting too much–and Seyfried’s just misused. Director Hooper–possibly sticking to the original stage production–never bothers to establish her relationship with adoptive father Hugh Jackman. As a result, Seyfried never resonates.

As for Jackman, he’s good but the film takes place around him. It works when it’s Anne Hathaway, who’s absolutely amazing in the film and just one of her songs is worth sitting through the entire boring picture, but flops when it’s Redmayne. Samantha Barks is part of a love triangle with Redmayne and Seyfried and she’s not bad. She can’t carry the second half of the film though.

What’s so inexplicable about Les Misérables is the bad casting. Why anyone put Redmayne in it opposite someone who can obviously sing and act–Aaron Tveit–and then give Redmayne the bigger role is (artistically speaking) beyond me. Hooper mollycoddles about half the cast, which doesn’t do the film any favors.

Of course, Hooper doesn’t do it many favors himself. He can’t direct actors (child actor Daniel Huttlestone is atrocious) and he can’t direct the CG sequences either. The film looks absurdly silly at times, especially with Danny Cohen’s truly incompetent photography.

Hathaway and Jackman deserve a better production.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Hooper; screenplay by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, based on the musical by Boublil and Schönberg and the novel by Victor Hugo; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Chris Dickens and Melanie Oliver; music by Schönberg, lyrics by Kretzmer; production designer, Eve Stewart; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Éponine), Aaron Tveit (Enjolras), Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thénardier), Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier), Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (Young Cosette).


3:10 to Yuma (2007, James Mangold)

Another remake where they credit the original screenwriter as a contributing writer in order not to call it a remake.

Halsted Welles wrote the original 3:10 to Yuma’s screenplay… not sure why Mangold and the producers thought Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, writers of some vapid action movies, would match him.

I assume Brandt and Haas added the stuff where Logan Lerman (as Christian Bale’s kid, who tails along while Bale takes prisoner Russell Crowe to catch a prison train) is horrified to see how Chinese laborers were treated.

Yuma’s actually—with the exception of Marco Beltrami’s awful score—rather well-produced. Mangold composes the Panavision frame well. It’s not a significant film, but a competent one.

With the exception of the acting, of course. There’re so many people around Bale and Crowe, it barely feels like the two are supposed to be acting off each other. Worse, Bale’s terrible. The film opens with Lerman acting circles around him.

Mangold casts about half the film well and the other half awful. Gretchen Mol is Bale’s wife (and the only time he’s the better actor is in their scenes together). Peter Fonda’s weak, so’s Kevin Durand. However, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk and Vinessa Shaw are all strong. Mangold’s got a surprise actor at one point and it livens things up. Yuma’s boring and not in a good way. Without a dynamic performance to match Crowe’s, it drags.

Well, Ben Foster’s pretty dynamic… but he’s not opposite Crowe.

It’s nearly decent.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, based on a short story by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Phedon Papamichael; edited by Michael McCusker; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Andrew Menzies; produced by Cathy Konrad; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Russell Crowe (Ben Wade), Christian Bale (Dan Evans), Ben Foster (Charlie Prince), Dallas Roberts (Grayson Butterfield), Peter Fonda (Byron McElroy), Gretchen Mol (Alice Evans), Alan Tudyk (Doc Potter), Kevin Durand (Tucker), Vinessa Shaw (Emma Nelson) and Logan Lerman (William Evans).


Virtuosity (1995, Brett Leonard)

Virtuosity, being from the 1990s, is from the era when both Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington didn’t only appear in films directed by the Brothers Scott and Kelly Lynch was still in movies getting theatrical releases. It’s an early CG movie, with lots of computer references and set in the “near future.” It’s incredibly solid, however, for what it is–an action thriller.

Barely anything happens in the film not related to the main plot. There’s no romance between Washington and Lynch–partially, I’m sure, because of Washington’s boycott on interracial romances but also because there’s just no time for it. The movie’s present action is something like forty hours. Enough time to introduce conflict then go through a lot of action to resolve it.

While Washington’s great in the film, it’s a sturdy, leading man great. He’s barely charming here, as Virtuosity is well into his asexual film career (was it Gene Siskel who said he was the only guy who could play James Bond?). Instead it’s Crowe who gets to have all the fun, playing a psychotic virtual reality serial killer or something. It’s mostly about him just being crazy and good at it. It’s maybe not daring, but a lot more than what his acting has become.

Leonard’s a fine director. He can compose shots. It’s the 1990s, there’s a Peter Gabriel song over the end credits.

Unfortunately, the principal supporting cast member–Stephen Spinella–is beyond terrible. Amongst the sturdy character actors, he seriously hinders Virtuosity.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brett Leonard; written by Eric Bernt; director of photography, Gale Tattersall; edited by B.J. Sears and Rob Kobrin; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Nilo Rodis-Jamero; produced by Gary Lucchesi; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Lt. Parker Barnes), Kelly Lynch (Madison Carter), Russell Crowe (SID 6.7), Stephen Spinella (Lindenmeyer), William Forsythe (William Cochran), Louise Fletcher (Elizabeth Deane), William Fichtner (Wallace), Costas Mandylor (John Donovan) and Kevin J. O’Connor (Clyde Reilly).


State of Play (2009, Kevin Macdonald)

Who has the least personality when it comes to State of Play? Director Kevin Macdonald? He shoots the most boring Panavision-sized frame I think I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a Brett Ratner movie from start to finish, but… Macdonald’s boring. He’s not bad, he’s just not any good at all. The lack of a distinctive screenwriter is also a problem–Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray are all hacks. I mean, they’re–at times–fine hacks, but none of them is a distinctive screenwriter. They’re the kind of guys Carrie Fisher comes in to fix up and, watching State of Play, one can’t help but think she rewrote the scenes between Russell Crowe and Robin Wright.

But it’s not just the behind-the-camera talent… no one in front of the camera has any personality either. I mean, Helen Mirren does because she occasionally swears with her British accent. It’s The Queen swearing; laugh. And the audience does laugh, because it’s why she’s swearing. For comic relief. State of Play is a newspaper drama in the post-newspaper age, which means lots of derogatory blog comments. But, you know what? It doesn’t provide a useful defense of printed media. There’s nothing, after all the film’s emphasis on Crowe as the traditional reporter and sidekick Rachel McAdams as the blogger, to show McAdams’s blog couldn’t have done all the narrative’s whistle-blowing.

McAdams and Crowe are both fine. Really, they’re fine. I mean, they have all the personality of a “Tonight Show” guest and it’s like the film’s producers didn’t understand Crowe is an actor, not a screen presence, so casting him in a lousy role, one needing a presence, was a bad idea. McAdams is the same situation. She has no character and no personality. For the majority of the film, State of Play relies on Mirren for relief. Sometimes, it’s Wright. She’s been doing these crappy wife roles for ten years, so it’s no surprise she doesn’t break a sweat doing another one, even one where she’s supposedly married to Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck is, at the time of this film’s release, thirty-seven years old. Russell Crowe is forty-five. Robin Wright is forty-three. Crowe and Wright look fine together. State of Play puts Affleck in a bunch of aging make-up. He looks silly. It’s unbelievable he, Crowe and Wright went to college together. It’s unbelievable he and Crowe ever knew each other before the film’s present action. Affleck and Wright are both solid enough to make their marriage, however silly-looking thanks to Affleck’s make-up, work.

Affleck gives the film’s second best performance, after Mirren. Then, I guess, Wright. Then everyone else. They really don’t matter. Andy Garcia would have been far superior in the Crowe role. Anyone with some kind of non-character-based screen presence. Russell Crowe’s an actor, not a matinee star. State of Play needed a matinee star.

Originally, it was going to be Brad Pitt in the Crowe role and Edward Norton in the Affleck role. With them, the film would have at least made sense. It wouldn’t have been good unless Macdonald was gone and the script got a rewrite from a real writer.

Wait, I forgot about Jason Bateman. He gave the film’s best performance. He was fantastic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on the television series by Paul Abbott; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Justine Wright; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Andrew Hauptman, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Rep. George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Det. Donald Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz) and Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin).


Rough Magic (1995, Clare Peploe)

Rough Magic isn’t a bad idea, it’s just poorly plotted. Most of the movie takes place in Mexico, where it’s mildly engaging and generally amusing (except when Paul Rodriguez shows up to annoy and he is incredibly annoying). Notice all the qualifiers? The movie starts strong and even gives the impression of ending strong (it doesn’t). For example, D.W. Moffett’s excellent in period pieces and most of his work is in the first fifteen minutes and the last fifteen minutes. Clare Peploe’s direction is good overall, but during the first act, it’s much better than the rest of the film.

I had assumed, given how disjointed the narrative gets–it becomes about Russell Crowe (who’s mediocre with a shifty accent and is actually better when he’s the protagonist) instead of Bridget Fonda–the novel was something obscure and maybe good, a thought I rarely have when watching an adaptation. However, the novel’s some pulp from the early 1940s, so I doubt it’s a literary masterwork and I’m wondering how much of the script is new. I’m assuming most, given how particular the setting is to the story, but I suppose it’s possible the big disconnect (from Mexico back to Los Angeles) did come from the novel. Because anyone working on the script should have seen right away it was off.

Bridget Fonda’s great, though she and Crowe don’t have much chemistry for much of the film, and she has some great scenes. Richard Schiff, Andy Romano, Kenneth Mars, Jim Broadbent–very strong supporting cast.

It’s too bad it doesn’t work out, but it becomes clear once the story moves to Mexico it isn’t going to… and then it alternates between amusing and trying, with the Rodriguez scenes something terrible.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Clare Peploe; screenplay by Robert Mundi, William Brookfield and Peploe, based on a novel by James Hadley Chase; director of photography, John J. Campbell; edited by Suzanne Fenn; music by Richard Hartley; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Declan Baldwin and Laurie Parker; released by Goldwyn Films Inc.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Myra), Russell Crowe (Alex Ross), Jim Broadbent (Doc Ansell), D.W. Moffett (Cliff Wyatt), Kenneth Mars (Ivan the Terrific), Paul Rodriguez (Diego), Andy Romano (Clayton), Richard Schiff (Wiggins) and Euva Anderson (Tojola).


L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)

I haven’t seen L.A. Confidential since 1998 or so, whenever the laserdisc came out. Before the film came out–I saw it in the theaters of course, being a big Russell Crowe fan back then–I read James Ellroy’s book. So, obviously, the film cuts a lot and I don’t remember the book very well, except that it took place over a long period of time. I don’t think it was that good, but you did get to know the characters… You don’t in L.A. Confidential: The Movie. Instead, you get to know and care when the filmmakers tell you to care. It’s Oscar-bait. As I started watching it, I thought it would be okay Oscar-bait, but it really isn’t. For a few reasons.

First, since I’ll be on and on about it if I don’t get it out of the way: Kim Basinger. 1) She does not look like Veronica Lake, she does not resemble Veronica Lake, never in a million years would I think she does. According to IMDb, Izabella Scorupco turned down the role and she owes me dinner for the thirty minutes or so of Basinger “acting” I just had to endure. 2) Kim Basinger is awful. The number of films, probably starting with Batman, that she has hurt or ruined with her aforementioned “acting” probably equals the number of films she has “acted” in. I sort of remember once saying Nine 1/2 Weeks was her only reasonable acting job. Since I haven’t seen it in a long time, I won’t make such a claim. However, after seeing her “talents” on display in L.A. Confidential, I doubt I’d be able to reinforce said claim.

There: a paragraph for Basinger’s bad acting. Does Guy Pearce get a whole paragraph? Maybe. He is not good. His character needs to be good. The audience needs to identify with him, not against him. We aren’t suppose to think cops beating the shit out of and murdering innocent (or misdemeanor-committing) people is okay. Does that mean Pearce is actually so good that I’m just upset because he was so good–he was supposed to appear unlikable, correct? No, he was terrible. The scenes between him and Basinger at the end were awful. Not to mention how terrible their actual sex scene was. That was a special kind of awful. Made me want to stick pencils in my ears to break the drums.

However–and I’m breaking up the crap with some pearls–Russell Crowe is good. He has very little do. Most of his scenes are with Basinger and so he had no one to work with, but he still shines through. His character is decent and deserving of a better film. However, L.A. Confidential has got to be one of Kevin Spacey’s best performances. Since Spacey has turned into such an embarrassing Oscar-whore (sort of like Crowe), I’d forgotten how good he could be. If L.A. Confidential had been about Spacey’s redemption… Oh, one can only dream. The film also has David Straithairn and underuses him, which is an incredible affront to the species.

No, the problem with the film, why it doesn’t achieve or overcome the awful acting, is the writing. Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson kept a couple parts of the book (I think, the Nite Owl murders seem to be how I remember), tossed the rest, but kept scenes from the book and lines of dialogue. Scenes and lines that mean nothing without the rest of the book. Or they didn’t keep the rhyming parts. So, the film deceives. In the middle, until about the 90 minute mark, it still seems like something good could come of all this stuff. A period cop movie called The Nite Owl Murders could have been amazing, but this film isn’t a cop movie. It’s not noir or neo-noir or anything like that. It’s Oscar-bait and, as Oscar-bait goes, I suppose it’s on par for 1997. If I remember correctly, 1997 was actually a good year, it was just that a bunch of shit was popular… as it goes. Gattaca, for instance, was from 1997. Comparing the two films is an incredible insult to Gattaca and possibly the whole idea of art in general.

I watched the DVD (my laserdisc is probably long gone–I rented the DVD for a buck and quarter and the laser cost $32 from Ken Crane’s). There are some audio looping problems, but I don’t think it’s the disc, because I noticed the mouths didn’t match the dialogue. Maybe there’s a good version of it out there somewhere, in the Warner vaults or something, but I really doubt it….

One last thing about 1997. I just saw that it’s the year Air Force One came out. I’ve never pinpointed, specifically, the downfall of American popular cinema. I can tell you when it was good, when it was better than it is now, and when everything was shit. But is there a turning point? I think it might be Air Force One–you had the previously reliable Harrison Ford in a complete piece of garbage. Petersen was already done, so I’m not putting anything on him, so I think I’ll hang it all on Ford whoring himself for money–in Air Force One. With a few blips–and pretty insignificant ones–his career has been downhill from that specific film. So it’s all his fault. I guess. None of this rant had anything to do with L.A. Confidential….

Okay, I’m done. (Damn Izabella Scorupco. Somebody ought to make her sit down and watch Basinger epic The Real McCoy over and over again. Except cut out all the Val Kilmer parts, because he was funny).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Curtis Hanson; written by Brian Helgeland and Hanson, based on the novel by James Ellroy; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Peter Honess; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arnon Milchan, Hanson and Michael Nathanson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), Russell Crowe (Bud White), Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), James Cromwell (Capt. Dudley Smith), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), David Strathairn (Pierce Morehouse Patchett), Danny DeVito (Sid Hudgens), Graham Beckel (Dick Stensland), Paul Guilfoyle (Mickey Cohen), Ron Rifkin (Dist. Atty. Ellis Loew), Matt McCoy (Brett Chase) and Paolo Seganti (Johnny Stompanato).


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