Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Curse on All You Perverts and Maniacs

I've had to tweak my facebook and multiply pages on account of concerns on who can see my posts and pictures, and upon remembering that I've posted some pics here as well I've been constrained to remove them, considering that a blog is pretty much open to anyone. I loved sharing those pictures, but because of all the sick, predatory bastards out there I've had to pull them out. Too bad, really...

Monday, May 03, 2010

On Russell Crowe's Impending Return to Badassery

The first time I ever saw Russell Crowe as a badass was in the 1995 film "Virtuosity" in which he appeared for the first time onscreen opposite Denzel Washington (with whom he would work again many years later on "American Gangster"). He was absolutely feral as a virtual supercriminal created from the personalities of several other dead criminals. That same year, he appeared as another badass, a gunslinger opposite Sharon Stone in "The Quick and the Dead." Apparently, neither of these roles set the multiplexes on fire, nor did Crowe's Oscar-nominated turn as tobacco-industry whistleblower Jeff Wigand in Michael Mann's film "The Insider."

It was only when he played the Roman general turned slave Maximus in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" that audiences really took notice of him. It's really hard to say what it was that made the difference between box-office chump and box-office champ, but from my layman's perspective it would appear that there was something about the gritty, real-life texture of the film, combined with Crowe's everyman-like portrayal as opposed to his highly-stylized characterizations in "Virtuosity" and "The Quick and the Dead" that made him appealing in a way he had not previously been. So appealing, in fact, that apart from the box-office and accolades, he even picked up an Oscar for Best Actor. It couldn't have gotten any better, really.

Crowe rode the success of that film and was able to wow audiences with his versatility by playing the complete antithesis of Maximus in Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind" where he played a man with schizophrenia. Not long thereafter he starred in what was arguably a thinking man's action movie, namely "Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World," but despite that movie's astonishing production value and glowing reception by critics, it fell well-short of blockbuster status, finishing its American theatrical run with just short of $100 million in grosses, as against a reportedly $150 million budget (though it did better in the rest of the world).

And then, of course, came the hotel-clerk debacle which saw Crowe smack a hotel desk clerk with, if I understand the reports correctly, a telephone. Nobody likes a bully, especially one who plays an underdog, and as a result Crowe's and Howards' "Cinderella Man," their second collaboration after the Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind" tanked at the box-office.

I honestly think it can be argued that Crowe hasn't fully recovered from that; his long awaited reunion with Ridley Scott, the 2006 romantic comedy "A Good Year" bombed resoundingly at the box-office, while his 2008 collaboration with Scott and hit-or-miss box-office proposition Leonardo di Caprio "Body of Lies" suffered the same fate as all of the other movies thus far released dealing with the current conflict in the Middle East:it flopped. Crowe's last film, 2009's "State of Play" was similarly ignored. 2008's "3:10 to Yuma" was only a moderate success, even though it co-starred white-hot "The Dark Knight" star Christian Bale, so I really wondered where Crowe's box-office appeal had gone.

The reasonable success of 2007's "American Gangster," Crowe's last movie to make over $100 million, (still the standard of a mainstream film's commercial success) can, I feel, be attributed as much to co-star Denzel Washington's participation as much as to Crowe's. While Mr. Washington has not has quite the headline-grabbing success of Mr. Crowe, his box-office returns over the last several years have been a lot steadier and more consistent. Over at, where they actually average the grosses of the films in which a particular personality (actor, director, producer, etc.) is involved, Washington, despite the fact that none of his films have grossed the returns of Crowe's highest grossers, still edges Crowe in terms of average gross by about three million dollars. This arguably shows that more people attend his movies regularly. Haha, yes, I actually follow these things.

Anyway, when the first promotional still for "Robin Hood" came out with Russell Crowe basically looking like Maximus dressed like Robin Hood, I was a little confused. Having seen Crowe with long hair, and having seen Scott direct "Kingdom of Heaven" a medieval epic starring Orlando Bloom who wore long hair, I would have thought they'd go for a look more befitting the period, i.e. long, scruffy hair for one.

When I saw the first trailers of "Robin Hood" though, and the "from the director of Gladiator" blurb, I understood perfectly what the entire crew was going for: to bring back Maximus, pure and simple. It's a semi-well-known fact that Scott and Crowe had previously tried to move Heaven and Earth to make a sequel to "Gladiator." This obviously wasn't going to be a very easy proposition given that Maximus dies at the end of the movie (and anyone who yells "spoiler" over a ten-year old, very popular movie that won a Best Picture Oscar can go suck an egg). Considering that plans for that fell through, it makes sense to take the sensibilities that would have gone into that sequel and inject it into this film. Everyone stands to benefit, especially Crowe, who never enjoyed quite as much success as he did playing Maximus.

Will it work? Well, it labors under the dreaded "second Friday of May" curse which hobbled a lot of movies just after the launch of the U.S. summer movie season, with expensive flops like "Speed Racer," "Battlefield Earth," and "Poseidon" all having been released on those dates. Not only that, but this film has to follow "Iron Man 2," which, it is projected, could have one of the biggest if not THE biggest opening weekend of all time. However, Universal and company can take solace from knowing that last year's "Star Trek" immediately followed the splashy opening weekend of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and went on to ultimately outgross it. I don't think that'll quite happen here as "Iron Man 2," unlike the mutant prequel, is actually a pretty good movie but maybe the market place can expand, as it did last year, to accommodate two blockbusters within such close proximity.

All box-office prognostications aside, I really hope the film does well because I, for one, genuinely miss Russell Crowe the badass. I hope Scott, et al don't actually kill off Robin Hood at the end of the film so we don't have to wait so long to see the badass again.