Sunday, April 7, 2013

On Russell Crowe

I wish a Most Groovy Birthday today to Best Actor Oscar winner Russell Crowe.  I watched L.A. Confidential again recently.  If you've seen my old demo reels, you know I interviewed L.A. Confidential novelist, James Ellroy.  This was on a live morning news program called Good Day Sunday on Fox 5 television.  During my remote from a book fair in midtown Manhattan.  Mr. Ellroy happened to be present.  I recognized him and approached him to tell us about his new book release...and so that I could ask him about the film version of L.A. Confidential.  Ellroy didn't write the script but he was very pleased with the 1997 screen adaptation that was soon to premiere.  So was I.  If I had to compile a list of my Top 5 Favorite Films of 1997, that 1950s crime thriller would've been in the list.  Russell Crowe, who pretty much grew up in Australia, nailed the role of tough, hot-blooded Officer Bud White of the Los Angeles Police Department.
I dig noir movies, be they in black and white or color.  A way to my heart would be to invite me over on a Saturday night, send out for some food, and put in a DVD of Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, Chinatown or L.A. Confidential.  Kim Basinger starred as the high-class Hollywood prostitute with a Veronica Lake-inspired peek-a-boo hairdo.
Basinger won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her work in this mystery.

The biggest mystery about L.A. Confidential was she the only member of the entire cast to get an Oscar nomination for this film?  I still can't figure that one out.

When I got the invite to attend an afternoon screening of this movie, I practically ran to the screening room.  I wanted to see what Russell Crowe would be puttin' down.  This movie, I feel, really put him in the Hollywood star actor fast lane.  He deserved to be in that lane.  I'd been a fan of his since the early 1990s when American audiences were not familiar with him.  I'd recommended a film of his to a friend to rent and told him, "This guy like a male Meryl Streep.  Very versatile."

Back then, I had a part time job that I absolutely loved.  I was clerk at a video rental store in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.  It was called Video Blitz. Being a clerk there, I could rent movies for free. I had some satisfying nights thanks to renting Russell Crowe.  I happened to rent an Australian film, just for  the heck of it, because the description on the VHS box got me.  Proof was a 1991 comedy/drama about a cranky blind photographer played by Hugh Weaving.  He's celebrated for the way he photographs and he creatively takes pictures to deflect pity due to his disability.  But he has to learn trust.  And he has to deal with his clueless housekeeper who keeps rearranging his furniture.  Helping him learn to trust others is a sweet-faced, sensitive young guy played by Russell Crowe.

He had a screen charisma coupled with definite talent.  Proof was a fun rental.

His performance as a skinhead racist who hates Asians was riveting.  Before American History X starring Edward Norton, there was Romper Stomper.

This drama brought Crowe the Australian Film Institute award for Best Actor of 1992.

He followed that up by riding bareback in a heartwarming coming-of-age love story.
A tender side of his intense but quiet masculinity was seen opposite Charlotte Rampling in Australia's Hammers Over the Anvil in 1993.  This had love, courage and horses.
He followed that up by playing a shy athletic Aussie guy who'd like to meet someone special.  In The Sum of Us, he's a son who lives with his widower father.  Dad wants his grown son to think of him as a buddy.  Just two single buddies looking for romance.

But son/buddy is gay and too flippin' shy.  So dad goes into coach mode and gives him a supportive push. Eventually, his roommate son does meet someone and makes a move.

This is Russell Crowe years before he won the Best Actor Oscar for 2000's Gladiator.

Which brings me to point about talented Mr. Crowe and current entertainment press reporters here in the U.S.  I rented those foreign films of his.  I knew of his work, his Australian work, before L.A. Confidential opened.  One of the highly impressive things about his work in that film was how he mastered an American accent.  He sounded like a cop in L.A.  I grew up in L.A.  I know.  However when I saw young entertainment reporters interview him for TV, rarely did I get a sense that they were aware of his pre-U.S.A. performances.  Crowe had done more research and homework before playing a character than most entertainment reporters had done before interviewing him in TV press junkets.  When he hit big with L. A. Confidential it was right about that time when entertainment press was pulling over into the fashion marketing lane with the question "Who are you wearing?"  The now-typical press question would become the theme for hour-long shows preceding awards telecasts. Aside from fashion questions, new entertainment press reporters seemed to be doing less homework.  That was evident in interviews of Russell Crowe.

He was an award winner before he started getting Oscar nominations.  In fact, when film reviews raved about Edward Norton's skinhead racist performance in American History X, which deserved rave reviews, they should've watched Romper Stomper to find similarities in the 1998 American film and Crowe's 1992 Australian film.  There are similarities in storyline and production design.

To me, the fact that Russell Crowe won an Oscar was no surprise.  It was more a promise fulfilled.  Besides L.A. Confidential, my favorites of his Hollywood films include The Insider, Cinderella Man and Gladiator.  I have another favorite that few have probably seen.  If you like Paul Newman in Slap Shot, try Mystery, Alaska one weekend.  This sports comedy focuses on a small town hockey team.  A bearded Burt Reynolds co-stars.

Any hockey movie with a cameo role that makes me say out loud "Oh, Lord.  It's Little Richard!" has a special place in my heart.  Yes.  Little Richard appears in Mystery, Alaska.  Butch men wearing jock straps on ice...and Little Richard.  Now that's entertainment.

Last year and during Oscar season early this year, I kept reading snarky comments about Russell Crowe's singing in Les Misérables.  Crowe played Javert, the officer obsessed with capturing socially redeemed Jean Valjean.  I saw the movie.  Did I hate his singing?

No!  His singing voice was right for that middle-aged character.  He was not auditioning to be the next American Idol.  Did those folks writing bitchy comments about his singing sit through Lucille Ball as Mame?  Did they hear Julia Roberts in Woody Allen's musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You?  No?  Well, then, shut the hell up.  He was just fine.  And to you entertainment reporters, do your homework.  Just reading a press release and some Wikipedia notes isn't enough -- if your serious about your work.

Happy Birthday, Russell Crowe.  I love your work.  I've loved it for years.

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