Tag Archives: Russell Crowe

TIFF18: Boy Erased

Jared is a good guy. He goes to church with is parents, where his father is the pastor. He plays on the high school basketball team. He’s kind to his girlfriend. But when he gets to collage, the world isn’t quite so good to him in return. He makes fast friends with a fellow runner, but that leads to a surprise sexual tryst one night that the other guy can’t live with. So, he tries to destroy Jared’s life, forcibly outing him to his deeply religious parents.

Jared (Lucas Hedges) respects his parents (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe) so he goes to gay conversion camp as instructed, in the hopes that they can turn him straight.  Conversion therapy is nuts. I mean, it just is, on principle. What kind of whack jobs really believed this would work? And what kind of whack jobs wanted it to? It would almost MV5BMjQ4MDM0MjMxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTkzNzY1NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1555,1000_AL_make a handy queer dating service, as it is probably the biggest concentration of homosexual folk any of these kids has seen before, if it wasn’t so nasty and abusive. That’s what it really boils down to. The head instructor, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), blames your “problem” on some member of your family who made you gay. He wants you to pick someone to focus your anger on. He wants you to learn to “act” “straight” (did you know that the triangle is the straightest shape?). He focuses on behaviour – if you stop playing football, you are no longer a football player. Problem solved.

I mean, this whole thesis feels strangely out of date. Why is Hollywood still trying to convince people that gay is okay? I think societally we’ve moved past this point, except all these scripts that have been languishing for years are only now getting produced, and they’re already obsolete. You have to check out indie cinema to see some truly of-the-moment lgbt themes. But okay, gay conversion therapy is a horror. Of course it is. But the thing that’s great about Boy Erased is that Jared is such a strong character. Everyone and everything in his life is trying to make him feel wrong and ashamed and dirty, but he doesn’t. When he confirms to his parents that he thinks about men, he knows it goes against everything they believe, but it doesn’t seem like he’s internalized that self-hatred. It can’t be easy, in that house particularly, to know that his very being is not only repugnant but blasphemous to the people he loves most. And yet when he consents to the therapy, it’s for them, not for him. We never get the sense that he believes he needs to change. And that’s kind of astonishing to see.

Eventually Jared need to come to terms with disappointing the people he loves. And maybe he’ll need to cut out the people who are adding toxicity to his life. Those are hard choices, but they’re the right ones. This movie is really more about his parents needing to learn that they’re the idiots, and they’re the ones in need of education and re-conditioning. But while Nicole Kidman, in all her church lady big-hair, bejeweled glory, sort of comes around, there’s not a lot of remorse on the part of Russell Crowe’s character. And that’s where the movie falls short. Jared is surprisingly at ease with himself but the movie doesn’t give him nearly enough credit. Director Joel Edgerton, perhaps unsurprisingly, spends more time on his own character, than he does on the ones with real influence in this story.

Boy Erased is a good, competent little movie that will fail to make a big impression.

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Mission Impossible: Make The Mummy Good

As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, The Mummy sucks.

This was supposed to be Universal’s Iron Man, ie, the first movie in a successful franchise. Rather than the Marvel Universe, this one was dubbed the Dark Universe, and Universal NE82E04v4jQpaf_1_1had plans to introduce all kinds of monsters from the vaults, including Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster. With MCU releasing both Guardians of the Galaxy 2 AND Spiderman: Homecoming this summer, and an uncharacteristically strong showing from the DCU with Wonder Woman, Universal was distressed. In the rush to save The Mummy, which they knew was bad because they let Tom Cruise have creative control, they released this photo-shopped cast photo just to douse the flames. It didn’t help.

Yes, Tom Cruise’s over-involvement likely hurt the film. He finds a way to roll all of his most obnoxious roles into this one. Notice that Tom Cruise always plays a “regular guy” who for some reason has superhuman traits. He can run super fast. He can beat up many men. He can hold his breath an unnaturally long time. It feels like Tom Cruise has always wanted to play a super hero, and in this film, he tries his best to turn The Mummy into one.

Another big problem with the movie is the exposition, and I’m not sure we can blame that one on Tom Cruise. A pretty good rule of story-telling is “show, don’t tell” but the dyslexic screenwriters seem to have gotten this backwards. They tell. They tell a lot. They tell some more. Then they bring out Russell Crowe to mansplain some more.

And it likely doesn’t help that exactly 0 people were clamouring for a reboot of this franchise. Like, precisely none. In the wistful, wonderful 90s we were somehow charmed

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Brendan Fraser, reading the reviews for Tom Cruise’s The Mummy reboot

by the Brendan Fraser version for a nanosecond and a half. Apparently. But we’re not so easily amused anymore. If Tom Cruise thinks he’s still got it, the worst thing he can do is stand alongside Chris Pratt, Gal Gadot, and Tom Holland, and pretend to be their peers. He’s amazingly ripped for a 55 year old, but with his shirt off, he’s veering quickly into Iggy Pop territory.

But at the end of the day, the Dark Universe feels trapped in the no man’s land between the MCU and the DCU. It lacks the camp and fun of Marvel, but nor does it have the edge of the DCU. It’s neither. It’s miles from funny (Jake Johnson does his best) but also lacks any real thrills, which seem like a monster-movie must. The Mummy is dead on arrival.

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The Nice Guys

2016’s summer blockbuster season is just getting started but is already getting crowded. With competition between franchises getting fierce, is there really room for a stand-alone action movie from an original screenplay? How about an R-rated comedy that is in no way connected to Judd Apatow?

Apparently not so much, considering its unremarkable performance at the box office so far, despite generally good reviews and two big stars. It can be hard to find the time to see everything that’s out there and I know priority has to go to seeing the latest installment of all your favourite franchises but I am quite sure you won’t regret making some time for The Nice Guys.

A thug-for-hire with a heart of gold (Crowe) and a cynical private eye (Gosling) team up to search for a missing girl who seems to be connected to a murdered porn star and has somehow caught the attention of the justice department. And it all takes place in 1977 Los Angeles with an excellent sense of time and place.

After A Good Year, Crowe’s last attempt at headlining a comedy, it’s a pleasure to see one finally play to his strengths. The Nice Guys uses his tough guy image to its advantage instead of trying to make us forget about it. Paired with the ever-versatile Gosling, they are just as hilarious as writer-director Shane Black’s previous pair of  detectives in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The Nice Guys works because the escalating insanity rarely feels contrived or forced. As a team, Crowe and Gosling are just dysfunctional enough to be funny but competent enough to be almost believable. Best of all, the movie has just enough darkness to it that it’s not easy to forget.

Journalists in Broadcast/Print

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On Monday, I attended the North American premiere of Spotlight, an entertaining and infuriating film about four reporters at the Boston Globe who investigated the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse at the hands of their priests. Seeing the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber walk onstage was exciting enough but the good people at TIFF really brought the house down with the surprise appearance of the real Pulitizer Prize-wnning journalists themselves to, of course, a standing ovation and a speech from Ruffalo about “unsung heroes”.

spotlight

Somehow, as usual, Wandering Through the Shevles seems to know what’s going on in my life because this week we’re paying tribute to these “unsung heroes”.

All the President's Men

All the President’s Men (1976)– Pretty much every movie about investigative journalism that I’ve ever loved has been compared to this movie. “In the tradition of All the Presidents Men”, the TIFF website wrote of Spotlight. It’s been years since I’ve seen this story of the two Washington Post reporters who investigated the Watergate scandal but what has stayed with me is the way that it manages to hold our attention and build suspense from behind a desk. Instead of car chases, we get phone calls, research, and checking sources. It doesn’t hurt that the journalists are impeccably played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

insider_interview

The Insider (1999)– In his best film by far, Michael Mann tells the story of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman’s battle with the brass at CBS to get his interview with a whistleblower against Big Tobacco on the air. Having Al Pacino’s and Russell Crowe’s names above the title wouldn’t be as exciting today but Mann was lucky enough to catch both actors in their prime. Only Crowe managed to earn an Oscar nomination from his performance but the great Christopher Plummer (doing an uncanny Mike Wallace) was somehow overlooked.

zodiac

Zodiac (2007)– This movie scares the shit out of me. The murder scenes are as chilling as they come but David Fincher’s return to the serial killer subgenre isn’t really about the Zodiac killer at all but about a small group of people who became obsessed with finding him and practically had their lives ruined as a restult. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. do some top-notch reporting (even though Gyllenhaal is employeed only as an editorial cartoonist). What’s most impressive about Zodiac is the ammount of information they throw at us without it being impossible to follow and how much of the information we already knew without it being boring.

The Water Diviner

Russell Crowe is my gluten: I’m fucking intolerant. It’s bad for me. It’s not going to sit well, and it sure as heck isn’t gonna end well. So why? Why do I do it? Because his personal life is a little loathsome to me? I mean, if that were my criteria, what movie would possibly be left for me to watch? I can’t possibly avoid them all. I can’t stop watching Gwyneth Paltrow movies just because Gwyneth is too goopy. Okay, bad example. I do avoid Gwyneth Paltrow — I was going to say like the plague, but that’s offensive. I’ve never even met the plague. It’s a horrible cliché for 406968-a93ff59a-79d6-11e4-af6e-cd6ad31dcd05one thing, and it’s also woefully irrelevant. In fact, I do nothing to avoid the plague. I don’t have to. I do, however, have to actively filter Gwyneth Paltrow from my movie going experiences. So if I ever do meet the plague, I suppose I will avoid it like Gwyneth Paltrow.

Anyway, wasn’t I reviewing a movie?

Right. Russell Crowe stars in and directs this little ditty, and I’m calling it a little ditty to trivialize it a bit, even though it’s an emotional movie about the death of your children, and the horrors of war. But it’s also got enough technical problems to make most movie studios embarrassed. You’d think. Certainly someone who’s been in the industry as long as Crowe in should know better.

Even I can admit he gives a pretty good performance as a grief-stricken father – he sent all 3 sons to the battle of Gallipoli (World War 1) and none made it back. His wife can’t cope so he promises her that he’ll bring them back to be buried in consecrated ground in Australia. He’s The-Water-Diviner-Gallery-01not super welcome in Turkey, where resentments are still oozing, but he’s convinced that he can find his sons the same way he finds water – by divining them.

It’s not a complete disaster but it lacks heart, and you sense how powerful this was supposed to be so all you can taste is the failure. I wish someone better had done this movie. The battle scenes felt very low-budget. I could practically see the red price tags and the clearance-rack roots. At the same time, it also provided That Moment in the movie when you stop and take notice. All these young men, mown down but not effectively killed, lie on the ground all night, waiting to die with no one coming for them, alone in their agony. And we just hear the groans and moans of unadulterated pain, and it chilled me like no amount of blood and guts and gore ever could.

10 Magical Movie Moments

In response to A Fistful of Films’ blogathon, 10 Perfect Cinematic Moments, here are Sean’s. Check out Matt’s and Jay’s as well!

The Usual Suspects – “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled…”

As surprised as I was to find out Kaiser Sose’s identity, it was the way the reveal was handled that puts it on this list. This is more than a “gotcha” moment; it is an amazing sequence that was perfectly executed by Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri and Brian Singer, and I am sure a lot of others. The movie would still be good if this sequence was something less, but the scene makes this movie a classic and makes this moment one of my favourites.

Gladiator – Battle of Carthage

This battle is not the film’s climactic one but it is the turning point in this movie. For Russell Crowe’s Maximus, it is his rebirth. For his fellow gladiators, it is when they find their leader. And for Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus, it is when he realizes his days are numbered. It is such a fantastic battle that is so well filmed, has such high stakes, and perfectly captures that underdog victory feeling.

E.T. – Flying Bicycles!

This was the first moment that Jay and I came up with for this list, and at the same time, I think that says a lot. Of all the moments ever filmed, this one comes to mind because it is so magical and unexpected,  because it really shows you that anything is possible and there are no limits at all – if you can dream it, you can do it. That is the essence of movies and that feeling is what we hope to see captured in some new way every time we see something new.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – “I am your father”

I had to put this one on here.  It’s part of my childhood.  This was the moment I realized that things are not just black and white.  There isn’t just good and evil.  It took me a while to understand how this was possible but when I figured it out I loved what it said about the world (though I was a little scared by it too).  By the way, Darth Vader’s life before these movies was much better in my head than it was when put up on-screen in Episodes 1-3.  And it always is, isn’t it?  Some things are better left to your imagination.

Big – The Big Piano

How perfect is this moment?  So perfect that when I went to New York for the first time only a few years ago, seeing this piano made me feel like a big kid.  Exactly the way I like to think Robert Loggia is made to feel by Tom Hanks’ Josh in this scene.  It’s hard to keep touch with that feeling in the abstract, sometimes we need help. This scene gives me that help every time and that is a powerful thing.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Swordfight

This swordfight is not much of a fight at all.  It is totally one-sided and that is what makes it so brilliant.  Indiana Jones’ reaction here sums up the character perfectly – there are no rules, this is not about being a hero, there is just a goal that he is going to accomplish and no one will stand in his way.  Steven Spielberg has such a gift at doing that, at distilling things into a five second wordless sequence that others would have to spend dialogue and time on.  It’s so much better this way.

Rocky – Gonna Fly Now

Rocky has gone through a lot at this point.  He hasn’t had an easy life and he has been trying to become more than a punched-out shell.  Not many believe in him, possibly including a lot in the audience.  This scene is where it turns around, for Rocky anyway.  After this it doesn’t matter what happens, he’s already won.

Singing in the Rain – Singing in the Rain!

For a movie that has been around more than 50 years, it took me a while to get to it.  I shouldn’t have waited that long!  Singing in the Rain is amazing all the way through but the title song is really something special and stands out above all else.  It is simply magical and no one else does it like Gene Kelly does.  Brilliant!

Days of Thunder – “He always goes to the outside”

Cole Trickle plays the long game in this movie.  He spends an hour of screen time setting up Russ Wheeler for this moment, and we all see it coming but Russ himself.  I like that we see it coming.  It makes it that much better when Cole slingshots past Russ, and the best part is that Cole still takes the time to smash Russ into the wall.  Of course he did.  That’s Cole Trickle.

Amelie – Walking with a Blind Man

This one gets me every time.  It is so joyous and so magical with so much energy.  Again it feels like the movie leads up to this point.  The music adds so much and it’s another moment where director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is not constrained by the rules of our world.  If a blind man is happy why shouldn’t he glow?  It just makes sense.