27 September 2007

On Why I Simply Can't Stand Russell Crowe

After years of near-relentless pursuing by a certain enamored friend who shall remain nameless, I finally watched 'A Beautiful Mind' tonight. Said friend had promised me that this movie would make me into a Russell Crowe fan, after years of being (seemingly) the only person in America who wasn't absolutely in love with 'Gladiator.'

Friend, it didn't work.

But I think it got me a step closer to pinning down why I'm not a fan of the guy. I don't deny that he's talented or skilled in his craft, but he lacks charisma. In his photographs or television appearances on talk shows, he seems to have plenty; indeed, give me a spread of him in InStyle magazine, and I can't tear my eyes away. But it fails to appear on screen. He can't wrap me into his characters at all. I think that's why 'Master and Commander' was literally painful to watch, why 'Gladiator' is little better than modest entertainment on a rainy afternoon, and why 'L.A. Confidential' is only good to watch on a Saturday night when I'm too lazy to look for anything better. Crowe can get your attention in spots, but he's simply not charismatic enough to hold it throughout the movie.

'L.A. Confidential' is such a difficult film to watch. Guy Pierce and Crowe battle back and forth not just in literal ways for so much of the film, but also in a deeper context. Who is the better actor? Who do you want to care more about? Who do you end up caring more about, in spite of what you may want? Pierce is probably at his best, and Crowe's performance is right about on par with his other work, but still you feel so torn between the two of them that you can't figure out which you want to see more of. It's annoying. And it's distracting.

I don't deny that Crowe understands his characters and portrays them with an almost painful precision. What is more difficult to bear is that he fails to wrap you into the character's story. John Nash is a singular man; so why, when I'm watching a film about him when the lead actor is doing such an excellent job, can I not stop thinking about my laundry?

It's simple. Crowe spends so much of his time becoming his characters, that he fails to take you along for the ride. He leaves you in the dust, and you feel at once impressed by his excellent portrayal and insulted that he doesn't care enough to get you as interested in the character as he is. It's like being the outsider in an inside joke; the joke is between Crowe and the character of the moment, and the outsider is everyone else.

Furthermore, as he goes on with his career, his performances become more and more overstated. He was just as good of an actor in 'L.A. Confidential' or 'The Insider' as he was in 'Gladiator' or 'A Beautiful Mind', but it's harder for him to check himself at the door. I don't see John Nash when I watch 'A Beautiful Mind', I see Russell Crowe playing John Nash. And frankly, I get less and less interested in Russell Crowe (let alone Russell Crowe playing John Nash) as the film goes on.

The moral of the story: even Lassie can get an audience to care. Acting abilities aren't everything, Mr. Crowe. Just ask Ashton Kutcher.

13 September 2007

Guardare La Bella Luna

In a moment of extremely strange symmetry, I'm watching 'Moonstruck' on TV tonight.

Why is there symmetry, you ask?

Well, I'm in Syracuse, which was actually the first place I ever watched 'Moonstruck.' Many :-/ years ago, I came to Syracuse with my mom. We were staying at my mom's old roommate's parent's (you still with me?) house here in Syracuse, and after dinner we were watching the news or something equally mundane, and at a time when all the grown-ups were going to bed, I saw a commercial for 'Moonstruck' coming up next. Since I was crashing on the couch anyway, I stayed up and watched it.

I feel lucky to remember that event. It's such an understated movie, understated in almost every way: scenery, acting, costumes (definitely), and of course, music, with Puccini's masterpiece 'Musetta's Waltz' dominating the background (except for a forgettable soft jazz/easy listening moment while Loretta's dressing for the opera, but even this is suited to the situation.) I grew up in a house where many of the old classics were watched so regularly that by the time I was old enough to remember seeing them, I'd watched them several times already. This is one of the few movies where I can distinctly recall the first time I saw it, remember the circumstances and events surrounding that first viewing, and can appreciate the differences between then and now, both in my personal life and in the world around me.

I watched this movie in one of the most optimal circumstances possible: dark room, fairly good-sized screen (for better detail), alone, unwinding from a big day and desirous to focus on anything but reality. The same circumstances are more or less present now, and my views and opinions about the film haven't particularly changed. But I don't actually find myself thinking about the film as I watch it. I think more about how things have changed since the last time I saw it. I've changed; the world has changed.

It's interesting how a piece of art - a portrait, a photograph, a film - that doesn't really change. It stays the same. The Trade Center towers will always be standing in 'Moonstruck,' no matter what happens to them away from the celluloid print.

But because of that image, the film makes a statement about itself that was never meant to be there. One simple shot, meant to be glamorous and exciting, now has a different significance that the film makers never intended. And because of it, audiences think of it differently.

Just some random thoughts for a random evening.

11 September 2007

Human Nature

I wonder if there is any such thing as human nature. In my experience, an action, deed or thought that will seem quite natural to one person will seem equally unnatural to another. Where one would speak, another would remain silence. Where one would run, another would fight. Where one would offer kindness and hospitality in any available form, another would turn a cold shoulder.

It's not uncommon to hear, "it's human nature to do this or that," but the more I see of people, the more I am convinced that there is no human nature, only the nature of being a human: needing food, drink, air, rest, et cetera. For every traumatic or life-shaping event you've ever experienced, another has experienced only a void in that area.

You can always tell when I've been doing my annual reading of 'David Copperfield' because I start to wonder things like this. I can't help it. There's such a variety of characters in that book, so many people who look at the same thing and come up with their own individual opinions and conclusions about it, so many stark differences between the warmth of Agnes Wickfield and the oozy sliminess of Uriah Heep, that I start to wonder whether humans, such as they are, have any real common ground with each other at all. I look at the people I know in my life and see the contrasts between them instead of the similarities.

08 September 2007

A Panoptic, Impartial View, Pt. 1


1. permitting the viewing of all parts or elements.
2. considering all parts or elements; all inclusive.


not partial or biased; fair; just.
-Random House Dictionary

Is it ever possible to have a panoptic, impartial view of anything? How can one's view include the entire range of the human experience, and still remain impartial? The tagline of the New York Times reads, "All the news that's fit to print." But what does that say about the news that's not fit to print? And who is it who judges what's fit and what's unfit? Even at one of the most respected and widely-read newspapers on the planet, it's possible to cast aspersions on the universality of their coverage. For every story that's in the paper, one wonders how many stories (and what kind of stories) didn't make it in, and why.

One's life is invariably shaped by background, access, education, memory, emotion, achievement, and that most fickle of all experiences, taste. As Shakespeare wrote,

doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.

So it remains with our imperfect minds and bodies. Who can say why one person loves a thing - a movie, a certain dish, a song, et cetera - and another cannot bear even the mention of it?

A friend recommended the film Ratatouille for the panoramic views of the Parisian skyline, but what is most memorable is Anton Ego, a merciless food critic voiced by Peter O'Toole, who said this about food: "I don't like food, I love it. If I don't love it, I don't swallow." Ego had already slammed the restaurant with a negative review once during the course of the film, and so with the pressure properly applied, the chef prepares the unglamorous Niçoise vegetable soup for which the film is named. Another chef exclaims in surprise, "It's a peasant dish!" Little could either know that one bite of this soup would take the critic far away from the chic French restaurant and puts him back in his grandmother's simple country kitchen as a child, remembering how she made him the same recipe when he was in tears over a broken toy. This unaffected "peasant dish" impressed the critic more than all the canard a l'orange and poulet Provençal in the world. Hardly what you'd call an "impartial" view, but it's a valid one nonetheless.

The panoptic, impartial view may be an unrealistic expectation, but like so many things in life, it may be the most pursuit of it that's most important. Once the pursuit of it has been abandoned, every piece of news or information that you ingest would have the same factual accuracy and accountability as the Weekly World News or Fox News. That's why there are elementary rules in the press such as "don't plagiarize," "don't fabricate," et cetera. Outside the press room, these rules are condensed even further: "don't lie."

It's a commandment. Look it up.

I can't anticipate that this blog will cover everything that might be desired or expected of it. And while I'd love to promise that it will live up to it's name, I can't realistically believe that goal to be realized, either. But, as in other areas of life, I'll certainly try.