Tag Archives: Russell Crowe

In Need of Some Restraint

The Pope’s Exorcist

by Hope Madden

Fair warning: I do tend to get in the weeds with these Catholic horror movies.

So, The Pope’s Exorcist.

Russell Crowe plays Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who was an honest to God exorcist based in the Vatican. He founded the International Association of Exorcists. For real, not in this movie. In this movie, he gets called to Spain to help an expat American family whose son is possessed.

The Pope’s Exorcist is the third possession film Michael Petroni has penned. Is that good news? He also wrote The Secret Lives of Alter Boys, the TV series Messiah, and The Chronicles of Naria: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (How is that relevant, you say? Aslan is lion Jesus. FYI.) Is the point that he knows his stuff? Or that most of those scripts aren’t very good?

Co-writer Evan Spilotopoulos has also written lukewarm Catholic horror (The Unholy). What you can expect from their script (also co-written by R. Dean McCreary in his first holy horror) is very little that’s truly original.

This is where Crowe comes in.

Crowe is great. He’s funny, clever, looks amazing on his little Vespa. Alex Essoe as the possessed boy’s mother Julia is stiff, her acting even less believable when she sits across the table from Crowe, who’s enjoying every moment of his own performance. As will you.

Franco Nero plays the pope. This marks the second time Nero has played the pope, which is hilarious to me. Anyway, that’s fun. And Ralph Ineson (The VVitch) is the voice of the demon, which is the most authentic casting ever.

The Pope’s Exorcist directly mentions that the Catholic church has been the cause of two of the greatest and longest lasting sources of human misery in history: the Inquisition and the history of rampant, institutional sexual abuse. Credit for that. The film’s resolution can’t be discussed because of spoilers, but battling your demons has rarely felt less feminist.

The Pope’s Exorcist doesn’t hold a candle to the diabolical military fun of director Julius Avery’s Overlord. There are too few surprises, the FX are so-so at best, and the outcome is never really in question. Plus, it treads too heavily on the popularity of The Conjuring’s universe of “this must be true because some Catholic person wrote it down, so let’s create a Holy Water franchise.”

Is it better than Petroni’s 2011 dumpster fire, The Rite? It is. Is it another movie that says men throughout the history of Catholicism have done evil things to the powerless around them, but the only way to correct this is to believe other men in the Catholic church? It is.

But Crowe is having a blast, and it’s infectious.

Rage Inside a Machine


by George Wolf

I remember watching that classic TV movie Duel with my mom in the early 70s. It was tense and exciting (a young Spielberg directed!), but the thing that most unnerved Mom was the fact that…SPOILER ALERT… you never find out why that truck driver was terrorizing a frazzled Dennis Weaver.

Unhinged offers no such ambiguity. Russell Crowe is just really pissed off.

Well, the unnamed driver Crowe plays is, anyway. The Man has lost his wife, and his job, and now he’s in traffic getting beeped at, passed and gestured to by a woman in a big hurry.

The Man catches up, rolls down the window and calmly explains civility to young Kyle in the back seat (Gabriel Bateman from Lights Out and the Child’s Play reboot) while asking Rachel in the front for an apology. She declines, so The Man vows to show Rachel (Slow West’s Caren Pistorius) what a bad day really is.

Things get nasty in a hurry. And though the script from Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye, Disturbia) often flirts with ridiculous, it offers more clever construction that you might expect. The premise certainly recalls Falling Down, but Ellsworth isn’t interested in darkly comic social commentary. This is an overt explosion of murderous male rage, one that also manages – almost as an afterthought – to deliver a blunt cautionary tale about smart phone addiction as effective as any we’ve seen on film.

Director Derrick Borte (The Joneses) keeps the pace moving nicely with tension and bursts of brutality, which is perfectly fine for a disposable thriller. What’s even better, he knows what the real point of all this is.

Russell on a rampage. That’s it.

You want some of that? Crowe and Unhinged deliver it, with all the when’s, why’s, and how’s right up in your face.

You know, so Mom won’t be left hanging.

Kelly Green

True History of the Kelly Gang

by George Wolf

Planting its flag unapologetically at the corner of accuracy and myth, The True History of the Kelly Gang reintroduces a legendary 1870s folk hero through consistently bold and compelling strokes.

His death imminent, Australian outlaw Ned Kelly (1917‘s George MacKay in another impressive turn) is writing a letter to the daughter he will most likely never see. With a promise to “burn if I speak false,” Kelly wants his child to separate fact from fiction in the family history.

It’s an audacious, somewhat cheeky opening from director Justin Kurzel, considering that the film itself is based on a historical novel. Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant – the duo behind the true crime shocker The Snowtown Murders nine years ago – go bigger this time, trading spare intimacy for a tableau of grand visual and narrative ideas.

After a heroic act in childhood, Ned gets the chance at a proper education. That offer is spurned by his angry and defiant mother (Essie Davis, terrific), who instead passes Ned off to notorious Aussie bushranger Harry Power (Russel Crowe in a sterling cameo) for an intro into the outlaw life.

With a direct nod to the moment when “the myth is more profitable than the man,” Kurzel spins an irresistible yarn that manages to balance the worship of its hero with some condemnation for his sins. And as the road to Kelly’s guns-blazing capture unfurls, the film incorporates elements of both a tense crime thriller and a Nightingale-esqe reminder of savage colonialism.

Does the legend of Ned Kelly owe more to history or myth? Hero or murderer? True History…. aims higher than one word answers, with storytelling that often soars before landing.

Moral Inventory

Boy Erased

by George Wolf

I don’t know if Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet are up on tennis history, but lately they’ve had a nice little Borg/McEnroe thing going. Close in both age and film credits, the last few years have seen them serve and volley with increasingly impressive performances.

Just weeks after Chalamet’s astounding turn in Beautiful Boy, Hedges joins him as a likely Oscar nominee with an intensely intimate performance in Boy Erased, a touching and vital account of one young man’s trip through “conversion therapy.”

Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, it’s a film that also solidifies Joel Edgerton’s skills as both an actor and filmmaker, one able to balance a complicated, troubling subject with grace and understanding.

Hedges channels Conley as Jared Eamons, an Arkansas high school senior struggling with his sexual identity. Already in the Bible Belt, Jared feels even more pressure to conform from his father’s (a terrific Russel Crowe) status as a pastor and soon-to-be ordained minister in the local Baptist church. Once Jared is forced to admit his feelings for men, church elders recommend a conversion therapy program led by Mr. Sykes (Edgerton).

Amid flashbacks to Jared’s path toward confessing his feelings, Hedges makes all the confusion feel heart-breakingly real. Jared, facing a strictly conservative community and the chance his parents may disown him, enters The Refuge Program with a sincere commitment to become the person everyone else wants him to be. There is a quiet war stirring in Jared as he takes his “moral inventory”, and Hedges is able to make him a sympathetic soul screaming for release via a restrained, beautifully insightful turn.

Edgerton, who also wrote the screenplay, shows us Jared’s eyes being opened through gradual episodes that resist any urge to demonize. Small choices, such as the way he frames a prayer circle at the dinner table or one wonderful scene between Jared and his family doctor (the always welcome Cherry Jones) show Edgerton’s respect for the fragility of reminding us that beyond the rhetoric of hot button issues are real lives being lived.

Jared’s father and mother (Nicole Kidman, also award-worthy) are not portrayed as villains, but rather as parents making choices based on the information they had at the time. The ways that both the information and the parents change acknowledges the religion/science debate without soapboxes, keeping the film’s viewpoint wisely intimate.

It is precisely this intimacy that fuels the film’s resonance, as one family’s story becomes a vessel for greater understanding. That’s no small achievement, and Boy Erased is no small triumph.

Bad Wrap

The Mummy

by Hope Madden

Remember the first time you saw the trailer for the new Tom Cruise flick The Mummy, and you thought, “My God, that looks awful”?

Dude, you were so right.

Part Tomb Raider, part Suicide Squad – with huge bits stolen whole cloth from the immeasurably superior An American Werewolf in LondonThe Mummy lacks even a solid thirty seconds of fresh thought. It is as dusty and lifeless as its namesake.

But, because it’s some sort of artistic imperative that every movie we see for the next decade is planned out in huge corporate clusters – I mean cinematic universes – the Universal monsters are being revived. Aging leading men will be tapped for butts-in-seats duties as Dark Universe tries to create a series of nostalgic family(ish) fare neutered beyond recognition with CGI.

First up, Cruise.

A prologue riddled with plot holes leads to one wildly offensive piece of cultural flippancy, as Cruise Indiana Joneses his way into Iraqi insurgent territory in search of unnamed treasure.

He finds an Egyptian sarcophagus. In Iraq. It’s just one geographic discrepancy mentioned but never clearly explained. Part and parcel of a script-by-committee that hopes you’ll overlook its incessant nonsense.

Cruise, as Nick Morton, is Cruise – all superficial charm and charisma. He’s joined by one-note Annabelle Wallis as the archeologist in a white shirt that’s bound to get really wet at some point, and Sofia Boutella as a mummy with strategically placed wrappings.

And Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll.

Will he turn into Hyde? Will it be among the film’s weakest, saddest, most pathetic scenes? No spoilers here.

Director Alex Kurtzman bandages together secondhand ideas, weak writing and an absence of onscreen chemistry with CGI aplenty. Sandstorms! Birds! More sand! And mummy/zombies that look like they should be gettin’ down with Michael Jackson.

If only!

Kurtzman’s impressive lack of instinct for pacing, tone and atmosphere match perfectly with the script’s hodgepodge of stolen ideas. And now we can wait for Hollywood execs to bring other moldering horror corpses back to life. Sigh.


Nice Nice Baby

The Nice Guys

by Hope Madden

Tell me you’ve seen any of the countless trailers for Shane Black’s new action comedy The Nice Guys. Funny! I haven’t had such high expectations for a new film yet this year.

Ever since Black announced his presence with authority, penning ‘87’s iconic buddy cop action flick Lethal Weapon, he’s been one to watch. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his directorial debut, suggested he might even be keeping his best stuff for himself. But after a while, his tics and tendencies grow tiresome.

The Long Kiss Goodnight, anyone?

And though his newest effort absolutely revisits most of the filmmaker’s by-now obvious predilections, his craftsmanship and casting have never been better.

Hey girl, guess what – Ryan Gosling is a hoot! No, no, I didn’t say he’s hot (as that goes without saying). He’s a hoot. And if you found his scene-stealing performance in last year’s gem The Big Short a refreshing and joyous change of pace for the award-bedecked actor, you will surely enjoy this masterpiece of comic timing and physicality.

Gosling plays Holland March, an alcoholic PI with questionable parenting skills who reluctantly teams up with muscle-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). What begins as a low-rent missing persons case snowballs into an enormous conspiracy involving porn, the government, and the all-powerful auto industry. (It is 1977, after all.)

Aah, 1977 – when everybody smoked, ogled women, and found alcoholism a laugh riot. Black puts this time machine quality to excellent use in a film that would have felt stale and rote during his Eighties heyday, but today it serves as an endlessly entertaining riff on all that was so wrong and so right about the Seventies.

A brightly lit (if smog-choked) Southern California noir-turned-buddy-action comedy, The Nice Guys does a surprisingly good job at finding its tone. All the lurid, twisty plot fodder could easily weigh the film down in gritty drama, but Shane’s heart is in the budding, unsanitized bromance.

Gosling’s impeccable hilarity is custom-made for Black’s machine gun fire dialog, but Crowe also manages to get comfortable in the script, allowing both the conversation and action to breathe and take shape. The pair’s chemistry is a joy to watch, and is aided immeasurably by Angourie Rice’s flinty, intelligent turn as March’s disappointed daughter, Holly.


Waiting for a Sunny Day


by Hope Madden

The last time Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel wrote a screenplay together, they came up with the filmmaker’s grandest, most epic misstep, The Fountain. Gorgeous and heady without enough beneath the surface to ground the visual display, it was a film about self-destruction, madness and commitment to the ideal of love.

Well, after two gritty, intimate tales on those same themes (The Wrestler, Black Swan), Aronofsky goes grand again with the biggest tale of human self-destruction, madness, and commitment to an ideal he could find: Noah. Amid the recent flood of Christian themed films (Son of God, God is Not Dead, and the upcoming Heaven is Real), it’s tempting not to take Noah very seriously. Aronofsky is serious.

An IMAX spectacle worthy of its subject matter, the effort is epic in scale and sometimes dizzyingly powerful to look at. And though the approach is 100% earnest and absolutely respectful of the Old Testament tale being told, he’s not only emphasizing parallels between the damned of Noah’s time and our current culture, but slyly asking  whether saving humanity was really the best idea.

It’s an admirable attempt, and though he nearly lost me with the biblical rock monsters (I swear to God), on the whole, the storytelling is as almost strong as the imagery.

He’s not getting the kind of nuanced, career-high performances from this cast that he enjoyed in his previous two efforts, though. Perhaps the reason is that these characters are far more broadly drawn, but their one dimensionality doesn’t help the film generate a lively, resonant quality. It tends instead to feed the film’s feel of a bombastic take on a musty, old story.

Russell Crowe scowls and looks conflicted, as does Jennifer Connelly (veteran not only of Crowe’s onscreen relationships but of Aronofsky films).

Ray Winstone delivers (as always) in the role that animates man’s wickedness, and with him Aronofsky scores the most points in articulating modern society’s connection to the parable without offering a sermon.

It’s a tremendous, impressive feat of cinema, the kind of epic biblical tale not attempted since Charlton Heston had his own hair. Aronofsky has entrenched himself in Noah’s story, considered what it really meant to him as a human, and by extension, what it meant to humanity. He doesn’t entirely pull it off, but it’s a hell of an effort.