November 2001 Reviews
Opinions by Ronald Bruce Meyer
-- Peculiar Views of Movies and the Arts --
The Crimson Rivers (2001)
Reviewed 2001-12-07: Hey, Americaines! You don't like filmes français? You can't tell a Truffaut from a truffle? Well, here is Les Rivières pourpres for you! Regardez-vous! We can make grisly movies about serial killers, too!
OK, I saw the dubbed version instead of the subtitled one, and I know that's a faux pas majeur, but at least Jean Reno supplied his own voice. And, in fact, Jean Reno, as Commissaire Pièrre Niemans, the jaded Paris detective called in to investigate a series of torture-murders near a remote French university, is the one saving grace in this film. Released under the English title The Crimson Rivers (I couldn't guess what that refers to!), The film begins on a gruesome and totally gratuitous close inspection of a mutilated and decaying corpse. Director Mathieu Kassovitz, who co-wrote the screenplay from the novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé, spares the viewer no gory detail in his camera work. As for the details of the plot, it seems that two detectives, one older (Reno) and one younger (Vincent Cassel as Max Kerkerian), investigate separate crimes whose trails keep intersecting -- and pulling them back to this isolated and inbred university called Guernon, located in the snowy mountains.
So maybe this film is Hannibal meets Cliffhanger. Reno is fascinating to watch, showing us that even a man who has seen it all can still be moved, and never losing his principles while chasing perpetrators. Cassel cuts a dashing figure, but he doesn't dazzle. Nadia Farès as the mountain-scaling student at Guernon has a difficult role and pulls off half of it well -- the student part, that is. I even enjoyed the brief appearance of Dominique Sanda as Sister Andrée, who I remember primarily because her birthday is the same day and year as mine. The camera work in the mountains was impressive and was reminiscent not of an Alpine picture postcard but of a menacing place where you could disappear all too suddenly.
That's on the plus side. But I found the motive for the multiple murders unconvincing, and it was so hard to watch the few scenes in which corpses were displayed, some missing eyes and hands, that I think there is little reward for sitting through this film except for the strong presence of Jean Reno. The Crimson Rivers seems to delight in the disgusting.
Elisabeth Oas at Eisenhower Library (2001)
Reviewed 2001-12-03: I got her picture! I shook hands with a movie star!
Ahem... OK, I'm calm now. But I did hear and see Elisabeth Oas talk about what a professional actress does to make herself a success on stage and screen. You may remember I reviewed her performance in the film Save the Last Dance (2001). Here she was, in person, telling a room-sized audience of mostly high-school students about her experiences. Where was she when I was starting out? Oh, right -- she wasn't born yet! But she gave great advice to the attentive young people who are just starting out in the biz. If I had known then what I know now, as Ms. Oas said, I'd be a lot further along in my career. I've said that many times myself.
Elisabeth Oas has some advantages: she's young and looks younger, she's pretty and "reads" well on screen, and -- did I mention she's also talented? I've worked with her before, too: on stage in the Chicago production of "Bettie Page Uncensored," about which I wrote an essay. Great talent is not a requirement for getting into movies, but it sure helps if you want to be successful in the long term. Elisabeth has been in a number of films, as you can read on her official website, but Save the last Dance, largely filmed in Chicago, is the biggest one you can see right now.
She showed us a clip from the film and talked a little about her experiences on the set. She took questions from the audience and signed autographs. Even one for me (see picture)! And she kept her audience spellbound. Even me. Ms. Oas is very "real" young woman. She doesn't sugar-coat the realities of showbiz -- the expense, the relentless ego bruising, the long gaps between well paying jobs, the need for back-up employment -- in fact, one piece of advice I've taken to heart is, "Learn to tend bar" -- but instead of being cynical, as she might have been, it is clear that Elisabeth Oas was born to the craft, is passionate about it, and would never do anything else.
A few words about my association with Elisabeth (yes, that's how she spells it): I met her early in 2000 when we started rehearsals for the second run of Michael Flores's stageplay "Bettie Page Uncensored." She had performed a successful run of the show -- indeed, she created the title role -- the preceding fall (1999), so she was a veteran and the only returning member of the original cast. Her confidence and competence in portraying the pin-up icon inspired me (well, OK, she was easy on the eyes, too!), and we performed about 10 shows together before she had to move on to another project. Elisabeth's take on the character stressed a different aspect of the enigmatic personality: not only could we see that Bettie was an accidental feminist pioneer who made that 1950s "man's world" her own world, but we get a hint -- only a hint, but a deftly played one -- of Bettie's slip into a mental unbalance that marked the end of her modeling career and her disappearance from public life. For an actress to accomplish this subtle personality disorder, and at the same time be thoroughly likable and easy to work with, is remarkable. But Elisabeth is remarkable!
America's Sweethearts (2001)
Reviewed 2001-12-01: Gwen Harrison and Eddie Thomas are Hollywood's charmed couple. They co-star in popular films and are married to each other in their off-screen life... until Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) takes up with a lisping Latino lover of modest magnitude (Hank Azaria). As a result, Eddie (John Cusack) goes off the deep end and tries to kill them with his motorcycle. Eddie gets institutionalized, under the care of a nonsensical wellness guru (Alan Arkin). Their estrangement turns the public against Gwen, who is ministered by her sister-assistant, Kiki (Julia Roberts), a wallflower recently transformed into a rose, who secretly adores Eddie. Now if Eddie and Gwen don't get back together, their latest film together may be a flop -- that is, if anyone can ever pry the unseen film out of megalomaniac director Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken), who is holed up editing it in the Unabomber's cabin! To avert disaster, studio head Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci) begs recently fired publicist Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal) to arrange a press junket and bring America's sweethearts back together, at least for the show.
Just your normal week in Hollywood, right? I think America's Sweethearts is about expectations: we expect the impossibly beautiful Gwen (Zeta-Jones) to be a self-centered bitch; we expect Kiki (Roberts) to morph from ugly duckling to beautiful swan; we expect lovesick Eddie (Cusack) to eventually choose the right woman; we expect Lee to save the day. What we don't expect, at least from writer-producer-star Billy Crystal, is a disjointed comedy whose whimsical, satirical parts don't add up to a whimsical, satirical whole -- such as, say, The Player did. Hollywood movies about Hollywood movies aren't usually popular, even when they're well made, but America's Sweethearts is missing something.
I am more than a little troubled by the recurring Hollywood theme, applying especially to women, that all you need to get the man of your dreams, or success, or whatever it is you want -- is a make-over. That said, I can tell you I enjoyed parts of America's Sweethearts. The performances, individually, were excellent (including a brief moment when Larry King browbeats Gwen on his show). Julia Roberts was the best I've seen her since Pretty Woman (and that includes her Oscar-winning performance in Erin Brockovitch). Cusack and Zeta-Jones work well together -- and the opening film clips of the Gwen and Eddie films were a hoot, not only because of their absurdity but because Eddie is such a lousy kisser! But beyond saying that this film is occasionally funny, sometimes cute, and somewhat romantic -- and therefore worth a look -- America's Sweethearts looks like a dog.
At least the dog liked Billy Crystal!
Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.