BUZZ/SAW: Elie, We Can Hear Ya!

Proving that sometimes PR mavens really do earn their fees, new producer on the block Elie (pronounced Eelee) Samaha, who moved in the mid-90s from careers in club-bouncing, dry-cleaning, and club-owning to film-making, has been getting loads and loads of ink recently.

Yes, the Elie avalanche has been a good job by flacks, but the media has also been responding to his good luck at having produced the surprise Bruce Willis/Matthew Perry hit “The Whole Nine Yards” and finally getting that cumbersome John Travolta vehicle, “Battlefield Earth,” off the launching pad.

Within the past two weeks, Elie stories have run in publications like the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. Suggesting that Elie doesn’t have a heck of a lot to say, some of the same quotes were duplicated in both stories. And, appropriately, both laid out the producer’s modus operandi: find properties that are star pet projects that can’t get made but have kicked around the studios forever, get the star involved cheaply, sucker financiers from overseas with the lure of the star attachments, take the production to Canada, and roll cameras.

While readers have gotten an industrial-strength dose of Elie pictures and text, fans who want to fill out the portrait more fully should be alerted to the fact that Elie‘s bullying and sometimes downright crude voice pops up a number of times in Myles Berkowitz’s funny 1997 documentary “20 Dates,” which Fox Searchlight released to moderate success and is now available at video stores.

Elie produced and financed the film debut, which tracks the L.A.-based Berkowitz’s dogged efforts to find a significant other. Demanding more sizzle and saleable elements from his filmmaker, Elie is heard on screen in numerous phone conversations badgering Berkowitz to deliver more sex, nudity, whatever. Elie also forces Berkowitz to use his former then-partner Tia Carrere in a bit role. Elie‘s indelicate voice and crude speaking manner mesh perfectly with his many recent profiles.

In fact, Samaha should probably do a Bob Evans and commit his producing manifesto and life story to audiotape so that young Hollywood execs and wannabes can hear – in his own highly-expressive voice and words – the latest Biz gospel while speeding to meetings and business meals. Robert Evans, of course, was a big hit with the car-driving male Hollywood set with his “The Kid Stays in the Picture” on audiocassette.

And with the “Battlefield Earth” grosses due to crash to earth in less than two weeks, Samaha may welcome a detour into this the world of audio and the surefire revenues tapes can deliver. Evans hasn’t had a bigger hit since.


THAT LITTLE FRENCH THING: The next few weeks will be bringing filmgoers such much-anticipated big pix as “Small Time Crooks,” Woody Allen‘s first film for DreamWorks; Disney’s “Dinosaurs,” expected to deliver jaw-dropping visuals and grosses to match; DreamWorks’ gross-out “Road Trip,” which makes “American Pie” seem as tame as, well, American pie; and “Mission: Impossible 2,” Tom Cruise‘s summer juggernaut that could have a certain “Gladiator” grinding his teeth in fear.

But amidst this formidable all-star lineup, Phaedra Cinema is expected to venture where few other distribs dare to venture by releasing “Portraits Chinois” on May 19.

This little French thing, written and directed by Martine Dugowson, will get clobbered by the Big Boys but doesn’t deserve such harsh treatment. Were this twenty years ago, the film – which follows the loves, lives, disappointments, and triumphs of a group of Parisian yuppies in the worlds of film and fashion – would have stood a chance.

The film boasts terrific performances from Helena Bohnam Carter, Romane Bohringer, Marie Trintignant, Yvan Attal, Elsa Zylberstein, and Jean-Philippe Ecoffey. There’s even a surprise turn from vet French actor Jean-Claude Brialy, who plays a top Parisian fashion designer and is familiar to cinephiles who adore early Claude Chabrol.

This little French film will disappear fast, like so many other deserving little French films that manage to get washed up on our ungrateful shores. At least “Portraits Chinois” got to make the journey. If only filmgoers, bombarded these days by “dinosaurs” and “missions” and “crooks” and the like, could meet it halfway.