David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Reader Review

    Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader" was a terse, morally complex, erotically charged novel that examined the impact of German guilt on the generation born after the Holocaust. Director Stephen Daldry ("The Hours") and playwright David Hare have taken up the challenge of turning this double-edged, cerebral book into a film, and it's not surprising—movies being better at the visible than the internal—that the eroticism trumps the moral complexity.Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) is a well-educated schoolboy who, in 1958, falls into a passionate relationship with a secretive, tough, working-class wo-man 20 years older. Hanna (Kate Winslet) is a woman of few words, sudden rages and a hungry sexual appetite that's matched by her equal ardor for literature; she demands, as foreplay, that Michael read Homer, Twain and Chekhov to her.Then one day, after seeing each other in secret all summer, Hanna vanishes. The next time Michael spots her, eight years later, he's a law student...
  • Doubt review

    A passionate liberal priest goes toe-to-toe with an inflexible, authoritarian mother superior in John Patrick Shanley's theatrical barnburner "Doubt." Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) has decided, with little evidence but her unyielding moral certitude, that the charismatic Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has been paying "inappropriate" attention to Donald Stewart, the first black student at the St. Nicholas school in the Bronx. (The year is 1964, and the times they are a-changin'.) Did he or didn't he? This question hangs over the battle royal that ensues, as the stern Sister mounts a wily crusade to have Father Flynn thrown out of her school and Flynn fights to bring new ideas into the musty hallways of St. Nicholas.Shanley, directing his own work, throws in a few cinematic flourishes—he's big on tilted angles—but they only reinforce "Doubt's" theatrical nature. It's a meaty showcase for its stars. Streep, with her no-nonsense Bronx accent and know-it-all smirks, gives this...
  • Review: Ansen on 'Revolutionary Road'

    There are few better portraits of marriage gone wrong than the one depicted in Richard Yates's 1961 novel "Revolutionary Road." With surgical precision, Yates brings us deep inside the trapped lives of Frank and April Wheeler, a 1950s couple whose youthful dreams have been sacrificed on the altar of suburban comfort, conformity and compromise. Frank, bored to death by his job working for the Knox business-machines company, shores up his ego by seducing a worshipful secretary. April, who once harbored dreams of being an actress, is now the mother of two children she never really wanted. They drink too much, complain about their boring neighbors and lash out at each other in savage verbal combat, each finding the other a cruel comedown from the person they thought they once loved.The movie version, adapted with scrupulous fidelity by Justin Haythe, is directed by Sam Mendes, who dissected suburbia once before in his Oscar-winning "American Beauty." The unfortunate Wheelers are played...
  • Frost/Nixon review

    On Broadway, Peter Morgan's "Frost/Nixon" made for a deliciously smart and dramatic mano a mano between the disgraced former president and the slick, jet-setting British TV interviewer David Frost, whose career, and his personal fortune, depended on his getting an on-air confession about Watergate. The surprising news is that "Frost/Nixon" works even better on screen. Director Ron Howard and Morgan, adapting his own play, have both opened up the tale and, with the power of close-ups, made this duel of wits even more intimate and suspenseful. Howard's giddily entertaining, sharply observant movie plays like a thriller. "I shall be your fiercest adversary," Nixon (Frank Langella) warns Frost (Michael Sheen) before the taping of their first session. "I shall come after you with everything I've got. Because the limelight can only shine on one of us." Nixon, the cunning old fox, is playing mind games with his interviewer, but his words proved truer than he imagined. Frost and his team...
  • Review: "A Christmas Tale" By Arnaud Desplechin

    The holiday family-reunion movie is often as excruciating and treacly as the fraught, multigenerational gatherings it depicts. Rare is the masterwork, like Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander," which shows Yuletide festivities so magically you want to linger inside them forever. But "A Christmas Tale," French director Arnaud Desplechin's funny, tempestuous film, both conforms to the rules of the genre and explodes them. There is, of course, a big, contentious family reunion. The relatives arrive knowing that the matriarch (Catherine Deneuve) has cancer, and that she's hoping one of her offspring will prove a compatible bone-marrow donor.If this all sounds sentimental, don't worry—it's French. There are fistfights at the dinner table and bed swappings that barely raise an eyebrow. The family's alcoholic black sheep (Mathieu Amalric)—who had been banished by his depressive older sister (Anne Consigny)—returns and wreaks havoc.Desplechin ("Kings and Queen") fills his movies with raw nerves,...
  • Worth Your Time: 'A Christmas Tale'

    The holiday family reunion movie is often as excruciating and treacly as the fraught, multigenerational gatherings it depicts. (Recent example: "The Family Stone.") Rare is the masterwork, like Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander," that depicts Yuletide festivities so magically you want to linger inside them forever. Suspicion, then, is justified when a movie called "A Christmas Tale" opens near Thanksgiving. But French director Arnaud Desplechin's funny, tempestuous film both conforms to the rules of the genre and explodes them. There is, of course, a big, contentious family reunion. The brothers, sisters, cousins and grandchildren who reunite for the first time in years arrive knowing that the matriarch (Catherine Deneuve) has cancer. She's hoping that one of her offspring will prove a compatible bone-marrow donor.If this all sounds sentimental, don't worry, it's French. There are spats and brutal recriminations, fistfights at the dinner table and bed swappings that barely raise an...
  • James Bond Never Dies

    If there's any solace in the flat new 007 film, it's that for him, tomorrow never dies.
  • Movies: Gross-Out Comedies

    Comedies mixing raunch and sentimentality are wildly successful, but they are starting to feel stale.
  • Angelina's Horror Movie

    You can't judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn't judge every movie by its body count.
  • The Wrestler Triumphs

    Mickey Rourke once gave up acting to become a boxer. In 'The Wrestler,' he's simply a knockout.
  • (Not) Worth Your Time: An Un-‘Wanted’ Movie

    The trailers for the action movie "Wanted" promise some hot romantic sparks between stars Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy. "Is this when we start to bond?" asks McAvoy. "Would you like to?" Jolie purrs. Then there's a shot of the two smooching. The thing is, that first rooftop scene isn't even in the movie and the kiss (which is) has nothing to do with romance. There is no love story. At all.So much for truth in advertising. The rest of the trailer, however, gives you a fair taste of Russian director Timur Bekmambetov's hyperbolically violent movie. The filmmaker, whose Russian sci-fi fantasies "Day Watch" and "Night Watch" broke box-office records in his homeland, whips this preposterous tale of an ancient secret society of assassins into an expressionistic frenzy, relishing every slo-mo bullet through the skull. McAvoy is an anxious, cuckolded office drone who's recruited by the Fraternity and transformed into the superhuman super assassin he was born to be: it turns out his...
  • Movies: Love That Dares to Speak Its Name

    Christopher Isherwood met Don Bachardy on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1953. Isherwood, the celebrated author of "Goodbye to Berlin," was 49, a rebellious upper-class Brit, world traveler and running partner of W. H. Auden. Bachardy was 18, a star-struck southern California boy with a beautiful gap-toothed smile. It was the beginning of a remarkable relationship that would last until Isherwood's death in 1986, a relationship explored in Guido Santi and Tina Mascara's intimate, moving and playful "Chris & Don: A Love Story."The 30-year age difference seemed to bother everybody but the lovers themselves. Not that it was easy for Bachardy, thrust into the world of Igor Stravinsky, Aldous Huxley, E. M. Forster and Tennessee Williams (glimpsed in marvelous home movies), who dismissed him as a pretty appendage to the novelist. Bachardy, now in his 70s and a major portrait artist, is the film's presiding spirit, a witty raconteur who guides us through their extraordinary story...
  • Documentary: Steroids, an All-American Arms Race

    I went into the new documentary "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" expecting an exposé of steroid use in sports. What I got was something far more provocative and ambivalent: a meditation both personal and political on our culture's obsession with winning at any cost. The subtitle of Christopher Bell's movie—"The Side Effects of Being American"—perfectly reflects the range of this funny, disturbing and complex tale.Bell grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., idolizing Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan, whose admission of steroid use shattered the filmmaker's illusions. Both his brothers, "Mad Dog" and "Smelly," suffered from crippling feelings of inadequacy and ended up on steroids; their struggles to succeed at sports are poignant tales of dashed dreams.Bell disapproves of steroid use, but the deeper he researched the subject the more he began to suspect that its public demonization rested on wobbly science, skewed moralism and political posturing. We see Joe Biden denounce...