David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Freeing Nemo: A Whale Of A Tale

    Pixar's "Finding Nemo" is without any doubt the best film ever made about a single-parent clown fish and his son. It also offers the best performance this spring by Albert Brooks, who does daddy Marlin's jittery, neurotic voice. (He seems a lot more at home in the undulating depths of a computer-animated ocean than he does in the supposedly three-dimensional world of "The In-Laws.") The orange-and-white-striped Marlin is in a state of high anxiety, for this overprotective father's worst fears have come true. His young son Nemo (voice by Alexander Gould) has fallen into the clutches of human beings, who have spirited him away to a dentist-office fish tank in Sydney. The ordinarily risk-averse Marlin sets out, against all odds, to find him.Compared with, say, "Toy Story," this may not sound like the most remarkable premise for a movie. But the madly inventive folks at Pixar may just be the most dependable storytellers now working in Hollywood. The Wachowski brothers could learn a...
  • Locked And 'Reloaded'

    In the four years since "The Matrix" appeared, the Wachowski brothers' dark, dystopian vision has entered the culture like a computer virus, endlessly replicating itself. But no matter how often it's been ripped off, parodied and ransacked by others, it still holds its brainy, stylish own. "The Matrix Reloaded," the first of two simultaneously filmed sequels, has a lot to live up to, and it will be utterly baffling to those who haven't seen the original (whoever that may be). As you recall, in "The Matrix" our hero, Neo (Keanu Reeves), got the startling news that the reality he had been living was a computer-created illusion and that human beings were serving machine masters.Now, in the second of the trilogy, the liberated Neo--who may be the One proclaimed by prophecy--must lead the human revolt against the Machines, with his lover, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and his mentor, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), at his side. A quarter of a million Sentinels are closing in on Zion, the...
  • That '70S Movie

    Near the end of "A Decade Under the Influence," one of two new documentaries celebrating the so-called "golden age" of 1970s Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola likens today's low-risk, corporate Hollywood to a pharmacy that only sells two products, tranquilizers and Viagra.The great thing about back then, when the likes of Coppola and Scorsese, Altman and Bogdanovich, Friedkin, Mazursky, Polanski, Ashby, Woody Allen and Peckinpah radically altered the American cinematic landscape, was the fact that their movies weren't merely "product." They were rule-breaking personal visions that connected with the audience in ways studio movies had rarely attempted before. Instead of mere escapism, the audience wanted relevance. The culture--battered by Vietnam, drugs, feminism, the civil-rights movement, Watergate--was in a state of convulsion, and the guardians of the studio gates hadn't a clue what the public wanted to see. What moviegoers didn't want were the big-budget turkeys that had brought...
  • A Tragic Final Act

    Leslie Cheung, who normally wore casual clothes, dressed for death. At 4:30 p.m. on April 1 he entered the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong in a suit and took the elevator to the private club on the 24th floor, where he was a regular. He ordered a glass of lemon water, a pack of cigarettes and an apple. He went out to the balcony overlooking Victoria Harbour and asked his waiter for pen and paper. And then he hurled himself off the balcony. Cheung was a movie star, a singer and an icon of Chinese pop culture. His body--the famously beautiful face eerily unmarred--was later found by a foreigner on Connaught Road.The next day, Cheung's death was the top story in Hong Kong, even as the city was preoccupied by the SARS virus and war. From Beijing to Taiwan, his suicide set off an outpouring of grief and speculation. In the West, Cheung was best known for 1993's "Farewell, My Concubine" (in which his character, a Chinese opera star, kills himself) and films by Wong Karwai and John...
  • Hollywood: Could Jack And Marty Actually Lose?

    The Oscar race is supposed to get easier to predict the closer you get to the Big Night. But right now the talk in Hollywood is only of upsets in the making. When the nominations were announced, Jack Nicholson was instantly assumed to be the man. Hell, it's Jack, after all. It was also a given that Martin Scorsese would finally win best director--if only so the Academy could stop feeling guilty for all the times it had screwed him in the past. How could he not be a lock, with master campaigner Harvey Weinstein making the Scorsese name ubiquitous in L.A. and New York?Well, the locks are becoming unlocked. Earlier this month "Chicago's" Rob Marshall took home the Director's Guild Award. Suddenly it seems possible that the first-time director could keep the esteemed vet in the winless column. And as for Nicholson, many Hollywood insiders are insisting that it won't be Jack's year after all--that "About Schmidt" has lost its heat. The new front runner is Daniel Day-Lewis for Scorsese's ...
  • Oscar's Uncertainties

    The one certain thing about this year's Oscar race is that when the dust clears on Monday morning, March 24, the big winner will be Miramax.With 31 nominations (40 if you count its half interest in "The Hours," which the studio has distributed overseas), the only way it could not come out on top is if everything is won by "The Pianist," "The Two Towers" and "Road to Perdition." Ain't gonna happen.Miramax lives for Oscar season--everyone agrees the company is the best and most ruthless at campaigning--and is spending wildly in support of "Chicago" and "Gangs of New York," to the point where there is talk of a backlash. Harvey Weinstein has made it his personal campaign to get Martin Scorsese his first Oscar. It's not just the enormous advertisements he takes out in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. You can feel the Miramax hand behind the Scorsese tributes and retrospectives popping up everywhere, as well as the screenings of his...
  • We Had A Farm In Africa

    If Hitler hadn't come along, Jettel and Walter Redlich would have considered themselves more German than Jewish. But in 1938 Walter (Merab Ninidze), a lawyer, is prescient enough to know he has to get his wife and daughter Regina out of Germany fast, even if it means starting from scratch in a new world. And few places could be as unfamiliar as the remote plains of Kenya, where Walter tries to reinvent himself as a tenant farmer. When Jettel (Juliane Kohler) joins him, she brings boxes of her fine china and a fancy party dress on which she spent her last money. This is not going to be easy.This is one tale of the Jewish diaspora we haven't seen before. Caroline Link's beautifully crafted "Nowhere in Africa," the likely front runner for this year's foreign-film Oscar, has an epic scale and an intimate touch. Even if you didn't know that it was based on an autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig, the freshness of the details tells you this story had to be inspired by firsthand...
  • Don't Play It Again

    "Tears of the Sun" is being sold as a kicka-- Bruce Willis action flick, but the highfalutin (and meaningless) title suggests it has loftier intentions. It's set in Nigeria against a background of ethnic cleansing; Willis, commanding a Navy SEAL unit, is sent into the jungle to rescue U.S. citizen Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci) before she and her fellow missionaries are slaughtered by anti-Christian rebels. The good and gorgeous doctor refuses to go without her patients. The gruff, by-the-book commander pretends to agree, betrays her and then gets one of those pangs of conscience that have afflicted hard-nosed heroes ever since Rick stumbled into Casablanca. "I broke my own rule," he mutters. "I started to give a s--t." The script, by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo, never misses a chance to spell things out for us.The movie's noble aspirations are clear--Bosnia and Rwanda were obviously on the filmmakers' minds--yet it's hopelessly steeped in stale Hollywood action...
  • How Far Is Too Far?

    Except for those who insist that films should only be escapist froth, most of us go to the movies expecting a degree of unpleasantness. Horror movies are the most obvious example, but the more sophisticated moviegoer also finds pleasure in movies meant to challenge, disturb, shock and even sicken. But at what point does the challenging become the unbearable? Even a movie as well mannered as "The Hours" strikes one faction of the audience as an intolerable downer. Others, of the No Pain No Gain school, think a movie should be appalling if it is making a serious statement about violence. Still others believe shocking the bourgeoisie--the razor slicing an eyeball in Bunuel's 1928 "Un Chien Andalou"--is an esthetic strategy that never wears out its unwelcoming welcome.The line between art and abuse, between what's bracingly unflinching and what's simply unbearable is always shifting. Every few years another movie comes along that pushes the limits of what audiences can endure. In 1975...
  • And Now, A Superhero On Percodan

    For a comic-book avenger with extrasensory powers and the ability to leap from building to building in kinky leather outfits, Daredevil is not your ordinary superhero. For one thing, he's blind (yes, like Justice). For another, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck), lawyer by day, masked vigilante by night, is a tormented, brooding guy, carrying around a heavy load of Roman Catholic guilt and prescription painkillers. Mistaken for a miscreant on a Manhattan rooftop, he protests: "I'm not the bad guy," as much to convince himself as anybody else."Daredevil," fashioned by writer-director Mark Steven Johnson from the Marvel comic, is an appropriately dark, doom-shrouded affair. Its depiction of the accident that cost 12-year-old Matt (Scott Terra) his sight, and his discovery that his other senses are working on superhuman levels, is both visually sophisticated and emotionally terrifying. But after grabbing our attention with considerable style, the movie proceeds, slowly but surely, to evaporate...
  • Bring On The Windmills

    When Terry Gilliam attempted to make his longtime dream project, a film of "Don Quixote," whatever could go wrong did go wrong. Luckily--and it was the only bit of good luck--documentary filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, their cameras rolling, witnessed every disastrous turn of the screw. The result, "Lost in La Mancha," is an excruciatingly entertaining portrait of the filmmaking process that no Hollywood studio would ever allow to be shown. But Gilliam, bless his impish, obsessive heart, is anything but a Hollywood type. Moreover, there was no production company trying to protect its product: Gilliam's ambitious movie, "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," starring Jean Roche-fort and Johnny Depp, was never finished. Indeed, it barely got started.Gilliam has said that he always ends up re-enacting the film he is filming--as he films it. And the analogy between the filmmaker and the knight is irresistible. Gilliam sees visions no one else sees; he has made a career out of tilting...
  • And Just In Time For Christmas

    As usual, Hollywood has saved its must-see movies for the holiday season, when credit cards are maxing and discretionary income is minning. David Ansen reviews five of the inescapables:LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERSOpens Dec. 18Gird your loins, buckle your armor, take a deep breath and plunge yourself into the dark, fierce epic that is part two of "The Lord of the Rings." That Peter Jackson and his remarkable team have done it again is no surprise. Most of it was shot at the same time as the first, so it wasn't apt to fall apart. Still, what's remarkable is how immediately, after a full year, "The Two Towers" seizes your attention, and how urgently it holds you through three seamless, action-packed hours.The Fellowship had split apart when last we saw them, and the new film follows three separate trails. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), heading for Mordor to destroy the Ring, are joined in their quest by an emaciated, suspiciously servile creature named Gollum, who...
  • Review: And One For The Road

    Jack Nicholson takes to the road again in Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt," but we are a long way away from "Easy Rider." Now he's driving a Winnebago, he's alone and nothing comes easy. Paunchy, with varicose veins in his ankles and a bad comb-over, Warren Schmidt is a just-retired, just-widowed Omaha insurance actuary facing mortality in an empty home. "About Schmidt," I should add, is a comedy. But its laughs--and there are many--arise from loss and pain, and you may leave in tears.In need of a mission, Schmidt sets off to Denver hoping to persuade his only daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), to back out of her imminent wedding to water-bed salesman Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney), an affable lunkhead with a mullet and an entirely unwarranted optimism about his prospects. With no one to talk to, Schmidt takes to writing letters to his pen pal, Ndugu, a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy whom he sponsors for $22 a month. These voice-over letters, often at odds with reality, are a brilliant...
  • Meta-Movie Madness

    Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), the balding, self-loathing, blocked screenwriter at the center of "Adaptation," has been hired to write a movie based on Susan Orlean's nonfiction book "The Orchid Thief." He rails about the kind of hackneyed movie he doesn't want to write--the kind where characters learn tidy life-altering lessons. So, instead of "The Orchid Thief," he writes "Adaptation" (the movie we are watching) about a blocked screenwriter trying to write a movie based on Orlean's book, in which Orlean herself (Meryl Streep) becomes a character, along with the orchid-obsessed hero of her book, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), Kaufman and his screenwriting twin brother, Donald (Cage again), a happy hack with none of Charlie's self-doubt.Does this sound insufferably self-indulgent? Not at all. This latest collaboration between the real Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, the creators of "Being John Malkovich," is an inspired flight of fancy, an oddly poignant examination of the...
  • Behind The Scenes: Mrs. Dalloway's Close-Up

    Many people, including Michael Cunningham, who wrote the "The Hours," didn't think the novel could be turned into a movie. It's the hardest kind of tale to transcribe to the screen--internal, literary, more reliant on sensibility than plot. Fortunately, this view wasn't shared by Scott Rudin, who optioned the book, or by screenwriter David Hare. "I never thought it was difficult to adapt," Hare says. For him, the biggest challenge was to convey what the three heroines were thinking without resorting to voice-over. "That would have made it feel 'literary'." Cunningham was only afraid the filmmakers would be "too reverential" to his Pulitzer Prize winner. "Michael was incredible," Hare says. "He told me, 'I inherited it from Virginia Woolf, and now you must go off and alter it as freely as I adapted "Mrs. Dalloway" '." Though Hare's screenplay went through myriad drafts--changing further when director Stephen Daldry, fresh off "Billy Elliot," came aboard--in the end "the structure is...
  • Movies: Of Love And Loneliness

    "Talk to Her," Pedro Almodovar's first movie since his Academy Award-winning "All About My Mother," has just been nominated for best picture (and actor, director, screenplay and cinematography) for the European Film Awards, compounding the surprise in the film world that it was not chosen as Spain's entry for the foreign-film Oscar. Whatever the politics behind this curious decision, it's hard to imagine there's a more worthy entry. This haunting, generous meditation on loneliness, love and madly displaced desire is like nothing he's ever done before, and yet no one but Almodovar could possibly have dreamed it up.It's the story of two women--a ballet dancer and a bullfighter, both of whom happen to be in comas--and the men who love them. The intense, unlikely friendship that develops between Benigno (Javier Camara), an ardently devoted nurse, and Marco (Dario Grandinetti), an Argentine writer, is at the core of this wholly original tale, but no plot synopsis can begin to convey the...
  • Noyce: Double Integrity

    In 1978 Phillip Noyce made a wonderful movie called "Newsfront," about a 1950s Australian newsreel cameraman. Like the other talented Australian directors of the '70s--Gillian Armstrong, Fred Schepisi, Bruce Beresford--Noyce got scooped up by Hollywood, where he turned out action thrillers: "Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger," "The Bone Collector." He was good--when the scripts allowed him to be. But now, in a striking career turnaround, he's returned to his roots in two new pictures. Both the strong, outraged "Rabbit-Proof Fence" and the richly atmospheric "The Quiet American" show a filmmaker reclaiming his soul."Rabbit-Proof Fence" confronts an infamous piece of Australian history: the government-sanctioned abduction of half and quarter-caste Aborigine children from their mothers by order of A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), chief protector of Aborigines. Neville believed he was doing the children and their culture a favor; in fact, it was genocide by assimilation. (The...
  • The Real Motown Sound

    You didn't know that you wanted to see a movie about the Funk Brothers, but, believe me, you do. You've probably never heard of the Funk Brothers, and neither had I. But anybody who loves Motown (and who in his right mind doesn't?) has heard their music over and over. Anybody who lived through the '60s danced to the Funk Brothers' beat. These unsung heroes were the sound of Motown; it was their grooves behind Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder. Though they rarely received any mention, the Funk Brothers played on more No. 1 records than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley combined. It's their story that's celebrated in "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," director Paul Justman's glorious, bittersweet musical tribute to the soul of Detroit R&B.Seven of the Funk Brothers have survived to tell the tale--and they are wonderful storytellers, particularly...
  • Mild About 'Harry'

    Chris Columbus's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" may have made many hundreds of millions of dollars, but only kids seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about it. (A lot of kids, to be sure.) Grown-ups, who were equally bewitched by J. K. Rowling's book, felt let down by the movie: it followed the letter of the tale but missed the spirit, mistaking special effects for magic. Would the filmmakers learn from their mistakes in the second installment? Wanting to give the movie the benefit of the doubt, I avoided reading "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" before I saw Columbus's follow-up. This time the twists and turns of Harry's adventures at Hogwarts--where he encounters even greater perils--could take me by surprise.The real surprise, alas, is that "Chamber of Secrets" has been turned into a kiddie monster movie. It is aimed at an older audience this time--tween and teenage boys. Now the walls of Hogwarts are defaced with dire warnings written in blood. Harry and Ron are...
  • The Eminem Story

    Fans of Eminem can be forgiven if they think they are watching his own story unfold in "8 Mile." Like Eminem, Jimmy Smith Jr., a.k.a. Rabbit, is a young, angry white rapper trying to make a name for himself in a black world. A dirt-poor Detroit factory worker living with his trailer-trash mom (Kim Basinger), his little sister (Chloe Greenfield) and his mom's slacker boy-friend (Michael Shannon), Rabbit takes the stage on Friday nights in brutal one-on-one rap battles, where the competitors shred each other with impromptu insults and the victor goes on to the next round. Rap is his only hope of escape from his ravaged neighborhood, and his pals root him on, hoping they can piggyback out of the ghetto on his coattails.But Eminem, if you know his ferocious, fluent, combative and slippery songs, is a master of personas. Eminem/Slim Shady/Marshall Mathers: he's got many names and speaks in many voices. Rabbit softens the roughest edges of the Eminem legend--the misogyny is gone, and he's...
  • Heavens!

    Todd Haynes's candy-colored "Far From Heaven" is a high-style high-wire act, a meticulous re-creation of the melodramatic "women's pictures" of the 1950s. Haynes's movie, set in 1957 Hartford, Conn., is a homage to such Douglas Sirk movies as "All That Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life." But here the sexual and racial subtexts of those films are placed right on the lacquered surface. The affluent, picture-perfect middle-class marriage of Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid) unravels when she discovers her husband's secret homosexuality, and spins further out of orbit when Cathy finds herself romantically drawn to her "Negro" gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert).Initially, with its lush, romantic score, its dated '50s expressions ("Criminy! Jeez!"), its housewives in mink stoles, "Far From Heaven" might seem on the edge of parody. But Haynes ("Safe") refuses the safety net of condescension or camp. He plays it straight, soliciting tears, not snickers,...
  • Paris Lite

    A knowledge of the '60s French New Wave isn't a requirement for viewing Jonathan Demme's "The Truth About Charlie," but it will definitely enhance the experience. Demme's breezy homage has a stylish, off-the-cuff spontaneity that owes much more to "Breathless" and "Shoot the Piano Player" than it does to the romantic thriller it's actually based on--Stanley Donen's beloved 1963 "Charade" starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.Thandie Newton, radiating charm, takes the Hepburn role as a young woman who returns to Paris to find her husband murdered, her apartment looted and her life endangered. The late Charlie, she finds, was not who he appeared to be--and neither is anyone else, including white knight Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), who rescues her from peril with suspicious frequency.Demme obviously wanted to get as far away from Grant as possible when he cast Wahlberg, but the role still calls for a debonair smoothie. The actor "stays within himself," as the sports guys say, but he...
  • Sketch Of An Artist

    It's not hard to see why so many actresses were dying to play Frida Kahlo. The great Mexican artist and bohemian poster girl led a life filled with passion, pain, political fireworks and steely determination. The great love of her life, whom she married twice, was fellow artist and notorious womanizer Diego Riviera. She had an affair with Leon Trotsky and numerous lovers of both genders. Horribly injured in a bus accident in 1925, she lived until 1954 in constant battle with physical pain, all of which she used to fuel her haunting autobiographical paintings. And, if director Julie Taymor's "Frida" has it right, she had the most colorful wardrobe in the Western Hemisphere. Whether hiking atop Mayan ruins or putting the make on Josephine Baker in Paris, this revolutionary was always dressed to kill.Producer-star Salma Hayek won the race to bring Frida to the screen, and she brought aboard theatrical dynamo Taymor ("The Lion King") to direct. Four writers are credited with the script....
  • The Troubles, Again

    Watching director Paul Greengrass's explosive "Bloody Sunday," you have to remind yourself at moments that you're not looking at a documentary. The movie recreates the violent confrontation between civil-rights marchers and British soldiers in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1972, in which 27 unarmed people were shot and 13 killed. Filmed in 16mm, with a hand-held camera that seems to be breathlessly attempting to keep up with the chaotic events, the movie has a stunning immediacy. It doesn't feel as if Greengrass has staged the events, but that his camera (in the expert hands of cinematographer Ivan Strasburg) happened to be there when the tragedy occurred, a witness to the British officers' planning, to the marchers' anger and panic, to the soldiers' gung-ho macho and to the cover-up that followed.The leader of the march is Protestant M.P. Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), who is committed to nonviolent protest. The movie never stops to give the usual character-building exposition,...
  • Son Of A Gun

    Whatever you think of Michael Moore, that pudgy, popular agent provocateur, the guy knows how to get an audience going.I saw his latest political bombshell, "Bowling for Columbine," in a large, packed theater at the Toronto Film Festival, and the impact was electric. People laughed, cheered, jeered at the "villains" and burst into prolonged applause when it ended. Anyone clinging to the old canard that documentaries are dry, dusty affairs obviously hasn't seen one of Moore's. Like the movie that put him on the map, "Roger & Me" (one of the most successful documentaries ever released), his latest screed is an impure and highly entertaining gumbo of comedy, confrontation, righteous anger, crusading zeal, dubious populism and moral showboating.It's impossible not to have strong reactions to "Columbine." People tend to reject it outright or defend it wholesale, and both positions seem equally wrong. It's both powerful and infuriating, brilliant and facile, hilarious and horrific,...
  • Mood 'Ring'

    "The Ring" starts like a "Scream" knockoff, with two teenage girls creeping each other out with the tall tale of a lethal videotape: once you watch it, your phone rings and a voice tells you you have seven days to live. We soon find out it's no legend, and Gore Verbinski's horror movie--a Hollywood remake of the immensely popular 1998 Japanese movie "Ringus," which spawned two Japanese sequels--shifts into solemn gear and starts to raise some serious goose bumps. You know the movie is going to be stylish from the videotape itself, which you watch through the eyes of reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), the aunt of one of four teenagers who died a week after watching the tape. A disturbing black-and-white surrealist nightmare--filled with blood, severed fingers, centipedes and a woman hurling herself off the edge of a cliff--the video's images will supply the clues Rachel must follow as she rushes against time to save herself, her ex (Martin Henderson) and her strange, sixth...
  • From Hero To Zero

    The interesting thing about Bob Crane, the blandly affable star of the '60s prisoner-of-war- camp sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" and the subject of Paul Schrader's smart, haunting "Auto Focus," is how uninteresting he is. The movie is a comedic tragedy about a man who was too clueless, too unself-aware, to be a truly tragic figure. A sex addict who compulsively photographed and videotaped his own sexual exploits with women all over the country--and seemed to derive as much sexual excitement from watching the replays as doing the deed itself--Crane thought of himself as a guy just out looking for fun. In his own mind, he was Mr. Normal right up to his violent end, when he was found murdered in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hotel room in 1978.The movie's themes are aptly captured in the double entendre of the title, suggesting both Crane's narcissism and the video technology that abets it. Greg Kinnear, all easy charm and mock innocence, does an amazing job showing us a guy caught in a celebrity hall...
  • Call Him Unhappy Gilmore

    Think of "Punch-Drunk Love" as a palate cleanser in Paul Thomas Anderson's extraordinary career. After his two long, high-calorie epics of the San Fernando Valley--"Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia"--this is sorbet. Who would have guessed that he'd follow those anguished meditations with a 90-minute Adam Sandler romantic comedy? But before you get too comfortable with that notion, let it be said that Anderson, one of the most exciting American filmmakers of his generation, is incapable of making a romantic comedy that resembles any other. "Punch-Drunk Love" is one dark, strange-tasting sorbet, its sweetness shot through with startling, unexpected flavors. It's a romantic comedy on the verge of a nervous breakdown.Indeed, for the first mysterious, unsettling and absolutely mesmerizing 30 minutes, there's no way of predicting where this tale may be heading, or what genre it belongs to. Sandler, dressed in a bright blue jacket and tie, plays Barry Egan, a fearful, volatile, socially...
  • Hostile Work Environment

    A feel-good movie about sadomasochism, the seriocomic "Secretary" manages to be simultaneously subversive and sweet. This is no mean feat. Using a Mary Gaitskill story as a jumping-off point, director Steven Shainberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson tell the story of a damaged girl, Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who deals with her inner pain by cutting herself. Released from an institution, she falls back into her old habits living with her dysfunctional family. Then she gets a job as the secretary of lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a furiously pent-up sadist who proves to be her unlikely White Knight. After verbally abusing her for her faulty typing, he invites her to bend over his desk and slowly, methodically proceeds to whack her fanny as she reads his business letter aloud. What we see develop on Gyllenhaal's eloquent face as she submits to this humiliation is an exhilarating release and a shock of recognition. She has found what she never knew she needed, and in...
  • Our Man In Toronto

    The Toronto Film Festival has gained a reputation as not only one of the largest and most important in the world, but as one of the most friendly, hassle-free and egalitarian. Still, the waters got briefly choppy last week at the press screening of Todd Haynes's moving neo-'50s melodrama "Far from Heaven," which filled up so fast that such critical heavyweights as Roger Ebert, Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times and the Variety reviewer were barred at the door. Ebert, it's said, threw a "hissy fit"--he denies it--prompting a Montreal journalist to shout, "Go back to America!"This minor fracas hardly qualifies as an international incident, but anyone reading the Toronto papers, which reflected Canada's increasing dismay with the war drums beating in Bush's America, could be forgiven if he read a bit of geopolitical significance into this tempest in a teapot.On the one hand, Toronto is a festival in thrall to Hollywood glitz. The studios, promoting their fall movies, produced plenty...
  • The Talk Of Toronto

    This year's Toronto Film Festival can't help but be haunted by last year's, when everything came to a shocking halt on 9-11, and moviegoers and moviemakers alike all huddled around televisions, glued to the horrific images coming out of New York and Washington. The festival shut down for a day and a half, but when the screenings resumed, it was hard for anyone to give full attention to the art of cinema.A year later, the festival--which has become North America's pre-eminent showcase for world cinema, featuring close to 350 selections--is back in celebratory mode, with visiting Hollywood celebrities in town to promote their fall movies, the usual round of parties and dinners, and Toronto's legendary film-friendly audiences packing almost every public screening, whether the fare is an obscure Indian art film, a studio release like "White Oleander" with Michelle Pfeiffer or Eminem's acting debut in "8 Mile," shown here as a "work in progress." On the anniversary itself, the usual...
  • Second Thoughts

    Do movie critics ever have second thoughts about what they've written? Ever change their minds about movies? If they (alright, let's make that we) do, you're not likely to see it in print.The late Pauline Kael was famous for never changing her brilliantly obstinate mind. As if to ensure that she wouldn't, she almost never saw a movie more than once. Indeed, critical changes of heart are such a rare event that when they do occur it makes news: the most famous mea culpa being Joe Morgenstern's reappraisal (right here in the pages of NEWSWEEK) about "Bonnie and Clyde," a movie he had initially panned, only to come back and proclaim it (wisely) a great movie. But that was 35 years ago. Evidently movie reviewing, like love, means never having to say you're sorry.I bring this up because the review I wrote of Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" has been nagging at me. A qualified rave, it was written the day after I saw the movie, when my system was still humming from the visceral...