David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Review: 'A' Is For Awesome

    Let's come right out and say it: "School of Rock" made me laugh harder than any movie I've seen this year. The giggles start coming right at the get-go, when Jack Black, as the fiercely committed but less than inspired rock-and-roller Dewey Finn, howls his way through a song, then hurls himself shirtless and triumphant into the mosh pit... where the horrified crowd declines to catch him.It takes much more than the world's indifference to dampen Dewey's passion. "I serve society by rocking!" this unreconstructed slacker announces--shortly before he's dumped by his band. Meanwhile, his nerdy substitute-teacher roommate Ned (screenwriter Mike White), egged on by his nagging girlfriend (Sarah Silverman), threatens to evict him unless he forks over the rent. Desperate for cash, he steals Ned's name and his gig subbing at a prestigious prep school, where he instructs his startled students to take recess all day. But when he discovers the kids have musical skills, his great idea is born:...
  • Snap Judgments

    Matchstick MenDirected by Ridley ScottAbandoning his epic mode, the stylish Scott serves up a tricky tale about a tic-ridden, obsessive-compulsive L.A. con man (Nicolas Cage, in fine frazzled form) who can't leave his spotless house without meds. His criminal career is disrupted by his discovery of a long-lost 14-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman), who seems to have inherited her dad's gift for the grift. "Matchstick Men" glides from comedy to suspense to poignance, arriving at a destination you might not suspect. But Scott's finesse can't entirely disguise the mechanical nature of Nicholas and Ted Griffin's script, which has one too many twists for its own good. Fun while it lasts, but it's a bit of a con job itself.So CloseDirected by Corey YuenA delirious example of grrrl power, Hong Kong style. After watching professional assassins Lynn (Shu Qi) and Susan (Zhao Wei) wreak kung fu and high-tech havoc on their enemies while being pursued by the equally impressive female cop Hong...
  • Scarlett Fever

    Actors are taught early on to praise their director in interviews, but Scarlett Johansson, star of Sofia Coppola's quietly enchanted comedy "Lost in Translation," must've skipped that lesson. Asked what she thought of Coppola's first film, "The Virgin Suicides," the 18-year-old Johansson pauses. "Um." Another pause. "Well, it's hard to do an adaptation of a book, especially that one. I wasn't crazy about 'Virgin Suicides.' I think 'Lost in Translation' is a much more mature film for Sofia." Finally, an actress who saves her acting for the movies.Johansson's unvarnished answer makes sense: she's always radiated a throaty gravity and projected a blunt honesty on screen. She was preternaturally wise as an 11-year-old in "Manny & Lo"; poignant as the withdrawn, badly injured girl in "The Horse Whisperer" (The Hoarse Whisperer could describe her distinctive voice) and memorably contemptuous as an outsider in "Ghost World," alongside Thora Birch. Though the native New Yorker has been...
  • 'Our Town' Via Compton

    For the past year the documentary "OT: Our Town" has been bowling over audiences at film festivals around the United States. Now Scott Hamilton Kennedy's movie is finally being released to the public. It's been a banner year for documentaries at the box office--the record-breaking "Bowling for Columbine," "Spellbound," "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Winged Migration" have all been unexpected hits. "OT" deserves a place alongside them.The film chronicles a high-school production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." What makes this production special is that it's the first play in 20 years put on by the students of Dominguez High School in infamous Compton, California. It's a school where nothing matters but basketball, where all the students are African-American or Hispanic, where there is no money for the show, no stage in sight, and rehearsals have to be conducted in the cafeteria. How could these kids, all too familiar with the sound of gunfire, possibly relate to Wilder's folksy New...
  • DOCUMENTARY: LOOK WHO'S IN 'TOWN'

    For the past year the documentary "OT: Our Town" has been bowling over audiences at film festivals around the country. Now Scott Hamilton Kennedy's movie is finally being released to the public. It's been a banner year for documentaries at the box office--the record-breaking "Bowling for Columbine," "Spellbound," "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Winged Migration" have all been unexpected hits. "OT" deserves a place alongside them.The film chronicles a high-school production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." What makes this production special is that it's the first play in 20 years put on by the students of Dominguez High School in infamous Compton, Calif. It's a school where nothing matters but basketball, where all the students are African-American or Hispanic, where there is no money for the show, no stage in sight, and rehearsals have to be conducted in the cafeteria. How could the kids in this school, all too familiar with the sound of gunfire, possibly relate to Wilder's folksy...
  • MOM IS TEEN FOR A DAY

    "Freaky Friday" is the latest update of Mary Rodgers's beloved 1972 children's book in which a mother and daughter exchange bodies for a day. Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris played the parts in the 1976 Disney movie. In this Disney remake, Lindsay Lohan is 15-year-old Anna Coleman, a surly high-school student and garage-band guitarist; Jamie Lee Curtis is her widowed mom, Tess, a stressed-out, multitasking psychologist on the verge of remarriage.When an ancient Chinese hex kicks in, they wake to discover how devastatingly unprepared they are to live each other's life. Tess, in her daughter's body, is hopeless at both guitar and algebra; Anna, horrified to find herself wearing her mom's middle-aged face, is inept at comforting Tess's neurotic patients. (When in doubt, Tess advises her, just say, "But how do you feel about that?") More ambiguous complications arise when Jake (Chad Michael Murray) the motorcycle-riding heartthrob Anna swoons for, falls for Anna's soul after all....
  • TRANSITION

    At a ceremony last year paying tribute to the career of British movie director John Schlesinger--an event he was too ill to attend--Dustin Hoffman said of the man who made the Oscar-winning "Midnight Cowboy," "He loved actors more than anyone I ever worked with." Actors gave back their best to Schlesinger: Hoffman and Jon Voight in the sexually pioneering 1969 "Cowboy"; Alan Bates in "A Kind of Loving"; Julie Christie, who played her first leading role for Schlesinger in "Billy Liar" and won an Oscar as a hollow, ambitious model in "Darling"; Dirk Bogarde, at his very best in that same film; Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson, superbly subtle in "Sunday Bloody Sunday," one of the first films to treat homosexuality with matter-of-fact maturity; Sean Penn, spectacular as a dope-addled spy in "The Falcon and the Snowman." He reached the height of his commercial success with the 1976 thriller "Marathon Man," famous for the sadistic dentistry performed by Laurence Olivier on Hoffman....
  • Snap Judgement

    Tomb Raider: The Cradle of LifeDirected by Jan de BontNobody would claim that the first "Tomb Raider" was a tough act to follow, and this action-crammed sequel is a definite step up. The tale has the silly/ solemn flamboyance of an old Saturday-matinee serial, as Lady Croft (Angelina Jolie, looking swell) tries to find Pandora's box before an evil scientist (Ciaran Hinds) gets there first. It's not half bad, with cool locations and a great stunt leap from the top of a Hong Kong high-rise. Unlike the wink-winking "Charlie's Angels," "Croft 2" mostly, and wisely, keeps a straight face.CampDirected by Todd GraffA hilarious, rousing musical comedy set at a summer camp where nobody plays sports and everybody worships Stephen Sondheim. Writer-director Graff went to a theater camp when he was a kid; it shows in the dead-on details and the deep sympathy he has for these misfit showbiz kids. The boys, natch, are all gay, except for heartthrob Vlad (Daniel Letterle), the narcissistic love...
  • Summer's Mane Event

    A lot of people who didn't give a fig about horse racing--and a lot who did--couldn't put down Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit," and for good reason. It was a too-good-to-be-true story that was true, with an underdog Thoroughbred and three unforgettable humans at its center: the tenacious, hard-luck jockey Red Pollard, abandoned by his parents at a young age; the taciturn trainer Tom Smith, a Westerner with an almost mystic understanding of the equine psyche, and owner Charles Howard, who built his fortune selling Buicks and used his salesman's savvy to help turn Seabiscuit into the most popular sports figure, two- or four-legged, of his time. The challenge in adapting this best seller to the screen is that there's too much good stuff; you could build a whole movie around any one of these guys.Writer-director Gary Ross ("Pleasantville") homes in on the wounds that these three outcasts shared, and finds a tale of salvation: how each, in his way, was healed and made whole by this...
  • A Very Independent Woman

    Amid the heartfelt tributes, the proclamations of her dignity and independence, and her importance as a role model for women, we are in danger of forgetting how wonderfully funny Katharine Hepburn was. Before she started playing love-starved spinsters and feisty dowagers, before she became an official legend of the silver screen, Hepburn was the most exquisite romantic comedienne of her time, and it was a time--the 1930s and '40s--when Hollywood comedy sparkled brightest.The day after Hepburn died I went to the video store in search of Howard Hawks's 1938 "Bringing Up Baby," perhaps the screwiest and most sublime of all screw-ball comedies. As great as she is in "Alice Adams," "Little Women," "Holiday," "The Philadelphia Story," "Woman of the Year," "Adam's Rib" and "Pat and Mike"--not to mention her lacerating, tragic performance as Mary Tyrone in "Long Day's Journey Into Night"--this was the Hepburn whose company I most craved. She was 31, and from the moment we first glimpse her...
  • Ms. Witherspoon Goes To The Dogs

    Reese Witherspoon had an ardent, if cultish, fan club before "Legally Blonde," the sleeper hit of summer '01. But after her turn as Elle Woods, Harvard Law School's most fashion-obsessed graduate, Witherspoon became practically a franchise unto herself. Elle was a heroine so amusingly irresistible that "Legally Blonde 2: Red White & Blonde" seemed a foregone conclusion. This was a character we wanted more of.So it gives me no pleasure at all to report that "LB2" is a stinker. Invoking the memory of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (ill-advisedly, as it turns out), the film sends Elle off to the Capitol in a new pink suit and a newfound froth of political fervor over animal rights. (Her search for her pet Chihuahua Bruiser's biological parents--huh?--had led her to a cosmetics factory where Bruiser's mom was being cruelly used as a guinea pig.) Naturally the entrenched Washington politicos have never seen the likes of this Bel Air expat, and they condescendingly brush her off as ...
  • And A Bottle Of Eyeliner

    Jack Sparrow is one very strange pirate, and thank heaven for that. As Johnny Depp plays him, with Cockney accent, kohl-blackened eyes and a prancing brio that wouldn't be out of place in a Christopher Street parade, he's by far the best reason to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Depp gave us a glimpse of his comic finesse in the 1995 "Don Juan DeMarco," and here--in a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced high-seas adventure that incorporates roaring cannons, oddball comedy, a love story and more than a touch of the supernatural--Depp unleashes his theatrical bravado. He's hilarious.Sparrow teams up with blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to rescue the beautiful daughter (Keira Knightley) of the governor of Port Royal. She's been kidnapped by Sparrow's pirate nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who thinks she can dispel an ancient curse that has turned him and his greedy, grimy crew into the undead. And so on. "Pirates of the Caribbean" has its ups and downs,...
  • Return To Circuit City

    The machines don't give up easy. Once a decade, they send a cyborg from the future back in time to kill John Connor. They first tried, and failed, in 1984 in "The Terminator," when Connor was just a fetus in his mother's womb--and James Cameron was not yet King of the World. They failed again in 1991 in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" when Connor was a teenager and Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg was reprogrammed from villain to good guy.Now here we are in 2003. Connor (Nick Stahl) has become a haunted fugitive, and an even deadlier manhunter is sent to destroy him, the shape-shifting T-X (Kristanna Loken). Not your usual dumb-blond robot, she emerges full born from a Rodeo Drive store window, a metallic mannequin with inflatable breasts, the sullen stride of a Swedish supermodel and murderous intentions. Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, wearing sunglasses and leather jacket, is the well-oiled Arnold, still programmed with an unaccountable Austrian accent. Let's get ready to...
  • Snap Judgement

    TELEVISIONDead Like MeFridays at 10 p.m. ET, Showtime.The cable network's latest exercise in HBO envy raises at least one compelling question: is it possible to take a show seriously after the main character is killed off in the first 10 minutes by a toilet seat falling from the Mir space station? After her untimely death, 18-year-old Georgia Lass (Ellen Muth) finds afterlife employment as a "grim reaper"--basically, she's the welcome wagon for the newly dead--and, along the way, learns to appreciate the life she no longer has. "Dead Like Me" wants to be "Six Feet Under's" kooky kid brother, but this witless, graceless series is dead on arrival.Nip/TuckPremieres July 22 at 10 p.m., FX.Plastic surgeons. Miami. Cable TV. We are sooo there. "Nip/Tuck," a drama about a pair of breast men, one an amoral playboy (Julian McMahon), the other a good-hearted square (Dylan Walsh), boasts the most sensational--and sensationalistic--hook for a series in recent memory. So it's hardly fair to...
  • A Kinda Lethal Weapon

    The buddy movie/action comedy "Hollywood Homicide," with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett, is nothing if not a highly marketable commodity. Unfortunately, that's about all it is--a package designed to be sold. As a movie, it's oddly listless from the get-go, when odd-couple LAPD partners Ford and Hartnett show up at the scene of a rap-club murder and the discussion turns to their clashing dietary preferences. The grumpy old vet, Joe Gavilan (Ford), is a red-meat guy--hamburger, no mayo. The neophyte, K. C. Calden (Hartnett), wants a veggie sandwich--with bean sprouts, of course. How are these guys ever gonna get along, much less solve a murder case? Are we laughing yet?K.C.'s heart isn't into detective work. He moonlights as a yoga instructor whose students, every one of 'em, are lithe young women eager for some after-school instruction. But what he really wants to do is act. The haggard, debt-ridden Joe also has a sideline selling real estate, resulting in many desperate cell-phone...
  • Crash! Bash! A Smash?

    Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), the pent-up protagonist of Ang Lee's "The Hulk," is sitting on a volcano of repressed rage, and when it finally erupts he discovers an id the size of King Kong. Bruce, like the heroes of most Freudian dramas, is suppressing a buried primal trauma, images of an Oedipal nightmare he can't quite remember. Anyone who sees "The Hulk," however, will have a hard time forgetting its pristine, powerful, surprisingly beautiful images, which alternate between intimate close-ups, vast vistas and kaleidoscopic split screens. You must have known the maker of "Sense and Sensibility" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" wouldn't deliver your normal popcorn movie. He hasn't. Dark, stately, with aspirations to tragic grandeur, "The Hulk" is a fascinating synthesis: something old, something new, something borrowed, something... green.It's also a love story (Jennifer Connelly is Betty Ross, touchingly torn between desire and horror) and a meditation on fathers and sons (Nick...
  • Documentary: A One-Book Wonder

    It's rare enough when a documentary achieves cult status. Rarer still when it actually changes lives. "The Stone Reader," a movie about the love of reading, manages to do both. The filmmaker, Mark Moskowitz, became obsessed with a dense, lyrical coming-of-age novel by Dow Mossman called "The Stones of Summer." Published to ecstatic reviews in 1972 ("A holy book!" The New York Times proclaimed), it sold few copies and vanished along with its author. Moskowitz, a fanatic reader who makes political commercials for a living, set out to find Mossman and to explore the mystery of one-book wonders. He interviewed such literary luminaries as critic Leslie Fiedler, editor Robert Gottlieb and writer Frank Conroy--none of whom had read the book or heard of its author.Moskowitz finally found Mossman in Iowa. He'd had a breakdown after finishing his novel, worked as a welder for 20 years, then bundled newspapers for $6.25 an hour before losing that job four years ago. Now, he may be the best...
  • Grrl Power, Kiwi Style

    Niki Caro's "Whale Rider," a huge hit in her native New Zealand, has been making the rounds of film festivals since last fall, and everywhere it plays it strikes a deep chord. In Toronto, in Rotterdam and at Sundance, it was voted the audience favorite, and it's not hard to see why. Like most crowd-pleasers and sleeper hits, from "Rocky" to "Bend It Like Beckham," it's the story of an underdog overcoming apparently insurmountable odds. In this case, she's a contemporary teenager named Pai (12-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes) who lives in a Maori fishing village among the Ngati Kanohi tribe.Pai suffers a double tragedy the moment she's born--her mother dies along with her male twin, destined, as the grandson of the tribal chief Koro, to be the future leader of his people, the chosen one who would help them regain pride and power. Pai's grief-stricken father, an artist, abandons her to pursue his career in Europe, leaving her to be raised by her wry, wise grandmother (Vicky Haughton)...
  • Like Fine Wine

    Veteran filmmakers Patrice Leconte, who is 56, and Ken Loach, who is 11 years older are two of the most reliable directors around, but they couldn't be more different.Leconte has always been a chameleon. The Frenchman started as a frothy comedy director and came into his own as an international filmmaker with his 10th feature, the dark, hypnotic Simenon drama "Monsieur Hire" in 1988. From film to film--"The Hairdresser's Husband," "Ridicule," "The Girl on the Bridge," "The Widow of St. Pierre," and now the wonderfully intimate "Man on the Train"--he never does the same thing twice. Like an old Hollywood pro, he changes styles to fit his subjects. Unlike an old Hollywood pro, he has the freedom to make what he wants, often working on the scripts himself. He's an anti-auteurist auteurist.With Loach, certain things can always be expected, and in that sense he's the more traditional auteur. No director is more committed to depicting working class life. His politics are unabashedly left,...
  • 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...