David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Movies: Fresh Squeezed

    In "Sunshine State," John Sayles--one of the rare homegrown filmmakers concerned with the connection between the personal and the political--attempts to do for Florida what "City of Hope" did for New Jersey and "Lone Star" for Texas. His ambitious, densely populated saga is set on the fictional Plantation Island, a beachfront community ripe for development by entrepreneurs who want to convert its faded charm into upscale vacation properties for wealthy Northerners. Sayles has a stubborn faith in his audience's grown-up attention span.There are at least a dozen major characters in "Sunshine State," but it pivots around two women. Hard-drinking divorcee Marly (Edie Falco) is stuck running her father's motel. She's a custodian of her dad's dreams, but she's misplaced her own along the way. She drifts into an affair with an outsider: the landscape architect (Timothy Hutton) working for the guys who want her to sell the family business. Desiree (Angela Bassett) fled the black enclave of...
  • Movies: The Ice Capade

    Based on an ancient legend passed down orally through the centuries, the remarkable Inuit epic "The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)" takes us inside a culture that we're used to seeing through the inevitably condescending eyes of outsiders. This stunning tale of a community battling against Evil is filled with primal epic emotions: love and jealousy, betrayal and revenge, hatred and forgiveness. Its highlight is an astonishing chase across vast frozen wastes in which the naked, shoeless hero (played by Natar Ungalaaq), who has married the woman his mortal enemy covets, is pursued by three assassins. You've never seen anything quite like it: something you can say, in fact, about much of this severely beautiful three-hour movie, which was awarded the Camera d'Or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival for best first film.The cast, most of the crew, the writer (the late Paul Apak Angilirq) and the director (Zacharias Kunuk) are all Inuit. They shot the film on a remote island in the Canadian Arctic,...
  • Other Affairs To Remember

    The American Film Institute, which never met a list it didn't like, recently unveiled "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Passions," a preferential ranking of the hundred best Hollywood love stories. It's a "round up the usual suspects" collection, basically, exemplified by the crowning of hardy perennial "Casablanca" as numero uno. The rest of the top ten: "Gone with the Wind," "West Side Story" (how did this lumbering rendition of a great Broadway musical reach classic status?), "Roman Holiday," "An Affair to Remember," "The Way We Were," "Doctor Zhivago," "It's A Wonderful Life," (a wonderful movie, but a great love story?), "Love Story," and "City Lights."It's hard not to notice how many of these movies end unhappily, with the lovers apart. This holds true for the rest of the list, too. Given Hollywood's obsession with happy endings for the past 25 years, this makes you pause. Romantically inclined audiences clearly prefer misery to matrimony: mega-hit "Spider-Man" seals the deal.Everybody...
  • Attack Of The Groans

    Yes, it's better than "the Phantom Menace." Yes, the 24-frame high-definition digital photography looks swell. Yes, though Yoda has graduated from puppet to fully computerized Jedi Knight his gnomish appeal is still intact.No, it's not great."Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones," the fifth and penultimate installment in George Lucas's series, has arrived. Will it be successful? Hey, will people go to church on Sunday? Lucas's enterprise has long since passed out of the arena of mere entertainment and into the realm of pure faith. You're either a true believer or an agnostic. To the former, its value is beyond debate, and all criticism a form of heresy. Which leaves guys like me doing the Devil's work. Let the hate mail commence."Attack of the Clones" is a decidedly mixed bag. Star Warians are going to leave happy, for Lucas comes through in the last reel with some genuinely rousing popcorn- movie thrills--the kind of excitement that, 25 years ago, made "Star Wars" such a...
  • Emotional Rescue

    Will, the rich, womanizing, London-based hero of "About a Boy," is shamelessly indolent (he's living off the royalties of his father's hit Christmas jingle), spoiled, selfish, solipsistic and self-admittedly shallow. He's also, as played by Hugh Grant with devilish charm, irresistible. There's something bracing about a movie hero this blithely irresponsible, especially when he narrates his own tale with a cynical wit Oscar Wilde might envy. Movie purists will tell you that a heavy reliance on voice-over is a sin ("show, don't tell"), but when the words are this funny, to hell with purity.Always in pursuit of fresh female conquests, Will starts frequenting meetings of SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together), where, posing as a single dad, he picks up vulnerable single moms. This is how he comes to meet 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), the nerdy son of a depressive and badly dressed vegetarian (Toni Collette). The fatherless Marcus insinuates himself into Will's life. We know, of...
  • Movies | Lust And Consequences

    Diane Lane, long one of Hollywood's most underrated talents, gives a stunning, star-making performance in Adrian Lyne's "Unfaithful." She plays Connie Sumner, a wealthy, happily married suburban mom who impulsively hurls herself into an affair with a hunky 28-year-old French book dealer (Olivier Martinez) in New York's SoHo. (Has anybody ever met a rare-book dealer who looks like this?) In a bravura erotic sequence, Lyne shows us their first sexual encounter not as it's happening, but as Connie remembers it immediately afterward, riding the train back to her husband (Richard Gere). Lost in a post coital reverie, physically and emotionally disheveled, Lane wordlessly shows us the emotional tumult raging inside Connie, as lust, fear, excitement, shame, anguish and embarrassment flood her face in overlapping waves.Connie is hooked on romance like a junkie craving a fix. She's unmoored from her life, oblivious to her husband's suspicions and increasingly neglectful of her son (Erik Per...
  • Flying Blind

    Next to Val Waxman, the cripplingly neurotic New York filmmaker played by Woody Allen in his new comedy, "Hollywood Ending," most of Allen's kvetchy, self-doubting heroes look like models of mental health. It's no surprise his wife, Ellie (Tea Leoni), left him: Val is such a hypochondriac he worries about elm blight. Now, thanks to his ex-wife's close relationship with a studio chief (Treat Williams), the washed-up director gets a comeback chance. But just as he's going into production on a Hollywood feature, he goes psychosomatically blind. Oops.Alas, once it becomes clear that this farfetched joke--the director is blind!--is "Hollywood Ending's" central conceit, Allen's promising satire starts to go awry. Val's laborious attempts to keep his secret--only his agent (Mark Rydell) and his Chinese cinematographer's translator (Barney Cheng) know the truth--play out with-out a shred of credibility, even by farcical standards. That's not the only problem. You know a romantic comedy is...
  • Ansen's Alternatives

    Last year at about this time, I complained that there hadn't been one good Hollywood studio movie released in the first quarter of 2001. ("Shrek" broke the curse.)At the time it seemed like an aberration, but here we are in May 2002, and once again the January through April studio schedule was as bleak and arid as the Dakota badlands. OK, I could make a couple of exceptions: Fox's animated "Ice Age" was a lot of fun, if hardly at "Shrek's" level, and Paramount's "Changing Lanes" was an ambitious, though strained, attempt to take the measure of our national road rage.But for anyone who takes movies seriously, the only deep satisfactions so far this year have come from foreign films and a couple of American independents. The Mexican "Y Tu Mama Tambien" tops the list. It's looking more and more like a classic (it loses none of its sexiness on second viewing and its poignancy only deepens). "Monsoon Wedding" is a delight. The good news is that both these films have broken through the...
  • He's Got The World On A String

    When Christopher Reeve played Superman's alter ego, four-eyed, mild-mannered Clark Kent, he was never really convincing: he looked like a hunky movie star pretending to be a nerd. Tobey Maguire is something else. This superhero--Spider-Man by name--really is a vulnerable kid when the costume comes off, and it makes a big difference: it gives this $120 million production a tone it can call its own. Casting Maguire as Peter Parker, the high-school outcast who gains superhuman powers after he is bitten by a mutant arachnid, automatically alters the scale of this Marvel Comics transplant. With his quiet voice, saucer eyes and tight bow tie of a smile, Maguire is such a minimalist actor that the camera is obliged to observe him in close-up, where his subtle sweetness can be savored. Director Sam Raimi, working from David Koepp's screenplay, wisely anchors his big action-adventure flick on Maguire's modest but beguiling persona.There are plenty of FX on display in "Spider-Man"--some...
  • Revolution On Wheels

    A documentary about skateboarding might seem limited in its appeal to a teen subculture, but the radically stylish "Dogtown and Z-Boys" has already proved that theory wrong. This tribute to the outlaw kids from a scuzzy section of Venice Beach who revolutionized the sport arrives in theaters festooned with prizes: it won best documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards, and both the directing and the audience awards at Sundance 2001. These weren't skating crowds, but folks the fiercely territorial Z-boys would probably have dropped concrete on back in the '70s, the way they used to scare off surfers who dared to horn in on their turf.The Zephyr skating team, made up mostly of young southern California teenagers from broken homes, invented the "vertical," low-to-the-ground, surfing-inspired style of skateboarding that would become the international style, and the feats they accomplished on asphalt-banked school playgrounds and empty swimming pools presaged the high-flying moves we...
  • The Elusive Executive

    The hardworking hero of Laurent Cantet's haunting, remarkable "Time Out" ("L'Emploi du Temps") spends many busy hours behind the wheel of his car, on his cell phone, studying flowcharts or, like many another stressed- out white-collar bureaucrat, canceling plans with his wife and children. But what we gradually come to realize is that Vincent's (Aurelien Recoing) real work is maintaining the lie that he is working. In reality, he's lost his job as a corporate-affairs executive. Keeping this from his family, friends and in-laws becomes a full-time occupation as Vincent sets about constructing a fantasy that is both more terrifying, and in some perverse way, more satisfying, than his legitimate life had been."Time Out" has the mounting dread of a thriller, but the suspense is internal. It has the stately, well-crafted anxiety of a Hitchcock movie, except that the protagonist and antagonist are one and the same. A movie like this could never get made in Hollywood: Cantet thrives on...
  • More Sour Than Sweet

    Talk about good sports. Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair are asked to humiliate themselves many times over in "The Sweetest Thing," and they do it with such game good spirits that they ought to get the actor's equivalent of a Purple Heart. A sub-Farrelly gross-out comedy for guys that masquerades as a chick flick, this crass romantic comedy follows the amorous and erotic misadventures of three single San Francisco roomies. Any comparison to "Sex and the City" is entirely unearned: there is more wit and comic savvy in any two minutes of the HBO show than in all of Nancy M. Pimental's clumsy script. ...
  • THREE MAMMALS AND A BABY

    Twentieth Century Fox may have shut down its animation department after such costly failures as "Titan A.E." and "Monkeybone," but its parting shot is a winner. "Ice Age," the computer-animated family film from director Chris Wedge, is a clever, pleasingly sentimental tale of prehistoric times. It may not have the cutting-edge sophistication of "Shrek" or the Pixar movies, but it's a close runner-up. Grown-ups will laugh right along with the kids; they will also be struck, as little ones may not be, by the many resemblances to other recent animated movies.Our odd-couple heroes are a large woolly mammoth named Manfred and his pesky sidekick Sid, a slothful sloth who attaches himself to the more powerful Manny like an unwanted barnacle. Or like a certain fast-talking donkey attached himself to a popular green ogre. The ice age is commencing, and while all the other creatures migrate south, the independent-minded Manny heads north. While trying to ditch the unwanted Sid, he acquires...
  • SOUTH OF THE BORDERS

    The two 17-year-old best friends at the center of Alfonso Cuaron's wonderful "Y Tu Mama Tambien" are obsessed with sex and bursting with callow braggadocio, their machismo a cover-up for inexperience. It's summer, their girlfriends are traveling in Europe, and Tenoch (Diego Luna), the upper-middle-class son of a corrupt politician, and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who comes from a more modest background, are looking for adventure. They find it in the seductive form of 28-year-old Luisa (Maribel Verdu), the wife of Tenoch's distant cousin. To the boys' amazement, she takes them up on their invitation to accompany them to a faraway beach--Boca del Cielo--whose existence they've invented.Tenoch and Julio's wildest fantasies come true when Luisa (for reasons we only gradually discover) sleeps first with one, then the other--but their answered prayers lead them to realizations about themselves neither wants to acknowledge. The eroticism in Cuaron's road movie (which broke all box-office...
  • Oscar, Bloody Oscar

    This year's Oscar race feels different. Usually by this time, on the eve of the event, the winners are pretty obvious to those who know how to read the tea leaves. But though the various guilds have given their awards, and the Golden Globe winners have been anointed, there's still confusion. The scent of possible upsets is in the breeze.And another odor can be sensed: the smell of blood. This is the nastiest Oscar race in years. A record amount of money was spent on the campaigning. As in any political campaign, if you don't spend, you don't get taken seriously. But as the bucks get bigger, the knives get sharper.The best picture race is up to its knees in bad blood. At issue are the attacks on the veracity of "A Beautiful Mind," which has generally been seen as the movie to beat. One rumor afoot in Hollywood is that Miramax's Harvey Weinstein--who has spent a lot of money supporting "In the Bedroom," and whose name appears as an executive producer on "Lord of the Rings"--is behind...
  • Braveheart Of Darkness

    Though it's very different in tone and style, the Vietnam War movie "We Were Soldiers" bears some uncanny similarities to "Black Hawk Down," starting with the promise of its hero, Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), to leave no man behind. Both movies, based on real events, present themselves as tributes to the soldiers who fought and died in war. The sentiment expressed at the end of writer-director Randall Wallace's movie-- "In the end, we fought for each other... we didn't fight for flag and country"--is the same message delivered by Ridley Scott's film about our troops in Somalia.Hollywood has figured out a way to present war movies without seeming to rattle sabers or wave flags, and at the same time appeal to our patriotic spirit. To achieve this, anything overtly political is sidestepped. In "We Were Soldiers," the question of whether we should have been in Vietnam in the first place is never asked. Two motives seem to be at work: the admirable one of paying belated testimony to...
  • Runaway Bridal Party

    Director Mira Nair has said that she wanted "Monsoon Wedding" to capture "the intoxicating zest for life" of the Punjabi people. Constructed around an arranged wedding in Delhi, at which a far-flung Indian family gathers to celebrate the marriage of their daughter (Vasundhara Das) to an engineer (Parvin Dabas) living in Houston, Nair's buoyant movie makes that zest contagious.The wedding is mounted in traditional Punjabi style, but underneath the formal fanfare simmer dysfunctional-family tensions, deep dark secrets, "upstairs downstairs" intrigues and illicit affairs. On the very eve of the nuptials, the bride drives off for a fling with her married lover. The wedding planner falls in love with the family servant, and the bride's bright, troubled cousin (Shefali Shetty) brings a painful family secret to the surface, forcing the patriarch (Naseerud-din Shah) to face a difficult choice between family honor and personal morality.Nothing Nair has done before ("Salaam Bombay!," "Kama...
  • Unforgiven

    The Oscars wouldn't be any fun if we couldn't complain about them. Fortunately, the Academy always has its fair share of jaw-dropping nominations--though something oddly resembling good taste has been seeping into the selections in the past decade, spoiling some of the fun. There are those of us are old enough to remember a time when you could always count on several of the year's most gaseous stinkers to be nominated for Best Picture. Take the infamous year of 1963, in which the chosen five were "Cleopatra," "How the West Was Won," "Lilies of the Field," "America, America" and the winner, "Tom Jones." This was a year in which they could have nominated "The Birds," "8 1/2," "Hud," "This Sporting Life," "Charade," "The Leopard," "Billy Liar" or "Knife in the Water." ...
  • At War With Ourselves

    While "Black Hawk Down" hangs on at the top of the box-office charts, the war movies keep coming. Soon we'll have Mel Gibson's Vietnam drama "We Were Soldiers." And now we get a POW drama, "Hart's War," set in a German stalag during World War II. But the film's only secondarily concerned with our war against the Nazis. It's the war going on between the American prisoners--pitting two black soldiers against their racist comrades in arms--that gives this movie its edge. It's a subject Hollywood had shied away from for decades and, even now, amid all the "Greatest Generation" salutes, one that gets swept aside: how segregated our armed forces once were. ...
  • No Translation Needed

    Really, you do have options other than hack teen-hormone movies like "Slackers." Here are the best from overseas. The Danish and Italian films are their countries' entries in the Oscar derby, a big tight race that includes such films as "Amelie" from France and "No Man's Land" from Bosnia. ...
  • 'Don't Mention The Oscars'

    If you listen closely to the tape of NEWSWEEK's fifth annual Oscar Round Table, the first thing you hear is one participant kissing another participant on the cheek. Yes, that's right: we invited actors this time. On the Saturday before the Golden Globes, we sat around the table with folks who had given some of the year's most riveting performances: Will Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Billy Bob Thornton and Sissy Spacek. Except for the kissing, it was an entirely unpredictable session. Spacek and Wilkinson starred in "In the Bedroom" together, and Kidman and Watts have been buddies since they were teens in Australia. Still, some of the people at the table had never met. What followed was a surprisingly candid discussion punctuated by outbursts of laughter. Toward the end, Thornton announced, "I don't know many actors. I kind of hang out with musicians, mainly. When I came here I thought, 'Are we gonna sound pretentious? What are we gonna say to each other?' " They...
  • Bugged Out

    It's not exactly a horror film and it's not really science fiction. Perhaps the best way to describe "The Mothman Prophecies" is a supernatural mystery. Whatever it is, it's damn creepy. ...
  • Break On Through To The Oscar Side

    There are two questions Jennifer Connelly gets asked with a punishing regularity, neither of which has anything to do with Jennifer Connelly. She's asked what it was like to work with Russell Crowe, and she's asked what it was like to meet the real Alicia Nash, whom she plays in "A Beautiful Mind" and who, it turns out, asked her what it was like to work with Russell Crowe. Before interviewing Connelly, you decide not to ask her about Crowe at all, to simply ignore the Australian elephant in the room. Still, half an hour into lunch in Manhattan, the actress answers the question you never asked. In "A Beautiful Mind," Crowe plays John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who doesn't ruffle people's feathers as much as yank them out and who--don't try this at home--beats his schizophrenia into submission with the power of his will and the constancy of Alicia's love. Connelly talks about how exhilarating Crowe was to act with, how she refused to be intimidated by any of his reputations. ...
  • Fest Bets

    The frenzy that has come to be synonymous with the Sundance Film Festival--a combination of naked ambition, fear, competition, celebrity swooning and testosterone--seems turned down a notch this year. It's the Utah festival's 20th anniversary, but the air of celebration is on hold in Park City--waiting, perhaps, for the Olympics to arrive. I wouldn't go so far as to call it mellow--how laid back can it be when local fans and paparazzi are visibly drooling at the spectacle of Brad Pitt and Robert Redford hugging each other at the premiere screening of "The Good Girl," a movie starring Mrs. Pitt (a.k.a. Jennifer Aniston)? But the sense that this is a life or death event has, shall we say, been put in perspective. ...
  • Posh Spice, Naughty Spice

    ;Seventy-six-year-old director Robert Altman is in an unusually mellow mood in "Gosford Park," a comedy of manners/murder mystery set in a grand English country house in 1932. Altman has always prided himself on his subversions of traditional Hollywood genres--the private-eye story in "The Long Goodbye," the Western in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller." So it's a bit surprising how much he goes by the book in "Gosford," which, as written by Julian Fellowes, takes elements from Agatha Christie, "Upstairs, Downstairs" and every weekend-in-the-country movie since Jean Renoir's classic "The Rules of the Game." Structurally, the most unconventional thing about it is how long it takes to get around to the murder--well into the second hour. ...
  • Have Yourself A Movie Little Xmas

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: it's been that kind of year for Hollywood, too. The bean counters are smiling -- the studios are enjoying a record-breaking year at the box office. But was anybody else happy? By consensus, 2001 has been deemed the nadir of Hollywood creativity (although it was a strong year for the American independents and for foreign films ). Will the holiday season finally bring on all those great, Oscar-worthy movies we've been waiting for? Truth to tell, not one of the films we survey here gets our top prize of five stars. But don't despair. There are four here we smile upon, and at least four more end-of-the-year worthies "Iris", "Gosford Park", "Monster's Ball" and "Lantana" -- in the wings. Roll 'em!A Beautiful Mind (2 Stars)Dec. 21Jan. 4Director Ron Howard's approach to the problem of the biopic is totally different from "Ali's" Michael Mann. How do you make a mainstream movie out of the life of a man whose activity is almost entirely...
  • Kandahar: The Movie

    During the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, images were the enemy. Photographs and paintings were considered impure. Needless to say, no movies were allowed to be made. But in 1999 acclaimed Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf shot the urgent, eye-opening film "Kandahar" inside Afghanistan's borders despite death threats. No professional actors were used, and much of the film was improvised. Most members of the cast had never seen a movie. The main character, whose real story inspired the film, is an Afghan-raised Canadian journalist desperate to reach her sister in Kandahar before she kills herself. The movie depicts her odyssey across a physically and morally blighted land.Makhmalbaf shows us a country that, in his words, "has been vaccinated against modern civilization." We see a school where young boys are taught to praise Kalashnikov rifles. We see a local doctor--who turns out to be a black American searching for God--examine his female patient through a hole in a cloth curtain....
  • Boys Just Wanna Have Fun

    "Ocean's Eleven" delivers what it promises: a gaggle of movie stars breezing their way through a brisk, glossy Hollywood entertainment. Unlike Steven Soderbergh's last two movies, "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich," or even his superb Elmore Leonard adaptation "Out of Sight," this Las Vegas heist movie has only one purpose--to show us a good time. If you're looking for subtext and social commentary, you've come to the wrong place. These boys just wanna have fun.The original Rat Pack "Ocean's Eleven" is and always was a big bore, however fascinating it may be as a document of retro gender attitudes (and retro fashion: Frank Sinatra's orange alpaca sweater may be the liveliest thing about it). The new version introduces its team of con artists in about as much time as it took Frank and Dino and Sammy to pour themselves a Scotch on the rocks. The mastermind of the scheme is ex-con Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who plans to rob $150 million--on the night of a Lennox Lewis-Wladimir...
  • 'Sky' Is Limited

    In Cameron Crowe's feverish riddle of a film, "Vanilla Sky," Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a spoiled, rich, New York media mogul who hops from woman to woman the way some guys surf TV channels. His interest in sexy Julie (Cameron Diaz) evaporates as soon as he spots his best friend's (Jason Lee) date Sophia (Penelope Cruz), whom he pursues without a thought for the consequences of his actions.Briefly, the movie appears to be a romantic comic portrait of a self-satisfied jerk. Then suddenly it flashes forward to a prison, where David, his handsome face hidden behind a latex mask, is being grilled by a psychologist (Kurt Russell). It seems his face has been disfigured in a car wreck, when the jealous, suicidal Julie drove both of them off a bridge. It also seems that David is facing murder charges. But who is the victim?Just when we think we're watching a murder mystery, the movie's reality shifts under our feet again. Are we watching a dream, a nightmare, a madman's delusions?...