David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • The Spies Who Loved Us

    Nathan Muir, the wily CIA agent on the verge of retirement in director Tony Scott's thriller "Spy Game," is a part impeccably tailored to Robert Redford's coolly heroic charisma. On the last day of his job in Washington, D.C., Muir gets news that his protege, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), is being held in a Chinese prison, and will be executed on charges of espionage in 24 hours. (The year is 1991.) We know that the old pro is going to move heaven and earth to rescue his boy, but he's no Rambo--he's not going to bust into China with a machine gun. He'll do it with his brain, his charm and his tradecraft, manning the phones like Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men" as he sets his brilliantly devious plan in motion.Complicating matters enormously is the fact that his CIA superiors, more concerned with U.S.-Chinese relations than with their rogue op, want to see Bishop dead. Muir, like the loner Redford played in "3 Days of the Condor," is the odd man out in a bureaucratic den of vipers...
  • Out Of Sight

    As of Nov. 21, 2001, the clear favorite for next year's Best Picture Oscar is ... a movie neither you, nor I, have seen. Indeed, the odds are good that most of the nominees (as well as those for actor and actress) are going to come from movies that open in December.It's hard to think of a year when so much was in doubt so late in the game. (If the Oscars were a football game, we'd be entering the 4th quarter with a 0-0 score.) Think of it another way: if the nominations had to be chosen today, Hollywood would be unable to find five of its own to fill the Best Picture category. The only studio movie so far this year that everyone seemed to like is "Shrek" (with "Monsters, Inc." not too far behind). But even its nomination isn't a sure thing, for this is the first year in which a Best Animated Feature category has been introduced, and voters may decide that it shouldn't be up for both awards. Then again, for sheer lack of enthusiasm about the competition, they may well nominate it in...
  • The Trouble With Harry

    Has there ever been a big- budget movie adaptation as faithful to its source as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"? Acutely aware of how beloved J. K. Rowling's children's books are--and what a gold mine such a franchise could be for corporate giant AOL Time Warner--Team Harry has bent over backward to cram everything everybody loves about the book into its two-and-a-half-hour movie, being careful to invent as little as possible. It's all here, from the tape on our hero's oval spectacles to the cluttered splendor of Diagon Alley where 11-year-old Harry goes shopping for the magical school supplies required at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the grayish gunk that emanates from the giant nose of a fallen, full-grown mountain troll.Director Chris Columbus and writer Steve Kloves (who are already in production on the second installment) worked in close collaboration with Rowling, and their respect for her vision is clearest in the uncannily apt casting. Who could...
  • Movies: Scare The Heck Out Of 'Shrek'?

    Shoulder to shoulder, they stride in heroic slow motion into the hangarlike factory, backlit like the space cowboys in "The Right Stuff." Except these fierce, determined guys look weird. One of them is eight feet tall with turquoise and purple fur; another is an eight-legged reptile. These are the Scarers, the elite monsters who keep the city of Monstropolis running. Every night these astronauts of fear transport themselves through magical doors into the closets of human kids, reaching into their venerable bag of tricks to generate shrieks of terror. For, you see, the power source that keeps the lights burning in the land of the monsters is children's screams, captured in canisters. Trouble is, kids today don't scare so easily. Which has left Monstropolis facing an energy crisis. rolling blackouts predicted, run the headlines in the city's papers.This is the fiendishly clever premise of "Monsters, Inc.," the fourth computer-animated feature brought to life by Pixar, the wizards...
  • Movies: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

    A striking, unnerving coming-of-age film, "L.I.E." is the rare American movie that isn't afraid of ambiguity or confronting an audience's preconceptions. First-time director Michael Cuesta (who wrote the screenplay with Stephen M. Ryder and Gerald Cuesta) presents us with characters who elude our snap judgments. The 15-year-old hero, Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), is a disaffected suburban kid who's lost all the moorings in his life. His mother died in a crash on the Long Island Expressway (the L.I.E. of the title). His negligent father, a crooked contractor, is about to be hauled off to jail. His best friend, the amoral pretty boy Gary (Billy Kay), is planning to skip town for California. The only person to offer sympathy and a helping hand is a hearty ex-Marine named Big John (Brian Cox). Everyone refers to him as "a pillar of the community," but the boys know better: he's a sexual predator obsessed with underage teenage boys.The relationship between this fiftysomething man and this...
  • Final Score: O,What A Pity

    Completed in 1999, "O" has been bounced from distributor to distributor like a hot potato. This re-setting of "Othello" in an American high school was deemed too inflammatory after Columbine. Yes, there's a big body count (that Bard did like his bloody finales), but why this display of gore should be any more problematic than a dozen others is a mystery to me.The other mystery, however, is why anybody thought transposing this Shakespeare tragedy of jealousy, pride and evil into high-school terms was such a hot idea. Frankly, I've always found the melodramatic "plot" of "Othello" torturous to sit through. What's great about it is the language, and that's nowhere to be found in director Tim Blake Nelson and writer Brad Kaaya's ambitious but muddled movie. Othello is now high-school basketball star Odin (Mekhi Phifer), the only black student at an elite prep school. Desdemona is Desi (Julia Stiles), and the evil Iago becomes Hugo (Josh Hartnett), Odin's overlooked teammate and the son...
  • Why Can't We Live Together?

    The old joke goes that if you remember the '60s, you probably weren't there. This may help explain why Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson seems to remember this era with uncanny accuracy: he wasn't there. Moodysson was born in 1969. Which would have made him 6 years old in 1975, the year that his touching, dead-on comedy "Together" takes place. ("The '60s" didn't end in 1970.)This funny, bighearted movie about an urban commune in Stockholm avoids all the pitfalls that movies about the counterculture so easily fall into, neither demonizing its free-loving, leftist characters nor holding them up as untarnished free spirits to put down the squares. Moodysson sees the follies of earnest dogmatists and bed-swapping couples who pretend to be beyond jealousy. But if his movie critiques the excesses of the times, it does so with affection. "Together" celebrates the communal spirit with warm but clear eyes.Moodysson also understands that these like-minded revolutionaries were not, in...
  • Summer Camp

    "Wet Hot American Summer" is a parody of the teen-coming-of-age movies of the '70s and '80s (think "Hardbodies" et al.), hardly a subject that would seem to require urgent comic attention. But let's not leap to conclusions. We'll take a funny movie from wherever it comes, and this shamefully underpromoted, gloriously silly romp made me laugh harder than any other movie this summer. Make that this year.The creation of Michael Showalter and David Wain, of the MTV comedy troupe The State, "Wet Hot" transpires in 1981, on the closing day of Camp Firewood, a Jewish summer camp in Maine. A lot happens on this particular day, which will end, in time-honored tradition, with the camp talent show. The romantically clueless camp director (Janeane Garofalo) falls in love with a tightly wound astrophysics assistant professor (David Hyde Pierce), who happens to notice that a part of Skylab is hurtling dangerously toward camp. The tall, geeky counselor Coop (Showalter) falls for the bodacious...
  • Out Of Tune

    It's not hard to see why the ingredients of Louis De Bernieres's novel "Corelli's Mandolin" looked like surefire movie material. Set on a beautiful Greek island torn apart by World War II, this darkly satiric epic has comedy, drama, a love story, occupying armies of amiable Italians and nasty Nazis, horrific war scenes and an earthquake to boot. On-screen, adapted by Shawn Slovo, directed by John ("Shakespeare in Love") Madden and rechristened "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," all these goodies are crammed into an overproduced jumble that searches vainly for a proper tone.Not surprisingly, the movie emphasizes the love triangle between the beautiful Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), who's the daughter of a local doctor (John Hurt), and the two men who love her--a fisherman turned partisan (Christian Bale) and the captain of the occupying Italian forces, the humanistic, music-loving Corelli (Nicolas Cage). Problem is, every role is miscast. Whose idea was it to have the boyishly British Bale play...
  • 'Apocalypse' Then And Now

    My film is not a movie," Francis Ford Coppola proclaimed of "Apocalypse Now" in 1979 at a press conference in Cannes. "My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam." That may be the dumbest thing Coppola ever said in public, and anyone who actually fought or witnessed that war would be right to take offense. But the flagrant grandiosity is a testament to the mad ambition of the film and the tenor of the times in which it was made. Coming off his two "Godfather" triumphs, the director set the stakes as high as he could--no mere home run, this was going to be his esthetic grand slam. When the film was first released, its measure was taken against that promise, and most people deemed it a failure, albeit a dazzling, unforgettable one.Time has been good to Coppola's movie. The new "Apocalypse Now Redux" is 53 minutes longer; watching it in the same theater where I first saw it (the huge screen at the Ziegfeld in New York) was an exhilarating experience. As we follow Martin Sheen's...
  • Def, Dumped And Blonde: Dressed For Revenge

    Dumped by her East Coast patrician boyfriend, whose political ambitions require "a Jackie, not a Marilyn," the perky, popular Bel Air blonde Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a major in fashion marketing, vows to win him back by applying to Harvard Law School, where he is headed. Instead of an essay, she sends a video "directed by a Coppola." In it, the bikini-clad Elle, spouting her California-girl notion of legalese, hawks her assets while posing in a hot tub. She gets in. This video is one of the highlights of "Legally Blonde," a broad, glossy teen comedy that shows off Witherspoon's wicked comic talents. Silly? You bet. But if this Popsicle of a movie melts long before it's over, the first half has more good laughs than all of "Sweethearts."Legally BlondeMGM July 13
  • Pretty Whatever

    Julia Roberts's smile has probably been written about as much as the Mona Lisa's. What has been less noticed is how fetchingly, and fiercely, she plays anger. Roberts was in high dudgeon throughout most of "Erin Brockovich," and when her rage comes to the surface late in "America's Sweethearts," this old-fashioned romantic comedy finally seems sort of romantic, and almost comic. The best you can say about the rest of director Joe Roth's Hollywood comedy is that it's resoundingly so-so.Roberts plays the self-abnegating Kiki, sister and personal assistant to vain, narcissistic superstar Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who treats her formerly plump sibling like a servant. Gwen and her estranged husband, Eddie Thomas (John Cusack), are the "sweethearts" of the title: a glam Hollywood couple who made nine hit movies together before Gwen dumped him for another leading man. Hank Azaria plays this macho Spanish lover with a funny Castilian accent, a throwback to the '30 s screwball...
  • Saving Summer

    There's a real disadvantage in not being a teenager in the summertime. If you don't happen to be preoccupied with tomb raiding, street racing, mummification or talking animals, Hollywood doesn't want to know you. As far as it's concerned, you cease to exist about a dozen years after you hit puberty.If "Scary Movie 2" and the cluttered, charmless "Cats & Dogs" are the best the studios can come up with for the Fourth of July, we're in big trouble. (You were hoping for another "Babe"? Think "Howard the Duck.") So what's a grown-up to do? Just say no. Hollywood isn't the only game in town--that is, if you happen to live in a big town. There are, it turns out, movie-producing countries across the sea where actual grown-ups appear in movies that are about something more than special effects. And even here in America there are still a few cranky independents who believe it's possible to make movies that bear more than a casual relationship with the real world.One of the best of them,...
  • Nobody's Perfect, But Some Get Close

    There are movie stars we love because they, unlike us mortals, never break a sweat. And then there are the stars we love because they do our sweating for us. Jack Lemmon, one of the finest, funniest and most popular movie actors of the second half of the last century, was the uncoolest of icons. He squirmed for our sins. A middle-class Everyman forever tugging at his collar, his shoulders hunched in anticipation of a bashing from above, his ingratiating smile more nervous query than expression of pleasure, Lemmon was the personification of the beleaguered, white-collar American male, compromised but lovable. Whether as the hypochondriac fussbudget Felix in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," the sniffling corporate climber in Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" or, much later in his career, the desperate real-estate salesman in David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," this Paganini of panic played the mid-century melody of anxiety with perfect comic pitch. Last Thursday this glorious bundle of...
  • Suddenly Last Summer, Mate

    Shiny with suntan oil, the beefy, retired gangster Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is basking happily in the Spanish sun at his home in the Costa del Sol when, out of nowhere, a huge boulder crashes down the mountain behind him, bounces over his reclining body and plops into the swimming pool. This is the startling opening of "Sexy Beast," and like much that will follow in this stylish and unsettling English film noir, it catches you off guard, uncertain whether to laugh or shiver.Gal's near brush with death is a sign that his blissful retirement with his adoring wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman), is about to be shattered. Enter Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), his old underworld partner and nemesis. Don wants to lure Gal back into his old life of crime; he's putting together a team for a bank heist back in London, and he won't take no for an answer."Sexy Beast" does end up in London, and a robbery does take place, but first-time director Jonathan Glazer and writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto have...
  • Bigger And Bigger 'Swordfish' To Fry

    Swordfish" is a movie that believes in cutting to the chase. Anyone familiar with the work of action-movie producer Joel Silver ( "Die Hard," "The Matrix") can count on being zapped with the cinematic equivalent of electroshock every few minutes. His slick new demolition derby, directed by Dominic Sena, is so zap-happy it starts with a sequence that in any other movie would be the climax: a spectacularly destructive TNT explosion that sends bodies, cars and trucks flying through the air in gorgeously choreographed slow motion. Mayhem-wise, nothing that follows is remotely as spectacular, and that includes the sight of a helicopter zipping through high-rise downtown L.A. with an occupied bus dangling below.It's a good thing the action is noisily distracting, because you don't want any down-time in which to ponder the plausibility, or the sense, of anything that is happening. This nutty paranoid thriller seems to be about a superrich master criminal (John Travolta) who enlists a...
  • The Shrek Effect

    For as long as anyone can remember, the word "animation" has been synonymous with the name Walt Disney. They have ruled this roost unchallenged ever since Mickey was a newborn mouse. Of the six highest-grossing animated films of all time, all are Disney. At the top of the heap roars "The Lion King," with $312.9 million in domestic grosses alone. But the movie's box-office revenue is only part of its remarkable success: add in merchandising, video, the stage spinoff and theme-park attractions, and "Lion King" has generated an estimated $1 billion in profits--not revenue, profits--for the Disney empire.Numbers like that can make the competition drool with envy. Into the breach rushed Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks, hoping to loosen Disney's stranglehold on the market. Last year, after the sci-fi fantasy "Titan A.E." crashed and burned at the box office, Fox retreated from the field in defeat, closing down its animation department. Warners, after the disappointment...
  • Yes, 'Rouge' Can, Can, Can

    Baz Luhrmann's deliriously energetic, promiscuously postmodern, tragicomical musical "Moulin Rouge" starts at such a frenetic level I thought it was going to self-destruct before it even got started. Imagine a Ken Russell movie run at double speed. We are hurled into a make-believe, studio-constructed Paris in "the summer of love," 1899, a decadent bohemian paradise startlingly stocked with 20th-century cultural artifacts. Instead of Offenbach, we get "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) hums "The Sound of Music." In Luhrmann's Montmartre, the moon has a smiling face, lovers dance on clouds and a beautiful courtesan (Nicole Kidman) falls in love with a penniless poet (Ewan McGregor) when he serenades her with Elton John's "Your Song." ...
  • Arts Extra: The Lessons Of Hollywood's Creative Crisis

    Every year I keep a running list of the films I'll want to remember in December when it comes time to compile my 10 Best list. The year 2001 was a third over at the end of April, and a stunning fact stared me in the face. The major Hollywood studios had not produced one film that had a prayer of ending up on my list. In fact, the studios had not-until the arrival of "Shrek" in mid-May-released even one good movie, by any standards. ...
  • Make War, Not Love

    Whatever else you can say about "Pearl Harbor," when it comes to the money sequence--the Japanese bombs wreaking havoc on the U.S. fleet that fateful morning--Michael Bay's epic delivers. Ninety minutes into this massive movie the attack commences, and the spectacular images come hurtling like fireballs. This is,let's be honest, what we're here for, and what most Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movies serve up best: the poetry of destruction. Fighter planes swoop between buildings like something out of "Star Wars." A battleship flips sideways in the Hawaiian harbor, the crew clutching to the edge like something out of "Titanic." Drowning soldiers are shot underwater, enemy bullets strafing the ocean like something out of "Saving Private Ryan." ...
  • Knight Lite

    For a brief, hopeful moment, the wildly anachronistic "A Knight's Tale" promises to be a madcap romp. Here we are at a jousting tournament in medieval England, and as the armored knights charge each other on horseback the exuberant crowd sings along to the old Queen heavy-metal anthem "We Will Rock You." And does the wave! ...
  • A Shrek Of A Summer

    Typically, the summers are hot and the movies are not. This year, though, Hollywood is giving even cynics reason to believe. A World War II epic. An audacious musical. A delightful, demented fairy tale. And, if you ever liked any movie at all, you're in luck: this summer they're releasing the sequel. (The Mummy returns--and so do the dinosaurs, the talking animals, etc.) What follows is a guide to what looks good, bad and--have you checked out that guy Shrek? --very, very ugly. ...
  • Toot, Toot, Beep, Beep

    If Horatio Alger were reborn as a drug dealer, he might resemble George Jung (Johnny Depp) in "Blow." A fun-loving lad from modest New England roots, this American dreamer lands in southern California in the heady, hedonistic '60s, where he begins his brilliant career peddling pot to blond stewardesses. Soon, backed by a rich hairdresser/drug dealer (Paul Reubens), he is moving massive amounts of Mexican weed and enjoying the fruits of his labor: a house in Acapulco, a German girlfriend ("Run, Lola, Run's" Franka Potente) and an endless supply of cash. ...
  • With The Ferocity Of Dogs

    When you walk out of the ferocious "Amores Perros," you feel as if you've had the wind knocked out of you. It's easy enough to pummel an audience with violence and shock effects, and this powerful Mexican movie is not without its sensational aspects. Most notoriously, there are the bloody (simulated) dogfights that send some animal lovers fleeing up the aisles. But Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's astonishingly assured first feature--an Oscar nominee for best foreign film--burrows deeper than that. He's conjured up a dark, brutal vision of urban life that sticks to your skin like soot. ...
  • Arts Extra: Wait! Read This Before You Fill Out Your Office Pool!

    Handicapping this year's Oscars is a bit like playing this year's stock market: a no-win situation. With a few exceptions, the races are as tight as Florida was in November, and any attempts to forecast the winner will only leave you, like Tom Brokaw and his colleagues, with egg all over your face. ...
  • Heading South

    "The Mexican" poses a problem for moviegoers everywhere. To go or not to go? You really want to see Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt together. And why not? The wattage both these stars produce with their smiles could solve California's energy crisis. But what their considerable charm can't salvage is "The Mexican," a tired, confused romantic comedy/noir thriller with all the suspense of an infomercial. Maybe it will help you decide if you know that Julia and Brad spend most of the movie apart. They're together only at the beginning (bickering) and at the end (bickering and making up). ...
  • Knock, Knock. Who's There?

    Hannibal Lecter, being a connoisseur of fine wines, Renaissance art, and dapper Borsalino hats, would have liked the idea of Ridley Scott directing the long-awaited sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs." Scott, as we know from "Blade Runner" and "Gladiator," is a visual stylist par excellence. Every frame of his movies has to look just so. "Hannibal" was shot in Florence, Italy (where the cannibalistic Lecter is masquerading as art expert Dr. Fell), in Washington, D.C. (where FBI agent Clarice Starling is based), and on the grand Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. (where Lecter's victim and nemesis, billionaire Mason Verger, plots his revenge on the man who de-skinned his face), and it looks gorgeous. Scott conjures atmospheres that are baroquely seductive. He also gives us sights--Verger's grotesquely disfigured face; a man with the top of his head cut off, revealing a red pulsing brain that Lecter intends to saute for dinner--that make one cringe with disgust.That's the good news....
  • Pass Me An Oscar

    Oscar nominations will be revealed unto the world on Feb. 13, at some ungodly hour, Pacific time. Already we can't stand the wait. Every year, at the height of the melee known as awards season, NEWSWEEK invites Hollywood's most acclaimed filmmakers to a hotel room in Beverly Hills for a full-contact discussion of movies, money and trophies. Directors have compared notes. Screenwriters have swapped outrages. This time we reached out to producers. It's a tenuous time in Hollywood. The Oscar race is strange and uncertain--Can Steven Soderbergh beat Steven Soderbergh?Will Miramax get shut out of the best-picture category?Will Liz Taylor be allowed near a podium?--and there's the threat of strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. What follow are excerpts from the producers' two-hour talk.NEWSWEEK: So who can tell me what it is that you people do for a living? Are you mostly on the phone all day long?STACEY SHER: Oh, that was so cheap! Mostly on the phone all...
  • Lock, Stock, Same Barrel

    Guy Ritchie, who made his name with the London crime comedy "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (and, yes, by marrying Madonna), isn't taking any chances with his second film, "Snatch." Essentially, he's made the same movie over again, with a bigger budget and with Brad Pitt in a funny and flashy supporting role as a bare-knuckle gypsy boxer with an indecipherable quasi-Irish accent.Once again you have larcenous plans gone farcically awry. In this case, the coveted object is an 84-carat diamond stolen in Antwerp, restolen in London and hotly pursued by several different parties of varying criminal ineptitude. Once again you have colorful lowlifes with names like Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia), Turkish (Jason Statham) and Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro, wrestling with a Yiddish accent). Ritchie again serves up his trademark mix of sadism and slapstick in his trademark music-video style. Still, he maintains a fine instinct for just how much blood he can splatter and still...