David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • A Sweet-And-Sour Sandler

    After "The Wedding Singer," which reinvented Adam Sandler as a sensitive sweetie with an uncanny resemblance to the young Bob Dylan, and his megahit "The Waterboy," which reverted him to anarchic-moronic adolescent form, you have to wonder which Adam Sandler will show up in "Big Daddy." Well, Sonny Koufax, the upper-middle-class slacker who reluctantly discovers the joys of parenting when a 5-year-old tyke is deposited on his doorstep, is a kind of Every-Adam, designed to ring every demographic bell in the land. Sweet and sour, Sonny is like a shotgun wedding between his subversive W. C. Fields/Jerry Lewis side and his sentimental Wallace Beery/Tom Hanks Mr. Softie.Amiable, schizoid and disposable, "Big Daddy" is just as formulaic as you might imagine: any story in which an irresponsible slob decides to adopt an orphan can be headed in only one uplifting direction. But there are enough rudely funny surprises along the way to hold your attention. Just because Sandler's Sonny makes...
  • Take That!

    To find out how obscenities save the world from Satan and Saddam Hussein; to understand why the United States has declared war on Canada; to hear the best (and only) song written in praise of Brian Boitano, and to witness the violent demise of Bill Gates, there is only one place to turn: "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." Every bit as tasteless, irreverent, silly and smart as the Comedy Central cartoon that catapulted creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone into the Hollywood catbird seat, "South Park" has a gag-to-laugh ratio even higher than the new "Austin Powers."And it's filled with roof-raising musical numbers. That may be the biggest difference from the half-hour show. Otherwise, all the familiar, strangely fatherless little devils are on hand: lovelorn Stan, still pining and puking for Wendy; obtuse Cartman, making anti-Semitic cracks at the neurotic Kyle, and the parka-shrouded, incomprehensible Kenny, who dies this time when a surgeon replaces his heart with a baked...
  • Hollywood's New Swinger

    This Tarzan doesn't just swing through trees. He flips, flies and surfs the branches like a master skateboarder at Venice Beach. There may have been myriad versions of the Ape Man's story, but none has moved like Disney's animated, ultrakinetic "Tarzan." It's a swirling, fluid retelling of the tale that packs an impressive cargo of laughs, thrills and wonders into a watertight 88 minutes. ...
  • Double Life

    "For a long time I have lived in two places," begins Daniel Mendelsohn in his brainy and beautiful "The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity," a meditation on the double lives all of us, to some extent, live. "Wherever I am is the wrong place for half of me." This is not the complaint of an alienated man--though Mendelsohn, as someone who grew up gay in a straight culture, more interested in Sappho and Catullus than sports and cars, knows plenty about otherness. It is the insight of a man who has seen how slippery and paradoxical our notions of identity are, and has embraced "the rich conflictedness of things." ...
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Movie

    Twenty-two years ago "Star Wars" came out of nowhere, and changed the world. "Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace" comes out amid a cacophony of media hype, carrying on its shoulders the wildest hopes of several generations of worshipful moviegoers. It's been 16 years since "Return of the Jedi," the last installment of George Lucas's trilogy. In a country with a notoriously short attention span, it's nothing less than miraculous that the passage of time made no dent in our appetite for this intergalactic adventure. It's not hype to say that "Phantom Menace" is the most eagerly awaited movie ever made. (Pilgrims started camping out in front of theaters a month before its May 19 opening.) You'll be hard pressed to find anyone who doubts for a moment that it will recoup its $115 million budget.I will beat around the bush no longer. The movie is a disappointment. A big one. Will you take my word for it? Of course not. This massively marketed movie is virtually critic-proof....
  • Aggressively Aussie

    The insanely happy Kerrigan family finds delight where others would find horror. This lovey-dovey Australian crew lives in a house perched atop a toxic landfill, situated next to a deafening airport runway overseen by looming electrical-power poles. The proud patriarch, Darryl (Michael Caton), a tow-truck driver, waxes enthusiastic about his fake chimney, his pet greyhounds and his hairdresser daughter's horrid hairdo. In his incurably optimistic eyes, he is living a charmed life in the perfect abode, and nobody is going to take it away from him. Not even the government, which orders him to sell his home to make way for an expanded airport."The Castle" is further proof that the Aussies love to make affectionate fun of the tackiest aspects of their culture. (Remember "Strictly Ballroom"?) This modest little comedy, tossed off in 11 days by director Rob Sitch, became the country's biggest-grossing film of 1997. While it obviously struck a deep chord in its homeland, here it's not much...
  • Return To Vietnam

    The first American movie to be shot in Vietnam since the war, "Three Seasons" arrives garlanded with prizes from the Sundance Film Festival. The writer-director, 26-year-old Tony Bui, walked off with both the jury's Grand Prize and the Audience Award for his subtitled film. In addition, Lisa Rinzler was honored for her cinematography. This last accolade is the easiest to understand: whether she's filming in the humid, bustling streets of Saigon or among lotus-strewn country landscapes, Rinzler's burnished images give off a lovely glow. The heat, the beauty and the poverty of contemporary Vietnam are made tangible.Bui, who was raised in California (he left Vietnam when he was 2), interweaves three tales intended to reflect a society in painful transition, torn between Eastern and Western traditions. One tells of a poor cyclo driver's (Don Duong) dogged love for an ambitious Saigon prostitute (Zoe Bui). One involves a lovely young lotus picker (Nguyen Ngoc Hiep) whose singing awakens...
  • In A Class By Herself

    Having proved himself an equal-opportunity offender in "Citizen Ruth"--a comedy that skewered both sides of the abortion debate-- satirist Alexander Payne turns his jaundiced eye on an Omaha high-school election. The front runner (because she's running uncontested) is the ferociously perky go-getter Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). This ruthless overachiever so offends "Teacher of the Year" Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) that he recruits sweet, dumb football hero Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her. Joining the fray is Paul's discontented lesbian sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), whose proposal to abolish student government altogether wins her unexpected popularity.No one comes out of "Election" unscathed. Poor Mr. McAllister, who would seem to be the voice of morality, is willing to betray all the principles of democracy--not to mention his marriage vows--in his increasingly unhinged efforts to stop the Flick juggernaut. Director Payne, who adapted Tom Perrotta's novel...
  • Folks, Please Remain Seated

    Air-traffic controllers call what they do "Pushing Tin." It's a maximum-stress job that calls for split-second reflexes, nerves of steel and high levels of testosterone. Mike Newell's comedy, written by "Taxi" and "Cheers" veterans Glen and Les Charles, takes us inside the Long Island radar tower where the safety of 7,000 daily flights into and out of JFK, La Guardia and Newark rests in the hands of cocky pros like Nick Falzone (John Cusack). Nick, who prides himself on being the best in the business, mans his radar screen like a guy playing the ultimate videogame, with life-or-death stakes.The gamesmanship doesn't end with office hours. The macho competition extends into the men's private lives, as we discover when Nick's status is threatened by the arrival of the laconic, motorcycle-riding Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton), whose Zen-like cool instantly rubs Nick the wrong way. Nor does it help that Russell is accompanied by a luscious, adoring wife (Angelina Jolie). Though Nick...
  • Dressed Up, Nowhere To 'Go'

    Desperate for cash on Christmas Eve, an 18-year-old supermarket checkout clerk (Sarah Polley) takes it upon herself to score 20 hits of ecstasy for a couple of cute actors (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr). In Go, Doug Liman, the director of the hip "Swingers," shows us the comically twisted fallout of her disastrous drug deal. It all takes place in 24 hours, but we see this day from three separate angles. In the first part, we get the checkout girl's story. Then we follow Simon (Desmond Askew), the young Brit who was supposed to do the deal but instead ends up in Las Vegas, setting fire to a hotel room and fleeing an armed strip-club owner. Finally, we watch the day from the point of view of the two actors, whose involvement in the drug transaction puts them at the mercy of a very peculiar cop (William Fichtner) who blackmails them into having dinner with his wife, where he makes an unexpected proposal.John August's trickily structured script owes an all too obvious debt to "Pulp Fiction,"...
  • What Cyberdreams May Come

    What if everything we thought was real--these streets, this city, the year 1999--was merely a computer-generated program in our heads, a cyberdream of reality? That, in short, is the premise of The Matrix, which appears to be set in the present --that is where its hero, Neo (Keanu Reeves), thinks he is--but is actually set in 2199, when artificial-intelligence machines rule the world, and humans are merely the crops they grow to supply energy.In Larry and Andy Wachowski's flamboyantly energetic action movie, Neo gets clued into the real deal: humans are just slaves to the machine. He's chosen by the rebel hacker Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to lead the Resistance against man's mechanical masters."The Matrix" throws a lot at you--mythic quests, pop Pirandello, kung-fu fight scenes and an encyclopedia of quotations from "Alien" to "Blade Runner" to Cocteau's "Orpheus." The Wachowskis, who made the bouncy lesbian crime comedy "Bound," have a true passion for pulp, a boldly dynamic...
  • So This Is Your Life?

    Since EDtv is about a guy whose life is played out in front of TV cameras, comparisons will be made to "The Truman Show." The similarities are obvious, with the crucial difference that Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), the 31-year-old video-store clerk in San Francisco who's catapulted to media stardom, is an entirely willing participant. The truth is that director Ron Howard's lively, Zeitgeist-surfing comedy is so topical it will call to mind everything from Larry Flynt's offer to pay for dirt exposing Republicans to Barbara Walters's Neilsen-busting Monica interview, a squirm-inducing two hours that, like "EDtv," shows us the ghastly repercussions of turning our private lives public.Ed is a likable east Texas slob plucked out of the crowd by producer Cynthia Topping (a wryly funny Ellen DeGeneres) in a desperate effort to rescue her ailing True TV network. His vain brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson in full cracker mode), wanted the gig to promote his gym. Instead, good ole boy Ray...
  • With British Barrels Blazing

    The British crime comedy Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels starts off with such showy, hip, "Trainspotting"-indebted commotion--the camera whirling and stopping as if in the grip of Saint Vitus' dance--that it seems this movie will surely wear out both the viewer and its welcome very fast. But hang in there. Once you sort out the main characters--four cheeky East London schemers whose plan to make a killing in a poker game backfires disastrously--and once the plot kicks into action, it becomes clear that under the shameless MTV pyrotechnics lies a structure as intricately crafted as a Feydeau farce.First-time writer-director Guy Ritchie has a giddy gift for storytelling. His quartet of con artists are out £500,000 to a dangerous porn king who threatens to remove their digits one by one. The lads' solution to their bleak predicament is to rip off their next-door neighbors--a gang of thugs who are themselves planning to rip off a cash-rich clutch of ganja-growing college kids....
  • Now At A Desktop Near You

    They all thought Francis Coppola had gone a bit wiggy when he offered this vision of the future of cinema: "For me the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders are around and people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them, and suddenly, one day, some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder and the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever."That was a decade ago. But who's laughing now? The revolution he foresaw, facilitated by the increasing power of desktop computers and the rise of affordable digital (DV) camcorders, is underway. Dubbed the "microcinema movement," it's the biggest technological change in moviemaking since the arrival of lightweight 16mm cameras in the '50s and '60s, which made possible the New Wave and cinema verite. Digital video--fed from your camcorder into your home computer, where you can edit it, jazz it up with spinning titles and...
  • Sister Act

    THE JACKIE OF Hilary and Jackie is the great, passionate English cellist Jacqueline du Pre, whose career--and life--was cut short by multiple sclerosis. Knowing only this bare outline, you'd have reason to fear another hagiographic account of a great spirit nobly felled by a movie disease. But what director Anand Tucker has wrought is something far more spiky and complex. Informed by the memoirs of Jackie's sister, Hilary, and brother, Piers, this double portrait of sibling love and sibling rivalry treads a richly ambivalent line between tribute and expose. Emily Watson's turbulent Jackie is both a brave, adventurous talent and a tormented solipsist, whose selfishness flowered in the self-indulgent Zeitgeist of the '60s. ...
  • What's Bred In The Bone

    NOVELIST RUSSELL Banks, the author of ""Continental Drift'' and ""The Sweet Hereafter,'' is a specialist in the bruised, violent male psyche, and he couldn't have found a more ideal interpreter to bring Affliction to the screen than writer-director Paul Schrader, the screenwriter who dreamed up ""Taxi Driver's'' Travis Bickle. Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte), the protagonist of this ferociously bleak film, is a part-time cop and divorced dad in a working-class New Hampshire town. Angry, hard-drinking, resentful of his daughter's preference for his ex-wife, Wade tries to be a good man but his rage keeps getting in the way. The violence inside him is bred in the bone, beaten into him by an alcoholic father (James Coburn) who still taunts him as if he were a child.""Affliction''--which is narrated by Wade's brother, Rolfe (Willem Dafoe)--unfolds, deceptively, as a murder mystery. A wealthy man is shot and killed while deer hunting in the snowy woods. Wade doesn't think it was an accident....
  • Rough Waters

    It's unfortunate, but it can't be helped: to talk about ""Titanic" is to talk about money. There was a time, though it seems long ago, when the public and the press talked about movies as entertainment, as political statements, sometimes even as ar t. That was before ""Heaven's Gate," before ""Waterworld," before the media became obsessed with budgets, Mike Ovitz and opening-weekend grosses. That was before the era of James Cameron. ...
  • He's Writing His Own Ticket

    Matt Damon IS NO CHRIS O'Donnell. Thank God. Damon is twice the actor O'Donnell is--actually, he's O'Donnell squared--but not long ago he was in the habit of losing roles to the boy wonder of bland. So Damon and his longtime buddy, actor Ben Affleck, wrote a movie for themselves called ""Good Will Hunting.'' They then declined offers as high as $1 million from studios that wanted to buy the script but cast superstars instead. Finally, Miramax met their demands. Later, Gus Van Sant--the edgy director of ""Drugstore Cowboy'' and ""To Die For''--would ask to direct and Robin Williams would call out of the blue to request a supporting role. Still, nothing quite matched the jubilation of that first deal. ""Oh, man, when we finally sold the script, we had everybody over to our house,'' says Damon, 27. ""It was warm Pabst Blue Ribbon for everybody!'' ...
  • Southern Discomfort

    SENT TO SAVANNAH, GA., TO COVER an elegant, black-tie Christmas party for Town and Country, New York writer John Kelso (John Cusack) finds himself knee deep in Southern eccentrics--and embroiled in a murder case. To the horror of Savannah society, the party's ""bachelor'' host, Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), is arrested for shooting his hustler lover (Jude Law). On the phone to a friend back home, the discombobulated journalist describes his Savannah experience: ""It's like "Gone With the Wind' on mescaline.'' ...
  • Film Clips

    ALIEN RESURRECTION It started out, under Ridley Scott, as a horror film in space. James Cameron, in the sequel, turned it into an apocalyptic war movie. The David Fincher version was a rather arty passion play in which Ripley martyred herself to save the world. And where does ""Alien Resurrection'' take us? Mighty close to camp. Under the reins of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (""Delicatessen''), the franchise has lost none of its taste for acid-spewing, flesh-impaling, entrail-dripping gore. But the tone has changed, as has Sigourney Weaver's mighty Ripley. Brought back to life after 200 years, having given birth to an alien, Ripley seems to have acquired superhuman powers and a new, bitterly sardonic lease on life. ""I heard you ran into these things before,'' notes a terrified crewman on the latest spaceship of fools. ""So, like, what did you do?'' ""I died,'' quips Ripley. ...
  • The Colors Of Mourning

    ON A SNOWBOUND, WINTRY DAY outside the small town of Sam Dent, in British Columbia, the local school bus plunges off the side of a hill and sinks into a frozen lake. Fourteen of the town's children die. Among the few survivors are the bus driver, Dolores Driscoll, and the beautiful teenager, Nicole Burnell, who will be wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. In the face of such a calamity, how does a community survive? How do the parents cope? Who do they turn to for solace--and where do they look for scapegoats? These are among the big questions raised by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan's strong, harrowing The Sweet Hereafter, taken from Russell Banks's novel.In the book, the tale was told by a handful of narrators. There was the well-liked Dolores (Gabrielle Rose). There was Nicole (Sarah Polley), who hid a dark family secret, and the Vietnam vet Billy Ansell (Bruce Greenwood), a widower who lost his twin children in the accident. The fourth narrator, the big-city lawyer...
  • Film Clips

    JOHN GRISHAM'S THE RAINMAKER A wonderfully quirky cast under Francis Ford Coppola's direction makes this one of the more enjoyable Grisham movies. The formula is pure David and Goliath: an idealistic young lawyer (Matt Damon) and his ambulance-chasing partner (Danny DeVito) do battle with a corrupt insurance company and its team of expensive lawyers. In a romantic subplot, our hero falls for a battered wife (Claire Danes). The outcome of both stories may be predictable, but the writing (Coppola did the adaptation) is sharp and funny, low-rent Memphis is pungently evoked and the scoundrels are irresistibly hissable. Among the best of a gravel-voiced lot are Mickey Rourke as a flamboyantly shady lawyer, Dean Stockwell as a tyrannical judge and Jon Voight as a sleek corporate attorney. The good guys are fun, as well: the naive but shrewd Damon; DeVito at his slob-pit-bull best; a droll Danny Glover as the presiding judge, and Mary Kay Place as the dirt-poor woman who instigates the...
  • The Neo-Noir '90S

    AFTER WORLD WAR II French critics became aware of a new mood gloomy, doomy and dangerous--in Hollywood movies, They coined a term, film noir, to describe these crime-infested, shadow-draped, black-and-white movies. What they couldn't have foreseen was how a fatalistic cinematic style would turn, in the pre-millennium '90, into a lifestyle. Noir is decidedly back--in the clothes we wear, the music we hear, the ads we read and in the most critically acclaimed movie of the year, "L.A. Confidential." Pottery Barn is offering a black "Dial for Murder" rotary phone. The new lounge-lizard culture, flaunting such retro poisons as martinis and cigarettes, invites us to glamorously rebel against an age of abstinence and political correctness. The folks at Camel advertise their beleaguered product with an image of a femme fatale beckoning us to danger. Tom Ford's new Gucci collection is noir-inspired down to its '40s-era monkey-fur jacket--and even Ralph Lauren is unleashing metal spike heels...
  • Film Clips

    DEEP CRIMSON. In real life they were known as the Lonely Hearts Killers. They were called ""The Honeymoon Killers'' in Leonard Kastle's 1970 cult movie. Now the tale of the couple who murdered lonely widows has been stunningly remade as ""Deep Crimson'' by Arturo Ripstein, Mexico's finest living director. An obese nurse whose breath reeks of the morgue (Regina Orozco) falls for a gigolo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) who reminds her of Charles Boyer. Abandoning her children to be with him, she poses as his sister as the two, answering lonely-hearts ads, cross the Mexican countryside in the 1940s fleecing and slaughtering their victims. Ripstein and his wife, writer Paz Alicia GarcIadiego, lure us in with black comedy, inviting us to feel pity for the grotesque nurse and the vain gigolo, only to horrify us when the movie wades into the deep end of evil. A former assistant to Luis BuNuel, Ripstein shares with him a coolly unsentimental vision flecked with perverse wit. This monstrous love...
  • The Philosopher King

    ERROL MORRIS LIKES TO DESCRIBE his newest movie, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, as ""the ultimate low-concept movie--a film that utterly resists the possibility of a one-line summary.'' Trying to define any Errol Morris movie is a slippery business. This obsessive, cerebral, cosmically ironic filmmaker makes one-of-a-kind movies that are often filed under the category ""documentary,'' a rubric that doesn't begin to grapple with their singularity.His best-known film, ""The Thin Blue Line,'' an investigation into a Texas crime that resulted in the release of a man wrongly convicted of murder, is the easiest to buttonhole; but even there Morris mixed real interviews with simulated re-enactments, blurring the line between fact and fiction. Morris's interviews, in which his subjects speak straight into the camera, have a spookily formal quality that's all his own. This style was evident in his amazing first feature, ""Gates of Heaven.'' Ostensibly about pet cemeteries, its true subject...
  • The Problem With Brad

    THERE ARE ANY NUMber of actors I could imagine playing an arrogant, self-absorbed Austrian mountain climber, but Brad Pitt wouldn't come first to mind. Yet here he is, blonder than usual but still cute as a button, hoisting his lean American body up the Himalayas in Jean-Jacques Annaud's epic-scale Seven Years in Tibet. Pitt, sporting a passable Teutonic accent, is playing real-life adventurer Heinrich Harrer, who served as a tutor to the young Dalai Lama in Lhasa just before the Chinese invaded Tibet.The filmmakers didn't know when they filmed his story that Harrer had been a Nazi and an SS member before setting off on his trip in 1939. In postproduction they slipped in a few references to his past, thus giving their chilly protagonist even more bad karma to overcome on his voyage of spiritual rebirth. Leaving his pregnant wife behind, Harrer sets off with Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis) to scale Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. The mission--replete with cliffhangers and an...
  • An Heir To 'The Heiress'

    IF YOU'VE READ HENRY JAMES'S ""WASHington Square,'' or seen either William Wyler's 1949 movie ""The Heiress'' or the play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, you may think a new version is unnecessary. You may think, as well, that movies of classic 19th-century novels have to be genteel decorative objects more suitable for PBS than your local cineplex. Think again. Polish-born director Agnieszka Holland (""Europa, Europa,'' ""The Secret Garden'') shakes the dust off our preconceptions to give us a Washington Square that both respects James's complexities and bitter ironies and adds a visceral kick all its own.Jennifer Jason Leigh is the wallflower Catherine Sloper--awkward, plain and guileless--who grows up in the shadow of her father's disappointment. Dr. Sloper (Albert Finney), an esteemed physician with a sarcastic wit, can never forgive his daughter for being the agent of his wife's death in childbirth. When a handsome but penniless young man, Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), transforms...
  • Porn In The U.S.A.

    ''EVERYONE'S BLESSED WITH ONE special thing,'' boasts 17-year-old busboy Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) from Torrance, Calif. Eddie, who will rename himself Dirk Diggler and become a shining star in the world of ""adult entertainment,'' is blessed with an exceptionally large penis. It will take him for quite a ride. ...
  • Sex And The Single Bear

    AFTER A FREAK PLANE CRASH, TWO men are left stranded in the freezing Alaskan wilderness without food, warm clothes or even a compass. One of these men, Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins), happens to be an emotionally remote billionaire with a vast store of book-learned knowledge--such as how to make a compass out of a leaf and a paper clip, and how to make fire out of ice. This will come in handy. The other man is Robert Green (Alec Baldwin), a self-satisfied fashion photographer who has come to Alaska to do a photo shoot with Charles's gorgeous trophy wife (Elle Macpherson). Actually, there's initially a third man stranded in the wilds,Robert's assistant (Harold Perrineau), but he is only around long enough to become bear fodder. Yes, there's a bear in them thar woods--a ferocious man-killer who will track Charles and Robert for days as they desperately attempt to make their way back to civilization. One further plot point needs to be mentioned to convey the level of jeopardy cranked...