David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Beauty Tips From Babs

    IS BARBRA STREISAND BEAUTIFUL? THIS may not be a question that keeps you up at night, but it is one that Streisand herself keeps posing in movie after movie, on the assumption that her own self-doubt strikes a universal chord. The latest of her ugly duckling-turned-swan psychodramas is The Mirror Has Two Faces, an old-fashioned romantic comedy whose message of self-empowerment floats uneasily in an undercurrent of masochism and narcissism. ...
  • Money For Nothing

    UNLIKE MOST RUGGED, SQUARE-jawed action-hero movie stars, Mel Gibson doesn't play it cool. He's the least afraid of showing wild emotion (think of his suicidal ravings in ""Lethal Weapon,'' his rants in ""The Bounty''), and in Ransom he gets to emote like mad--after all, a kidnapper has swiped this rich airline executive's 7-year-old son (Brawley Nolte). He's furious, concerned and guilty, too, because he thinks (wrongly) that the extortionist is motivated by revenge for a dark business dealing in his past. ...
  • Mapping The Heart

    ANYONE WHO READ MICHAEL Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel ""The English Patient'' must have wondered how this lyrical, dreamlike tale could possibly be turned into a movie. A meditation on love and identity and war, it drifts from World War II Italy to the prewar desert of North Africa, not so much telling a story as circling around one. It was a shimmering, impressionistic book that inspired passionate devotion or turned readers off on its first, ripely poetic page. Anthony Minghella, the English playwright turned filmmaker (""Truly Madly Deeply''), read it in one gulp and knew he had to film it. ""A lot of my friends said that I'd gone mad,'' he says. ""Because it does defy conventional adaptation.'' ...
  • It's The '90S, So The Bard Is Back

    THE BARD IS HOT IN Hollywood, no question about it. Here's Al Pacino in ""Looking for Richard,'' taking to the streets in his backward baseball cap to drum up enthusiasm for Shakespeare--less than a year after Ian McKellen showed us even better how much venomous fun ""Richard III'' could be. Now, simultaneously, we have Baz Luhrmann's wild, whacked-out ""Romeo and Juliet'' and Trev- or Nunn's gender-bending ""Twelfth Night,'' with a sumptuous Kenneth Branagh ""Hamlet'' coming at Christmas. ...
  • All Aboard

    SPIKE LEE'S Get On the Bus follows 12 African-American men as they travel from L.A.'s South-Central toward the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. The men, in Reggie Rock Bythewood's script, are strategically deployed to exemplify the diversity of, and the fissures within, the black community. There are Christians and Muslims, an absent father and his troubled son, a gay couple, a homophobic actor, a half-white cop, a former Crip turned man of Islam, a young UCLA film student and an old veteran of the '60s who's been downsized out of his job. There's a token white man, the Jewish bus driver who quits halfway along the trek, unable to countenance Farrakhan's role in the march. And one black man gets tossed off by his brothers--he's an obnoxious Republican Lexus dealer who sees the march as an opportunity to sell cars. ...
  • Vigilante Chic Is Back

    ON A HOT SUMMER DAY IN NEW York's Hell's Kitchen in 1967, four adolescent boys play a prank that nearly kills a man. They are sentenced to a year at the Wilkenson Home for Boys, where they are tortured and sexually abused by sadistic guards. In 1981 two of the boys--now streetwise killers--encounter the most brutal of the guards (Kevin Bacon) in a bar and blow him away. The assistant D.A. (Brad Pitt) who prosecutes the killers happens to be another of the abused kids; he's requested the case to lose it. Enlisting the support of the fourth boy (Jason Patric), a sympathetic parish priest (Robert De Niro), the neighborhood mafioso (Vittorio Gassman) and a broken-down defense lawyer (Dustin Hoffman), the D.A. masterminds a byzantine plot to get his old chums off and extract his long-desired revenge on the other guards. ...
  • Meet La Femme Geena

    RENNY HARLIN'S The Long Kiss Goodnight is the fall's best summer movie. Come to think of it, it has more pop in its popcorn than most of the actual summer movies this year--which is not, admittedly, saying a lot. A cheerfully preposterous cartoon that bounces energetically between carnage and comedy, it is smart enough never to ask the audience to take it seriously; Harlin simply serves up the nonstop twists and turns with such baldfaced enthusiasm you feel churlish pointing out that it doesn't make a lick of sense. ...
  • Hitchcock's Greatest Reborn

    WHEN IT WAS RELEASED IN 1958, FEW people considered Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock's best. Other Hitch movies were tauter, scarier, more on-the-surface fun. "Vertigo" needed time for the audience to rise to its darkly rapturous level. This month it reope ns in a glorious 70mm print that's been painstakingly restored by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. Now you can see Hitchcock's greatest, most personal (and kinkiest) movie afresh, with a new digitalized soundtrack that brings Bernard Herrmann's spiral ing, haunted, "Tristan and Isolde"-infected score to the fore. ...
  • Slouching Toward Mayhem

    NEIL JORDAN'S MOST HAUNTING movies--""Mona Lisa,'' ""The Miracle,'' ""The Crying Game''--arise out of a private dreamscape where obsessive men pursue their romantic follies to forbidden dead ends. These movies may start in the real world, but they spin inward toward fantasy. That is why Jordan's epic Michael Collins seems such a radical departure. He's stepped onto the public stage of history, confronting the nightmarish subject of 20th-century Irish politics. ...
  • A Natural Woman Of Pop

    ANOTHER TRIP INTO THE ROCK-AND-ROLL past. Another pleasant surprise. In Grace of My Heart, Allison Anders charts the romantic and musical odyssey of songwriter-singer Edna Buxton (Illeana Douglas), a Philadelphia heiress who comes to work at the Brill Building in 1958. There, hyperactive producer Joel Millner (John Turturro) changes her name to Denise Waverly, and she churns out doo-wop hits for girl groups. Loosely based on the career of Carole King, ""Grace'' shimmies its way through the musical styles of the '60s as Denise suffers at the hands of a callow husband (Eric Stoltz), gets dumped by a married deejay (Bruce Davison) and lands in Malibu in the psychedelic surfer scene of 1967, married to a paranoid, Brian Wilson-like genius (Matt Dillon). Finally she emerges as a star singer in her own right. ...
  • Hit Man Hanks

    TOM HANKS, ARGUABLY THE most beloved American movie star of the '90s, has written and directed his first movie. It's about exuberance. That Thing You Do! is a modest ode to joy, a celebration of youthful high spirits in the year 1964, when it was still possible for a quartet of fresh-scrubbed boys in Erie, Pa., to form a rock-and-roll band and hurtle to success with a blind trust in the benevolence of the universe. It is easily the most innocent movie of 1996, a conclusion Hanks won't contest. ""If you define innocence as a lack of cynicism, I agree,'' says the back-to-back Oscar winner. ""That's what I was going for. Because I think a vast majority of motion pictures have a huge, massive dose of cynicism. It's a decision you have to make. Am I going to devote my attention to something that has absolutely no consequence, or am I going to watch something that has some big, large dose of world-weariness?'' ...
  • Mommy Goose

    CARROLL BALLARD'S ENCHANTING children's movie Fly Away Home opens with the primal blow that seems to be de rigueur in ""family films'' these days--the death of a mother. Bereft, 13-year-old Amy (""The Piano's'' Anna Paquin) is uprooted from her New Zealand home and taken to live with her father (Jeff Daniels), whom she hasn't seen since she was 3, in the Ontario countryside. He's a sculptor, preoccupied with his art and his homemade inventions, and he doesn't know how to get Amy out of her deep funk. The lonely, friendless girl skulks about the farm, and Ballard, who makes kids' movies that don't pan- der, conveys her wintry isolation in Wyeth-like images. ...
  • The Best Revenge

    HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE THREE women scorned--and organized for revenge. That's the premise of The First Wives Club, a farcical rendition of Olivia Goldsmith's 1992 best seller that brings together Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler. Mud will be flung tonight, as Bette used to say, and these three powerhouse comediennes toss up a fairly delightful mess. ...
  • The New Jump Cut

    IN THE PAST FOUR YEARS A QUIET revolution has occurred in the world of Hollywood filmmaking: the advent of digital editing on computers. Not since the Moviola arrived, in the mid-1920s, has a machine so radically transformed the way movies are assembled -- for both good and ill -- or broadened the definition of film editing itself. And it has altered, in ways both painful and salutary, the lives of the men and women who make movies. ...
  • Brando Plays God

    WHEN MARLON BRANDO ENTERS any movie, your pulse quickens. You know that whatever he shows you it won't be ordinary, it won't be boring and it could be great. He makes quite an entrance as the title character in _B_The Island of Dr. Moreau_b_ (he's Moreau; no man is an island). Caked in bone-white makeup, draped in white muslin and carrying an electronic scepter, he's perched aloft in a parody of the Popemobile, an appropriate vehicle for this mad-scientist demigod who reigns over a tropical island populated by half-human animals he's created by genetic engineering. The whitest of white men (the pancake is to protect him from the sun), Brando's Moreau is a cracked idealist -- you can't help but think of his Kurtz in ""Apocalypse Now,'' gone balmy up Coppola's Vietnamese river. Dr. Moreau forbids violence (but uses it to subjugate his half-animal ""children''), doesn't eat meat (like Hitler, he's a vegetarian) and speaks with a plummy, overrefined English accent that seems taken from...
  • Talk About A Head Trip

    THE MOST SHOCKING SCENE IN A movie you have never seen occurs in a documentary that is sure to cause a furor at the upcoming Venice and Toronto film festivals. At the end of ""Timothy Leary's Dead,'' about the late guru of mind-expansion, the viewer is transported to what looks to be a hospital room. There, surgeons hovering over Leary's corpse proceed to decapitate ""the Messiah of LSD'' in all too vivid detail. His famous, unmistakable head is lifted from his body and placed inside a glass-covered cryonics cabinet to be frozen, where it stares out at the stunned, queasy viewer. ...
  • The Psycho Hall Of Fame

    SOMETIMES AN ACTOR AND A ROLE can fit too snugly. One thinks of Robin Williams inhabiting a 10-year-old's body in ""Jack'': sure, he's good at it, but the casting is so inevitable you feel you've already seen it. Watching Robert De Niro become progressively unhinged in _B_The Fan_b_ is like shuffling through an album of ""Bobby's Greatest Hits.'' The delusional knife salesman Gil Renard, who becomes dangerously obsessed with San Francisco Giants superstar Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), is a blatant amalgam of ""Taxi Driver's'' Travis Bickle, ""The King of Comedy's'' Rupert Pupkin, the rage-filled father in ""This Boy's Life'' and crazy Max Cady in ""Cape Fear.'' You get the picture: this fan is one sick, pathetic puppy, and sooner or later he's going to turn on his idol. ...
  • Birdie Country

    RON SHELTON MAY BE THE ONLY GUY in Hollywood who makes sports movies in which winning isn't everything. In Tin Cup, the maker of ""Bull Durham,'' ""White Men Can't Jump'' and ""Cobb'' creates a romantic comedy around the game of golf, and gives us a hero whose motto is the hoariest post-Rocky emblem of them all: go for it. But you can trust Shelton to tweak the clich. By ""going for it'' time after stupid time, Roy (Tin Cup) McAvoy (Kevin Costner) has ended up as a golfing instructor at an armadillo-infested driving range in the west Texas town of Salome, rather than a well-heeled pro on the golf circuit like his old rival David Simms (Don Johnson). Roy never plays it safe, and it's cost him. ...
  • Mismatch Maker

    JANE AUSTEN IS NOW three for three. First ""Persuasion.'' Then ""Sense and Sensibility.'' Now Douglas McGrath's fine, funny and deeply charming Emma. ""I'm going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,'' Austen wrote of Emma Woodhouse. She was proven wrong, of course, but she had a point: her self-deluded, smug, snobbish 21-year-old heroine, who appoints herself matchmaker of Highbury with disastrous results, can be an awful pain, but her meddling misjudgments are redeemed by her wit, grace and budding moral intelligence. She's brimming with flawed but glittering potential, and it's Gwyneth Paltrow's triumph that we always keep sight of that potential as she blithely plucks all the wrong heartstrings in town.Paltrow's swan-necked, elegant mischievousness is just one delicious flavor (albeit the most important) in McGrath's very tasty ensemble. Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley -- the gentlemanly Mr. Right she is too obtuse to recognize -- captures Austen's most...
  • Woman Under Fire

    KAREN WALDEN (MEG RYAN) IS THE first woman candidate for the Medal of Honor, to be given for the Courage Under Fire that cost her life as a medevac pilot during the gulf war. The job of investigating her candidacy falls to Lt. Col. Nat Serling (Denzel Washington), who is under a cloud for his own actionsin the Persian Gulf. Serling, in the chaos of a night attack, gave the order that resulted in the ""friendly fire'' death of several of his own men. Full of remorse for his mistake and the lies the military has told the families of the dead, he's been handpicked to rubber-stamp Walden's medal. The brass and the White House love its PR potential, and with the compromised Serling expediting the inquiry, they're counting on a speedy coronation.But as Serling begins to interview the survivors of Walden's mission, the stories of her heroic death don't match up. One witness, the jittery medic Alario (an excellent Matt Damon), paints her in glowing colors. Another, the macho Monfriez (a...
  • Dark Deeds In Texas

    JOHN SAYLES'S AMBITIOUS, WONDERfully complex Lone Star covers 40 years in the history of the small but certainly not sleepy border town of Frontera, Texas, the sort of place where a murder that occurred in 1957 can have shattering aftershocks in 1996. A skull and a lawman's badge, discovered in the desert outside town, kick off the story. Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), Frontera's sheriff, is convinced the skull is that of Charley Wade (Kris Kristofferson), the vicious, corrupt and all-powerful sheriff who ruled Frontera when the white man held all the power, and the town's Hispanics and blacks lived in fear of Wade's gun. But Sam's investigation into this ancient murder has a double edge, because he suspects the man who killed Wade was the sheriff who replaced him-Sam's own father Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), a legend whom nearly everyone in the town still reveres. Everyone except his son, who has never forgiven his father for breaking up his childhood romance with a local Hispanic...
  • 'Earth, You Have A Problem': Kaboooom!

    WHILE WE'RE ON the subject of the paranormal, has anyone noticed something almost . . . extrasensory going on in Hollywood? (Cue the theremin music.) Somehow everybody in town knew, before a foot of film was seen, what the three summer blockbusters would be: ""Twister.'' ""Mission: Impossible.'' Independence Day. The first has already grossed more than $211 million. The second, more than $156 million. The third will explode on the Fourth of July weekend to record-book figures.In some weird way, the success of these products was preordained -- by the multimillion-dollar mumbo-jumbo marketing. Few civilian moviegoers actually speak warmly of ""Mission: Impossible''; they find it cold and confusing. ""Twister''? The computer tornadoes are great. But did anyone give a flying cow whether some Ping-Pong balls got sucked up by a funnel? No matter: there are a few high-concept movies that have been deemed Events, and Americans resist them at the peril of becoming aliens themselves.Which...
  • 'Striptease': Demi Shows Moore

    MOST PEOPLE WILL WANT TO check out Striptease to see Demi Moore take off her clothes. Some people will go because it's a comedy written and directed by Andrew Bergman, the guy who gave us the zany highs of ""The Freshman'' and ""Honeymoon in Vegas.'' Fans of Carl Hiaasen, the satirical mystery novelist, will be curious to see if Hollywood has managed to capture his barbed vision of sleazebucket Florida scoundrels. Whether any of these interested parties will emerge satisfied is another question.Fleshwise, Demi delivers as promised. Playing Erin Grant, she generously shares her firm, gym-enhanced amplitudes on the stage of The Eager Beaver, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., strip joint. Erin, a former FBI clerk, is dancing to raise money for an expensive custody battle over her 7-year-old daughter (played by her real-life daughter Rumer Willis), now in the clutches of her worthless husband (Robert Patrick), a petty felon who steals wheelchairs from hospitals. As a bonus, the movie tosses in a...
  • A Comic Comes Into Her Own

    WHO IS JULIA SWEENEY? We never got to know the person behind the ambiguously gendered ""Pat'' on ""Saturday Night Live.'' Now, in her moving and surprisingly funny one-woman show God Said, ""Ha!'' at the Coronet Theater in L.A., Sweeney comes into focus as a performer, a writer and a woman you want to take to your heart.The hilarity is surprising because it arises, unforced, out of the blackest nine months of her life. First her brother Mike was diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphatic cancer, and moved in with her. They were soon joined by her parents, a well-meaning couple who drive their daughter batty. Then Sweeney is herself diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer.Neither angry nor maudlin, Sweeney guides us with sweet, sane, unactressy honesty through her sojourn in the ""International House of Cancer.'' She can be equally funny about trying to conduct an affair under her parents' noses as she is spinning the bizarre tale of her missing ovary. This is the stuff of comedy? Indeed...
  • A Broadway Quasimodo

    SOME NINE MOVIE VERSIONS OF The Hunchback of Notre Dame precede Disney's animated musical, a testimony to the enduring power of Victor Hugo's Quasimodo--the sine qua non of outcasts and the spiritual granddaddy of malformed misfits from the Phantom of the Opera to the Elephant Man. Whether it was Lon Chaney, Charles Laughton or Anthony Hopkins hunkering down into the bell ringer's archetypal stoop, a huge part of the appeal of these movies was our lust for grotesque cosmetics, our delight in seeing a famous physiognomy twisted into a horrifically sympathetic visage. ...
  • Danger: Faulty Wiring

    JIM CARREY MAY FINALLY HAVE achieved something that has thus far eluded him in his meteoric screen career: he's found a movie to star in that probably won't be a smash hit. Carrey has never been shy about showing his edge; a good part of his shape-shifting comic brilliance is its in-your-face aggression, a maniacal life-of-the-party urge to entertain that would be ghastly to behold if the butt of the joke weren't Carrey himself -- and if he weren't so damn funny. As The Cable Guy, he pushes this persona one step further, into flat-out psychosis. It will be fascinating to see how many of his fans will be willing to go along for the ride, for in this uneasy and uneasy-making hybrid of comedy and psychological horror, Carrey is all aggression. ...
  • The Agony Of Adolescence

    THE SHEER GODFORSAKEN AWFUL- ness of adolescence has rarely been so acutely portrayed as it is in Todd Solondz's painfully funny Welcome to the Dollhouse. Here is the junior-high-school experience as suffered by 11-year-old Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo), a hopeless outcast in geek glasses doomed to be known as ""Wienerdog'' to her pitiless classmates. Things aren't any better at her New Jersey home, where her irritatingly cute kid sister Missy gets all the attention from Mom and Dad, her nerdy older brother Mark picks on her, and she develops a thoroughly misplaced crush on the hunky lead singer of Mark's hapless garage band. The only classmate to take an interest in Dawn is the troubled school bully Brandon (Brendan Sexton Jr.), whose threats of rape are a twisted sign of an affection he's too embarrassed to reveal. ...
  • Riding The Trail To Hell

    THOUGH NO ONE BUT JIM JARMUSCH could have made Dead Man, no one could have expected this film. The exemplar of Downtown Cool filmmaking ("Stranger Than Paradise," "Down By Law," "Mystery Train"), always gun-shy of genre, has made a Western. Needless to say, it's no ordinary Western, even though Robert Mitchum is in it (briefly) wielding a shotgun. So is Iggy Pop (briefly) wearing a homespun dress and bonnet, and Crispin Glover (briefly) acting strange. But anyone expecting an anachronistic, hipster sendup of the Old West is in for a surprise. The mordant, deadpan humor that streaks through "Dead Man" is echt Jarmusch, but it's in the service of his most mysterious and deeply felt movie, a meditation on death and transfiguration that, by the end, has thrown off the protective veil of irony. ...
  • Dead Gal Walking

    WHEN SHE WAS 19, CINDY LIGGETT (Sharon Stone), wasted on crack, brutally killed a boy and a girl while committing a burglary. Sentenced to die, she's been on death row for 12 years. The hour of her execution is now fast approaching, and her only hope of escaping lethal injection rests with a young, rich-kid attorney petitioning clemency for her, Rick Hayes (Rob Morrow), who until this moment has frittered his life away. But after meeting Cindy, he's transformed; he surprises and dismays his superiors--a bunch of callow bureaucrats who give him the job, counting on his incompetence--by digging up errors in the trial and passionately fighting to save her life. Of course, he's more than a little in love with his client, whose reformation behind bars is illustrated by her interest in drawing. ...
  • A Case Of Animal Magnetism

    IF CYRANO DE BERGERAC LIVED IN southern California in 1996, would his courtship of Roxanne include phone sex? The possibility has obviously occurred to screenwriter Audrey Wells, who has taken the classic romantic dilemma of "Cyrano"--do we fall in love with a body or a soul?--reversed the genders and updated the tale into the slight but beguiling romantic comedy The Truth About Cats and Dogs. The title is the name of the radio call-in show hosted by Ms. Cyrano, a.k.a. Abby Barnes (Janeane Garofalo), a smart, wry veterinarian who dispenses advice to L.A. pet owners. The film's Roxanne is an English photographer named Brian (Ben Chaplin), who's tantalized by her voice and asks her for a date. The flustered deejay, a card-carrying member of the Low Self-Esteem Club, describes herself as a tall blonde with a model's body--a description that happens to fit her traffic-stopping neighbor and new friend Noelle (Uma Thurman), who ends up playing Abby on her dates with Brian. ...
  • A Hard Pill To Swallow

    TO SAVE THE FLAGGING FORTUNES OF his crumbling pharmaceutical company, profit-crazed CEO Don Roritor (Mark McKinney) rushes into production the miracle antidepressant drug Gleemonex. When it's swallowed, a patient's synapses seize on his happiest memory. In Kids in the Hall Brain Candy, the first feature from the exuberantly warped Canadian TV comedy team whose old shows pop up on Comedy Central, we are offered a wacky dystopian vision of a world Prozaced out of its wits. It's typical of the Kids' inky satire that the peak memories Gleemonex evokes are, by turns, pathetic, vengeful, banal and kinky. For dowdy old Mrs. Hurdicure (Scott Thompson, who plays eight roles, four of them in drag, one of whom is a dead ringer for Fran Lebowitz), happiness is a brusque one-minute Christmas visit from her surly son. ...
  • Aboard A Magic Peach

    James and the Giant Peach, TAKEN from the 1961 children's book by Roald Dahl, begins on a gauzily idyllic note as the young James (Paul Terry), surrounded by his loving parents, gazes at the clouds on a sunny English seacoast. The good times come to an abrupt end, as a narrator informs us with startling matter-of-factness: "An angry rhinoceros appeared and gobbled up his mother and father." just like that, James's life goes from heaven to bell. As the mistreated and lonely ward of the hideous Aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes), poor James is driven to befriend a spider--until a mysterious old salt (Pete Postlethwaite) presents him with a magical bag of crocodile tongues that will cause his dreams to come true. When he spills the bag at the roots of a barren peach tree, a giant fruit begins to grow: a peach that he will end up living inside as it flies, borne by seagulls, across the Atlantic to the magical city of his dreams, New York. ...