David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • 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. ...
  • For Whom The Bell Tolled

    THERE'S A RAW IMMEDIACY TO KEN Loach's Land and Freedom that sets it apart from most historical films. We're plunged into the passions of the Spanish Civil War by a filmmaker for whom the ideological battles, the feeling of camaraderie, the hopes and betrayals of the left, are not matters of nostalgia but the expression of a keen political passion. Loach, whose films ("Raining Stones," "Ladybird, Ladybird") are usually set in working-class England, has held on to his socialist convictions in an era when political filmmaking has gone out of fashion. Yet at his best, his ideology doesn't overwhelm his superb filmmaking. "Land and Freedom," a story of idealism betrayed, possesses a visceral power that will speak even to those who don't know Franco from a frankfurter. ...
  • Gay Films Are A Drag

    ACCORDING TO HOLLYWOOD, homosexuality officially did not exist between the years 1934 and 1961. During those 27 years, the Motion Picture Production Code saw to it that any depiction of "sex perversion" was banished from the screenIs it any wonder that the love that dare not speak its name has, lately, been hollering from the rooftops? At the recent Sundance Film Festival in Utah, lesbian characters were so ubiquitous on screen that gay film critic Ruby Rich quipped, "We're this year's Jack Russell terriers." And this was less than an hour away from Salt Lake City, where, before passing anti-gay legislation, the Utah Senate met secretly to watch a lurid anti-gay propaganda film. ...
  • A Lesson In Star Chemistry

    A LOVE STORY SET IN THE WORLD of TV journalism, Up Close and Personal is as pure an example of Hollywood star power as the movies provide these days. In the minds of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, who wrote it, and Jon Avnet, who directed it, this may also be a story about what it takes for a small-town Nevada girl with lots of ambition and little know-how to make it in the high-pressure world of network news. It may touch on issues of journalistic integrity in a medium dominated by focus groups and ratings, and on the difficulty of maintaining standards in a sound-bite culture. But that's all window dressing. What "Up Close and Personal" is really about is the chemical reaction set off between Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford. In a love story, if your two stars don't click, all is lost. When they do--as they do here--nothing else really matters. As a wowed Redford says about Pfeiffer's Tally Atwater, after her tryout as a Miami weatherperson, "She eats the lens." Add his...
  • Dr. Freud And Mr. Hyde

    THE LAST TIME DIRECTOR STEPHEN Frears collaborated with John Malkovich, author Christopher Hampton, producer Norma Heyman, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and production designer Stuart Craig, the result was the marvelous "Dangerous Liaisons." This time it's another period piece, Mary Reilly, set in the dank and foggy streets of Edinburgh at the height of Victorian repression and sexual hyprocrisy. But lightning has not struck twice. ...
  • Chinese Takeout

    IT WAS INEVITABLE: IN THE RAPIDLY shrinking world of global entertainment, Hollywood was destined to discover Hong Kong. Can a vampire resist fresh blood? Can an industry that always goes where the action is -- think how Hollywood gobbled up virtually every hot Australian director in the '70s and '80s -- turn its back on an industry whose products are even more thrill-happy than its own? Action is where the action is today, and Hong Kong, the second-largest exporter of movies in the world, has been churning out some of the most exuberant mayhem (also some of the tackiest) since Bruce Lee clenched his fists of fury. ...
  • Way Beyond Spaghetti And Meatballs

    To most people he's probably best known as Richard Cross-the suavely malignant rich guy who may be the killer on ABC's "Murder One." Stanley Tucci may not be a household name, but mention his name to his fellow actors and their eyes light up with admiration--he's the definition of an actor's actor. The trouble with that name, however, is that it's gotten him typecast as a mafioso-though he once played an Arab heavy in the "The Pelican Brief." But anyone who saw him onstage in New York in the title role of Moliere's "Scapin," or cherished his cameo in "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle," knows the range this compact $5-year-old actor possesses. ...
  • Into Darkest Albania

    LAMERICA, THE BEST NEW ITALIAN FILM to reach our shores in years, is shot in CinemaScope, the format of epics, wide-screen adventures and sweeping American vistas. But the harshly impressive landscapes in Gianni Amelio's powerful movie belong to a country we haven't been allowed until now to see on screen. Welcome to Albania, a country that from 1944 to 1991 was sealed off to the West under the draconian communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. Though it's only 70 miles from the coast of Italy, the chaotic, poverty-stricken land Amelio captures in his indelible images seems to belong to another century, if not another planet. ...
  • If Pigs Could Fly

    It's the morning the academy Award nominations are announced, Feb. 13, and in my dream the envelope is opened and the following films are announced as the best-picture candidates for 1995 (in alphabetical order, as these things .are done): "Babe." "Crumb." "Funny Bones." "Leaving Las Vegas." "Persuasion." "Safe." ...
  • Looking For Mr. Right

    To the crowds of women who made it the No. 1 movie in the country when it opened, Waiting to Exhale isn't just a holiday entertainment; it's an oasis in the middle of the desert. And when you're parched, the water doesn't have to be Evian. The success of this adaptation of Terry McMillan's best-selling novel- and the talk-back-to-the-screen relish it elicits from its target audience-is a measure of how neglected the black-middle-class female experience has been on film. Successful black women pop up primarily as window dressing in mainstream movies-think Anna Deavere Smith as a White House aide in "The American President." Small wonder that when Whitney Houston was cast as the object of desire in the amiably trashy "The Bodyguard," the box office exceeded all expectations. Black audiences, oversupplied with images of young, armed men in the 'hood, are hungry for glamorous self-reflections. ...
  • The Killer And The Nun

    Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) is a nun who works in a New Orleans housing project. Matthew Poncelet (Scan Penn) is a tattooed convict facing execution for the murder of two teenage lovers. About all they have in common, quips the nervous Sister Helen when she first encounters this unsavory killer, is that "we both live with the poor." ...
  • Cat And Mouse, L.A. Style

    Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) are good at their work. McCauley executes high-stakes heists. Hanna stalks crooks for the LAPD. The cop is a high-strung guy with two bad marriages behind him and a third on the rocks. The robber, a veteran of Folsom, wants no distracting attachments. Cautious, methodical, he's an emotional ascetic. Both MeCauley and Hanna are obsessives who find their deepest sense of themselves in the single-minded pursuit of their passion. It's not justice or money that provides the rush, but the action itself. They are the formidable antagonists, the existential eat and mouse, in Michael Mann's Heat, a stunning crime drama that shares its protagonists' rabid attention to detail -- and love of adrenalin. ...
  • A Tough Sister Act

    Georgia, a devastating study of sibling rivalry, is the tale of two competing Seattle sisters, Sadie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Georgia (Mare Winningham). Don't expect sisterly uplift or gender generalizations. Written with an acute ear by Barbara Turner -- Leigh's mother -- and directed with great emotional honesty by Ulu Grosbard, it's a resonant, grittily specific film. Anyone who's ever been locked in a love-hate relationship with a sibling will squirm with recognition. ...
  • Hollywood's Most Controversial Director Oliver Stone Takes On Our Most Controversial President Richard Nixon

    The fall of Richard Milhous Nixon has begun. Watergate has exploded. John Dean is testifying before a Senate committee. Haldeman and Ehrlichmanm, his closest aides, have been ordered to resign and White House aide Alexander Butterfield has just revealed the existence of secret tapes. And now we see Nixon for the first time. It's late at night in a deserted White House, and there he is, sitting like a trapped animal in a corner of the Lincoln Sitting Room, a tumbler of Scotch by his side. The 5 o'clock shadow. The sweaty upper lip. The face ashen from lack of sleep. He gulps hi drink and fumbles with the tapes Alexander Haig presents him, a man on unfamiliar terms with his own body. "Nixon's never been good with these things," he tells Haig, as if he were talking about another man -- a president. And then he launches into a rant of self-justification, equal parts rage and self-pity. "We never got our side of the story out, Al. People've forgotten. I mean: 'F--k you, Mr. President, f-...
  • Disney's Digital Delight

    "Toy Story" is an eye-opener, and not just because it's the first entirely computer-animated feature film. I can safely say that before I saw this 77-minute expose I had no idea just how tough the life of a toy really was. It's not just the rough-and-tumble, getting whacked around by some little dork who has no consideration for your feelings. It's the insecurity, the paranoia, the anxiety! Like any member of the work force, you live in fear of being replaced by some newer model. Like a lover, you have the constant nagging suspicion that your owner's affection will be stolen by a rival. Sure, today he says you're his favorite toy. But tomorrow you might be cast into the purgatory of a trunk, until your plastic corrodes or your stuffing falls out. The horror, the horror! ...
  • Scorsese Rolls The Dice

    Martin Scobsese's "Casino" is conceived on a grand scale, as a gangster's paradise lost. Paradise was Las Vegas in the 1970s, a Wild West town ruled by the mob, where guys from the street like "Ace" Rothstein (Roberr De Niro) and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) could reign in gaudy splendor as long as the skim money from the casinos kept flowing back to the mob bosses in Kansas City. In an unholy alliance with the corrupt local politicians and the Teamsters, the mob had Vegas in its fist. But it all came crashing down, the sinners expelled from their gold-leaf Eden, the Mafia casinos replaced by the new corporate-owned, junk-bond-financed pleasure palaces of the '80s and '90s. ...
  • Love, Bloomsbury Style

    NO SCREENWRITER COULD POSSIBLY have invented the love story at the heart of Carrington, Christopher Hampton's fascinating, moving depiction of the bond between painter Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and Bloomsbury giant Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce). Their rule-breaking relation-ship--mostly platonic, but allowing each to have many other lovers--defies the easy psychologizing and tidy dramaturgy that most movies rely on. And that's why it's a great, fresh subject: in its best scenes, "Car-rington" takes us to places of the heart we haven't been, exploring Strachey's credo that there are "a great deal era great many kinds of love." ...
  • Imitation Of Death

    ARE SERIAL KILLERS THE GREAT PERformance artists of our era? You might think so judging from the reverence Hollywood has bestowed on these fashionable cinematic villains. In "Silence of the Lambs," "Seven" and now the slickly scarifying _B_Copycat,_b_ serial killers have become artists of depravity, painting their masterpieces in blood (it used to be mad scientists who were evil's elite). Their appeal, dramatically, is in their twisted parody of the rational mind, which requires an adversary--part Sherlock Holmes, part Sigmund Freud-who can break the code of their demented logic. ...
  • Free Fall In Vegas

    A love story like no other, Mike Figgis's Leaving Las Vegas is a bleak, mesmerizing rhapsody of self-destruction, defiantly uninterested in peddling Hollywood-style uplift. Figgis doesn't pretend, and I won't either, that this movie is for everybody. Its milieu is sordid, its language explicit and its lovers--an alcoholic screenwriter named Ben (Nicolas Cage) and a Vegas prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue)--aren't in the market for reformation. But anyone who cares about ravishing filmmaking, superb acting and movies willing to dive into the mystery of unconditional love will leave this dark romance both shaken and invigorated. ...
  • Jaded Joe

    Joe Eszterhas is misunderstood. The guy who wrote "Showgirls" and "Basic Instinct" is always getting knocked for creating degraded women characters. Jade puts the lie to this: he can't create credible human beings of either sex. This tired "psychological thriller," directed by William Friedkin, has no psychology and few thrills. Linda Fiorentino (badly lit) plays a cool clinical psychologist who, unknown to her powerful San Francisco attorney husband (Chazz Palminteri), leads a double life as a call girl. Did she also murder a millionaire with an antique ax? That's what her lover, the ambitious D.A. (David Caruso), wants to know. What we want to know is why we should care about any of these stick figures. Eszterhas seems as bored with them as we are. He's just moving his dopey plot along, leaving Friedkin to fill in the gaps with car chases and irrelevant chinoiserie.
  • Star-Struck Wiseguys

    Hollywood has been in love with mobsters since the beginning of movies, but the other side of the equation--that mobsters are smitten with Hollywood--has seldom been considered. That is, until Get Shorty. It was novelist Elmore Leonard's inspired jest to set his 1990 crime novel in the balmy fish-bowl that is the movie industry. Into this tank he drops two species of sharks--the predatory hustlers of show business and the carnivores of crime--and watches the results (part mating dance, part struggle for survival) with an amused grin. It's no contest. The Hollywood boys may flash pearlier teeth, but the hoods beat them at their own game. Reality bites deeper. ...
  • Their So-Called Postgrad Lives

    Remember the name Noah Baum--bach. He's the 25-year-old writer/director of Kicking and Screaming, a smart and delicately rueful comedy about the terrifying leap from college into what is commonly known as real life. At first, the young, brainy and paralyzingly self-conscious graduates may strike you as cousins of Whit Stillman ("Metropolitan") and Richard Linklater ("Slacker"). But the arch wit of these kids is only their defense against entropy and angst. Baumbach himself is not afraid to strike deeper and sweeter emotional chords, as he takes us through a year in the lives of four inseparable male buddies, who nervously cling to their collegiate routines, while the women they know forge ahead with much less fuss and trembling. The expert ensemble includes Josh Hamilton and the delightful Olivia d'Abo as lovers whose affair doesn't survive graduation; the wonderfully petulant Chris Eigeman; the deft Parker Posey, and a very droll Eric Stoltz as a perpetual student and bar-stool...
  • Hester Prynne's Hot Tub

    YOU MAY BE AMAZED, WATCHING THE Scarlet Letter, just how little you remember of that American classic they forced you to read in high school. How could you have forgotten that spicy scene when Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) first glimpses the minister Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman) skinny-dipping in a Massachusetts pond, revealing a flash of his Pilgrim manhood? Not to mention the torrid consummation of their love atop a pile of grain, witnessed by Hester's mute black servant girl-who, deeply aroused, luxuriates autoerotically in a 17th-century hot tub. Funny how Hester's near rape by a lecherous colonist has slipped the mind, as well as Dimmesdale's valiant efforts to bring the Iroquois and the Puritans together. Or the surprising moment when nasty Chillingworth (Robert Duvall), Hester's vengeful husband, goes native and scalps the wrong man. Or the Robin Hood climax when the oppressed Indians charge to the rescue of the minister, about to be hanged. But surely you remember how, in...
  • In This Fine Romance, Virtue Is Rewarded

    The unlikeliest movie mini-trend of the year, right up there with movies about Las Vegas low life, is the sudden spate of films inspired by Jane Austen, a writer who, having died in 1817, never got to weigh in on the subject of lap dancing. The trend began almost subliminally, with "Clueless," a liberal teen update of "Emma." In December we will get "Sense and Sensibility," starring and adapted by Emma Thompson and directed by the Taiwan-born Ang Lee ("Eat Drink Man Woman"). The BBC will soon air its new production of "Pride and Prejudice," and writer/director Douglas McGrath is preparing the original "Emma," without the 90210 Zip code. R wouldn't seem that we're living in an age that's particularly welcoming to Austen's bracing ironies, her intimately calibrated dissection of manners or her finely chiseled moral distinctions. But perhaps that's the point of her newfound popularity: she's a splash of clear, cool water on our morally groggy foreheads. ...