David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • On The Wild Side

    Kids" was expected to be the sensation of Cannes, at least by everyone in the American press. Ever since its unveiling as a work in progress at the last Sundance film festival, photographer turned filmmaker Larry Clark's unflinching depiction of teenage lust pushed all the fight media-scandal buttons. A raw depiction of 24 hours in the lives of hormone-driven, trash-talking, drug-ingesting New York City kids, it was hailed by a few stunned critics for its honesty and denounced by others as kiddie porn. The controversy was adroitly fanned by its distributor, Miramax, which faced a dilemma. How could this Disney-owned company release a film likely to be slapped with an NC-17 rating? If that happens, Miramax's heads have hinted, they will create an independent company to release the film unrated.The hype has not done the film any favors, and "Kids" has not exactly taken Cannes by storm. There were walkouts by some angry (or bored) viewers, and a press conference given by Clark was...
  • The High Cost Of Comedy

    THE LANGUAGE OF COMEDY HAS Always incorporated death: "I'm gonna kill 'em tonight," boasts the stand-up. "I died out there," moans the flopped gag man. The lethal underpinnings of the art of comedy are at the heart of Funny Bones, a dark, breathtakingly quirky comedy from the director of the charming Irish tall tale "Hear My Song," Peter Chelsom. If most movie fare strikes you as generic and predictable, this may be the antidote: it's the most original, and the oddest, entertainment in some time. ...
  • Jefferson's Dangerous Liaisons

    One of the intriguing 18th-century artifacts featured in the lavish new Merchant Ivory production Jefferson in Paris is a loom-like contraption Thomas Jefferson employs when writing letters, enabling him to produce a simultaneous copy of his text. Director James Ivory has always been fascinated by period details, so you can't be sure if the prominence given this machine is decorative or metaphorical. Is it a comment, perhaps, on the double nature of Jefferson himself, the complex, brilliant statesman/architect and champion of liberty who drafted the Declaration of Independence, yet lived in Paris as the American ambassador to France attended by his black slave James Hemings (Seth Gilliam)? ...
  • Why Did Oscar Drop The Ball On 'Hoop Dreams'?

    For the past month in Hollywood, the most reviled, ridiculed and paranoid people in town have been the 47 anonymous members of the Academy documentary-screening committee. Their sin: not nominating for a best-documentary Oscar the most acclaimed, beloved and successful doc of the year, ""Hoop Dreams,'' a movie many people thought should be nominated for best picture.The uproar began at shouting level, and stayed there. In the Los Angeles Times, head film critic Kenneth Turan modestly proposed the members consider group suicide. A local radio critic dubbed them ""congenital idiots.'' An investigation was called for. Fueling the fury was a backlist of celebrated films the committee had overlooked in the past, including ""Roger & Me,'' ""Black Harvest,'' ""Shoah,'' ""The Thin Blue Line,'' ""Sherman's March'' and ""28 Up.''What could they have been thinking? Well, this is what they were thinking: ""Hoop Dreams'' was too long. It had too much basketball. We liked five movies better....
  • A Priest At War With Himself

    We're priests, not bloody social workers!'' screams the young, doctrinaire Father Greg (Linus Roache) to the middle-aged, activist Father Matthew (Tom Wilkinson), whose working- class Liverpool parish he's just joined. Their theological disputes begin almost as soon as the handsome, gym-fit Greg arrives. To his ear, Matthew is just fobbing off glib liberal pieties to his flock, when he should be discussing the spiritual. He's doubly shocked to discover that Matthew has taken the presbytery's pretty housekeeper (Cathy Tyson) as his mistress. ""Get rid of her,'' he advises sternly, brooking no argument. ""There's just sin.'' ...
  • The Return Of A Bloody Great Classic

    The reissue of the original cut of Sam Peckinpah's Western The Wild Bunch was supposed to commemorate its 25th anniversary. But the ratings board threw a wrench into Warner Brothers' birthday party when it slapped an NC-17 on the movie, rendering it unreleaseable. Was the director's cut that much more violent than the R-rated 1969 version? No, it was virtually the same two-hour, 25-minute movie. It took a year for Warners to prove to the board that more than eight of the 10 newly restored minutes were cuts made by the studio after the film's release. They were cuts made to speed up the movie, not to tone down the bloodshed: flashbacks that explained the betrayals that turned William Holden and his former partner Robert Ryan into enemies. Now, with the original R in place, ""The Wild Bunch'' is back in all its 70-mm glory. ...
  • Down And Out

    In New Zealand, the homemade ONCE WERE WARRIORS has recently surpassed "Jurassic Park" to become the most successful film in the country's history. The brutal domestic realism of Lee Tamahori's film couldn't be further from Spielberg's theme-park fantasy, but there is one metaphoric connection: both films are about endangered species turned dangerous. Those facing extinction here, however, are the descendants of Maori warriors now living deracinated lives of squalor and crime in the urban ghettos of Auckland. Their culture long since decimated by the English, who banished their language, their rage has turned inward. There are few white faces on view in Tamahori's movie, which is concerned less with the injustices done to the Maori in the past than with the way a stigmatized culture sometimes turns violently upon itself. Any resemblance to ghettos closer at hand hardly needs belaboring. ...
  • Dark Side Of The Church

    Sensational subjects are a dime a dozen in television movies. Rare as gold is the hot topic that actually gets transformed into a great movie. The Boys of St. Vincent, a three-hour film made in Canada, is as intense, as psychologically complex, as artful as any film you'll see on a big or little screen this year. And none of the networks, which pride themselves on controversial topics, would touch it. (A&E will broadcast it in two parts on Feb. 19 and 20.) It deals with the sexual and physical abuse of young boys in a Catholic orphanage in St. John's, Newfoundland. It's a fiction, but its unmistakable resemblance to actual events in Newfoundland could not have pleased the church. The original Canadian broadcast in 1992 was blacked out in Ontario and parts of Quebec. (A similar case was being tried, and it was argued that the movie might influence the outcome.) One of the subjects of this harrowing work is how the Catholic Church, conspiring with government officials, covers up...
  • Trolling For Talent At Sundance

    Every year the crowds get bigger, the movie tickets harder to get and the parties so loud and gridlocked the Park City cops bust them up just as the fun's starting. The annual frenzy that is the Sundance Film Festival -- a showcase for American independent filmmaking -- has become so successful it threatens to overrun the Utah ski-resort town that hosts it. Once ignored by Hollywood, it is now an obligatory stomping ground for agents and executives eager to sign the next Steven Soderbergh or Quentin Tarantino. But the cliche that Sundance has gone Hollywood has it backward: it's Hollywood that's gone Sundance. More and more major studios have set up independent logos. These low-budget movies rarely strike mainstream gold, but when they do, the numbers make the suits salivate: "Pulp Fiction," released by Miramax (owned by Disney), cost $8 million, and it's grossed $73 million. ...
  • Three Men And A Babe

    So many damn things happen inLegends of the Fall, an attempt atepic filmmaking from Edward ("Glory") Zwick, that you just might be persuaded you're watching something momentous. In the course of this saga, set in the Montana Rockies, the three sons of rugged iconoclast Col. William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) will all fall in love with the same woman; the first world war will breakout, claiming the youngest brother, Samuel (Henry Thomas); the wild middle brother, Tristan (Brad Pitt), haunted by guilt thathe didn't protect his sibling in the war, will abandon his dead brother's fiancee and roam the South Seas; the oldest brother, Alfred (Aidan Quinn), will marry the woman who loved both his brothers and become a politician. There will be shoot-outs, bootlegging, politics, a tragic accident, a debilitating stroke, a suicide, vengeance and a wise old Indian narrator explaining it all to you in metaphorical aphorisms. ...
  • Boyz N The Quad

    The first screen-filling image in John Singleton's Higher Learning is the American flag, removing any doubt that the young director of "Boyz N the Hood" is after big game. His fictitious Columbus University is going to be a microcosm for America in all its fractious multicultural diversity. As big metaphors go, the college campus offers ripe possibilities, throwing together unformed souls of every possible class, race and ethnic background. Mix these cultural collisions with the volatility and confusion of kids whose identities are still up for grabs -- like the three freshman protagonists here -- and Singleton comes armed with enough explosive social issues for a half dozen dramas. ...
  • Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go

    Robert Altman's comedy READY TO WEAR "Pret-a-Porter") has been torn limb from limb by most critics and roasted by the fashion industry. Now, it's true that Altman's take on the fashion world -- that it's shallow, vain, silly, pretentious -- is lazy conventional wisdom. It's also true that if you're looking for a good "story," you won't find it in this tangled web of improvisatory plot lines. Why are we following a murder investigation when there's no murder and no mystery? Why, having staged the humiliation of three high-and-mighty fashion editors (Linda Hunt, Sally Kellerman and Tracey Ullman) at the hands of a smugly sadistic photographer (Stephen Rea), does Altman prepare us for their revenge -- and forget to show it? Of the 31 characters rushing about in the faux-documentary ambience Altman creates around the fever of a Paris fashion opening, only a few -- like Julia Roberts's wine-gulping Houston reporter, who spends the weekend shacked up in a hotel room with Tim Robbins's...
  • Natural Born Kindness

    In a movie world dominated by aggressive male fantasies such as "Disclosure" and "Dumb and Dumber," Little Women seems daringly unfashionable. Louisa May Alcott in the era of Courtney Love and Sharon Stone? Fortunately, neither director Gillian Armstrong nor screenwriter Robin Swicord seems the least bit daunted presenting the March sisters to a '90s audience, with all their 19th-century New England virtues and vanities intact. This lovely, lived-in "Little Women" confidently settles into the domestic rituals of the March household, paying loving attention to the details, sure that these four sisters' journey of self-discovery will seduce us anew. ...
  • America's Own

    OLD AGE ISN'T what it used to be. Not if you are Paul Newman, who will turn 70 on Jan. 26. Just last week in the driveway of his home in Westport, Conn., the veteran actor inadvertently detonated an outburst of the movie-star hysteria he has been provoking, and enduring, for five decades. A young West Indian woman, sitting in a waiting cab, suddenly realized that the lean, whitehaired man approaching the car was Newman himself. She couldn't have been much more than 20, which means she was probably born around the time he was playing middle-aged mentor to Robert Redford in "The Sting," but her response to his presence was riotously hormonal: she was jumping out of her skin with excitement. "I could have touched him," she muttered to herself in glazed incantation as the cab drove off. "I could have touched him!"Newman was not around to witness the aftermath of this close encounter, but it undoubtedly would have embarrassed him profoundly. He does not like being treated like a movie...
  • History Seen As Melodrama

    Bloody, romantic, wildly operatic, Queen Margot is not for those who like their historical dramas well mannered. French director Patrice Chereau, enfant terrible of the theater and opera world, hurls us into the vipers' nest of the 16th-century court of Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade), the neurotic Catholic king whose sister, Margot (Isabelle Adjani), is forced to marry Protestant Henri of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) in hope of ending the religious wars ripping France apart. The brief peace is destroyed when the king, the pawn of his bloodthirsty mother, Catherine de Medicis (Virna Lisi), orders up the 1572 ""ethnic cleansing'' known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Amid the terror, Margot saves the life of her hunky Protestant lover, La Mole (Vincent Perez) -- and then must fight her family for her husband's, and La Mole's, survival. It's Romeo and Juliet knee-deep in carnage, staged with Jacobean fury, lurid sensuality and high style by the recklessly gifted Chereau. ...
  • A Wild Boar In Winter

    There are many folks who would say that Ty Cobb -- who still holds the record for the highest lifetime batting average -- was the greatest baseball player of all time. There are even a few people -- some of the old ballplayers he anonymously supported with his considerable fortune -- who'd say he was a great guy. But just about everybody else who ever crossed the path of this raging, bullheaded bigot and misanthrope would likely call him the meanest sonofabitch in the business. ""I was the most hated man in baseball,'' says the 73-year-old Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones) in Ron Shelton's movie. It's a boast. ...
  • Final Chapter: A Triumphant Splash Of 'Red.'

    WITH RED, THE LAST AND most stunning installment in Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy ("Blue" and "White" preceded it), the 53-year-old Polish director has announced his retirement. Even if he hadn't, this mysterious, fate-haunted film would still have the feeling of a summing up. Those who know this superb filmmaker's work ("The Double Life of Veronique," "The Decalogue") will recognize echoes and themes from all his movies in "Red." But no homework is required to appreciate the ravishing images of this fable on the theme of fraternity.Kieslowski's heroine is a young student/model in Geneva, Valentine (Irene Jacob), whose accidental encounter with a reclusive ex-judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) changes the course of both their lives. She's run over his dog in the street; tracking him down to tell him, she discovers a bitterly indifferent, isolated man who secretly eavesdrops on his neighbors. "Red" is a love story, but in a mystical, almost metaphysical sense. Valentine's...
  • Arnold Proves He's Bigger Than Ever

    Arnold gets pregnant. There it is, the height of high concept, a gimmick so sure-fire--make that Mrs. Surefire that no matter how hilarious or horrible Junior turned out to be, anything less than a $25 million opening weekend would be a scandal. Add Midas-touch director Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters....... Twins") to the package, cover your bets with reliable second fiddle Danny DeVito, soften up the critics with tony Emma Thompson as the romantic interest and make sure you get Schwarzenegger in drag before the comedy is over, and you've got yourself a product any self-respecting Hollywood executive would kill his children to produce. ...
  • A Feast Of Rats, Blood And Wild Rice

    The most eagerly anticipated movie of the season, Neil Jordan's Interview With the Vampire, ignited a high level of inane squabbling before anyone had seen a frame of it. The call to arms was led by outraged novelist/diva Anne Rice herself, furious at the casting of Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat. But having lit the fire, Rice then scrambled to put it out when she saw the film. In a breathless two-page ad, she proclaimed that her wildest dreams had come true. Clearly more than literature was at stake: to the rabid fans of Rice's luxuriantly decadent vampire cosmology, "Interview With the Vampire" was somewhere between a sacred text and an alternate lifestyle that had to be vigorously defended. ...
  • 'War' Is Hell? You Got That Right.

    JON AVNET'S THE WAR HAS A LOT ON ITS big, soft mind. War, for one. It's bad. Racism, for another. It's bad, too. Love? It makes the world go round. You might also like to know that "with God's help, human beings can do anything." Kathy McWorter, the writer of this high-minded family drama, populates her saga with dirt-poor Mississippi characters, all of whom are solemnly able to dispense homilies at the drop of a hat. The year is 1970. Kevin Costner stars as a Vietnam vet suffering from posttraumatic stress and struggling to support his wife (Mare Winningham) and two kids (Elijah Wood and Lexi Randall). Though broke, tormented and unable to hold a job, he's as warm and wise as any junior senator from Mississippi campaigning for re-election. The kids have built a treehouse, which is under siege by a nasty gaggle of unwashed redneck kids. This will escalate into a highly symbolic children's war, from which many lessons will be learned. Avnet, who made "Fried Green Tomatoes," serves up...
  • Monster Mush

    ROMANTIC WITH A BIG AND A SMALL R, Kenneth Branagh's hyperventilating version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein strains for grand theatrical effects at every turn. The camera, and the actors, are always in a mad dash from here to there. If the lovers, Victor Frankenstein (Branagh) and his future bride, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), settle down for a moment, the airborne lens will swift around them like a hornet contemplating a sting. You can see what Branagh is after in this umpteenth retelling of Shelley's Gothic classic: he wants to restore the passionate emotional scale of the early 19th century to a tale that most people remember as a 1930s horror flick. But with his other eye firmly on the marketplace, he also wants to wow the MTV generation. What we get is Romanticism for short attention spans; a lavishly decorated horror movie with excellent elocution. His strategy undermines itself-there's a lot of sound and fury, but all the grand passions are indicated rather than felt....
  • An Old Affair Revisited

    Like every movie warren beatty has produced, Love Affair is made with skill, the participation of topnotch talents and considerable taste. There are times, however, when good taste can get in your way. Why do another remake of the sentimental classics ""Love Affair'' and ""An Affair to Remember'' (both directed by Leo McCarey, in 1939 and 1957) if you're not prepared to wallow in four-hankie heaven? Beatty, who stars and co-wrote the script with Robert Towne (Glenn Gordon Caron directs), follows the originals' plot line with great fidelity, with a sprinkling of contemporary details to drag it into the '90s. He's a former pro quarterback and notorious womanizer engaged to a TV talk-show host (Kate Capshaw). On a flight to Australia he meets the woman of his dreams -- piano teacher Terry McKay (Annette Bening), herself engaged to marry a wealthy financier (Pierce Brosnan). The plane crash-lands on a Pacific island; the two embark on a ship for Tahiti, fall in love and vow to meet in...
  • Dying For A Broadway Hit

    I'm an artist!'' yelps earnest play wright David Shayne (John Cusack), refusing to change a word of his new play. These are the first words we hear in Woody Allen's delicious Bullets Over Broadway, and they will come back to haunt David many times over by the time his Eugene O'Neill-ish melodrama has made its perilous progress to a Broadway opening night. Set in the roaring '20s, populated with tommy-gun-shooting gangsters, dumb chorus girls and theatrical grande dames, ""Bullets Over Broadway,'' co-written by Douglas McGrath, itself uses a classical theatrical structure to explore the conflicting -- and sometimes even deadly -- demands of art and morality. The joy of this bouncy, brainy Allen outing is how effortlessly he meshes his serious, clearly personal conundrums with the giddy formulas of backstage farce. ...
  • Battered Dreams Of Glory

    NOT TOO MANY FILMMAKERS ARE DEtermined enough, or crazy enough, to devote seven years of their lives to the making of a movie. A movie that has no stars, no script, and was made on a budget that would barely cover the catering costs on "True Lies." Indeed, the odds against Hoop Dreams ever seeing the light of day were overwhelming, for it is a documentary, and the term itself carries such a commercial stigma that only a few are lucky enough to get a theatrical release. ...
  • Kitsch As Kitsch Can

    Edward D. Wood Jr., a writer-director who inhabited the outermost margins of Hollywood, died in alcoholic obscurity in 1978. Soon after, he was rediscovered by connoisseurs of kitsch and semiofficially dubbed "the worst director of all time" for such grade-Z '50s epics as "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Glen or Glenda." The latter, a bizarre cri de coeur, was a plea for compassion for transvestism in which the director--a heterosexual cross-dresser with a serious angora fetish -- appeared in drag as the doubly eponymous hero. The singular nuttiness of that 1953 film--far ahead of its time in con-tent--comes from its mind-bogglingly random shifts between pseudodocumentary earnestness and gothic delirium. The passion of the film is as undeniable as its ineptitude; that potent combination gives it its distinctively unhinged Woodsy flavor. ...
  • The Redemption Of Pulp

    The miracle of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction is how, being composed of secondhand, debased parts, it succeeds in gleaming like something new. For a long time we've seen young, movie-mad American directors sink their teeth knowingly into old Hollywood genres. ...
  • A Director's Swan Song

    If BLUE SKY looks like a throwback, it's not because the film was finished in 1991, just before the death of director Tony Richardson, and it's not because the story is set in 1962, on a military base in Alabama. What makes it feel like a Hollywood film from another era is its belief that character can drive a movie; that there is nothing more fascinating than the complexities of the human heart. If that's now considered old-fashioned, too bad for us. ...
  • The Face Is Familiar...

    There are comebacks and there are comebacks and then there are comebacks. John Travolta has known them all in an 18-year movie career that has gone from the highs of "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" to the lows of "The Experts," a dismally obscure 1989 comedy. By Travolta's count, he's now on his fifth comeback -- but this is the best: "These have been the most glorious four months I've ever known." ...
  • When America Lost Its Innocence--Maybe

    The fall season gets off to an auspicious, Oscar-contending start with Quiz Show, Robert Redford's savvy, snappy account of the TV quiz-show scandals of the late '50s. Its arrival has already provoked a favorite American question: when did we as a nation lose our innocence? It's an absurd question, of course, that assumes a homogeneous "we." (Ask a Native American that, and you'll get a very early citing.) Absurd too because, since this is a nation with no historical memory, every generation has its own answer. But it's a vital question nonetheless, for no country has been so obsessed with the myth of its innocence as ours. It's the clean slate from which we are able continually to reinvent ourselves, the source of what has been best in our optimistic, idealistic culture and what has kept us childish, close-minded and brutally provincial. ...
  • This Time, The Bad Guy Finishes First

    MARC PEYSERWhen you scare movie audiences to death for a living, intimidation can be a sincere form of flattery. Tom Noonan built a successful acting career threatening the lives of blind people, FBI agents and other endangered species in movies like "Manhunter" and "F/X." But when his usual screen persona followed him into the grocery store one day, he started thinking about a less terrifying line of work. "I turned the corner with my shopping cart and a woman looked up and actually dropped what she had and ran screaming down the aisle," said Noonan, who, at 6 feet 5 inches, stands bald head and shoulders above any crowd. "I am a human being, and it's not fun to have everyone in the world afraid of you."After the grocery scare, Noonan took a few more lucrative bad-guy parts -- he almost blew up some kids in "Last Action Hero" -- before breaking from his career as a creep. But that blood money paid for a promising new occupation. "What Happened Was . . . ," the first film he...
  • Crooked Outta Brooklyn

    FRESH, the debut film of the talented writer-director Boaz Yakin, generated a lot of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival. This inner-city drama, set amid the drug-ravaged streets of Brooklyn, contains shocking scenes, none more so than a brutal playground shooting that claims innocent children's lives. And its title character, the 12-year-old Fresh (Sean Nelson), is certainly a disturbing protagonist. A precocious survivor, he works for crack dealers and the local heroin kingpin, Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito), a surrogate father who has a passion for Fresh's strung-out older sister (N'Bushe Wright). He's forbidden, for reasons never adequately explained, to see his own father (Samuel L. Jackson), a gifted chess hustler who has imparted to his son a keen sense of chessboard strategy. ...
  • Raw Carnage Or Revelation?

    The best and worst of Oliver Stone are on ample display in Natural Born Killers, a hyperactive, blood-spattered, semi-satirical visual onslaught that examines the American obsession with violence and the warped media values that turn killers into celebrities, murder into infotainment. The topic, amid O. J. fever and Menendez mania, couldn't be more timely, and Stone is, to say the least, a controversial man for the job. From the start, he's built his Oscar-garlanded career on violence, working out his own plentiful aggression on screen. ...