David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • 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. ...
  • Raise A Red Flag

    In the international film world, few invitations are as prestigious as being selected as the opening-night film of the New York Film Festival. (Last year it was "Pulp Fiction.") When Zhang Yimou learned that his "Shanghai Triad" was the first Chinese movie ever picked for the opening slot, it was considered the biggest honor of his career. Zhang was happy. The Chinese government was happy. And the festival was happy thaf Zhang was coming to the glittering first-night gala at Lincoln Center. ...
  • Black And Blue In L.A.

    Film Noir Style was born in Los Angeles in the '40s-- think "Double Indemnity" and "The Big Sleep"--and the images have proven so indelible that it's now hard to think of that city, in that time, separate from the shadow-streaked look of Hollywood thrillers. Now, in Carl Franklin's Devil in a Blue Dress--based on Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mystery--we're back in 1948 L.A., but as you settle into the familiar pleasures of its noir plot, you realize you're in a part of town Hollywood has neglected to show. It's Central Avenue, the hub of postwar black L.A., a vital, jazz-and-blues-infused community brought to vivid life by Franklin, production designer Gary Frut-koff and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. ...
  • Kidman's A Comedienne

    If you're looking for a warm and fuzzy movie, To Die For is not for you. The milk of human kindness does not flow from this very funny collaboration between director Gus Van Sant and writer Buck Henry, and that's one of the things that makes it refreshing. Satire has never been Hollywood's genre of choice, and it seems more endangered than ever in an era of talk-show confession, victimology (those poor Menendez boys!) and political correctness--an era inimical to the form's hanging-judge inclinations. The satirist looks down on his subjects, and this is not a nice thing to do if you think art's job is only to empower and ennoble. The trouble is we've left mean-spiritedness to the politicians, where it can do real damage. In the hands of an artist, a blast of nastiness can clear the mind of cant. ...
  • Last Exits In Brooklyn

    In the Brooklyn housing project that is the setting of Spike Lee's grimly passionate Clockers, the 19-year-old Strike (Mekhi Phifer) conducts his business-selling crack-from a park bench, taking swigs of chocolate Yoo-Hoo to soothe his raging ulcer, a byproduct of his high-risk trade. Strike has a lot to worry about, and his ulcer won't get better before his tale is told. The cops, led by Det. Roeco Klein (Harvey Keitel), periodically swoop down on the projects, subjecting Strike to humiliating strip searches. Ten-year-old Tyrone (Pee Wee Love) has become enamored of the dealer's swagger, outraging both his upright mother and Andre (Keith David), the gigantic neighbor cop who threatens to break Strike's bones if he gets this good kid into trouble. ...
  • A Neo-Latin Lover

    It was only five years ago that Antonio Banderas--then known only to American moviegoers for his Spanish films with Pedro Almodovar--sat down with director Arne Glimcher to talk about appearing in his first English-language role in "The Mambo Kings." "He had a nice talk," Banderas explains. "I didn't understand a word he was saying." Nonetheless, after auditioning by learning his lines phonetically, Banderas got the part. ...
  • Southern Discomfort

    Something to talk about, the second movie written by Callie Khouri, probably won't ignite the op-ed passions that "Thelma and Louise" did, but you can't miss the Khouri touch--her sharp Southern tongue and her determination to tell tales from a fresh, female point of view. The women in this smart, highly entertaining comedy don't pack guns, but relations between the sexes are such that a well-placed knee in the groin can come in handy.The knee belongs to Emma Rae King (Kyra Sedgwick), the groin is her brother-in-law Eddie's (Dennis Quaid) and the kick is an expression of solidarity with her sister Grace King Bichon (Julia Roberts), who's just discovered her husband's infidelity. Even before she uncovers the affair, Grace is frayed at the edges. Every time she drives off to an appointment, she forgets she's left her 10-year-old daughter behind.Now, confronted with Eddie's philandering, something snaps in Grace, and she loses her tolerance for keeping up appearances. First she...
  • 'Waterworld': It Floats

    Waterworld is a pretty damn good summer movie.There, I've said it.The world, and Universal Pictures, can take a deep breath. The most expensive movie ever made-estimates range from $172 million to $200 million -- is actually fun. And "fun," Lord knows, is the bottom line of that corporate invention known as the summer movie-a concept, like cyberspace, we didn't ask for, but which has become a permanent part of the American landscape."Waterworld," as you may have heard, has no landscape. It is set far in the post-apocalyptic future, after the polar caps have melted, burying the world as we know it under water and turning the horizon into an unending scape of sea. The survivors, floating on man-made atolls or navigating on boats, have become desperate scavengers, bartering and sometimes killing each other to obtain whatever meager detritus of the old world they can find. In Waterworld, pure dirt is as good as gold. This funky, rusty, dystopian vision will be instantly recognizable as...
  • Movies: The Indiscreet Charm Of Hugh Grant

    The issue before us is the nature of Hugh Grant's desire. Why would the man who charmed us in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," who was so sneaking funny in "Bitter Moon," so deft in "Impromptu" and "Maurice," a man who has shown himself to be possessed of an unusually quick and mordant wit . . . why would he succumb to the temptation to make a movie as complacently conventional as Nine Months? The easy answer is lust -- for Hollywood stardom and fat paychecks. This strenuously crowd-pleasing Chris Columbus romantic comedy may well turn the trick -- you can't deny the director of "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" his commercial knack -- but it threatens to turn an interesting actor into a self-parodying commodity.Grant isn't bad, but he's encouraged to overdo what he does well: that sputtering, eyelid-batting, diffident English charm. He plays a Porsche-driving San Francisco child psychologist whose perfect Yuppie existence is threatened when his girlfriend (Julianne Moore, wasted in a...
  • A Kid Finds His Inner Adult

    Melissa Mathison has worked on the screenplays for two of the most wondrous family films to emerge from Hollywood--"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "The Black Stallion." She's now done the adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks's award-winning children's book, The indian in the Cupboard (box), and though director Frank Oz's movie doesn't reach the pop poetic heights of those two (few films do), it's an engaging and touching flight of fancy.The 9-year-old hero, Omri (Hal Scardino), gets three presents for his birthday--an old cupboard, a special antique key and a miniature plastic Indian. It proves to be a magical combination, for when he puts the three-inch figure in the cupboard, it comes to life as a real, albeit tiny, Iroquois named Little Bear (Litefoot), transported from 1761 and terrified by the giant New York City kid peering down at him.Omri soon discovers that the cupboard can transform all his inanimate objects--dinosaurs, knights, Darth Vader--into flesh and blood. A bright,...
  • 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...