David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Buttoned Up In Barcelona

    Sales reps and navy men may be common in real life, but they are rarely the subjects of American movies, much less American independent movies. Whit Stillman announced with his first feature, the 1990 "Metropolitan," that he marched to a different drummer. That droll social comedy about the WASPy world of New York debutantes is now followed up by Barcelona, an equally singular comedy about the amorous adventures of two American cousins -- WASPs to the core -- in Spain in "the last decade of the cold war." Ted (Taylor Nichols) is the Barcelona sales rep for an American company, so obsessed with the physical beauty of women (and so upset by the breakup of his last relationship) that he vows to date only homely girls. His orderly life (he's a devotee of the philosophy of Dale Carnegie) is seriously upset by the arrival of his gratingly callow cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman), an advance man for the Sixth Fleet who moves into his flat, stirs up trouble and refuses to leave. Libidinous but...
  • Hollywood's July Foursome

    IN THE COURSE OF "FORREST GUMP" you will discover how it came about that the title character, a sweet-natured simpleton from rural Alabama with a two-digit IQ, taught Elvis how to move. That's just for starters. Forrest (Tom Hanks) is an idiot for all seasons, and his life story encompasses - and sometimes brings about-most of the major events of four stormy decades of American life. You'll see how this boy with braces on his legs became a Crimson Tide football star and a Vietnam War hero. How he met JFK, LBJ and inadvertently caused the downfall of Rich Nixon. How he came to be playing Ping-Pong in China, met the Black Panthers and ended up on the cover of Fortune. You'll see him chatting with John Lennon on "The Dick Cavett Show." Forrest was even the guy who inspired the bumper sticker S--T HAPPENS. ...
  • Baby's Day Out

    FROM THE TEENAGERS OF "THE BREAKFAST CLUB" to the prepubescent Kevin of "Home Alone" to 9-month-old Baby Bink, the hero of this live-action cartoon, John Hughes's subjects have become increasingly puerile. So, alas, have his movies. The adorable tot gets kidnapped by three stooges (Joe Mantegna, Joe Pantoliano and Brian Haley), then leads them on a wild chase around Chicago, subjecting his hapless captors to one sadistic punishment after another. Director Patrick Read Johnson follows writer/producer Hughes's familiar formula with crass fidelity: four doses of slapstick humiliation to one dose of unadulterated sentimentality. Shaken, not stirred. Kids in the audience when I saw it couldn't get enough of the crotch-stomping fun. Parents may want to wait in the lobby.
  • No Angst, Just A Happy Romance

    It's a measure of how starved the lesbian audience is for films that reflect their lives that ""Fried Green Tomatoes'' -- a surprise hit most people regarded as a heartwarming Southern period piece -- became a lesbian cult favorite and even won an award from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). All this for a movie that avoided any overt references to its heroines' sexual orientation for fear of alienating mainstream audiences. ...
  • Crystal's Back In The Saddle

    There have been and will be worse sequels than City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold, but there are few that seem so unnecessary. Now that Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) has recovered from his midlife crisis and is riding tall in the saddle, what uplifting life lessons does he need to learn from another exposure to the Wild West? Just that every overgrown boy needs a jolt of adventure every now and then to find his smile again. This message does not seem to inspire Crystal and fellow screenwriters Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz to great heights of invention. They've dug into their bag of old movie archetypes, grabbed for ""The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'' and figured, ""Why the hell not?'' With a treasure map he's found in the late Curly's hat, Mitch -- still inexplicably eager to escape his wife, though he was spiritually reborn in the original -- sets off in quest of buried treasure. He's accompanied by his two stooges, the lonely-guy nerd Phil (Daniel Stern) and his...
  • A Tough Guy Takes Cannes

    WHEN QUENTIN TARANTINO'S volatile, violent first film, ""Reservoir Dogs,'' failed to win any prizes at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, the wounded director made a vow: ""I decided from that day f---ing forth I'm not going to any awards unless I know I'm gonna win.'' Two years later, at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the 31-year-old Tarantino put himself on the line again with Pulp Fiction, a bizarrely funny, structurally audacious, two-and-one-half-hour gangster movie whose raw energy and flamboyant mayhem roused audiences dozing through too many languorous European art films. Still, he was considered a long shot to win the coveted Palme d'Or. Critics hailed Krzysztof Kieslowski's stunning ""Red'' as the movie to beat. Everyone said no American movie -- especially a violent one -- could win in a year when Europe had united to de-fend itself against the cultural imperialism of Hollywood. ...
  • Family Album

    IN CROOKLYN, A MEMORY FILM ABOUT growing up in Brooklyn in the '70s, Spike Lee abandons the Big Issues that generate his movies, and seems at a loss. Using 9-year-old Troy (the charming Zelda Harris) as his prism, Lee presents the Carmichael family, struggling to make ends meet. Father (Delroy Lindo) is a purist jazz composer who can't get work in a rock era. Mother (Alfre Woodard), a teacher, does the worrying and the screaming, riding herd on her five rowdy, TV-Obsessed kids. Intended to be a tough-love saint, she comes across as a nag. "Crooklyn" is a family affair-Lee co-wrote it with his sister Joie Susannah and brother Cinque-but the semiautobiographical script never shapes reminiscence into art. It's not the lack of story that makes it Lee's dullest movie, but its refusal to dig beneath the skin of its characters. Lee seems to confuse noise with drama: the bickering Carmichaels create quite a racket, but we're seldom moved by their plight. In his most desperate moment, Lee...
  • A Hero Who Cheats Death

    WHEN BRANDON LEE WAS ACCIDENTALLY shot to death on the set of The Crow in March 1993, he had only three days of filming left. The production shut down, and the devastated Australian director, Alex Proyas, wanted to abandon the $15 million production. it took the entreaties of Lee's fiancee, Eliza Hutton, and his mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, along with others associated with the film, to persuade Proyas to complete the production. "The real issue was psychological," explains coproducer Edward Pressman. 'Alex went back to Australia for a month to get his head together, and we took another month off to figure out how to continue." ...
  • THE PRIME OF HELEN MIRREN

    HALF THE TIME SHE LOOKS exhausted, strung out. She chews gum with the angry ferocity of an ex-smoker. In distraught concentration, she pulls at her dirty-blond hair. She's curt and demanding to a new assistant, implacable in the face of an ex-lover's romantic entreaties, adept at ruthless office politics and unblinking in the presence of the charred body of a dead boy prostitute. There is no heroine on the small screen-and certainly none on the large-who so little asks to be loved as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, the star of the PBS "Prime Suspect" series. And viewers cannot get enough of her. ...
  • Down and Dirty

    BECAUSE MARTIN LAWRENCE'S MOUTH is what gets him in trouble, it's easy to overlook the fact that this stand-up comic throws his entire body into his work, prowling the stage in constant, restless motion, stirring up laughs in his audience like a cook stirring a big pot of very funky stew. The star of the sitcom "Martin" and the man who was banned by NBC for transgressing network standards on "Saturday Night Live" now offers up his undiluted stage show in the unrated concert film You So Crazy. Lawrence's raunchiness has not been exaggerated: no sexual or scatological detail (and they usually go together) is beyond the pale of his comic investigation, whether he is offering tips to the brothers on how to avoid unwanted intimacies behind bars or investigating the most private bedroom details. His view of the world is that of a gynecologist on laughing gas. ...
  • Home Alone With Pianist Glenn Gould

    HOW DOES ONE MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT the life of someone as brilliant, solitary Hand inward as the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould? It's not the easiest task to dramatize a man whose most sustained human contacts, as he grew ever more reclusive, were over the telephone. For this singular man, Quebecois director Francois Girard has fashioned a singular solution called, quite accurately, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. With his co-writer Don McKellar, he has structured his film after Bach's "Goldberg Variations" (the piece that brought Gould his first fame), inventing 32 brief, often playful and sometimes abstract variations on Gould's fife, accompanied by Gould performances of Bach, Beethoven, Hindemith, Sibelius and a blast of Wagner's "Liebestod." ...
  • The Fab Five

    FOR A WHILE, Backbeat IS LIVELY, UNpretentious fun, a glimpse into the early days of the Beatles when Pete Best was still the drummer, their ducktails hadn't turned mop top and they were doing covers of American R&B in seedy Hamburg clubs. The focus is on the littleknown Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff), John Lennon's bestmate, a promising painter and lackluster bass player who cut a cool figure on stage but never sought musical success. Lennon is played by Ian Hart (who did him in Christopher Munch's brilliant film "The Hours and Times"); as long as "Backbeat" stays with him, Sutcliffe and the rousing music, director Iain Softley's movie maintains a funky charm. But when "existential" German photographer Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee) slinks into the story to fall in love with Sutcliffe, the movie turns solemn and silly. Kirchherr seems an irritating poseur; her tragic affair with Sutcliffe strikes tinny, overwrought emotions. Get back, get back to where you once belonged,...
  • Boy Meets Girl Meets Boy

    ALEX AND EDDY AND STUART ARE thrown together as college room- mates. There's one embarrassing glitch: Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a girl. Nor does the pairing of party-animal Stuart (Stephen Baldwin) and introspective Eddy (Josh Charles) seem auspicious: one decorates his wall with bare-bottomed cheerleaders, the other hangs his poster of Munch's "The Scream." Unlikely as it may seem, these three form - for a time - an inseparable bond, glued together by raging hormones. Stuart lusts after Alex; Alex lusts after Eddy; and Eddy, our "sexually ambivalent" narrator, lusts after Stuart. ...
  • Hustler Extraordinaire

    JIMMY ALTO (JOE PESCI) IS A MANIC middle-aged runt with dyed blond hair and an obsessive ambition to be a Hollywood actor. A former aluminum-siding salesman from New Jersey, he's got the actor's jargon down pat, but his biggest claim to fame is the ad he's paid for on a bus bench: JIMMY ALTO-ACTOR EXTRAORDINAIRE. If you saw this guy approaching you on Hollywood Boulevard, where, lacking work, he hangs out most days with his loyal, simpleminded pal William (Christian Slater), you'd duck, put off by his tacky clothes, his aggressive self-promotion, the pungent whiff of cocky desperation. ...
  • Esperanto Epic

    IF YOU COULD JUDGE A MOVIE ON ITS credentials alone, The House of the Spirits would already be halfway to heaven. The prestige cast couldn't be more enticing: Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Vanessa Redgrave, Winona Ryder, Antonio Banderas and Armin Mueller-Stahl. The writer-director, Bille August, made the award-winning "Pelle the Conqueror" and "The Best Intentions." The story, a tumultuous 50-year family saga encompassing politics, passion, mysticism and revenge, comes from the acclaimed novel by Isabel Allende. It's handsomely shot, sumptuously produced, nobly intentioned. And it unfolds, sadly, like the longest trailer ever made. ...
  • Review: His Kinky Tale Rocks The Boat

    ROMAN POLANSKI HAS never played it safe. Not in life, and certainly not in his wild, corrosive, smuttily funny Bitter Moon. Recklessly perched on the edge of the ludicrous, this examination of a destructive erotic passion unfolds with an unsettling mixture of steam and mordant iron,,,. Audiences conditioned on the tonal simplicities of Hollywood may feel the need to ward it off with derisive laughter. Big, if understandable, mistake. "Bitter Moon's" unpredictable laughs are quite intentional, the bitter cackle of a romantic bottoming out on his blasted illusions. ...
  • Like A Horse And Carriage

    HUGH GRANT, WHO HAS GRACED THE margins of many an English film, gets to step front and center in the romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral and proves himself a deft and debonair leading man. He plays Charles, a handsome, diffident bachelor with a lethal wit who's dated every woman in his set without finding a proper mate. What Charles does for a living we never find out. What occupies his leisure hours is his friends' incessant nuptials. True to its title, Mike ("Enchanted April") Newell's movie follows Charles and six friends through four elaborate, very funny wedding ceremonies. At the first, Charles is smitten by the beautiful, elusive American Carrie (Andie MacDowell). But after they spend a blissful night together, she vanishes back to the States. ...
  • Sensuous Memories

    TRAN ANH HUNG, THE GIFTED DIRECTOR of The Scent of Green Papaya, left his native Vietnam for France in 1975, when he was 12. Re-creating the Saigon of his childhood on sound stages near Paris, he produced this exquisitely sensuous memory film-nominated for the foreign-film Oscar-about a servant girl's transformation. It begins in 1951, when the 10-year-old Mui (Lu Man San) comes to work in a large household, then jumps to 1961, when the beautiful young woman (Tran Nu Yen-Khe) falls in love with her second master, a young composer. Tran's meditative film raptly celebrates a vanished civilization by evoking in luminous detail the everyday rituals of domestic life. Two off-screen sounds of passing planes are the only hints of the wars that will tear this world apart, but so evocative is Tran's minimalism-which puts the viewer in an altered, contemplative state-that no more is needed.
  • Profit Sharing, American Style

    AILEEN WUORNOS, A HITCHHIKING prostitute who murdered seven men in Florida in 1989 and 1990 and is now in prison facing the electric chair, is no one's idea of a heroine. Tough, foulmouthed and unglamorous, she throws the finger at the judge who sentences her to death and curses her enemies: "May your wife and kids get raped . . . " Yet one of the several astonishing things about Nick Broomfield's documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer is that this self-confessed killer is the most sympathetic figure in it. At the New York Film Festival, where the film was shown last fall, audiences actually cheered her. ...
  • Romancing The Stoned

    THE DANGER OF MOVIES THAT TRY TO define a generation is that they almost have to turn out . . . generic. Baby boomers can remember with a shudder all those psychedelicized, lets-try-and-be-hip Hollywood "youthquake" movies in the late '60s. Now we're on the brink of a slew of Generation X movies. (You could hear the media's sigh of relief when they found this moniker: so that's who these kids are!) Xers have every right to be cynical about Hollywood's motives in merchandising their twentysomething angst for mainstream delectation. ...
  • Gere Caught In The Headlights

    VINCENT EASTMAN (RICHARD GERE) IS a man who can't make up his mind, If which doesn't exactly make him Hamlet. A successful 42-year-old Vancouver architect, Vincent is at a crossroads in his life--hence the title, Intersection, of Mark Rydell's movie. Though separated from his wealthy, coolly beautiful wife (Sharon Stone) and living with an adoring and warmly beautiful journalist (Lolita Davidovich), Vincent is unwilling to let go of his old life or fully embrace his new one. Since the film opens with Vincent's catastrophic car crash--the outcome of which is withheld until the end--the subsequent account of our hero's glamorously disheveled life and loves is meant to achieve poignancy in the shadow of mortality. ...
  • Heartstops And Heartbreak

    THE BARGAIN YOU MAKE WITH A THRILler is simple: if it succeeds in scaring you, you're willing to forgive a whole lot of hokum. If the claptrap quotient gets too high, however, the goose bumps won't blossom. Michael Apted's Blink walks a fine line, but if you're willing to accept it on its frankly formulaic terms, it delivers some good jolts. ...
  • The Flowering Of A Late Bloomer

    A GREAT SUCCESS DOESN'T always come when one is ready for it, or able to handle it, or even when it's most deserved. In the case of Anthony Hopkins, however, the time couldn't be more ripe. The 56-year-old Welshman has been on a glorious run ever since he won the 1991 Oscar for playing Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs." just after that, he triumphed in "Howards End" and received a knighthood. Last year was best of all: he played two of the richest roles of his career--as the self-abnegating butler Stevens in "The Remains of the Day" and as the Oxford don C. S. Lewis in the current "Shadowlands." "I've always wanted to be different or successful," Hopkins says, "and now it's happened and I'm having a ball. I do actually walk around like a kid in a toy department." ...
  • Injustice And Cruel Fates

    GUARANTEED TO GET YOUR BLOOD boiling, In the Name of the Father relates the true story of Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis), one of the "Guildford Four" wrongly convicted of planting IRA bombs in two English pubs in 1974. As tales of injustice go, this one's a doozy. Not only did Conlon and his Irish mates spend 15 years in jail before their sentences were over-turned, but seven other innocents--including his father and his aunt--served time on trumped-up charges. It was one of the English judiciary's most shameful hours. The political pressure to find a culprit for the bombings turned the criminal justice system criminal itself: evidence was willfully suppressed, torture used to extract confessions, and when the actual terrorists admitted their guilt, their testimony was ignored. Twenty years later the "Irish problem," as ugly and unresolved as ever, the case--and now this film--are still arousing angry passions in England. ...
  • 'Tis Not A Jolly Season

    SO MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the making of "PhiladelPhia" ("Hollywood finally confronts AIDS"), so many hopes are riding on it, so high is the standard director Jonathan Demme has set for himself that it may be hard to see the movie itself through the fog of expectation. Well, "Philadelphia!' is far from perfect, but it would be hard to imagine the person who could walk away from it unmoved.The late Vito Russo, author of "The Celluloid Closet," a study of the treatment of gays in the cinema, used to say, "It's not AIDS that's killing us, it's homophobia." This is what "Philadelphia" is about-not a disease, but a climate of intolerance that turns a disease into a stigma. Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an associate in a prestigious Philadelphia law firm who has kept his sexuality his HIV status and his relationship with his lover Miguel (Antonio Banderas) from his colleagues. As his health starts to deteriorate, he's handed a major case. Before it's done, he's abruptly fired. The...
  • U.S. Premiere: Sir Andrew Goes Hollywood

    ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER'S latest musical juggernaut, Sunset Boulevard, bad its American premiere last week in the city where it is set, and which it savages--Los Angeles. It was Hollywood's dream factory that created and destroyed that fictional silent-screen goddess, Norma ("I am big, it's the pictures that got small") Desmond. Retinkered and darkened from its London production (en route to Broadway in fall '94), this makeover of Billy Wilder's classic 1950 movie now comes adorned with an authentic celluloid star of its own, Glenn Close. As the deluded diva who ensnares down-on-his-heels screenwriter Joe Gillis into her cracked dream of renewed Hollywood glory, she hurls herself into the role with baroque bravado. Boasting a strong set of pipes and a vigor that makes her a less vulnerable figure than Gloria Swanson's spidery vamp, Close brings her fierce charisma to a show that badly needs a transfusion of flesh and blood. ...
  • Spielberg's Obsession

    THERE WAS A MAN NAMED OSKAR SCHINDLER, A German Catholic businessman and confidant of the Nazis, who during the Holocaust protected and rescued some 1,200 Jews from almost certain death. In Poland today, where Schindler once ran his profitable enamelware factory during World War II, there are fewer than 4,000 Jews left. Around the world there are more than 6,000 descendants of the "Schindler Jews" he saved. But to this day nobody can say with certainty what made this unlikely hero risk his life when so many others failed to lift a finger. A hedonist in love with cognac, night life and motorcycles, a womanizer incorrigibly unfaithful to his wife, a war profiteer, gambler, black-market dealer and heavy drinker, this gregarious, urbane and spoiled young man may have been motivated by nothing more complicated than simple decency, but then decency was neither simple nor easy to find in a German businessman in Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1945. To any sane observer, there has always...
  • No Brief 'Pelican'

    ANY MOVIE THAT STARTS WITH THE assassination of two Supreme Court justices (one bumped off in a gay-porno theater) shouldn't have too much trouble grabbing your attention. Alan J. Pakula's The Pelican Brief, from the John Grisham best seller, niftily plants its hooks into the audience, promising a taut, paranoid thriller along the lines of the director's early gems, "Klute" and "The Parallax View." The promise, however, is only half fulfilled in this glossy, reasonably diverting entertainment, whose tone of self-importance ultimately can't disguise the rickety flimflammery of Grisham's tale. ...
  • Papa's Got A Brand New Drag

    CAN A MOVIE BE BOTH A DELIGHT AND A drag? Yes, if its name is Mrs. Doubtfire. Simply put, I've rarely laughed so much at a movie I generally disliked. If you're a fan of Robin Williams (and who in his right mind isn't?), how can you resist the prospect of seeing him gussied up as a prim and proper 60-year-old English nanny--the guise he dons to spend time with his three children when his estranged wife (Sally Field) is awarded sole custody in their divorce? Williams makes a phenomena] old gal. You may not buy the pretext that forces him to such extremes (it never makes sense that Field won't let him have more contact with the kids), but you won't doubt that his own children would be fooled by their daddy's dowdy drag. Busty, prudishly maternal, Williams disappears inside his mountain of makeup and emerges with a characterization of hilarious pursed-mouth pungency. ...
  • The Sensitive Psycho

    AFTER THE TAUT AND TROUBLING "Unforgiven," Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World feels like a breather. As usual, you can expect solid, no-fuss craftsmanship, but it's best to set your expectations down a notch. Any capsule description of--the plot makes this movie sound a lot more fingernail-biting than it is. Kevin Costner plays escaped convict Butch Haynes, who takes an 8-year-old Jehovah's Witness boy (T. J. Lowther) as a hostage and commits murder along the way before the manhunt led by Texas Ranger Eastwood tracks him down. Surprisingly, the movie has only a glancing, jokey concern with the mechanics of--the manhunt. Eastwood and criminologist Laura Dern (an anachronistically feminist figure for 1963) are the pursuers, but their connection to the story is never more than peripheral. If s Costner and the kid's show, a seriocomic surrogate-father-and-son roadpic that's at its best when it's content to be little more than a charming caper, as the boy dresses up in his Casper the...
  • Movies: Tim Burton Looks At Holiday Hell

    YOU HAVE TO KEEP YOUR eyes wide open while watching Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. This giddily imaginative stop-motion animation musical is so stuffed with visual delights you won't want to blink. It's Burton's conceit that every holiday has its own country. In Halloweenland, where "Nightmare" is set, a dapper skeleton known as Jack Skellington (a.k.a. the Pumpkin King) presides over an industrious population of ghouls, gremlins and grinches devoted to scaring the bejesus out of children everywhere. But the pumpkin crown hangs heavy on Jack's spindly skull; he's grown weary of fright. There must be something more to life than bat wings and frog's breath soup. And indeed there is: accidentally tumbling through a secret door he lands in snowy, happy Christmastown and his mind is blown. Though he can't quite grasp Christmas's arcane rituals, he knows he must possess it. Rushing home he proclaims his mission: this year Christmas will be brought to the world by the...
  • The Real Cutural Revolution

    CHEN KAIGE'S RAVISHING EPIC Farewell My Concubine should be the movie that opens American eyes to the new wonders of Chinese cinema. The first Chinese film to win the Palme d'Or in Cannes, a smash at the recent New York Film Festival, Chen's big, beautiful movie has the lushness of Bertolucci and the sweeping narrative confidence of an old Hollywood epic. It is the latest, and perhaps most stunning, in a string of films from the People's Republic, Taiwan and Hong Kong that have swept all the grand prizes at festivals from Venice and Berlin to Locarno and Tokyo, a cinematic grand slam that confirms that the boom in China is not limited to economics. ...