David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • '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...
  • 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. ...
  • 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.