David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Altered States And Demoman

    MAX (JEFF BRIDGES) IS AN architect who has always been afraid of flying--until he's in a plane crash. In the air, at the moment when death seems a certainty, he transcends his fear and achieves something like a state of grace; his unearthly calm enables him to rescue several passengers. Back on terra firma, where he is proclaimed a hero, he finds it impossible to slip back into his old fife. He is, in the title of Peter ("Witness") Weir's strange and unnerving movie, Fearless. Dazed but elated, he can no longer relate to the pettiness and mendacity of everyday life. He withdraws from his loving wife (Isabella Rossellini) and turns away from his son. Instead, he is powerfully drawn to a fellow survivor, Carla (Rosie Perez), who lost her child in the crash, and has become almost catatonic in her grief and guilt. The airline's psychologist (John Turturro) can't reach her, but Max has the power to bring her back to life. ...
  • Much Stranger Than Fiction

    ONE CAN IMAGINE PLAYWRIGHT DAVID Henry Hwang's delight when he discovered the story of Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomatic functionary who discovered, on the eve of his trial for espionage, that the Chinese opera star he had loved for 18 years--and whom he thought was the mother of his child--was really a man. Sniffing out a rich cultural/political/sexual metaphor, Hwang concocted his highly theatrical Broadway meditation on East and West, "M. Butterfly," turning his French antihero into a symbol of Western imperialist self-delusion. But this ideological rumination on gender left one big pragmatic question hanging: how exactly did the faux femme fatale pull off her masquerade? Hwang also wrote the misguided movie version of "M. Butterfly" for director David Cronenberg, in which Jeremy Irons and an oddly sullen John Lone act out a straightforward love story devoid of heat or plausibility. The problem is not simply that Lone's drag wouldn't fool a baby. In the magnified intimacy of...
  • A Diorama Of Dysfunction

    IT MAY HAVE 22 MAJOR CHARACTERS, and run three hours and nine minutes, but Robert Altman's stunning Short Cuts is remarkably nimble and light on its feet. It shoots along, like a stone skipping on water, darting in and out of the disheveled middle- and working-class lives of its deracinated Los Angeles characters. it's an epic, but not the kind we're used to: no sweeping vistas, swelling music, larger-than-life emotions. Altman, at his best, has always been a lower-case director, more interested in spontaneity than spectacle, preferring flux to finality. The ease with which he weaves his nine sets of characters in and out of the narrative is testimony to his formal control, yet the style stays loose and off the cuff, as if he were merely eavesdropping on reality. His Look Ma, no hands! manner is his most artful deception: every square foot of this sprawling fresco is stamped with his jauntily bleak sensibility, his insatiable curiosity about the messiness of human relations. ...
  • Growing Up Wise In The Bronx

    JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU'D OD'd on movies about goombahs and goodfellas in the old neighborhood, along comes A Bronx Tale, a deliciously well-observed memory piece about growing up in the '60s that marks the vital debut of director Robert De Niro. Sure, there are echoes of Scorsese, but De Niro and writer Chazz Palminteri put a fresh spin on their story of a young boy growing up torn between two patriarchs-his real dad (De Niro), a hardworking bus driver who wants to save his son from the temptations of the street, and the suave local crime boss Sonny (Palminteri), who takes the 9-year-old Calogero (Francis Capra) under his wing when the boy refuses to rat on Sonny for shooting a man in the street. At the age of 17, Calogero (Lillo Brancato) is reveling in his status as the Machiavellian Sonny's favorite, but he's still got his father's decency. When black/Italian racial tensions come to a boil, his lowlife pals reach for baseball bats but he falls for a lovely black girl (Taral...
  • Avedon

    IT'S ALMOST TOO CONVENIENT, BUT THE FIRST thing you notice about Richard Avedon is his eyes: huge, brown, piercing. They are the eyes a novelist would invent if he were creating an archetypal image of a photographer. When he is working-and at this moment he is cruising Astor Place, in lower Manhattan, searching for an Avedon face to put in front of his camera-they widen even more. hungrily drinking in information. A writer or a carpenter would squint in the act of focusing attention, concentrating inward; Avedon becomes as alert and wired as a hunting dog, his spray of long, graying hair and his lean, wiry body calling to mind an Afghan on the trail of a scent.The faces and bodies stream by. A bent old woman carrying a parcel briefly engages his attention. "Old age is not enough in itself," says Avedon, who made his reputation in portraiture as a young man etching in light the ravaged crevasses of Somerset Maugham, Isak Dinesen, Coco Chanel. He doesn't want to repeat himself. He has...
  • Goodbye, Mr. Gibson

    When an actor known for his looks Wants to be taken seriously, the quickest remedy is disguise. Given the opportunity to direct his first film, Mel Gibson has gone out of his way to shed his hearty-hunk image. The Man Without a Face is a small, sensitive film about a fatherless 12-year-old (Nick Stahl) who develops a close, nurturing relationship with his tutor. Gibson plays the teacher, who in addition to being solitary and erudite is so severely disfigured that the suspicious locals call him "Hamburgerhead." ...
  • A 'Garden' Of Delights

    The greatest children's movies have the power to make anyone, young or old, recover the magical eyes of childhood. They are films graced with the touch of the poet, like the Alexander Korda "Thief of Bagdad" (1940) or Albert Lamorisse's "White Mane"(1952) or Carroll Ballard's "The Black Stallion" (1979)--movies that seize children like dreams, and grownups like dreams remembered. Such a movie is Agnieszka Holland's luminous new version of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic The Secret Carden, which, like "The Black Stallion," comes to us from executive producer Francis Ford Coppola. There have been other versions of Burnett's 1911 book a black-and-white 1949 film with Margaret O'Brien that turned to color when Mary Lennox's garden bloomed, a 1987 TV movie, the 1991 Broadway musical--but this adaptation, written by Caroline Thompson ("Edward Scissorhands"), should stand as the definitive visualization. ...
  • Go Ahead, Take My Prez

    It remains to be seen how Clint Eastwood the director-producer is going to try to follow that tough act "Unforgiven." But Clint the actor-star returns in full stride in "In the Line of Fire," a crisp and lean cat-and-mouse thriller that is, pound for pound, the most accomplished Hollywood entertainment so far this summer. He's playing a tough, cranky, aging Secret Service agent named Frank Horrigan. Frank's a bit of an anachronism, a jazz-loving leftover from another generation. He's still got great loner instincts, but he's damaged goods: he was on duty protecting JFK in Dallas that day in 1963, and his failure to take the bullets intended for the president has been gnawing at his conscience ever since. Now there are new death threats against a new president, and Frank wants a chance to redeem himself. The strange thing is, the assassin, a man of many names and disguises (John Malkovich), seems to have handpicked Frank as his opponent. As the president, campaigning for re-election,...
  • An Offer He Should've Refused

    Mitch McDeere, the hero of The Firm, is definitely a Toni Cruise kind of guy. He's a smart, hungry Harvard Law School grad whose aspiring Yuppiedom is redeemed by his dirt-poor background, which gives him a slight chip on his shoulder and an outsider's defiance. In other words, he looks as comfortable in a black leather jacket as in a lawyer's suit. The Cruise hero is always on the verge of insufferable cockiness, until life tests his mettle (in the air, on a racetrack, in a courtroom) and he learns that there are higher values than fame or fortune. ...
  • Shlockwork Orange

    Romper Stomper, a bone-crunching movie about neo-Nazi skinheads in Melbourne, stirred up quite a fuss in Australia, where it was attacked as a glorification of violence, hailed as an important expose of racist, disaffected youth, and succeeded in converting controversy into box-office cash. Writer-director Geoffrey Wright can't be accused of moralizing. With a jazzy, subjective camera, he hurls the audience into the fray, starting off with the brutal beating of Vietnamese immigrants and escalating the mayhem with an endlessly protracted battle between the white-supremacist punks and van-loads of Asian youths. The movie rarely stops for breath before an alienated, epileptic rich girl (Jacqueline McKenzie)-caught in a banal love triangle between the gang's leader (Russell Crowe) and his sidekick (Daniel Pollack)-directs the pack to the posh house of the father she hates, and the boys proceed to trash the place, "Clockwork Orange" style, to the operatic backdrop of Bizet's "Pearl...
  • Bang, Bang, Kiss, Kiss

    Among other things-too many other things-Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero is the first $70 million-plus deconstructionist action movie. Admittedly, Columbia Pictures is not selling it as a postmodernist opus ("Quel plaisir! You haven't lived until you've seen Arnold decode his own text!"-Jacques Derrida, "Sneak Previews"). Nonetheless, the Big Guy's legions of fans may be a bit baffled to find, side by side with myriad explosions, machine-gunnings and cars barreling through walls, clips from Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," a "Hamlet" parody with Arnold as a not-so-sweet prince, Laurence Olivier jokes (delivered by his widow, Joan Plowright) and the weirdly masochistic moment when the fictional Schwarzenegger character called Jack Slater confronts the real Arnold at a movie premiere and announces: "I don't really like you. You've brought me nothing but pain." ...
  • Monsters To Haunt Your Dreams

    Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park is nothing more-and nothing less--than the world's most extravagant Godzilla movie. The filmmakers may insist this isn't a monster movie, but as any dinosaur-obsessed 8-year-old can tell you, these prehistoric giants are the ur-monsters of all our nightmares. Without them, half the gnarly demons in movie mythology would never have been dreamed up. And if Spielberg's P.C. horror movie-that's paleontologically correct-turns into the mega-blockbuster everyone expects it to, it's simply because it has the dream cast of the summer: toothy T-rex; the long-necked Brachiosaurus, a sickly, armor-plated Triceratops; the poison-spitting, gremlinesque Dilophosaurus; a stampeding Gallimimus herd, and the consummately villainous Velociraptors, the smartest, meanest flesh-eaters in the park. ...
  • Rocky Mountain Highs And Lows

    The classic male action movie is boiled down to basics-action and more action-in Renny Harlin's Cliffhanger. From the smashing opening, in which rescue climber Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) watches an inexperienced climber slip from his grasp and free-fall to her death, through airplane hijackings, avalanches, chopper crashes and brutal beatings, "Cliffhanger" does its damnedest to see that the audience gets its money's worth of thrills. But for all the state-of-the-art stunt work, the movie has little personality; it's ice cream without flavor. The Michael France/Stallone screenplay is a compendium of cliches so familiar that the movie itself loses interest in them (will Gabe overcome his guilt and climb again?). The plot involves $100 million in stolen Treasury money that falls into the Rockies from a hijacked plane. An evil Brit (John Lithgow) and his henchmen lure Stallone up the mountain to find their treasure and Sly, his ex-partner (Michael Rooker) and his estranged...
  • Passion For 'Piano'

    Four years ago Jane Campion, an unknown New Zealand-born filmmaker, arrived at the Cannes Film Festival flush with excitement at having her first feature film, "Sweetie," chosen for inclusion in the competition. She left in tears. Blind to its strange brilliance, the audience turned its wrath upon her film; at the Grand Theatre Lumiere, the loudest sound was the thwack of abandoned seats as the tuxedoed crowd fled in midmovie. ...
  • Mister Kovic Goes To Washington

    Nice guy Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline), who finds temporary jobs for the unemployed, is a dead ringer for the president of the United States (Kevin Kline). When approached by the Secret Service, he takes a temp job himself, as a one-time stand-in for the prez. But when the president has a stroke while boffing his secretary, the power-mad chief of staff (Frank Langella) and communications director (Kevin Dunn) stage a little coup d'etat. Wouldn't Dave like to play his role a bit longer? Their unwitting tool agrees and discovers that he has his own ideas of how to run the government-and that the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) turns him on. ...
  • Silent Clown, Chatty Killer

    In the very whimsical fable Benny & Joon, Johnny Depp plays an eccentric, sensitive aspiring clown named Sam who wears a porkpie hat like his idol Buster Keaton, sits in trees and uses an iron and an ironing board to make grilled cheese sandwiches. A shy loner, he finds his soul mate in Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), bright, articulate, artistic, but mentally unbalanced. Subject to breakdowns at the slightest agitation, she's looked after by her loving but overprotective brother Benny (Aidan Quinn), a handsome mechanic who seems to be using Joon's precarious mental state to avoid his own private life. ...
  • Hook, Lyne And Stinker

    You're a pretty Los Angeles real-estate agent (who looks like Demi Moore) blissfully married to an up-and-coming architect (who looks like Woody Harrelson). You have a picture-perfect life until the recession hits. Now the money's gone, the debts are piling up and you find yourself in Vegas (not like you, but what the heck) down to your last desperate dime when suddenly a glamorous billionaire (who looks exactly like Robert Redford) offers you a million dollars to spend one night with him, no strings attached. What's a newly poor girl to do? ...
  • Rites Of Passage

    Every male American writer who ever grappled with the theme of adolescence owes a debt to "Huckleberry Finn." The vernacular poetry of Huck's voice is the source that flows through Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" and, consciously or not, must have informed Tobias Wolff when he sat down to record his own memoir of coming of age in the 1950s, "This Boy's Life." Written a hundred years apart, Wolffs and Twain's books are nonetheless haunted by similar demons: violent, abusive father figures, the search for identity, the push-pull American battle between respectability and wildness. ...
  • Devil Or Charlie's Angel?

    To call Point of No Return a remake of the 1991 French pop fantasy "La Femme Nikita" isn't adequate; carbon copy is more like it. The screenwriters, Robert Getchell and Alexandra Seros, have simply taken the Luc Besson movie and, with a few minor alterations, duplicated it in an American setting. The change of locale to Washington, D.C., Venice, Calif., and New Orleans only re-emphasizes the fact that this sleek comic-strip mix of violence and romance could take place anywhere except in the real world. ...
  • The Heart Has Its Reasons

    Edith Wharton, one of the greatest American novelists, is also one of the sexiest, which is not the least of the reasons filmmakers have been gobbling up her books for the screen. While we wait for the anticipated feast of Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence," we have this American Playhouse production of her tragic love story Ethan Frome-a solid appetizer. Abandoning her usual New York high-society haunts, Wharton turned her exquisite eye on a doomed triangle amongst laconic 19th-century rural New Englanders. Ethan Frome (sensitive hunk du jour Liam Neeson), the strong, silent Massachusetts farmer, is trapped in a joyless marriage with his hypochondriacal distant cousin Zeena (Joan Allen) and falls in love with their spirited young housekeeper Mattie (Patricia Arquette). ...
  • Revenge Of A Supernerd

    Joel Schumacher's slick, deeply confused exploitation movie Failing Down is a thriller designed to fan the flames of urban paranoia. Michael Douglas plays a divorced, unemployed defense-industry worker who gets stuck in a hellish Los Angeles traffic jam, abandons his car, pops his cork and proceeds to go on a violent rampage across the city. His final destination: the home of his terrified ex-wife (Barbara Hershey) and child. The only man who can stop him: a mild-mannered desk cop named Prendergast (Robert Duvall) who is, as we are told too many times in Ebbe Roe Smith's none-too-subtle screenplay, serving his last day before retirement. ...
  • A Princess In Disguise

    Her charm was lighter than air, but her impact was volcanic. It's hard to overestimate the effect Audrey Hepburn had upon the world when she breezed into prominence in the 1950s. Hepburn's elfin, Givenchy-clad elegance, her stirring combination of tomboy spunk and ethereal innocence created a stylistic revolution. She changed the way men looked at women-and, more important, the way women looked at themselves. Pre-Audrey, in the bulging boom years of postwar affluence, the standards of pulchritude had been set by the curvaceous, brassy amplitudes of Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Then along came this small-breasted waif with an unlocatable but decidedly aristocratic accent, a princess in disguise riding joyfully on the back of Gregory Peck's motorbike in "Roman Holiday" (1953), a bookworm transformed into a fashion goddess by Fred Astaire in "Funny Face" (1957). Suddenly a new option in femininity had arisen-to many women, a liberation from the tyranny of the buxom sex goddess; to...
  • Hot And Cold Survival Skills

    You may find this hard to believe, but the star of Body of Evidence, an actress named Madonna, actually reveals a lot of flesh in this courtroom drama. The exhibitionism, let me hasten to add, is entirely in the service of her character, Rebecca Carlson, a sexpot dominatrix who is accused of murdering her lover, an older man with a weak heart and a big fortune, by exciting him to death. The district attorney (Joe Mantegna) is intent on proving that Rebecca's body is a lethal weapon. Her defense attorney (Willem Dafoe), though a married man, believes in trying out the weapon himself. Discovering the kink in his own lustful heart, the lawyer and his client indulge in some sweaty S&M game-playing themselves: she pours hot wax on his tied-up body; they make love atop broken glass on the hood of a car parked in the courthouse garage; later, she brings out the handcuffs ... ...
  • A Lost Generation

    For the public record, Rudolf Nureyev, 54, was said to have died last week of "a cardiac complication, following a grievous illness." His physician in Paris, Michel Canesi, then added, like a cardplayer signaling his bluff, "Following Mr. Nureyev's wishes, I can't say any more." ...
  • Fatal And Foolish Obsessions

    directed by Louis Malle from Josephine Hart's best seller, is superb moviemaking-but not exactly a superb movie. It's probably as good a screen adaptation (written by David Hare) of Hart's swank tale of tragic obsession as is possible. On every technical level-editing, scoring, cinematography, production design and costumes-the work is impeccable. And it's brilliantly acted. Jeremy Irons plays Stephen Fleming, an elegant and repressed member of Parliament who falls instantly and uncontrollably into an erotic entanglement with his son's mysterious girlfriend. Rupert Graves is the son; Miranda Richardson is Stephen's wife, and Juliette Binoche is the fatally attractive, "damaged" Anna, whose powerful sexuality unleashes chaos upon her father-and-son lovers. (And unleashed yet another NC-17 ratings flap. It's now trimmed to an R.)Malle is a mesmerizing storyteller. He unfolds this disturbing, violently sexual and luxuriously appointed tale of amour fou with coolly gripping precision....
  • Not A Season To Be Jolly

    There have been a lot of good movies in 1992, but precious few came from the big Hollywood studios, which have had a creatively dismal year. Wait until Christmas, everybody said, when the majors trot out their class acts. The crowds will roar, the Academy will festoon these giants with laurels. ...
  • An Amorous Knight In Queens

    A comedy that can make you cry, Used People is the season's most pleasant surprise. It's set in Queens in 1969, an "age of miracles." The Mets have won the pennant, America has landed on the moon, and on the day of her husband's funeral Pearl Berman (Shirley MacLaine), widowed after 37 years of a not-so-wonderful marriage, meets Joe Meledandri (Marcello Mastroianni). Joe is a preposterously gallant Old World charmer, who outrages her family by asking her out on a date. His tenacious courtship of the embittered widow-whom he's loved from afar for 23 years-is the center of a quirky urban fable about four generations of a downright dysfunctional Jewish family whose ingrained defeatism is upended by Joe's stubborn romantic optimism. ...
  • The Trials Of A Top Gun

    Rob Reiner, whose commercial instincts are as acute as any director's in Hollywood, will doubtless hit big with A Few Good Men. He's been on a popular roll with "When Harry Met Sally ..." and "Misery." Now, with the all-star arsenal of Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore enacting Aaron Sorkin's crowd-pleasing Broadway military courtroom drama, Reiner seems perfectly positioned for a blockbuster. If this guy were a stock, the experts would say, "Buy." And if the industry buzz on "A Few Good Men" is to be trusted, multiple Oscar nominations are a sure thing. ...
  • Very Dangerous Liaisons

    I can't think of another movie that mixes the tragic, the playful and the perverse in quite the delicious way _B_The Crying Game_b_ does. Neil Jordan, the Irish novelist, screenwriter and director who made "The Company of Wolves," "Mona Lisa" and the wonderful, little-seen "The Miracle," likes to go out on a limb. But nothing compares to the tonal tightrope walk of "The Crying Game," which seems to contain four movies for the price of one, each full of surprises. It starts as if it were going to be an IRA thriller, takes a turn toward romance and, by the time it reaches its unpredictably buoyant conclusion, pulls the rug and the floor out from under your feet. What's so satisfying about these mind-popping maneuvers is that they're never cheap tricks: Jordan's sleight of hand is always in the service of his theme, an investigation of the mysteries of human nature. As a melodrama, a Hitchcockian thriller or a wry comedy, this is a study of the notion of "character"--what constitutes...
  • L'AMOUR FROM CRADLE TO COFFIN

    When we first glimpse Gary Oldman's ancient Count Dracula at home in his dank Transylvanian lair, he's approximately 460 years old, deathly pale and wearing a twin-peaked hairdo that makes him look like the chalky, androgynous libertine in "Fellini's Casanova." It's Francis Ford Coppola's notion in Bram Stoker's Dracula to reimagine the count as the ultimate romantic. Here's a man who has been pilling for four centuries for his lost love Elisabeta, only to recover her in the form of Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), a Victorian Englishwoman engaged to Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves). If Scott Spencer hadn't gotten there first, this could have been called "Endless Love." ...
  • Walt and the Waif

    This holiday season, there are only two names that count for anything in the family-movie sweepstakes: Walt Disney and Macaulay Culkin. So dominant is the revitalized Disney animation department, coming off the triumph of "Beauty and the Beast," and so popular is superwaif Culkin, that the competition has headed for the hills. Between now and Christmas, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Disney's Aladdin have the kiddie field locked up. ...
  • FROM SINNER TO MARTYR: A MAN OF MANY FACES

    The big, ambitious, fascinating Malcolm X is Spike Lee's first foray into the epic mode, and he takes hold of the form with verve and confidence. Its 3-hour 21-minute running time passes swiftly, with only a few lulls. In many respects, it's Lee's most conventional movie, the one that rests most securely within the highly polished conventions of Hollywood big-budget film biographies. But unlike most epics, it's impossible to come away from "Malcolm X" with one simple, singular impression: there are as many movies and styles within it as there were aspects of Malcolm's constantly evolving character. ...