David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Pulp, Passion, Petty Hoods

    Quentin Tarantino's debut film, Reservoir Dogs, has been creating a stir at film festivals around the world; long before its commercial opening, Tarantino's Hollywood future was secured. Watching this flashy, startling crime movie, it's easy to see why: this may be a first film, but as both a writer and director, Tarantino oozes confidence. He knows his way around genre movies, knows exactly what effects he's after and bags them in one set piece after another. Like the Coen brothers' first feature, "Blood Simple," or Stanley Kubrick's early racetrack robbery movie, "The Killing"-which is the model for this bloody tale of a botched jewel heist-" Reservoir Dogs" leaves no doubt that you are in the presence of major-league talent. ...
  • Beautiful Dreamers

    DE NIRO HUSTLES, PESCI OBSESSES AND DEPARDIEU DISCOVERS THE NEW WORLD IN THREE NEW FLICKS
  • Love, Death and Fly-Fishing

    Few books could be considered less likely movie material than Norman Maclean's now classic novella, "A River Runs Through It." Maclean's ruminative recollection of his Montana youth is a meditation on fly-fishing, religion, art and family. At the heart of it is the author's relationship with his "beautiful," self-destructive brother, Paul, and with his father, a Presbyterian minister who taught Maclean to write and to fish. The novella, written when he was in his 70s, was Maclean's attempt to grapple with the mystery of his brother's death. But it's not the story itself, which is told in a roundabout fashion, that makes it so moving, it's the extraordinary prose-as hard and luminous as a rock dredged up from a riverbed. ...
  • Heels, Heroes and Hustlers

    Though _B_Hero_b_ is graced with a fine, bigname cast-Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Andy Garcia-the real our of this and lively satire is the story itself. In this and many other ways, "Hero" is a conscious throwback to the social comedies of the '30s and '40s. It calls to mind Capra, the Ben Hecht/William Wellman "Nothing Sacred" and, especially, the Preson Sturges of "Hail the Conquering Hero," which also dealt with the fabrication of a hero. Written by David Webb Peoples ("Unforgiven") from a story by Peoples, Laura Zisk in and Alvin Sargent, it has the intricate, steel-trap plotting that has largely vanished from screen comedy. Stylishly directed by the versatile Stephen Frears ("Dangerous Liaiwns"), it has a refreshing draft of moral complexity. ...
  • Mann In The Wilderness

    Not many filmmakers today are attempting grand passions, bold romantic gestures, love stories unfolding against breathtaking period landscapes. It's certainly not what you'd expect from macho stylist Michael Mann, the master of Armani-meets-Sartre urban fatalism, who brought us "Miami Vice" and the movies "Thief " and " Manhunter." Then again, if Susan Sontag can try her hand at a romance, why shouldn't the hard-boiled Mann translate James Fenimore Cooper for a late-20th-century audience? His gorgeous The Last of the Mohicans gets off to a bumpy start, gathers feeling and momentum and comes roaring into the homestretch at full gallop. When this historical adventure kicks in, it's thrilling in the way old-fashioned epics used to be, but its romanticism has a fierce, violent physicality that gives it a distinctively modern stamp. ...
  • The Games People Play

    The techno-wizard heroes in Sneakers aren't the dirty dozen, or the magnificent seven, but this winning team of brainy misfits deserves a moniker, so we'll call them the Farfetched Five. Led by Robert Redford, as a former '60s radical long gone underground, the multigenerational group includes a politically paranoid breaking-and-entering expert named Mother (Dan Aykroyd), a former CIA man bounced from the Company (Sidney Poitier), a 19-year-old computer whiz kid (River Phoenix) and a blind audio expert named Whistler (scene-stealer David Strathairn). Hired by companies to test their security systems (by breaking into them), these five guys with shady pasts are blackmailed by the National Security Agency into embarking on a high-risk, topsecret operation. Their mission impossible: to steal a little black box that has the capacity to break all the secret codes in the government's computer banks. Just the kind of little black box that people will kill for. ...
  • Woody: The Movie

    Woody Allen's comedy Husbands and Wives is set in his familiar New York world of verbal, neurotic achievers, but there's something new in it, a rawness we haven't seen before. It makes you laugh, deeply, and it makes you squirm. Part of the discomfort is intentional, for the movie is designed to cut close to the bone. But now, of course, we squirm for other reasons. Unless you've been lost in the rain forest for the last month, you won't be able to watch "Husbands and Wives" with innocent esthetic detachment. The Woody-Mia-Soon-Yi scandal turns the audience into voyeurs and detectives scouring the film for "clues," decoding it for nuggets of confession. Allen's new movie is in the uncomfortable (but very marketable) position of competing with its own real-life shadow. Bursts of inappropriate laughter greet lines that were never intended for chuckles: when Mia asks screen husband Woody, "Do you ever hide things from me?" knowing elbows nudge censorious sides. When the couple fight...
  • Rattling The Political Cage

    Timely doesn't begin to describe Tim Robbins's political satire, Bob Roberts. This pseudo-documentary account of a 1990 Pennsylvania senatorial race pits a right-wing, folk-singing Yuppie touting "family values" against an aging liberal incumbent who tries to talk about the issues while fending off rumors of a sexual liaison with a teenage girl. From its pointed gibes at the vacuity of TV campaign coverage, its allusions to the then approaching war in the gulf, to its dead-on sendups of the candidates'TV ads, "Bob Roberts" mimics reality so closely it runs the danger of being outdone by the real thing. Which is to say that satirists have a tough job these days. How can you top the absurdities of our current political carnival, in which Newt Gingrich can say with a straight face that the Democrats are following the Woody Allen platform of family values, our Republican president decides he's really the reincarnation of Harry Truman and the religious right is convinced that "militant...
  • Columbus As A Hollywood Hustler

    Alexander and Ilya Salkind's Christopher Columbus: the Discovery has beaten Ridley Scott's "1492" to the screen by a couple of months, but it's not an occasion for trumpets. A perfunctory historical epic with no clear point of view, it makes one long for the hokey old Hollywood swashbucklers that at least generated some star power. George Corraface plays the determined Genoan explorer (here called by his Spanish moniker, Cristobal Colon) as a Hollywood hustler with a cocky, lounge-lizard grin and a way with women. He pitches his highconcept voyage (The world is round! We'll sail west to China!) to Queen Isabella of Spain, portrayed by Rachel Ward as a bright-eyed Jesus freak with hormones raging under her breastplate. She green-lights the trip, over the objections of Marlon Brando's heretic-sniffing Torquemada and Tom Selleck's petulant, sleepy King Ferdinand, but by the time the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria set sail, half the movie is over and the audience is ready to jump...
  • Off The Beaten Track

    Andrew Bergman may not be a household word, but to those who are keyed into his lunatic sense of humor, the arrival of any new Bergman movie is a major comic event. This is the guy who wrote and directed "The Freshman" (Marlon Brando in a priceless sendup of his "Godfather" role), scripted the hilarious "The In-Laws," coauthored "Soapdish" and came up with the story for Mel Brooks's "Blazing Saddles." His latest japery, the sweetly cuckoo Honeymoon in Vegas, is the most pleasing comedy of the summer. ...
  • Old Formulas, New Variations

    The Year of the Woman? In politics, maybe. In Hollywood, however, it's been the year of the demon woman. It started with Rebecca De Mornay's psycho nanny in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," gathered steam with Kim Basinger's and Sharon Stone's very fatale femmes in "Final Analysis" and "Basic Instinct," and even infested the light comedy "Housesitter," in which Goldie Hawn seemed as unhinged as a horror-movie harpy. Now get ready for Jennifer Jason Leigh's Hedy Carlson, perhaps the most unnerving figure of the lot--a psychic invader whose creepiness is enhanced by her credibility. ...
  • Bloody Good And Bloody Awful

    From the start of his career, Clint Eastwood has been pushing the Western into new, dangerous territory. In his breakthrough role as the Man With No Name in Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars" (1967), he replaced the traditional heroic idealism of the Western hero with a more ruthless pragmatism. In the first one he directed, "High Plains Drifter" (1973), he played a ghost from hell, wreaking bloody Biblical vengeance; he was a ghostly presence in the last Western he directed, " Pale Rider" (1985), again blurring the line between good and evil. ...
  • Revenge Of The Living Dead

    No place in the world is as obsessed with youth as Hollywood. Where else do people over 30-not just actors but writers-feel compelled to lie about their age to protect their careers? It's a place where only plastic surgeons and personal trainers have real job security. If fear of aging is as American as apple pie, it's in part because Hollywood, hand in hand with Madison Avenue, has trained us so well to associate happiness, desirability and fun with the sight of a firm tush. Robert ("Back to the Future") Zemeckis, a key Hollywood player, has obviously observed this malady firsthand. He has made that fear, that obsession, the subject of his mascara-black comedy Death Becomes Her, in which Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn--one driven by vanity, the other by revenge-make a Faustian bargain for eternal youth. ...
  • A Kiss Is Not Just A Kiss

    In sickness or health ... till death do us part. When Peter (Alec Baldwin) and Rita (Meg Ryan) take their marriage vows at a sun-dappled ceremony, all the odds seem to be in favor of this perfectly matched couple. She's a quirky, insomniac bartender whose gloomy view of the world can't disguise a real joie de vivre. He's a sensitive, wry and ardent lover who cherishes her for her brooding soul as well as her lovely shell. What could go wrong? ...
  • A Holiday From The Hype

    Hollywood would like you to believe that summer is exclusively reserved for bone-crunching sequels and big-name comedies. Look a little harder and you'll find some intriguing options, movies that aim higher than the solar plexus. Without big-studio hype behind them, these smaller efforts have an uphill battle to survive. Here are three alternative treats adding needed spice to warm-weather movie-going around the country. ...
  • A Gotham Gothic

    If " Batman" was the darkest, weirdest, most unlikely blockbuster ($410 million worldwide) to slip out of the Hollywood corporate system, wait till you get a load of Batman Returns. This darker, weirder sequel is easy to find fault with--seamless storytelling has never been Tim Burton's thing. But I wouldn't trade 10 minutes of it for "Lethal Weapon 3...... Alien 3" and "Far and Away" put together. Burton couldn't play it safe if he wanted to, and he doesn't want to. Entrusted with one of the most valuable franchises in movie history (the merchandising of " Batman" brought in more than $500 million), he's made a moody, grotesque, perversely funny $50 million art film. But like every other Burton oddity, from " Pee-wee's Big Adventure" to "Beetlejuice" to "Edward Scissorhands," it will probably be a big hit. Something about the filmmaker's eccentric, surreal, childlike images seems to strike a deep chord in the mass psyche: he makes nightmares that taste like candy. ...
  • Of Carnage And Comedy

    Jack Ryan, the White Knight of Tom Clancy's novels, is conceived in a superheroic mold, and Alec Baldwin played him that way in the submarine epic "The Hunt for Red October." Harrison Ford, no stranger to superheroes, takes over the role in Patriot Games, and he brings Clancy's boys' adventure tale down to earth (or is it up to earth, after that last one?). Weathered, considerably older than the novel's 31-year-old hero, Ford gives Ryan a pensive, internalized air. When this Ryan springs into action, saving the life of a British royal from a terrorist attack just outside Buckingham Palace, he's graceful, but you feel the human effort that gives his heroism some poignancy. Philip Noyce, the gifted Australian director of this installment, seems to have adjusted the rhythms of "Patriot Games" to Ford's slowed-down beat. Though it has its fair share of gun-blazing mayhem, it's a quieter thriller than is the current fashion in would-be summer blockbusters. Will audiences conditioned to...
  • Saint Ripley And The Dragon

    Though all three "Alien" movies boil down to the same basic issue (Sigourney Weaver battles the Beast), what's unusual about the series is that each director has used a different genre to tell the story. Ridley Scott, in the 1979 original, created a haunted-house horror movie in space. James Cameron, in '86, turned it into a matriarchal war movie. Alien 3 is harder to pigeonhole, but it, too, goes its own, rather arty, way. First-time director David Fincher, a 28-year-old best known for such Madonna videos as "Express Yourself," has fashioned a dark, dank horror film that begs to be taken as a quasi-religious passion play, with Weaver as Ripley, head shaved, offering to martyr herself to save the world from the sins of the monster. ...
  • The Man Of The Moment

    If last year's Cannes Film Festival belonged to Madonna, 1992 may go down las the year of Tim Robbins. The Madonna sensation was preordained, but the media frenzy that's surrounded the lanky 33-year-old American couldn't have been predicted. It began when Robert Altman's "The Player," starring Robbins as the murderous movie executive Griffin Mill, became the early front runner for the Palme d'Or. For the Americans here, " The Player" was old news. But the Robbins buzz escalated when "Bob Roberts," written by, directed by and starring Robbins, debuted. This biting, clever political satire quickly became the hottest ticket on the Croisette. ...
  • Wherever The Road May Lead

    Having made nothing but bad choices all their lives, the two heroines of Leaving Normal figure they may have better luck leaving their fate to chance. Darly (Christine Lahti) and Marianne (Meg Tilly), the deracinated protagonists of Edward Zwick's picaresque road movie, will inevitably be compared to Thelma and Louise, but the resemblance is only superficial. These women aren't fugitives, they're just lost; if anything's pursuing them it's their own demons. Dim, vulnerable Marianne has been moving from place to place since she was a kid. She's just fled a brutal husband in Normal, Wyo., when she hooks up with the embittered, worldly-wise cocktail waitress Darly, who's heading to the house in Alaska left to her by a boyfriend she ditched 18 years earlier, along with a baby. The hapless but optimistic Marianne thinks she'll stay with her sister's family in Portland, but one night in their oppressive household persuades her to stick with Darly and see where the road takes her. ...
  • A Chorus Lineski

    Here's one very singular sensation: Metro, the first Polish musical to open on Broadway. Loaded with glitz, acrobatics, laser beams and an energetic cast of 41 mainly Polish kids belting their hearts out in recently acquired English, this bizarre emanation from the new world order has been a smash in Warsaw since it opened last year. Context, as they say, is everything. In Poland, it must have seemed a blast of brash, irreverent air. Here, in the heart of Times Square, you feel you've wandered into a time warp. With a frizzy-maned poet-idealist hero out of "Hair"; a plot cobbled together from "A Chorus Line," "Fame" and Andy Hardy; a wildly eclectic Europop score by Janusz Stoklosa (ranging from "We Are the World"-ish anthems to a startling taste of Polish rap), and light shows worthy of Caesars Palace, " Metro" seems intent on proving that kitsch knows no boundaries. ...
  • A Lot Of Not So Happy Endings

    In Hollywood's eyes, the psychiatric couch is as likely to be a setting for seduction as for therapy. Few screenwriters-usually male-seem able to resist the fantasy of taking the intimacy of analysis to its forbidden extreme. Put two people in a room, exploring the most vulnerable aspects of their lives, and it must be love! The pattern was established by Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound, " when Ingrid Bergman's chilly therapist helps Gregory Peck overcome his amnesia by falling in love with him-thawing out herself in the process. This being 1945 (before sexual intercourse was invented) they didn't actually do it. Today that little barrier is long gone. ...
  • Bad Blood 'In The Badlands

    A thriller set on an Indian reservation in the 1970s, Thunderheart has both passion and power, enough to compensate for its sometimes murky plotting and a fair dose of melodramatic hokum. John Fusco's script, inspired by the real, bloody clashes between pro-government Indians and the radical traditionalist American Indian Movement, sends a hotshot young FBI agent from Washington, Raymond Levoi (Val Kilmer), to investigate the murder of an Oglala Sioux at the Bear Creek "Res " in the Badlands of South Dakota. He's chosen because he's one-quarter Indian. It's a purely cynical PR ploy, because Levoi thinks of himself as a white man. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that Levoi, in the course of solving the murder, will undergo a spiritual transformation (he even starts having visions), or to suspect who the heavies really are. ...
  • Hustles, Farces And Fantasies

    White Men Can't Jump. But they can make very entertaining movies, especially if the white man in question is writer/director Ron Shelton, creator of the wonderful "Bull Durham." His new comedy, with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as a couple of L.A. basketball hustlers whose partnership does not exclude hustling each other, has a fairly perfunctory plot (tension is supplied by two thugs trying to collect Harrelson's debts). But Shelton's strength is character, streetwise wit and funky, lived-in sexuality. Snipes, one of our most versatile young actors, gets to demonstrate his wonderful comic chops, and Harrelson, whose goofiness is part of his scam, partners him beautifully. Sweet and tangy Rosie Perez almost steals the show as the white boy's tippling girlfriend, who amasses an amazing almanac of facts in anticipation of winning a bundle on "Jeopardy!" Propelled by a hip, soulful soundtrack, packed with fast basketball action and fresh glimpses of an L.A. far off the 90210 map, ...
  • Kiss Kiss Slash Slash

    In a more sensible era, Joe Eszterhas's script for Basic instinct at best might have been grist for a tawdry little B movie about murder and sexual obsession, the kind of cheapo noir thriller cranked out in the '40s and '50s. Instead (for this is a deeply silly era in Hollywood) Carolco paid Eszterhas a record-breaking $3 million for his highly improbable scenario, signed on Michael Douglas to star for a cool $15 mil, brought in the supercharged Dutchman Paul Verhoeven ("RoboCop," "Total Recall") to direct and ended up with a $49 million movie about a woman who likes to tie her lovers to a bedpost and hack them to death with an ice pick. And you wonder why Carolco is in deep financial trouble . . . ...
  • Forster Revisited

    For 30 years the team of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have enjoyed a singular, civilized collaboration outside the Hollywood mainstream. This unlikely trio-an American director who grew up in Klamath Falls, Ore., a Muslim Indian producer from Bombay and a German-born Jewish screenwriter who fled to England in 1939 and lived in New Delhi for 24 years with her Indian husband-seem equally at home on three continents. But they all work out of Manhattan, where each has an apartment in the same building on East 52nd Street. ...
  • It's The Juice That Counts

    The hotblooded The Mambo Kings opens backstage at a nightclub in Batista's Cuba with curses, threats and a throat-slashing. You might think, for a moment, that this fever-pitch melodramatic prelude is parody-a movie within a movie, or a dream sequence that will soon give way to reality. Then it quickly becomes clear that this is the reality of "The Mambo Kings": heightened passions and melodramatic emotions propelled by the beat of the mambo, the rumba, the cha-cha-cha. First-time director Arne Glimcher has boldly taken Oscar Hijuelos's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love"-a rumination on the brief rise and long fall of two immigrant Cuban musicians-and pared and transformed it into a fleet and sensual musical melodrama. Exuberant, melancholic and sometimes narratively messy, Glimcher and screenwriter Cynthia Cidre don't always cross their t's and dot their i's. But in the face of such juice, who cares? ...
  • A Most Heartfelt Fella

    Musically, there's never been much dispute that in his 1956 hit, The Most Happy Folk Frank Loesser created one of Broadway's most glorious feasts-a 30-course meal of near-operatic amplitude. The party line on Loesser's book, reinforced by a tuneful but creaky Broadway revival in 1979, has been less ecstatic. The tale of an aging Napa Valley winegrower and his mail-order bride-based on Sidney Howard's 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "They Knew What They Wanted"-was seen as a dated, melodramatic period piece. ...
  • A Grab Bag Of Gothic Styles

    One of the remarkable things about Steven Soderbergh's "sex, lies, and videotape" was that it didn't call other films to mind. In his debut film, the writer/director spoke with a voice clearly his own. Kafka is another story. Written by Lem Dobbs (more than 10 years ago), filmed in Prague in shadowy black-and-white images that nod to German expressionism, this paranoid thriller feels much more like a first film than Soderbergh's actual first film. It's composed almost entirely of borrowed parts, the most obvious influence being Orson Welles's baroque "The Trial," the most recent Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." It's easy enough to understand the temptation that lured Dobbs and Soderbergh to re-create a filmic style they love (who doesn't?), but "Kafka" is a surprisingly tepid and stiff pastiche. ...
  • Celebrate The Unexpected

    People are always ragging on Hollywood for not being serious, for not tackling the difficult issues of our times. But look at the holiday movies, from "JFK" and "Grand Canyon" to "For the Boys" and "The Prince of Tides": like 'em or not, they've all got earnestness to spare. No, the real scandal of the so-called "entertainment industry" is how seldom it simply entertains anymore. When was the last time a movie left you sated with delight? OK--"Beauty and the Beast." Now try to name four other 1991 movies that qualify as captivating light entertainment. ...
  • Every Parent's Nightmare

    Trend spotters, take note. There's a new motif in villainy rumbling through the collective unconscious of Hollywood. The New Ogre, a clever devil, sets out to destroy its enemy by homing in on its enemy's children. This ogre doesn't harm kids; it seduces them into preferring the villain to their own parents. This was Captain Hook's tactic with Peter Pan's kids in "Hook." It was an aspect of Robert De Niro's revenge in "Cape Fear." And it is a primal ploy in the evil scheme of the wicked nanny in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, a thriller that cannily toys with the fears and guilts of baby-boomer moms. ...
  • A Man With A Bug Problem

    David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is not William Burroughs's "Naked Lunch." It couldn't be. Rather, it's Cronenberg's fantasia about how that infernal underground classic got written: it's a homage to Burroughs himself Peter Weller's brilliantly deadpan presence as the hero, Bill Lee, mimics the author's own gaunt, laconic persona. He's a writer/ junkie/bug exterminator with a motto: "Exterminate all rational thought." ...