David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • 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. ...
  • 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? ...