David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Consider The Alternatives

    Andrei Konchalovsky's fascinating, misshapen film looks at Stalin's reign of terror through the eyes of a naive pawn, Ivan Sanshin (Tom Hulce), who worshipfully served the leader as his personal projectionist. Instead of piling on the Stalinist horrors, the director shows how the willful innocence of the Russian people aided and abetted the system's evil. The public scenes, shot inside the Kremlin, depicting the deceptively avuncular Stalin (Alexandre Zbruev) and the charming, lethal KGB head Beria (Bob Hoskins), bristle with tension. Unfortunately, the domestic drama between Ivan and his wife, Anastasia (Lolita Davidovich), isn't nearly as compelling as the Kremlin scenes, and the tale's considerable power dissipates in its final quarter. But Konchalovsky has hold of a great subject here; what he's saying about the Russian character illuminates the dark past, and gives little comfort for the future.Claude Chabrol's lifelong obsession with the hypocrisies of the bourgeoisie has...
  • Peter Pan, Get Lost

    In the face of The Prince of Tides' rampant emotionalism you have three options: unconditional surrender, grit-your-teeth resistance or some heart-wavering combination of the two. Everything about Barbra Streisand's adaptation of Pat Conroy's popular novel is Hollywood larger-than-life, from the postcard-perfect sunsets to the swelling score to the overripe lyricism of the narration and the overcooked Gothic secret our hero must face. ...
  • Drowning In Fairy Dust

    All along it was considered the one sure-fire, can't-miss holiday blockbuster. If there was a movie Steven Spielberg was born to make, Hook was it: a contemporary update of the Peter Pan story with Robin Williams as a grown-up version of the boy who won't grow up, Dustin Hoffman as his one-handed nemesis from Neverland and Julia Roberts sprinkling fairy dust as Tinkerbell. Never mind its gargantuan budget (reportedly $70 million): this was the movie that was going to justify Sony's mammoth investment in Columbia/TriStar. Maybe so. And then again ... ...
  • Bette And 'The Boys'

    "For the Boys" takes singer-comedian Dixie Leonard through three wars and 50 years. Making "For the Boys" took singer-comedian-actress-producer Bette Midler through four studio chiefs and 12 years. It was a germ of an idea when she finished her 1979 film debut in "The Rose," based on the life of Janis Joplin. "I was sorry the character died," Midler says. "I had the thought--Rose Goes to Vietnam." But in between that idea and this movie came a well-publicized nervous collapse, a now notorious "little thing" with an unsavory talk-show host, the remarkable resurrection of her film career, late marriage, later motherhood and the start-up of her own company. ...
  • The Horror, The Horror

    Martin Scorsese's first suspense thriller, a remake of Cape Fear, whips M up adrenaline and anxiety with pharmaceutical finesse. Did anyone doubt that it would? Though he may be a newcomer to the genre, the director of "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "GoodFellas" is no stranger to fear, loathing and psychological dread. The terror that was the undercurrent in his earlier films is now the main attraction, and no small part of the gaudy, nasty fun of "Cape Fear" is watching Scorsese apply his virtuosity to a form that some may consider beneath him. This is a flagrantly self-conscious suspense movie in which you find yourself admiring each edgy, expressionistic angle, every vertiginous camera move, each blatant cinematic homage while simultaneously gripping your seat in horror. ...
  • A Billy-Less 'Bathgate'

    It's easy to see why E. L. Doctorow's novel "Billy Bathgate" enticed Hollywood. At first glance it seems to have all the right stuff for a blockbuster both popular and prestigious: the legendary gangster Dutch Schultz; its teenage hero, Billy, who comes of age under the racketeer's murderous tutelage; a beautiful blond socialite drawn to the wild side; colorful Depression-era detail, and sex and violence presented with impeccable literary credentials. No doubt Doctorow himself was partly inspired by Hollywood gangster movies of the '30s when he wrote his tour de force. It's a boy's adventure story, told in Billy's awe-struck, highly literary voice, which conjures up a mythical vision of our outlaw urban past. ...
  • De Palma's Misfortune

    When Brian De Palma agreed to allow Julie Salamon, The Wall Street Journal's film critic, to chronicle the entire production of "The Bonfire of the Vanities," neither the director nor the journalist could have known she would witness a bona fide Hollywood debacle, a near $50 million. misunderstanding. Warner Bros. had purchased Tom Wolfe's novel for $750,000 with dreams of producing an epic summation of '80s excess and ended up embodying that excess; the studio's and De Palma's misfortune is Salamon's gain. The cloud of impending disaster that hangs over The Devil's Candy (434 pages. Houghton Mifflin. $24.95) gives her book the narrative logic of a morality tale. ...
  • Jodie Foster Lurches About

    The media, understandably, has taken a great rooting interest in Jodie Foster's debut as a director. A smart, no-nonsense woman and a superbly honest actress, Foster makes an exemplary celebrity. Little Man Tate, about the difficult progress of a 7-year-old child genius, lends itself to an autobiographical reading as a metaphor for Foster's own precocious acting career. While all this makes for good copy, the movie itself is a sweet, disjointed, overly schematic affair that only scratches the surface of its fascinating subject. ...
  • No One Is Immune From The Rot

    John Sayles's subject in City of Hope is the political, social and moral rotting of urban America. It's his biggest, most ambitious movie, with something like 36 significant characters, whose fates are intricately woven together over the course of a few days in the fictional, multiethnic and very corrupt Hudson City, N.J. On a formal level alone, the film is a remarkable demonstration of Sayles's storytelling facility: though the tale is byzantine in its personal and political complexity, the relationships and issues are laid out with such assurance the viewer never feels lost. Sayles and cinematographer Robert Richardson, using long, mobile takes and wide-angle lenses, create a headlong, flowing rhythm which visually reinforces the theme of interconnectedness: the stories literally spill into each other on the screen. Every action, in this tainted pool, creates a ripple effect that bears harrowing repercussions. From the Hispanic drug dealer living in an abandoned apartment house...
  • Dark Nights Of The Soul

    If religion is the opiate of the masses, as Marx said, then why isn't Hollywood out peddling the stuff from every street corner? If movies were all we had to judge from, one might never suspect the enormous resurgence of religious faith in this country. The one thing that moviegoers rarely encounter on screen is much talk of God, discussion of religious identity, any whiff of theology. This--certainly not sex--may be the last cinema taboo. There are myriad reasons, noble and ignoble, for this omission. Perhaps the simplest is that most people who make movies in this country belong overwhelmingly to the secular culture-skeptical and humanistic. Rare is the secular artist who is willing to make the imaginative leap of faith to tackle the subject of faith, to visit the other America where God is as woven into the everyday fabric as television, shopping coupons and tension headaches. ...
  • No Giggles For The New Goldie

    If a thriller as crushingly predictable as "Sleeping with the Enemy" can be a big hit, there's no reason Deceived shouldn't be boffo. Audiences today seem to require only one thing from the genre--a few good screams--and this proficiently made thriller, set in the New York art world, delivers the requisite jolts. It doesn't, however, do much else. For a "psychological thriller" about a wife and mother (Goldie Hawn) who discovers that the man she's happily married to (John Heard) is not who she thinks he is, the psychology is awfully skimpy. The audience is one step ahead of the heroine at every stage: we are startled but never really surprised by anything that happens. More regrettably, Mary Agnes Donoghue's and Derek Saunders's script pivots on several glaring implausibilities, the most obvious being the careless misplacement of a valuable object by a villain who is otherwise uncannily fastidious in his deceptions. ...
  • Turning Shakespearean Tricks

    You may not be sure exactly how you feel when My Own Private Idaho ends, but you'll sure as hell know you haven't seen another cookie-cutter movie. Gus Van Sant doesn't play it safe, and the success of his 1989 cult hit "Drugstore Cowboy" has only emboldened him to further push the outside of the envelope. Some of the risks he takes are cockeyed magic, and some are so daffy maybe nobody could have pulled them off. But his third feature--the last in an informal trilogy of the streets that began with "Mala Noche" in 1986--leaves absolutely no doubt that Van Sant is the freshest new voice working in American movies. ...
  • The Holy Grail In The Unholy City

    You can watch only 10 minutes of The Fisher King and spot it as the work of Terry Gilliam: he leaves his eccentric stylistic footprints on every frame. Gilliam's audaciousness, his visual brilliance have never been in doubt. But his movies"Time Bandits," "Brazil," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen"-can leave you feeling worn out and overstuffed. "The Fisher King" is different. Starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, it's his first real Hollywood movie. It's also the first time Gilliam's directed a script he didn't conceive himself And though his dark, prankish satirical vision pervades this story, at the end of this sometimes harrowing tunnel is a glowing romantic light. Working within the constraints of a big studio film has brought out Gilliam's best: he's become a true storyteller and a wonderful director of actors. This time he delights not only the eye but the soul. ...
  • Southern Hearts And Hormones

    The title character of Rambling Rose, played by Laura Dern, is a promiscuous, dirt-poor country girl looking for love in all the wrong places. Taken in by a gracious Southern family during the Depression, she predictably turns the house upside down, awakening the hormonal juices of 13-year-old Buddy (Lukas Haas), tempting the household's courtly patriarch (Robert Duvall), testing the compassion of the spacey, sophisticated mother (Diane Ladd) and driving the randy local boys wild. Rose is a familiar sentimentalized Southern literary character-the tramp/waif with a heart of gold-- and Martha Coolidge's movie of novelist Calder Willingham's 1972 comic valentine doesn't entirely transcend this cliche. But there are scenes in this warm, relaxed film that are an absolute delight--a funny, erotic under-the-covers encounter between Rose and little Buddy, and even better, a tete-a-tete in bed between Duvall and Ladd. The intimate rhythms these two superb actors work up together capture a...
  • To Live And Die And Live Again In La.

    Anyone who saw Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V," his stunning directorial debut, is going to approach Dead Again with enormous expectations. If his Shakespeare film brazenly evoked comparisons to Olivier, this tricky thriller, in which Branagh plays double roles, deliberately raises the specter of Orson Welles. Well, do yourself and the movie a favor: lower those expectations. Branagh's second effort is highly entertaining claptrap, an exercise in artifice that's more sophisticated than most summer fare, but hardly a film noir classic. ...
  • Brooklyn's Common Man

    Actor John Turturro is to hair what Meryl Streep is to accents. In "Miller's Crossing," Turturro's closely cropped hair is slicked down like a small-time bookie's. As a Brooklyn shopkeeper in "Jungle Fever," his hair's a frizzy dome perched atop the whitewalls of his shaved head. In his newest film, "Barton Fink," in which he plays a Clifford Odets-style Hollywood writer, it is a towering, seemingly unmovable wedge. With each disconcertingly odd do, he transforms himself into a new character. Even Turturro laughs that his hairstyle often gets as much attention as his acting. ...
  • The Battle For Malcolm X

    Twenty-six years after Malcolm X was gunned down by assassins at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, the battle over his legacy continues to rage. Next month Spike Lee begins shooting his movie on the life of Malcolm, and already howls of protest are filling the air. ...
  • A Detour From La-La Land To Shangri-La

    Speeding cross-country in his Porsche toward Beverly Hills and a lucrative career as a plastic surgeon, the brattish young Dr. Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox) crashes into a picket fence in Grady, S.C., and for penance is assigned community service at the local hospital. Stone thinks he's trapped in "Hee-Haw hell." The audience at Doc Hollywood, however, quickly perceives the doc has landed in a cornpone Shangri-La just south of Brigadoon and the magical village in "Local Hero." Director Michael Caton-Jones populates this hamlet with as many lovable eccentrics per square inch as the law allows, and one beautiful, sophisticated ambulance driver (Julie Warner), the better to convince the Yuppie that his life needs a permanent injection of Real Values. Corny and sweet, "Doc Hollywood" has its genuine charms, but they'd be a lot more charming if Caton-Jones and the screen-writers allowed them to sneak up on us. Instead, the movie oversells its whimsy and fits its quirkiness into a sitcom...
  • Cross-Dressed For Success

    For four months earlier this year, New Yorkers streamed downtown to the Film Forum to catch Jennie Livingston's exhilarating, mindstretching documentary Paris Is Burning. Though it packed the theater for 17 weeks, it couldn't be released elsewhere until the music rights were cleared. Now the rest of the country can experience this provocative, poignant film, which makes most of the big Hollywood summer movies look boring by comparison. Zeroing in on an obscure and outre corner of a subculture, Livingston's film ends up shedding an extraordinary light on American culture as a whole. ...
  • A Surgeon Under The Knife

    Dr. Jack MacKee (William Hurt), an arrogant San Francisco cardiac surgeon, performs heart transplants for a living. In the course of The Doctor, MacKee becomes sick himself--the problem is with his throat, not his ticker--but his showdown with mortality occasions his own metaphorical heart transplant. ...
  • Obsession By The Sea

    Say a prayer for 'The Miracle.' This unhyped Irish gem--seductive, funny, filled with filmmaking artistry and passion--has to compete against the bully boys of summer, and it may take a small miracle for it to be heard above the din. Writer/director Neil ("Mona Lisa") Jordan's movie may be small, but it's a spellbinder. ...
  • Like Father, Like Daughter

    When the great pop crooner Nat King Cole died of cancer in 1965, at the age of 45, his 15-year-old daughter, Natalie, was in Massachusetts at prep school. "I never really got a chance to say goodbye to my dad," she recalls. "I didn't know he was sick for that long. I found out in December when I went home from school. He was very ill. He did not look good at all. I was shocked. Two months later when he died I was devastated." ...
  • You Need This Movie Like . . . ..Mr.-

    It was less than three years ago that Mike Nichols was celebrating a "Working Girl's" dizzy rise up the corporate ladder. Times have changed, and Nichols, nose to the Zeitgeist, has now brought forth Regarding Henry, one in a long line of kinder, gentler Hollywood products designed to show us the error of our greedy, win-at-any-cost Reagan-era ways (funny how no one in Hollywood noticed the problem at the time). This fable for our times, written by a "hot" young screenwriter named Jeffrey Abrams, is about a rich and powerful New York lawyer, Henry Turner (Harrison Ford), who comes to realize that his Yuppie lifestyle is a lie, his profession a dishonest scam, his values bankrupt. How does he come to this revelation? By getting shot in the head, losing his memory and re-entering his life as a blank slate. ...
  • Conan The Humanitarian

    James Cameron ("The Terminator," "Aliens") is the master of apocalyptic pulp, the blue-collar Wagner of the action movie. His thunderously visceral Terminator 2: Judgment Day has the clash-of-the-titans scale of grand opera, but with the lyricism replaced by clanking, shrieking metal. In the postnuclear world of 2029, machines have gained supremacy over man, and humanity's only hope rests on the shoulders of John Connor, the leader of the resistance. In the first movie the cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger was sent back to the 1980s to kill John Connor's mother before the warrior could be born. That failed, and now, a decade later, they've sent back a new, improved model (Robert Patrick) to try to kill the boy John (Edward Furlong). But a second cyborg is dispatched as his protector - Arnold again, rebuilt as a hero. ...
  • Pretty Woman Does A Weepie

    She--Julia Roberts--is a ravishing, uneducated Oakland girl in short skirts who gets a job tending to a dying young man. He--Campbell Scott--is a rich, intellectual, leukemia-stricken San Francisco patrician ravaged by chemotherapy. They--Roberts and Scott--fall in love. It--Dying Young--is an ultraglossy, Joel Schumacher-directed Hollywood tearjerker that, given the maudlin possibilities, is a lot less offensive than you might fear. (At a time when so many people one knows are dying young--unaccompanied by violins and lush, seaside settings--the genre itself flirts with a certain obscenity.) But is relative tastefulness what anybody wants in a weepie? A movie like this has only one not-so-noble reason to exist: to make us sob. And it just doesn't deliver the goods. Even the forbidding title turns out to be misleading. How can a movie called "Dying Young" deny its audience a death scene? That's not just chicken, it's dramatically dumb. ...
  • Yanks Take The Prize

    When Roman Polanski, president of the Cannes Film Festival jury, announced that Joel and Ethan Coen had won the best-director prize for "Barton Fink," the knowing crowd in the Palais du Festival assumed that was all "Barton Fink" would win. Cannes is not like the Oscars; sweeps don't happen here; the awards are spread around with the political sensitivity of a U.N. negotiation. So later, when John Turturro took the best actor trophy as the title character in the Coens' dark comedy, a buzz of surprise went round the hall. Then the unprecedented occurred: the festival's big prize, the Palme d'Or, also went to "Barton Fink," the first time in Cannes's 44 years that three top honors had gone to the same film. ...
  • Lust And Larceny In Harlem

    Everyone in the comic action movie A Rage in Harlem is slightly larger and loonier than life. There's the quiet, naive, roly-poly hero, Jackson (Forest Whitaker), a Jesus haunted mortician's accountant who discovers the pleasures of the flesh in the eye-popping person of Imabelle (Robin Givens), a con woman who has absconded with a cache of stolen gold. There's Jackson's half-brother Goldy (Gregory Hines), a seam artist fond of passing himself off as a priest. There's crime boss Easy Money (Danny Glover), whose first loyalty is to his adored Pomeranian, and Big Kathy, the madam of a bustling bordello, who turns out to be a man in drag (Zakes Mokae). Readers of Chester Himes novels will recognize Coffin Ed (Stack Pierce) and Grave Digger (George Wallace), his cop heroes, though they are only background figures in this adaptation by John Toles-Bey and Bobby Crawford. ...
  • A Far Cry From Hollywood

    Encountering Bertrand Tavernier's "Daddy Nostalgia" after a steady diet of high-decibel Hollywood films, you may experience cinematic culture shock. When was the last time you saw a movie that was quiet, intimate, tender? That let you explore your feelings about the characters without hanging moral signposts around their necks? That disregards plot in favor of nuance and sentiment, yet never becomes sentimental? ...
  • Prince Hal In Portland

    On a wet night in Oregon, Gus Van Sant, Portland's greatest film-maker, is shooting a scene for his new movie, "My Own Private Idaho." In a Biblical loincloth, River Phoenix is about to assume a provocative, not-so-Biblical pose upon a crucifix for the cover of a skin magazine featuring a "G-String Jesus." ...