David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Of Cannibals And Kinks

    Take a deep breath before descending into a darkened theater to see "The Silence of the Lambs." This is not a movie for the faint of heart. Spun from the twisted imagination of novelist Thomas Harris, who has a clammy genius for creating serial-killer psychopaths, Jonathan Demme's terrifying thriller features one psycho, nicknamed Buffalo Bill, who murders and skins young women, and another, a former psychiatrist, who eats his victims. This is evil of a particularly baroque flourish, and readers of the novel might wonder how Demme could bring such nastiness to the screen without crossing the line of stomach-turning exploitation. You might even wonder why the maker of "Melvin and Howard" and "Something Wild" would be drawn to such nightmarish stuff, but only if you've forgotten his B-movie roots ("Caged Heat") or his 1979 Hitchcockian excursion, "Last Embrace." Demme's justification is up there on the screen: "The Silence of the Lambs" is an electrifying exercise in suspense. One...
  • Failing Head Over Heels In Beantown

    It's best to see Once Around knowing little about it, for this is one movie that keeps you constantly guessing where it's headed. Is this praise? Yes and no. It's refreshing to encounter a movie that doesn't fit the current copycat formulas, and this richly populated familial comedy never fails to keep you interested, but what it all adds up to is a bit of a puzzle, if not a muddle--albeit a well-acted, entertaining muddle. ...
  • Going Gaga In Lotusland

    As a target for satire, Los Angeles is the equivalent of an elephant wearing a big neon sign: SHOOT ME. But bringing this baby down isn't as easy as it looks. By wearing its absurdity so casually on its sleeve, L.A. has a way of rendering satire redundant. Remember the comic overkill of "The Loved One"? Frantically attacking Lotusland vulgarity, the filmmakers themselves ended up looking vulgar. ...
  • Con-Artist Classic

    The art of the con man is the art of confidence: to pull off a scam you not only have to gain the confidence of the one you're swindling; you have to radiate confidence yourself. The Grifters, taken from the 1963 Jim Thompson novel, is about three small-time con artists so steeped in the art of deception they can't see how they've conned themselves. Like junkies, they're hooked on the grift--it gives them an almost sexual rush--but they keep telling themselves they can pull out whenever they want and go straight. But without their cons, Lily Dillon (Anjelica Huston), her son Roy Dillon (John Cusack) and his girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) would barely exists. Working their crooked magic--at the track, where Lily lowers the odds on long shots for her bookie-mobster boss; on trains, where Roy suckers sailors' money with loaded dice; in bedroom and boardroom, where the sexpot Myra hustles suckers for small and big-time profit--these two-bit scammers become potentates of their...
  • History A La Hollywood

    The specter of "Mississippi Burning" now hangs over any movie that tackles the history of race relations in America. In pursuit of gripping melodrama, Alan Parker played fast and loose with the facts and was trounced by historians, civil-rights leaders and journalists for his transgressions. Let's hope the furor keeps Hollywood more honest in the future: surely there will be no more movies lionizing the FBI as heroes of the civil-rights movement. ...
  • Sheer Creepiness

    There's been no shortage of gangsters in this hood-heavy season, but for sheer creepiness, none can match the legendary twins Ronald and Reginald Kray, mod London's celebrity crime lords. As played by Gary and Martin Kemp (from the rock group Spandau Ballet), these pale, fastidious sadists, locked in a narcissistic attachment to each other and dominated by their fiercely adoring mother (the superb Billie Whitelaw), seem sprung from a textbook on aberrant psychology. The Krays, a fascinating, theatrically stylized chronicle of their rise and fall, has more on its mind than the usual genre movie. Director Peter Medak ("The Ruling Class," "The Changeling") and writer Philip Ridley place these two monstrous mama's boys in both a historical context, as children of the Blitz, and as the twisted offspring of a matriarchal home, where they were raised among women who believed that "men are born children and stay that way." Thematically, "The Krays" bites off more than it can chew: it's...
  • How The West Was Lost

    The romantic tradition is alive and well in Hollywood, embodied in the ambitious presence of Kevin Costner. Like Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart, he cannily converts self-effacement into a larger-than-life moral statement. The modest ingrown decency of the heroes he played in "Bull Durham," "The Untouchables" and "Field of Dreams" allowed him to reach for the grand gesture without embarrassment. Encased neither in cynicism (like Bruce Willis or Eddie Murphy), superheroic musculature (Schwarzenegger, Stallone) nor dewy youth (Cruise), he's set about reinventing the tradition of diffident nobility. ...
  • Justice Stands Trial

    Someone has murdered--and probably raped--the sexy, ambitious prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi). The chief prosecuting attorney (Brian Dennehy) needs a culprit fast, or it may cost him the upcoming election. So he turns the case over to his protege, Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford), a dedicated, clamped-down prosecutor and family man. There's a problem, however, a big one. Sabich had had a tempestuous affair with the victim, and the evidence it's his job to gather suggests he's the one who should be prosecuted. Soon the tables of justice are turned, and the attorney is standing trial for a crime of passion he has to prove he didn't commit. ...
  • A Choice Of Chuckles

    As unpretentious summer entertainments, the comedies Quick Change and The Freshman and the comic horror film Arachnophobia all deliver what they promise. Each will make you laugh (and one squirm as well). What kind of laughter do you prefer: the consistent chuckles of "Quick Change," the wilder but more erratic guffaws of "The Freshman," or the anxiety-induced shrieks of Arachnophobia"? ...
  • Immaterial Affections

    Hollywood's definition of a perfect couple is a man and a woman, one of I whom is dead. How else to explain the preponderance of ghostly love stories haunting the screen? Now, just six months after Richard Dreyfuss returned from heaven to voyeuristically snoop on his mate in "Always," here's the ghostly Patrick Swayze mooning over his grieving girlfriend, Demi Moore, in Ghost. Swayze, a corporate banker, has just been killed by a New York mugger, but his spirit is still hanging around his Tribeca loft when he I discovers Moore's life is in danger. How can he save her when he's immaterial? Enter Whoopi Goldberg as Sister Oda Mae Brown, a quack spiritual adviser. Imagine her surprise, after years of faking communication with the dead, when this white boy starts talking to her from beyond the grave, and won't leave her in peace until she gets involved in saving Demi--and helping Patrick track down the man who murdered him. ...
  • A Blue-Collar James Bond

    How could the same s--happen to the same guy twice?" wonders the battered and bruised John McClane (Bruce Willis), and anybody who saw "Die Hard" laughs at the joke. The first Christmas it was the Nakatomi high-rise in Century City. This Christmas it's the airport in Washington, D.C. The L.A. cop is minding his own business, waiting for a plane carrying his wife (Bonnie Bedelia), when all hell breaks loose. It seems "the biggest drug dealer in the world," an evil Central American dictator (Franco Nero), is en route to Washington to stand trial, and a crack unit of terrorists led by Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) seizes control of the airport to facilitate the drug lord's escape. With a storm closing in and the airport's power and communication links taken over by the terrorists, everyone on all incoming flights is in deadly peril--including Mrs. McClane, who happens to be on the same plane as the craven TV journalist Thornberg (William Atherton), back for another round of abuse....
  • If It Only Had A Heart

    If you thought Old Detroit was going to the dogs in "RoboCop," wait till you see what horrors lurk in RoboCop 2. Crime is rampant in the streets, the city has gone bankrupt, the police are on strike and half the population seems to be strung out on a deadly new drug called Nuke. All of this looks like good news to Omni Consumer Products (OCP), the heartless corporation that runs the police department and, as it turns out, wants to foreclose on the city itself. "We're taking Detroit private!" OCP announces with greedy glee, smelling profit in urban chaos. ...
  • Tracymania

    It's that guy in the yellow overcoat again. Have the feeling you've seen him somewhere before? Like, maybe, everywhere you turn? And now here he is on the cover of NEWSWEEK. Small world, isn't it? And now here you are, actually reading another story about William Bendix in "Brick Lacy." ...
  • Gremlins In The Halls Of Greed

    Gremlins 2 The New Batch is director Joe Dante's best film since . . . well, since "Gremlins." There's something about these madcap devil dolls that liberates Dante's infernal imagination. His satirical sensibility gets to run riot in this sequel. Abandoning the small-town setting of the original, Charlie Haas's sharp script--a happy mixture of sophistication and utter silliness--relocates the gremlins in the heart of corporate America: inside the sleek New York office tower of real estate and media mogul Daniel Clamp (John Glover), a megalomaniac billionaire who is one part Donald Trump, one part Ted Turner. (The loudspeakers in his building announce the showing on his cable network of "Casablanca," in a new colorized version with "a happier ending.") ...
  • David Lynch's New Peak

    When you're hot you're hot. Even before David Lynch walked off with the Cannes Film Festival's top prize the Palme d'Or, for his flammable new film "Wild at Heart," Lynchmania had infected the Cote d'Azur. Each Thursday night during the festival, the American Pavilion threw a "Twin Peaks" party (serving pie and a good cup of black coffee) for crowds of "Peak" addicts who, ignoring the hundreds of new movies unreeling around them, preferred to huddle in front of TV monitors watching tapes of the latest episode from the United States. The first screening of "Wild at Heart"--at 8:30 in the morning--was so eagerly anticipated that the 2,400-seat Grand Auditorium Lumiere was half full of sleepy souls by 8. When the film ended, with the Elvis-like Nicolas Cage atop a car crooning "Love Me Tender" to Laura Dern, the audience broke into wild cheering. After a steady diet of lugubrious and sometimes immobile films from around the world, Lynch's lurid comic melodrama was a blast of freshly...