David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • 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." ...
  • 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. ...