David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • 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...
  • 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. ...
  • 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." ...
  • 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. ...