David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Truth and Consequence

    In the riveting 'Atonement,' a 13-year-old girl tells a lie that destroys many lives, including her own.
  • A Stunning Sex Scene— With No Sex

    The most erotically charged movie scene I've encountered recently occurs about 30 minutes into "Starting Out in the Evening," a small independent movie by director Andrew ("The Talent Given Us") Wagner. It's not a sex scene, exactly. No clothes are removed; no kiss is exchanged. The man, played with superb restraint by Frank Langella, is a formal, courtly novelist in his 70s, a reclusive writer highly prized by a coterie of literary intellectuals but largely forgotten by the public. The girl ("Six Feet Under's" Lauren Ambrose) is young enough to be his granddaughter. Ambitious, flirtatious, an avid worshiper of his novels, the attractive graduate student has persuaded him, against his better judgment, to allow her to interview him for her thesis on his work. Brazenly insinuating herself into his isolated life, she breaks down his rigidly enforced solitude. What exactly are her motives, we wonder? She's an ambiguous mixture of naivet? and cunning, so lost in her idealized vision of...
  • The Mind-Body Problem

    The hero of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' can move only one eye—but he sure does get around.
  • Film Heroes and Zeroes

    I usually avoid novels about Hollywood. I'm a movie critic: it's coals to Newcastle. So many of them are just gossip tarted up with literary pretensions. But Steve Erickson's one-of-a-kind "Zeroville" is a novel for people who love movies. The deeper into them you are, the more you'll get out of it. Erickson's protagonist, Vikar Jerome, is in way deep, but he doesn't see movies quite how most people do: he thinks, for example, that "The Exorcist" is a comedy. Raised by a fierce Calvinist father who wouldn't allow him to see movies until he was 20, he arrives on Hollywood Boulevard via Greyhound bus in 1969, just when the Manson family goes on its rampage. Vikar has his own streak of violence, which tends to erupt when people mistake the tattoos on his shaved head of Elizabeth Taylor and Monty Clift in "A Place in the Sun" for Natalie Wood and James Dean. The unworldly, ex-seminarian Vikar is a kind of cinematic idiot savant: imagine a cross between "Being There's" Chauncey Gardener...
  • Harlem’s Hero And Heroin

    Denzel and Russell can't save 'American Gangster' from feeling like just another Hollywood mob job.
  • 7,714 Movies, and Counting

    When he was 12, NEWSWEEK's David Ansen started a list of every film he'd seen. No. 1 was 'Cinderella.' The last is—well, that's a long story. In fact, it's the story of his life, and of his generation.
  • A Cautionary Tale

    Ang Lee's opulent new period melodrama is filled with explosive elements that never fully ignite.
  • Bite-Size Cinema

    Three big-name filmmakers are behind three big-budget ad campaigns on TV right now. They gave us 30 seconds of cinema, so our critic David Ansen gives them 30-second reviews: Michel Gondry for Motorola: A slicker, busier version of the cardboard-cutout surrealism of "The Science of Sleep," this French ad for the Razr2 cell phone is terribly hip, but what exactly it's selling (aside from Gondry's style) is unclear. Michael Mann for Nike : Wow. A tactile paean to all-out effort, Mann's mini-action flick is one continuous movement of bone-crushing contact, set to the stirring score of his "Last of the Mohicans." The message: "Leave nothing." Mann obliges. Wes Anderson for AT&T: Where some directors cut, the artifice-loving Anderson likes to move his camera from room to room, going for a living diorama effect. That's what he does in his droll spots for AT&T, showing in one unbroken shot the many worlds a customer visits by phone in a day. Clever.
  • The Hollywood War Front

    Angry filmmakers are gung-ho on Iraq movies, but the war as entertainment is proving to be a tough sell to audiences.
  • Ansen Reviews 'Into the Wild'

    How you respond to Sean Penn's vital, lyrical, unsettling adaptation of Jon Krakauer's nonfiction book—whether you find the idealistic Christopher McCandless's (Emile Hirsch) search for freedom exemplary or self-indulgent (or somewhere in between)—will depend on your own history. McCandless gave up all his worldly possessions, changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and began a solitary cross-country odyssey that ended in wintry Alaska. Penn's eye for landscapes is stunning, and his affection for outsider lifestyles is tangible. Hirsch, who carries the film on his increasingly emaciated shoulders, performs heroically, but there's an edge missing. The ideal casting would have been the young Sean Penn.Wes Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums") transports his arch, pristine, melancholic sensibility to India, where three estranged brothers meet after their father's death and hop a train in a quixotic attempt to heal their spiritual wounds. The oldest is the bossy, gung-ho Francis (Owen...
  • Torrents Of Arabia

    'The Kingdom' is full of action—and full of itself.
  • Movies: Ang Lee’s New Thriller

    Ang Lee's new movie has plenty of lust, but one wonders if there isn't a bit too much caution in the mix as well.
  • Turning Back The Clock

    There was a lot of grumbling last week at the Toronto Film Festival about how this venerable showcase for world cinema has been turned into a launching pad for Hollywood's Oscar campaigns. With the likes of Jodie Foster, Brad Pitt and George Clooney parading down Bloor Street, one could've easily mistaken the festival for an out-of-town Hollywood press junket. But under the glittering surface was a more interesting story. A striking number of the American movies on display were throwbacks to the cinema of the 1960s and '70s, in both subject and style. Just as the ghost of Vietnam hangs over Iraq, the spirit of the social-protest movies of the early '70s can be felt in the myriad films tackling terror in the Middle East—from Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah" to 1960s maestro Brian de Palma's blistering "Redacted," a fictionalized account of the rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl and her family by U.S. soldiers.Some of the movies truly took us back to the 1960s. Julie Taymor's...
  • Ansen on the Toronto Film Festival

    The movies in this year's Toronto Film Festival were collectively like a wayback machine to the obsessions—and the memorable filmmaking—of the '60s and '70s.
  • The Train To The Plain

    James Mangold’s remake of the 1957 Western “3:10 to Yuma” is a decent-enough entertainment, though it’s hardly going to breathe new life to a genre whose demise has been reported for at least 30 years. What this version offers is the chance to watch Russell Crowe and Christian Bale—two of the more charismatic, macho leading men around—duke it out psychologically, while another fine but less well-known intensity artist, Ben Foster, steals whatever scenes are left.Bale plays beleaguered rancher Dan Evans, who’s hobbled by a Civil War injury. Unable to pay his bills, he’s lost the respect of his wife (Gretchen Mol) and 14-year-old son, Will (Logan Lerman), and is about to lose his ranch. Evans glimpses a chance for both money and redemption by signing up to bring the legendary outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) to the train station in Contention, Ariz., where the 3:10 will take Wade to face justice in Yuma.Crowe’s Wade is everything the struggling rancher isn’t—suave, confident, a master...
  • Review: 'Rocket Science' Has Big Brain, Bigger Heart

    Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson) is a stutterer. His problem is so severe that he has to practice ordering pizza as he stands in line at his high-school cafeteria—and has to settle for sloppy Joes because he can't get the words out fast enough. Hal would seem to be the least likely candidate in the world to join the school's debate team, yet he's recruited by its alluring, motormouthed star, Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), to replace her former partner, the legendary Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto), after he suffers an onstage meltdown at the New Jersey State Finals and drops out of school."Rocket Science" joins a long line of movies about teenage outcasts struggling to find their place in the world; two years ago the prize entry was "Thumbsucker." But this sharp and painfully funny coming-of-age story—a hyperarticulate comedy about an inarticulate boy—manages to avoid just about every cliché of the genre. Each time you fear it's going to go for the obvious, it upends your...
  • 'Bourne Ultimatum': Meth for Action Junkies

    How fast and furious is the third installment of the Bourne trilogy? Just in the first 15 minutes it charges from a chase in Moscow to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.; to Turin, Italy; Paris, London and New York City, barely pausing to catch its (or our) breath. The amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is on the run again, closing in on the secret of his identity, outsmarting and outmuscling vast teams of CIA hit men who use every weapon in their arsenal to stop him from discovering the truth about his past.For action junkies, "The Bourne Ultimatum" will be like a hit of pure meth. It's bravura filmmaking in the jittery, handheld, frenetically edited Paul Greengrass style. That visceral, vérité style caught many people by surprise in "The Bourne Supremacy." (They obviously hadn't seen his earlier film about the Irish Troubles, "Bloody Sunday.") But now, after his acclaimed, unnerving "United 93," we know what he can do, and it's momentarily disconcerting to realize that he...
  • Deadly Decisions

    Lucidly, dramatically and without resorting to partisan rhetoric, Charles Ferguson's not-to-be-missed documentary "No End in Sight" lays out in convincing, appalling detail the disastrous missteps of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The magnitude of the errors perpetrated by the Bush administration—a lethal combination of ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, bad or nonexistent planning, cronyism and naiveté—can make you weep with anger. We hear about the many jobs in Iraq handed to the sons of Bush campaign donors, and of the young woman, fresh out of college, who is put in charge of managing all traffic in chaotic Baghdad—despite having no experience studying traffic control or speaking Arabic.These examples would almost be funny were they not a microcosm of all the bad edicts that emanated from Washington. Those decisions were made by a small cadre—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice and the president, all of whom declined to be interviewed for the film—that...
  • Ansen Looks at Bergman, Antonioni

    On the same day, two giants of the cinema gone. For anyone who grew up in the golden age of cinephilia—that remarkable period between the end of the 1950s and the mid ‘70s, when movies held pride of place at the white-hot center of the culture—the passing of Ingmar Bergman, 89, and Michelangelo Antonioni, 94, is the kind of double whammy that slams the door on an era.They will be remembered, however, for the doors of perception they opened. If you were a teenager raised on Hollywood movies, your first encounter with Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” or “The Seventh Seal” was a life-altering expe­rience, a shocking immersion into Swedish angst, expressionistic dream sequences, daunting symbolism (clocks without hands!) and a brooding black-and-white existentialism that was a slap in the face to the Technicolor optimism of your child­hood fantasies. A few years later (in 1960, to be precise) came Antonioni’s rule-break­ing “L’Avventura,” a mystery without a so­lution, a despairing but...
  • Review: Don Cheadle Is 'Sensational' in New Film

    Don Cheadle has proved time and again that he's an actor of many faces. The only common denominator between his work in "Devil in a Blue Dress," "Boogie Nights," "Ocean's Eleven" and "Hotel Rwanda" is his quicksilver talent. The beauty of his performance in "Talk to Me," playing the streetwise, flamboyantly cocky yet deeply insecure radio DJ Petey Greene, is how many faces he can locate in this one man—often in the same moment. It's a sensational turn, unlike anything he's done.Greene was an ex-con who became a radio icon in Washington, D.C., in the late '60s with his profane, tell-it-like-it-is braggadocio. When the city exploded in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, it was Greene's wise on-air improvisations that helped keep the rage in check. Brilliant, alcoholic and self-destructive, Greene is the fascinating subject of Kasi Lemmons's funky, R&B-driven biopic—a vital entertainment that struts confidently between comedy and drama.The equally versatile...
  • Ansen on 'Chuck and Larry'

    Adam Sandler knows his audience, wants to please his audience … and wants, in his just-one-of-the-guys way, to make them a little bit better than he suspects they are. Thus you have "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," directed by Dennis Dugan, a broad, sometimes wince-inducing comedy built on what is usually called homosexual panic (shouldn't it be heterosexual panic?). Sandler, who plays Chuck, a Brooklyn fireman and ladies man who has to pretend to be gay (for reasons we'll get to), encourages his audience to laugh at all the usual fag stereotypes while offering up an explicit and heartfelt plea for tolerance and diversity.Anyone who's followed Sandler's career knows that he's always slid gay-friendly subplots into his comedies, so no one should be surprised that "Chuck and Larry" comes out on the side of the angels. You could also predict, given his penchant for adolescent humor, that the comedy will pander to the lowest common denominator, if that means getting easy laughs...
  • Ansen Review: Latest 'Harry Potter' Never Takes Off

    Decidedly older, definitely angrier, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) goes through his darkest days in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." He has good reason to be both paranoid and rebellious. Dementors attack him on his school break, he's threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts, and The Daily Prophet, the official organ of the Ministry of Magic, calls him a liar for claiming that the evil Lord Voldemort has reappeared on the scene. Even Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) seems to distance himself from Harry. Making matters far, far worse, the smiling, pink-clad fascist, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), Hogwarts's new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, is transforming the school into a joyless, repressive prison for Harry and his friends.This description will be redundant to the millions of readers of the fifth installment of Harry's adventures—an 870-page epic that had to shed many pounds to squeeze into a two-and-a-quarter-hour movie. Those who have not read the book,...
  • Ansen on 'Ratatouille'

    It would seem that Pixar's newest animated movie, "Ratatouille," has a few obstacles to overcome. The title isn't in English, and a good percentage of the audience has probably never tasted it, let alone heard of it. The hero, Remy, is a rat. Not only that, a rat who spends most of his time just where we don't want to see one—in a kitchen. The setting is Paris, and the movie is a love letter to a romantic notion of France that is not currently in fashion, at least in certain political quarters. And who would ever think of making a family movie aimed at foodies?Has Pixar lost its pixilated mind? Pas du tout. Brad Bird, the unconventional creator of "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles," has come up with a film as rich as a sauce béarnaise, as refreshing as a raspberry sorbet, and a lot less predictable than the damn food metaphors and adjectives all us critics will churn out to describe it. OK, one more and then I'll be done: it's yummy.Bird seems to relish the challenge, and even...