David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • THE BRIDE WORE LITTLE

    Off-screen chemistry does not necessarily translate onto the screen. Kidman and Cruise? Ben and J. Lo? Enough said. As for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," that's an entirely different story. From the moment their characters first meet--a chance encounter in appropriately sultry Bogota--the erotic sparks light up the screen. Sleek and graceful, two of a rarefied kind, they size each other up, come to the quick, obvious conclusion that they were made for each other, and head right to bed. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" actually begins years after this lusty first round, when John and Jane Smith have settled into a dull, dissatisfied suburban marriage. Here they are, facing a marriage counselor, bickering about the drapes and wondering why their marriage has gone flat. If you have a hard time swallowing these impossibly glamorous movie stars as a bored, ordinary suburban couple, that's because they are nothing of the kind. In fact, both are highly paid assassins, and so...
  • AGAINST THE ROPES

    Ron Howard's depression-era boxing saga "Cinderella Man" has one thing in common with "Revenge of the Sith": just about everybody knows how the story will turn out. It's not that everyone's heard of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), the scrappy heavyweight from New Jersey whose rise and fall and rise made him a working-class hero in the depths of the Depression--the symbolic equivalent of a two-legged Seabiscuit. What we do all know is that Hollywood's not about to make a sports movie with this title that doesn't have a happy ending.Ultimately, it doesn't matter that we can see the third act coming, or that "Cinderella Man" doesn't have an original bone in its well-oiled body, or even that the first logy hour feels dangerously generic. Once Braddock--the rundown wreck of a boxer who's reduced to begging to support his family--begins his astonishingly unlikely comeback, Howard's movie skillfully delivers that primal, heart-pounding satisfaction that is the promise of all boxing...
  • TRANSITION

    Ismail Merchant, 68Renowned for producing lavish and literary period movies ("Howards End," "The Remains of the Day") that looked many times more expensive than they cost, the Bombay-born Merchant was a master at charming investors. His partnership with Oregon-born director James Ivory and German-born novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala--the principals in Merchant Ivory Productions--lasted 44 years. They struck gold with "A Room With a View." Under his shrewd financial guidance, Merchant Ivory became more than a company name: it was a genre unto itself.EDDIE ALBERT, 99An actor in movies and television for more than 50 years, Albert was best known for his role as the befuddled Oliver Douglas on "Green Acres."
  • THE FAMILY GOES NUCLEAR

    To those Jane Fonda fans who have been eagerly awaiting her return to the screen, my condolences. It's not that she's bad in "Monster-in-Law." She seems to be having a high old time as Viola Fields, an alcoholic TV diva. Viola's lost her job to a younger woman, and publicly lost her marbles attempting to strangle a Britney Spears look-alike on camera. Now she's about to lose her only son, Kevin (Michael Vartan), to marriage. This final indignity prompts Viola to go nuclear on her prospective daughter-in-law, Charlie (Jennifer Lopez). Fonda's formidable comic chops deserve far better than the clumsy and charmless comedy concocted by novice screenwriter Anya Kochoff and director Robert Luketic.The premise, though hardly fresh, has the makings of a ferocious black comedy. But "Monster-in-Law" is more a sour pastel. Torn between the desires to be nasty and nice, it achieves a mean-spirited blandness that makes neither psychological nor filmic sense. It's not Vartan's fault, but the...
  • THE END OF THE EMPIRE

    The Faithful (and quite a few of the Unfaithful) have been waiting a long time, enduring the bitter disappointment of "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones," to get to this pivotal moment: to see how and why Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), the Chosen One, abandons his Jedi legacy, embraces the Dark Side and turns into Darth Vader.Almost 90 minutes of the sixth and concluding film--"Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith"--go by before Anakin's final metamorphosis actually begins. First up, we are served a fairly rousing if madly busy aerial battle in which Anakin and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), fight off crablike flying Droids in their attempt to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from the clutches of General Grievous. Before the movie gets good--and it does, in the final 45 minutes, achieve a genuine dark power--we also have to put up with the usual Lucas liabilities: graceless dialogue, wooden acting, overcluttered compositions...
  • Blockbusters? Who Needs 'Em?

    The big summer movie season was supposed to begin with the fireworks of Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven," but the big bang turned out to be more of a whimper. An augury of things to come or just a bump in Hollywood's triumphant road? The studios are nervously awaiting the answer, because movie attendance has been slumping week after week. And why shouldn't it when Hollywood deliberately sticks to its dogs-only policy for the first three or four months of the year? Do they think moviegoers don't notice?But why should every movie have to be a blockbuster? As George Lucas's Death Star approaches, let's pause a moment and take a quick gander at some of the other offerings out there, from the mainstream appeal of "Kicking & Screaming" to the out-of-left-field delights of "Mad Hot Ballroom." It's hard to remember, but there was once a time when there was no such thing as "a summer movie." There were just movies that came out in summer, like any other.'Kingdom of Heaven'Borrowing...
  • Asking Why

    Before seeing "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," I'd read enough about the Enron scandals to know I'd never want to be seated at the same table as Ken Lay. Still, watching Alex Gibney's riveting documentary made my jaw drop and my hackles rise. If a novelist--Tom Wolfe, say--had made up this tale of greed, vanity, corruption and corporate machismo run amok, critics would have questioned its plausibility. Fiction, as Philip Roth pointed out many years ago, can't compete with the outrageousness of reality. And the Enron story, as writer/director Gibney tells it (based on the book of the same name by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind), calls into question not just a handful of rogue corporate outlaws but an entire business ethos. The movie makes clear that a deception this vast couldn't have succeeded if it weren't in everybody's interest--from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington--to look the other way.The crucial ruling that opened the door to Enron's smoke...
  • SHANGHAI SURPRISE

    Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle," which is set in a make-believe Shanghai of the '30s, tips its hat to the Hong Kong martial-arts movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan while zooming into the 21st century via "Matrix"-style digital effects. What this broadly comic adventure most resembles, however, is a "Road Runner" cartoon brought to life. When the actors chase each other down a road, they go into hyperdrive, traveling at the speed of sound as their unicycle legs leave behind tunnels of cartoon dust. As deliberately artificial as an old studio musical (and it even includes a big dance number), "Kung Fu Hustle" defies all laws of gravity in its pursuit of thrills and laughs--and it's so disarmingly eager to please that only a stone-faced kung fu purist could object.Chow, who wrote, directed and stars as a wanna-be gangster, is a huge comedy star in Asia, where "Kung Fu Hustle" is already a smash success. He's made more than 50 movies, though in the United States he's known for only one...
  • PARADISE RE-LOST

    When we first meet the title characters in Rebecca Miller's stunning "The Ballad of Jack and Rose"--the intense, rail-thin Jack (Miller's husband, Daniel Day-Lewis) and the ethereally beautiful young Rose (Camilla Belle)--their devotion to each other is as palpable as their relationship is ambiguous and unsettling. Are they father and daughter or lovers? The confusion is intentional. Soon we figure out that Jack is indeed the 16-year-old girl's dad, and we begin to understand their unusual intimacy. Rose, whose mother is dead, has been raised by her angrily idealistic father in the abandoned commune he founded in the early '70s on an island off the East Coast. A rabid environmentalist whose days are numbered by a bad heart, Jack has shielded Rose from the contaminations of "plastic," money-obsessed America. She's a true innocent, living in an isolated Eden of her father's creation. Like all paradises, this one is about to be lost. And like all innocents, she can be dangerous.Miller,...
  • SNAP JUDGMENT: MOVIES

    ConstantineGreat-looking gobbledygook, this feverish slice of supernatural Roman Catholic film noir sends demon buster Keanu Reeves--a chain-smoking psychic who can spot the half-breed demons and angels in our midst--on a mission to save the world, and his own soul, from Lucifer, who has broken his detente with God. Based on the "Hellblazer" graphic novels, this stylishly shot thriller is filled with all-that-money-can-buy special effects, but the razzle-dazzle grows wearisome. "Constantine" peaks early, then descends into portentous nonsense.Ong-Bak: The Thai WarriorIn total opposition to "Constantine"'s bag of CGI tricks is this Thai martial-arts action movie, in which every leap, spin and flying kick of its amazingly athletic star, Tony Jaa, is for real. No wires or camera tricks enhance the fight scenes and chases. Jaa plays a country boy who must reclaim his village's stolen Buddha head from Bangkok gangsters. The storytelling is cheesy, but action fans won't want to miss the...
  • THE SOLDIERS' STORY

    Gunner Palace," an intimate portrait of the soldiers serving in 2/3 Field Artillery in Baghdad, defies any expectations you bring to it. There are sights in Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's eye-opening documentary that will confirm and confound both right and left. Here are our boys, some fresh out of high school, trained to fight but suddenly put in the position of social workers: cradling babies, assisting at town meetings, tending the wounded. Here they are, long after Bush has appeared before the mission accomplished banner, roar-ing with hysterical laughter as they point out the deficiencies of their armored vehicle: "It'll probably slow down the shrapnel so that it stays in your body instead of going straight through." Who is friend and who is foe? Some local children follow the soldiers worshipfully, like a scene in a World War II movie. But, at night, adults throw stones at them as they patrol the streets. If the country dissolves into civil war, our soldiers know they...
  • TRAPPED IN A VIPERS' NEST

    It's impossible to turn your eyes away from Oliver Hirschbiegel's "Downfall," a meticulous, spellbinding, provocative depiction of the final days of the Third Reich. Based on historian Joachim Fest's "Inside Hitler's Bunker" and on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary (and subject of the recent documentary "Blind Spot"), this puts us on intimate terms with the fohrer (Bruno Ganz) and his inner circle--Goebbels, Himmler, Speer, Eva Braun--when the Russian Army is closing in. Inside the bunker, a raging, deluded Hitler issues insane military orders while his subordinates keep up the pretense of his sanity, or turn on each other like vipers. We witness a culture of death, in which Goebbels's wife thinks herself noble for poisoning her children rather than doom them to a world without National Socialism."Downfall" (written by producer Bernd Eichinger) observes but does not editorialize, noting how banality and monstrosity mingle in the corridors of unchecked power at the...
  • COURTSHIP FOR DUMMIES

    Will Smith has spent the better part of his extremely successful career charming the pants off movie audiences. Until "Hitch," however, he's never gotten to charm the pants off a leading lady. This is his first flat-out romantic comedy, and it will surprise no one to learn that he's a natural. Playing Alex (Hitch) Hitchens, a New York "date doctor" who teaches hapless, moonstruck men how to romance the women of their dreams, he breezes through the role with his characteristic mix of playful braggadocio and sweet self-deprecation. Alex doesn't practice what he preaches--hurt once, he won't allow himself to fall in love again. Andy Tennant's flimsy but generally likeable comedy is tailor-made for Smith's cheerfully suave comic style, and the movie goes out of its way to avoid any hint of sleaziness. As a dating consultant, Hitch won't take on any clients who are just after a quick lay; only true lovers need apply. His altruistic approach to his profession doesn't exactly jibe with his...
  • NEWSMAKERS

    Since you're such a high-tech guy, I'm forgoing the tape recorder for this talk and going digital.Oh, a recording stick? Cool. I'll talk a lot.The best part of "Aliens of the Deep" is watching how gee-whiz excited you get down there.Yeah--how I get, how the scientists get. I love taking these Ph.D.s out there and watching them reduced to 5-year-old kids.Are they easier to work with than, say, actors?[Laughs] Well, it's funny, there's some of the same concerns: How do I look? Am I doing something stupid? The thing is, science is important to every scientist. But maybe one in 10 can express why.Was "Aliens" harder to make than an action film?Yeah. First, you can't control the ocean. And there's no point writing a script because the ocean can't read it. You never know if your next dive's gonna be a bust or a jackpot.You're finally making a new Hollywood film?Yeah, it's called "Battle Angel," and it's a futuristic action movie adapted from a series of nine Japanese manga graphic novels....
  • Four Days in Utah

    Those days are long gone. Now the first thing I do is avoid Main Street, a furiously compacted avenue of traffic snarls, celebrity gawkers, marauding party kids who don't mind standing in freezing, roped-off lines to gain entry to overcrowded parties and corporate-sponsored way stations offering goodies to wannabe and actual movers and shakers in The Biz. This year it wasn't until my third day in Park City that I even set foot on Main Street. And I was sorry I had.But complaining about Sundance's fall from independent grace--if there ever was such a thing--is a cliche. Truth is, except for the traffic, it's not that hard to simply ignore the hype, the hustle and the innumerable parties and devote yourself to what Sundance was supposed to be all about: watching movies. Was Paris Hilton actually in Park City? Was that Osama bin Laden seen dancing the night away with Jessica Simpson? Could be, but I wasn't paying attention.This year, I could only stay at the festival for four days, so...
  • EVE OF SELF-DESTRUCTION

    Shortly after pretty, 23-year-old Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) meets dissolute, 40-year-old Cahit (Birol Unel) in a psychiatric ward, she asks him to marry her. They may be utter strangers, but they have several things in common. Both are Turkish Germans living in Hamburg, and both have recently attempted suicide--he by driving his car into a wall, she by ineptly slashing her wrists. Sibel needs a Turkish husband to escape her suffocatingly traditional Muslim family so she can pursue a full-throttle Western lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Cahit, who has the reckless charisma of a wasted rock star, will be free to self- destruct his own way, with booze and drugs, but at least he'll have someone to clean up his slag heap of an apartment. As designs for living go, it could be worse.This is the setup of Fatih Akin's "Head-On," the extraordinary German film that just won the European best-film award over such highly touted movies as "Bad Education," "The Sea Inside" and "Vera Drake."...
  • OR NOT TO BE: ONE MAN'S FIGHT TO DIE

    Alejandro Amenabar's "The Sea Inside" arrives garlanded with festival prizes, Golden Globe nominations and strong indications that this Spanish entry is the movie to beat for the foreign-film Oscar. It's possible that Javier Bardem will get a best-actor nomination for his subtle, soulful performance as Ramon Sampedro, a bedridden quadriplegic who spent 28 years fighting in the courts for the right to die with dignity.Sampedro, whose case was a media sensation in Spain, was a husky sailor with a lust for life when he was crippled in a diving accident near his home in Galicia. Unable to use his body, he wrote poems, gave TV interviews and published a memoir, "Letters From Hell." The force of his wry, rational, seductive personality drew women from all around. In Amenabar's film, he is cared for by his sister-in-law (Mabel Rivera) and doted on by two women, one a stunning lawyer (Belen Rueda), also suffering from a degenerative disease, who falls in love with him while working to help...
  • A HERO WILL RISE

    Dapper, meticulous and obsequious, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is perfectly suited to his job as hotel manager of the elegant Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Impressed with fine Scotches and adept at flattering his European guests, he would not seem a likely candidate for heroism. Yet in 1994, in the midst of one of the most horrific genocides in history, in which close to a million people were slaughtered in a 100-day reign of terror, this brave Rwandan used all the tricks in his book to save more than 1,200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refugees from the machetes, rifles and clubs of Hutu militias, sheltering them in his hotel while vainly hoping that the Western powers would intervene to end the killing."Hotel Rwanda," like "Schindler's List," chooses to illuminate a historical nightmare by focusing on a true story of hope. There are those who will object in principle to George's focus on the inspirational, but let's get real: how else could this movie have...
  • THE AVIATOR: 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KISS THE SKY

    Howard Hughes envisioned by Martin Scorsese and embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Aviator" is the ultimate can-do American, a ruthless, shoot-from- the-hip capitalist not afraid to gamble his fortune buying TWA or spend four years and a record-breaking budget to produce and direct his airborne World War I epic "Hell's Angels." He's a charming vulgarian, a lanky Texas shark with a voracious appetite for fame, fortune, aviation, beautiful women, the picture business--and the sheer pleasure of speed. Scorsese channels Hughes's hyperactive energy in his razzle-dazzle, high-flying biopic, his swooping, restless camera and virtuoso editing inducing a contact high.But there's another side to Hughes--a streak of mental illness that stops this prince of perpetual motion in his tracks. An obsessive-compulsive with a lifelong phobia about germs, Hughes goes into the men's room at the Coconut Grove to clean a food stain off his shirt and becomes paralyzed, unable to exit because he can't...
  • SPANGLISH: LANGUAGE OF LOVE

    Under its sitcom setup--beautiful Latina housekeeper who speaks no English goes to work for rich, dysfunctional white family in Bel Air--James L. Brooks's "Spanglish" has a lot on its mind. This culture-clash comedy is about parenting; Latin and Anglo notions of masculinity, femininity and family; the lure and perils of assimilation, as well as the dangers of getting a four-star restaurant review in The New York Times. The man who made "Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News" can always be counted on to explore crannies of upper-middle-class life that Hollywood usually ignores. "Spanglish" isn't Brooks's best (a tall order), but it feels like one of his most personal.Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni are the Claskys, whose shaky marriage becomes even more unhinged when Flor (Paz Vega) and her smart 12-year-old daughter Christina (Shelbie Bruce) enter their lives. Deb (the spectacular Leoni) is a self-loathing, self-absorbed neurotic. She's the sort of clueless mom who thinks she's being...
  • MILLION DOLLAR BABY: CLINT DELIVERS A KNOCKOUT

    As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, there are no second acts in American lives. Somebody forgot to tell Clint Eastwood, who, at 74 and well into his third act, is doing the best, most assured work of his career. And he's doing it in his usual quick, thrifty, no-fuss manner. A year after the dark, epic "Mystic River," he weighs in with "Million Dollar Baby," set in the nether regions of the boxing world. The focus is tighter, more intimate: Eastwood plays a guarded, solitary gym owner and fight manager in Los Angeles who reluctantly agrees to train 31-year-old Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), an Arkansas redneck who has nothing in her life but her fierce determination to fight.This is a setting, and a setup, that comes booby-trapped with fight-movie cliches stretching from "Girlfight" and "Rocky" back to the '30s. This is not, however, Eastwood taking one of his genre-movie breathers; it may be a smaller movie than "Mystic River," but it's every bit as uncompromising, and even...
  • HOTEL RWANDA: A HERO WILL RISE

    Dapper, meticulous and obsequious, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is perfectly suited to his job as manager of the elegant Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. Impressed with fine Scotches and adept at flattering his European guests, he would not seem a likely candidate for heroism. Yet in 1994, in the midst of a horrific genocide, in which close to a million people were slaughtered in a 100-day reign of terror, this brave Rwandan used all the tricks in his book to save more than 1,200 Tutsi refugees from the machetes, rifles and clubs of their Hutu enemies, sheltering them in his hotel while vainly hoping that the Western powers would intervene to end the killing.Terry George's "Hotel Rwanda," like "Schindler's List," chooses to illuminate a historical nightmare by focusing on a true story of hope. There are those who will object in principle to George's focus on the "inspirational," but let's get real: how else could this movie have gotten made? And it's a...
  • THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: INTO THE NIGHT

    In Joel Schumacher's "The Phantom of the Opera," it's sometimes hard to tell the characters from the candelabra. This lavish screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical is so chockablock with decorative detail the human figures are often competing with the decor for attention: Baroque balustrades, flower-strewn dressing rooms, a chandelier to end all chandeliers, and the title character's murky subterranean grotto, which, depending on your point of view, evokes either a brooding 19th-century painting or a new Disneyland ride. Sometimes the sets win, but not when Emmy Rossum is around as Christine, the lovely chorus girl whom the disfigured Phantom (Gerard Butler)--her mysterious "Angel of Music"--is molding into the Paris Opera's next great star. The 18-year-old may not have the acting chops of a seasoned pro, but with a pure-as-crystal soprano voice to match her dark beauty, she's a heart-stopping presence.What can I tell the millions of fans who've made Lloyd Webber's breast...
  • Movie Club: 'The Third Man'

    I think I was about 14 years old when I first saw "The Third Man" on television, at night, all alone in my room in Los Angeles. It took me deep inside a place and time--postwar Vienna--that I couldn't shake and under no circumstances wanted to shake. It transformed the way I looked at the world.I'm sure you know it can be dangerous to revisit one's favorite movies from childhood. In the harsher light of adulthood, their sterling virtues can evaporate like mirages. But the thing about Carol Reed's 1949 "The Third Man" was that no matter how many times I saw it over the years its magic never failed. Its sophisticated, world-weary glamour never lost its allure. The movie only got richer as my own experiences got richer. I kept discovering dark new delights, and the classic moments remained every bit as classic.I hate being asked what my favorite movie of all time is. It's too hard. There's too many to choose from. But when push comes to shove, I always name "The Third Man." And so when...
  • INVADING HIS SPACEY

    Beyond the Sea" tells the life story of singer Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey), framing it as a musical film he's making about his life. Raised in the Bronx, Darin's not expected to live past 15, a consequence of rheumatic fever. He becomes a teen idol ("Splish Splash"), nightclub star ("Mack the Knife") and Hollywood actor, marrying Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). His life falls apart in the late 1960s.DAVID ANSEN: You manage to avoid some of the problems of the biopic. Your movie has a flow to it. It doesn't play like, "This happened and then this happened... " There's a theatrical flair that you bring to it as a director.KEVIN SPACEY: In the Italian sequence [when Darin meets Sandra Dee], I wanted the film to take on an MGM Technicolor musical look. All those incredible colors.But your choice of doing it as a kind of '50s musical seems strange. I don't associate Darin with that kind of movie. I think of him as primarily a nightclub performer.Bobby Darin was a guy who sang his guts out,...
  • STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE

    The boys are back in town. Actually, they're in several European towns this time--Amsterdam, Rome, the shores of Lake Como--all because nasty Vegas entrepreneur Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man from whom they stole $160 million in "Ocean's Eleven," has tracked them down and is demanding full repayment, with interest. Or else. So the team, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt leading the way, has very little time to pull off several very lucrative heists. In "Ocean's Twelve," however, nothing goes according to plan, and Danny Ocean's gang has more to worry about than Benedict. The glam Europol investigator Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is hot on their trail, and a rival thief, the highly competitive "Night Fox" (Vincent Cassel), wants to beat them at their own game.It was the characters that made the first movie such a debonair delight. Unfortunately, there's so much going on in Steven Soderbergh's sequel--George Nolfi's screenplay seems like three slightly different movies...
  • THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE, FROM CHAT ROOM TO BEDROOM

    Mike Nichols's "Closer," based on the acerbic 1997 play by Patrick Marber, brings the battle of the sexes into the brave new world of cybersex. One pair of the story's heterosexual London quartet--a dermatologist named Larry (Clive Owen) and the divorced photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) meet because Larry thinks she has summoned him to a rendezvous after a salacious chat. In fact, Larry was chatting with Dan (Jude Law), an obituary writer and failed novelist posing online as Anna, whom he lusts after even though he's living with the waifish waitress/stripper Alice (Natalie Portman). This is but the first of the dirty tricks the men play on each other in this nastily funny erotic roundelay. As the four ardent, duplicitous characters keep changing partners, it becomes clear that when push comes to shove, male competitiveness trumps romantic desire. Dan and Larry are straight, but they're more obsessed with f---ing with each other's minds than f---ing the women they think they love...
  • NOT SO GREAT

    How do you make a movie, in 2004, about a man who wants to conquer the world? That question hangs uneasily over Oliver Stone's three-hour epic about Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who, by the age of 25, dominated the greater part of the known world, lording it over an empire that stretched from Greece to India. To contemporary eyes that kind of ambition might seem a tad, shall we say, insane. And on screen, world domination has tended to be the purview of James Bond villains and aliens from outer space.That's not the way Stone sees it. He's always been, for all his anti-establishment rages, a hero worshiper. Powerful men fascinate him ("Wall Street," "JFK," "Nixon"); "Alexander" is clearly meant as a celebration of the most powerful of them all. But with this sometimes stunning, ultimately stupefying epic Stone has met his Waterloo. Though filled with spectacular battles, opulent sets and grand Hellenic passions, this madly ambitious film doesn't compute. Stone's movies,...
  • BOYS WILL BE GIRLS

    Under the opening credits of "Bad Education," Alberto Iglesias's roiling, Bernard Herrmann-like score prepares you for something darker, more Hitchcockian, than we have come to expect from Pedro Almodovar. An intricately constructed film noir about obsession, role-playing, revenge and shifting identities, it is obviously influenced by "Vertigo," yet "Bad Education" feels bracingly new. No one but Almodovar could have made it.The movie's present tense is the 1980s. A 27-year-old film director, Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez), is desperate for a new project when a young actor (Gael Garcia Bernal) comes into his office with a story he's written. He claims to be Ignacio, the boy Enrique loved 16 years earlier in a Roman Catholic boarding school. It's the story of their schoolboy affair: how they were separated when the pedophile priest, Father Manolo, banished Ignacio from school in a fit of jealousy. And then it tells of what happened to Ignacio: how he became the transvestite performer...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

    Birth Directed by Jonathan GlazerA wealthy Manhattan widow (Nicole Kidman) is about to remarry, a decade after her husband's death, when an intense 10-year-old (Cameron Bright) appears, insisting he's the reincarnation of her late husband. The setup of Glazer's ("Sexy Beast") often hypnotic movie suggests a supernatural thriller, but the execution is pure European art film. Kidman gives a bold performance as a woman in extreme distress, but the script is hooey. "Birth" is ridiculous, and oddly unforgettable.Finding Neverland Directed by Marc ForsterThere's a reason plays are called plays, explains the Scottish writer J. M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) to the four brothers who would inspire "Peter Pan." This gentle eccentric's playful spirit, and his grown-up's awareness of lost innocence, infuse this lovely fictionalized account of the creation of "Peter Pan" with a charm both sprightly and melancholic. It's the story of a platonic love affair between the Llewelyn Davies family--the boys...
  • REVIEW: UNDRESSING AMERICA

    It makes deep sense that Alfred Kinsey, whose 1948 study "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" revolutionized American thinking about sex, was raised by a rigidly puritanical father. Dad, played by John Lithgow in Bill Condon's engrossing biopic "Kinsey," gave Sunday sermons denouncing the zipper as a fiendish new device that gives "speedy access to moral oblivion." Rebellion was the father of invention. Kinsey (sensitively played by Liam Neeson) wanted to burn away myth with science.The battle between Kinsey father and son could be a microcosm of America's schizophrenia about sex--today, as well as in the 1950s, when Kinsey's study of female sexuality provoked outrage.It's hard to think of a Hollywood movie that has focused so exclusively on sex. But writer-director Condon ("Gods and Monsters") keeps sensationalism at bay. He pays tribute to Kinsey as a pioneer. The drama, however, lies in the tensions between Kinsey's personal life and his scientific curiosity. It was his own sexual...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

    Being Julia Directed by Istvan SzaboFilms about great theatrical divas (so temperamental! So divine!) all strike familiar notes. This Somerset Maugham adaptation is no exception. But Annette Bening, playing the queen of the '30s London stage, makes it worth another go-round. As Julia Lambert, a married star whose midlife crisis hurls her into the arms of a callow young American (unsexy, miscast Shaun Evans), she delivers a cunning, beautifully modulated, seriocomic portrait of a woman who can't not act. Familiar, but like a good English tea service, satisfying.Enduring Love Directed by Roger MichellA man falls to his death in a hot-air-balloon accident, an event that will shatter the lives of the two witnesses. Joe (Daniel Craig), the man of science, is haunted with guilt; Jed (Rhys Ifans), a creepy religious zealot, stalks Joe, convinced that something deep has passed between them. The gifted Michell, working from a smart adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel, works up an unnerving...