David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • COOL IN THE SHADES

    "Ray," Taylor Hackford's ambitious, honest, music-drenched, handsomely mounted, wonderfully acted biopic of the great Ray Charles, has so much good stuff going for it that it ought to be a killer. So why did I keep looking at my watch? It certainly wasn't the music: you can never get tired of hearing Charles sing "I Got A Woman" and "What'd I Say." Nor does "Ray" fall into hagiography: while it pays tribute to Charles's refusal to regard his blindness as a handicap, his activism and his seminal contribution to music, Hackford isn't afraid to show us his flaws: the many infidelities (it's said the Raelettes got their name because they had to "let Ray"), the heroin abuse, the kiss-offs to old friends for the sake of a more lucrative deal. Genius isn't nice.Charles crossed over from blues to gospel to R&B to country to pop, from black to white audiences at a time when segregation reigned. And at the age of 7 he crossed over from the world of sight to the world of the sightless, not...
  • LIFE IS A CABERNET

    Alexander Payne has to be the most unassuming great filmmaker in America. And the better he gets, the less attention he calls to himself: there's not a frame in his wonderful new movie "Sideways" that asks you to marvel at the director's virtuosity. Even more than "About Schmidt," which was dominated by Jack Nicholson, a huge presence even inside the skin of a mild insurance salesman, "Sideways" stays resolutely life-size. And that, in this age of hype and hyperventilation, may be the most radical thing about it.This deceptively modest comedy leaves a long aftertaste. It follows two clueless middle-aged men making a last-hurrah tour of the Santa Barbara wine country before one of them gets married. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a failed novelist who teaches eighth-grade English. A tightly wound bundle of anxiety and self-loathing, he's still licking his wounds from a bitter divorce. But all his self-pity and uncertainties vanish in the face of his passion for wine. As an obsessive,...
  • TRANSITION

    Rodney Dangerfield, 82Dangerfield was the patron saint of losers everywhere. Dangerfield (born Jacob Cohen) didn't hit it big until his mid-40s, when he started roasting himself with lines like "I was very, very ugly. When I was born the doctor slapped my mother." Within a few years, he had come up with his trademark quip, "I get no respect," and Dangerfield became a hangdog icon, appearing regularly on TV and in films. He also opened one of the country's first comedy clubs, Dangerfields, and helped launch the careers of Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Carrey, for which he deserves more than a little respect.Janet Leigh, 77She took the most famous shower in movie history, and her demise in "Psycho" will always be the first thing that Leigh is remembered for. Also that she was the wife of Tony Curtis, and the mother of Jamie Lee. But movie fans who grew up with her in the ' 50s and ' 60s cherish her brittle blond beauty, the sharply chiseled face atop that voluptuous body. Leigh paid her dues...
  • OF DEALS AND DEVILS

    Dinah Lasker, who had briefly been a communist in her youth, agrees to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. She does it to save her husband Jake's career as a writer and director of Hollywood comedies. She does it to hold on to the Beverly Hills life she's provided for her two kids. In most books and films about the Hollywood blacklist era, Dinah would be cast as the villain. In "Cheat and Charmer," Elizabeth Frank's juicily melodramatic page-turner of a first novel, the informer turns out to be the most sympathetic character. Not because Dinah, or the author, approves of McCarthyism. It's that everyone else in this sprawling tale is far more accomplished than she in the arts of duplicity and selfishness. Dinah struggles with her conscience. Most of the others--including her loving but philandering husband, Jake --don't have one.Calamitous events result from Dinah's testimony, but the blacklist isn't really what the novel is about. It's the catalyst for an...
  • THE GLARE OF THE LIGHTS

    In Odessa, Texas, high school football is no casual pastime, it's a passion religious in its fervor. And the teenage boys who play for the Permian Panthers--Texas's most successful high-school team--are treated, in those all too brief years of glory, like gods. That is, when they play well. Journalist H. G. Bissinger followed the team through its 1988 season, and his best-selling book "Friday Night Lights" has become a kind of classic. It chronicles a town whose identity is inextricably tied to the fate of its team: an exhilarating, and terrifying, prospect.That ambivalent electricity courses through Peter Berg's bone-crunching, heart-twisting movie. "Friday Night Lights" gets you cheering for the Panthers, but it's a far cry from the usual rah-rah sports-movie formula--closer, in texture and ambition, to the documentary "Hoop Dreams" than to the pious "Remember the Titans." While its concentration rarely strays from the gridiron, it has lots to say about race, class, celebrity,...
  • SNAP JUDGMENT: MOVIES

    Stage Beauty Directed by Richard EyreIn 1660, when women were barred from appearing onstage, Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is England's most cherished performer of female parts. But the star's world collapses when Charles II (Rupert Everett) decrees that henceforth women will play women. It's a marvelous premise, and Crudup's serpentine performance has a venomous grace. But Jeffrey Hatcher's screenplay too often sacrifices psychological insight for bogus theatricality.Going Upriver: The Long War of John KerryDirected by George ButlerWhen charismatic 27-year-old Vietnam vet John Kerry testified against the war before a Senate committee, the Nixon White House knew it had a formidable enemy who had to be destroyed. (The man it recruited to do its dirty work, John O'Neill, is still at it--he's the founding member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.) Butler's stirring film wasn't made to refute its slanders, though it does. It's a richly documented history of Kerry's war- time experience...
  • SNAP JUDGMENT: MOVIES

    Shark TaleDirected by Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron and Rob LettermanNot up to "Shrek" level, but a feast for the eyes, DreamWorks' computer-animated underwater adventure is crammed to the gills with pop-culture in-jokes, movie quotations and a stellar vocal cast including Robert De Niro and Renee Zellweger. All this provides amusing distraction from a formulaic story. The odd couple in this mobster buddy movie are Will Smith's jive-talking (and tiresome) Oscar, a cleaner wrasse who lies his way to fame by claiming to be a shark killer, and Jack Black's Lenny, a timid vegetarian shark."Shark Tale" is full of invention, but under the colorful icing is a slightly stale cake.Motorcycle DiariesDirected by Walter SallesIn 1952, the asthmatic young Argentine medical student Ernesto Guevara (the compelling Gael Garcia Bernal) set off on a cranky motorcycle to explore South America with his pal Alberto Granado (scene-stealing Rodrigo de la Serna). Guevara--who would later become the legendary...
  • What The Huckabees?!

    Unlike Altman or Scorsese, who have instantly recognizable styles, David O. Russell ("Flirting With Disaster," "Three Kings") never takes you to the same place twice. He's a tough guy to pigeonhole or predict. Now, in his first film in five years, he pushes the envelope with the one-of-a-kind "I [Heart] Huckabees," a whacked-out philosophical comedy that stirs slapstick and metaphysics into a playfully frenetic froth. It's like a '30s screwball comedy that's gone to grad school.This is not an easy movie to explain: its protagonist, a tortured environmental activist named Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is in search of... well, The Meaning of Life. Or at least the meaning of his life. So, naturally, he hires two "existential detectives" to get to the bottom of his metaphysical case. The detectives--the husband-and-wife team Bernard and Vivian Jaffe--are played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, who make a daffily inspired comic couple. Spying on every aspect of Albert's life,...
  • Snap Judgment: Movies

    Infernal Affairs Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan MakFinally arriving stateside, this 2002 Hong Kong hit thriller has already spawned two sequels and a planned U.S. remake by Martin Scorsese. Tony Leung and Andy (not director Andrew) Lau star as two moles--Leung a cop posing as a gangster, Lau a gangster who's also a respected cop--each of whom needs to root out the other before his cover is blown. The pace and plot are dizzying, but the movie also works as a study of fractured identity: the two have led double lives so long they're no longer sure who they are. Expect to be confused for 10 minutes. Then sit back and enjoy the ride.A Dirty Shame Directed by John WatersLeave it to the raunchy, shameless Waters to concoct a comedy that features an entire town going into heat. Starring a fearless and hilarious Tracey Ullman as a square middle-class mom who gets a bump on the head that turns her into the embodiment of raging lust, this exercise in bad taste is the "Dawn of the Dead" of...
  • High-Society Girl

    She's no mere social climber," a character observes of Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's sumptuous condensation of "Vanity Fair." "She's a mountaineer." Scheming, beautiful, seductive and utterly self-serving, Becky--played with great verve and an impeccable English accent by Reese Witherspoon--is one of the most vivacious monsters in 19th-century literature. Her tenacious ascent from orphan to high-society shark allowed novelist William Makepeace Thackeray to cast his shrewd eye on the vanity and duplicity of an entire society.Some of what Thackeray intended comes through in Nair's literate, well-cast, handsomely shot epic. But Nair and Witherspoon pull back from the ferocity of Thackeray's portrait: they're afraid we won't find Becky Sharp likable enough. Yes, she's the most brilliant, bold and vibrant creature in this social panorama, but she should also be chilling. The movie turns her into a proto-feminist heroine--up to a point. But to do so means declawing Thackeray and draining...
  • HISTORY IN THE FAKING

    Leaving Aileen Wuornos and her murderously unglamorous ways far behind, Charlize Theron dons 1930s garb and vamps her way through "Head in the Clouds" as a French-American heiress, bohemian and international heartbreaker named Gilda Besse. Gilda's supposedly irresistible charms leave every man and woman prostrate at her feet. Her foremost devotee is the Irish-born Guy (Stuart Townsend), who falls under her spell as an undergrad at Cambridge and later rekindles his flaming devotion in Paris, where Gilda, now a photographer, shares a flat with Mia (Penelope Cruz), a Spanish model-stripper-nurse-activist with a limp. Soon all three are happily living together in what may or may not be a menage a trois (the movie is a bit coy). Reality intrudes in the form of the Spanish Civil War, followed by the even more inconvenient World War II. While conscience calls Guy and Mia to the battlefront, the hedonistic Gilda proclaims them all party poopers and stays behind to await her darkly ironic...
  • PAST THE BOILING POINT

    If talk radio and Fox TV are the preferred media of the right, film has emerged this year as the left's not-so-secret weapon. There's never been an election in which political documentaries played a significant role--until now.Michael Moore's incendiary "Fahrenheit 9/11" packed movie houses, but most of these new documentaries are meant for home viewing; theatrical distribution is just the icing on the cake. The major movie companies won't touch these films: Disney famously refused to release "Fahrenheit," and last week Warner Bros. announced it was pulling an antiwar documentary David O. Russell made to accompany the re-release of "Three Kings" both in theaters and on DVD, claiming it was "inappropriate" in a political season. And Sony got cold feet about the DVD of "The Control Room," a documentary on Al-Jazeera that is implicitly unsympathetic to the war in Iraq; Lions Gate will bring it out instead.In addition to "Fahrenheit" (DVD Oct. 5), this explosion of urgent and angry...
  • YOU GO, GIRL

    "She's no mere social climber," a character observes of Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's sumptuous condensation of "Vanity Fair." "She's a mountaineer." Scheming, beautiful, seductive and utterly self-serving, Becky--played with great verve and an impeccable English accent by Reese Witherspoon--is one of the most vivacious monsters in 19th-century literature. Her tenacious ascent from orphan to high-society shark allowed novelist William Makepeace Thackeray to cast his shrewd eye on the vanity and duplicity of an entire society. ...
  • PUTTING SPIKE ON THE SPOT

    In "She Hate Me," Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), a VP at a pharmaceutical company, is fired after he blows the whistle on his corrupt bosses. Jobless, he accepts an offer from ex-fiancee turned lesbian Fatima (Kerry Washington) to impregnate her and her girlfriend Alex (Dania Ramirez). Soon Jack's servicing lesbians for $10,000 a pop. Meanwhile he's subpoenaed by the FCC for his role in the corporate scandal.DAVID ANSEN: Your new movie is very ambitious. It takes on an enormous range of subjects. And though it's almost two and a half hours long, I was never bored--partly because I had no idea where it was going to go next. First I'm watching a story of corporate greed and whistle-blowing--with obvious parallels to Enron, etc.--then there's a scene where our hero runs into his ex-girlfriend...SPIKE LEE: Ex-fiancee.... ex-fiancee, sorry, who has become a lesbian. And all of a sudden it's a kind of sex comedy about a guy getting paid to impregnate lesbians.Uh-huh.I wrote down in my...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

    Collateral Directed by Michael MannGetting back to his noir-genre roots, the always stylish Mann casts Tom Cruise as a natty, gray-haired assassin who flies into L.A. with a checklist of five witnesses he must dispose of in one night. His unlucky accomplice is the cabdriver Max (Jamie Foxx)--also a pro at his job--who is forced to drive him on his rounds. Mann vividly captures the nocturnal pulse of East L.A. in this taut, confined game of cat and mouse. In the homestretch the thrills get too generic and farfetched for their own good. But the first two thirds are a knockout.The Corporation Directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer AbbottThis smart, informative and lively polemic makes a strong case for viewing the corporation--which enjoys the legal status of an individual--as a psychopath run amok. Chockablock with disturbing tales (Bechtel's attempts to privatize rainwater in Bolivia, for one), this clever screed never hides its leftist politics (Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore are...
  • JOAQUIN AFTER MIDNIGHT

    Director M. Night Shyamalan has made a fine career out of delayed gratification. In "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs" and his newest sleight of hand, "The Village," he stirs his pot of suspense with slow, steady strokes, keeping the flame low, gambling that audiences weaned on microwave-fast filmmaking can still savor a simmering narrative--and trusting in himself to deliver a full-boil payoff.In "The Village," the deliberate, dialogue-driven Shyamalan style gets transported to a late-19th-century American community, whose natural agrarian rhythms are slow to begin with and where no one uses contractions in his speech, considerably elongating the discourse. In this seemingly innocent village, the main topic is "Those We Do Not Speak Of," the terrifying, mysterious creatures who live in the surrounding forest. For years the townsfolk have maintained a truce with their enemies: the villagers don't enter the woods; the creatures don't cross their borders. But now there have...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

    Zatoichi Directed by Takeshi KitanoThe blind (and blond) swordsman Zatoichi is as legendary a character to Japanese audiences as James Bond is to us. The stone-faced writer-director-star "Beat" Takeshi, a legend himself, resurrects this icon with characteristically quirky zest. Complete with bloody swordplay, unexpected eruptions of slapstick, a cross-dressing geisha bent on revenge and the first 19th-century Japanese tap-dancing sequence I've ever seen, "Zatoichi" is a mix-and-match crowd-pleaser that shouldn't add up, but delightfully does.The Door in the Floor Directed by Tod WilliamsJeff Bridges is extraordinary as Ted Cole, a charming, womanizing author of children's books whose family has collapsed after the death of two sons. His wife (Kim Basinger) has been hollowed out by grief. His 4-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) obsesses over photos of her dead siblings. Based on part of John Irving's "A Widow for One Year," this hothouse tale of grief, sex and betrayal is told with a...
  • REVIEW, SEIZING THE THRONE

    Why, you might well ask, would anyone want to redo John Frankenheimer's great 1962 satirical thriller "The Manchurian Candidate"? Everyone knows it's folly to remake a classic. Well, so much for what everyone knows. Jonathan Demme's new "Manchurian Candidate" is a gourmet-popcorn movie--a hugely entertaining thriller shot through with dark shards of agony and paranoia. It takes nothing away from the original while delivering pleasures all its own.The setting has shifted to the present; the war that haunts our troubled hero, Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), is not Korea but the gulf war, where he and his men were ambushed in a nighttime raid in Kuwait. The survivors were saved by the heroics of Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), who has since advanced--with the help of his domineering, powerful senator mother, Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep)--to become a vice presidential candidate. But the official story doesn't jibe with Marco's recurring nightmares of what happened to his patrol-...
  • Making Sweet Music

    "If you're sad and like beer, I'm your lady," purrs Isabella Rossellini as Lady Port-Huntley, a flamboyant Winnipeg beer baroness, double amputee and sponsor of a global competition to determine which country has the world's most melancholy music. "The Saddest Music in the World," which is set in a snowbound, studio-created Winnipeg in the depths of the Great Depression, is itself anything but sad. Hilariously odd and prodigiously inventive, it springs from the eccentric mind of Guy Maddin, whose delirious visions have earned this singular Canadian filmmaker an international cult following.As his latest outrageous melodrama begins, you might think the movie was something found in a trunk circa 1924: the distressed black-and-white images seem to belong in an expressionist silent film. If gritty realism is your thing, the artifice-embracing Maddin is not for you. "The Saddest Music in the World" is suspended somewhere between camp, surrealism and Victorian melodrama. Two of the men...
  • THE IMPORTANCE OF KILLING BILL

    To the delight of some and the disappointment of others, "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" was essentially one show-stopping fight scene after another, as the revenge-minded Bride (Uma Thurman) eliminated the first two members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, not to mention countless guilty bystanders. Now she's got two more to go--Darryl Hannah's Elle Driver and Michael Madsen's Budd--before she reaches Bill himself (David Carradine), but "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" goes about its bloody business in a far more interesting way. It's still a wall-to-wall homage to the '70s spaghetti Westerns and kung fu movies that inspired the young Quentin Tarantino, and those who dismiss him for only making movies about movies will have all the ammunition they need. But the verbal virtuoso of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" is back. This is the Tarantino who isn't afraid to bring the action to a full halt and luxuriate in tall tales that take their sweet time getting to the point."Vol. 2" fills in the...
  • SNAP JUDGMENT

    Starsky & HutchDirected by Todd PhillipsThis spoof of the 1970s buddy-cop TV show is the movie equivalent of a Barcalounger: it's not about working hard. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson have become a bankable comic duo, with the breezy Wilson serving as a nice foil for the kvetchy Stiller, and director Phillips ("Old School") plays the same card here. There are no ideas, just repartee. Snoop Dogg, as a superfly snitch, and Vince Vaughn, as a drug lord, are wasted in obvious supporting roles. It's harmless fun--and too lazy to be more.Dirty Dancing: Havana NightsDirected by Guy FerlandIn Cuba on the eve of the revolution, a brainy American 18-year-old (Romola Garai), whose father is a Ford executive, finds passion in the arms of a sexy Cuban waiter (Diego Luna), her secret partner at the national dance competition. The Afro-Cuban rhythms are infectious, and though the leads aren't great hoofers, JoAnn Jansen's sinuous choreography cleverly disguises the fact. This sweet, sometimes...
  • SO WHAT'S THE GOOD NEWS?

    I have no doubt that Mel Gibson loves Jesus. From the evidence of "The Passion of the Christ," however, what he seems to love as much is the cinematic depiction of flayed, severed, swollen, scarred flesh and rivulets of spilled blood, the crack of bashed bones and the groans of someone enduring the ultimate physical agony. This peculiar, deeply personal expression of the filmmaker's faith is a far cry from the sentimental, pious depictions of Christ that popular culture has often served up. Relentlessly savage, "The Passion" plays like the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade. The film that has been getting rapturous advance raves from evangelical Christians turns out to be an R-rated inspirational movie no child can, or should, see. To these secular eyes at least, Gibson's movie is more likely to inspire nightmares than devotion.It's the sadism, not the alleged anti-Semitism, that is most striking. (For the record, I don't think Gibson is anti-Semitic; but those inclined toward...
  • The Barbarian Selections

    Certainly the biggest surprise in this year's Oscar nominations were the four major nods to Brazil's "City of God," a hard-hitting look at the slum children of Rio. The movie was nominated for directing, editing, screenplay and cinematography. Funny thing is, last year Brazil submitted "City of God" as its entry in the foreign-film category--and it didn't even make the final five. (Movies qualify for foreign-film consideration the year they open in their home country. They are eligible in all other categories the year in which they open in the United States.)The foreign-film nominating process has been a scandal for decades. This year, things have finally reached the boiling point. In a front-page story in Variety last week, many Academy members were calling for a revamping of the foreign-film committee. A similar fuss erupted a few years back over the documentary selections. The documentary branch cleaned up its act, revised the way films were chosen, and this year came up with...
  • THREE-WAY TANGLE IN PARIS

    Forty years ago, in his ravishing breakthrough movie "Before the Revolution," Bernardo Bertolucci created a hero torn between his desire to be a revolutionary and his sensuality. The same feverish ambivalence underscores "The Dreamers," his eroticized ode to the youthful passions of Paris in 1968. The three protagonists--the American student Matthew (Michael Pitt) and the inseparable, highly theatrical French twins Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green)--are swept up in the revolutionary fever that would lead to riots across the country, but their deepest passion is reserved for movies. Cinephiles to the bone, they fight over the relative merits of Keaton versus Chaplin, act out scenes from "Queen Christina," run full tilt through the Louvre exactly like the trio in Godard's "Band of Outsiders."While the twins' parents are off in the country, they invite Matthew to live in their Paris apartment. Shut off from the world outside, they engage in a mutual seduction. They shed...
  • THE VISIONARIES

    Early on in the conversation that follows between five of this year's most formidable filmmakers, "Cold Mountain's" writer-director Anthony Minghella points out the absurdity of talking about "Return of the King" and "Lost in Translation" in the same sentence. One, of course, is vast, the other minimalist. But both films are indisputably the products of the singular vision of their directors. One is taken from a classic book and the other is based on Sofia Coppola's original idea, but the triumph of Peter Jackson's epic is that it is no less personal a project than Coppola's autobiographically inspired, jet-lagged encounter. These movies are their directors.It wasn't all that long ago that people scoffed at the notion of directors as visionary artists or "auteurs." Sure, filmmaking is a collaborative art form, but these days nobody seriously doubts that when great movies happen, it's because of the eyes and soul of the man or woman behind the camera.It's revealing and highly unusual...
  • Sundance 2004: The Buzz and the Bores

    The Sundance Film Festival in snowy Park City, Utah, is many things to many people, but its relationship to reality is open to debate. Here, if nowhere else, people fight to get into screenings of the latest indie movies and documentaries; they're willing to stand for an hour in the freezing cold to see a film without stars made for the price of a used Honda Civic; they burst into rapturous applause for movies Hollywood would never dream of releasing. This is all wonderful, but deceptive. The sorry truth is that these same people wouldn't rush out to see these movies if and when they opened in their hometowns. Back at sea level, different rules apply. Over the years, many distributors have learned this lesson painfully. Caught up in the hysterical enthusiasm of Sundance, they have spent large amounts of money on movies that, it turned out, nobody in the real world wanted to watch. (The most egregious example was the $10 million Castle Rock forked over for the forgettably sappy "Care...
  • Wipe Off That Smile

    Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) arrives at Wellesley College in the fall of 1953 to teach art history. She's a bohemian from Berkeley, an idealist who, we're told, "wanted to make a difference." In case you missed it the first time, Katherine says it again: "I want to make a difference." This is not going to be easy, because, according to "Mona Lisa Smile," Wellesley College 50 years ago was little more than a finishing school run for, and by, snippety East Coast snobs. The girls--especially the viperous blonde Betty (Kirsten Dunst)--are eager to cut this interloper down to size. Not enlightened like the proto-feminist Ms. Watson, all they really care about is landing a spouse and becoming model housewives for their powerful WASP husbands. Guess what? The free-thinking Julia melts their East Coast frost with her West Coast independence, shows them the error of their ways and teaches them there is more to life than preparing cocktails for their men.What can one say about a movie...
  • Review: The House Of Pain

    At the heart of the harrowing "House of Sand and Fog" is a battle over the ownership of a house. The seaside home has been taken away from Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), a recovering addict who's neglected to pay her taxes. She's desperate to get it back from the new owner, Colonel Behrani (Ben Kingsley), who bought it from the city for a rock-bottom price. For Behrani, a fiercely proud Persian refugee struggling to reclaim his former fortune, the house--which he plans to fix and resell--is his family's only hope. He's as determined to keep it as she is to get it back.Vadim Perelman's film elicits our sympathy, as well as our wariness, for both dispossessed protagonists. Kingsley conveys the violence lurking beneath Behrani's hatchet-sharp will. Connelly captures Kathy's unnerving volatility. She becomes even more reckless when she falls off the wagon, and the danger heightens when a married cop (Ron Eldard), who's fallen for her, uses the law for his own ends. The climax is a tragic...
  • Peter Pans Out

    The new live-action version of "Peter Pan" doesn't try to come up with a radical new twist on the tale, the way Spielberg did when he cast 40-year-old Robin Williams to play a corporate Peter in the misguided "Hook." Directed by the Australian P.J. Hogan ("Muriel's Wedding," "My Best Friend's Wedding"), this version tries to be faithful the original J. M. Barrie material. Yet it does feel different from other "Peter Pans." In the musical and almost every live-action version, Peter has been played by a girl or a woman. Here he's an actual boy (14-year-old Jeremy Sumpter), and this turns out to make all the difference. For now the Peter/Wendy relationship has a romantic and sexual undercurrent that's palpable, and it allows us to look at the fable with fresh eyes.The golden-locked Sumpter is an American, and the only cast member without a British accent. This is surely no accident; it serves to further offset his anarchic energy from the veddy British members of the Darling family...
  • Epic Proportions

    If there's an image that defines this holiday movie season--a period that has nothing to do with Christmas, and everything to do with Oscars--it's the grave, grandiose spectacle of troops rushing into battle. From the left, flanks of Union soldiers charge across a muddy Virginia battlefield toward a horrible confrontation with their Confederate foes ("Cold Mountain"). From the right, sword-wielding 19th-century samurai speed on their mounts across green Japanese knolls into the cannon fire of the emperor's Army ("The Last Samurai"). From bottom to top, seen from a flying God's-eye view, a numberless mass of human warriors streaks across the plains of Gondor as the even larger forces of Sauron's army descend for the slaughter ("The Return of the King").These panoramas are thrilling, terrifying and expensive. It's been a long time since Hollywood has painted so many pictures on so grand a scale. For decades the historical epic was thought to be an extinct species, left for dead back...
  • Snap Judgement: Movies

    Stuck on YouDirected by Bobby and Peter FarrellyFurther exploring their obsession with physical and mental extremities, the Farrelly brothers cast Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins Bob and Walt Tenor, who give up their comfy lives as hamburger-joint chefs on Martha's Vineyard to pursue Walt's dream of acting. What first feels like thin skit material gets funnier and sweeter. Damon and Kinnear make a terrific team. But don't expect knee-slapping gross-out humor. Behind the hit-or-miss gags, this is really a love story about two people who can't live without each other.Bad SantaDirected by Terry ZwigoffAn antidote to forced holiday cheer, this scabrously funny misanthropic comedy is not for the whole family. A magnificently debauched Billy Bob Thornton stars as the world's most inappropriate department-store Santa-and thief. "Bad Santa" never goes soft, even when a pudgy kid (Brett Kelly) becomes Thornton's tag-along admirer. Zwigoff doesn't hype up the gags, and his...