David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • Lech Fall In Love

    The premise of Nancy Meyers's romantic comedy is so sure-fire it's amazing (though not really surprising, given how close it cuts to home) that Hollywood hasn't tackled it before. While dating a sexy twentysomething girl, an old rake famous for never dating any woman over 30 finally falls in love. Not with the girl, however; with her mother. This is a concept a few million women are going to find irresistible.In "Something's Gotta Give," Jack Nicholson is the horny, Viagra-assisted old dog Harry Sanborn, a successful, never-married 63-year-old entrepreneur who never seems to work. Amanda Peet plays the lithe young art auctioneer Marin he's hoping to seduce at her family's beach home in the Hamptons. Diane Keaton is her divorced mom, the svelte, famous playwright Erica Barry, who wasn't supposed to be at the house this weekend. That's the first curve Harry is thrown. Then, on the verge of seducing Marin, he collapses with a heart attack, and is forced to recuperate under Erica's...
  • Reeling In A 'Fish'

    If the garrulous Edward Bloom's (Albert Finney) tall tales are to be believed--and his skeptical son, Will (Billy Crudup), has heard them too many times to believe a word--when Bloom was a boy in Ashton, Ala., he looked into the eye of the town witch and saw a vision of his own death. That's how he knew that when he left town to pursue his fortune, accompanied by a giant, he wouldn't die in a spider-infested forest en route to a secret backwoods town where no one ever wears shoes. That's how he knew he'd survive the Korean War, making a daring escape with the help of two beautiful singing conjoined twins. But now Will's father is on his deathbed, and his estranged son returns home to make a final attempt to reconcile fact with fiction.As you can see, Tim Burton's "Big Fish" has a high whimsy quotient. This candy-colored fable treads a fine line between the wacky and the elegiac, and doesn't always keep its balance. With Ewan McGregor playing the young Bloom, it jumps back and forth...
  • Bring On The Light

    You might expect from the man who made "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father" that a movie called "In America" would be something epic, gritty, grounded in historical struggle. In fact, Jim Sheridan's wondrous new movie, which he wrote with his daughters Naomi and Kirsten, is none of these things. It's a lyrical, intimately personal account of an immigrant Irish family newly arrived in contemporary New York, loosely based on his own experience. But the movie's slight, anecdotal structure is deceptive; you wouldn't guess how big an emotional wallop it packs.The head of the family is Johnny (Paddy Considine), an aspiring actor whose liveliness and determination are but a thin curtain over a hollowed-out heart, which has never recovered from the accidental death of his son. Sarah (Samantha Morton), his wife, is equally haunted by the tragedy, but she's the one with the strength to hold the family together when Johnny, who's taken work as a cabdriver, comes home jobless from...
  • Holes In The Heart

    Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's powerful debut film, "Amores Perros," left little doubt about the man's ferocious talent, and his first film in English, the equally intense "21 Grams," certainly confirms it. Like the three-part "Amores," his new movie (also written by Guillermo Arriaga) concerns the strangely interlocked fates of three characters, their lives brought together by a tragic accident. But just how these three people connect--Paul (Sean Penn), a professor of mathematics awaiting a heart transplant; Christina (Naomi Watts), a recovered drug addict whose new life as a wife and mother is shattered by the death of her husband and two daughters, and Jack (Benicio Del Toro), an ex-con and born-again Christian struggling to tame his demons--takes time to discover.Gonzalez Inarritu and Arriaga have constructed their movie like a jigsaw puzzle, or the broken shards of a pot that has to be pieced together and made whole again. Chronology is tossed to the winds; the viewer has to...
  • City Of Angels

    How in heaven's name do you describe "Angels in America" without taking up this entire magazine? After all, this is a play about Jews and Mormons, gays and straights, New York and Antarctica, the ozone, Ethel Rosenberg, AIDS, African-Americans, Reagan Republicans, "Cats"--and we haven't even mentioned the angels, or a devil named Roy Cohn. When "Angels" opened on Broadway in 1993, it blew the roof off American theater. Here, at last, was a play that wasn't afraid to take on the whole world--and the afterworld--with thrilling language and stagecraft, and wicked humor that would have made Oscar Wilde proud. Tony Kushner, then only 36, won a Pulitzer Prize and two Tony awards. See why we're afraid we can't do it justice?Which is why we've enlisted some expert help. On Dec. 7, HBO will debut a six-hour, $60 million TV version of "Angels." Directed by Mike Nichols, HBO's "Angels" features a dream-team cast headed by Al Pacino (Cohn), Meryl Streep (one of the Mormons) and Emma Thompson ...
  • Snap Judgement: Movies

    Shattered GlassDirected by Billy RayWhether or not you know the story of Stephen Glass, the young writer at The New Republic exposed for fabricating stories, this account of his rise and fall is a fascinating tale of a journalistic con artist. Hayden Christensen, atoning for "Attack of the Clones," is smarmily terrific as the unctuous Glass, and gifted chameleon Peter Sarsgaard, as the stiff, unpopular editor who exposed him, is a refreshing movie hero. Writer-director Ray has a no-fuss style that is quietly, thoroughly gripping.ElephantDirected by Gus Van SantThough it ends with an eruption of violence reminiscent of the Columbine massacre, Van Sant's Cannes prize winner has no interest in explaining school violence. Instead, he offers a lyrical, elliptical portrait of a suburban high school (using nonprofessional actors) that captures the texture of teenage life with haunting verisimilitude. There's much to argue with, but this unconventional, oddly beautiful film resonates in...
  • Whoa--That's Plenty

    After "The Matrix Reloaded," there was still some question about whether Keanu Reeves's Neo was The One, but it had become clear that the Wachowski brothers were decidedly mortal. Their movie made piles of money, but the franchise, for all its fancy philosophical aspirations, had lost its mystique. Six months later it would be hard to find anyone who hadn't adjusted his expectations for "The Matrix Revolutions," the trilogy's finale.The brothers pick up just where they left off, with Zion bracing itself for the ultimate attack of the Sentinels, and Neo emerging from his comatose state to continue his quest to save humanity. If you missed the second part, you will be hopelessly lost. Even if you saw it, expect more confusion than your average action movie delivers. Now it's not just a matter of man vs. machine, but humans and programs and machines with competing interests. To further complicate matters, The Oracle has changed appearances (with Mary Alice taking over the role...
  • Playing To The Crowd

    Here's a verbal Rorschach test: when you hear the term "crowd-pleasing" attached to a movie, does it seem a recommendation or a dis? How you respond to this may determine your reaction to Richard Curtis's "Love Actually," a panoramic, star-studded British romantic comedy that is very eager to be liked. Curtis is the talented fellow who wrote "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill" (not to mention "Bridget Jones's Diary"). This is the first feature he's both written and directed, and it seems designed to guarantee he'll get to direct another: failure is not an option. In pursuit of laughs and lumps in the throat, Curtis employs every clever or hoary trick he's ever learned, freely pillaging his own movies and others'. Offering up nine loosely connected love stories, Curtis has whipped up a heaping meal of cinematic comfort food, sweet as English pudding and just spicy enough to earn an R rating.The movie baldly announces its "love is everywhere" theme with a montage of...
  • Plays: Jackman's 'Oz' Fest

    Hugh Jackman may not quite be in the first rank of macho heartthrobs, but he's pretty darned close. He turned heads as the hunk in "Swordfish" and a whole lot more as Wolverine in the "X-Men" movies. But one hit away from movie stardom, Jackman has confounded expectations by taking a leading role in a Broadway musical.What's surprising, and conceivably risky, about Jackman's Broadway debut in "The Boy From Oz" is that he's playing the undisguisedly gay disco-era darling Peter Allen, the Australian singer-songwriter ("I Go to Rio," "Don't Cry Out Loud") who was discovered by Judy Garland and then later wed to her daughter Liza Minnelli before dying of AIDS in 1992. Jackman slips inside the Hawaiian-shirted, booty-shaking skin of his fellow Aussie with carefree flair and high-voltage charm. Jackman's a better dancer than Allen, and he can belt his songs out of the park. His exuberant performance is a gallant gesture to his countryman, whose outback-to-riches saga (somewhat cleaned up...
  • Pulp Friction

    SYNOPSIS: On her wedding day in El Paso, the Bride (Uma Thurman), her unborn child and her entire wedding party are slaughtered by assassins. She alone survives, and after emerging from four years in a coma in a hospital (where her comatose body has been sold to redneck rapists), vows revenge on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which the Bride was once a member. Its leader is Bill (David Carradine), the father of her dead child. One by one, she tracks down her enemies: Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), now a housewife, and O'Ren-Ishii (Lucy Liu), head of the Tokyo underworld (whose own backstory is revealed in an anime sequence). To get to O'Ren, the Bride must take on her army of masked gangsters and her lethal associates. Tarantino divides his story--an homage to the samurai and kung fu movies, blaxploitation flicks and spaghetti Westerns of the '70s--into chapters, leaping forward and backward in time. "Volume 2" is due out in February.DAVID ANSEN: All right. Let's start...
  • The Walking Wounded

    In a working-class Boston neighborhood, a young boy named Dave Boyle is playing stickball on the street with his friends Sean and Jimmy when he's abducted by men posing as cops. Over the course of the next few days, until he escapes, he will be repeatedly molested. The echo of this life-shattering event reverberates through every brooding frame of Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River," a haunted thriller of disturbing power. Dave (Tim Robbins) is now a father and a married man (Marcia Gay Harden plays his wife), but he walks with the stunned shuffle of a man who's been emotionally lobotomized. The three childhood friends have grown apart. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con who runs a convenience store and wields power in the neighborhood. The upwardly mobile Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a homicide detective whose wife has left him.Violence split them apart, and violence brings them back together when the dead body of Jimmy's 19-year-old daughter is found in a park. Sean and his partner (Laurence...
  • What's The Big Deal?

    Have you ever had the feeling that the movie you are watching is not the same one everyone else is seeing? There are plenty of movies that the public adores that most critics disdain, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about "The Station Agent."AT THE Sundance Film Festival, Tom McCarthy's first feature won the Audience Award as the favorite feature film and the jury--the same folks who wisely selected "American Splendor" as best film--deemed McCarthy's screenplay best in show. And now it has opened commercially to almost entirely favorable reviews from critics high-, mid- and lowbrow. When I saw the movie at a small screening, I overheard an awed audience member say that he'd be a happy man if he could ever make a movie half as brilliant. To which my reaction was, and still is, "huh?"Indeed, as I was watching this small, intimate drama unfold, "huh?" kept popping into my head with distracting regularity. "The Station Agent" is far from the worst film I've seen this...
  • Snap Judgement: Movies

    Anything Else Directed by Woody AllenA return to comic form after the woeful "Hollywood Ending." The anxiety-ridden New York milieu, the Billie Holiday songs, the shrink jokes are familiar, but this time we see it all played out by a new generation. Jason Biggs takes the Woody role, as a guilt-ridden, pushover comedy writer besotted with a neurotic, withholding Christina Ricci, while Woody plays Biggs's paranoid, half-mad mentor, who thinks the Upper East Side is crawling with Nazis. Relieved of his courting duties, Allen gives his funniest performance in ages.The Rundown Directed by Peter BergThe Rock makes his bid to be the new Arnold in this comic bone-cruncher. (Arnold himself has a two-second cameo.) He's sent to Brazil to bring back rich kid Seann William Scott, and ends up fighting the private army of bad guy Christopher Walken while searching for ancient treasure. The twist is that the Rock refuses to use guns--until he's really, really provoked. He and Scott work up some...
  • Review: 'A' Is For Awesome

    Let's come right out and say it: "School of Rock" made me laugh harder than any movie I've seen this year. The giggles start coming right at the get-go, when Jack Black, as the fiercely committed but less than inspired rock-and-roller Dewey Finn, howls his way through a song, then hurls himself shirtless and triumphant into the mosh pit... where the horrified crowd declines to catch him.It takes much more than the world's indifference to dampen Dewey's passion. "I serve society by rocking!" this unreconstructed slacker announces--shortly before he's dumped by his band. Meanwhile, his nerdy substitute-teacher roommate Ned (screenwriter Mike White), egged on by his nagging girlfriend (Sarah Silverman), threatens to evict him unless he forks over the rent. Desperate for cash, he steals Ned's name and his gig subbing at a prestigious prep school, where he instructs his startled students to take recess all day. But when he discovers the kids have musical skills, his great idea is born:...
  • Scarlett Fever

    Actors are taught early on to praise their director in interviews, but Scarlett Johansson, star of Sofia Coppola's quietly enchanted comedy "Lost in Translation," must've skipped that lesson. Asked what she thought of Coppola's first film, "The Virgin Suicides," the 18-year-old Johansson pauses. "Um." Another pause. "Well, it's hard to do an adaptation of a book, especially that one. I wasn't crazy about 'Virgin Suicides.' I think 'Lost in Translation' is a much more mature film for Sofia." Finally, an actress who saves her acting for the movies.Johansson's unvarnished answer makes sense: she's always radiated a throaty gravity and projected a blunt honesty on screen. She was preternaturally wise as an 11-year-old in "Manny & Lo"; poignant as the withdrawn, badly injured girl in "The Horse Whisperer" (The Hoarse Whisperer could describe her distinctive voice) and memorably contemptuous as an outsider in "Ghost World," alongside Thora Birch. Though the native New Yorker has been...
  • Snap Judgments

    Matchstick MenDirected by Ridley ScottAbandoning his epic mode, the stylish Scott serves up a tricky tale about a tic-ridden, obsessive-compulsive L.A. con man (Nicolas Cage, in fine frazzled form) who can't leave his spotless house without meds. His criminal career is disrupted by his discovery of a long-lost 14-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman), who seems to have inherited her dad's gift for the grift. "Matchstick Men" glides from comedy to suspense to poignance, arriving at a destination you might not suspect. But Scott's finesse can't entirely disguise the mechanical nature of Nicholas and Ted Griffin's script, which has one too many twists for its own good. Fun while it lasts, but it's a bit of a con job itself.So CloseDirected by Corey YuenA delirious example of grrrl power, Hong Kong style. After watching professional assassins Lynn (Shu Qi) and Susan (Zhao Wei) wreak kung fu and high-tech havoc on their enemies while being pursued by the equally impressive female cop Hong...
  • 'Our Town' Via Compton

    For the past year the documentary "OT: Our Town" has been bowling over audiences at film festivals around the United States. Now Scott Hamilton Kennedy's movie is finally being released to the public. It's been a banner year for documentaries at the box office--the record-breaking "Bowling for Columbine," "Spellbound," "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Winged Migration" have all been unexpected hits. "OT" deserves a place alongside them.The film chronicles a high-school production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." What makes this production special is that it's the first play in 20 years put on by the students of Dominguez High School in infamous Compton, California. It's a school where nothing matters but basketball, where all the students are African-American or Hispanic, where there is no money for the show, no stage in sight, and rehearsals have to be conducted in the cafeteria. How could these kids, all too familiar with the sound of gunfire, possibly relate to Wilder's folksy New...
  • DOCUMENTARY: LOOK WHO'S IN 'TOWN'

    For the past year the documentary "OT: Our Town" has been bowling over audiences at film festivals around the country. Now Scott Hamilton Kennedy's movie is finally being released to the public. It's been a banner year for documentaries at the box office--the record-breaking "Bowling for Columbine," "Spellbound," "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Winged Migration" have all been unexpected hits. "OT" deserves a place alongside them.The film chronicles a high-school production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." What makes this production special is that it's the first play in 20 years put on by the students of Dominguez High School in infamous Compton, Calif. It's a school where nothing matters but basketball, where all the students are African-American or Hispanic, where there is no money for the show, no stage in sight, and rehearsals have to be conducted in the cafeteria. How could the kids in this school, all too familiar with the sound of gunfire, possibly relate to Wilder's folksy...
  • MOM IS TEEN FOR A DAY

    "Freaky Friday" is the latest update of Mary Rodgers's beloved 1972 children's book in which a mother and daughter exchange bodies for a day. Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris played the parts in the 1976 Disney movie. In this Disney remake, Lindsay Lohan is 15-year-old Anna Coleman, a surly high-school student and garage-band guitarist; Jamie Lee Curtis is her widowed mom, Tess, a stressed-out, multitasking psychologist on the verge of remarriage.When an ancient Chinese hex kicks in, they wake to discover how devastatingly unprepared they are to live each other's life. Tess, in her daughter's body, is hopeless at both guitar and algebra; Anna, horrified to find herself wearing her mom's middle-aged face, is inept at comforting Tess's neurotic patients. (When in doubt, Tess advises her, just say, "But how do you feel about that?") More ambiguous complications arise when Jake (Chad Michael Murray) the motorcycle-riding heartthrob Anna swoons for, falls for Anna's soul after all....
  • TRANSITION

    At a ceremony last year paying tribute to the career of British movie director John Schlesinger--an event he was too ill to attend--Dustin Hoffman said of the man who made the Oscar-winning "Midnight Cowboy," "He loved actors more than anyone I ever worked with." Actors gave back their best to Schlesinger: Hoffman and Jon Voight in the sexually pioneering 1969 "Cowboy"; Alan Bates in "A Kind of Loving"; Julie Christie, who played her first leading role for Schlesinger in "Billy Liar" and won an Oscar as a hollow, ambitious model in "Darling"; Dirk Bogarde, at his very best in that same film; Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson, superbly subtle in "Sunday Bloody Sunday," one of the first films to treat homosexuality with matter-of-fact maturity; Sean Penn, spectacular as a dope-addled spy in "The Falcon and the Snowman." He reached the height of his commercial success with the 1976 thriller "Marathon Man," famous for the sadistic dentistry performed by Laurence Olivier on Hoffman....
  • Snap Judgement

    Tomb Raider: The Cradle of LifeDirected by Jan de BontNobody would claim that the first "Tomb Raider" was a tough act to follow, and this action-crammed sequel is a definite step up. The tale has the silly/ solemn flamboyance of an old Saturday-matinee serial, as Lady Croft (Angelina Jolie, looking swell) tries to find Pandora's box before an evil scientist (Ciaran Hinds) gets there first. It's not half bad, with cool locations and a great stunt leap from the top of a Hong Kong high-rise. Unlike the wink-winking "Charlie's Angels," "Croft 2" mostly, and wisely, keeps a straight face.CampDirected by Todd GraffA hilarious, rousing musical comedy set at a summer camp where nobody plays sports and everybody worships Stephen Sondheim. Writer-director Graff went to a theater camp when he was a kid; it shows in the dead-on details and the deep sympathy he has for these misfit showbiz kids. The boys, natch, are all gay, except for heartthrob Vlad (Daniel Letterle), the narcissistic love...
  • Summer's Mane Event

    A lot of people who didn't give a fig about horse racing--and a lot who did--couldn't put down Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit," and for good reason. It was a too-good-to-be-true story that was true, with an underdog Thoroughbred and three unforgettable humans at its center: the tenacious, hard-luck jockey Red Pollard, abandoned by his parents at a young age; the taciturn trainer Tom Smith, a Westerner with an almost mystic understanding of the equine psyche, and owner Charles Howard, who built his fortune selling Buicks and used his salesman's savvy to help turn Seabiscuit into the most popular sports figure, two- or four-legged, of his time. The challenge in adapting this best seller to the screen is that there's too much good stuff; you could build a whole movie around any one of these guys.Writer-director Gary Ross ("Pleasantville") homes in on the wounds that these three outcasts shared, and finds a tale of salvation: how each, in his way, was healed and made whole by this...
  • And A Bottle Of Eyeliner

    Jack Sparrow is one very strange pirate, and thank heaven for that. As Johnny Depp plays him, with Cockney accent, kohl-blackened eyes and a prancing brio that wouldn't be out of place in a Christopher Street parade, he's by far the best reason to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Depp gave us a glimpse of his comic finesse in the 1995 "Don Juan DeMarco," and here--in a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced high-seas adventure that incorporates roaring cannons, oddball comedy, a love story and more than a touch of the supernatural--Depp unleashes his theatrical bravado. He's hilarious.Sparrow teams up with blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to rescue the beautiful daughter (Keira Knightley) of the governor of Port Royal. She's been kidnapped by Sparrow's pirate nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who thinks she can dispel an ancient curse that has turned him and his greedy, grimy crew into the undead. And so on. "Pirates of the Caribbean" has its ups and downs,...
  • A Very Independent Woman

    Amid the heartfelt tributes, the proclamations of her dignity and independence, and her importance as a role model for women, we are in danger of forgetting how wonderfully funny Katharine Hepburn was. Before she started playing love-starved spinsters and feisty dowagers, before she became an official legend of the silver screen, Hepburn was the most exquisite romantic comedienne of her time, and it was a time--the 1930s and '40s--when Hollywood comedy sparkled brightest.The day after Hepburn died I went to the video store in search of Howard Hawks's 1938 "Bringing Up Baby," perhaps the screwiest and most sublime of all screw-ball comedies. As great as she is in "Alice Adams," "Little Women," "Holiday," "The Philadelphia Story," "Woman of the Year," "Adam's Rib" and "Pat and Mike"--not to mention her lacerating, tragic performance as Mary Tyrone in "Long Day's Journey Into Night"--this was the Hepburn whose company I most craved. She was 31, and from the moment we first glimpse her...
  • Ms. Witherspoon Goes To The Dogs

    Reese Witherspoon had an ardent, if cultish, fan club before "Legally Blonde," the sleeper hit of summer '01. But after her turn as Elle Woods, Harvard Law School's most fashion-obsessed graduate, Witherspoon became practically a franchise unto herself. Elle was a heroine so amusingly irresistible that "Legally Blonde 2: Red White & Blonde" seemed a foregone conclusion. This was a character we wanted more of.So it gives me no pleasure at all to report that "LB2" is a stinker. Invoking the memory of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (ill-advisedly, as it turns out), the film sends Elle off to the Capitol in a new pink suit and a newfound froth of political fervor over animal rights. (Her search for her pet Chihuahua Bruiser's biological parents--huh?--had led her to a cosmetics factory where Bruiser's mom was being cruelly used as a guinea pig.) Naturally the entrenched Washington politicos have never seen the likes of this Bel Air expat, and they condescendingly brush her off as ...
  • Return To Circuit City

    The machines don't give up easy. Once a decade, they send a cyborg from the future back in time to kill John Connor. They first tried, and failed, in 1984 in "The Terminator," when Connor was just a fetus in his mother's womb--and James Cameron was not yet King of the World. They failed again in 1991 in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" when Connor was a teenager and Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg was reprogrammed from villain to good guy.Now here we are in 2003. Connor (Nick Stahl) has become a haunted fugitive, and an even deadlier manhunter is sent to destroy him, the shape-shifting T-X (Kristanna Loken). Not your usual dumb-blond robot, she emerges full born from a Rodeo Drive store window, a metallic mannequin with inflatable breasts, the sullen stride of a Swedish supermodel and murderous intentions. Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, wearing sunglasses and leather jacket, is the well-oiled Arnold, still programmed with an unaccountable Austrian accent. Let's get ready to...
  • Snap Judgement

    TELEVISIONDead Like MeFridays at 10 p.m. ET, Showtime.The cable network's latest exercise in HBO envy raises at least one compelling question: is it possible to take a show seriously after the main character is killed off in the first 10 minutes by a toilet seat falling from the Mir space station? After her untimely death, 18-year-old Georgia Lass (Ellen Muth) finds afterlife employment as a "grim reaper"--basically, she's the welcome wagon for the newly dead--and, along the way, learns to appreciate the life she no longer has. "Dead Like Me" wants to be "Six Feet Under's" kooky kid brother, but this witless, graceless series is dead on arrival.Nip/TuckPremieres July 22 at 10 p.m., FX.Plastic surgeons. Miami. Cable TV. We are sooo there. "Nip/Tuck," a drama about a pair of breast men, one an amoral playboy (Julian McMahon), the other a good-hearted square (Dylan Walsh), boasts the most sensational--and sensationalistic--hook for a series in recent memory. So it's hardly fair to...
  • A Kinda Lethal Weapon

    The buddy movie/action comedy "Hollywood Homicide," with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett, is nothing if not a highly marketable commodity. Unfortunately, that's about all it is--a package designed to be sold. As a movie, it's oddly listless from the get-go, when odd-couple LAPD partners Ford and Hartnett show up at the scene of a rap-club murder and the discussion turns to their clashing dietary preferences. The grumpy old vet, Joe Gavilan (Ford), is a red-meat guy--hamburger, no mayo. The neophyte, K. C. Calden (Hartnett), wants a veggie sandwich--with bean sprouts, of course. How are these guys ever gonna get along, much less solve a murder case? Are we laughing yet?K.C.'s heart isn't into detective work. He moonlights as a yoga instructor whose students, every one of 'em, are lithe young women eager for some after-school instruction. But what he really wants to do is act. The haggard, debt-ridden Joe also has a sideline selling real estate, resulting in many desperate cell-phone...
  • Crash! Bash! A Smash?

    Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), the pent-up protagonist of Ang Lee's "The Hulk," is sitting on a volcano of repressed rage, and when it finally erupts he discovers an id the size of King Kong. Bruce, like the heroes of most Freudian dramas, is suppressing a buried primal trauma, images of an Oedipal nightmare he can't quite remember. Anyone who sees "The Hulk," however, will have a hard time forgetting its pristine, powerful, surprisingly beautiful images, which alternate between intimate close-ups, vast vistas and kaleidoscopic split screens. You must have known the maker of "Sense and Sensibility" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" wouldn't deliver your normal popcorn movie. He hasn't. Dark, stately, with aspirations to tragic grandeur, "The Hulk" is a fascinating synthesis: something old, something new, something borrowed, something... green.It's also a love story (Jennifer Connelly is Betty Ross, touchingly torn between desire and horror) and a meditation on fathers and sons (Nick...
  • Documentary: A One-Book Wonder

    It's rare enough when a documentary achieves cult status. Rarer still when it actually changes lives. "The Stone Reader," a movie about the love of reading, manages to do both. The filmmaker, Mark Moskowitz, became obsessed with a dense, lyrical coming-of-age novel by Dow Mossman called "The Stones of Summer." Published to ecstatic reviews in 1972 ("A holy book!" The New York Times proclaimed), it sold few copies and vanished along with its author. Moskowitz, a fanatic reader who makes political commercials for a living, set out to find Mossman and to explore the mystery of one-book wonders. He interviewed such literary luminaries as critic Leslie Fiedler, editor Robert Gottlieb and writer Frank Conroy--none of whom had read the book or heard of its author.Moskowitz finally found Mossman in Iowa. He'd had a breakdown after finishing his novel, worked as a welder for 20 years, then bundled newspapers for $6.25 an hour before losing that job four years ago. Now, he may be the best...
  • Grrl Power, Kiwi Style

    Niki Caro's "Whale Rider," a huge hit in her native New Zealand, has been making the rounds of film festivals since last fall, and everywhere it plays it strikes a deep chord. In Toronto, in Rotterdam and at Sundance, it was voted the audience favorite, and it's not hard to see why. Like most crowd-pleasers and sleeper hits, from "Rocky" to "Bend It Like Beckham," it's the story of an underdog overcoming apparently insurmountable odds. In this case, she's a contemporary teenager named Pai (12-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes) who lives in a Maori fishing village among the Ngati Kanohi tribe.Pai suffers a double tragedy the moment she's born--her mother dies along with her male twin, destined, as the grandson of the tribal chief Koro, to be the future leader of his people, the chosen one who would help them regain pride and power. Pai's grief-stricken father, an artist, abandons her to pursue his career in Europe, leaving her to be raised by her wry, wise grandmother (Vicky Haughton)...
  • Like Fine Wine

    Veteran filmmakers Patrice Leconte, who is 56, and Ken Loach, who is 11 years older are two of the most reliable directors around, but they couldn't be more different.Leconte has always been a chameleon. The Frenchman started as a frothy comedy director and came into his own as an international filmmaker with his 10th feature, the dark, hypnotic Simenon drama "Monsieur Hire" in 1988. From film to film--"The Hairdresser's Husband," "Ridicule," "The Girl on the Bridge," "The Widow of St. Pierre," and now the wonderfully intimate "Man on the Train"--he never does the same thing twice. Like an old Hollywood pro, he changes styles to fit his subjects. Unlike an old Hollywood pro, he has the freedom to make what he wants, often working on the scripts himself. He's an anti-auteurist auteurist.With Loach, certain things can always be expected, and in that sense he's the more traditional auteur. No director is more committed to depicting working class life. His politics are unabashedly left,...