David Ansen

Movies: The Big Guy's Back. We Missed Him.

There was headscratching and second-guessing when director Bryan Singer announced he was abandoning his wildly popular "X-Men" franchise to make "Superman Returns." Would the Man of Steel fly for a new generation of moviegoers?

Life in the Fast Lane

From a teeming nascar speed-way to a dilapidated Southwestern town on the old Route 66, "Cars" fills the screen with super realistic computer animation so fanatically detailed, so packed with shiny goodies that it could have been made only by the folks at Pixar.

Summer Docs

The blockbuster success of "March of the Penguins" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" shocked a lot of people. At least for a moment, the documentary was lifted out of the art-house ghetto and into the mainstream.

Surviving the Cure

Those who take their X-Men very, very seriously may not be overjoyed with "X-Men: The Last Stand," the third (and probably not last) installment. Brett ("Rush Hour") Ratner has replaced director Bryan Singer, whose movies had a richer, more burnished look.

Thou Shalt Not Like It

The Roman Catholic Church can rest easy. Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman struggle mightily to cram as much as possible of Dan Brown's labyrinthine thriller into a 2-hour, 28-minute running time, resulting in a movie both overstuffed and underwhelming.

A Disappointing 'Da Vinci Code'

The Roman Catholic Church can rest easy. Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman struggle mightily to cram as much as possible of Dan Brown's labyrinthine thriller into a 2-hour-28-minute running time, resulting in a movie both overstuffed and underwhelming.

Movies: Summer Escapes

With the arrival of "Mission: Impossible III" and "Poseidon," the summer-movie season has officially begun. The scores get louder, the special effects more special, the body count rises precipitously.

Flight of the Intruders

A feeling of dread permeates "United 93." It starts even before you enter the theater--unless for some reason you are unaware that you're about to see a movie about the one hijacked plane on September 11, 2001, that didn't reach its target, the one that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers heroically and desperately broke into the cockpit and overwhelmed the hijackers.The dread builds to almost unbearable dimensions as director Paul Greengrass takes us step by step through...

Snap Judgment: Movies

Written and directed by Doug Atchison Finally, a "Hoosiers" for the utterly unathletic. Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett are the big names in this irresistible tale of an 11-year-old inner-city girl's quest to win the National Spelling Bee.

Surprise, Surprise!

When was the last time a movie caught you totally by surprise? It's a phenomenon that happens less and less often, because Hollywood spends many millions of marketing dollars to ensure there are no surprises—to see that you know as much as possible about the film before you go to see it.

Bloody Good Flicks

Horror movies don't win Oscars or respect--"The Silence of the Lambs" being the exception that proves the rule--but their bad-seed status has given them a freedom denied to more respectable genres.

All the Way to the Bank

March is a little on the early side for a Hollywood studio to release a good movie (some years you have to wait until May) but hey, life is full of surprises. "Inside Man," a bank-heist thriller with a tricky, nothing-is-as-it-seems playfulness, is the kind of solid, mass-appeal entertainment that Hollywood is supposed to knock out in its sleep but rarely pulls off even when wide awake.

Shanghai Surprise

It would be nice to report that the final collaboration between James Ivory and his late producing partner, Ismail Merchant, ranked with their best work, such as the luminous "Howards End" and "A Room With a View." Though "The White Countess," from an original screenplay by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro ("The Remains of the Day"), sounds mouthwateringly good on paper, it's a cake that never rises.The setting has glamour galore: Shanghai in 1936 and '37, on the eve of the Japanese invasion.

The Bloom Is Off The Book

The story of a young girl, sold by her family into slavery, who rises to become the reigning geisha of her day, bears more than a small resemblance to "Cinderella," though it happens to be set in Kyoto in the 1930s and '40s.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

Annie Proulx's 1997 short story "Brokeback Mountain" is one of the great modern love stories: its chiseled-from-rock prose lodges in your memory forever. It's the story of two itinerant cowboys--Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a part-time rodeo rider, and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), a laconic ranch hand--who fall into a physical relationship in 1963 while herding sheep in the Wyoming mountains.

Snap Judgment: Movies

The Three Burials of Melquiades EstradaDirected by Tommy Lee JonesAs an actor Tommy Lee Jones rarely makes a false move. A master of understatement, he conveys a sense of enormous power held in check.

Fantasy Vacations: Kids Save Narnia, An Ape Tours New York

I gave my heart to Peter Jackson's gargantuan "King Kong" at the moment when the grizzled giant gorilla gave his heart to Naomi Watts's Ann Darrow. As the scene opens, they're on a high ledge over Skull Island, where the terrified wanna-be actress realizes the big galoot who carried her off in the palm of his hand is her protector, not her enemy.

Two Cultures Clash, And Two Lovers Leap

Our mental picture of the English settlers' landing in America tends to look as stiff as a grammar-school pageant: Englishmen right, with muskets; Indians left, bearing corn.

Heaviness For The Holidays

Are we in a bad mood, or what? This may be remembered as the Year of the Depressive Movie. When I toted up my top-10 list, I wasn't surprised at how few big studio movies there were: it was a dog year for Hollywood.

Hooray for Holidays

Are we in a bad mood, or what? Never mind the real world, which is bummer enough. This may be remembered as the Year of the Depressive Movie. When I toted up my top-10 list, I wasn't surprised at how few big studio movies there were: it was a dog year for Hollywood.

2005's Top 10 Movies

1. HEAD-ON: A rough German masterpiece about two lost Turks transformed by love. 2. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK: Clooney's stunning, stirring tribute to a brave journalist. 3.

The Pitter Potter of Magical Feats

Sexual attraction has entered the Harry Potter universe. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is now 14, and he's one of four contestants competing in the dangerous Tri-Wizard Tournament.

Falling in Almost-Love

In "Shopgirl," Claire Danes finally gets the screen role that fulfills the promise of her TV series "My So-Called Life." As lonely, yearning salesgirl Mirabelle Buttersworth, a transplanted Vermonter selling gloves at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills while dreaming of being an artist, Danes is heartbreakingly damaged, radiantly depressive.

Snap Judgment: Movies

Innocent Voices Directed by Luis MandokiThe brutal civil war in El Salvador is seen through the terrified eyes of 11-year-old Chava (Carlos Padilla), who knows that when he turns 12 he'll be conscripted into the government's Army and forced to kill.

Nobels: A Pinter Perfect Recipient

Until Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature last week, only three playwrights working in English had won this honor: George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O'Neill and, in 1969, the man whom Pinter often referred to as his major influence: Samuel Beckett.

CURIOUS GEORGE

It's party time, 2:30 in the morning, and George Clooney, a dapper, urbane Hollywood star of the old school, is surrounded, not surprisingly, by a small sea of women oohing and aahing over his latest movie.

Feasting At The Festival

Imagine a Wal-Mart superstore that contains Prada boutiques, antiquarian bookstores, Japanese comic books and semiautomatic weapons, and you have an inkling of the Toronto Film Festival's vast, eclectic largesse.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Jim Jarmusch had it from the start. So did Gus Van Sant. So, it seems, does Miranda July. It's an original way of looking at the world. A sensibility unmistakably their own.

HOT DESIGNER GENES

Along with hundreds of other strangely docile folks in white leisure outfits, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) live in an underground, rigidly controlled environment in the not-too-distant future.

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