Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson brings Behind The Screen Live Online for a discussion on filmmaking and the art of the cinema. Have you ever wanted to know what the director had in mind when making a particular film? Or why the producer altered the original screenplay? Why was an actor or actress cast over another? Thomson has answers to these and other questions about filmmaking.
Desson reviews "Ray" (Article and Video) Soulful Foxx Shines as 'Ray' (Post, Oct. 29)
Thomson, a movie critic at The Washington Post for 15 years, was raised in England where he was entranced, like most, by Hollywood movies. And it was a visit to see David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia," that made him realize movies had to be a part of his life.
Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Desson Thomson: Hello chatters, lurkers and the like. This is the kickoff for a regular Friday fortnightly conversation. My Monday regular online chats are now history. So hopefully my Monday posse is coming over with me. And welcome to anyone new joining us. (The annual fees are stiff but worth it.) So let's see what we want to discuss, compare and contrast and shoot the breeze over. This chat is now running baby.
I've been hearing that Disney/Pixar film 'The Incredibles' is well ... incredible! Can you confirm this (assuming you have seen it!)
Desson Thomson: Darn it, you're stealing the first paragraph of my coming review next Friday. Indeed it is so! It's for everyone in the family. You don't even need to bring a family. It's that good.
What did you think of "The Grudge?" Visually, I thought it was really, really creepy, but every time I stop to think about the story, the less sense it makes (i.e., the opening scene with Bill Pullman, the ghosts providing Gellar's character with helpful exposition instead of killing her, etc.).
Desson Thomson: You know, I missed that one. Michael O'Sullivan reviewed it and was not exactly performing ecstatic flips over it. I'm trying to get the review posted for your information. Judging by what I have heard I have zero plans to see it.
Do you think Jamie Foxx's chances of winning the Oscar will hinge upon whether the movie 'Ray' is nominated for Best pic or not?
Desson Thomson: Both will happen.
washingtonpost.com: 'Grudge' Match (Michael O'Sullivan) (Post, Oct. 22)
Fever Pitch, USA:
I read somewhere that Ben Affleck is in the baseballized remake of Fever Pitch that centers on the Red Sox. First of all, the title makes no sense for a baseball movie; will it be changed?. Secondly, is filming complete, or have they added scenes on the Red Sox World Series victory to make it more consistent with the book/first movie? Thirdly (to all Gunners) HA HA HA!
Desson Thomson: I thought Jimmy Fallon was in the role. Maybe there's been a change? And that the Farrelley's were doing it. Hopefully the Red Sox momentum will help the film (and hopefully it's good of course). But it will be interesting, given the recent triumph by the Beantown Boyz, to see if they do incorporate it. (Fever Pitch on which the book is based is about a fan who follows Arsenal before they became a household name, so it's about someone who is dedicated to a team that doesn't win often. It's a great book. The Brit film was horrible, emphasized the romance angle.)I don't think it's finished filming yet but I could be wrong. It would have just wrapped if so.
A theater commment: E Street Cinema validates parking for three hours -- if you park for 3 hours and 1 minute, you pay a very hefty price.
With commercials and trailers, lots of films run in the 2:45-3 hour range. Do you think E Street is purposely trying to "trap" people by making them coordinate impossibly precise arrival times and mad dashes to their cars? Wouldn't simply making it 3.5 hours virtually eliminate this problem? It strikes me as bad faith to make the time frame so incredibly tight.
Desson Thomson: Good question. I have put in a call to the manager. Let's see if he calls me back before the end!
Love the chats as always..
As much as people are talking about Foxx's performance in 'Ray', I am also hearing a lot of buzz about Paul Giamatti in 'Sideways'.
I loved him last year in American Splendor, but does he have a chance come Oscar time as well or is 'Sideways' going to be lurking in a corner this year where no one will see it?
Have you seen the film?
Desson Thomson: Yes Armchair, I have seen Sideways. Slide out of that armchair right now and open the Weekend section. My reviews of Ray and Sideways are both in today's paper. As for your question, yes, Giamatti is terrific. Both movies are terrific. I think Sideways is brilliantly written by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt guy), and that Giamatti really gives a fab comic performance. Comedies never win out over "serious" performances, so he doesn't stand a chance in an Oscar matchup. But both performances (Foxx's and Giamatti's) are well worth watching.
Crystal City, Va.:
Mr. Thomson, hello.
I went to the premiere of The Grudge, and I have to say, the audience was laughing most of the time. I didn't read your article on this movie, so please tell me, what did you think?
Desson Thomson: I refer you to the previous response. I assume they were laughing at unintended humor!
So Ray will be nominated for Best Picture and Foxx for Best Actor. Not a hard prediction. What about "The Passion"? Cavaziel? And Gibson? Will they all get nominations?
Desson Thomson: Excellent question. I think that film has to be acknowledged at least politically or the earth will rumble with christian protest and "confirm" the religious right's perception of Hollywood as godless. I guess if it's nominated for a best screenplay based on another medium, does that mean Matthew, Mark and Luke will have to come to the stage and make a speech?
It's Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore.... and I think they are just about done with filming. If you watched carefully at the end of game 4 on Wednesday. Fallon and Barrymore were making out on the field while the Red Sox were celebrating. I'm not making this up. They even re-ran the footage last night on Access Hollywood (which is good because I was a few beers into the night).
This whole idea is a travesty.
Desson Thomson: Whoa. Interesting. Thanks.
Desson Thanks for your time today!
I don't get enough time to catch up on all the movies playing in the theaters, so could you let me know what are some of the nice surprises you've seen this year and which movies you thought would be good did not fulfill your expectations?
Desson Thomson: In answer to that last q. Huckabees didn't do it for me and I had good expectations. As you have just red I loved Sideways. And Ray I had heard was a great performance but a so so film. I thought the film around him was better than so-so. Incredibles I just mentioned as good. Being Julia I like too. (No, I don't like being Julia, I liked the movie Being Julia. I tend to prefer being "Hibiscus" when I dress up.) Shark's Tale disappointed me hugely. And Ladder 49. You should also check out Motorcycle Diaries and Maria Full of Grace. Great films. Manchurian disappointed me greatly too. Vera Drake is very good. I enjoyed Team America and laughed my posterior off.
So I take it you felt "Ray" did an adequate enough job showing the man's demons? It was just a lot of puffery?
Desson Thomson: It found a happy medium. Indicated just enough, maybe even more than just enough, to tell us he had problems with women and heroin. Didn't go as dark as it probably could. But it wasn't that kind of movie.
By the way I just got a call back from the E St. manager. he says the parking deal was the best the theater could work out with a private company. He is not happy with it, but it's the way it is. No changes expected. Sorry.
Hi, Desson. I'm the person who reluctantly went to see "Huckabees" because of your less-than-glowing recommendation. And, um, perhaps because of my zero expectations, I rather liked it. I can see how you could view it as silly and pretentious, and parts of it were indeed over the top, but it had a strong cast which was clearly enjoying the silliness. Parts of it were laugh-out-loud funny. Plus they get bonus points for trying something original, at least original to me. Nearly all movies are variations of the same few plots, so even if not completely successful, this was a welcome change. Plus I must admit I would probably pay to watch Dustin Hoffman read the phone book.
Ae we still friends?
Desson Thomson: Of course we are still friends. But it still sounds like you didn't jump over the moon about it either. I am glad you enjoyed it. That's what going to movies is all about.
Lake Ridge, Va.:
You were pretty hard on Saw. I enjoyed scary movies like The Ring and ones like The Sixth Sense that are more about suspense and suprise than blood and guts. I'm assuming from your review that I should steer clear of Saw. But I also heard that the movie gets really good and has a great ending -- is that true? I'm a sucker for strong/surprise/twist endings.
Desson Thomson: Sounds like you should see it. I think the movie was good in many ways but I wasn't satisfied on other levels. It has a twist that many people will like, I will say. Go see it, you'll probably like it. I'm just some guy with an opinion.
Petworth, Washington, D.C.:
I must mourn. The Avalon has, at least for now, discontinued their weekend classic film series after this weekend.
They say they may bring it back, depending on sponsorships. I loved that series so much that I'm ready to make a donation to revive it myself. Have you been to any of the shows? What do you think are the chances of its return?
Desson Thomson: The Avalon is struggling. But they knew that from the get-go. They need support from people like you and more. So keep showing up and get your friends to come too. It's a noble venture. I always see those shows but I'm often too busy on weekends to go. They always had good classics. But it's hard to compete with DVDs and videos and people's weekend time.
I don't understand how "Fever Pitch" makes no sense for a baseball movie. It's PERFECT!
Desson Thomson: I agree that it could work. The book is, basically, about an obsessed sports fan. Doesn't have to be soccer.
Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.:
Desson: That was a fine article on Annette Bening in the Sunday paper a week ago. However, my query is about her husband, Mr. Beatty, who is going to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award. The question is whether there has ever been a least deserving nominee? What has he done to distinguish himself from the pack? Yeah, he was decent in Shampoo. Reds was dated even before it opened. Bugsy was a decent movie, and is firmly ensconced in slot 42 of the top 50 gangster movies ever made. Bulworth, with Beatty as a rapping politician, should disqualify him on the spot, both for its stupidity as much as its racism. Which brings us to Ishtar ... Why, Desson, Why?
Desson Thomson: Thanks very much for the compliment. Beatty has already won the Irving Thalberg award, so I guess he wasn't far from getting this one. He has had a strong string of films, most of them in his younger days, I would say. I'm on the fence about it myself.
How they changed the ending of the Fallon/Barrymore movie to reflect the Sox triumph-- new from CNN:
Red Sox win prompts movie change (CNN.com, Oct. 29)
Desson Thomson: Just read it. Very interesting. And thanks for posting it. Boy is that bit of publicity gonna be great for the Farrellys!
Dess -- Welcome to Friday. Although his choice of material has not always been great, I think The Rock has total movie star charisma. He has a sparkle and humor that is almost always more entertaining than the movies he's been in. Although I thought "The Rundown" was better than expected. Any thoughts?
Desson Thomson: He has enormous charisma. I agree. I like him. He brings a gentle power behind the bulky power. He's got both genders in the palm of his hand, I would say.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Hi Desson. I was wondering if you have seen or have heard any buzz on the Aviator? The previews look quite good and Scorsese is directing, so it can't be that bad, right?
Desson Thomson: I used to think the latter would always mean a movie would be good. I no longer have complete confidence in that regard. I personally thought Gangs of New York was one of the worst films of its year, based on expectations. But I am not going to walk in, expecting bad. I retain hope. Always do. Well, not for Pauly Shore or Cuba Gooding or Ben Affleck but ....
New York City:
Fallon on the field after the Sox won was disgusting. Can't we have -one- moment of unvarnished purity before H-wood comes in and, well, Hollywoodizes it? Not to mention, how bleeping cheap are they not to recreate the moment -- break open the wallet and hire some actors and a crew!
Desson Thomson: Could that New York connection have a little something to do with your outrage? Just kidding. I do see your point. Absolutely.
Have you seen Birth w/ Nicole Kidman? I heard there is this creepy bath scene between her and the 10-year old ... ew.
Desson Thomson: My colleague Michael O Sullivan who saw and reviewed today, has just said to me: yes, correct. Ew. I did find myself singing to Michael a few days ago: Wee Willie Winkie in my lady's chamber.
Falls Chuch, Va.:
The Grudge did surprisingly well at the box office last weekend. It obviously borrows from the Ring with the apparent intention of ratcheting up the nastiness and vengefulness of the evil girl ghost. Long black hair hanging over the face must be symbolic of ghosts in Japan. The ghost attack special effects were scary, but some of them got a little tedious after a while. I thought that the Ring had better suspense. Do you agree? Are we in for a wave of Japanese ghost movies, and when is the sequel to the Ring due out? Thank you and glad you're back in time for Halloween.
Desson Thomson: Thanks for the welcome! I saw Ring and I'm sure, based on what I've read, that it's much better than Grudge. Ring sure had its creepy factor. The sequel is on its way. March 2005. Yes I think more and more Japanese stuff will be coming.
Re: Fever Pitch. The film has been changed to reflect the Sox victory. If you watched the end of the game on Wednesday there was a shot of Fallon kissing a woman -- Drew Barrymore. They snuck in some shots at the end of Game 4
Desson Thomson: yes. thanks.
Love your reviews. Thanks for the tip on Team America. Hilarious!
It seems like there is a dip in quality big Blockbuster movies now. And I'm pretty sick of documentaries on the presidential candidates or Iraq. Besides Ray, are there any "big" movies on the horizon that look good. (Last year we had Return of the King and Elf previews) Any blockbusters coming? And where are the trailers?
And what did Alec Baldwin do to Trey and Matt? They really went after him.
Desson Thomson: Thanks for the compliment. It's my salary. Glad you found Team funny. I don't know what they have against Baldwin. But they rip him up pretty nicely. No one is sacred! Aviator, as mentioned, is coming . And Alexander by Oliver Stone. Those would be 2 biggies to hope for.
Someone is complaining about a professional sports moment being stripped of its unvarnished purity? Huh?
Desson Thomson: Hahaha
Do you have any thoughts on the Annapolis independent film festival going on next weekend? I was thinking of heading out, but don't know much about it. Thanks!
Desson Thomson: I don't know much about it either. You'll just have to see if the individual films are good, since they are not films picked up yet for distrib, as far as I can tell. Kind of a crap shoot. Check out the Web site: http://www.annapolisfilmfestival.com/
Young Master Thomson:
I look forward to Polar Express if only because I have a young son who might like it. However, as a long-time Hanks fan, I pine for the days when he was doing what he does best -- the leading everyman. His recent work has been focused on remakes and the techno-novelty Polar Express. I liked the Terminal and even Ladykillers enough to enjoy going, but I wish he would go back to what he is best at (sorry -- to that at which he is best). Your thoughts?
Desson Thomson: Mister Hanks like me is getting long in the tooth. He has to go with the flow. I think he can always "go back" to what he has done before. Very funny man. I like him best when he is being funny. Not uh poignant.
Imagine the outrage (and the reviews) if it'd been an adult male and a 10 year-old female in the bathtub. What on earth were these folks thinking?
Desson Thomson: Got me.
I'm asking for a spoiler -- I don't intend to see Birth (just not that interested) but am dying to know: How does NK end up nekkid in the tub with the wee lad? And what happens? A kiss? More? Reviews suggest the film isn't worth seeing, so can you just tell us the juicy bits? Please?
Desson Thomson: Michael says: Uh I mean .... Ummm... she believes he's the reincarnation of her husband. She's taking the bath by herself. He walks in, and he's been claiming he's her dead husband and professing to be in love with her. And naturally he does what a woman's husband in that situation might do. She has convinced herself he is her dead husband, and doesn't object. But Nicole's fiance catches them and "spoils the moment."
Re: NYC outrage::
Oh no, I was actually rooting for the Sox! I'm originally from Falls Church -- I have no great attachment to the Yankees.
Desson Thomson: Okay. Just testing the waters.
Ocala, Fla. Again:
Thanks for posting my question -- perhaps Maya Morgenstern will get a nomination along with the screenplay
Desson Thomson: Sure.
Silver Spring, Md.:
This is a general question: why is that actors/directors, etc., always credit "great writing" with the success of a show or movie, yet writers do not get nearly the same (if any) recognition for their work? Not to mention compensation? Personally, I believe writing makes or breaks a movie.
What do you think?
Desson Thomson: You're talking to a writer. Of course I'm going to agree! I could spend hours agreeing. How on earth would Anthony Hopkins be effective in Silence of the Lambs without words in his mouth? Without the situation set up which makes him the only person who can help Clarice Starling? Hollywood has always had a hate-hate relationship with the writer. Baffling. People like Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black broke the impasse, luckily, with million dollar-plus salaries for their scripts. But let's face it, compared to the lowest star in Hollywood it's still nothing.
Soccer is played on a pitch:
To the person who doesn't understand the illogic of Fever Pitch as the title of a baseball movie. The English refer to the football/soccer field as a pitch. The double entendre (?) of the title doesn't work for baseball, which is played on a diamond or field, in a ballpark, and (once upon a time) on polo gropunds.
Desson Thomson: Yes, but there is also the baseball pitch - the act of throwing the ball.
Was Mark Kay Letourneau the adviser to Nicole Kidman's film?
Desson Thomson: Haha
Actual line from the "Alexander" trailer:
Angelina Jolie (as the Mother, I believe): You are not just any Alexander. You are ...Alexander the Great!
Desson Thomson: Yeah. It's risky.
I'm not a member of the religious right, but I have to wonder a little bit about Hollywood when a top-tier star like Kidman makes a movie in which we're supposed to be sympathetic to, and moved by, the character she plays in "Birth?" In real life, that person would be arrested and put away for a long, long time. Can you imagine her defense at the trial? "I did those things because he's my reincarnated husband." Exactly how, by the way, was shooting that bathroom scene legal? What does Hollywood expect people to think when it puts out this stuff?
Desson Thomson: I understand your questions. But let's remember: dramatic characters are not supposed to be predictable, normal, law abiding and commonplace--not necessarily anyway. (Or we'd have no heist movies or horror films or in fact many dramas of any kind.) A drama is about the unusual, and artists should have the right to go anywhere they want with a character. I believe that strongly. Whether or not someone abuses it, is a matter of personal opinion. What IF someone did believe a kid was a reincarnated husband? It's an interesting premise and the logical question would be, if that character fell in love with a kid she believed to be her reincarnated husband what then would she do if he made a physical advance? This is what the artist must pursue. In this case, it does seem to have been misguided. But the freedom should always be there.
Can you help me with Undertow? Is it kind of a child abuse saga like Sling Blade or boy on boy like Wild Reeds? Thanks.
Desson Thomson: It's a Bubba chasing boy story. A bad uncle from the south straight outa prison comes home to his estranged brother and tries to steal some money. There's a murder. And the uncle tries to kill the 2 boys in the house. The boys run. Uncle chases.
I had heard that the Goethe Institut was screening a film on Northern Ireland's 70s punk scene last night, but unfortunately I couldn't make it...
Might you have any info on this film, and when it might be showing again?
Desson Thomson: The filmmaker was John T Davis. And the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure of Northern Ireland presented a series of films by the acclaimed Northern Irish documentary filmmaker in Princeton NJ and recently at the Goethe.
The films were Shellshock Rock and A House Divided.
John T. Davis has been making films for over twenty-five years. His first film," Shellshock Rock," explored the rise of punk youth culture in Northern Ireland and won the Silver Award at the New York Film and TV Festival in 1979. He has gone on to examine the American Dream ("Route 66" and "Hobo"), fundamentalist preaching on both sides of the Atlantic ("Dust on the Bible" and "Power in the Blood"), the Nashville songwriting industry ("Heart on the Line"), and his own family history ("The Uncle Jack"). His work has won awards from the Banff Festival, the Cork Film Festival, the Festival of New Irish Film, and the San Sebastian Film Festival.
Sorry you missed it. I tried calling the contact person but she is not answering, in terms of future showings. None right now, I guess.
Re: Fever Pitch:
Jimmy Fallon is in the roll. He was interviewed during game 1 of the Series by the sportscaster who was roaming in the seats. Fallon went to ALL of the games, unlike that other actor.
Desson Thomson: Okay thanks.
Hermosa Beach, Calif.:
Two things: First, the movie Fever Pitch does have Jimmy Fallon as the lead. His character is named Ben, hence the confusion with the earlier post. Second, what movies are coming out later this year you have heard good buzz about?
Desson Thomson: Kinsey Report is one that I wanted to mention in prev answer to similar question.
What a nice surprise, to see you listed on the Friday schedule. Will you be reviewing Silver City? Adaptation is one of those films I've taped off cable and watch over and over again. My reaction to John LaRoche was the same as Meryl Streep's character and I didn't need a mind altering drug. (What a neat guy!) I've been following Chris Cooper for a few years now and am delighted with his success.
Desson Thomson: Thanks Nani. I reviewed Silver City a few weeks ago. Trying to get it posted. We are coming to the end here. We'll see.
Centre of Nowhere:
Hi Desson! Happy to catch you on Friday!
I wanted to know what all of the hype is about for "National Treasure?" I mean, the movie opens in three weeks, and we're seeing more commercials for it than for Bush and Kerry (and I'm up here in Pa., swing-state-central)!
Is it going to bomb, or what? Thanks for your time and your comments!
Desson Thomson: Thanks Centre and I like your spelling. Yes Ive seen the trailer. That's the one where the secret is on the back of the Decl. Of Independence. We'll see about that one! Jon Turltetaub the director made Instinct and Phenomenon. So draw your own conclusions.
Ghost of Rodney:
Hey, Friday chats deserve a little respect! After all, that was the day Queen Rita used to chat! In fact, today would be the day of her annual Halloween online seance ...
Desson Thomson: A nod to Queen Rita, a wonderful lady.
Oh Please...you're not just "some guy" ... you are our fantabulous movie guru. I've been so busy lately that I haven't been able to get out to catch a movie. I hope to this weekend ... what should I see? I am open for anything but there are so many choices.
Desson Thomson: Thanks Denver! So nice. Well, as I said before: Sideways and Ray. Also Being Julia.
washingtonpost.com: 'Silver City': Leaden Satire (Post, Sept. 17)
Hey, Desson. This weekend, what would your choice be? Birth (I don't think you liked it, but it's Nicole), Vera Drake, Sideways?
I'm counting on you!
Desson Thomson: Sideways if you want comedy. Vera Drake if you want serious. Both are very good.
Crystal City, Va.:
Hello again. Since someone asked my question, here's another one. Monster's Ball, be honest, was that role deserving of an Oscar? I'm just seeing it, and I wouldn't want to get an Oscar for doing that.
Desson Thomson: I liked that movie more than most. I thought she was good in it. Oscar? Hmm. I liked Billy Bob a lot.
I have been dying to see "My Architect"
and could never find it while it was in
theaters. Did you catch it? Any word when
it will be out on video?
Desson Thomson: It should be out by now. It was pretty good. It was at E Street earlier this year.
Hi, Desson. I guess I should wait for your review of The Incredibles, but I sometimes wonder what exactly it means when something is described as "for the whole family." I had heard good things about Shark Tales, and considering taking my 5-year-old, until I saw an ad on TV that was totally composed of one creature hitting another, bam, bam, bam, over and over. I guess the marketing people thought this was funny, but it turned me off. I may be stricter about this than some parents, but I'm loath to bring my kids (I also have a 3-year-old) to a movie -- even an animated one -- with a lot of hitting and where a family member dies in the first 5 minutes.
Desson Thomson: I understand. You should give this a miss I guess, since there are superheroes fighting with robots with some ferocity.
Chincoteague Island, Va.:
Hey Desson, I saw an early screening of Alfie and have to say, I was kind of bored with it. I'm not a fan of the talking to the camera sequences that pretty much are throughout the whole film. Have there been any films where this type of acting has been pulled off successfully?
On a related note, I finally saw I Heart Huckabees and I'm not really sure what I really saw or what it really was all about?!
Desson Thomson: Hi Chinco. I was not impressed myself with Alfie. And yeah, Huckabees wasn't my cuppatee. I guess the best example of a person talking to you in that manner was Clockwork Orange and Annie Hall.
I thought "Ali" and "Malcolm X" were both good movies, but a bit boring at times and long. Will I like "Ray"?
Desson Thomson: Ray is much much better.
How hard was it to review 'The Incredibles', expectations wise, given how good and powerful of a film 'Finding Nemo' was? THe problem for me is that when I see a Disney/Pixar film, I tend to compare it to previous film. Nemo was one of the best films I've seen so the expectations for me are riding high!;
Desson Thomson: Both are great in different ways.
Saw the original "Dracula" on AMC the other night. I was impressed by how much they did with the "special effects" available at the time, a minimum of dialogue and straight-forward plot pacing. I don't think many horror flicks have improved upon it to this day. Sometimes black and white helped evoke images that would not have occurred had the film been in color (ditto for "Third Man").
Desson Thomson: Absolutely right. Creativity comes from the brain not from bells and whistles.
Desson Thomson: Well, 25 minutes over the time! Oops. Great to talk to all of you. Must go. Let's meet again in 2 weeks. It has been a pleasure as always. Enjoy the weekend!
Please stay with Live Online to talk with "Finding Neverland" director Marc Forster at 2 p.m. today: "Finding Neverland" Discussion