Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, July 27, 2007; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, July 27, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the current movie offerings, both Hollywood and indie.

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.

A transcript follows.


Desson Thomson: Hey folks, welcome to Friday's cine kaffeeklatsch or movie chat, whichever way you roll. So many movies out there to talk about. I'd like to take a moment to salute Ulrich Muehe, the photogenic, doe-eyed star of "The Lives of Others," who played the Stasi officer. What a performance that was. And what a terrible loss to quality movies in general, and cultural connections across language lines for moviegoers, that he has passed. And from this, I should segue to "Hairspray"? Well, that's my fault. But I do miss this great actor already.


Superbad!: Have you seen Superbad yet? I saw a sneak peak this week and it was possibly the funniest movie I have ever seen. You think it can do as well as Knocked Up with the great word of mouth it is getting a month before its release?

Desson Thomson: Hey, you're giving me news to use. Haven't seen it. But it sounds like fun. Remains to be seen, of course, as to whether it makes an impact. But good word of mouth is a powerful thing.


Silver Spring, Md.: I just read a good review of the movie "This is England" in the N.Y. Times. Have you seen it? Is it in D.C. yet?

Desson Thomson: I can't wait. Going to be checking it out next week, in fact. It's opening Aug 17 at the E Street Cinema and maybe Bethesda Row. I'll be reviewing it too.


Enough!: I am completely and utterly sick of the Simpsons hype. Oh -- can we get another in depth article on some 7-11/Fox marketing scheme? Another fascinating interview with voice talent? ARRRRGH

Desson Thomson: By the way, Homer Simpson sent that.

_______________________ Ulrich Muehe; Veteran Of German Stage, Screen ( From News Services, July 26)


Washington, D.C.: Desson, is it just me? Apparently I am the only person freaked out by Ratatouille because it is humanizing, in an appealing way, RATS! Maybe because I spend much of my time trying to eradicate these disease-ridden and carrying vermin, but the thought of them as cute little critters makes me want to barf! I haven't seen it, and don't intend to, but a neighbor says she's with the "bad guy" exterminator who's trying to kill them all off. How do you explain this to kids? Ugh yuck etc. But maybe I just don't get it?

Desson Thomson: Hey Rat-a-phobic in DC? Me too. I hate those horrible things and I have had a small but intense history with them myself. So I can appreciate what you're talking about. But it made for a great underlying conflict in the movie. The film plays with that sort of self loathing on one level -- you know -- what (we think) a rat must feel, and also their what-the-heck-we're-rats-get-over-it pride too.


Baltimore, Md.: I saw a screening of the Simpsons last night and loved it. The whole theater was laughing outloud throughout the movie. What's your take?

Desson Thomson: I love the Simpsons. And I laughed during the movie too. It was dependably funny, as the shows always are. It felt like a long TV show rather than a movie to me, which would be my only quibble.


Washington, D.C.: Transformers was awesome. Yeah, I said it.

Desson Thomson: Yes you did. And there's pride to be drawn from that. I salute you. (I liked it too!)


Washington, D.C.: I seemed as if the (new) movie critic thought that the movie Mostly Martha was French in his review of the American remake No Reservations. It was a German movie.

Desson Thomson: Yes it is a German movie and a better one. If you haven't seen it, check it out on Netflix or your local video store (not Blockbuster so much as the ones that know films are made beyond the Atlantic too). Martina Gedeck who is amazing is the star of that. She happens also to be in The Lives of Others. And anyone who saw the Matt Damon CIA movie, The Good Shepherd, she's in that too.

I read Hank's review and couldn't find anywhere that he said it was French. He makes reference to Ratatouille which is French. And he speaks of foreign films in general. But nor could I find him say that it was German either.

That said, I would also like to say Hank's review of No Reservations is a brilliant one. Such great writing, so funny and graceful. One of the most enjoyable in recent weeks. Check it out.


Hairspray: I loved the first one. Why did anyone feel the need to do remake?

Desson Thomson: Hello? We live in a remake culture.

Hello? We live in a remake culture.

Hello? We live in a remake culture.

_______________________ A Mere Morsel Best Served With Company: 'No Reservations' ( Post, July 27)


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

Maybe I am imagining this, but wasn't there a movie chain that said they would install buttons in theaters to allow patrons to complain about other moviegoers?

All I have to say is this is badly needed in the D.C. area. I went to the advance screening last night of the Lindsay Lohan movie I Know Who Killed Me and while I agree that parts of the movie were laughable and ridiculous, I was more annoyed with a group of people who felt the need to have loud obnoxious ringtones and cellphone conversations along with constant comments out loud about the movie. I realize this was a free screening so I don't have any financial recourse, but this experience showed me again why I don't enjoy going to the movie theater anymore. If I do go, it is literally in the late morning to avoid crowds. I used to really enjoy the moviegoing experience, but I feel like the lack of manners has overtaken the theatres.

One more complaint: Why, oh why, did someone feel it was necessary to remake such a wonderful German film Mostly Martha into what appears to be a mess of a movie with Catherine Zeta Jones?

Thanks for letting me rant.

Desson Thomson: Rant away. I am with you big time. I think manners have died in the theaters and it certainly has put a disconcerting boorishness into the once hallowed culture of moviegoing. The enemy is us, I'm afraid. The lack of community spirit in the dark is depressing.

And I hear you on Mostly Martha. What's the point of such a thing?


Washington, D.C.: How should I prioritize my movie watching between Sunshine, Rescue Dawn and Talk To Me?

Also, I was very sad when you had a full chat where nothing was talked about except the new Harry Potter flick.

Desson Thomson: I'd say all 3 are worth the look. But I'd go for Rescue Dawn first.

Hey, anyone can ask other things on those 'theme' chats. I was just trying to shake things up for a session. So feel free to crash all theme parties with your own thang, for sure.


Hello? We live in a remake culture. : Yes, but the movie isn't that old. And doesn't need to be updated for special effects reasons.

Desson Thomson: Okay, I'll them to put a stop to it.

But seriously, that small gap between Euro and American remake isn't the first time this happened. For instance, Hollywood did a remake of a French comedy - 1987's 3 Men and A Baby -- very soon after the French movie (1985) for example.


And I hear you on Mostly Martha. What's the point of such a thing? : To quote a famous movie critic:

Hello? We live in a remake culture.

Hello? We live in a remake culture.

Hello? We live in a remake culture.

Desson Thomson: You are remaking my posting already.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson -- Your colleague announced in last week's movie chat that she did not see the appeal of the movie Sideways and agreed with a chatter that the movie appealed more to men. I know of no one who liked the movie (male or female) but have heard more from female friends of their dislike of this movie. Do you agree that this movie appealed more (only?) to some men? Did you think about its appeal to men and women when reviewing it?

Desson Thomson: I have heard that argument before, from many women. And it makes me rather sad, actually. (I also know many woman friends who loved the movie.) Why shouldn't a good movie, whether it's an action film or a "chick flick," appeal to all audiences? Sideways is about two memorable characters who are men, who have some slimy qualities but also some endearing ones. I don't get why that shouldn't interest one gender and not another? Aren't we individuals?


Hairspray: Actually, Hairspray isn't a remake ... it's a version of the Broadway musical. And very well done.

Desson Thomson: Thanks for the clarification.


Arlington, Va.: Desson,

Did you get a chance to see the Swell Season show at 9:30 last night? Glen Hansard's shock at the size of the audience was adorable.

I really enjoyed the performance.

Desson Thomson: Dang, sorry I missed seeing him. Loved him in Once. And enjoyed the show he did at the 930 recently with The Frames.


Baltimore, Md.: I no longer have problems with poorly-behaved theatergoers, because I choose to go to different theaters. I no longer go to the main chains. I remember getting money refunded from the theater in Fair Oakes because of uncontrolled pre-teens, and complaining to no avail at the Egyptian in Arundel Mills about a screaming toddler at an R-rated horror film. Now I go to the Charles theater and the Senator theater in Baltimore, which are both independently owned and operated. I imagine that if you went to the Uptown or the theaters in Dupont circle, you would find better run theaters as well.

Desson Thomson: Okay, maybe I am making blanket statements but I agree you are likely to find people more respectful of the community experience when you go to the more esoteric films.


Arlington, Va.: Is The Simpons movie going to be the biggest movie of the summer? Best opening ever?

Desson Thomson: You mean, like, predict the future? Uh ....

But I will say the general interest in this movie has been huge.


Morristown, N.J.: Count me in as LOVING Sideways. It was the best movie that year, IMHO. To be fair, the wife liked it but thought it was a total male fantasy.

Desson Thomson: Oh those men.


I am a woman (a feminist even!) who loved Sideways!: enough said?

Desson Thomson: Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity.


Re: Rat movie and rats: I have an intense phobia of rats as well. I didn't get to see the movie yet, but I want to watch it.

When I was little, our house used to be full of books and papers, especially my dad's study. He was a college professor. We knew we had rats, only we didn't know how bad the problem was until one day we saw one rat and my mom tried to hit it with a bat and all of a sudden comes these four little rats from under the papers -- each of them was holding the tail of the one in front of it. Mesmerizing scene that was. Needless to say they all ran away quickly.

Desson Thomson: Eeeyooo.

They were holding one anothers' tails? Sounds like synchronized swimming or something.


Morristown, N.J.: I am so sorry to hear about the actor in the Lives of Others. I saw it last week and loved the film. He was so good in it; I actually choked up more than once during that movie.

Desson Thomson: What a movie it was. Glad you appreciate the film and the actor.


N.C.: I saw Once last weekend and loved it. Unlike anything I've seen before. I highly recommend it.

Have you seen the third installment of the Bourne trilogy? That's one that looks great. I loved the first two.

Desson Thomson: Glad you dug. Me too. Looking forward to seeing Bourne. And the one after it-- in which Matt Damon takes a woman around Washington and shows her the sights? Bourne Yesterday?


Arabia: Desson, I'm chomping at the bit to get to the AFI Silver for Lawrence in August. It will be my first time seeing it properly on a big screen. A friend asked me whether he ought to see Lawrence at the Silver or Casablanca on the green, since he can't make both. I said Lawrence, because a big screen showing of that movie is not to be missed, but Casablanca is a bit more forgiving. I wondered if you had any thoughts on the subject ...

Desson Thomson: Haha, do I have ANY THOUGHTS on the subject? Well, there's no point getting all revved up about my favorite movie without burning a lot of Internet time and energy. I love the movie and I know you'll love it too. nuff said. But Casablanca is an American classic, just as high up there in the all time greatness charts. So either experience would be just great.


Washington, D.C.: Chuck or Larry? I much prefer Larry.

Desson Thomson: You mean as firemen? Or uniformed stud puppies? Or the actors who play 'em? I wasn't a big fan of the movie because I thought the humor was cheap and the gay stereotyping was dated, and to add insult to mediocrity, we all had to sit through a courtroom finale in which we learned in a disingenuous message from filmmakers to the world that Using Derogatory Words is Not Cool.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: I didn't mind the piecing together of footage in Arctic Tale, but I found the narration to be grating and forced at times -- mostly when the script felt the need to patronize the audience. I also thought that the global warming element at the end was heavy-handed, but then again, I'm not a six-year-old child. Maybe young children found that aspect more telling and useful.


Desson Thomson: I have a big piece coming up this Sunday which will touch upon aspects of this. It's about a genre that I have dubbed the fuzzumentary.


Burbank, Calif.: Simpsons Review:

I saw it last night and clearly the crowd enjoyed it, as did I, but there was never a moment of belly busting laughter that left you weak, like experienced in either Team America or South Park.

Desson Thomson: I agree that I laughed harder in the ones you mention too.


Bethesda, Md.: Desson,

Why would I pay $9.50 to see the Simpsons movie when I can find a solid 2-hour block of episodes on any given day? Is the plot really that much different/better than the average episode?

Desson Thomson: In my opinion, there's no reason to see The Simpsons if you are looking for that special movie difference. I felt that it was like an extended mix TV episode. But Simpsons fans will enjoy it, I think, just for the usual great laughs and the time spent with their favorite characters.


Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia: I personally hate Casablanca, but I just thought I'd point out that this person doesn't have to choose between the two films because the AFI is showing L.O.A. every Sunday for at least a month.

Desson Thomson: Absolutely. It is showing there on Sundays into September. I have a Here and Now in the upcoming Sunday Arts section telling people that.


Baltimore, Md.: I am really looking forward to the new Bourne movie, and the teen prescription drug comedy looks pretty good as well.

However, I want to go to the movies tonight. What would be a good escape?

Desson Thomson: You know, I really had fun with the Transformers movie. And I liked Oceans 158, or whatever the number. Hairspray is goofy fun (and actually gets surprisingly deep about civil rights).


Wheeling, W.Va.: Tell "Mr. Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia" that he should suck it up, skip grandma's funeral, and go to both movies.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. That's Tough Love for ya.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: "Casablanca" loses a little something on TV, rather than the big screen, but it's minor compared to the difference for "Lawrence of Arabia" from BIG SCREEN to TV screen. It's Lawrence all the way, if you have to make a choice.

Desson Thomson: Well you share MY personal vote.


Anonymous: You guys know, don't you, that "Mostly Martha" -- the film on which "No Reservations" is based -- is German, not French?

Desson Thomson: Well, I certainly know it. And as I said before, I didn't see a spot in the version of the review I read, in which it actually says it's French or not French. Maybe I skipped over something. Seems to me, the review sort of buzzes around the question. But yes, for the record, the original was German.


Centreville, Va.: I'm a little confused now if Washington, D.C.'s neighbor has actually seen "Ratatouille" because there is no "bad guy exterminator" in the film. There's the old lady with the gun, the chefs panicking, and a health inspector, but no exterminator. The exterminator was in "Over the Hedge", a good film, but not nearly on the same levels as "Ratatouille."

Desson Thomson: The caller is correct


Alexandria, Va.: Who do I need to beat up over at TCM for scheduling "All Quiet on the Western Front" for a 1 a.m. slot last week? I guess I need DVR ...

Desson Thomson: DVR will change your viewing life, I assure you.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: Have you seen "Goya's Ghosts"? My wife and I saw it in Shirlington last weekend and I'd give it a solid "B." I understand the critics pretty much trashed it when released in Europe last year -- maybe they thought Foreman should come up with an "Amadeus" every time. I had trouble with Natalie Portman in a dual role, but thought the other leads were excellent, plus Randy Quaid as the King of Spain (yes, Randy Quaid! and it works)

Desson Thomson: Yes I saw Goya's Ghosts. First of all, oh my goodness, how amazing is Javoier Bardem as an actor? As Brother Lorenzo, a priest with horrifying evil lurking behind a soft voice, he's devastating. But the Natalie Portman idea was ill advised. She tries but she was always Natalie Portman on the screen--and twice, to boot. I couldn't get past that. The movie had me going for a while, but when she walked into the picture, the movie's credbility started to disintegrate for me.


Hairspray was a John Waters movie from the 80's ...:... before it was a Broadway show (it wasn't European, either). And while I'm looking forward to seeing the new version, count me among the fans who wondered why a remake was necessary less than 20 years after the original.

Desson Thomson: I hair you.


Casablanca: is my all-time favorite movie. And I'd go with LOA for the big screen. Bogie works on screens both big and small.

Desson Thomson: Gotcha. Wisdom indeed.


Bethesda, Md.:"Broken English" is a small gem, though why Parker Posey doesn't have zillions of suitable men falling at her feet is beyond me! But SPOILER ALERT impossible coincidence takes a tiny bit off its appeal. There are better ways they could have handled this -- perhaps she could have found the info she had lost? But it's still a delight.

Desson Thomson: Parker Posey is wonderful in my book. A terrific comedian (why do we have to say comedienne?) and a good actor (ditto with actress) if you saw her in "Personal Velocity" (as one example). And I had the great joy to meet and speak with her at the Toronto film festival many years ago, and found her to be a THB - total human being.

I liked the movie but I think it could have used more oomph in the storytelling department.


Washington, D.C.: This film is a few years old, but I'd like to get your thoughts on Dogville. Did you see it or review it?

Desson Thomson: I am adding a post on this. I liked it in some ways, but its rather insufferable manner -- as it lectured the audience on America's moral ills -- turned me off somewhat.


Re: rats holding tails: I think they just knew how to survive and the best way to escape together was to hold each other's tails. Those tiny little rats were cute as buttons -- for just a minute, and then they grew up.

Desson Thomson: A rat as cute as a button. Discuss.


Lawrence or Casablanca: Original poster here ... friend has decided to go with Lawrence. It'll be his first time seeing it, which is great in and of itself. I practically have the movie memorized, so Desson, come along and we can chant "Michael George Hartly, this is a nasty dark little room!" together a la Rocky Horror. Can't wait!

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. Great!


Rosslyn, Va.: Hi Desson, I wanted to like 1408 and thought it was pretty good, but I'm surprised at all of the reviews of people on IMDb that are crazy about it (even comparing it to "The Shining"). Personally, I thought it could have been a great film if it were given more of the "Jacob's Ladder" or "Devil's Advocate" treatment -- more subtle/creepy scare tactics and less in your face stuff. For instance, instead of S. Jackson I would have liked if they picked someone with more of an unsettling air about them like the bathroom attendant in "The Shining" to set a sinister tone. I think Jacob's Ladder is far more successful at depicting a truly frightening vision of someone's personal hell than 1408 tries to be.

Desson Thomson: Interesting feedback. I did like the movie. I also liked Samuel Jackson. I suppose he could have had a little more significance in the story than he does. And it sounds like I need to see Jacob's Ladder again.


Denver, Colo.: Have a babysitter for the baby. Since this is a one time event this summer, which should we see Harry Potter, Ratatouille, or Simpsons? (And yes I realize that these are all movies with a kids-focus).

Desson Thomson: Yes, you ARE allowed to see grown up movies, you know. You will enjoy all three of those movies, I am sure.


Washington, D.C.: Desson, about the Simpsons and movies like it: Do you feel like movies like this are "too dumb" to be given serious consideration in a review? I love the Simpsons but wonder how much time you would give to a movie based on a TV cartoon, compared to a movie that is clearly Oscar caliber.

Desson Thomson: Interesting question. To me, the quote-unquote dumb movies can be the most interesting in terms of cultural subtexts. And the supposedly Oscar material films can be stuffy, pretentious affairs which celebrate mediocrity in the guise of excellence. So to me it's all fair game. And I look forward to all movies as a sort of cultural touchstone experience as much as a good or bad story.

Incidentally, the Simpsons series is one of the best social satires America has created. I don't see it as second tier at all.


Burtonsville, Md.: Desson, it was a real pleasure watching the two original (Matt Damon) Bourne movies recently, particularly because they both came in at a taut hour-and-a-half or so each. These days, when every movie seems to be bloated to two-and-a-half or even three hours, going to the movies can become a grueling slog. Whatever happened to intermissions? Didn't Lawrence of Arabia used to have an intermission? Does the AFI show it with one? I can usually make it through a long movie without a bathroom break (the Grindhouse 2-parter being the exception). My point is we shouldn't have to suffer long movies without intermissions. Don't theaters want to sell more popcorn?

Desson Thomson: You ask all the right questions. I think that, more and more, because Hollywood is increasingly dependent on dvd sales more than theatrical ones, they don't worry about the running time. They figure that, at home, when people rent or buy the dvd, they won't have that agitation to drive home from the theater.


Washington, D.C.: Why wasn't "Sunshine" on any D.C. screens when it opened last week?

Desson Thomson: Dunno. But it opens today. And it's terrific.


Anonymous: If rats were meant to be "cute" they would not have that disgusting waddle.

Desson Thomson: I don't expect to see them on the fashion runways of Milan any time soon.


Boston, Mass.: I hear there are some Iraq war-related movies coming out. What have you heard/seen? I saw Full Metal Jacket on HD last night and remembered what a good movie that is. Not quite up there with Blackhawk Down and Platoon but still good. Does it take 5-10 years for perspective before you can have a seminal movie about a war?

Desson Thomson: There are a ton of Iraq films. To be honest I have seen so many I have forgotten which ones are which. To me, something like Full Metal Jacket says something about war in general rather than Vietnam in particular, so it'll last longer. I also enjoyed Blackhawk Down and Platoon, which had similarly eternal qualities.


Desson Thomson: Thanks my friends for joining me today. It is always so great to hear from you and discuss what's on your minds. I'll be chatting back at ya Aug. 10.

_______________________ 'Sunshine': A Sci-Fi Thriller With A Bright Future ( Post, July 27)


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