Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, August 10, 2007; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Aug. 10, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the current movie offerings, including his reviews of "Rush Hour 3," "Daddy Day Camp" and "Interview."

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 everyone of the planet. (You can say that on the Internet, right?) welcome to this humble corner where we will chat about this phenomenon we call the moving pictures. I should warn you that - d'oh! - I haven't caught up with Bourne yet. But happy to hear comments on such. Just saw a powerful film, "This is England," Shane Meadows's film about the dark side of patriotism set in 1980s England. It opens next week. And I enjoyed "Rocket Science," opening next week as well, which is Jeffrey Blitz's inspired film about a kid with a stutter who decides to become a debator--just to be near a young woman he's infatuated with. And you can holler at me about Rush Hour 3, Daddy Day Camp, Interview or anything your little hearts desire.


Best movies this year: Desson,

Best movies I have seen this year (in no order):


Rescue Dawn

Bourne Ultimatum

Live Free or Die Hard


The Lives of Others

P.S. The new Kevin Bacon movie looks pretty wild.

Desson Thomson: A good list for anyone to tack to their fridge and catch up with!


Richmond, Va.: Hello, Desson,

Stardust -- yea or nay? Ann Hornaday's review seems indecisive (although I see it's a critic's pick), so as a fan of the book, should I see it in the theaters or save it for Netflix? Twinkling 'Stardust' ( Post, Aug. 10)

Desson Thomson: I haven't seen it. Ann went for us. So I can't tell you MY take. But this does seem to be a gray area kinda review. On the hand it's this, on the other hand it's that. Given this reaction, it sounds as though Netflix might be your best bet. But on the other hand Ann did speak of those in-your-face special effects which presumably ought to be seen on the big screen.


New York City: Chris Tucker is a diminutive black man that can kick anyone's butt, and he mocks white people, Asians, and the French -- when does this get old?

Desson Thomson: I hear you, but the franchise has made $592 million worldwide so far--and that's before the release of Rush Hour 3. Doesn't seem to be getting old for a lot of people.


Baltimore, Md.: Desson,

Have you seen Sunshine and does it compare to some of Danny Boyle's other notable movies like Trainspotting and Millions?

Desson Thomson: Yes I have seen it. We'll post my review on this chat in a moment. I really liked it. And I liked all of his other films--Boyle's, that is. How does it compare? Well, it's different, of course. (He hasn't done space travel before). But it has that Boyle situation--a subset of young people caught in an escalating bind--and all that adroit use of music and cutting edge editing. Cool stuff, I'd say. An interesting mix of genre and arthouse.

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


Baltimore, Md.: Is there any chance "The Ten" will be showing in D.C.? "Wet Hot American Summer" was hilarious and the cast for this one looks great, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Desson Thomson: Baltimore, there's not only a great chance but it has already happened. The Ten has been released in DC. I didn't see it myself but The Post's Ann Hornaday called it "uneven, sophomoric and only fitfully funny."


Boston, Mass: I'm wondering whether to see "Becoming Jane." I am a Jane Austen fan, but not so much so that whatever license they take will anger me. And I really like Anne Hathaway. Yay or nay, Desson?

Desson Thomson: Hey Beantown. I know it looks like I don't go to movies on this chat, but haven't caught up with it. Missed a key screening the other night. I will post my colleague Monica Hesse's great piece on the subject though.

_______________________ Pride and Provocation ( Post, July 29)


Largo, Md.: Desson,

Please help! When I went to see "Once" at the E Street Cinema about a month ago, they showed a trailer for a documentary about Broadway called "Show Business." I haven't been able to find out when/where/if it's showing in the D.C. area. I called E Street, but the person with whom I spoke didn't know anything about it. Would a theater show a preview if they weren't planning on showing the film? Please let me know if you have any info on this movie. I really don't want to miss it!

Desson Thomson: Glad you saw Once. Terrific movie. The sleeper indie hit of the year so far, looks like. And sorry to tell you but Showbusiness came and went at the E Street. It was here in June. So your best bet is to wait for the dvd. You can search the website for the movie too. And this is an interesting article about the film.


College Park, Md,: What did you think of Goya's Ghosts? I thought that parts of it were really interesting but no one seems to have heard of it.

Desson Thomson: Yes I ACTUALLY SAW THAT MOVIE. Sorry. Just wanted to reassure myself that I actually am a film critic who sees movies. It was terrific up to a point, but as soon as Natalie Portman came on, well, for me, it was the beginning of the end. And when ANOTHER Natalie Portman came on, playing Portman's daughter, I completely lost it. She was too distracting and it took me out of the period I was supposed to be lost in. For me, Javier Bardem's performance was amazing. So creepy in its understatement.


Washington, D.C.: D,

Has there been an actor who has sqaundered his Oscar like Cuba Gooding Jr.? Why does he keep taking these projects? What happened to roles like Tre Styles in "Boyz N the Hood" and Rod from "Jerry Maguire?"

Desson Thomson: That's an interesting question. I can't think of anyone else whose career has taken such a sharp drop--in terms of good roles. Anyone? (Posting my review of Daddy Day Camp, in case you didn't see it, which also gets into Cuba's career-long slump after those 2 great roles of his. )


Laurel, Md.: Desson,

Have you seen trailers for the upcoming "American Gangster" starring Denzel and Russell Crowe? If you have what did you think about it? I could hardly watch the feature presentation I was so excited after seeing it.

Desson Thomson: Yes I have seen the trailer. It looks terrific. Can't wait myself.

_______________________ Cuba Is Just Too Campy ( Post, July 29)


Dallas, Tex.: What did you think of "The Prestige"? I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago and I was stunned. I went in with extremely low expectations and I finished the movie spellbound (no pun intended). Only after the fact did I realize it was a Christopher Nolan film and no wonder I loved it -- Memento is my all time favorite. It is too bad the movie did not perform better in theaters. I'm also surprised many think "The Illusionist" was the better magician film. I didn't find that one nearly as compelling. And wow, did David Bowie steal the show or what in "The Prestige"?

Desson Thomson: Yes I loved the Prestige too. And I also like listening to Michael Caine in the movie talking--in his inimitable way--about "the prestige" and what it is. I am a huge fan of Memento as well. I like Bowie myself--I grew up with his music in England big time--but I have a slight issue with him on screen. Apart from his great performance in The Man Who Fell to Earth, I feel that he has not fully tapped his potential on screen.


The French: Last Friday I went to see "The Simpsons" movie and during the coming attractions I saw the trailer for "Rush Hour 3" and the new Mr. Bean movie back to back. It hit me that both movies were set in France and were having some fun with American and English conceptions of the French. Just an observation.

Desson Thomson: Yes, a good point. It seems the entire world has a little issue with the United States right now over a rather troublesome ongoing skirmish out there in the Mideast. Especially the French. And it's now surfacing in the movies.


Anonymous:"Rush Hour 3," "Daddy Day Camp" and "Interview" in one week? Man, you must need a vacation.

Desson Thomson: Haha. I will get such a thing in about 2 weeks. But I'll still probably catch a few movies. Can't stop myself.


Morristown, N.J.: HI Desson:

Did you see "My Best Friend"? I really loved it. It's such a nice little film with terrific acting. There have been so many foreign films that have been so great within the last year -- Pan's Labyrinth, The Lives of Others, Volver. Are they getting better or is it just that American audiences are finally getting more exposure to some wonderful films that they would have missed 5-10 years ago?

Desson Thomson: Me? See a movie? What do you think I am-- a film critic? However, my colleague Steven Hunter did.


Oscar Slump: Halle Berry hasn't done so hot ...

Desson Thomson: Good point.


Alexandria for Cuba: I agree,He was awsome in Men of Honor, but how can you go from that movie to Snow Dogs?

Answer: $

He is stuck in his Jerry McGuire roll, "Show me the Money (and I'll make a horrible comedy)

Desson Thomson: Many people liked it but, you know, I wasn't that impressed with Men of Honor, to be honest. I thought it was too cheesy and he was trying too hard to act. But that's me.


Washington, D.C.: I know this doesn't affect you being a critic and all, but don't you think the people that run the advance screenings hand out way too many passes? A lot of people got turned away from Rush Hour 3 Monday night, partly because it was way overbooked, but partly because some people show up early, and then ten of their friends cut in line. I am sure you have to get tired of hearing, "if anyone has an empty seat next to them, please raise your hand" at a screening.

Desson Thomson: The handing out of passes and so forth is a mysterious science which I know nothing of. I think they have to hand out more passes than they have seats for, to avoid the possibility of any empty seats. When it's a really popular film like RH3, they run into problems. And everyone, at one point or another, is guilty of bringing in too many guests or cutting in line, etc. Yes, it is a tedious deal when it's time to find any and every seat. But I don't envy the folks at Allied and Terry Hines who have to bear the brunt of the angry folks who get turned away.


Re: The Prestige: I also loved this film. Just wanted to say we were watching it on DVD and I turned to my husband and said, "Gosh, that looks like an old David Bowie." "Yeah," he says, "that could be his dad or something." Of course after the movie we realized that David Bowie got old. I guess he'll always be Ziggy Stardust to us.

Desson Thomson: Ha, yes. I just saw Bowie in Labyrinth, which was rereleased. It was playing at the E Street Cinema last week, at least. he wears a raaaaather revealing spandex and frankly looks silly.


The Netherfield estate: Will huge Jane Austen fans be disappointed with "Becoming Jane"? I understand it's a work of fiction about her life -- I'm actually less worried about the facts of her life, than the writer and director keeping it in the "style" of her writing. Thanks!

Desson Thomson: You also should read the article by Monice Hesse that's posted in this chat.


Bethesda, Md.: Am I the only one bummed about "300" being released? It's WASTED on the small screen and needs to be seen in IMAX theaters or the big screen. Man I wish I had a movie screen in my house.

Desson Thomson: You are so right about that movie needing a big screen. I'd love to see it in 3-D on the IMAX screen.

_______________________ On Bergman: The Unblinking 'I' ( Post, July 31)


Capitol D.C.: There seems to be three words that, while each are innocuous by themselves, when put together in a particular order have come to be synonymous with "excruciating moviegoing experience". Those three words, in order, are:




Here's my question, and I don't mean to sound snarky, because I am truly interested in the answer: Do this guy's films somehow manage to make tons of money? How does he continue to have a career? Because he clearly has an unerring ability to pick craptacular projects and dive right into the middle of them -- why has he not become box-office poison?

Desson Thomson: I am as baffled as you, believe me. Clearly, those films make money on the DVD front, or he'd stop doing them and people would stop using him. But the very sight of him, as I said in my posted piece, is practically a warning to the tasteful consumer.


Rush Hour 3:: Going to see this, more for Jackie Chan than Chris Tucker. Does Jackie appear to be doing wire work at all, or more than usual, in his action sequences?

Desson Thomson: It's very disappointing for Jackie action. He's 53 these days and it shows. But it's fun for the comedy and the camaraderie which--as I said in my review today--amount to the real active ingredient behind the franchise's success.


Foreign films: Don't forget "Avenue Montaigne." LOVED it!

Desson Thomson: For sure. Me too.


RE: Anyone else whose career has taken such a sharp drop: How about Jason Lee? PLEASE tell me what that guy was smoking when he signed on for Underdog and (I get shivers just thinking about this) Alvin and the Chipmunks?

Kevin Smith needs to save his career bad!

Desson Thomson: True dat. Except he had a nice surge of success on TV with My Name is Earl.


NYC, N.Y.: Has there been a better film this year than "Ratatouille"? I was absolutely floored by it. Not only funny, smart, and the best thing to come out of Pixar, but one of the most touching and honest films about the artistic impulse and why creative types do what they do despite the odds that I've ever seen on film. It was, in its own way, every bit as good as "The Lives of Others" was in its.

Desson Thomson: Wow, that's the first time Ratatouille and The Lives of Others have been in the same sentence or paragraph--for me at least. I liked both films. And I agree that both are fine movies. And both are easily in the top ten of the year-- at least before the whole fall and Christmas crops come in.


Washington, D.C.: David Bowie in Labyrinth was responsible for kickstarting puberty for me and many other women my age.

To change the subject, the trailer for The Dark is Rising makes me want to cry. Why would Walden take a very British fantasy book and adapt it in such a horrible way, on the heels of very successful British fantasy stories like Harry Potter and the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? It seems counterintuitive.

Desson Thomson: Can you say "jump on the bandwagon" ?


Oscar Slump II:...neither has Adrian Brody.

Desson Thomson: True. But he is trying to do interesting projects--more so than Cuba.


Alexandria, Va.: Trouble posting, so sorry if this is a repeat. Anyone who is looking for a really great movie this weekend, I HIGHLY recommend "Rescue Dawn." Christian Bale is not only an incredible actor, but he is quite simply, a hottie. It is suspenseful, gripping, deeply sad, yet deeply hopeful. It also makes you think about parallels in history, why we fight wars, etc. I now have to go back and work thought he Bale oeuvre. I only have seen Batman Begins, fabulous, and The Prestige, underrated, so need to go find me some more Bale! And I was shocked to learn he was born in Wales. The man can do any accent impeccably. (thanks IMDB)

Desson Thomson: Thanks for passing that along!


Rockville, Md. Is Apocalypto as bad as critics make it to be? I saw it the second time on DVD and was stunned by its visual richness. I thought it was a great movie. How much of its criticism is because of bias against Mel Gibson?

Desson Thomson: I think that bias was clearly a factor. It is an amazing movie.


New York, N.Y.: What kind of world do we live in when "Daddy Day Camp" get a wide release and Kenneth Branagh's new "As You Like It" goes straight to cable? Now I haven't seen either, and "As You Like It" probably has a 50-50 chance of being awful (did you see "Love's Labour's Lost"? Make you doubt the existence of God, that movie will), but come on.

Desson Thomson: The market is the market, love it or hate it. At least, there are avenues for everyone to get a movie made, even if they do go to DVD directly. (Yes I have seen Branagh's films. including LLL and I have loved some but disliked just as many.)


Falls Church, Va.: Your thoughts on Cuba Gooding Jr. were right on. The question is, why does he make these choices? Are these the only scripts he gets offered? Is he so insecure that he can't turn down any work that comes his way? Is he disillusioned that "Radio" and the diving movie came off so poorly?

Desson Thomson: It's a mystery.


Stardust: I saw Stardust at a screening this week, and I'm with Ann Hornaday - it was...ok. I miss the Claire Danes of yore. The main character boy is pretty, but mostly...pretty. (Freakish resemblance to the Whale Rider girl, but with less personality.) But the adventure is fun, and the scenery is just lovely.

Desson Thomson: Thanks, that's great to hear.

_______________________ 'Science of Sleep': When All You Have to Do Is Dream ( Post, Sept. 22, 2006)


Freising, Germany: Woody Allen once wrote, "By rejecting cinema's standard demand for conventional action, [Ingmar Bergman] has allowed wars to rage inside characters that are as acutely visual as the movement of armies." He also wrote that through close-ups and more close-ups, and by deftly mingling dreams and fantasies with reality, Bergman found a way to show the soul's landscape.

Woody Allen has said that Bergman was a big influence on him, but who else in the film business has been able to show the soul's landscape like Bergman?

Desson Thomson: There have been many--to answer your last question. Andrei Tarkovsky comes most immediately to mind. He may be the filmmaker that blows me away the most, in terms of making us contemplate the landscape of the soul. Also Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr.


A Real Oscar Slump: Kevin Spacey ever since American Beauty. He did that craptacular alien film with Jeff Daniels and that is about it... I am sure there are others that are just as if not more craptastic. I used to love him.

Desson Thomson: Interesting point. He has yet to eclipse American Beauty and Usual Suspects, I think.


RIVER CITY: welcome back! Just watched the "Art school Confidential" DVD last night and loved it's wit, spot-on spoof of art school types, and the commentary about the nature of fad, fastion and fame. I was surprised to see the low ratings it got on Netflix. Didn't most people understand it was a Ghostworld sort of movie? (which is still in my top favs) I thought the funniest commentary was the "emperor's new clothes" nature of art when everyone piles on to admire work just so they look hip regardless of the craftsmanship.

Desson Thomson: Hey, thanks! I liked it too but not nearly as much as Ghost World. I think somehow it didn't feel quite as "big", if that makes sense.


Re: Jane: See it if you love Jane Austen and Ann Hathaway but you're not a purist. It's very enjoyable and more subtle than I thought it would be.

And see it at the AFI Silver -- the theater is beautiful and comfortable and you can enjoy a glass of wine while you watch the film.

Desson Thomson: Good suggestion and a good way to close the chat. I have to run to something or I'd stay a little longer. Apologies for those who didn't get answered. Please resend those q's next time and I'll see if I can answer them. Thanks to everyone for joining me today!

See you all very soon!


Desson Thomson: Take care all!


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