Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, August 31, 2007; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Aug. 31, 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.

A transcript follows.


Desson Thomson: Hey everyone. Movie time.

So,what is about the Friday of a holiday weekend that says: DC should turn into Zombie Town? Just getting to work today seemed like walking through existential molasses. Or was I in "Invasion" in which everyone is lulled into a sort of flatline happiness? Come on folks, let's get attitudinal - just for a little while - and talk movies.

By the way, anyone see that Nicole Kidman movie? I didn't think it was great but it wasn't so very bad. It kept looking like DC was the city - it's certainly meant to be - and yet I couldn't really recognize anything.

And I'll tell you what: a very heartbreaking film is coming up, which touched me: "Deep Water," the story of Simon Crowhurst's disastrous bid to sail around the world in 1968.

And the less said about Kevin Bacon's equally disastrous "Death Sentence," the better.

Saw "Nanny Diaries" and sure wished I hadn't.

Hoping to see Mr Bean's Holiday soon, just because I am a huge fan of Jacques Tati and his hilarious, 1953 "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" which it is a remake of. I am worried though.

Talk to me, folks.


Lust, Caution: Hi Desson,

What's the buzz for this movie? I'm a big Ang Lee fan, and it looks long a Wong Kar Wai-type film. Any advance word?


Desson Thomson: I am looking forward to this, and the buzz is already building. At the forthcoming Toronto fest, I know it's going to be a talked about affair. It has just received an NC 17 rating, so that's going to make it a hot topic as well.


Bethesda, Md.: Desson,

Is '3:10 to Yuma' worth my movie-going dollars? It's been a while since Hollywood produced a decent western, even if this is a remake I like its potential.

Desson Thomson: Yeah, me too, in terms of potential. Sorry to say I haven't seen it yet. I am very conservative about westerns, personally speaking. I like the old stuff. And I find it hard to get excited about young postmodern actors playing at gun-toting varmints. But it has such a great cast, including Peter Fonda and Russell Crowe, I am really looking forward to seeing it anyway. I suspect it will be uneven and have its good and bad moments.

_______________________ Focus Accepts NC-17 Rating for Lust, Caution (


Oakton, Va.: Do you know why "Once" is only being shown at a few theaters in the entire washington D.C./Virginia/Maryland area? The most esoteric indie movies have played at more theaters, for example "3 Iron" was playing at a theater just 5 minutes from my house. Why is the distribution so poor for this movie?

Desson Thomson: I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that it has hung in there for weeks and weeks because it's so good. And I have heard from many folks - not the kind I'd expect to be talking to me about indie movies - who have seen it and been amazed. I think it's doing well for itself. And that makes me happy on its behalf.


Washington, D.C.: So, as someone who didn't really like Crash and Haggis' surface level writing about race issues in L.A., do you think we are in for more of the same with In the Valley of Elah? Reviews out of Venice haven't been so hot.

Desson Thomson: Well, I am someone who DID like Crash. And I have my response to that surface level criticism that some people have brought up. It's surface-y, yes, but -- like all those movies in which people across a wide spectrum are connected entirely by theme such as Nashville or Shortcuts -- the point of the movie is its theme and the synchronicity that draws people together rather than deep characterization. And I have read a Hollywood Reporter reviewer that makes it sound really interesting. I like Tommy Lee Jones a great deal, especially when he's playing a rugged character much like himself. So I have to admit I have high hopes. I like Haggis's writing for the most part, although it is uneven. he has written Casino Royale, Flags of Our Fathers,Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby and The Last Kiss.

Anyway, haven't seen it yet is the problem. But high hopes there.


Bethesda, Md.: Desson -- Name the last time you cried at a movie.

Desson Thomson: You mean cried in the right way? (as opposed to two days ago when I watched "Death Sentence"?) Hmmm. I was just talking with colleague Arion Berger about the 1969 Ring of Bright Water, the kids flick in which -- SOB! -- an otter is killed. Maybe the most recent one was The Lives of Others, the German movie about East German surveillance. That would have been about a year ago. And any movie in which I see Princess Diana brings an instant tear to my eye. (You have to be British for this, apparently. An American acquaintance recently wondered aloud if any American male at all cared about her anniversary. But she's still Our People's Princess.)

And that Deep Water movie I mentioned was very saddening. I didn't blub but I was moved.


Atonement?: I'm hearing good things about Atonement, though I'm not a Keira Knightley fan. What's your take?

Desson Thomson: I hear you on that. As much as I love Keira or Keiieeeieeeira however you spell it -- I am always dubious when she's in a movie since she's obviously there as much for babitude as acting chops. But we'll see... The word does seem to be good....


Petersburg, Va.: I think it's Donald Crowhurst. I recently read this: The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. I haven't seen the movie but you are correct that his is a painfully sad story.

Desson Thomson: Thank you for pointing out my mistake. I meant Donald Crowhurst and, in my haste, mentioned his son Simon who appears in the film.


Alexandria, Va.: I saw Rescue Dawn and loved it. We then rented Little Dieter Needs to Fly (documentary Little Dieter Needs to Flye (, and I cannot recommend it enough. Bale did an incredible job, but, as Hunter noted in his review, just hearing about the experiences from the man was more powerful than seeing them acted out. We got it at Video Vault, and I am not sure most big chains would carry it, but really worth hunting down.

Desson Thomson: You are so right about all of that. Yes, both films should be seen in combination - the story that is at the center of both is hugely compelling.


Washington, D.C.: Is this the year that Tommy Lee Jones returns to Oscar form? I say this even though he seems to be playing the same part in In the Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men.

Desson Thomson: He can do no wrong in my book when he plays those characters. One of my favorite films in recent years is the Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which he directed and in which he plays the same rugged archetype again.


Alexandria, Va.: Ooh, I cried in the Lives of Others, too, but the biggest sob-fest in years was The House of Sand and Fog. I just lost it for a good 15 mins in that one. But still an amazing movie and worth seeing.

Desson Thomson: Yeah, there was a tear jerker for you, for sure. That was emotional, I remember.


Washington, D.C.: What are your feelings on Wes Anderson as a fillmmaker? I'm a big fan of his but I know that most critics didn't like The Life Aquatic and some were even down on The Royal Tenenbaums, at least as compared to Rushmore and Bottle Rocket. Also, do you think his new film, The Darjeeling Limited, looks like more style over substance or do you think it will be more in the vain of his older work?

Desson Thomson: I am a big fan of Wes Anderson. And I have had the pleasure of interviewing him a couple of times. He's amazingly intelligent and so well versed in cinema past and present, which is so rare to find in any filmmaker, especially of his generation. But I am a fan of his earlier work more than the last 2. It's always entertaining and edifying to see his films, even if I don't like them as much as the others. I worry that Darjeeling may be a style over substance film, and I hope that he has listened to some of the criticism over the years, to make a few minor adjustments. He is one of our best. And could be even greater.


Alexandria, Va.: I don't know if the movie will be good, but just the TRAILER for Elah makes me choke up! The scene where he learns the son is dead just blows you away -- TL Jones' face shows about 20 different thoughts and feelings. I hope the movie lives up to it.

Desson Thomson: Clearly today's chat is a massive weeping session. I love it.


Alexandria, Va.: What's the word on "Shoot 'Em Up?" I like all the principle cast, but from the trailers it looks pretty, um, dumb.

Desson Thomson: But don't you love Paul Giamatti as a villain? He's so good. That trailer makes me want to see the film actually.


Washington, D.C.: Gentlemen, a word of advice: if a girl sees you crying during a movie, you are in like Flynn.

Desson Thomson: Unless you're watching Saw.


Boston, Mass.: Superbad was superfunny. Where does this rate in the teen sex-romp movies of yore like Revenge of the Nerds, Porky's, etc.?

Desson Thomson: I think it's a terrific movie. It took me 2 times to really appreciate it. And I have a piece in Sunday's paper about seeing it the second time with my 15 year old son, and how that opened my eyes to it better.

It's so much better than those other two, I think.


Poolesville, Md.: I am a fairly frequent movie cryer, but hard as I try, I cannot remember crying since The Green Mile. Is there something wrong with me? Am i becoming cold-hearted?

Desson Thomson: Apparently you are not seeing the right movies is all.


Takoma Park: I'm not surprised that the new Kevin Bacon movie doesn't add anything original to "Death Wish" genre of films, but I am disappointed. Bacon was so amazing in "The Woodsman" and I hoped he'd make us understand and be touched by his vigilante dad the way he did with his "Woodsman" character.

So I guess I don't have a question except to wonder if you were expecting more from this movie, too. In 'Death Sentence,' No Method to Dad's Madness ( Post, Aug. 31)

Desson Thomson: Heck yeah I was expecting more. And as the review points out, I was truly unimpressed!


Alexandria, Va.: When is Deep Water opening around here? I heard Bib Mondella talk about it and am dying to see it.

Desson Thomson: It is opening next week. I think it's at E Street at least, and maybe Bethesda Row. I know you merely hit a typo and meant to say Bob Mondello, but I can't wait to call him Bib the next time I see him.


Diana: Oh, for goodness' sake get over it!

It's been ten years already! Let the over-hyped pampered pet rest in peace.

A "I'm so fed up of teary eyed remembrances of an unfortunately troubled girl" Yorkshireman

Desson Thomson: No, I can't. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. Have you no heart, Yorkshireman?


Arlington, Va.: Desson,

I'm trying to catch up on the summer this weekend, and don't necessarily want the dollar show of Knocked Up to be my capstone.

What should I try to go back for that I missed? I'm considering Talk To Me and No End in Sight, or another helpful suggestion.

(No real interest in Bourne or The Simpsons, and already saw Stardust, Once, and Ratatouille.)

Desson Thomson: No End in Sight is probably the best political documentary you'll see this year. And Talk to Me is great fun with a nice little piece of DC history thrown in. Either one would be worth your while. Depends on your mood, amigo.

I liked This is England, Superbad, Rocket Science, Once, and the British farce Death of A Funeral is hilarious.


Farragut North, Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson:

I'm stumped for a movie to see this weekend -- going out with spouse and friends. Friends suggested Bourne 3, but I haven't seen the 1st two and the review was enough to turn me off; we like indie movies, they like mainstream. Is there anything not too violent (for us) or esoteric (for them) that we could see? They've seen Hairspray, and we've recently seen Talk to Me if that helps.

Desson Thomson: Check my last post for the ones I liked. Most of them indie-ish.


Annandale, Va.: What are your thoughts on Life and Debt? I found the information regarding the IMF, World Bank, etc., very enlightening. Now I understand the protesters motives. However, I could have done without the guilt trip commentary on visiting tourists.

Desson Thomson: Unfortunately I didn't see that one. Sorry. But thanks for the reaction and thoughts.


Mr. Bean: I saw it and wasn't impressed at all. I owned the entire Bean series and I've seen most of the gags in the movie better done in the series. That said, I thought the camera works were really good. It made me want to go to France, the shots were that good! And William Defoe is always good no matter what movie he's in. And looks really good (he must be in his 50's no?)

Desson Thomson: Hah, good information. Thanks. I love Bean's old TV shows.


Men crying at movies: Tears did well up at the end of Kramer vs. Kramer, when Dustin Hoffman finds he gets to keep his son (and I have no kids), and towards the end of the French film Entre Nous, when the husband realizes his wife will really leave him for her female lover. I do not remember crying at the end of Old Yeller, which is supposed to be a film guys can dry at.

Desson Thomson: and the weeping continues. Thanks for letting us know about your teary moments. Next thing you know this chat will be mentioned on Oprah.


Rockville, Md.: Was Scorsese the first to use the 'bad guy standing in front of the mirror with gun' scene (Taxi Driver)? I have witnessed similar scenes in Monster (Charlize Theron) and Down In The Valley (Edward Norton), but none seem to live up to the original. Based upon your review, apparently there is another take on this in Death Sentence.

Thanks... and Great Job as always...

Desson Thomson: Thanks. And actually, Scorsese says he got the idea for that mirror scene from (if I remember right) Kiss Me Deadly. Someone correct me on that, if I am wrong.


Mikes in Knocked Up: Was I the only one who was horribly distracted by the boom mikes popping into the top of the picture in half of the scenes in "Knocked Up"? Nobody else I've spoken to even noticed them, but it really distracted me. I can understand catching glimpses of the crew in reflections in a movie like "Once" (although it was distracting there, too), but in a big-budget pic like "Knocked Up," can't we expect better filming?

Desson Thomson:99.9 times out of a 100, when you see boom mikes, it's not the filmmaker's fault, it's the theater where you saw it. Bad projectionists - who frankly seem to be increasing in number in certain theaters I go to -- forget to mask the frame of the screen correctly. So you see the boom mikes.


Not a Princess Di fan: She was popular at least in part because she was young, pretty, rich and royalty. Mother Teresa died at about the same time, and I was so incensed at hearing one commentator say, basically, oh, she was nice, too, that I went over to the Indian Embassy to sign the condolence book. Diana did some good things, but never sacrificed anything like Mother Teresa did (who has?). I think there was a movie made about Mother Teresa but who remembers it?

Desson Thomson: I hear you on that. But who's going to win, morally speaking, up against Mother Theresa, for goodness's sake? I don't know what the comparison really tells me.


Alexandria, Va.: I haven't heard anything from you about the screening of Lawrence of Arabia at the AFI this week. I assume you're going?

Desson Thomson: I wrote about that AFI series in a Sunday "Here and Now" a couple of weeks ago in the paper. I have seen the movie about a jillion times. Not sure if I'll go to see it this time around. But of course I recommend it to every sentient being.


Hyattsville, Md.: Two biggest crying movies for me.

"Deadman Walking": I always cry when Sean Penn is about to be executed. The character is obviously a murderer, but his performance is so powerful that you sill feel for him.

And "Harry and the Hendersons": First movie I ever cried at (I think I was 12). When Jon Lithgow yells at Harry to get away from him; gets me every time.

Desson Thomson: Aaaw.


Crying: I saw Lilo and Stitch on TV a few weeks ago and cried my eyes out. "My family is small and broken but it's still good." Tearing up just thinking about it.

Desson Thomson: Aaaaw 2.


Alexandria, Va.: To Poolesville: see Rescue Dawn -- the rescue scene chokes you up. Bale just packs so much joy and relief into that scene, that you get all laughy/cry-y with him. Or, see The Lives of Others, I concur that is a weeper (also a simply wonderful wonderful movie).

Desson Thomson: Aaaaw 3.


Frederick, Md.:"Across the Universe" -- I can't remember the last time I looked forward to a movie, and this one has me marking the calendar. Have you seen the trailer?

Desson Thomson: Yes, seen it (the trailer). Worried. I hope it's good.


Arlington, Va.: What is your approach to reviewing Hot Topic documentaries, while maintaining objectivity? Specifically, the recently viewed movie that comes mind is Jesus Camp? How do you separate the message from the delivery?

Desson Thomson: That's a tough one because you know, if you pan it, lots of people will assume it's merely because you're a Christian basher or whatever the political group involved. And if you like a Michael Moore film, for instance, you are a pinko liberal. So I just try to be as honest as I can - and damn the torpedoes. Of course I try to be aware of the sensitivity factor for the particular constituencies. But all I can bring to the table that's genuine is my honest response.


Falls Church, Va.: Maybe I've missed your review, but I have you seen Death At A Funeral? Your thoughts?

Desson Thomson: I thought it was pretty hilarious! I will post my short take review of it in this chat.


Crying during 'Lives of Others': Was it at the end when he tells the bookstore clerk, "It's for me."?......Me too

Desson Thomson: Lots of places.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I need a movie to see with my grandmother this weekend. She generally goes for the lower scale of the rating system, not liking sexuality or violence all that much. She loved Ocean's 11, hated Love Actually, fell asleep during The Hours. She claims she loves Helen Mirren but has only seen her in Calendar Girls (which, she loved, obviously). Any suggestions for current films?

Desson Thomson: Your grandmother sounds like a pistol. Take her to Hairspray. Or the Simpsons maybe. Or Harry Potter. Or Ratatouille.

_______________________ Death at a Funeral


Arlington, Va.:"The Iron Giant." Bawled like a BABY.

Oh, Brad Bird, you mad genius.

Desson Thomson: Yes, what a great movie. Very sad. Who knew Vin Diesel could make me teary --for the right reasons?


Atlanta, Ga.: For crying, you can always count on The Rookie and the end of Shawshank Redemtion.

Desson Thomson: Aha, now we're talking.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

I love your reviews so I'm disappointed that The Post seems to be cutting down on its review inches. Is it my imagination? For instance, it seemed to only have a capsule review for Death at a Funeral a week or two ago in the Friday entertainment section and none in the Style section. Ditto on Chalk this week, which is a movie I'm interested in. Is the Post cutting back on its full-length movie reviews?

If it is, then it should review movies fully that no one may have heard of, versus the movies lots of people are going to go see whether the critics like them or not.

Desson Thomson: I appreciate what you are saying. We are not cutting back. But Style can only fit so many full length reviews in the paper, and our editors try to put in the ones that they think our readers will be most curious about. Obviously when there are 12 films opening in a weekend, some will end up only in Weekend in the short form. (And we can miss out on worthy films or hilarious ones like Death At A Funeral, which was very funny, but only got a Weekend short take.) In terms of your comment about the films that people will see anyway, we try to write reviews that are a cut above other reviews, which merely talk about whether the reviewer liked or disliked them. We try to put in a deeper cultural perspective.


Shawshank!: I'm tearing up just thinking of the "I hopes" at the end!

Desson Thomson: This is a sad day.


Cryfest: I'm no good at the end of the Truman show and he realizes his whole life has been a sham and his boat crashes into the wall. Jim Carey in his best dramatic role

Desson Thomson: Aaaw 28.


New York, N.Y.:"Across the Universe" may be doomed. Word is the studio was so unhappy when Julie Taymor delivered it that they took it away from her and reedited it completely. Taymor may take her name off it.

But "I'm Not There" with Cate Blanchett and six others playing Bob Dylan has on amazing trailer. I am really stoked.

Also, as a big Peter Greenaway fan (I know, I know...) what are the chances that we'll get to see his latest, "Nightwatching", with Martin freeman of the U.K. "Office" as Rembrandt?

Desson Thomson: If we see Greenaway, it'll be at E Street for about 24 hours.


Washington, D.C.: Men Crying -- I don't know if anyone remembers Claude Goretta's "The Lacemaker." It was the best Isabella Hupert movie ever, and it made me so sad I decided to walk home (I think it was playing around Washington Circle) sobbing all the way.

Desson Thomson: I heart Isabelle Huppert.


Montreal, Canada:"The Lives of Others" made me cry, too, at the end...but the film I cried most at this year was "After the Wedding," particularly when Jorgen died.

Desson Thomson: Yes, nice film.


Cry baby: When I went to see Steel Magnolias all us ladies in the theater we're actually passing packets of tissues around to each other.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. I mean in a nice way.


Washington, D.C.: Are you going to the Toronto Film Festival? Anything you are particularly excited about?

Desson Thomson: Wish I were, alas. Lots of good things there. Maybe next year.


Crying (may as well): Did anyone see Eight Below? We joked about possibly tearing up in it, seeing as how it was about abandoned dogs, and to our utter embarrassment both of us were sobbing at the end in a packed movie theater. Just wanted to throw that out there if you want a good cry, ha ha.

Desson Thomson: Heard it was a really good cry. Didn't see it.


Bawling City: Snoopy Come Home. Got me every time.

Of course I've only seen it once, and I was about 3 at the time.

Desson Thomson: You remember that? Whoa.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Guys (and gals) are always okay to cry when Kevin Costner asks his dad for a game of catch at the end of "Field of Dreams."

Desson Thomson: Sob.


23112: The odd crying moment I've had in a movie was in The Incredibles when the mom and kids are in the plane under attack, and she's desperately trying to either get the attack called off (the radio calls are spot-on) or get her daughter to use her power, after years of telling her never to do it. It's frantic and panicky and incredibly intense, and somehow it gets me every time.

Desson Thomson: Hey listen up. I have to write about this in some way. So all of you who posted about crying, please drop me your e mails and maybe I can quote you as I pursue this in an article abouut our sob stories. I love it.

Just put crybaby in the subject line.


Centreville, Va.: Strangely enough, I always get teary during "Casablanca," but not at the expected points. It's always the scene when they're singing "La Marseilles" in the bar and there's the close-up of Yvonne singing her heart out, tears streaming down her face. For some reason, that always gets to me.

Desson Thomson: Ditto. Send me your email.

And thanks for all the sobbing reports.


Waldorf, Md.: How come there was an L.A. premiere of Halloween on Thursday, Aug 23rd but the D.C. screening wasn't till last night?

Desson Thomson: Sorry, no idea. I can nae tell ye.


Washington: My mom's an elementary school teacher. During the last week of school when the kids are too wound up to do anything, they will often round up several classes and sit them all in front of 'Old Yeller.' The kids never understand why the teachers are all huddled in the back of the room, sobbing quietly.

Desson Thomson: Love it. Send me an e mail about this, so I can follow up!


Weepers:"Truly Madly Deeply" (I think that's the correct name), with Alan Rickman as the boyfriend who comes back from the dead always gets me weeping.

Desson Thomson: Oh yes, that was a weeper. And I never saw a snottier weep scene when she cried on screen. She was a right mess.


Masks: Really? Projectionists still mask films by hand? I would have thought that we would have movies with the masking instructions encoded in a header by now. I mean, if we can have things like THX, can't we expect the film to be projected the way it was recorded?

Desson Thomson: It's automatic, you can open and close the black borders for different screen aspect ratios.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

The Dieter doc is also available at Netflix. I have it in my list, but it must be quite popular because it says I have a very long wait for it.

I didn't catch Rescue Dawn because I wanted to see the doc first. And speaking of Christian Bale, have you seen American Psycho? I watched it last night for the first time and am not yet sure what to make of it.

And I join the growing group who cried at Lives of Others. So sad that the lead actor passed away at such an early age.

Desson Thomson: yes, he was a great actor.


College Park, Md.: What did you think of Moliere? I thought if had been dubbed not subtitled it would have caught on.

Desson Thomson: Didn't see it. Sorry!


Washington, D.C.: Have you heard anything about Michael Moore's new documentary that is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival? Will it be like his other docs or will it be merely footage of him traveling around during the 2004 election?

Desson Thomson: Hahaha, what do YOU think?


Desson Thomson: Guys and gals, this has been weepy fun. Till next time, we shall meet again. Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!


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