Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, September 14, 2007; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Sept. 14, 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: Helloooo everyone. Nice to be back again for a (choose at will) spirited, friendly, insightful, provocative,or simply amusing chat. Last time our session became a fascinating Super Sob Session in which we discussed our most tearful moments in the movies. I asked people to submit their most tearduct inducing moments and to put crybaby in the subject line so I could assemble all those e mails for a possible article on the subject. I will be following up on that with all the respondents soon. And there were, by the way, more than 40 responses. So clearly we hit a chord. Maybe we will come up with other such enjoyable and home-hitting subjects this time or in coming sessions. At any rate, no particular agenda today, just let me know what's on your mind.


Arlington, Va.: I'm much relieved to find that the response to "Eastern Promises" is good ("AHoV" was probably my second favorite film of '05).

Also, is it too late to email you with "crybaby" permissions? I forgot.

Desson Thomson: No, go ahead and send the crybaby thing. I would ask you and anyone else to go beyond simply indentifying the movies that made you blub. And get into why a little. Why you think it hit a chord for you. Are you susceptible to wedding movies? (My good friend Nell Minow, who is a complete wimp, says she tears up whenever there's a wedding on screen.) (Me, I get that way when there's a funeral service, having seen out a mother, a father and a grandmother in recent years.) The more insight the better.



Children of Men: I live abroad, so I just got the chance to watch "Children of Men."


I'm usually disappointed by films that get rave reviews because my expectations are so high, but this exceeded everything I could have hoped for. I thought it was a surprisingly smooth mix of Terry Gilliam, "Black Hawk Down," and something completely new. Truly one of the best, and most disturbing films I've ever seen.

My only very minor complaint is that my American ears had serious problems understanding a lot of the dialogue because of the accents... But that's okay. I'll just watch it again tonight!

Desson Thomson: Glad you enjoyed it. A great film. When you watch it a second time, look for that shot which is continuous from war blasting scenes outside a building to the moment when Clive Owen comes upstairs and encounters a human baby. I intend to really study it and time it one day. The choreography in that scene is amazing (there are tanks and explosions, too, which had to be timed right). Amazing.


Woodbine: Have you been to a screening of the film "Indoctrinate U", scheduled for a showing at the Kennedy Center on September 28? The promotional trailer on this film about free speech issues on college campuses look interesting. What do you think?

Desson Thomson: I have not been invited to such. And I assume you refer to the following:

It looks appropriately provocative and I'll check it out some more.


Annapolis, Md.: Desson, who are your favorite film critics and/or reviewers? Who do you run to Rotten Tomatoes to read (once your own pieces are safely filed, natch)?

Desson Thomson: I just re-read myself. There's no reason to look beyond my own excellence. Oh, how I kid. There are many good critics--some for their powers of writing--and others for their great judgment--and others for their penetrating insights. I know a great many of them from festival going and being a member of the National Society of Film Critics in recent years and have to come to like and respect many including A.O. Scott, Gerald Peary, John Anderson, Todd McCarthy, Manohla Dargis, John Powers, J. Hoberman, David Sterritt and David Denby. There are many more. And of course, there are my talented colleagues Ann Hornaday and Steve Hunter. And thank goodness Hank Stuever doesn't review for us too often. His great writing puts me to shame.

_______________________ Indoctrinate U Trailer


River City: I have decided that "You and Me and Everyone We Know" is still the most provocative film I've seen in years. I still think about it. It really struck a nerve about our human need to connect, which such genuine sentiment and pathos

Desson Thomson: Yes, yes. I am always glad to meet someone who has enjoyed that film and appreciated it, including my friend and colleague art critic Paul Richard. Very original, vey bold, very unselfconscious. She's kind of a behind the camera Sarah Silverman, except her perspective is nicer.


Silver Spring: When "Into Thin Air" is released, to which theaters can we expect it? Like, will it playing totally wide release or start in Landmark theaters first? Thanks!

Desson Thomson: Do you mean Into the Wild, based on a true story and the bestselling book by Jon Krakauer? (Who also wrote Thin Air, about Everest , a documentary of which came out in 1997 )?

If so, that movie opens next week, Sept. 28. And I suspect it will screen at 2 or 3 theaters in the DC area.


St. Mary's City, Md.: Regarding the Stinkers of Summer article from Wednesday...did you believe that this summer was an especially bad one for movies, or not particularly worse than any other year? Until I read the article, it hadn't sunk in for me that Lindsay Lohan was an actress. I guess I assumed that she was just a young thing who was famous simply for being both sexy and out of control.

Desson Thomson: Hello out there St. Mary's. What a beautiful part of the country it is over there. I used to live on the western shore of Md, and I love that region. You know, I feel that this year was not particularly bad. I mean, the bar is so low for the summer, anyway, how could anyone stretch that far down to even see a difference? As for Lindsay Lohan, she is a very good actress. And her crazy offscreen behavior is a rather tragic affair for me. It's a waste of good acting talent.


River City: re: "The choreography in that scene is amazing"

I can tell you my 2 most amazingly timed bits of choreography is film:

(1) "The Professional." Gary Oldman is a mad crooked cop. Bach (or Beethoven, forgive my memory) is blasting, the character loves it and has it played while he trashes the apartment. Timed perfectly with the booms in the symphony Oldman moves his hands and parts the drapes into the next room, making a stark frightening entrance.

(2) "Boogie Nights." When they go to the drug dealers house. This houseboy is walking around the living room dropping firecrackers. The movement is all based on those booms, and the actors know they're coming, but don't flinch (except as the character who is getting progressively more spooked with each boom).

Desson Thomson: yes, I remember both. Good thoughts. Maybe -- it may too old by the time I write it -- this is a good idea to write about. I think there have been so many amazingly well choreographed scenes throughout the history of the movies. Think Busby Berkeley in Gold Diggers of 1933, etc., and also think John Woo in his amazing 1980s action films.


Fredericksburg, Va: Desson,

My favorite all-time movie is Becket and my favorite actor is Richard Burton. Are there any young Hollywood Stars today who even come close to the greats such as Richard Burton?

Desson Thomson: Good question. To me, great actors (and I am talking about men in this instance--but of course there are many great actresses past and present)can be great for so many different reasons. But what I like about Burton, O Toole, Brando and those male actors is their yin-yang combination of swagger and sensitivity - their combination of male and female qualities. I see it in Russell Crowe, Tommy Lee Jones and some others. Of course, they're not young any more. But I like to see aging in men and women. To me actors get better with age - like wine - and the heck with how good they look in a swimsuit or t shirt.


The Sea Ranch, CA: Mr.Thomson,

I believe I read review of "Shoot'Em Up" written by you last week. If I recall correctly, you didn't like it very much. My husband and I planned to see "3:10 to Yuma" last weekend, but ended up seeing "Shoot'Em Up" instead. It was so over the top crazy fun that we would pay to see it again. We thought Clive Owen played a great comic book anti-hero that you can't help but like. Paul Giamatti is hysterical when he's talking on the phone to his wife and has great fun playing the bad guy. This is not a movie to be taken seriously but to sit back and enjoy. In the end it's an anti-gun story told in a most twisted way. I know I'll never look at carrots the same way again.

Desson Thomson: Hey Sea Ranch. Actually I did NOT review that movie. And I'm sure if I had, I would have directed readers' attention to the sheer fun of seeing Paul Giamatti get to pick and choose roles - and to play against type. And I applaud your opinion.


Laurel, Md.: Just a comment. I've been trying to get my money's worth out of my ridiculously high cable bill so every night M-F I watch a movie I've never seen before. For the past two weeks its been working. Some I've seen are "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?," "Ordinary People," "The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio," "To Live and Die in LA" and "I Shot Andy Warhol." It's really opened my eyes up to different periods and genres.

Desson Thomson: I am a satellite dude, not a cable one. So I'd advise you to switch, personally. However, the good part of this is that you are discovering such diverse and good films. Good on ya, Laurel.


Washington, DC: Is "behind the screen" really the best vantage point from which to view a movie? I would think not. First of all, the picture would be backwards, right?

Desson Thomson: Indeed.


Teary Moment: A Few Good Men: Better play than a movie but this gets me every time, even more so with Iraq.

Courtroom, before Nicholson, before we know what really happened, only the three lawyers (mostly paraphrasing):

Demi Moore: Why do you hate them so much?

Kevin Pollard: Because they picked on a weaker kid. That's it. So he couldn't run very fast. They didn't like him so they killed him! [pause] Why do you like them so much?

Demi Moore: Because they stand on a wall and say "Nothing's going to harm you. Not on my watch."

Liberal Sorkin can present both sides of an argument and I'm as against this war as much as anyone, but you can't knock someone's service.

May they all come home safe and soon.

Desson Thomson: I hope they all come home safe too. I think all of us can agree on that. And thanks for the evocative set up to help us remember those moments!


Better late than never:: Finally saw two movies over the weekend that I'd like to recommend.

"Hot Fuzz" -- heard mixed reviews about this and was a bit leery based on the ads. A mixture of British humour in the beginning and action movies at the end, it takes several viewings to capture all of the small touches that Wright puts in the film.

Heard anything about "Run, Fat Boy, Run"?

Also watched "A Night at the Opera" and was struck about how well the humour translates today. While not a big Marx Bros. fan and born about 40 years after the movie, I laughed through most of the movie. Favorite parts were the room service/cabin scene on the ship and the climatic Opera House scenes at the end.

Desson Thomson: I am sooo looking forward to that film--RFBR, that is --- because basically I love Simon Pegg. As for A Night at the Opera, what a great, great comedy. The Marx Brothers were so gifted, and that's one of my MBros favorites, along with Duck Soup, Animal Crackers and A Day at the Races.


Boston: Speaking of firecrackers and choreography...

The previous poster reminded me of my favorite dance scene (which, I know, is a slightly different kind of choreography) on film: in Holiday Inn when Fred Astaire is supposed to be winging it through 4th of July-themed number. His whole routine is timed to the firecrackers going off. It's pretty amazing, especially considering, short of a few pops from the stage, there are zero effects going on. It's just him dancing with the most amazing sense of timing I have ever seen. Talk about a master.

Desson Thomson: I agree one hundred percent. It's an amazing scene. And you are right about all those qualities. Astaire was a genius, even if he did look like ET's dad.


Your colleague Hunter: I know it wasn't your review but I can't stay silent -- Naveen Andrews best remembered from "The English Patient"? Really? Does Hunter not have a tv?

Desson Thomson: Naveen Andrews was, of course, a household face to many for his great role in the TV show Lost.


Ugh, blech:"Across the Universe" -- what was Jules THINKING??? Didn't they do that way back in the 70's with Sgt. Pepper and made a mockery of all that is good, true, and Beatley? Hollywood needs to get a memo that the Beatles songs are good as they are and to just leave them alone already.

I enjoyed "Titus" (was purty), but I'm really losing my respect for you, Taymor.

Oh and Evan Rachel Wood? Vom.

Desson Thomson: To me, Julie Taymor is a talented stage artist, but on screen, and I speak with my own personal opinion, she is vastly overrated. I was not surprised to see this movie disappoint.


Cryfest: I'm not a regular movie cryer, but I sobbed--sobbed!--during "Iris." That excellent movie just devastated me.

Desson Thomson: Yes, a touching film. With 4 strong performances. If you can explain why and send me an e mail, that would be great.


Alexandria, Va.: It was Stephen Hunter who had a lukewarm opinion of "Shoot 'Em Up," and his review suggested that the humor didn't work for him. That is, he didn't review it as an over-the-top movie, but as a straight-ahead one.

Desson Thomson: Yes, Steve reviewed.


Great Choreography in Film: The opening shot of "The Player". The timing on that still leaves me in awe as to how they pulled it off.

Desson Thomson: Good point. Yes.


ArtMovieLover, VA: Did Nell Minnow tear up during "License to Wed"? Probably, but not for the usual reasons, right?

Nice review of "Eastern Promises," but I was disturbed to see it "buried" in the Style section. Also, I wondered if the size of the photo cut into your word count. I like images, but I get the sense that this movie is one of the few that justifies longer reviews. I could've kept reading your thoughts on the film.

Last, what's Joel Achenbach doing reviewing the latest documentary? Joel's alright with me. I like his stuff. But I'm a loyal Post reader and movie-review devotee, and there are THREE movie reviewers at the Post. Why, pray tell, add Joel to the mix? Could you, Stephen, or Ann not make the screening?

Desson Thomson: I'll ask Nell (Minow for the record) about that.

Thanks for the kudos. I believe that my review was on the inside of the section because -- as is often the case on Friday -- there are frequently too many movies to fit on the front. (I never ask my superiors about front page play and risk looking pathetically petty. I figure, if I did a good job it'll make the front page.)At any rate, I hope people see that film.

And I have written an article on David Cronenberg that (I think ) may run tomorrow or maybe Monday, and which delves into the reasons behind his brand of violence. So if you want Deeper Thoughts on that film and all of his others, check that out!

As for the Joel thing, the philosophy at Style is to occasionally use non reviewers that might bring an insight that normal reviewers wouldn't. (So Peter Marks, our theater critic, for instance, reviwed Hairspray, since it was a movie and a play before this.) And I thought Joel DID do that. I think it's good to bring in those different but authoritative voices.


Teary Moment:: Cinema Paradiso - at the end, where as an adult, Toto watches the film of all of the kissing scenes his projectionist-mentor spliced together through all the years.

Desson Thomson: Sob.


Arlington, Va.: So Stephen Hunter has poo-poo'd both "The Brave One" and Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah." Have you yourself, Deeson, seen either of these? And if so, can you give us your own assessments? These days I'm more inclined to take YOUR reviews more seriously than Stephen Hunter's, because you don't criticize everything you see.

Desson Thomson: I have to be honest: I was too busy writing about Cronenberg to see those movies at critics' screenings. But I hope to see both. Thanks for the confidence in me, though!


Ballston, Va.: Hi Desson,

Just wanted to chime in that I watched Apocalypto recently and WOW! What a movie! After the first hunting scene, I was totally engrossed, and by the end my heart was racing - Mel Gibson, despite his personal issues, and especially the enormous cast and crew did a fantastic job on this one. I saw it on Blu-Ray and it's also one of the first movies I've seen that really does HD justice - the elaborate sets, cinematography, and natural scenery are just stunning. Sure, it may not have been historically accurate, but I think besides just being a great chase movie, it did a good job conveying the ills that can become a greedy and bloated society.

Desson Thomson: Hey, I high five you. Great movie. It was probably the most exciting movie I saw last year.


Washington, D.C.: You have mentioned more than once that movies nowadays seem to run on and on -- and end up being too long. I have a theory about why this is so and wondered what you make of it.

I trace it to the decline of network television. Back in the day when "NBC Saturday Night at the Movies" or "The ABC Sunday Night Movie" was a big deal, and the only way to see many movies, the networks insisted that the movies be kept to 90-100 minutes so they would fit into the TV programming schedules. Now that we have so many more choices, including cable, satellite, Internet and DVDs, that discipline has eroded and directors are freer to indulge themselves. It isn't always a bad thing but on balance I think you are right that the typical movie would benefit from being 10-30 minutes shorter. What say you?

Desson Thomson: Very, very interesting. I will shamelessly steal segments of this idea, if I think of making a point about long movies again in the future. And you will receive no money or credit because I am churlish, self absorbed and cheap.


This is England: Just so the movie on cable and well, wow. Really good, I'm from the US and have never been to England but it captures so well the forces that create such deeply disturbed people and the charisma that can overwhelm those who want to belong, to fit in. We saw that here at the same time and I suspect it still exists in some form. As someone who listened to and loved hardcore punk music in the 80s, I remember well having to defend my listening tastes to those who thought we were all like the neo-nazi minority in the movie. It was great to see the majority punk side represented flaws and all.

Desson Thomson: Glad you liked that film. I enjoyed it too.


Washington, D.C.: What are the antidotes to all of the violent films opening this week? Watching Jodie Foster defend a vigilante pic as "deep" is embarrassing and to me speaks to the dearth of parts she faces (a shame). And man do I love Viggo Mortensen, but I can't take Kronenberg pics. I really loved "Broken English" -- mostly due to Posey's performance -- so can you recommend anything similar?

Desson Thomson: Try 2 Days in Paris?


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Desson,

You seem to very much like "Eastern Promises," despite its very graphic depictions of violence. It seems like most critics give Cronenberg a pass when it comes to the gore present in his many of his films yet loudly object to similar in Mel Gibson's work ("Apocalypto," "Braveheart," "Passion," etc). Both are very gifted directors. What is going on here? Is Cronenberg's use of violence "in context" while Gibson's use is "gratuitous"?


Desson Thomson: I think Mel is a little boy who likes tribal stories and like a kid he enjoys blood and guts and totally blowing the minds of his audience in an entertaining way. Cronenberg, as my forthcoming article will point out, has a more moral approach to violence. He basically tries to make us sick when we see it, so we get to appreciate how horrible it really is, and how REAL it is.


Takoma Park, Md.: Have you seen the movie "Snowcake" with Sigorney Weaver and Alan Rickman? I was wondering what your take on the film was. I'm not even sure if it was ever released. I saw it on my cable On Demand and I can't stop thinking about it. It was certainly a quiet film that seemed to have gotten noticed at various film festivals.

Desson Thomson: I regret that I wasn't as enamored you imply you were. You can check out my review here:


Philadelphia: I just recently rewatched the extended edition of Kingdom of Heaven and found myself wondering, yet again, why that wasn't the version released to the theaters? It actually explains almost everything wrong with the chopped-up theatrical release - and if that had been the one I'd seen in the theater, when the idiots ahead of me as we left wondered aloud why the hero had cared about his wife's soul after she committed suicide, I would have just wondered about their attention spans and not their entire educational history. Most of the time it seems that the extended editions/director's cuts/etc are better off not being the ones in theatrical release, but for this movie it was certainly not the case. What other movies are better in their "super" edition (by any name) than what was in the theater?

Desson Thomson: Interesting question. Perhaps to be explored anon. I did not like the theatrical version. And it would be interesting to see it in that form, but I wouldn't be very enthusiastic about the task, to be honest.


Desson Thomson: Hey, folks, running way over my one hour as usual. Sorry for the questions I didn't get to. The clock rules again. Looking forward to chatting with you again. Have a great couple of weeks till then!


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