Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, September 21, 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. 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: Hello ladies, gents and sentient beings,

I am back to chat with you about anything to do with the silver spring your wee hearts desire. You may have read my reviews today of December Children or the documentary Forever. You may have seen -- as I did last Saturday at the Uptown - The Brave One - starring Jodie Foster and the soon to be over-exposed Terrence Howard. I would love to hear what people thought of Valley of Elah, which I haven't caught up with. Any good? Why? And has anyone seen David Cronenberg's fabulous Eastern Promises, starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts? Anyway, tell me what's rattling and percolating on your mind.


Washington, D.C.: Have you seen "Michael Clayton" yet? Early reviews have been generally positive but this looks like such a generic legal thriller down to the title itself.

Desson Thomson: I haven't caught any of the critics screenings yet. It does suggest by the preview I saw that it may be a little too tied down to its genre, especially with Sydney Pollack playing, well, the Sydney Pollack role. But I always enjoy Mr. Clooney -- who somewhat satisfies the old school absence left by Clark Gable/Cary Grant -- at least for me. I'll have to get back to you on that!


Palo Alto, Calif.:"Valley of Elah." Have you seen it? What's your opinion?

Desson Thomson: Sorry, cannot say yet. But David Denby in the New Yorker raved so much, I'm dying to see it. I am huge fan of Tommy Lee Jones. And I should mention the full title is "IN the Valley of Elah."


Rockville, Md.: Hi, Desson. I'm just getting back into moviegoing following major surgery, which fortunately went well. I love Julie Delpy and j'adore Paris, so I had high hopes for "Two Days in Paris." But I was, to say the least, overwhelmed, probably because her BF was so unappealing. As I was taught in my younger, more radical days, any woman can get a man if she aims low enough! Even the great Parisian scenery could not make up for this.

Desson Thomson: First of all, I am glad you made it through your surgery. Heal well. And be well. I think you meant to say you were NOT overwhelmed by the role played by Adam Goldberg. Well, I am sorry it didn't work for you. But I found him quite amusing. He was there, after all, as a foil for Julie Delpy's--and by extension, the movie's--francophilia. He was lampooning, I think, the kind of American that the rest of the world thinks exist in great numbers.


Washington, D.C.: I did not like the book "Into the Wild," mostly because I never developed any sympathy for the main character. He just seemed like a stupid kid to me. Any reason I would like the movie better?

Desson Thomson: You'll have to ask in a couple of weeks, after the movie screens for me.


Rosslyn, Va.: Desson, have you caught a screening of "Into the Wild" yet? I loved the book and from what I've seen this looks to be a pretty well made film.

Desson Thomson: Same again. I am very interested in it too. I hear good things.


Colesville, Md.: Hello,

Just to chime in about last week's discussion which I read after the fact, best choreographed scene is from "The Big Liebowski." It is the scene where Jesus is bowling and the Gypsy Kings' "Hotel California" starts to play. Just brilliant.

On another note, husband is out of town this weekend and the box office looks dismal. Between "3:10 to Yuma" and "Across the Universe," which would you suggest?

Desson Thomson: Yes, what a terrific scene. I was rewatching that film the other day. It really holds up. Very funny.

As for your choices, 3:10 is easily the better one to see.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Desson, I have a REAL behind the scenes question. How can I find out where a specific movie scene was shot? I've scoured the Internet using every search phrase I can think of. I watched the DVD extras and credits ... NOTHING! GAH! HELP!

Desson Thomson: Check out, then type in your movie title, then scroll down on the left vertical bar until you find "filming locations."


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

I was able to catch an early screening of "Into the Wild." My first thought was how strange it was that the screening was not full. I actually thought the film received positive reviews at the Toronto Film Festival and with Sean Penn attached to the project I assumed there would be interest.

Have you seen the film yet? I really enjoyed it myself.

Desson Thomson: Nope, still waiting to see it. Tell me why you enjoyed yourself. I'm curious.


Washington, D.C.: DT,

How did you think the fall season is shaping up? I know it really hasn't started but you gave me faith with "Eastern Promises," which I cant wait to see.

Desson Thomson: Good. See it.


Washington, D.C.: I loved "Pan's Labrynth" so much that I wish that there would be a part two. Is there any possibility that there'll be a sequel? Heck, I wouldn't mind if there would even be a prequel.

Desson Thomson: I agree. I am not aware of a forthcoming sequel, but the movie is considered something of a sequel itself to Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone.


More crybabies: Don't forget the whole sub-category of crying sports movies: "Rudy," "Bang the Drum Slowly," "Brian's Song," "Remember the Titans."

P.S. Good article about taking your son to see "Superbad." Reviews are great, but sometimes it is nice to see a movie in the context of human interaction.

Desson Thomson: Thanks for those other titles, and thanks for the compliment!


Toronto, Canada: Has Heddy Honigmann attracted much of an audience outside of his native Holland? I've just read that one of his previous films, "Crazy," won a couple of awards. Have you had a chance to see this film?

Desson Thomson: Actually Heddy Honigmann is a woman. And all I have seen is "Forever," her terrific documentary about the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, which I reviewed in today's Washington Post. I would like to see more of her films.


Laurel, Md.: Hey Desson,

Happy Friday to ya!

I'm going to see "Eastern Promises" on a Sunday matinee (you'd be surprised at the kinds of movies people bring young children to) but my boyfriend is all huffy now that he's heard of the knife fight that Viggo does. How can I convince him this is a spectacular fall movie to go see and he can watch football when he gets back?

Desson Thomson: Tell your boyfriend--if he's so squeamish--that the scene in question is edited so that he'll never have to squirm. And he'll be so distracted by the amazing fight that takes place, he'll forget Viggo is NUDE, NAKED or

COMPLETELY STARKERS -- as we say in Britain.


Washington, D.C.: I recently saw the trailer for "We Own the Night." Can this movie try any harder to be "The Departed Part 2"? Along those same lines, "Reservation Road" looks like "21 and a Half Grams."

Desson Thomson: I hear you on that.


Washington, D.C.: After seeing the new trailer for "There Will Be Blood," do you think this is the year that Paul Thomas Anderson FINALLY gets some awards to put on his shelf? At the very least, it seems like Daniel Day Lewis is a lock for a best actor nomination.

Desson Thomson: I hope so. I am a big fan of his. I think he's a much greater filmmaker than Tarantino.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: My wife and I saw "Shoot 'Em Up" last week, and, even with total over-the-top violence, we both enjoyed it. It may have been recycled John Woo, with tongue firmly in cheek, but seeing Mr. Giamatti go way over the top made it all worthwhile.

Desson Thomson: I love how Paul Giamatti is getting to do roles like that. He's such a great actor.


Bethesda, Md.: Great discussion so far. I just watched the trailer for the upcoming PT Anderson flick "There Will Be Blood." Have you heard anything about this one yet? Daniel Day Lewis, as usual, looks just great in this.

Desson Thomson: As I said, high hopes for me.


Baltimore, Md.: Desson, I just re-watched "The Lives of Others" and am still amazed at the emotional impact and beauty of the story. Please tell me that the Hollywood remake will not be an utter train wreck.

Desson Thomson: That is one guarantee that I'd be an idiot to make. Can anything name one American remake that even came close to the original, let alone eclipsed it? I'd be thrilled to hear some examples.

Glad you liked The Lives of Others. A great film.


Into the Wild: Not a fan of Krakauer ever since the flap over "Into Thin Air." He writes very well though. I just don't know why we are romanticizing a la Chris Mccandless -- the person on whom the book and movie "Into the Wild" are based. I read the book, not sure if I want to watch the movie.

Desson Thomson: You'll have to wait and see what the critical consensus is, I guess.


Bethesda, Md.: Hmm ... what's percolating with me. Do you think Westerns are going to make a comeback?

Do you think we need the new "Justice League" movie George Miller is in talks to direct? And lastly, do you think Owen Wilson can make a comeback if he wants to?

Desson Thomson: You know, every time there is a successful western, people seem to ask if the western is back. Or if the sword and sandal epic is back. Or the musical. I think those questions are hard to answer because, for the most part, studios and filmmakers can't always time a movie's release with such synchronous precision. It be one year or 10 before your movie is made--even with all the resources available. I think the western will always return for a bit, then disappear, then come back.

The Justice League project will be an odd one because the actors playing Batman and Superman (Christian Bale and Brandon Routh) will almost certainly not become involved.

I am still in shock about Owen Wilson. I am not sure how things are going to turn out for him. I hope he recovers. You can't predict that kind of thing. But I expect he will pull through. It'll be interesting to see what kind of roles he does or attracts after that.


North McLean, Va.: It's been many years ago now, but I enjoyed the "The Man with One Red Shoe" much more than the French original. I felt the American version was more coherent and much wittier.

Desson Thomson: Hmmm. Interesting. I loved the French version myself.


Boston, Mass.: What was the flap over "Into Thin Air." BTW, I really want to see "Into the Wild." I didn't think he really romanticized McCandless. I thought Krakauer did a good job of showing how his mistakes led to his death.

Desson Thomson: No sure. I too want to see this film. 'Wild,' I mean.


Silver Spring, Md.: An American remake that came close to the original: "The Departed." It's really a tough call for me, some parts of that I liked more than "Infernal Affairs," while I thought IA was better in other areas. Both are worth seeing.

Desson Thomson: That's a good call.


TIFF via B'more: Saw some enjoyable films at the festival:

"Rails and Ties"

"Then She Found Me"

"The Girl in the Park"

"Married Life"

"Death Defying Acts"

And some stinkers:

"Romulus my Father"

"Margot at the Wedding"

Wasn't lucky enough to score tickets to many of the films that are starting to show up in limited release ... but they are saved in my Netflix already!

Desson Thomson: Good tips, thanks. (The poster is referring to the Toronto International Film Festival). I am sorry to hear that about Margot, since I am looking forward to it based on how much I liked Squid and the Whale, and, in fact, I will be reviewing it.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: Sheesh...I'm tired just from typing the title, don't know if I'll be able to sit through the 2 h 4 m run time. Have you caught a screening? I heard bad things at first (before the movie was shown anywhere) but now I'm hearing some positive reviews for Pitt and some raves for Affleck. Worth my $10?

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. Made me laugh. Haven't seen yet, but I hear good things.


Washington, D.C.: I've seen "In the Valley of Elah", and I just read the New Yorker review of Elah that you linked. While the piece is beautifully written and centers (rightfully so) on Tommy Lee Jones' performance, I think it is a bit too breathless for me. He is obviously a Haggis fan, as he mentioned he loved "Crash," too. Like "Crash," this film is receiving pretty mixed reviews. People seem very divided on Haggis and in a lot of ways their opinions of him seem to reflect their own beliefs on a given issue. I am really curious to hear what you think of this film when you see it, and I am also wondering what you thought of "Crash."

Desson Thomson: I expect I will like it, since I thought Crash was a good film.


Arlington, Va.: Desson:

Are there any movies out there that are worth the $75 we need to pay for a babysitter? In other words, a movie that's great, but that won't be nearly as great on DVD?

Desson Thomson: That is one steep price, my friend. Talk about momentous decision to make. Wow. Man, for $75 I'd go for a great dinner out myself. At least, I'd know I was guaranteed a good time, not to mention real conversation with my dinner partner.

I can never answer the question So What Should I See?, since I don't know if you're into the torture films of Hostel and Saw, or the esoteric likes of European films, or action or ....


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

My question is regarding Keri Russell's performance in "Waitress." Do you think she has a good shot of being nominated for an Oscar or will she fall victim to the fact that movie was released so early this year?

Desson Thomson: There is a chance. But you're right about it being too early in the year, I think.


Washington, D.C.: Have you heard anything about "Charlie Wilson's War"? It doesn't come out until December but there hasn't been a trailer released to my knowledge. You would think with the talent attached to it that they would be trying to build Oscar buzz for the film.

Desson Thomson: Yes I have heard about it, and trust me, when they are ready to build the buzz they will do it.


Vienna, Va.: Hi there -- Am curious. You say you haven't seen either "Into the Wild" or "In the Valley of Elah." But both have been reviewed elsewhere. Is there a schedule or, um, pecking order according to which you get to see things or not? I mean, I get that D.C. (and therefore the Post) isn't the first stop for Hollywood in many ways (dim! but I digress) but "Into the Wild" has already been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. What gives?

Thank you.

Desson Thomson: Obviously, the Post reviews all movies that appear in Washington on their opening day--unless the studios don't show them to us ahead of time. (The Post has reviewed Into he Valley which opened last week.) And we can't review a movie till it opens here. And very often, indeed, movies open in Los Angeles and New York before the rest of the country. Which is the case for Into the Wild, which opens here next Friday. And yes, there is a pecking order at Style. Stephen Hunter is the chief film critic, so he gets the lion's share of the major releases, week in and week out. Then comes Ann, then comes me. And anything I can't review, well, that's when they call my Black Labrador, Luke. This is why I have to catch up on major releases on my time.


Alexandria, Va.: I want to see the remake of "The Host"! (Joke, please, let it remain in its original glory.)

Desson Thomson: That had better be a joke. :) I loved that movie too.


Crash:"Crash" ... Worst ... Movie ... Ever ... could he have included one more racial stereotype?

Desson Thomson: That's what most people criticize it for. But I don't believe they were stereotypes. I believe those characters had elements of them, which were used deliberately as part of the story, which is about how people respond to what the stereotypes they perceive about people.


Eastern Promises...: Great movie, but you have to be willing to work with it a bit. It's a bit difficult to get into for the first few minutes, but once Nikolai shows up things really take off. The knife fight is very brutal and Mortensen is very naked, but that's not the total sum of the movie. It's not a very fast trip, but it is really engaing.

Quick warning, the R rating is for real. There's some brutal violence, a few scenes that will probably make you go "ick," graphic sex and the language is insanely foul.

Desson Thomson: I have seen the movie twice, and even though he's naked, the editing makes it very tasteful. You never catch more than a blurry or momentary glimpse of Mr. M's anatomy. of course this is such a minor part of the scene. You're right about the violence. And I am about to post my article about David Cronenberg and the topic of violence.


Movie date with boss's wife: I'm going to a movie next week with my boss's wife. Any suggestions? Nothing too violent or disturbing. I was thinking "Death at a Funeral." Has "The Jane Austen Book Club" come to D.C. yet?

Desson Thomson: Friends with your boss's wife, I take it? I have to say Death At A Funeral was hilarious. You can't go wrong with that one.

_______________________ A link to the Cronenberg profile:


Alexandria, Va.: Speaking of entertainment, I for one will miss one of the great tragi-comedians of our time. Godspeed Jose! Or should I say "Adios."

Desson Thomson: I agree. A solemn salute of appreciation for Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho.


Jesse James: Oops! I meant two hours, FORTY minutes. That was a typo. Glad I made you laugh, though.

Desson Thomson: Keep the smiles coming.


New York, N.Y.: Hi Desson,

Have you seen "Lust, Caution" yet? Since it won at Venice, I have been intrigued.

Desson Thomson: Me too. I am watching it next week.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: re: Paul Haggis comment

An earlier poster said people's opinions of Pauls Haggis' work seemed to be influenced by their opinions on whatever issue he was addressing.

I just wanted to say that I hated "Crash," and I think racism is a serious and insidious issue in American life. I just found the movie to be jampacked with ridiculous coincidences and dialogue I didn't believe for a second.

So you don't have to disagree with the guy's politics to hate his movies!

Desson Thomson: I agree with your last sentence too. And this Crash thing comes back again and again. Fascinating source of discussion.


Washington, D.C.: I'm so happy the fall movie season has arrived! This weekend I'm planning on seeing "In the Valley of Elah" and hopefully "Eastern Promises" or "Into the Wild" next weekend. Have you seen "The Assassination of Jesse James"? I was surprised to see EW give it an "A." Given the trouble it's had getting to theaters I was predicting it might be a disaster, but apparently early buzz is good.

Desson Thomson: You and me both. It sounds as though you have some good movies ahead. I intend to catch up with Valley, Jesse and Wild as soon as I can get to 'em. Buzz indeed is good for Jesse.


Into Thin Air: The "flap" over "Into Thin Air" is pretty detailed to go into on an online discussion (crappy made for TV movie) but it was about the 1996 disaster on Everest and for as many people as were on the mountain during those events, there are stories about what really went on up there. Great book, but probably not one of Krakauer's finer moments because there was so much controversy and he got a bit caught up in it.

"Into the Wild" on the other hand was a pretty balanced portrayal since he wrote it as an outsider. I think the fact that the family has so fully supported the book and subsequently the movie should speak volumes. Really looking forward to seeing the movie.

Desson Thomson: Thanks for that. Interesting.


Silver Spring, Md.:"Into Thin Air" flap? Huh? All I get from Wikipedia is that one guy didn't like the way he was portrayed in the book. This is a reason to diss all of Krakauer's books? I loved "Into Thin Air" and "Under the Banner of Heaven" (you want flap, read the angry letter the LDS authorities sent about that book) and intend to read "Into the Wild" someday.

Desson Thomson: I'm not big on this issue either, I'm afraid.


Chiming in Late:: I saw "The Brave One" last week, loved it. Jodie, age 44 now, looking every bit of it, but in a good way. I guess we all sympathized w/her character b/c every time she killed someone, the audience erupted in clapping.


Well behind "The Shawshank Redemption," I'm going way back.

Desson Thomson: Cool, thanks.


Maryland: My little brother grew up with the "stupid kid" whose experiences were chronicled in "Into the Wild." He was a great kid. He was anything but stupid.

Desson Thomson: Interesting.


Why's Ann first?: When you've been at the Post longer? I love her, but it seems unfair.

Desson Thomson: Ann is terrific and, actually, has been a critic at Style longer than me, to tell the truth. There's no resentment or any such business between my colleagues and I.


Cleveland Park, D.C.: Hi Desson,

I attended last night's screening of "Into the Wild" as well. It reminded me a little of "Big Fish" in that Alex encounters a host of characters throughout his journey. I think that it works, and that Sean Penn was able to successfully garner sympathy for Alex, because of Alex's charasmatic interactions with those people. Alex's family back story, I felt, was also effectively explored.

Desson Thomson: Hey Cleveland. Very good to hear. Thanks!


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

Just wanted to follow up on "Into the Wild." First, the film has beautiful cinematography. The locations I believe are all the same locations that the main character traveled to. I never read the book so I can't do any comparisons.

While I continue to have mixed feelings about the main character, I think it is too simplistic to see this as a spoiled rich kid who decides to run off and find himself. I think he has deep emotional and family issues to delve through and it's only with distance and introspection that he can begin to feel connected again to his parents (and in many ways for his family to begin feeling connected to him).

I will also say that the character that grabbed at me the most was Hal Holbrook who brings humor and sadness to the film.

Overall I thought the film was executed well with good casting choices.

Desson Thomson: Thanks for that. Good to know.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

I went to last night's screening of "Into the Wild" as well. The film reminded me a little of "Big Fish," in that the Alex came into contact with various characters throughout the odyssey. I think that the movie worked, and that Sean Penn was able to successfully garner sympathy for Alex, because of Alex's charismatic interactions with those characters. I also think that Alex's relationship with his parents was well explained (although Malone's narration was a little grating and forced at times) and that viewers could understand how someone so detached and smart would have Alex's extreme reaction to life.

Desson Thomson: Thanks. I want everyone to know that Emile Hirsch, star of the movie, is scheduled to take questions in about 10 minutes. Check it out!


Across the Universe: Sorry if this territory has already been covered, but have you seen it? I'm perversely curious. It seems like the kind of thing that's easier to get engrossed in when it's on the big screen, but I don't want to pay more than $6 to see it (I'm in Boston). Also bemused by the trailer's assertion that it's "the most original film of the year."

Desson Thomson: I have seen scenes here and there, but it's been so panned, I am not in a hurry to see it!

Thanks to everyone for playing. It's time for me to close out. See you all next chat and thanks again!


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