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

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Oct. 12, 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.

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Desson Thomson: I said I'd be 2 weeks but it's one week and I just can't keep away, people! So here I is again. Let's talk about that thing they call duh moveez. Shoot people shoot. Talk. Expectorate. Just be your darn selves. I'm listening like Bill Clinton.

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Alexandria, Va.: Just saw "The Lives of Others" .. Really good. Did you see it? What did you think?

Desson Thomson: I have only raved about this film for 200 consecutive online chats! :) I am posting my review to show you how much I loved it. Glad you dug it too. Tragically, the lead actor Ulrich Muehe died vcery recently just as he was about to make it huge thanks to that film.

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Washington, D.C.: Even though "Michael Clayton" has been getting great reviews across the board, I'm still skeptical. Have you seen it yet?

Desson Thomson: Yes, I saw it, and it is a terrific film. Clooney is very good. The texture of the film is also nice. It's gently paced but each screen minute has the forebodings of those former 1970s paranoia thrillers like The Parallax View and All The President's Men. Go see it. And if you can, go see it at the Avalon Theatre in Washington and support a community nonprofit theater.

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1st NE: Desert Island Scenario: What three DVDs are you taking if you were to get shipwrecked on a desert island?

Desson Thomson: I should say, up front, that if I had advance notice that I would be ship wrecked I would not embark in the first place. But assuming it happened unexpectedly, I would take out "Austin Powers," "Lawrence of Arabia" and any instructional film called "How to Get Rescued from a Desert Island."

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'd like to see both "Into the Wild" and "Darjeeling Limited." Which will stay in the theaters longer? Will Darjeeling be widely released? Thanks!

Desson Thomson: I have seen Into the Wild and I'd recommend that. I would think Darjeeling might last a wee bit longer. But not much longer. So, get out to both while you can. Of course both films will be dvds before you can say "Whatever happened to people going out and seeing movies?"

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Arlington, Va.: Deeson,

I just gave "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" another viewing recently. Now I'm a John Wayne loyalist right up to the end, but I have to say, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" just keeps getting better and better every time I watch it! It just totally amazes me how much an Italian director was able to shape such an American genre into what it is today! Such a fascinating, superbly-made film!

Desson Thomson: I love the so-called spaghetti westerns. If anyone wants to know why Clint Eastwood is so cool, check those out.

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washingtonpost.com: 'Lives of Others': The Secret No Spy Could Steal ( Post, Feb. 23)

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21st and N, NW, Washington, D.C.: Does Viggo Mortensen have any sort of shot for an Oscar based upon his intense and gritty turn in "Eastern Promises"? Or are the typical Academy voters going to shy away from the movie because of its violence and ignore the power and raw human emotion captured in this must-see film?

Desson Thomson: This is a movie that will not attract a large audience because it's not imbued with that affirmative security blanket so many people seem to need when they see a movie. It's too bad. I think it's a terrific film. That said, he may still get a nom. Which he can't possibly win, I don't think. Clooney and Tommy Lee are going to be nommed, for sure, and they'll automatically jump ahead in the votes.

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River City: Oh wow, I love the desert island question, how difficult to answer. Today, my answer would be "Breaking the Waves," hmm, I might have to say "Lawrence of Arabia" too, and "Amelie"!

Desson Thomson: Good call.

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Washington, D.C.: FYI: The flick, "Naked Boys Singing." produced by Funny Boy Films premiered at Reel Affirmations last night. Met one of its stars, Phoung Troung, at Soho Grand in June when he served me as a waiter, pants unzipped. Maybe a dress rehearsal. Too much.

Desson Thomson: Or an undress rehearsal. I saw that film and it's certainly uninhibited. I did like some of the song writing, I have to say.

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Rockville, Md.: Finally saw "Eastern Promises," which I liked and came away very impressed with Vincent Cassell's performance. Missed your Cronenberg article on his use of violence in films. If you have a moment, please repost the link. Thanks, Desson.

washingtonpost.com: David Cronenberg, Dead Serious ( Post, Sept. 17)

Desson Thomson: Oh wasn't Cassel great? So odd and so charming at the same time. I think of him as some wild rare bird in human form. Love him. Here's the link you requested.

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Washington, D.C.: Any chance for Viggo in the best actor race? He was amazing in "Eastern Promises."

Desson Thomson: A chance. I hope he gets nommed.

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Richmond, Va.: Why did most critics hate "The Kingdom" so much? I mean, it's not an Oscar candidate, but it was fine for what it was. Do you think maybe political sensibilities got in the way?

Desson Thomson: No, I think it's just too heavy handed.

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Washington, D.C.: I have been reading about "Lars and the Real Girl" and I have to say it sounds very stupid. I haven't seen it so I can't say for sure if it is stupid. Have you seen it?

Desson Thomson: I hear very good about it. And I'll tell you more after I see it next week.

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Petworth, Washington, D.C.: THANK YOU for recommending the Avalon! They are a wonderful place. Love the big screens, and love supporting a local movie theater. They show good films (generally) and have cool programs (Czech films are my current favorite -- one Wednesday a month).

Desson Thomson: Right on!

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Arlington, Va.:"...and any instructional film called "How to Get Rescued from a Desert Island."

I would say take "Cast Away" and work on perfecting your Tom Hanks impression...But would that movie help you get rescued, or help you go insane?

Desson Thomson: I would have nightmares about volleyballs.

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Inside the Beltway: That was an intriguing list of current directors of promise and interest in your recent chat. Do you have a similar list of screenwriters? I always wonder why screenwriters do not get mentioned more by critics.

washingtonpost.com: Behind the Screen ( washingtonpost.com, Oct. 5)

Desson Thomson: I agree. There are thousands of great screenwriters, including Thomas Harris, Paul Haggis, Steven Zaillian, former Post critic Paul Attanasio (for Quiz Show alone), TV writer Nigel Williams (who did the 2005 miniseries Elizabeth I), James Gray, Francis Coppola (he is a great writer), Christopher Nolan, Bill Ray. And there are the great old dinosaurs Robert Towne and William Goldman. There are many many more-- these are just off the top of my head.

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Ballston, Va.: I love the spaghetti westerns too -- they never get old and have some of the best lines in cinema. Such as in "Once Upon a Time in the West" when the three men are waiting at the train station for Charles Bronson, and he says "You bring a horse for me?" Then they say "Heh heh, looks like we're shy one horse." And Bronson says "You brought two too many" then guns them all down. Yeah!

Desson Thomson: Good stuff!

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Tysons Corner, Va.: I'm thinking of going to the local multiplex this weekend with friends. What would you recommend? Keep in mind: last movie I saw was "Dreamgirls" (I know, not my choice) and I'll be fasting so I need a movie that will take my mind off food. Should be totally engrossing and take me away from all this. Thanks.

Desson Thomson: Doesn't sound like you're the type that likes realism or edgy. So maybe you'd like The Jane Austen Book Club. Or The Game Plan. If you are feeling dangerous and adventurous, you could try Jodie Foster in "The Brave One" (vigilante revenge as entertainment) maybe. or "Michael Clayton" (mystery thriller.)

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Screenwriters do not get mentioned more by critics.: or directors of photography! They make SEEING a film memorable.

Desson Thomson: Yes, absolutely. Caleb Deschanel. Michael Chapman. Conrad L. Hall. Allen Daviau. Ernest R. Dickerson. John Bailey. William Fraker. Nestor Almendros. Sven Nykvist. And on and on. By the way, if you want to appreciate them the best film to see is a doc called Visions of Light. You can order it on netflix or whatever. Fantastic.

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Concord, N.H.: What did you think of the ending of "In the Valley of Elah"? I know that the message was not intended to be subtle, and in fact was on-board with it for most of the movie, but the last several minutes seemed treacly and ham-handed?

I did think that Tommy Lee Jones was brilliant and deserves a nomination. His subtlety in playing Sgt. Deerfield was the saving grace of the film.

Desson Thomson: Agreed all around.

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Lawyersville: So how about this "Michael Clayton?" I walk a fine line with these legal films... I hate "A Civil Action" because it's maudlin and drippy, and some of the lines in the MC commercials smack of the same desperate emotional plays. ("we're destryoing the poor farmers! Oh the plight of the sad rural children!" etc.) But now I'm hearing all this about taut legal thrillers and the like. So is it a fab Hitchcockian masterpiece of legal suspense? Or is it a sappy "save the farm" movie?

Desson Thomson: Don't worry about the sap stuff. That's not there. It IS taut and all that good stuff.

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DVDs on Desert Islands: You absolutely must take a "Gilligan's Island" DVD so you can build a generator out of bamboo branchs, sea shells and vines. Otherwise that battery ain't gonna last very long.

Desson Thomson: Good point!

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Washington, D.C.: Will "Lake of Fire" make it to D.C.? I've heard great things about it but I heard it isn't doing too well in ultra-limited release thus far.

Desson Thomson: It opens exclsuively at the American Film Institute next Friday. I'll be reviewing it.

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Arlington, Va.: Deeson,

As a hardcore movie fan, this is the chat I look forward to the most each week.

This weekend I plan to divide my time between college football and movies, and I'm having a hard time finding something to watch in the theaters. I've wanted to catch"In the Valley of Elah," but that doesn't appear to be playing anymore. I can't seem to get a firm idea about what "Michael Clayton" is about, let alone if it'll be any good. I'm undecided if I want to see "The Kingdom," given the current political climate (and my associated outrage burnout). I'd like to see the first Elizabeth movie before I see the second. And "We Own the Night" just looks awkward to me.

Any suggestions? (Other than scouring Blockbuster, that is.)

Desson Thomson: THANKS ! So good to hear you like this chat. I have seen all these films including We Own The Night. here are my rankings:

1. Michael Clayton

2. In the Valley of Elah

(...)

12. The Kingdom

(...)

15. We Own The Night

(...)

(...)

109. Elizabeth

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Any chance that Ryan Gosling will come to town to promote his new film?

Desson Thomson: Want his autograph? Want to touch his clothing? Sorry, he's not coming far as I know.

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Herndon, Va.: Three on a desert island (I'm assuming we are limited to DVDs and not members of the opposite sex). I'll go with you on "Lawrence of Arabia" as long as there's a big enough screen; and have to have one Western, which is tough, but will take "The Searchers" over "Unforgiven," and, finally, have to laugh, so the original "The Producers" with Zero and Gene. Then, on to building boat.

Desson Thomson: Haha. Good stuff.

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Washington, D.C.: Better line from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is Bronson saying to Robards: "I've seen those dusters before. Inside the dusters were three men. And inside the men were three bullets."

But the best exchange is when Bronson brings Robards in for the reward.

Bronson: "I hear the reward on this man is $1000"

Robards: "That's 975 dollars more than Judas got."

Bronson: "There was no dollars in those days."

Robards: "Dollars...no. Sons of b!tches...yeah."

Desson Thomson: See? This stuff is great, people!

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Thomson, do you know when the new Coen brothers film "No Country For Old Men" is coming to D.C? The novel is by my favorite author (Cormac MCarthy, though not my fav of his) and has a killer cast: Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Woddy Harelson and Javier Bardem.

Desson Thomson: It's coming in a couple weeks. I am so looking forward to it. Trying to read the book in time.

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ArtMovieLover, Va.: Did you catch "Things We Lost in the Fire" yet? I asked you about it last time. Was that just last week? Sorry if my question comes across as ... pushy.

Anyway, saw "Reservation Road" this week and was struck by certain similarities. Parents, children, loss of loved ones, trying to rebuild. Both very "heavy" movies, but worth seeing. I think I prefer "Fire," if only for the strength of the acting, although Phoenix is quite good in "Road," I thought.

Desson Thomson: Haven;'t seen it yet because the screening isn't till Monday. However it's up against Lars and the Real Girl which I really want to see! Thanks for the rec.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Thomson, have you heard any buzz or talk about the new Paul Thomas Anderson film: "There Will Be Blood"? I am a big fan of his previous work (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love) and the trailer makes it look amazing. Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano, at least I believe that is the young man's name.

Desson Thomson: You and me both are big fans of the man. I hear good buzz but nothing reliable yet. Looking forward!

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Arlington, Va.: As a fellow Peter O'Toole nut, I wanted to make sure you were aware of this DVD release. Very excting indeed.

Madada: The Epic Mini-Series (amazon.com)

Desson Thomson: Will check it out. Thanks!

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washingtonpost.com: Full-Court Dress ( Post, Oct. 12)

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"Elizabeth": I was so disappointed to read your review of "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"! I really, really liked the first one (but then, I'm a sucker for period pieces). Is there anything redeeming besides the costumes?

By the way, in a bid to find someone tell me that it was actually a great film that I should look forward to, I went over to the Times Web site and read Dargis's review, which was really one of the oddest I've read. While being well-written and descriptive, I still have absolutely no idea whether or not she thought the film was good, bad, or middling. Kind of bizarre, really.

Desson Thomson: My review equals what I think. If there was something else redeeming I would have mentioned it.

I like Manohla much. But I wonder if it isn't rather intimidating to write for the Times, in terms of how important you must think you're supposed to sound. ( I don't necessarily mean for her; I mean for anyone. ) She's a great writer when she's on song.

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Washington, D.C.: Read your review of Elizabeth II....How dare you criticize Queen Cate!

Desson Thomson: Oh go ahead and banish me.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Re: Gosling. I was thinking more along the lines of dinner, but thanks for the heads up.

Desson Thomson: I'll let him know.

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Elizabeth/Cate: Clearly, from your review, T"he Golden Age" doesn't have a heart and isn't nearly as compelling as the original. Still: was it a complete waste of time, or enjoyable on any level other than the visual?

Desson Thomson: I'm afraid I wrote what I meant. It's the real review.

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RE: The Lives of Others: I just saw it recently, too, and was totally floored by its power. Let me state for the record, I don't cry easily with movies (it usually takes a "Schindler's List" to do it), but "The Lives of Others" had me on the brink. Very, very powerful film.

On another note, it reminded me a lot of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation," only with a Cold War spin to it. Did you interpret it this way?

Desson Thomson: If you read my review (posted in this chat), you'll see that I also saw The Conversation in there.

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Desert Isla, ND: My three -- "The Princess Bride," "Local Hero" (for the music as well as the movie itself) and the little-known but absolutely wonderful "Spring Forward."

(It's an incredible desert island... what luck to wash up on one with a DVD player!)

Desson Thomson: Yes, I thought about the dvd player too. Good choices!

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Two Westerns: I just want to show some love to the original "3:10 to Yuma," which I happened to catch last week on one of the several Encore channels I get and also to "The Ox Bow Incident," which I stumbled upon last night.

I actually liked the original "3:10" much better than the remake, and the original made me realize how little the additional material in the remake added. As for "The Ox Bow Incident," everything that is great about a western is in that film. They just don't make it like that, anymore.

Desson Thomson: This is great to hear. 3:10 is high on my to-see list.

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washingtonpost.com: 'Lives of Others': The Secret No Spy Could Steal ( Post, Feb. 23)

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North McLean, Va.: Excellent rip on "The Golden Age," but I have another objection to so many of these historical dramas. They get the history wrong, and not just in little ways. I guess this wouldn't bother me so much if so many people didn't believe that what they are seeing is literally how it happened. Sadly, I have had too many discussions to believe otherwise. I am horrified by the number of people who get their "history" from films, be it "300" or "JFK." Shouldn't such films come with a disclaimer?

Desson Thomson: You're absolutely right about the historical inaccuracies. History is a compilation of fact and informed intepretation. Drama uses facts only if convenient to the story. And usually, the facts are NOT convenient.

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Bethesda, Md.: Any idea when "Control," the Ian Curtis biopic will open in D.C.?

Desson Thomson: Yes. It opens Nov 2 and it is excellent.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Squire Desson,

Whatever happened to the article you were going to write concerning male theatergoers crying at certain films? Did I miss it, or is it still a work in progress?

Desson Thomson: No it's a work in progress. Thanks for checking. I believe it'll run on Sunday the 27th or the Sunday after.

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Ballston, Va.: I don't know if you can pick a "best" one, but another great one from "Once Upon a Time in the West" from Jason Robards: "You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month -- he must have been a happy man."

Desson Thomson: Loved that film.

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T-Town: My three desert island DVDs: "The Producers" -- the original -- because it makes me laugh everytime I see it. "Vertigo," because it is a brilliant movie with layers of complexity and I understand something new everytime I see it. Any video with 101 coconut recipes.

Thank you for your chats.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. And thank you for supporting my chats!

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McLean, Va.: I have always been a huge movie fan, but the combination of work, kids and a wife who would just as soon wait for the DVD for home viewing means that I rarely get out to the big screen anymore. In fact, the last movies I actually saw in theatrical release were "Ratatouille," "Ice Age 2," "Cars," and "Madagascar" (did I mention that I have kids?). The last "grown-up" movie I saw in a theater was "Downfall" (the one about Hitler's final days).

Finally, it looks like I will be able to get out this weekend and see a REAL GROWN-UP MOVIE IN THE THEATER! Of the offerings out there right now, I'm most interested in "Michael Clayton." However, I'm also wondering if I should consider "Elizabeth" while I can still get the big-screen experience (even though I know you weren't a fan of it). What's your recommendation? Anything else out there I should be considering?

Desson Thomson: See Michael Clayton, not Elizabeth, in my humble opinion!

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Kansas City, Mo.: A couple of questions about the process of reviewing films. How many movies do you see in the average week? Do you go during the day, at night, on weekends? Does the timing of the viewing effect how you react to a film (i.e. weekday afternoon, smaller audience vs. weekend night, larger audience)?

Desson Thomson: I see about 4 a week. Used to be more when I was the weekend film critic. (Did up to 11 a week at times.) I see them morning, afternoon or night depending on when they are screened for critics.

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Desert Island: We know how much you love "Lawrence of Arabia," but if you're stuck on a desert island, surrounded by nothing but sand and salt water, do you really want to spend that much time looking at a blazing hot desert? That movie made me thirsty even in the comfy environs of the AFI!

As for current releases, what do you think (or what have you heard) about "Gone Baby Gone"? I'm not necessarily a big Affleck fan (Ben or Casey), but I'm intrigued. (I love the TV ad that starts, "From the Academy Award-winning co-writer of 'Good Will Hunting'..." but never actually mentions Ben's name -- seems to me that his fame would be a marketing plus! Sure, he's had some duds, but is he actually box office poison?)

Desson Thomson: Good point about the desert. What was I thinking? It would seem like a documentary to watch it. I haven't seen GBG yet. Sorry.

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Arlington VA: I saw "The Lives of Others" but I did not like it as much as some people because I never really bought the main character's change of heart concerning the people he was spying on. Maybe if he had not been so gun-ho in the beginning his conversion might have made more sense. Because of this I thought "Pan's Labyrinth" should have gotten the Oscar over "Others". Am I crazy in thinking so?

Desson Thomson: Both films deserved the Oscar and it's too bad they were competing against each other. I think the point of him being the opposite extreme (at the begining)makes the conversion even more affecting. And I think you missed a very important point. He believes in the morality of communism and that it should serve the people not the leaders. And when he realizes - in practical terms - that communism doesn't do that, he changes. But he never really changes his morality. It's precisely because he has a fixed morality that he changes his opinion on the bad practitioners of communism.

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Washington, D.C.: A quick trivia followup on "Once Upon A Time In The West": Henry Fonda, the quinessential western good guy, was reluctant to play a villian. Sergio Leone convinced with this (paraphrased) description. "Imagine a young boy, running in the dirt. A shot rings out, the boy falls dead. The camera cuts to a pair of black boots, panning up to reveal the face...Henry Fonda!" At that point Fonda signed on. Also, Fonda wanted to use colored lenses to change his eye color, but Leone demanded that Fonda keep his blue eyes expressly for the above-mentioned shot.

Desson Thomson: Very interesting. Thanks!

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Bethesda, Md.: Nov 2! Thanks! I'm a big fan of Joy Division and New Order. Have you seen "24-Hour Party People" which focuses on the Manchester U.K. music scene around JD and NO?

Desson Thomson: yes I have. Good stuff.

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Lehighton, Pa.: Was there 'anything' you liked about the new Elizabeth movie? Of course, haven't seen it yet -- will view it this afternoon. You label it "postmodern" -- in what sense are you using the term?

Desson Thomson: In the sense that they are using present day Oprah-hugging sensibilities to understand a 16th century story.

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Annapolis, Md.: My wife really wants to see the new Elizabeth film. I really don't like films about that kind of stuff.

My question is: how much alcohol do I need to smuggle into the theater?

Desson Thomson: Can you roll an entire bar into the theater. You're going to need to be unconscious.

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Washington, D.C.: Not that there's anything wrong with that, but do you know the seating practices at Reel Affirmations? They sell tickets as general admission but last night, with no one within three rows of me, a woman bearing what appeared to be a Christmas stocking claimed I was in her seat and when I pointed out there were no assigned seats, she claimed there were for VIPs, I guess she wasn't one because she left in a huff.

Desson Thomson: Send me an e mail and I'll call them for you.

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"Michael Clayton": Saw this on Wednesday. It was spectacular. Ann was right on in her review. My only problem -- apparently we attended the 70 plus showing. I don't know if Georgetown runs a deal on Wednesdays, but it was noticable.

Desson Thomson: hah. Glad you enjoyed.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

Have you seen "Michael Clayton" I saw it a few weeks ago and I have to admit I was disappointed. It is supposed to be a thriller, but I felt it really dragged in parts and was simply boring. I don't know if I just had high expectations and that's why I felt the disappointment, but every review I have read says the movie is thrilling and brilliant. Tell me what I am missing. Thanks.

Desson Thomson: It's just good, man.

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Morristown, N.J.: Our church is considering having a "Movie Night" where adults would watch a film that has a moral conflict and then discuss the implications of the decision. I love the idea and thought immediately of "High Noon,, "On The Waterfront" and "Twelve Angry Men." Any suggestions? I never saw "All My Sons," but a friend recommended that be added to any list.

Desson Thomson: Start with those first 3. Good choices.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: Have you had a chance to see "3:10 to Yuma" yet? I'm curious if I'm a lone voice in the wilderness screaming that the ending is absolutely ridiculous -- it just didn't make sense.

Desson Thomson: Will get back to ya.

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Arlington, Va.:"Michael Clayton": Is it worth seeing? I've got a completely free weekend on my hands (something I NEVER thought I'd see again), and I want to inundate myself with DVDs, with at least ONE trip to the movie theater.

Desson Thomson: See it.

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Desson Thomson: Sorry to peel out. Have to make a 2 pm screening. Sorry I didn't get to everyone. Try again next week or the week after, whenever I am on. Take care folks. Always good to chew the fat with you. Have a great weekend!

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