Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, October 26, 2007; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Oct. 26, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the current Hollywood and indie movie offerings and the art of film.

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 will be along in just a few minutes.


Desson Thomson: Hey folks. On this miserable day in Washington, as rainy as Manchester in February, (I have the movie "Control" on my mind, Anton Corbijn's bracing but good movie about the rise and fall of Manchester born Ian Curtis - the head singer of Joy Division) I'd like to thank the folks on this chat for their contribution to the forthcoming article on crying in the movies that (I believe) will run Nov. 4. (Nice long sentence that.) If you remember we got into a major discussion about the movies that truly turned us to tears. And I have excerpted about a dozen of the more than 50 people who responded. And I apologize in advance for not having room to run all of your comments. But hopefully these chats will give you your due. It was nice to make an article come out of our enjoyable conversations.

Busy writing this article and other reviews, I haven't caught up on the films I wanted to, including 3:10 to Yuma, Gone Baby Gone. So apols in advance for not being able to respond with much, well, authority or something.

I am going to have to rush out of here on time today, due to a Q and A I must conduct with Claude Lelouch, the French filmmaker who is here for the C'est Chic French festival starting Thursday at various venues including the Avalon, E Street and the National Gallery of Art's East building.

Let's do that thing, let's talk.


Barrow, Alaska: Desson: I'm primed to go see "30 Days of Night." Should I see it with high expectations, or should I lower my level of anticipation?

Desson Thomson: Well, it depends on what you are expecting in the first place. I did enjoy it much because the premise was so fascinating - the notion that in Alaska there are 30 days of darkness in mid winter, the perfect time for vampires to do what they do to our necks and so forth. I have heard that it doesn't do the comic book novel justice. But for me it was pretty enjoyable. Not art perhaps. And I really liked Danny Huston as the chief vamp. Very cool and animalistic.


Bethesda, Md.: We're off to the cinema this Saturday -- it's been a hell of a week and I want comedy. Is there a anything out there that's funny yet adult and not stupid?

Desson Thomson: There isn't much - give your parameters. Although not all of these are funny, they might do the trick: I'd select from Lars and the Real Girl, The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D or Dan in Real Life (although reviews are not great) - also the Darjeeling Limited or the Jane Austen Book Club.


San Francisco, Calif.: I just wanted to post that I saw "The General" by Buster Keaton last week and it was excellent. Movies from the 1920s are silent, and tend to have stilted acting and uninteresting plots. This movie, however, was all spades. Keaton was a genius.

Desson Thomson: Agreed! Keaton is a national treasure.


Silver Spring, Md.: Before the "Devil Knows Your Dead" with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke is supposed to be an amazing movie, and it looks like it's been universally praised. However, it looks like it won't be released in this area. I have been searching the Internet but everything tells me that it will only be released in N.Y. and L.A. Is this true?

Desson Thomson: It is coming here next Friday in fact.


Which one to watch: Desson, which one to watch "Michael Clayton" or "Gone Baby Gone"?

Desson Thomson: Well, I saw Michael Clayton and I thought it was real good. And I hear good things about the other. So you can't go wrong either way, it seems.


Washington, D.C.: When is "Control" opening in D.C.? I've been reading about it for a while. I liked the portrayal of Ian Curtis in "24 Hour Party People" -- it was quite haunting.

Desson Thomson: Control opens next Friday as well.


Washington, D.C.: Oh my gosh, I just saw "Lives of Others." What an amazing film. I heard rumors that Hollywood may remake it? What do you think about that? I'm not sure how they could improve upon it.

Desson Thomson: Yes there are rumors. And of course they couldn't improve on it, but it's not going to stop them trying to make some money off it and downloading a little European quality for free.


El Paso, Tex.: I enjoyed your review of Bella. At University of Texas at El Paso there was a reception and special showing of Bella; Eduardo Verastegui also spoke.

I thought the movie was well above-average, and more interesting than most because of its focus on Hispanic/Mexican culture and family and inside jokes.

I didn't notice a beard problem. What bugged me is that the protagonist, soccer-star-turned-chef Jose, kept the car he was driving when he ran over the little girl (remember the garage scene?) Yet it was this accident, in that car, that destroyed his interest in his multi-million dollar soccer career.

Thanks for the review

Desson Thomson: Hey El P. I am sorry I didn't like the movie more. It had nice texture and all, but I thought it failed the pretension test in places. That's a good observation about the car! Whoa. Good point. Why would he drive it if he's still so haunted? You're so right.


Greenbelt, Md.: After seeing the special trailer on the Apple Web site, I really want to see "I Am Legend." Even though it looks like the movie has a designated dead pet, and I don't really like zombie movies, I really, really want to go.

Does this make me a bad person?

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. You are not - a - bad - person - must eat - flesh - now.


Penn Quarter, D.C.: Pleeeeeeease tell me we're going to get to see "Control" on the big screen 'somewhere' in the D.C. area. I feel like I've been waiting forever, and I can't find any info about when it opens locally.

Desson Thomson: Opens next Friday! Loved it. Reviewing it.


Laurel, Md.: Hey Mr. T,

One of your crybabies here. I don't know if you heard of the so-called controversy surrounding next week's release of "American Gangster." Matt Lauer is doing a special on Sunday talking to Grazer and Scott. Apparently some people are upset that a Harlem drug lord is being glorified. It's only a movie and this isn't the first or last time a man with questionable values will be portrayed in a movie. THe only reason I could come up with is because the drug lord is a black man.

Desson Thomson: Hey yourself. That really seems like a silly controversy. What are movies if not glorifications of so many things, including Italian gangsters in The Godfather? And black characters - or any other racial groups - should be treated as equally as everyone else, for richer and poorer, through sickness and in health. Not treated as if they are an endangered species.


Washington, D.C.: Do they giving Oscars for casting? "Michael Clayton" has to be about the best-cast movie ever made. Every part is played to perfection. It reminds me of British stage productions, where even the last walk-on is absolutely perfect. Good job!

Desson Thomson: Agreed! I'd like to second the British salute. I remember years and years ago, my mother forced to watch my Uncle Malcolm perform on the British stage in an amateur production. He was a walk-on. And I was missing soccer's FA Cup final - a great tussle between Leeds and Chelsea - so I was roundly upset. All he did was come on stage as a bellboy and bring a suitcase on to the stage, but in 10 seconds of comic business - his body jerking amusingly under the weight - he was hilarious. And I almost forgave my mother.



American Gangster?: Any good? I loved Denzel as a bad guy in "Training Day."

Desson Thomson: The trailer is my only source at this point. That looked potentially good. Will have to get back to you.


Ocala, Fla.: So, when you are drinking with Stephen Hunter, which do you prefer, "Rio Bravo" or "El Dorado?"

Desson Thomson: Rio Bravo. What could be better than watching Dino with a drink in your hand?


Arlington, Va,: I'm a lifelong Trekker (I even own the DVD to the dreaded "Star Trek V"), but I am absolutely horrified of the upcoming Star Trek prequel. I know that legions of fans around love Star Trek, but after several unsuccessful TV franchises ("Voyager" and "Enterprise"), I think it's time to lay the series to rest rather than restart it.

Besides, did we learn NOTHING from the Star Wars prequels?

Desson Thomson: I feel your pain.


Arlington, Va.: I seem to go against popular grain when it comes to popular classic movies. For instance, I absolutely love Double Indemnity and To Kill a Mockingbird (and no, that's not a jab at Lawrence of Arabia, either). But I'm fairly indifferent to Casablanca, I wasn't thrilled by What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, I was absolutely bored by Doctor Zhivago, and even Citizen Kane didn't hold my interest! What gives?

Desson Thomson: You have to stop the drinking. I've talked to you about that.


Silver Spring, Md.: Wondering if you have any more word on "Blade Runner"? There is no doubt that my wife and I will see it this weekend. I'd like to see how it compares to the Criterion Laser Disc director's cut. That release did not have the silly ending or the voiceover.

Desson Thomson: My feeling is, this movie is great with the voice-over (which is how I first saw it) and without it (also saw it that way and enjoyed). I am so in love with that film you won't hear me dissing it in any form. And if I get time I am going to watch it on the big screen at the Uptown. What a treat.


Gone, Baby: Possible SPOILER but I'll try hard not to. I thought the acting was excellent and loved the use of authentic "Southie" actors and extras. In fact I loved everything about this movie, except for the plot! How improbable can you get, and it's beyond me how Casey Affleck was able to piece it together. Maybe I should read the book? But for authentic Southie atmosphere, it's as good as it gets.

Desson Thomson: Good to hear this feedback. If nothing else, the Afflecks know their territory.


Highly Recommend "Perfume": Not a question, just a recommendation. I don't know if I was just oblivious along the way, but I never saw any trailers or other advertising for this movie, but I saw it last weekend on DVD and it is AMAZING. Wonderful acting and beautiful cinematography. I've been so sick of the same-old, same-old; this film just blew me away. Thanks for the chats, they're great!

Desson Thomson: First of all, I should thank YOU for the chats. They'd be nothing without you (cue the Von Trapp family) and you and you and you and you-oo. I loved the way the movie unfolded and its sensual texture. I didn't go for it ultimately but it was hypnotic at times. So I can appreciate your enthusiasm.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: Seen "3:10 to Yuma" yet? I'm still yelling the ending was ridiculous. Saw "Michael Clayton" last week and thought it was great -- especially Tom Wilkenson. Sorry to say that last shot at the end of the movie didn't seem to do anything. (Maybe I'm out of synch with directors on endings!)

Desson Thomson: Oh come now Hernie. That ending was awesome. So different. And a GREAT way to end. When have you seen that before? It gave us a chance to look at Clooney for an extended time and feel his triumph in a very palpable way.,


To Gone Baby: Read the book. All Lehane's books are so well-written they make you cry. He is incredibly gifted as a writer.

Desson Thomson: That's what I hear about Lehane.


Martinsburg, W.Va.: My wife and I also loved "The Lives of Others."

Given how terrible the American remake of "The Vanishing" was, I hope that any idea of a remake is quickly forgotten.

Desson Thomson: You and me both Martino.


Bethesda, Md.: Hey Desson!

What's the deal with the Nicky Barnes documentary? Are they trying to beat "American Gangster" to the punch?

Desson Thomson: I have the same question - unresolved - in my head too.


Bowie, Md.: I'm hearing very good things about "Gone Baby Gone" and plan on seeing it this weekend. Has Ben Affleck redeemed himself in the eyes of Hollywood? Do you think he should just stick to directing a la Clint Eastwood?

Desson Thomson: From what I hear he has redeemed himself. But after a low point like Gigli and Pearl Harbor you could make Ishtar and still redeem yourself.


Alexandria, Va.: The fact that Danny Houston is in "30 Days of Night" is almost enough to get me to go see it. He's quickly become one of my favorite character actors. Anyone who was disappointed with the lame "3:10 to Yuma" remake and frustrated with the lovely but overstuffed "Assassination of Jesse James" should rent "The Proposition" and see Danny Houston practically steal this terrifically grim, hypnotic, and just-90-minutes-long Western from Guy Pearce, Emily Watson, and the great Ray Winstone.

Desson Thomson: Good to hear. This is Danny Huston's best performance and he doesn't even say a word.


King Corn: I was stuck downtown for a couple hours before an evening engagement, had seen most movies I want to see, so dropped in for a showing of "King Corn" at the E St. Cinema. It was delightful! And you learned some things you might not want to know. It strikes me this will be one of their one- or two-week wonders, but it's worth catching if you get the chance.

Desson Thomson: Thanks for sharing that one. I know our dear Ann H. loved it. So I am ready to shuck me some Corn.


King Corn is a great documentary: I have no vested interest in the documentary, which I saw earlier this week at the E Street Cinema.

It's informative and very funny. I just hope it will be in enough theaters that people can find it.

As someone who has never lived on a farm, it was an eye-opener. I was thinking of corn as canned corn and corn-on-the-cob.

That's miniscule. Most of it is used for feeding cattle which we then eat in hamburgers and other meats. Much of it is used as high-fructose corn syrup in thousands of products, including diverse ones like spaghetti sauce.

I'm going to read the labels at the grocery store more closely.

Desson Thomson: Ditto.


For Which one to watch: I cannot recommend "Michael Clayton" highly enough. It is one of the best written movies I have seen in a while -- I mean the dialogue. It is also beautifully directed in that people act like real people would in situations and have nuances. No one is all bad or all good. Cinematography is very interesting too (lighting is always sort of grayed over, angles are interesting). Just very, very well done.

And Clooney is as edible as always. Purrrrr.

Desson Thomson: I agree with you, although personally I'd be happy to just admire Mr. Clooney rather than consume him.


3:10: Like another poster I just saw "3:10 to Yuma," the original on TV. Great film. What struck me was the way they made menace so apparent with a minimum of violence. There was even a sex scene and you never saw an inch of sex. Just two people walking back out into a bar. As much as I love over-the-top films, there is something to be said for the power of restraint. Which raises the question, are there films that you think could have done with a bit of restraint, even if only to serve as counterpoint to moments of excess?

Desson Thomson: Excellent point. About. Restraint.


Alexandria, Va.: A couple of weeks ago I saw "Slueth," starring Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier on TCM. Simple movie yet fairly complex under the surface. How is the remake(I hope Hollywood hasn't changed it too much)?

Desson Thomson: Sleuth has just opened and I am seeing some disappointing reviews. I did enjoy the movie, the original, when it came out. Actually I watched it after it came out, saw it at the Circle Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue, a long missed institution in Washington where you'd buy a ticketbook of 10 admission for 10 movies for $10. Imagine that. And you'd see 2 movies each time. So it was 50 cents a movie. Times have changed. The theater is no more. And remakes of movies made in a certain time don't seem able to evoke the qualities that made the originals so good. Oh well.


Washington, D.C.: Do you have any idea when "Lagerfeld Confidential" will come to our little town? Apparently, it gets into his crush on a male model as a way of celebrating his lost youth and might even catch the 70-year- old "diva with fan" in the bath. Yikes.

Desson Thomson: I am not sure when it's coming. If it does come I expect it'll come to E Street. I am very interested in seeing it. The New York Times piece made it seem very interesting. I do like documentaries about flamboyant people. With the number of hours documentaries devote to their subject, you get to see people in unguarded moments and in context. So I look forward to this one.


Herndon, Va.:"Hernie" I call you "Mr. T" and I'm just "Hernie"? Anyway, your point is taken on the ending to "Michael C." Any chance of an Oscar nomination for the outstanding Mr. Wilkinson?

Desson Thomson: Sorry. I didn't know your gender, so I couldn't say Mr or Ms or whatever. How about Comrade Herndon? I think that Wilkinson might not be on screen long enough even for a supporting character nom. But he was terrific!


Ishtar: I may be in the minority here, but I loved "Ishtar." It was a great example of a good bad film.

Desson Thomson: Haha. Thanks.


Baltimore, Md.: I also saw "King Corn" and loved it. Between that movie and the book "Omnivore's Dilemma" I've learned that we are basically walking corn chips.

Desson Thomson: Scary!


Sparks, Md.: Have you heard anything about "Beowulf" opening next month? I enjoy Ray Winstone and hope the movie will be a good one. However, there hasn't been much news about it.

Desson Thomson: Yes it's opening soon. I like myths, especially that one. High hopes as always!


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

Love your chats!

How would you list these in order:

Lust, Caution

Into the Wild

Lars and The Real Girl?

Desson Thomson: Lars


Into the Wild


Desson Thomson: Hey folks, ending on a dime today. And as always thanks for joining me on this chat. We'll be speaking soon. Cheers.


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