Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, February 1, 2008; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Feb. 1, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss 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.


Desson Thomson: Rain is good for movies, right? What else are you gonna do, except go see some-at home or in the theater (anyone remember those?). And rain is good IN the movies. It's great for mood. Check out an old dvd of 1970's The Garden of the Finzi Continis sometime, see what unfolds between Dominique Sanda and Helmu Berger in the rain, and you'll see why rain is great for the movies. But of course spring is ahead. That's what we're thinking of. Good weather and in the movies, what? A season of some interesting movies to look forward to.

Anyway, what's on everyone's mind?


Woodbridge, Va.: Hi Mr. Thomson, I've just seen the Speed Racer trailer and it looks absolutely incredible. With the Matrix and now this, I'm willing to be that the Wachowski brothers are going to go down in the history of big Hollywood film making as rockstars in the same league as Spielberg and Cameron. Would you agree? And have you heard anything interesting about Speed Racer?

Desson Thomson: Funny you should ask. That's one of the movies that I am putting down as a personal item in interest in our upcoming spring preview which is coming out in the Style & Arts section in early February. What intrigues me about this is the dance between the Wachowski cool of the Matrix series and the almost quaint Japanese animation of the series. What an interesting meeting across time and culture, huh? I just know the movie's coming right up this spring. In answer to your Spielberg question, they have a fighting chance, so long as they make movies that last - in terms of reaching us where we really live - beyond whatever era or season they were made in.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Thomson,

My Mother is an Accounting Professor. Every year she likes to give out a list of famous accounting roles in movies. As the years have gone by her list is getting outdated and she has asked me to help. I, in turn, put out this question to you and the chatters to see if you have any ideas of accountants in recent movies. Let's say 1990 and on...

Can anyone "account" for some roles? Thanks!

Desson Thomson: Gosh, accountants? As heroes? Intriguing. For the life of me, the only accountant I can dredge up in the memory is the character played by Michael Palin in a Monty Python comic sketch who ( I think?) is an accountant who wants the right to be a lion tamer. So, yes, regale me with your list and let's see what others can recall. I am temporarily stumped. (Is Robert Duvall, technically the accountant as well as consigliere in the Corleone family?)


Rockville, Md.: I want to see "There Will Be Blood" but I have heard and read that it is slow and tedious in spots. Better to wait for the DVD and spread it out over a couple of nights, or should I man-up and see it on the big screen?

Desson Thomson: This movie is growing in stature in my head every time I think of it. So I urge you to see it on the big screen, if you have the stamina. Of course with the dvd and a great screen you'll get a certain powerful impression too. Either way, see it. I have seen it twice and the second time I watched, it seemed to whizz by, to be honest.


Washington DC: I saw a couple Carry-On movies for the first time in decades and found them amusing in a the way of a good sitcom -- not exceptional, but reliably entertaining. What do you think -- are they jolly good fun or low-brow pap?

Desson Thomson: You have something against low brow pap? Seriously, I grew up on those silly movies. They are witty in ways that I see in the greatest of low brows these days. I haven't seen one in a long time so goodness knows if they stand the test of time. But I remember them fondly, sophomoric double entendre sex jokes and all.


Arlington, Va.: I haven't seen The Savages yet but I'm delighted that Laura Linney was nominated for an Oscar kind out of the blue (for some odd reason, she wasn't nominated at any of the other major awards). I'm kind of amazed that neither she nor Kate Winslet (probably my two favorite actresses working right now) have won an Oscar yet. Do you think she has any shot of being a dark horse in this category and pulling off an upset? (I know she's very well-respected in Hollywood but right now it seems like Christie has the award almost sewn up).

Desson Thomson: The problem with Laura Linney is that she's such a subtle actress people tend to mistake her acting as quiet and without pizzaz. (or pizzas for that matter)And she plays everyday characters that seem too normal to impress us off the bat. And in times of judging "good" performances, many moviegoers, critics and members of the academy, tend to think highly of a person playing a character with a very strong internal/external issue - let's say they have some sort of physical handicap or perhaps a drinking issue. That's more "intense" so it's more powerful. So when Linney plays more extreme characters, I think, she'll get a great shot at winning. Not that she might not win this time around. Who knows?


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm sure someone has already suggested this, but Matthew Broderick's character in "The Producers" was an accountant.

Desson Thomson: That's correct. He plays Leo Bloom the timid accountant, the role played by Gene Wilder in the 1968 version.


Washington, D.C.: Why did Zodiac, 3:10 to Yuma and Rescue Dawn come out so early in the year? That just seems silly when they could have been serious Oscar contenders if they'd come out later and been fresh in the voters' minds.

Desson Thomson: well, movies get released on certain dates for an infinity of reasons, frequently having to do with timing in terms of maximizing its profit or its reach, waiting for the right moment when there isn't other stronger competition, when it was completed, etc. Making them Oscar contenders isn't always the prime consideration. And as moviegoers we'd really be hurting waiting for November and December to happen. But it is true that those movies probably would have benefitted by getting released later. The studios make decisions about this, mostly. And they may already have candidates slotted for their Oscar contenders, which makes them ignore the unfavored.


New Orleans. La.: Who would you rather be alone with for 20 minutes: Anton Chigurh from No Country or Daniel Plainview from Blood?

P.S. Happy Mardi Gras!

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. I would prefer Daniel Plainview, as long as it wasn't in a bowling alley. Have a great MG in a go cup yourself!


Butternut, Wisc.: Hi, Desson.

Interesting summer movie question. How will Heath Ledger's death affect the box office for the upcoming Batman movie?

Desson Thomson: Obviously, it will draw a lot of attention to the movie, and every single review or program on TV about it will mention his death. It has a gravitas to it now.


23112: Is there anything particularly good for my wife and I to see on a rare night out? Kids are with their granny.

Desson Thomson: Juno, I suppose, since I know absolutely nothing about your preferences. That movie just made $100 million. Incredible for a little ol' comedy.


Alexandria, Va.: Rented 2 movies in the past 2 weeks.

Once -- I heard many great reviews about this one but I was disappointed. Guess I don't like musicals where everyone is happy and no big musical numbers. The scenery however was brilliant and I find myself wanting to fly to Dublin just to find the busker street.

Spiderman 3 -- The director could have made 2 good movies instead of one big movie that tried to shoehorn 4 different plots. Bah!

Desson Thomson: Too bad you didn't enjoy yourself with either. I think Once is terrific. People call it a musical but I don't think of it that way at all. Just a simple love story built around a song, two engaging people and a growing affection between them. Understatedly powerful.


Accountants: Well, wasn't there a fairly important G-man accountant in "The Untouchables" and speaking of Monty Python, were the corporate pirates in "The Meaning of Life" accountants? They certainly didn't seem broker-like to me.

Desson Thomson: Ah, Monty Python. Yes, in their movies and sketches, they make accountancy the ultimate in horror, a stultifyingly boring profession.


Rockville, Md.: I'm embarrassed to admit I know this, but Rene Zewelleger's character in Jerry Maguire was an accountant. You might say she was shown the money. I'll go now.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha, Rockville.

_______________________ 'U2 3D': It's Almost Like Being There ( Post, Jan. 23)


Accountants in the movies: Kevnin James plays Albert Brennaman, a tax accountant in love with a celebrity client, Allegra Cole (Amber Valetta) in Hitch.

Desson Thomson: Interesting. But what does this growing list tell us about accountants, I wonder?


Falls Church, Va.: I am not sure if it is just me, but I saw There Will be Blood and it was a bit like torture after the two-hour mark. I was not sure how I felt about it when I was leaving the theater, but when I thought about the film the next day and since then, I have to say that it was really amazing. As always, Daniel Day-Lewis was fantastic. Do you think that the movie will win any Oscars, besides the acting nod?

Desson Thomson: It deserves to.


Washington, D.C.:4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days or Persepolis if I want to go to an intelligent movie this weekend?

Desson Thomson: Absolutely. Provocative story. Ann Hornaday's review today should help persuade you to go, too.


Vienna, Va.: Desson,

I saw U2 3D on Saturday. Man, was that a lot of fun. One of the best parts of it was how alive the crowd was (I've gone to U2 concerts in D.C., and that crowd couldn't even come close to the same hemisphere of the crowd in Buenos Aries.)

Desson Thomson: Yeah, I liked the experience of watching it too. Cool concert movie. Posted the review on this chat.

_______________________ '4 Months': A Time and Place Brought Unerringly to Life ( Post, Feb. 1)


Washington, D.C.: Dear Desson,

I am local. I've been reading reviews on the Internet about the 2007 French film "Intimate Enemies" that is supposed to capture the horror of the French Algerian war in the 1950s. It was released in some film festival in October 2007, and I've been reading more and more reviews. But I have not been able to find any theaters showing it. Has Washington missed it? Do you know if it is coming?


Desson Thomson: Doesn't seem to have an American distributor. Haven't seen it myself. Got a mixed review from Variety.


Washington, D.C.: Can I just say I was supremely disappointed with Cloverfield? All that hype and I ended up with a headache.

Why do these movies always have to have the "hero" go back and save a damsel in distress or something along those lines? For instance, one of my fav movies is Aliens and the reason she risked her life (spoiler alert) for Newt was so much more compelling. I feel like the writers of Cloverfield had a real chance to make the plot deeper but instead it was a cheesy monster movie. I think we've had enough of those. Rant over. Thanks!

Desson Thomson: You're welcome.


Accountant: Ooh, ooh, ooh, Harold Crick in "Stranger than Fiction!" Great role, great movie.

Desson Thomson: Agreed. Could have been greater--the movie.


Accountants: William Macy plays an accountant in "A Civil Action." Bruce Greenwood plays a tax auditor in "Exotica." (Is that close enough?) Searching at IMDb using "accountant" as a keyword turns up over 100 hits.

Desson Thomson: Ha, interesting.


Falls Church, Va.: It's not accountants exactly, but "The Firm" is all about tax lawyers. Lots of exciting scenes where Tom Cruise sends and receives faxes.

Desson Thomson: Tom plays an accountologist, I think.


Boston, Mass.: About accountants in movies: Kirstie Alley's character and her mother (Olympia Dukakis?) were both accountants in "Look Who's Talking."

Desson Thomson: Look who's calculating.


Accountants in movies: Cher's character in "Moonstruck."

Desson Thomson: Was she? Obviously that's not what we remember her character for. Accountancy seems to be a default job, in most cases, for characters to have.


Front Row: Had a miserable movie experience last weekend. Went to see ""There Will Be Blood" on Saturday and had to sit in the absolute front row because it was so packed. My wife and I both had the same reaction: Daniel Day-Lewis has HUGE feet and a tiny head!

Seriously, with all the media buzz and great reviews, why is this movie only playing in two theaters in Montgomery County?

Desson Thomson: Ugh, I feel your pain, or should I say, vertigo.


Dumfries, Va.: Accountants. I can only come up with two and they are old but Charles Grodin in Midnight Run, and Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon series.

Desson Thomson: Good characters both. But I bet their bosses weren't thrilled by their job performances.


Freising, Germany: Regarding "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, I'd once been told that Romania had a healthy and respected film industry during the Communist era. Do you think that there's any truth to that?

I've always associated Communist regimes with dull and drab lifestyles or pompous propaganda, but never anything to do with artistic cinema.

Desson Thomson: The cinema of that country certainly has a history and an interesting one, as you can read at this site.

But it has been beset by the country's lack of support in terms of holding on to precious prints of the past. Certainly, it doesn't have a reputation as one of the cinematic powers, compared to other former communist countries, such as Russia and all the spinoff countries in the SU, the Czech Republic, Poland, East Germany, etc.

But filmmakers such as Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) and Cristian Mungiu who won the big prize at Cannes for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, have brought the country some recent attention.


Accountants: Agent Oscar Wallace in the Untouchables played by Charles Martin Smith.

Showed just how edgy an accountant can be.

Desson Thomson: Ooh, edgy accountant. I like it.


Reston, Va.: Why not Angelina Jolie for best actress for "A Mighty Heart"?

Desson Thomson: A lot of good roles to compete with, though I would have placed her higher than Cate Blanchett's Queen Elizabeth I.


Boston, Mass.: Definitely see "There Will Be Blood" in theaters! It does feel long, but epic, never draggy. Also, Desson, thanks for advising me a couple of weeks ago that I didn't have to see "No Country" before going to "TWBB" -- after seeing the latter I realized how different they are, I should never have associated them in the first place!

Desson Thomson: Why thanks Boston. Glad you saw them both in their own right.


Durham, N.C.: Expat D.C. person here -- we saw There Will be Blood last week and frankly I was underwhelmed. They used to say actors "chewed up the scenery" and frankly, I think that's what happened here.

When we saw the Clooney film, Michael Clayton, it was WITHOUT any preconceptions and it was a big surprise. I loved the way the family relationships were portrayed and the more I think about it, Clooney was very UN-Clooney like.

Desson Thomson: Very glad you liked Michael Clayton. I have a yen to see it again. Reading the amazing script by Tony Gilroy right now.

I obviously thought more highly of Blood than you. As for chewing the scenery, well, I see Day-Lewis as a character who IS a scene chewer. So he'd play it that way. A sort of updated Richard III.


Accountants: Wasn't the Ben Kingsley character in Schindler's List an accountant?

Desson Thomson: I think so. And suddenly, I understand ways that an accountant can be seen as a moral hero.


Harrisburg, Pa.: I have often noticed that, among DVD subtitle options, one often sees "English" or "English for the hearing impaired" as options, and I never thought much about the distinction. I noticed on the movie "Oceans 13" that both options were listed. What is the difference between English and English for the hearing impaired?

Desson Thomson: The hearing impaired version makes subtitled references to noises, music, crowd hum, sound effects, etc., that the (hearing impaired) person watching the movie would otherwise not know about.


Fairfax, Va.: There is the tax accountant auditor in The Untouchables. He's a nerdy but really brave guy who gives Kevin Costner what he needs to put Capone away. I think this is older than 1990 though. I'll think some more about this because I love obscure characters in movies...

Desson Thomson: Ha, thanks.


Rosslyn, Va.: Here's my recent viewings:

27 Dresses -- Ugh, even my wife who is a big fan of the chick-lit genre was squirming for this one to end.

No Country for Old Men -- I liked it, but didn't completely "get it"; need to watch this one again on DVD (perhaps with subtitles).

Sahara -- went in with bar set low on this one, but I have to say, I was quite entertained and it was perfect for a night we wanted to just get lost in something mindless. Pretty impressive scenery in Blu-ray as well.

Desson Thomson: Thanks - keep watching !


Racer X: My inner 6-year-old is grinning with glee and leaving aside the choice of actors, I can't wait for Speed Racer. "here he comes..." Although, I've always had more of an affinity for Racer X, the Mach 5 is every bit as good, if not better than, a Bond car. Funny really since, as an adult, I tried to watch the cartoon on one of those cable networks, and found it to be mindnumbingly silly.

Desson Thomson: I am looking forwrad to it!


Washington, D.C.: I really recommend seeing There Will Be Blood in the theater. The land is as much of a character as the actors and those huge panoramas are beautiful on the big screen. (Though I've seen it twice and I noticed that the screen at AFI Silver Theatre was much better quality than the screen at E Street Landmark.)

The second watching was just as enjoyable. Lots of little things to pick up on and some plot lines worked more smoothly. That movie has stuck with me more than any in a few years.

Desson Thomson: Good to hear.


Moonstruck (again): Remember the scene at the beginning where's the figuring taxes for the mortician and he spills butter on his tie while eating a bagel? Clearly, I've seen that movie a few too many times.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha


Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Desson -- Any thoughts on the upcoming Istvan Szabo retrospective at the National Gallery of Art? I'm assuming that "Mephisto," "Colonel Redl," and "Hanussen" are must-sees (and I've already seen "Being Julia"), but what about his other films, especially the early ones? Some of the days feature 2 or 3 full-length movies, plus shorts, and I probably will need to pick and choose!

Desson Thomson: Yes, there is one coming soon at the East Building at the National Gallery. Check the website.


Centreville, Va.: I finally got the chance to see "Charlie Wilson's War" last night and I did enjoy it. It gives me a rare opportunity to sell the film to my guy friends as a traditionally masculine film, given its emphasis on breasts, lovely young women, mass amounts of alcohol, and things blowing up real good. The main two things I felt detracted from the film were Tom Hanks' here-and-gone-again accent and the Labradoodle Julia Roberts was wearing on her head; however, Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance more than made up for any shortcomings on that part.

Desson Thomson: I enjoyed it too. Fun movie./


Springfield, Va.: I will never -- NEEEEVER -- forgive the academy for snubbing Baz Luhrmann.

Desson Thomson: I'll tell them.


Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.: Desson -- I was just looking again at this year's Oscar nominees for Best Picture and comparing them to some recent years, and it strikes me that this year's choices are really the strongest slate in some time. To my mind, "Atonement" is the weakest of the bunch, yet it still has much to recommend it and does not lapse into an easy crowd-pleaser. Sure, one could argue for certain pictures as substitutes for nearly any of the nominees, but overall, there is a good deal of artistic integrity here top to bottom.

Desson Thomson: I agree. There's quality this year.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi, Desson. We're the women's book club (that welcomes an occasional brave man or two) from last week's chat. We don't have your private e-mail address, but there's not a lot to report. We have a flexible 15-20 person membership, ranging from late 20's to, shall we say, substantially older. Most of us have something to do with education. There are usually 10-12 people at meetings, more for better or more provocative books. Most of us enjoy movies, too, and regularly see them together or with others. We make a point of trying to see movies made from books we have read, such as Kite Runner (didn't much care for) or Atonement (great). Sometimes the movies make for better discussions than the books! One thing we agree on, we all enjoy your chats!

Desson Thomson: Thanks for responding. And thanks for the compliment. Keep on posting!


Desson Thomson: Apologies for ducking out, but I must. Hope you enjoyed our chat. Look forward to chatting with you soon.


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