Behind the Screen
Friday, February 15, 2008; 12:30 PM
Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Feb. 15, 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.
A transcript follows.
Desson Thomson: Hi folks. What's on your minds? Zombies? Violence? Daniel Day-Lewis explaining drainage to Paul Dano with a milk straw? Fire away.
Arlington, Va.: I got to watch Gone Baby Gone recently, because I really wanted to see how Ben Affleck turned out BEHIND the camera, especially in a movie that stars his brother AND takes place in his hometown.
And I was quite surprised by how good a movie it was! Not only was it made with superb authenticity, but I loved how it asked such a terribly tough moral question at the end. I now join the crowd who believes that Ben has redeemed himself.
Desson Thomson: I hear you on this. But isn't it just a case of competence? He's hardly a stylist or a revelation as a director. He's just better behind the camera than in front of it. There are thousands of better directors, just not as famous or handsome. The real revelation is Casey Affleck in that picture--and also Jesse James (I'll skip the whole title). What an actor he is.
Rockville, Md.: So your review made it seem like 'Diary of the Dead' is kind of a mixed bag. Was it at least better than 'Land of the Dead'?
washingtonpost.com: 'Diary of the Dead': Zombie See, Zombie Do ( Post, Feb. 15)
Desson Thomson: Yes, much better. Witty. Some funny moments. Not scary like the very first. But worth watching.
Arlington, Va.: Which of the nominees for Best Picture don't belong? I'd put my first vote for Juno. It was a cute movie, and well done for what it was, but I don't should be in the same league as On the Waterfront or Gandhi.
Desson Thomson: I think they're all worthy pictures. And your comment brings up a point, which I am writing about next Sunday. Should we have a separate Oscar category for comedy. Maybe you just didn't think it was a good movie (Juno, I mean). But I wonder if you simply think comedies don't belong in best picture because best pictures must be epics or movies of deeper import. A lot of people think that way - that comedy is an inferior genre. And it makes sense to me to follow the Globes. ( I also see the other argument: that a good movie is a good movie, comedy or not, and they should all be ranked together.)
Bethesda, Md.: Woohoo!!! The Oscar ceremony is only 9 days away! Do you have any predictions as of yet?
Desson Thomson: Yes, that the Oscars will take place. Anything else, I have no idea. I guess I am pretty confident that Day-Lewis will win. And deservedly so. In my opeeenyun.
Winchester, Va: My kid sister, now in her 50's, used to go to horror movies to figure out how they did all the special effects. Now we all know the answers -- computers. I never understood the gore for gore's sake crowd, but maybe it stops them from torturing small animals or otherwise acting out in unacceptable ways.
Desson Thomson: Ha! Interesting to think of "Saw" as preventing millions of sadists from harming small animals--suddenly giving the torture porn genre a sort of moral role in society. Creative rationalization is such fun.
Wimp in D.C.: I don't like violent movies, have not seen admittedly good ones like No Country for Old Men because of this. Now I'm wondering about The Violin. Terrific reviews, so I'm torn. And I don't think I can handle the abortion in Four Months. Of course you don't have to actually watch the screen but why go to a movie if you're not going to watch it?
Desson Thomson: Maybe being a "wimp" as you call it is having good taste. Hold on to it!
Mississippi Gulf Coast: Can people recycle movie titles? Last week there were ads for a Lifetime TV movie called "Making Mr. Right." But there was a great, very quirky (in a good way) 1987 movie with John Malkovich and Ann Magnuson called...wait for it : "Making Mr. Right." Does this mean I can call my next movie "Casablanca"?
Desson Thomson: Haha. Just spell it Casa Blanka.
"Maybe" movie: A 2.5 hour romantic comedy starring a precocious kid? Shudder. Looks like Netflix for me!
Desson Thomson: Sounds like you're half curious - to be renting it on NetFlix. so they'll make their money on you either way.
Denmark, S.C. (via D.C.): I'm 62, over the years have become accustomed to more graphic sex, more graphic violence, more, more, more, more, more. While I don't like either for its own sake, intensity is another factor that enters into my viewing selections. For example, I'm not sure I can handle the Romanian abortion movie. Not that it's coming anywhere near Denmark, but I regularly travel back to D.C. and there is always Netflix.
Desson Thomson: That's interesting to me, that your threshold has grown over time. I am thinking about writing an article about our personal thresholds and would encourage you -- and anyone else -- to send me an e mail with your opinion on the subject and other feelings/commentary. It might be part of my piece. And maybe I can interview you on the phone about all this.
My e mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C.: I finally got around to seeing There Will Be Blood, and while Daniel Day-Lewis' performance was mesmerizing, the film itself was nothing to write home about. Without the performance, this film probably does last a week in art houses, and I just don't understand how critics could see this as a Best Picture contender. The film is not even in the same league as Michael Clayton or No Country for Old Men. Could a film really win best picture solely on a singular career-defining performance?
Desson Thomson: I understand what you're saying. Others have said the same thing. (A good friend and colleague called it "There Will Be Refunds.") But I also humbly disagree with you. I think it's a great picture too. A sort of Satanic Citizen Kane (Citizen Cain maybe), a great (although negative in this case) parable about the American dream, about commerce, certain hypocrisies in the realm of instant-religions, and insanity. But we see our own things when we watch a movie, don't we?
16th Street NW, Washington, D.C.: In today's New York Times, Charles Isherwood ends his review of the new stage revival of "Crimes of the Heart," directed by Kathleen Turner, as follows: "But since Ms. Turner's glory days in Hollywood, American film has mostly become a big, generally boring playground for boys. Interesting roles for women, on screen or behind it, are hard to come by. The quick return of 'Crimes of the Heart,' which in happier days became a movie featuring three great American film actresses (Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek), gives another handful of talented women a chance to exercise -- and, in the case of Ms. Turner, deepen -- their gifts onstage."
My sentiments exactly! 2007 in particular was a 'pathetic' year for American film actresses. Agree?
Desson Thomson: Interesting commentary. The days of Bette Davis are long gone, and also Alice Doesn't Live Here Any more. And the days of Lillian Gish and Mabel Normand. Lately, pretty much any year is no good for women because -generality alert- studios tend to back movies that will appeal to teeny-to-twentysomething dudes of the repeat-viewing persuasion. There were some good female roles in the past 2 years. I think Laura Linney was great in Savages, and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Julie Christie and Ellen Page were superb in Away from Her and Juno respectively. But even female screenwriters are forced to write central roles for young males because they want to sell their scripts. It's always going to be tough for women heroes.
Arlington, Va.: Affleck may be only a competent director, but he's also a competent screenwriter. I think that merits a little more respect than "yeah, but HEY, you should see his brother!"
Desson Thomson: I'd rather give respect where I think it's due. Not charitably so. And besides, Ben A. is doing very well for himself.
Severna Park, Md.: Remember that movie Titanic? The one that won all the Oscars? That wasn't a very good movie.
Desson Thomson: No it wasn't. In fact I think it was a terrible movie attached to some amazing special effects. But it struck home for an awful lot of people.
D.C. 20009: I saw "In Bruges" with high hopes and it just didn't work for me. And what's this with Ralph Fiennes? I consider him one of the greatest actors of this generation, but look what he chooses to act in! Is he not getting the offers? And if so, why not? "Maid in America" has to have been one of the most embarrassing movies ever mode. He deserves so much better -- and so do we!
Desson Thomson: I have yet to catch up with Bruges. Want to see it. You didn't go for it, I see. But I'm still curious. As for Maid, oh my goodness, how horrible was that? I physically winced at the memory when I read your post.
Arlington, Va.: I love how a discussion on zombie movies is the day after Valentine's Day.
I strenuously disagree that comedies are "less important" than epics or "serious" movies. American Beauty, Gandhi, and Titanic have not held up well. I find it disappointing that "Atonement" is considered a more deserving contender than Ratatouille simply because one has scope and one does not.
Desson Thomson: I couldn't agree more with you. But a lot of people - Academy voters - whether they admit it to themselves or not - believe that comedy at its greatest is still not as good as drama, even if it's only at a b-grade level.
Chicago, Ill.: My wife and I saw "Definitely, Maybe" last night, and we enjoyed it, for a romantic comedy with very few laughs. Like so many movies, it's more in love with New York City than with any of its characters, but its portrayal of the emotional complexity and guilt that drives adult relationships rings true.
Desson Thomson: Good, glad it was a pleasure for you. And it's great to see people actually going out to the movies.
Annapolis, Md.: Interesting question. We are obviously less sensitive to violence than we used to be; 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, murder by gunshot used to be considered something to be too shocking for polite people to see; today we see much grislier things on the news, to say nothing of what we see on the screen.
I don't believe it's because we can't tell the difference between real and screen violence, but rather we have become too good at admiring screen violence. "Cool! That prosthetic looks like a real mangled hand -- or what I think a mangled hand should look like, anyway." That consciousness of artifice helps us "screen out" the violent act because we are admiring the resulting special effects. When a human being chops off another human's foot, we are less repulsed by the fact that one person is hurting another, and more attracted to the fountain of blood.
Desson Thomson: Thanks. Interesting take. If you have your own personal take on this, to back up your general point of view, I'd love to hear from you in an e mail for that article I mentioned. I want to talk to folks who say (for example): I can take this but not that. And here's why: I just hate seeing children in peril. Or: I am in the military and I take violence seriously since I have seen it. Or whatever. The personal...
Alexandria, Va.: After a few weeks of relatively slim pickings, it looks like we are back in business. Mostly I know what I will and won't see, but I am on the fence about "In Bruges." The reviews are all over the map: really clever, great satire, really stupid, surfeit of violence and a bloodbath at the end. Have you seen it? Would you recommend it? I love both Bruges and Ralph Fiennes, which may or may not work for me in this movie.
Desson Thomson: If you get to it, let me know what you thought. If in doubt, see it anyway, I say. As I said, I haven't caught up with it yet.
Silver Spring, Md.: I'm rarely bothered by violence in films, with one major exception: I cannot watch a scene in any film in which a man is getting a straight-razor shave. That scene in The Color Purple when Whoopi Goldberg shaves Danny Glover on the porch is, in my mind, pretty much the most terrifying thing I've ever seen. Don't even get me started on Sweeney Todd...
Desson Thomson: Ha! You'd be great for my article. Can you e mail me? (and I can imagine what you'd think of the opening scene in Eastern Promises. Talk about a razor scene. Wooo. )
Baltimore, Md.: What's the buzz on Charlie Bartlett? It looks like a stupid high school movie but it's rated-R, which means most teens won't be able to see it. Is it on par with SuperBad?
Desson Thomson: I saw it and was not impressed. It tries to be a cross between Rushmore and Donnie Darko and ends up being neither.
Washington, D.C.:"Remember that movie Titanic? The one that won all the Oscars? That wasn't a very good movie."
There were over $600 million reasons why the Academy could not overlook Titanic. It also wasn't against the strongest field of competition (As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, and LA Confidential) 1997 -- Not a good year!
Desson Thomson: Yeah, good point.
Rockville, Md.: Not for entertainment do I want to see gore and violence. I had three tours of duty in Vietnam, and when I see a film I want to laugh. Or be amazed. I like good actors. Some special effects are worth checking out. March of the Penguins was great. Bladerunner was about as far as I want to go and then I did not watch two scenes. I wanted the music and the special effects and am a fan of PK Dick. But it also had a great cast.
I am curious about "No Country for Old Men" but will not watch it. I will not get close to Todd. (Death in German.)
We have too much violence in the news for it to be anything I want to entertain me.
Desson Thomson: I fully respect what you are saying. Would love to communicate by e mail, talk about your tours of duty - and your attitude to violence. Very interesting!
23112: One element of violence in films that gets me is sound editing. There's a scene in Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer that my film prof showed us where Henry is sawing up a body with a fish knife. You don't see the cutting or the blood, but the sound of that knife going (and with no background music) for a few minutes straight had me practically crawling for a door.
Desson Thomson: Yes, yes. I remember that film. I know this sounds like a broken record but e mail me!
By the way, everyone please put "threshold" in the subject box so I can find them.
Culpeper, Va.: I think the James Bond films ratcheted up the acceptable level of violence in movie. They are witty, urbane, sophisticated, but by the end of the movie there are dozens if not hundreds of dead bodies littering the screen. Sure, they are "bang, bang you're dead" killings are not especially graphic, but I know they raised my tolerance for violence and I'm not sure that's such a good thing.
Desson Thomson: Agreed. The gentlemanization of violence.
Arlington, Va.: I didn't hear a big fuss out of the religious community re: There Will Be Blood -- did I miss the outcry?
Oh, and how do I get a friend to stop talking like Daniel Plainview? Every time I see him, it's "Now, you're going to..."
Desson Thomson: Hahaha. I am talking like Plainview myself. Annoying all my colleagues. Yes, I was expecting a hue and cry myself. Don't remember hearing it.
Washington, D.C.:"A sort of Satanic Citizen Kane (Citizen Cain maybe), a great (although negative in this case) parable about the American dream, about commerce, certain hypocrisies in the realm of instant-religions, and insanity."
I would agree with your comparisons, but where this movie failed for me was the storytelling, or lack thereof. The movie was nothing but a series of scenes where Daniel Day-Lewis proves to the world that he's the best actor on the planet (a modern-day DeNiro or Brando). As far as telling a cohesive and engaging story, There Will Be Blood fails miserably. I think in order to win Best Picture, a movie should tell a story that engages its audience. I'm fine for rewarding performance like this, but you cannot acknowledge a movie that is nothing more than a series of scenes. The Assassination of Jesse James was another example this year of a film that was just a series of scenes where actors showed their stuff, but as far as telling a story, it also failed, and failed to get recognized in the Best Picture category.
Great movies should tell great stories.
Desson Thomson: I appreciate your opinion.
Violence, Human and Animal: For some reason I'm more tolerant of violence against humans in film than I am of violence against animals. I know that neither humans nor animals are ACTUALLY hurt during filming (well, usually). Somehow I think that if people see animals being hurt, they will be more inclined to think that's okay. In both cases, I usually look away when the "deed" is being done. I don't like to see guts in person or on screen, even if fake. But this doesn't mean I won't enjoy the overarching story.
Desson Thomson: Good points. Will you e mail me about this?
Mount Vernon, Va.: I have no shame in looking down or away when a particularly violent scene takes place. I adored both Pan's Labyrinth and Sweeney Todd, but I most definitely looked away during both of those movies razor scenes, lol.
Desson Thomson: It's fascinating that we look away. What we do instead is escape into a mental image of what it is we're avoiding--which may often be worse than what we see on screen.
Buffalo, N.Y.: I've noticed that many people have aversions to violence in some degree but the same is less true for sexual content. Doesn't it seem pretty arbitrary for Ang Lee's recent film to get an NC-17 for sexual content while Saw, Hostel, etc., continue to get R ratings?
Desson Thomson: Yes, the old sex-versus-violence thing. I agree with your point.
Boulder, Colo.: Personally, my violence threshold is violence against animals. I know it's not "real" and they always have the disclaimer at the end of the movie saying no animals were harmed, but I just can't bear to watch it. I think it's because most animals (horses, dogs) can't defend themselves against a human with a gun? I don't know, I just have to turn my head when it's on the screen.
Desson Thomson: Boulder, I hear you. Drop me a line!
River City: Silver Spring makes a great point: To me, the most effective scary scenes are those that don't show the gore, just keep you on the edge of your seat waiting for the horrible...
"Picnic at Hanging Rock" was so successful in that sense. cute school girls on a picnic. Never showed ANYTHING gory, but I was scared outta my pants with anticipation over what was around the corner. THAT's talent. Anyone can throw ketchup blood all over the scene.
Desson Thomson: Great point. Hitchcock spoke of this. It's all in the anticipation. What is YOUR squeamish threshold? Where you put up the gates and say No More?
Re: Comedies and Oscars...:
Didn't "A Fish Called Wanda" win seven Oscars? Although, I think I would put it in more of a satire category rather than comedy but it was still humorous. I have not seen "Juno" so I cannot comment on it but I think well-done comedic satires such as "A Fish Called Wanda" should be able to compete with other movies no matter its genre; although I will draw the line if any of the "Scary Movie" franchise gets nominated...
Desson Thomson: It was nominated for 3 Oscars (direction, writing and supporting actor.) Kevin Kline won for best supporting actor.
Court House, Va.: Two questions about the Michael Apted 7-up series (which I'm about halfway through, so no spoilers!)....
First, your thoughts about how it stacks up against other documentary films, and its relation to the reality TV show trend we see today.
Second, as a former resident of the U.K., how you feel about its thesis about the inexorable impact of the British class system, and whether that thesis has played out over time?
Desson Thomson: I am glad you are watching this series. I think it is everything you ask about - a great documentary about the changes that happen to us, and about the class system in England. A very powerful experiment in form that is very successful.
Rockville, Md.: I'm really upset at some of the Oscar categories and wonder if the Academy is looking to make any changes in the future.
1. Best Animated Feature -- Last year it was won by a poorly animated movie about penguins and this year another penguin movie (much better animation) has been nominated. Has there been any consideration to increasing the number of nominated films in this category? Two great animated films were not even recognized this year (Beowulf and The Simpsons Movie) at the expense the aforementioned penguin movie.
2. Best Original Score -- There was a lot of controversy when the "John Williams Rule" went into effect, and the result has been movie scores that cannot be recognized despite being superior to the ones actually nominated in the category. Has the Academy considered creating a Best Soundtrack or Best Music category for films that cannot have a 99 percent original musical score?
3. Best Song -- This category has just gone to he-- in a hand basket in recent years. Aside from the nomination of "Blame Canada" a few years ago, this category has single handedly deteriorated the Oscar ceremony. Is there anything that can be done to solve this category or eliminate it altogether?
Desson Thomson: Some strong and pointed questions. I think there are not simply not enough animation films to nominate 5. If you nominate 5 and there are only 5 that were made, for instance, it looks bad.
Chicago, Ill.: I am never sure where I am on this issue...I don't think people commit crimes or anti-social behavior based on what they see on screen (movies, TV) or what they read in books. However, the one medium that I have trouble with is video games. It's one thing to passively sit and watch violence on TV or in the movies; but, don't you think that there is something different about "actively" (even if it's make-believe) carrying out these actions. It's especially worrisome as the technology advances and these games ("Grand Theft Auto," etc) become more advanced and realistic. Your thoughts?
Desson Thomson: I find them so disturbing. Grand Theft Auto - to me - is license to become sociopathic. All 3 of my sons love it. Or used to. Whoa. But then maybe it prevents people FROM becoming so. I would love to know if all these crazy killers who gun down innocent people at schools and universities were video game players too. If you have a personal take on this - YOUR deal - I'd love to hear from you.
Somewhere, Va.: Hi Desson,
I'm glad to see you made it this week -- your chats are always worth the time. My husband and I saw Juno last night as a Valentine's treat, and we loved it. One of our daughters had a baby and wasn't married. She wanted baby to have two parents and knew she wasn't ready to be a mommy yet. We thought that although daughter's situation was very different from Juno's, the psychology was exactly right from the parents point of view and also from Juno's (though Daughter would have to speak for that, of course). One thing I haven't heard: Juno 'knew' she wasn't ready. Probably because her little half-sister was born only 5 years before. She KNEW first-hand what a lot of trouble babies are for the first 5 years! (This is really minor) Also, I thought it was a great detail when Juno's dad carefully and thoroughly wiped his feet while they were waiting at the door of the McMansion. By the way, our daughter has gone on to make a great life for herself although she didn't have Prince Charming waiting in the wings. Having said all this, Juno is a lovely movie, but not really Oscar material. Thank you!
Desson Thomson: What a wonderful true life story. Thank you for sharing with us.
Baltimore, Md.: The trailers for Speed Racer are SOOO bizarre but strangely SOOOOOO COOL. I have not idea how the Weichowski brother and sister are going to get a whole movie out of those old anime cartoons, but it sure looks interesting.
Desson Thomson: I am psyched for this myself.
Washington, D.C.: You asked for comments regarding viewing violence in movies -- I don't want to see mistreatment or violence against animals -- even if the camera cuts away before you actually see anything and the animal is actually not in any danger. I have a much easier time looking at violence against humans. I guess my logic is that they are actors and it's all part of the script whereas animals are probably upset. I also don't want to see gore, slow/deliberate stabbing (the scene in Saving Private Ryan towards the end was really tough to watch but artistically necessary for the film-I guess.) I'm older (mid-40'a)and grew up seeing the "Dawn of the Dead" movies which were very campy but have no interest in the Saw series -- they are too extreme and violent. I don't enjoy a movie if it makes me feel anxious or threatened. Sin City and Smokin' Aces were extremely and unnecessarily violent.
Desson Thomson: Oooh ooh. You're perfect. E mail me!
Fairfax, Va.: For your threshold article, it would be interesting to determine how many people were brought to tears over the story of the border collie mix rescued by soldiers in Iraq vs. the most recent college shootings that resulted in the death of at least six young people. More than likely, people cried over Charlie and remained emotionally remote from the school shooting.
Desson Thomson: Ha! Interesting.
Harming animals: I fully agree with what those other posters are saying. I have no problem shooting a home intruder because he knows better, but I just cannot stomach the idea of shooting a deer.
Desson Thomson: I definitely want to hear from you!
Comedization of violence: You mentioned this in reference to Bond films. The Lethal Weapon franchise and Eddie Murphy's Beverly Hills Cop mixed violence and comedy and now it's practically a requirement.
Desson Thomson: I agree.
Washington, D.C.: This may be an even weirder quirk... I have no problem with movies that show kids in distress, a bit less tolerance with animals in distress, but what I really can't stand is people breaking toys, dolls, or robots... things like that. I have no idea why, but you can imagine how strange it is for me to get panicky while watching "Toy Story" when I can watch "Pan's Labyrinth" or even "Dancer in the Dark" without turning away...
Desson Thomson: This is HILARIOUS. Please e mail me. I love it.
ArtMovieLover, Va.: Desson, have you ever read, or heard of, a book by Theodore Roszak titled, "Flicker"? It was published in 1991. I heard of it only recently via Dennis Cozzalio's blog (Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, for anyone interested), and googling the title leads me to the delicious detail that Darren Aronofsky has optioned the book, although there are no immediate plans to film it.
I'm only 50 pages into it, but I think I like the book. It revels in the film culture of the 1960s and 70s, with a prominent female critic who is clearly modeled on Pauline Kael. The back-and-forth film talk takes me back to my college days, although those conversations in the late 1980s and early 1990s were never quite as heady as the foreign-film-dominated discussion from the period covered in "Flicker." Still, it's a rush to read the author's references to French films, Bazin's criticism, montage and other film-student stuff.
I'm not sure where the book is going. It seems to be a horror book, or so I think I've heard. I can't fully recommend it, having read only a few pages, but I'm enjoying it so far.
So, again: Have you read it?
Desson Thomson: Yes yes yes. I have read it. It is great. I had forgotten all about this. Glad you are reading it and thanks for reminding me. Yes it's totally about Kael. The great Joel Siegel of City Paper who passed away and was one of my greatest friends - and the best film critic that ever worked in this town - recommended this to me.
Washington, D.C.: I know I'm definitely in the minority on this, but I wasn't all that impressed by DDL's performance in "There Will Be Blood." He's always dialed up to 11, and it's a little grating on the nerves after a time.
Paul Dano, on the other hand, is a wonder to behold. Coming after his excellent work in "L.I.E." and "Little Miss Sunshine," he's rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Desson Thomson: Hmmm. I hear you on the 11. But I would argue his character was a perpetual 11.
Alexandria, Va.: A comment and a question for this holiday weekend.
Watched Knocked Up and 2 Days in Paris last weekend. I was a wee bit disappointed in KU, both because of the predictability of the ending and that it didn't have that combination of sweetness and crassness that "40-Year-Old" had. The lead actor not having the same charm as Carrel.
2 Days seemed to be a Woody Allen movie set in Paris(i.e. rich families), with less laughs and charm. It was great to see Paris, but the couple's charm wore off after a half hour.
What's the scoop on "State of Play"?
Desson Thomson: I can understand your reactions to both. I was amused by 2 Days but, as you say, very Allen-derivative.
State of Play? I can't help you, my friend. Ain't seen or heard nuttin.
Anonymous: Any non-mainstream rental you could recommend? I tend to like Brit or Aussie films that just have offbeat storylines that feed intrigue or the funny bone. Could be subtitled too.
Desson Thomson: Wow. How far back do you wanna go, mate? This is a huge subject. If you like (recent) comedy, I'd recommend Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Or drama, try ANYTHING by the great Mike Leigh. The Flight of the Conchords is a hilarious New Zealand comedy on cable. So is Extras with Ricky Gervais. Have you seen all the Monty Python movies? And I hope you have seen the great Aussie films of the 1980s. Picnic at Hanging Rock was mentioned earlier. And there's The Last Wave. And Walkabout. Don't get me started!
23112: I watched the Miami Vice "remake" film the other weekend. Liked it a lot..it's not necessarily in the tier that Heat is, but I rewatched the standoff scene in the trailer three times by itself. Mann is a genius with that realistic high-tension stuff. And, incidentally, the violence in MV didn't turn me off.
Desson Thomson: Interesting. I was kinda disappointed myself in MV the movie. I love Michael Mann though. Loved Heat.
Threshold:"Sleepers" shows characters as children and later as adults. I went because of its cast for the adult roles, but walked out early when the children were threatened by a guard in a reform school. I don't know what happened, but I do know I missed seeing Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman and Brad Pitt....
Desson Thomson: I hear you. Let me hear from you later, if you'd like to participate.
Berkeley, Calif.: Call me easily amused, but I always find it so hilarious when you guys use the "contains" portion of the review to throw in a little gibe. Kudos on Step Up 2: "Contains stylized street beatings and very little resembling authentic human behavior."
I always found Michael O'Sullivan to be especially adept at crafting these little funsies. Does he still write reviews?
Desson Thomson: Haha, glad you appreciate. That is something I started doing way back in the day when I wrote for Weekend starting in the late 1980s. Michael was a good colleague with me, and had (has) a great sense of humor. And I'd like to think I influenced him a tad. But maybe he came up with it on his own. He does art reviews. Not so many movies lately.
Boulder, Colo.: Wow. Fairfax's comment just hit home with me. I recently saw a news story on two dogs brought back to the states from Iraq -- a soldier had adopted them off the street and was their caretaker. When he died in Iraq a group got together to pay for them to come live with his family in Michigan. I cried for the family's loss and for the dogs gaining a new life.
But when I read the news about the University shooting in Illinois, I just thought to myself, "another one."
Animals, especially dogs, get me every time.
Desson Thomson: This is good discourse. Hope I hear from you.
One more threshold comment: I can confidently say that in terms of violence in movies, not much seems to bother me these days. However, when I flip through the television channels and spot a surgery on Discovery Health, I can't watch.
Desson Thomson: Haha. Yes. I know someone who all but faints when he sees mere injections on screen. And he's an iron man athlete.
Union Station, D.C.: I'll have a longer set of thoughts for an e-mail to you, but really quickly...
I'm actually not all that put off by violence and gore so long as it's not just violence and gore for the sake of sensationalizing violence and gore. This past year I liked both Shoot 'Em Up and Grindhouse, and both were loaded to the gills with the aforementioned vices. I would much rather filmmakers show that someone getting garroted across the neck will produce a heck of a lot of blood than to try and minimize the whole deal. Showing that violence brings real pain and death I would hope would be a bit of a wake up to at least some of the audience that you can't do that stuff in real life.
Sadly, audience reactions don't always leave me feeling so sanguine.
Desson Thomson: Very interesting. Look forward to hearing more.
Alexandria, Va.: Desson, when will we see more American indie movies hit theaters? I'm tired of the same 5 or 6 movies playing at Shirlington and E Street for 3 months! When is Teeth opening here?
Desson Thomson: Good question. I don't remember Teeth coming up soon.
Washington, D.C.: I love horror movies, but not ones that are gorey for gore's sake. I think the 'suspense' portion of a horror film is more important, but gore can be a good addition. I think "Pan's Labyrinth" was the best example of a great way to use suspense and gore... I was very happily terrified by that movie. This week I've been watching Season Two of Lars von Trier's TV series "The Kingdom" which just came out on DVD. It's another example of artfully done, suspenseful horror coupled with drama and sometimes off the wall comedy. If you haven't seen it, you've got to check it out, Desson!
Desson Thomson: Thanks, I have seen the Kingdom. Really liked it.
Gore Threshold: My siblings pressured me to see "Scream" in the theater. I hate slasher flicks, but I eventually caved -- and walked out while Drew Barrymore was still burbling in her front yard. After about 15 minutes in the lobby, boredom and embarrassment prompted me to head back, but I couldn't find my sibs. So I ended up watching the rest of the movie from the back row. By myself. My sister still feels guilty, and I haven't been to a slasher since.
Desson Thomson: You haven't missed much.
Austin, Tex.: I must say I was pleasantly surprised by There Will Be Blood. I went expecting to see a great performance by DDL but otherwise be underwhelmed by the film. I'm not a fan of PTA's other films, finding them generally pretentions and undiscipined story-wise. But in There Will Be Blood, the conventions of storytelling and plot driving a movie are pretty much ignored. It was an engrossing character study, in which the narrative served the character and not the other way around. There were interesting directorial choices regarding how most of the other characters were ignored or marginalized, as that is how DDL's character viewed them. Would the movie have worked without someone as strong as DDL in the lead role? I don't think so. Does that mean the movie is unworthy of a Best Picture nomination? Good question.
Desson Thomson: Good thoughts. I think there's more to the movie than that, structurally speaking. But I appreciate your feedback.
Desson Thomson: Thanks everyone for chatting. Another overflow of time but it was fun to talk to all of you. Let's talk again soon. And thanks to the thresholders for playing!
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