Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, March 14, 2008; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, March 14, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss his reviews of "Blindsight," "Funny Games" and "Horton Hears a Who" and the art of film.

"I just saw a trailer for a movie called 'Made of Honor,' which stars Patrick Dempsey as a single man who's platonically close with a girlfriend, played by Michelle Monaghan. But as soon as she announces her engagement to another man, he realizes he's in love with her.

"Why do we keep seeing these types of movies in which we know the plot so well, the two good looking people who are destined to come together, even though they are attached to the wrong suitors? We know how these things are going to turn out. We've seen them ad nauseum for years, most of them starring Julia Roberts. So what keeps bringing us back to these types of movies? Romantic comedies. Do we still need them? Are we sick or them or are they valid?"

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: Ah spring! The buds, the bees, the pleasing breeze. It's the kind of time of the year when a young man's thoughts turn to ... video games. But seriously, folks. What DO we think of this romantic subgenre? And what do we think of anything else? This is your time. Talk to me.


Bethesda, Md.:"So what keeps bringing us back to these types of movies..?"

We each believe that we are "destined" to be with someone like Patrick Dempsey or Julia Roberts, and that he/she will realize this and deliver us from the schmo or schmoess we have unfortunately wound up with instead, just like in the movie. Also known as living vicariously

Desson Thomson: Yes, we do have these thoughts. (Of course we is a big collective. Not sure we all think this). But do we think this because the movies condition us to do so?


DC 20016: Desson, there are Chick Flics and Chick Flics, but Caramel is the first movie I've ever seen that no man should attend. I saw it with three women friends, and we pretty much enjoyed it, but there is far too much "female problem" content that made even us cringe a little (or, occasionally a lot). We were all very happy the men in our lives were elsewhere!

Desson Thomson: I understand that, yes. But tell me what some of those moments were - and how you all laughed and thought: "Only in the locker room of women does this belong?" I am curious yellow. Let me know now or in e mail for that article I am still working on....


Ocala, Fla.: Your recommendation of the original "Alfie" with Michael Caine's inimitable Cockney was much appreciated. I wonder, however, that in the context of reviewing "The Bank Job," you did not mention the other superior Caine vehicle, "The Italian Job."

Desson Thomson: Well, good point. But I had to choose one which would hopefully launch people into a full on Michael Caine themed binge! And yes,another great Caine flick.


Alexandria, Va.: Desson --

Another great weekend for movies, but another weekend with NO captioned movies for those of us who need them --

I am sad.

Desson Thomson: I hear you - no pun intended at all. And others have brought this to my attention. It's a shame. I suppose theaters are loath to build this into their systems? But as I understand it, it can be done without expense, which of course would bring in those who don't come otherwise. A very good point for all theater owners to consider.


In Bruges: So, have you finally seen this? Opinion has been so mixed, I am still on the fence. Yours may be the deciding vote! Do tell!

Desson Thomson: Yes, I caught up with it. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is my kind of movie. (Well, I have all kinds..) But it went too over the top in its latter stages. It is a great character movie. But it seems the filmmakers feel compelled to have too many twists and turns, which took away from the overall impact for me. But I enjoyed it a great deal up until then.


Ambler, Pa.: Hi,

I know this is a simplistic question. If a good movie, what percentage, of the quality, would you say is generally because of the director?


Desson Thomson: I was reading an interview with a screenwriter who said something like, whatever script you write, no matter how great, ultimately, the director becomes the storyteller. I think a director ends up having to shoulder a lot of the blame or the glory because they put adjectives in the movie that a screenwriter can only allude to. By this, I mean, they can - with shot angles, music, editing, casting, etc - undercut a scene that could have been played another way. I mean, look at the difference between Christopher Columbus's direction of the first Harry Potter film. He made it very (in my opinion) heavy handed and infantile, compared to the later versions which got better and better because the other directors imbued the story - pretty much the same kind of material (even though Potter the character progresses to other things, grows older, etc.)- with more compelling, memorable textures.


Fairfax, Va.: Forgive me for being a cynical male, but I believe that romantic movies are popular because the men hope they will make their dates feel, you know, romantic.

Desson Thomson: Well, there is that. Everyone - wittingly or not - is involved in some kind of means to an end.


Bethesda, again:"But do we think this because the movies condition us to do so? "

No, it waaaaay pre-dates movies. Think Jane Austen novels, Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair (the novel, not the mag!), etc.

Desson Thomson: Yes, but weren't those novels the movies of their time? Creating false expectations, etc. ?


Washington, D.C.: Don't know if you've seen it but I really liked In Bruges, which doesn't really do Ralph Fiennes justice as a villain but as an antihero, Colin Farrell really shines. Something about the way he looks in that black Irish way makes you know he's a star.

Desson Thomson: Agreed, WDC. Apart from the other things I mentioned. And yes, I was very very pleasantly surprised by Farrell's performance. Helped wash away memories of that awful Alexander the Not So Great fiasco.


For the deaf:: As much as I despise the Georgetown theaters, I once noticed a representative provide a group of deaf kids with devices that show captions in real time during the movie. I'm not sure if that was normal practice for Georgetown, but I was plenty impressed. I think the rep was signing back too.

Desson Thomson: Cool. The difference between captions for the deaf and subtitles, someone enlightened me in previous chattage, is that they add the other elements - they mention the music and the sound effects that a subtitled movie wouldn't. And of course to the hearing impaired - and if that is a bad label and worse than 'deaf' please forgive me and enlighten me! - that is essential to fully receiving the movie.


Miss Pettigrew: Saw this over the weekend and wanted to say it was great, adorable and really well paced. I do have to say, what put it over the top was Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies) who is crazy adorable as Ned in his TV show, but was equally cool in this movie.

Desson Thomson: This is good information. I like McDormand a great deal. Encourages me to go see.


Falls Church, Va.: I am late-deafened with a cochlear implant and an avid moviegoer. Before I had the device implanted I would vainly try to go to the movies and invariably end up falling asleep before the end of the 2nd act. Movies are 50 percent sound, after all. But the constant whining from the deaf community about captioned movies irritates me. They have 2 modes: rear view captions and open captions. Open captions have to be imprinted onto the film -- this is done. However most movies can be viewed anywhere (in D.C.) with the rear captioned viewing window, which most deaf people refuse to use because -- ready for this -- it alerts the other moviegoers to the fact they are deaf. You can't have it both ways. How can someone say they are not deaf and then press for full enforcement of the ADA?

Desson Thomson: Fascinating, fascinating. Thanks for posting.


Rockville, Md.: I worked at the Uniformed Services University in the past and my wife works there now. Are you going to see the film about their mission: "Fighting for Life?"

Uniformed Services University

Desson Thomson: I definitely want to.


Romantic Comedies: make me sick. The whole notion about the Man in romantic comedies trying everything possible to get the Woman is quite despicable. I say to he-- with them.

Not that every movie should be like "Leaving Las Vegas" or "Funny Games"!

Desson Thomson: Yes, and yes. Although there have been many movies where the woman is the chaser.


Butternut, Wis.: Hi, Desson!

How does this new version of 'Horton' measure up to the old Chuck Jones short?

Desson Thomson: Too different eras. Hard to compare. I pretty much always like the older versions of anything because there is more respect for the original source, most of the time.


St. Mary's City, Md.: From what I could tell from the trailer, the movie version of "Horton Hears a Who" is not even close to the book. Would that be your assessment as well? Apparently Seuss hasn't fared too well in the visual medium, except for his work with Chuck Jones. Trailer: Horton Hears A Who

Desson Thomson: As my review in today's Style, hopefully, made clear, it does depart from the book. But in today's age of hyperbolic entertainment, I thought it, at least, fulfilled the spirit of the book.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows : So happy that DH is going to be split into two movies and released six months apart a la Lord of the Rings. Many of us were trying to figure out how they were going to tell the final books story in two hours...hooray!

Desson Thomson: Yes, apart from the obvious let's make as much money out of the final round as possible aspect of it, it does allow for more nuances of the book to be brought out.

_______________________ 'Horton's' Joyful Noise ( Post, March 14)


Elkridge, Md.: Desson, My 85-year-old mother and I want to go see The Other Boleyn Girl (I've read the historical novel which was throughly researched by the author). What do you and this audience think of it? Thanks!

Desson Thomson: I liked it for a little while, but it got a little too over the top (today's phrase it seems) for me. I am posting the review I wrote.


I Like The Captions...:

For example, a woman and a man enter a room and the caption says, "Omninous music plays," you know they are in danger. But if the caption says, "Romantic music plays," then you know they are about to have a love scene. It 'does' make a difference...

Desson Thomson: Yes. I understand that completely.


Rockville, Md.: I really enjoyed In Bruges. The preview made the movie look like "Lethal Weapon 5: Those Crazy Irishmen," but it was actually a rather dark and deep tragicomedy. Colin Farrell -- much to my amazement, as someone who suffered through The Recruit on an airplane -- was awesome. Highly recommended.

Desson Thomson: Yes, yes.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Desson:

I liked "In Bruges" and I agree with you on how the latter part of the movie seemed over the top.

Martin McDonagh both wrote and directed the movie. When you evaluate a film, do you consider how the director interptets the story if the script is based on a book, a play or another movie?

Desson Thomson: Well, I do if I've read the book. But I also considered that a movie is an analog not a digital version of the book. An orange version of an apple. So I try to adjust accordingly.


Sacramento, Calif.: (I grew up and lived in London, as well.)

Why do people keep making STUPID comedies that insult the intelligence, that aren't funny at all, starring Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, etc.? The best movies of the past five years -- for me -- have been intelligent movies, most based on true stories (i.e., Titanic, The Queen -- not that I'm biased or anything. Yes, they are the box office leaders but they have absolutely no longevity. Five years from now no one is going to say, "Ah, Elf, one of the top movies, ever!" And, I realize it's just entertainment but one of the reasons "House" is so extremely popular is because it is intelligent, with excellent acting and strong (not stupid) characters.

Your insight is most appreciated!

Desson Thomson: Hey Sacra. Thanks. And good on you for growing up in a fab town and all. Yes, intelligence is my ultimate basic ingredient. It's what I love most in films, music and people. And intelligence is measured in so many ways. To me it's about mental or spiritual brightness. Which means I can love Singin' in the Rain and the darkest Michael Haneke film for exactly the same reason.


Alexandria, Va.:"Open captioned" movies -- the ones where you can see the captions on the screen -- do include references to sound effects -- "scary music" "door closes." Open captioned movies are waay better for those of us who are hearing-impaired/deaf. It's like watching closed captioned TV.

Desson Thomson: Yep. Yep.

_______________________ Review: Semi-Pro


Arlington, Va.: Deeson,

In the past week, I gave There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men each another viewing, and was surprised to find my original opinions of each movie strengthened.

There Will Be Blood, on second viewing, left me even more wonderstruck than on first viewing, convincing me that Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis both created a marvelous and epic character study of greed, hate, isolation, manipulation, ambition and self-destruction. This was the film I was hoping would win Best Picture and Best Director, and while I'm disappointed they didn't win, I'm certainly not outraged by their loss. Because it also won in key and equally deserving categories: Cinematography and Actor (though I'm still a bit soured that it didn't receive a Musical Score nomination).

No Country For Old Men, on the other hand, left me equally as perplexed as it did on first viewing. I wanted very badly to like this film, but in the final analysis, found myself feeling unfulfilled, regardless of how close it stayed to the original novel. Granted, I've always found the Coens to be an acquired taste, and for what it's worth, there's only two of their films that I like: their very first film, Blood Simple, and The Big Lebowski.

Having said that, though, I can also see how similar both films are: they leave the audience to decide for themselves the purpose of the film, they both feature lush and unforgiving landscapes that challenge their characters to the fullest, they feature characters that aren't always the most likable or even the most how is it one can leave me in awe and the other feeling unfulfilled?

Desson Thomson: To answer your last question, it's a matter of how much or how little the filmmakers leave for the viewer to work out on their own. For many viewers, No Country left too much of a poetic conundrum hovering in the air, a sort of unresolved chord. And it can annoy viewers who have built a sort of bond with the omniscient creator of the film. The more you like a movie the more you are disappointed. A little like a great romance turned horribly sour. It's the disconnect that gut punches you as much as the actual problem. I too share your love of the DD Lewis movie. (There was a technicality involved in the score Oscar category - I don't recall the specifics but the composer brought in pieces from a previously created work, or something like that, so that it wasn't - in the minds of the Oscar folks - 100 per cent original. Of course this seems absurd. You can bring back something from a previous work and have it work in a different context.)


Hold over from last week: Last week the group was tasked with suggesting "old" films for a teenager who became rapt watching 12 Angry Men. This led to conversation with colleagues over lunch about great old films. One colleague is well, young, and so had never seen or seemingly heard of Lawrence of Arabia, Bringing Up Baby, Dr. Zhivago. The others at the table nearly wept. To her credit though she asked us to give her a list that she could use with Netflix to deepen her cinematic experience. Do you have any suggestions for the, "you gotta see this" from days gone by? We've already told her about High Noon, To Kill a Mockingbird, Witness for the Prosecution. And don't worry, we explained that Lawrence is best, and perhaps only ever suitably viewed on the big screen.

Desson Thomson: This is a great question which this session isn't long enough to resolve. I mean, there are THOUSANDS of movies this woman should watch. But here's what's so exciting: her willingness to discover these films. That's so heartening. And the beginning of -- as Casablanca concludes - of a beautiful friendship between old and young! You could tell her to check the Internet and look up the American Film Institute's poll of the 100 greatest movies. That would be a great starting point. The Searchers, Red River Valley, How Green Was My Valley, oh, don't get me started.

_______________________ Review: The Other Boleyn Girl


Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: I don't think I'm a prude, but after watching (and very much enjoying) "The Bank Job," I thought why spoil a good picture with gratuitous nudity -- particularly at the start? I just didn't see the point. For me, the nudity was not at all necessary to the plot.

Desson Thomson: I think this may be a European versus American culture thing. (I am assuming you are American.) In Europe people have the same reaction about casual violence "spoiling" the movie. But here it seems to be about sex. Over here, people get more distracted by casual sex that seems pointless. I am not casting aspersions on you or this culture. Just observing a sort of continental divide.


Re: stupid comedies: But Elf is actually funny, and sweet too. I always cry at the end when Zoey Deschanel starts singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

Desson Thomson: Everyone deserves their pleasures obtained individually at the movies.


Washington, D.C.: My wife hates it when I do this, but (for once) I am going to ignore her. We both enjoyed Bonneville, which seems to have come and gone in a week. It deserved more! However: It's the story of a widow who is left penniless because her husband did not revise his will after he married her. However, as a family law practitioner, I can tell you that every state in the country permits a spouse to "elect against the will" under these circumstances. The amount the spouse receives depends on the number of other dependents, but it is always at least 1/3, is usually 1/2 and can even be up to 2/3, depending on the jurisdiction. This means the entire premise behind the movie was flawed. I found this to be a major downer.

As I've already noted, this sort of reasoning drives my wife nuts. However, she did point out that, unless you spray your hair with super glue, there is no way you can arrive anywhere following even a low-speed ride in a convertible with your hair anything but a tangled mess.

Desson Thomson: Your wife is funny. And it sounds like your marriage has a sort of screwball charm to it too.


Annapolis, Md.: Regarding your opening question:

Movies, or any story really, require a combination of the expected and the unexpected. When we go to a romantic comedy we expect that two people who are right for each other will spend the movie trying to get together and will achieve it only in the end. When we go to an adventure we expect origins, heroic struggles, epic battles, and victory in the end. That's as true of "Lawrence of Arabia" as it is of, say, "Transformers." (And yes, I know that there are films that deliberately try to subvert these conventions, but we're not talking about those.) What makes a great movie is not the degree to which it subverts those conventions but the effectiveness of the obstacles and their surprising but not random conclusion. "Say Anything" ends with boy and girl together over the objections of the parental figures; what makes it great is what happens to the relationship between Diane and her father. A bad romantic comedy fails to rise above the cliches, and isn't surprising enough. It's not the resolution but the telling that makes the difference.

Desson Thomson: That is beautifully said. In other words, play the standard blues with originality.


Fairfield, Conn. : Have you seen Jodhaa Akbar?

After reading a favorable review in the N.Y. Times, I took my 9-year-old son to see it last weekend and we had a blast! It is a true Bollywood spectacle and highly entertaining, if an hour too long. I'm curious why it is playing in one theater in Connecticut and almost nowhere else.

Desson Thomson: I haven't seen it alas. But I love the spirit of Bollywood.


What to see?: My husband and I are taking our kid to daycare and having an afternoon date. We just can't stomach the thought of No Country for Old Men because of the violence, but want to see something edgy and interesting. What do we go see?

Desson Thomson: I'd say In Bruges but also with the warning there is some violence there. Less (I think) than No Country. But violence nonetheless. It is a story about hit men after all. How about The Bank Job? I think that's your ticket.


Once: Finally saw it. What a sweet, even-paced little movie. Everyone should see it. Now.

Desson Thomson: Hear hear!


Arlington, Va.: Hi Desson --

Just saw No Country for Old Men and the wife and I really liked it (but we've been big Coen Bros fans for a while). So, removing any Coen films (like Blood Simple), and No Simple Plan, can you recommend something else a little off the beaten path that we might enjoy renting that is similar (3 small children, hard to get out to the movies)? Thanks in advance!

Desson Thomson: Lars and The Real Girl. Waitress. Once.


Arlington, Va.: So Desson, I took your advice and went to see The Bank Job, and enjoyed it very much. I went to a matinee and the theater was much more crowded than I expected, so I thought it would have a good opening weekend. But no, that BC movie with all the CGI and the Martin Lawrence thing came out on top for the weekend, even though they were pretty much universally panned.

Does it ever get to you, knowing that it's almost guaranteed that some movies will make gobs of cash even though everyone agrees they stink, while better films often go ignored?

Desson Thomson: To answer your last question: Yes.


Jodhaa Ackbar: My parents saw it at Loehmann's in Falls Church, they came out loving it because it wasn't the typical Bollywood fluff (we're Indian and my dad hates it). To some extent it shows that the Indian cinema industry is trying to expand and broaden out in scope.

So go see it!

Desson Thomson: I would like to. Falls Church is a little far off for a casual trip to the movies. But maybe it's coming out in dvd or closer in.


Re: Younger friend you try to get into old movies: My wife and I (mid twenties) love old movies -- everything from pre-code comedies to 70s stuff. Recently a friend of ours told us her favorite movies is Wizard of Oz. Okay, good, great movie, sounds like she is a winner ... when we told her it was from 1939 she told us we were crazy -- she was convinced it was the 70s. After going to IMDb and verifying that she was not talking about "The Wiz" I think we convinced her that yes they did have color back then...

The shame of these youngsters!

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. Sob.


D.C. -- romantic comedies: There are some crappy romantic comedies and some great ones that hold up over time. Classic: The Philadelphia Story; soon-to-be-classic: When Harry Met Sally. I am unashamed to say I have seen all or part of the latter probably dozens of times. This movie is a great example because you have tension built it -- opposites who don't like each other, then discover each other as real people, then realize, hey, this person's looking pretty good. You get a roller coaster of emotions with a positive payoff at the end.

Desson Thomson: I agree with you big time.


So what keeps bringing us back? : The same reason people read British cozy mysteries -- the good guys win in the end, and they do it with bloodless fuss. As long as the real world is unjust and true love goes unrequited there will be an audience.

Desson Thomson: Eloquently said.


Chicago Ill.: Rockville's comment about "In Bruges" being much better than the preview made it look, really illustrates something I'm always harping on to my friends -- Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make good trailers. Previews have become oh so formulaic (scene, fade to black, repeat ten times, build to crescendo), and they never make the movie look as good as it is. I always enjoy renting a good movie on DVD then watching the abysmal trailer for it afterwards, to see how they messed it up. Maybe people would go to more movies if they looked like something worth watching.

Desson Thomson: You are so right.


In Brugge: I thought 'In Bruges' was great (though over the top) -- there were some clever meditations on the folly of man suggested by all the art references to Bosch and Brueghel, when they're in the art museum and in the final scene of the movie set with the weird costumed characters. The movie made much more sense to me when thinking of Colin Farrell's character et al as characters who could have come from just such a painting.

Desson Thomson: Yes, agreed. And nice perspective.


Re: Rear-view captions: That's not it (previous poster). It's that if anybody steps behind you (goes for popcorn, etc.) it interrupts the captions, and you have to keep looking from the screen to the captions -- can't see both at the same time. And you can't move from one specific position while seated AND some seats don't catch the captioning from the rear...Just sayin'

Desson Thomson: Cool and very interesting.


Rockville, Md.: I've been exploring the fantastic foreign language section on Netflix and wonder what your top 5 foreign language films are.

Desson Thomson: Wow, how much time do I have? Let's see: technically about 2 minutes to the end of the chat. Impossible to say. I love British, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Brazilian even. Gosh. And then it depends if you want recent or way old.

Japan: Seven Samurai, High and Low, Ugetsu Monogatari.

UK: Lawrence, Alfie, Ryan's Daughter, An Affair to Remember, Peeping Tom, Black Narcisssus.

Brazil: City of God.

Russia: The Sacrifice, Andrei Rublev.

Italy: La Strada, 8 1/2. Bicycle Thieves

France: The 400 Blows. Lacombe Lucien. Masculin-Feminine. Weekend.

Germany" Kaspar Hauser, Aguirre the Wrath of God, all the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Like I said, how much time do we have?


Captions: Are you finding it surprising that lots of deaf movie viewers apparently read your chat?

Desson Thomson: No.


D.C. Indian Movies: Loehmann, Va. Twin Cinemas

The two biggest theatrts in the area that play Indian movies. A lot more are starting to show up in regular theaters on limited release, but I think that's because they are partnering up with big U.S. movie studios.

Desson Thomson: Good to know! Thanks.,


Indian Movies at the Theater: I'm sure its playing all over New York, and it was playing here in D.C. for the last Month. To some extent Indian movies have a short time span in the states. There are limited theaters, and they show up for about 2-3 weeks before ducking out again. The DVD releases are pretty fast though -- expect it within the next two months.

Desson Thomson: Gotcha. Thanks.


Caine: I had fond memories of Caine's "Italian Job" from seeing it when I was growing up. When it finally came out on DVD I got it again and it was something of a letdown. Had it's moments, but there are too many "silly" scenes to take seriously as a caper film with wit. Try another underappreciated Caine film: "The Whistleblower". Terrific.

Desson Thomson: Ah yes, liked that one.


McLean, Va.: People like romantic movies for the same reason they like adventure movies -- to protect ourselves into a kind of heroic journey, a dress rehearsal for emotions and choices that seem a bit scary in real life.

To the guy who takes women to romantic movies in hopes of inspiring some affection: sounds like a good premise for a romantic comedy. In which you get dumped for the cute guy behind the popcorn stand.

Desson Thomson: I like this. To you and all who've opined on romantic movies or have more to tell me, please e mail!


Romance in movies: Romantic comedies have been around for a long time -- look how many chick flicks and chick lit books hopefully try to sell themselves as modern-day Jane Austen stories. From "It Happened One Night," "Bringing Up Baby" to "Moonstruck" and "Notting Hill," we love to see pretty people struggle with the agony and ecstasy of falling in love, preferably with some witty banter, and fade out on the expectation of living happily ever after. The problem with the new Dempsey movie and so many of today's attempts is that in modern times it is harder and harder to find a good reason to keep the couple apart, so the situations are more and more contrived. What are some of your all-time favorite romantic comedies? What makes them the standard everyone aspires to?

Desson Thomson: I have a list. Some of it includes Harry/Sally, Philadelphia Story, Pride and Prejudice (the old), Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka, Annie Hall and Stardust Memories.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Funny Games. I'm not sure what to think about this film, having only read a few reviews so far. The premise seems valid given recent films like Hostel and Saw, etc., but also hackneyed (do we really need someone shaking their finger at us and telling us that violence is very, very naughty?). I'm interested in your take on movies that I'd classify as "emotional torture porn" such as Breaking the Waves or Dancer in the Dark (Lars is always torturing his leading ladies) or Happiness. I find them difficult to watch but ultimately rewarding in the kinds of emotions they elicit from the audience. Do you think these types of films are valid or unnecessary in the way that "Saw IV" seems to be?

Desson Thomson: As you point out, they elicit emotions from the audience, but in a more cotemplative thought provoking way than the Saws. They challenge the audience out of its complacency. I think they have more value than Saw IV that's for sure. I think the worst root canal ever invented has more value than Saw IV.


Chick Flicks: I think there are good ones and bad ones, just like in any other genre. For example, When Harry Met Sally... is a really good blend of being true to life, honestly funny, and even though the end is sappy and expected, it's not totally over the top and it's very sweet. On the other hand, the end of "27 Dresses", while sappy and expected, is just one horrible cliche. When someone asks Katherine H-whatever's character if her wedding was everything she expected, I said right along with her "And more" and then snorted loudly in the theater, sending giggles around me. The first time you watch When Harry Met Sally, you don't know exactly word for word what Billy Chrystal's speech is going to be at the end, and it's actually incredibly touching.

Similarly, I just watched the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Predjudice. It's terrible compared to the book and the BBC 6 hour version. Everything is done to move the story along and make the characters seem more modern and the whole movie seems overly stylaized. But in the BBC version, you get the long glances, the best worst proposal ever, and you get character development so that you actually root for and feel the tension build. Yes, you know the outcome, but the journey builds tension and is a fun ride.

So do we really need chick flicks? I say yes. I mean it's not like we don't know that Bruce Willis/Will Smith/Tom Cruise/etc., are going to save the world in thier movies. If we cut out forumlaic chick flicks, then we should cut out formulaic action flicks too.

Desson Thomson: Very good points. Actually Harry/Sally is even deeper than that in my opinion. It is about the differences between men and women, which is the playful underlying soul of the great romances.


Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: Had a double-header the other week. Saw Penelope AND Semi-Pro in the same night!

Have you seen Penelope? What are your thoughts? The general consensus from the theater-goers was that it sucked, with mock clapping from the boyfriends who got dragged there when the movie finished (including MY boyfriend!). I am in love with James McAvoy and was disappointed that he had an "American" accent. But afterwards I concluded that it was "cute." Semi-pro I thought was hilarious!! But it could have been 'cause I was delirious by the time we got to that showing!

Desson Thomson: I didn't see Penelope so I am no use to you. Sorry! I saw and did not enjoy Semi Pro. So again I am no use to you. Sorry!


Desson Thomson: Thanks everyone for a spirited and enjoyable chat. I look forward to chatting again in a couple of weeks!


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company