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Behind the Screen
Hollywood and Indie Offerings

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, May 2, 2008 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, May 2, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the latest Hollyood ("Made of Honor" and "Iron Man") 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.

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Desson Thomson: Hey folks. I come bearing tidings of great enthusiasm for Iron Man. And if you read my review of Made of Honor today, I come bearing the opposite for that rom-schlom, starring Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monoghan. And fans of Iron Man, remember to stay long past the end credits for a special bonus, which I will not spoil. What's on yer minds today?

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washingtonpost.com: Tacky 'Made of Honor' Is Missing a Best Man ( Post, May 2)

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Washington, D.C.: I've read that there's a new Joy Division documentary that's getting its U.K. theatrical release today. Any word on a U.S. release, maybe at the Landmark Theatres or similar?

Desson Thomson: Yes, you are correct. It's called "Joy Division." was released today in the UK and looks to be fabulous. I can't wait. Directed by Grant Gee, bloke that gave us OK Computer, a doc on the band Radiohead. By the way, if anyone hasn't yet seen Control, the dramatic movie about Ian Curtis and JD, check it out. Super movie. No word on a US release yet, far as I know. I'd expect it to come through Landnmark, yes.

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Washington, D.C.: Did Ann Hornaday see the same Ironman print that I saw? A movie that she calls "generic" was one of the more inventive and original superhero movies in the past 10 years.

Desson Thomson: I totally agree with you. Very smart, very inventive. Great entertainment.

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washingtonpost.com: 'Iron Man' Shows Strength of Character ( Post, May 2)

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey DT! I noticed your colleague Anne recently went against the general consensus and wrote a poor review for Iron Man. As movie critics, do you often feel peer pressure? Or do you write reviews without or before knowing how others feel?

Desson Thomson: Everybody has the right to see the movie the way they do. And clearly the Post review should prove that peer pressure does not affect us. But all that said, I would have raved to the heavens about this movie. And as a reader and a fan of the movie, I was disappointed I didn't see my enthusiasm matched. But that's the necessary evil of a movie review. It should be subjective and pay no attention to anything but its writer's own personal opinion.

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Alexandria, Va.: Does the Post just have you guys pick movies out of a hat to review? It seems rather silly, and almost guaranteeing a negative review, to send Ms. Hornaday to Iron Man, while relegating you to Made of Honor. It's good to mix things up from time to time, but shouldn't certain reviewers critique certain types of films so that their review actually has some credibility?

Desson Thomson: You raise a good point. A higher authority than little old me makes the decision as to who reviews what. And you can make your own judgments about that. I will say that I can see, in theory, the value of mixing things up, so that -- as you saw today -- the guy got the rom-com and the gal got the macho fantasy. But did it work well today? For you to decide.

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Washington, D.C.: Enjoyed your chats more than sex but wondered, do you have a way to know, and therefore, if you so chose, to let us know what movies are coming to town soon? Thanks.

Desson Thomson: Whoa. That either says great things about me, or not so great things about, you know. I'll accept the former category and thank you much. If you check out last week's Weekend sectiobn, Ann Hornaday did a very good preview of the summer's movies. I'd check back on Washingtonpost.com and search for that. Should still be in the recent archives.

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Chapter 27: Will this self-confessed Jared Leto groupie regret leaving work early today to see him in Chapter 27?

Desson Thomson: I want to see it myself. I was of the generation that was deeply affected by the passing of John Lennon. I pulled over to the side of the road in my car and wept when I heard. So I am morbidly -- despite myself -- fascinated to see this movie. I don't want to read reviews about it. Just want to watch it. Get back to me on that when you see it!

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Austin, Tex.: Hi Desson,

Did anyone at the Post review David Mamet's Redbelt? If so, could you post the link. Also, it's currently in limited release. Do you know when it will open in wide release? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Trying a One-Two Punch In Hopes of a KO at the BO ( Post, April 20)

Desson Thomson: Check out this link. It opens next week and Stephen Hunter is slated to review it.

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Made of Honor: So I guess actors aren't any less immune to lying about their ages than actresses? Isn't Patrick Dempsey a little old to play a character who was supposed to be in college circa the Lewinsky scandal? From your review I gather that's the least of the movie's problems though.

Desson Thomson: Your last sentence is my answer.

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Springfield, Va.: Does anything bad happen to Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man. My attendance and the accompanying $10.50 hangs in the balance.

Desson Thomson: Many things happen to her throughout the movie. But I think no one should enter a movie with fuzzy guarantees, other than the children-harmful essentials. That's the lure of movies and the lure of life.

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Reston, Va.: Desson, would I regret takig my 8-year-old to see Iron Man?

Any foul language, sexually suggestive scenes, etc.?

Thanks!

Desson Thomson: It has a lot of death and destruction, but I notice you don't list those things as potentially harmful. You cite language and sex. There is some briefly suggestive sexal content. And I don't recall any bad language.

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Anonymous: Michelle Monaghan -- bad movie, but cute girl, though, eh?

Desson Thomson: Yes.

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Baltimore, Md.: Re Post's review of Iron Man: It seems like the posters think anything less than an utter slavering rave is a negative. Read the review again. There were some things Ms. Hornaday liked very much, others not so much. It was not a slam -- it was nuanced.

Desson Thomson: Yes, indeed. It was nuanced. Ann had a lot of very intelligent reactions, as always.

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Arlington, Va.: I think sometimes "matching" the expected critic to the expected film means that some things get glossed over.

I don't always agree with AH, but she does have a knack for pointing out the overlap between the boy's club and major Hollywood releases. As someone who tends to treat comic-book movies with trepidation, it's nice to be forewarned if there might be some subtext that will annoy me.

Desson Thomson: I hear you. Yes.

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It seems rather silly, and almost guaranteeing a negative review, to send Ms. Hornaday to Iron Man, while relegating you to Made of Honor.: This is the most asinine thing I've seen all week. Women can't like a comic book cgi action flick? Men can't like a rom-com starring McDreamy? We are now going to decide who reviews what based on gender? Are you kidding me?

Desson Thomson: You make a great point.

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Arlington, Va.: Would you take your son to see Iron Man if he were six years-old, afraid of the dark, but his favorite TV show was pro wrestling?

Desson Thomson: No I wouldn't. But I am one of those weenies from the old country who doesn't think violence is okay. I am out of whack with the zeitgeist.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Desson --

Have you seen Iron Man yet? A friend of mine plans to take his 4-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son to see it. With a PG-13 rating, I'm assuming that it is too intense for little ones that age (despite the cross-marketing by Burger King!). Do you have a sense of what the appropriate minimum age is for kids to see the movie?

Thanks!

Desson Thomson: I have said enough about bringing kids to such things. Everyone can make their own judgment on that. But yes it does have its share of "intense" material, which includes missiles blowing people up. People getting peppered with machine gun fire.

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New York: It certainly made no sense to "mix it up" on this occasion. Forty-something men aren't going to go see Made of Honor, and something-something women aren't going to see Iron Man. We really need reviews by the targeted audience. Bad editorial choice.

Desson Thomson: Well, as a previous poster said, men and women don't necessarily follow gender stereotypes. But in general, marketing terms, you make a strong point.

I do believe that critics -- good ones, that is -- should be able to watch movies of all gender/racial/cultural skews and give those movie an open minded, thoughtful response.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Now that summer movie season is officially upon us (but I have zero desire to see Iron Man....sorry), what else are you eagerly waiting for? I will own up to counting down the days for the new Indiana Jones.

Desson Thomson: I was looking forward to Iron Man and happy with what I saw. And on the "indie" front, I can say that the forthcoming "Son of Rambow," which thank goodness I will be reviewing, is a charmer and I hope it's the dark horse of the summer.

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Arlington, Va.: The more I watch There Will Be Blood, the more I'm fascinated by the fantastic character study it presents (and the more disgruntled I get that it lost Best Picture to the Coens).

But despite my growing love of this movie, I have to wonder if will become one of those movies that you watch simply for the performance of its lead actor. I can only draw a parallel to Scent of a Woman, where Al Pacino gave a performance to end all acting performances, much like Daniel Day-Lewis did for There Will Be Blood. (And let's face it -- without Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman would have been dull as hell.)

Desson Thomson: It's a good question. What is a movie without such a big central performance? What is Hamlet if the Danish dude takes a powder? I don't think you can extract one from the other. What's a body without a head? What's a head without a body? Let's just agree that TWBB is a great movie.,

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Arlington, Va.: Speaking of chiming in on other's reviews:

Have you seen Young at Heart yet?

Desson Thomson: I hear fabuloso things. I am dying to see it. Is all I can tell you ...

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DESSON, PLEASE TELL ME THAT YOU HAVE SEEN CACHE:: And if so, what am I supposed to be looking for at the end of the movie? Whatever it was, I missed it but I did like the movie overall. Can you reccomend any more movies starring Julie Binoche? (spelling?) THANKS!

Desson Thomson: Juliette.

Yes I have seen it. Watch the last shot very, very carefully. Look and see who you see milling around and talking to each other. That is all the Oracle at Delphi can tell you today.

Mademoiselle Binoche has been in a ton of good films. Here's a few: Dan in Real Life. Flight of the Red Balloon. Jet Lag. Chocolat (which I despised it but a billion others loved it). The English Patient. Three Colors: Blue. etc. Take at least three of these and call me in the morning.

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Raleigh, N.C.: As a 42-year-old woman, I'd like to say that I've been determined to see Iron Man since I saw the first preview. I had no desire at all to see MOH, even before the delicious review you wrote!

Desson Thomson: You are sweet, thanks for the last part. And I love to meet anti-stereotypes who defy the silly categories. Hope you enjoy it.

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I do believe that critics -- good ones, that is -- should be able to watch movies of all gender/racial/cultural skews and give those movie an open-minded, thoughtful response.: Which Ann did do. Why are all the boys crying over this? Because it's bringing down the Rottom Tomatoes rating?

Desson Thomson: yes, boldfacer, you are correct. She did exactly that. So you make the point. (I don't remember the other posters identifying themselves as boys BTW.)

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Laurel, MD: SHEESH! Why do people insist on bringing their rugrats to PG-13 and rated R movies? I'm a 30-year-old and I don't care to hear your kid crying and screaming when a man gets blown up by a missle....common sense people...

Desson Thomson: Yes, one needs one's fullest concentration when missiles are blitzkrieging the joint. Hahaha.

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Iron Man, Calif.: I teach kindergarten, and wanted to show them Videodrome instead of having nap time. Is that okay?

Geez, people, PG-13 even has an age affixed.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. What a concept. Videodrome for the kids!

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Baltimore, MD: I hoped to bring my 3-year-old to Iron Man but he's too busy mastering the new Grand Theft Auto game. Maybe next week.

Unrelated, have you seen the trailer for Son of Rambow and will it be playing in D.C. anytime soon??

washingtonpost.com: Son of Rambow ( Paramount Vantage)

Desson Thomson: Haha. The wit content is high today. Yes, I did see it and as I said earlier, dug it.

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Reston, Va.: Saw Michael Clayton on DVD last weekend and found it just amazing. Great performances from a great cast, and wonderful writing and direction. In particular, Tom Wilkinson transformed a role that could have been a real scenery-chewer to one with unexpectedly subtleties. Reflecting on it made us wonder, though, why so many stinkers get made each year and so few smart, interesting tales get told onscreen. Why do so many movies seem to end up in a mushy middle ground that is well below the potential of the ideas and actors? I'm thinking especially of movies like Stranger than Fiction, which took a great premise and a great cast and ended up with a series of charming moments in a middling movie.

Desson Thomson: You raise questions that defy the best of minds. I guess I'd say, thank goodness the market somehow has space for intelligent movies such as M Clayton. And yes, what a deep disappointment Stranger than Fiction was.

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"Something-something women"?: Really? My friends and I, late 30s/early 40s women, can't wait to see "Iron Man." And "Dark Knight." And the next "Batman."

And, well, "Sex and the City" too. So there.

Desson Thomson: Love it love it. Take that generalistas.

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In Defense of Ann:1. She lived in Baltimore and liked it (me too).

2. She likes Preston Sturges films (me too).

3. She points, like Desson, that movies as with all the arts are a personal experience and that what resonates for one person definitely won't resonate with another. Hence the need for multiple reviewers and perspectives.

As an example, I hate, hate, hate scatalogical humor. And yet I can't wait to see Harold and Kumar's next movie. Go figure.

Desson Thomson: Great points.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Is Hollywood finally getting the idea the comic book movies can also be good as movies in and of themselves? Iron Man and the new Hellboy and Batman films all look much better than typical comic films. I hope I'm not setting myself up for disappointments.

Desson Thomson: Yes, I have been very pleased with all the superhero films you mention. Hollywood does seem to be getting it.

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Gambrills, Md.: My 5-year-old son handled "Zathura," another Jon Favreau movie, pretty well (except for the lizards). Do you think he can handle "Iron Man"? He's seen the trailers enough times I don't know if I can keep him away.

Desson Thomson:.....

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Annapolis, Md.: Desson,

I've been reading William Goldman and David Mamet about screenwriting, and they've been giving me a lot to think about in terms of the need to compress story on film. Do you have any recommendations for books about storytelling in film?

Desson Thomson: The greatest guru on this subject is John Truby. He has a book called The Anatomy of Story. Robert McKee (mercilessly lampooned in the movie Adaptation) has some great, entertaining insights but he doesn't come close to what Truby knows.

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State College, Pa.:"City of Men" is showing here...should I go see it?

Desson Thomson: Yes. from what I hear.

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Ocala, Fla.: A local station has a package of old films that it shows in rotation, among them "Captain Kidd" and "Abilene Town," both of which feature or star Randolph Scott. It's a pity that nobody remembers or appreciates his movies nowadays. Joel McCrea is another actor who is almost forgotten, despite a very impressive filmography. Who are your favorite, forgotten stars?

Desson Thomson: I love so many like that, it would be hard to list. I think people should watch great cable shows like TCM which relive those forgotten movies and give us a chance to appreciate the left behind.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I loved Lovers of the Arctic Circle and liked Sex and Lucia; I've been waiting for the next installment (Chaotic Anna? )-- what's the word on that?

Desson Thomson: It's got Charlotte Rampling in it. That's enough for me.

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Washington, D.C.: Desson:

When is your next babysitting guidelines chat? Just wondering.

Thanks.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha. You can see how bad I am at that.

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For Europe?: Everton or Villa?

(exposing bias: UTV!)

Desson Thomson: They've both shown great form this season. Villa are in such an exciting growth spurt, I'd give them the nod. But on any given day, either one can be in good form. Villa have scored more goals away this season than anyone. At least that's what their manager said.

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RE: Chocolat: Glad I'm not the only one who despised it! Judi Dench was its only redeeming quality.

Desson Thomson: Judi is serene. I love her.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Professional screenwriter here -- for someone just starting out, I would recommend David Trottier's "The Screenwriter's Bible." Does a great job of covering the basics of mechanics as well as storytelling. Plus, just write. A lot.

Desson Thomson: Good advice.

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Can't keep child away from Iron Man: Hide his car keys.

Desson Thomson: Hahaha.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why do some people take their film so seriously? To wit, from the imdb.com page on "Son of Rambow":

Factual errors: At the cinema Carter films 'First Blood' with a camcorder, but the aspect ratio it is being shown in is 1:85:1. 'First Blood' was a cinema-scope film so this aspect ratio is incorrect.

Really, people? Why?

Desson Thomson: Wow. Get A Life alert.

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Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: Desson:

Have already started to notice that the TV advertising campaign for M. Night Shamalan's (or however you spell it) "The Happening" is in full swing, but haven't heard any buzz. I realize you probably haven't seen it yet, but is there any critical buzz out there of which I should be aware?

Desson Thomson: Not coming to these tin ears.

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Boston, Mass.: They've been filming "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" on the street where I work, and in my friend's apartment building. Have you heard anything good about this movie? I love Jennifer Gardner, but hate Matthew M.

Desson Thomson: Too early to say, of course. I like Garner too. And McC has had his share of turkeys, yes, but I'll always love him in Dazed and Confused.

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Desson Thomson: A spirited round of chatter, everyone. Enjoyed it much. I look forward to engaging with all of you soon!

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