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At the Movies With Ann Hornaday

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Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Movie Critic
Friday, August 15, 2008; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday was online Friday, Aug. 15 at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the latest summer releases, from indies to blockbusters.

A transcript follows.

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Ann Hornaday: Hello, chatters! I just blew in from a screening so I'm behind the curve, but I'll try to be coherent this humid Friday!

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Arlington, Va.: I posted this question to last week's movie chat, but only then realized it wasn't the best forum to discuss it (since that chat was about family movies).

But not too long ago, I gave some thought to some of the greatest car chases in movies -- such as Bullitt, The French Connection, any of the Bourne movies, and Ronin. And I have to say that I think Ronin has the best car chase, followed closely by The Bourne Supremacy.

Ann Hornaday: Somewhere John Frankenheimer is smiling. He was a good friend, and car chases were one of his favorite things in life. (Op cit. 'Grand Prix.') I agree with you that "Ronin" is one of if not the best car chase.

If you're into movie chases, check out the recent French thriller "Tell No One." It features one of the best chases I've seen recently, albeit much of it's on foot. But it's a guy being chased through the streets of Paris, and it kind of reminded me of the "Ronin" chase, especially when he's trying to cross a crowded highway. I think you'll like it!

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Washington, D.C.: I trekked to NYC recently to see the first gay Korean film, No Regret, and found it well worth it, but I wonder how many more films will I need to leave town to see? I went to San Fran and saw Shelter, awesome. What about a film with Chad Allen? Save Me.

Ann Hornaday: You shouldn't have leave town at all -- we are blessed in this community with a plethora of good festivals (FilmFest DC, Silverdocs, Environmental Film Festival, DC Independent Film Festival, DC Shorts), as well as several cultural institutions that do superb film programming. If you're interested in Korean film, you'll want to make sure you're up on what's going on at the Freer. Their programmer, Tom Vick, is an outstanding curator of what's new in Asian and especially Korean film.

Good luck!

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Alexandria, Va.: I saw "Step Brothers" over the weekend ... a.k.a "Dumber and Dumber"? The movie would've been funnier if John C. Reilly had played a (Jim Carey) sophistico-manchild who thinks that he knows what he's doing (say in the bathroom scene with Alice), but really is clueless. And what happened to the blind guy who was coming over for a visit? I guess his scene was cut. Did you touch my drum set?

Ann Hornaday: Full disclosure: I haven't seen "Step Brothers" yet. But it strikes me as the kind of movie best stumbled upon while bored and channel-surfing. Although I have to admit when Ferrell and Reilly were doing publicity, I was cracking up at some of the clips. Guilty pleasure time...

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St. Mary's City, Md.: Given the critical acclaim that "American Graffiti" originally received, it's tempting to shoehorn George Lucas into the hoary template of the talented artist corrupted by success. But you're right that he's never been a true storyteller. If the original "Star Wars" had been only a modest success, not enough to generate a sequel but enough to keep him working, would Lucas have matured into a storyteller? I suspect he would have become simply a hired hand director, valued for competency but not for any artistic vision. What are your thoughts?

washingtonpost.com: Star Wars: The Clone Wars. No Chip Off The Old Blockbuster ( Post, Aug. 15)

Ann Hornaday: Interesting thought. One subject I didn't get a chance to dwell on in my story about him was all the fantastic contributions he's made to cinema, especially in the area of sound recording and sound design. Sound has historically been sort of ignored and unprivileged in American cinema, compared to European movies, and he really upped the game (along with his sound editor Walter Murch).

So maybe he would have headed more in the technical direction...Or maybe he would have had an art career like Antonioni, whose abstract, formalist style "THX 1138" really reminded me of. I do think he's a brilliant man with a lot to offer. I really hope he solves the digital exhibition conundrum -- I think he's absolutely the person to do it.

Thanks for the question and observation!

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Richmond, Va.: I'm furious, and I don't know whether I'm justified in my anger or if I just need to suck up my disappointment.

I found out this morning that the latest Harry Potter movie has been pushed from November to July of next year. I just finally started reading the books and watching the movies on DVD this year (I'm a 35-year-old woman, by the way). When I started reading them in early spring, I spaced the readings and viewings in anticipation of the latest movie. I was planning to read the Half Blood Prince next month, and then the final book in October so that I could be as up to date as the other fans (and avoid hearing spoilers about the final book that would inevitably come up in chats with other fans). Now my building excitement has been crushed by a studio's greed. I can only imagine how the younger fans feel.

And yet...as someone who majored in business, I understand about making decisions based on the bottom line. The question is, how understanding should I be? I keep going back and forth. On the one hand, if they don't make decisions that will maximize earnings, they aren't going to have the gobs of money necessary to pour into projects like the Harry Potter movies. On the other hand, businesses are well-advised not to tick off their customers. On the other other hand, this isn't the sort of situation where you can boycott one brand in favor of another. On the fourth hand, is the studio taking advantage of the fact that we will go see the movie regardless of our disappointment that they moved the date so far in advance? On the fifth hand, as a business, they aren't required to care about our feelings, only about what is fiscally sound. On the sixth hand, we could rebel by not seeing the movie until we've obtained black market copies of it. On the seventh hand, if we do that and they lose money on the 6th movie, then we might possibly be waving bye-bye to the last two movies getting released at all. On the eighth hand, didn't they bring this all on themselves by refusing to open up their purse strings for the writers?

Now that my comment resembles an octopus, what is your opinion?

Ann Hornaday: Who's Harry Potter?

I kid!

This is just...Wow. What an amazing question. I'll admit, since I was in a dark room all morning, this new release date is news to me. But I can totally understand your consternation and I wonder if there will be a huge outcry from fans on this one. It does seem extreme to me....I might throw this open to the Chatters; I need to process it before I give an honest opinion.

Chatters, thoughts 'n' feelings?

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Laurel, Md.: Hi Ann,

I received my fall movie preview guide from Entertainment Weekly; it's okay but so far I'm not impressed (halfway through it). What picks do you have your radar for fall?

Ann Hornaday: I know what you mean. I'm not jumping up and down either.

But here are a few point of interest: I recently saw "Ghost Town," a romantic comedy starring Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear and Tea Leoni, and without tipping my hand too much I'll say, It's good.

Also promising: Spike Lee's World War II drama "Miracle at St. Anna"; the DC-filmed "Body of Lies" with Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe; a new comedy from Mike Leigh called "Happy-Go-Lucky"; and who isn't curious about Oliver Stone's "W"?

I'm sure there's more but that's a start...

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Silver Spring, Md.: Who are these people reviewing the movies today? Where are they from? I only recognize one name today in the paper.

Ann Hornaday: Since I didn't get past the first page today, I'll assume you're talking about the lovely and talented Hank Stuever and Dan Zak -- Hank is one of Style's most gifted writers and, for the purposes of the "Clone Wars" review, a "Star Wars" scholar who we knew would give this latest iteration the historical depth and exegetical wisdom it deserved.

And Dan is familiar to readers of the Sunday Source, but also has his own very aweseome film blog, so we try to steal him away from the Source as often as possible to benefit from his expertise and voice. We're lucky to have them both!

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McLean, Va.: Hi Ann,

Just an update -- about 3-4 weeks ago I asked which movie (Kit Kittredge or Wall-E) I should take my 12-year-old niece to see. We actually saw both, and, believe it or not, she liked Kit better. Who'd have thought? I can see why the movie wouldn't necessarily appeal to tween boys, but for the small niche of tween girls, it seemed perfect.

Thanks again!

Ann Hornaday: Thank you SO MUCH for writing back! And that's indeed fascinating that she like "Kit." My own nearly-7 year-old daughter is still a bit wee to glom on to the American Girl craze (she inherited one from her sister, but she has yet to immerse herself in the whole gestalt). So I figure we'll catch up with "Kit Kittredge" once she hits 10 or 11.

Thanks for that tip, though, I'm sure parents of tweens are looking for any port in the pop-culture storm!

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Baltimore, Md.: Does Jack Black contribute/detract at all from Tropic Thunder? I didn't see him mentioned in your review but did see props for Jay Bruchanel -- who I adore from his Judd Apatow projects.

Ann Hornaday: I thought Jack Black was great, mostly because he underplayed. In "Tropic Thunder" he plays an actor with substance issues, so he has to go through lots of physical and pyschic turmoil (played for laughs, natch), and he does a really good job without going completely off the wall. I'd give 'em all an A, and I ditto your love for Jay Baruchel, he's wonderful!

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John C. Reilly: The poster who commented on Step Brothers got me thinking about John C. Reilly, particularly about how he went from a fabulous dramatic actor to a bottom-of-the-barrel comedic actor. John C. Reilly's really done some great work over the years, and I think his best role ever was as the love-lorn police officer from Magnolia (why Tom Cruise got an Oscar nomination over John is beyond me). But it pains me to see such a great actor now hashing out lousy Will Ferrell movies when his talents could be put to such better use.

Ann Hornaday: Oh, I think he still has good dramatic roles in his future. For me, "Walk Hard" was the biggest disappointment. I was really primed to love that movie -- adore the concept, adore him -- but it just fell flat too many times. The good thing was that it showcased his amazing singing voice, which to me was the best and most surprising part of "Chicago." I urge you to listen to the "Walk Hard" soundtrack, and it will resuscitate your love for John C. Reilly.

I see that his next film is an action/adventure/comedy/fantasy with Paul Weitz, which doesn't bode entirely well. Come back, PTA!

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Baltimore, Md.: I enjoyed Tell No One -- the chase was good (not Bourne good, but good). I want to know about Tropic Thunder. It looks funny to me. Have you seen it? It is remarkable how offended people get over satire. I would love to see a movie satirize how women are portrayed in movies. Suggestions?

Ann Hornaday: I cannot tell a lie: I thought "Tropic Thunder" was hilarious. Of course, Hollywood satire is catnip to any movie critic, but I thought it was genuinely funny, and did a great job sending up both pompouse, overblown, self-serious actor AND the pompous, overblown, self-serious genre that action movies have become. The performances were all terrific, especially Stiller and Downey and, in case you haven't heard, Tom Cruise really is quite frighteningly amazing as a troll-like studio chief.

So yeah, as guilty pleasures go, I dug it.

As for your comment about satire, I do wonder if we've become a nation so quick to feeling aggrieved that it's impossible for us to appreciate satire. I mean, Jonathan Swift did NOT actually eat Irish children.

Did he?

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Harry P: Why would the studio make more money in July as opposed to November? The HP movie would lead the box office from Thanksgiving through the new year. Moving it to the summer puts it up against several blockbusters. I think it's a gold mine either way and is it possible that it's being delayed because the movie isn't quite ready? If so, I'm happy to wait a few months.

Ann Hornaday: Here's the official word from Warner COO Alan Horn:

"Our reasons for shifting 'Half-Blood Prince' to summer are twofold: we know the summer season is an ideal window for a family tent pole release, as proven by the success of our last Harry Potter film, which is the second-highest grossing film in the franchise, behind only the first installment.

Additionally, like every other studio, we are still feeling the repercussions of the writers' strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films-changing the competitive landscape for 2009 and offering new windows of opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of. We agreed the best strategy was to move 'Half-Blood Prince' to July, where it perfectly fills the gap for a major tent pole release for mid-summer."

Another Warner exec said that "Half Blood Prince" WAS completed on time, and that "Deathly Hallows" won't be affected by the change.

Make of it what you will...

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Not Curious, D.C.:"who isn't curious about Oliver Stone's "W"? "

W, perhaps?

Question regarding Tropic Thunder: I don't recall ever seeing a trailer for this film. Was it not promoted, or have I been living under a rock?

Ann Hornaday: If you're living under a rock, scoot over I'm right there with you.

I don't remember seeing a trailer for "TT" either....But I see so much stuff in non-trailer settings that I'm not a reliable source on that one. Seems like the ULTIMATE trailer-friendly movie to me.

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New Orleans, La.: Re: Harry Potter

Color me pissed that the movie won't be coming out for almost another full year, especially considering that the teaser trailer was released just a week or two ago.

Ann Hornaday: I'm increasingly feeling the "Potter" fans' pain. I mean, you guys have been loyal and I daresay deserve better than this.

Just wait: By the end of the chat I'll be calling for torches and pitchforks....

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Rockville, Md.: Lucas the story teller. One of the reasons many critics never were able to like science fiction in print was that they did not see the worlds created and the societies as part of the narrative. They just saw "strange world" and let it go at that. Lucas builds worlds to be part of the story. If you buy that, then you get a lot more that just the story line which is very direct and simple. Heinlein, for an example created an entire multiverse.

Ann Hornaday: You're absolutely right that he can create worlds. And again, I refer to his first film, "THX 1138" as evidence of how gifted he is at creating atmosphere, mood, emotional tone -- and in that film, with amazingly few resources.

So I totally give him that. He just has never created characters and -- here's that word again -- stories that have been as engaging as their surroundings. They've all felt really two-dimensional, as if he's more interested in the background than the foreground.

I think Hank Stuever, who reviewed "Clone Wars" for us today, said it best at the screening last week when he said that Lucas finally has what he's always wanted: a movie with no people in it.

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Bethesda, Md.: Any early buzz on "The Road" with Viggo Mortensen?

Ann Hornaday: None that I know of. According to IMDB it's still in post-production.

Of the top, though, I like that John Hillcoat's directing. He did a beautiful, unsettling, bleak and really tough movie a few years ago called "The Proposition," and I would think his visual style and approach is the perfect fit.

And of course, Viggo can do no wrong, so....

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Rockville, Md.: Car chase?

Live and Die in L.A. knocked me over when I first saw it. But I am tired of them now.

Ann Hornaday: Yah!

And I know what you mean, it's hard now to keep 'em fresh and astonish us.

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Harry Potter: Look, I love Harry Potter, the books and the movies. But WOW, the upset poster needs to get things in perspective. Why is she (I'm assuming here, I know) expending so much emotional energy on something she has no control over?

Ann Hornaday: In fairness, I think we got the poster's earliest reaction to what is admittedly bad news for lots of people.

First rage, then denial, then bargaining....

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Washington, D.C.: RE: Tropic Thunder protests

I don't really get these protests, I would have thought the most offensive thing would be Downey Jr. in black-face, not the use of the word "retard".

Ann Hornaday: Well, as far as I know lots of the protests were coming from people who hadn't actually seen the movie. So the idea that it was only satirizing the people who patronize and exploit the disabled could have been lost on them.

It's an unfortunate misunderstanding, because I really think the only people "TT" takes to task are spoiled, privileged, greedy and clueless people in the movie industry. And they deserve it.

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Bethesda, Md.: I just saw the trailer for Oliver Stone's "W," and I find myself rather perplexed.

To start with, James Cromwell as Bush 41 just made me want to cringe. At least the other actors made an effort to look like their real-life counterparts! But with respect to the bigger picture (no pun intended), I'm by no means a Bush fan, but Oliver Stone doing a film about George W seems about as unbiased as any done by Michael Moore.

Ann Hornaday: I'm totally skeptical myself. I will be really curious to see what Stone does, and I really, really hope he doesn't fall back on easy hits and tired cliches.

Plus I was rooting for Amy Ryan as Laura. Am I right? Anybody?

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Arlington, Va.: I have seen XXY and it is fantastic. I hope the art film lovers out there will go see it.

Save Me may well end up in this year's Reel Affirmations GLBT film festival. It will probably be out on DVD shortly anyway. Glad the previous writer enjoyed No Regret. There were elements to it that I liked but on the whole I thought it was ridiculous and the ending came so far from out of nowhere that I couldn't help but laugh.

Ann Hornaday: Thanks for the comments!

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Re: Car Chases: Okay, I know it was a little campy, especially at the end, but the original Blues Brothers movie had great car chases. I mean, driving through a mall? Seriously? Great!

Ann Hornaday: True that!

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The Other Hollywood (Md.): Hi Ann -- this is to respond to Richmond and the move back date for the Harry Potter movie. The studio's aren't interested in what the movie viewers want, they are only interested in the profits. The Entertainment Weekly site quotes a Warner Bros. executive "Like every other studio, we are still feeling the repercussions of the writers' strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films-changing the competitive landscape for 2009 and offering new windows of opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of. We agreed the best strategy was to move Half-Blood Prince to July, where it perfectly fills the gap for a major tent pole release for mid-summer...Some outside the studio are already pointing out that moving Half-Blood will also stop next year's profits from looking seriously underwhelming after the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight. "They don't need the money this year anymore," says a rival studio exec. ..."

In other words, Warner thinks they can maximize profits next summer rather than this fall.

Whatever the release date I'll see the movie cause I have enjoyed them all.

Ann Hornaday: There ya go....

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Far Virginia Suburbs: I haven't seen a movie in ages. Batman is out of the question. So should I choose Tropic Thunder or Pineapple Express?

Ann Hornaday: It might depend on where you find yourself on the demographic spreadsheet. So I'll tell you this: As a 48-year-old woman who does NOT smoke weed, I liked "Tropic Thunder" a little bit more.

If you're more in the teenaged quadrant of things (I won't comment on your stance regarding controlled substances), you might want to try "Pineapple." Either way, let me know what you thought next time!

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Alexandria, Va.: Re: Star Wars, Lucas and writing. If you looked at all of the Star Wars films objectively, it was never really about depth of storytelling, it was about the flash to make you forget the bad acting, plot holes and silly characters.

Ann Hornaday: One could make that argument.

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Netflix withdrawal: As you know, Netflix is on the fritz (Netfritz?), and I will have to venture into a movie theater this weekend for the first time in ages. Are the patrons any better behaved these days? And what you recommend as a "better seen on the big screen" film for me to see?

Ann Hornaday: You know what, I've actually been having better luck with talkers/cell phones/Blutooth people these days. Maybe those Martin Scorsese trailers are working!

And: Knowing nothing about your taste in movies, I'll take a header and say see "WALL*E." It's an amazing piece of filmmaking, and very much something to see not just on the big screen, but with other people, especially kids. It's just a great moviegoing experience.

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Alexandria, Va.: WB is just placating his shareholders. Batman went WAY beyond expectations as it pretty much made up all the money they expected from Speed Racer and Batman combined and they figured looking at next year they had a weaker slate of movies.

Potter would have run into some competition from Bond and looking at next summer, there is not any real competition so they felt that moving Potter would look good on the books for next year as well as placate the Shareholders.

It's all about the green...I mean, what are we going to do? Protest and not see it?

Ann Hornaday: Like I said, torches and pitchforks, people...

Well put, Alexandria, many thanks!

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Car Chase?: The Dark Night had an amazing one. Plus, Christian Bale....purrrrrr.....

Ann Hornaday: See, I thought Nolan chopped up the action into such an incoherent mess that I can't really remember the car chase in "Dark Knight" ... Except that now it's coming back to me -- with the semi-truck, right? Okay, I take your point...

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Ann Hornaday: Chatters, I have to bounce. You've been fabtastic as always. Have a great weekend and come back soon!

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