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At the Movies With Ann Hornaday

Ann Hornaday
Ann Hornaday (Julia Ewan - The Washington Post)

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Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Movie Critic
Friday, January 9, 2009; 12:30 PM

Trying to decide whether to see "Bride Wars," "Gran Torino" or "Not Easily Broken" this weekend? Ann Hornaday can help you choose. She was online Friday, Jan. 9 at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss what's currently showing in theaters and what's on the horizon.

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Hornaday has been a film critic for the Post since 2002. Prior to that, she reviewed movies for the Baltimore Sun and the Austin-American Statesman.

A transcript follows.

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Doubt: Ann,

Hi. What has been the verdict you have heard about whether he did/did not do it in the movie "Doubt"?

I see both sides and cannot come to a strong enough conclusion for either side.

Thanks.

SPOILER: I did think it was strange that Streep had such strong opinions throughout the movie that he was guilty and then just at the end she says that she has doubt.

Ann Hornaday: Hi everybody!

And great first question about "Doubt"! I'm not exactly sure what the consensus is about what the priest did...I do know that the movie stacks the deck against him a little bit more than the play did. It's funny, when I saw the play I thought her last line about having doubts wasn't about the priest as much as the hierarchy of the church, and how they dealt with that issue...So I have a completely different reading of what that line of dialogue even means! But a fascinating play/movie, isn't it, and provides so much good food for thought! I'm glad you caught up with it!

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San Francisco, Calif.: Have you seen "Che" yet? What's the verdict? Let us know all the details...

Ann Hornaday: Hi SF!

I'm one of those people who doesn't know how they feel about something until I write...But I will say: It's an amazing movie, a really unique filmgoing experience; mesmerizing; completely immersive...and, not surprisingly since it's Soderbergh, a genuinely radical take on the biopic genre -- in its simplicity and refusal to psychologize. So those are a few clues, visit the site next Friday for the full review!

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Frederick, Md.: Ann, did you read the book "The Reader" before you saw the movie? My book club did, some years ago, and while most of them enjoyed it, I did not like it at all. Thus, while the movie has been well reviewed, I'm not sure I should go. I don't want to be a spoiler, but the plot just did not click with me. I do love Ralph Fiennes, however, which may get me to the theater.

Ann Hornaday: Hi and thanks for writing! I did not read "The Reader," so I can't compare the movie to the book. But I would venture to guess that if the book didn't click with you, the movie might not, either. ... Sorry I can't be more helpful. I do find myself thinking about and discussing "The Reader" even now, I think it raises some really terrific and provocative ideas about history and memory and ethics...If you do end up giving it a try, I hope you enjoy it!

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Seattle, Wash.: Hello Ann,

I always enjoy your chats so much. Just one question today: Any movies you've got your eye on for the New Year and are just panting to see?

As always, many thanks.

Ann Hornaday: Hi Seattle, and thanks so much for those kind words!

The New Year is looking pretty quiet, although two that I've already seen and can't wait to see again are "Che" and "Waltz With Bashir." I just wrote a little bit about "Che," so I'll tell you that "Waltz With Bashir" is probably the first great film of 2009 (at least in Washington, where it's opening next week). It's the cinematic version of Picasso's 'Guernica.' A work of realy courage and genius. Please go see it!

A much more modestly successful film, but one that has settled into my heart, is "Last Chance Harvey," with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Not sure how old you are, but if you're over 35 and are in the mood for a pensive, gentle, adult love story this is a terrific choice. They're both lovely in it, and the movie is set on the South Bank of London, so it feels like a leisurely walk through the city. Nice.

A few more down the pike that you'll want to look out for are "Sugar," "The Hurt Locker," "Nothing But the Truth" (if it manages to be released, since its distributor just declared bankruptcy) and "Hunger."

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Petworth, D.C.: You should have mentioned, and this would have been discovered through simple research on the actress, that Taraji Henson grew up in Fort Washington, Md. and went to nearby Oxon Hill HS!!

Ann Hornaday: Ah, many thanks -- of course you're right about the great Taraji Henson and her local roots; we profiled her in 2005, in connection to her breakout performance in "Hustle & Flow." (Here it is.)

Thanks for writing!

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Marion, Ohio: I looked forward to seeing the Batman film with Christian Bale because I think he has played the best Batman so far. And I was impressed with Ledger'portrayal of a demented psychopathic Joker. But do you think the praise for his role is a bit overdone only because of his tragic, early death? Consider James Dean who in, my opinion, is much overrated and idolized by mostly the acting profession.

Ann Hornaday: Hello, Ohio!

I'm tempted to agree with you that Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight" has been overpraised -- but I think the movie as a whole has been hugely overpraised. Ledger was admittedly a bravura, creepy as heck star turn, but I think you might be on to something vis-a-vis the James Dean comparison.

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Arlington, Va: Hi, Ann,

I just want to let readers know that I recently saw "Valkyrie" and thought it was really entertaining and extremely moving.

I had no idea how close the plot came to succeeding and how extensive the resistance to Hitler was among Germany's top military and civilian leaders. The fact that the movie kept me completely engrossed despite the fact that I knew the general outcome of WWII and the fate of Hitler is a testament to its story and its story telling.

"Valkyrie" draws deserved attention to the bravery and self-sacrifice of heroes who pursued justice and tried to save the country they loved by betraying it. It's a sad but ultimately optimistic story told without too much sentiment, a rare quality in many modern movies.

Ann Hornaday: I liked "Valkyrie" too, mostly because it was such a classical, straight-up thriller (I've said it's the best "Mission: Impossible" Tom Cruise never made). There are some questions, though, about whether the film valorized Stauffenberg and his team too much -- when they in fact were motivated more by stratetic concerns than moral ones. Philip Kennicott discussed some of those issues in his terrific review for us, linked here.

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Greenbelt, Md.: Maybe I'm just one of the not-very-sophisticated huddled masses, but I saw both "The Reader" and "Milk" and thought "The Reader" was just your standard moody adaptation, where the majority of the action (when they could no longer get away with a lot of sex) was people standing around looking tormented. Frankly, I was bored with it. However, I found "Milk" truly engaging and I was blown away by Sean Penn, but the Golden Globes passed it over for best pix and I have to ask, do you think it's because it's about gays? I know about "Brokeback" but those boys kept it private and internal and got married, whereas "Milk" was all about the lifestyle. No one in "Milk" (except the non-gay Josh Brolin) stood around looking tormented because he was gay and I have to wonder if that will hurt its chances for awards.

Ann Hornaday: Hi Greenbelt! Sorry you didn't like "The Reader" (unlike you I found it incredibly engaging!), and glad you liked "Milk," a movie I'm a huge fan of. And that's a very interesting take about whether it's "out"-ness has affected its reception by the Hollywood establishment. I can't comment on that one way or another, but one of the things I admire about the movie is how Van Sant doesn't shy away from portraying Harvey's sexuality. It's just right there, not in a reductive way, but a this-is-life way.

Anyway, great question and one worth pondering as awards season heats up!

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washingtonpost.com: The review of "Valkyrie."

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Main Street, Fairfax: Let's hope the insulting "Bride Wars" movie tanks and is sent directly to DVD. Women everywhere should be outraged over how they are portrayed in this disgusting movie. Is there any intelligent person out there that would part ways with hard earned money to watch this garbage?

Ann Hornaday: Yeah! You and me, Main Street, you and me.

Truly, these anti-feminist 'chick flicks' need to be retired. Not only is "Bride Wars" a turgid movie aesthetically and technically, but its retrograde image of women -- cat-fighting, desperate to snag a guy, blighted by their own ambitions -- must be met with outrage, and certainly not reward at the box office!

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Friendship Heights: So this past weekend the wife and I went to Bethesda Row to see a movie and every single movie was sold out. So we walked to a nearby theater and saw "Valkryie," which was a movie neither of us had any intent whatsover to see based on the reviews.

But it turned out to be a pretty good movie!

While Tom Cruise was not great in it he was not terrible either. But the movie did a very good job of making an event where you knew the ending into a riveting story.

But I went back and re-read a couple of the reviews, including the Post's, and the reviewers all seemed to have been fixated on the whole Scientology/can Tom Cruise star/deliver in a movie angle rather than simply examining whether or not it was a good movie and helping their audience make a determination of whether or not they should choose to see it.

Just a thought/question about what the purpose of movie reviews should really be because the reviews I read seemed to entirely miss the point of the movie and wasted a lot of ink on superfluous stuff.

Ann Hornaday: Hi, great questions! As you saw in my previous post, I found "Valkyrie" surprisingly entertaining as well. I went kind of with elbows crossed (had to travel a long way to see it, cold night, would rather have been home with the family, etc.), and I found myself really enjoying it. And like you I thought Cruise rose to the occasion -- he was surrounded by such a great ensemble of actors and he really held his own.

I liked Kennicott's review, especially when he explored the historical record, but I wasn't as distracted by the Scientology connection as he was while watching the film. Still, if he was preoccupied by it, he was within his rights to explain why; plus, one part of a reviewer's job isn't just to consider a movie on its own merits, but to put it in a wider historical or cultural context. ... A judgment call, always.

But I'm glad you saw "Valkyrie" and liked it!

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Baltimore, Md.: Saw both "Milk" and "Frost/Nixon" over the holidays and loved them both for very different reasons. As Harvey Milk, Sean Penn caught both the enthusiasm and the grit of the first openly gay man to achieve significant political office in the U.S. And the most intriguing thing about the portrayal was Penn's smile--it made him look completely different than he has in any other role. "Frost/Nixon" was riveting, which you don't expect a movie about a TV interview to be. I am so glad Ron Howard used his clout to insist that Michael Sheen and Frank Langella had to be cast in the roles they created on stage. There was evidently some pressure to put "bigger" names in and, boy, that would have been a mistake. Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt were excellent in support, too.

Ann Hornaday: Hi Balto!

So glad you saw those movies, both of which I love. And isn't it interesting that in both, those actors delivered such vivid, even tranformative performances without one prosthetic or special effect? Especially in Penn's case, it just goes to show how much a really gifted actor can do with the instrument of his body and voice. ... Superb.

Spread the word on these, they're both terrific!

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washingtonpost.com: Link to Taraji P.

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South Riding, VA: My wife and I don't go out to the movies as much as we would like (you know - kids activities, long commutes, etc.). The kids will be spending this weekend with friends and we were thinking of taking the opportunity to go see one good movie. What would you recommend?

Ann Hornaday: Oh geeze, no pressure!!!!!

Hmmm. Not knowing anything about you or your taste....I'll throw out my current favorites: "Milk," "Frost/Nixon," "Doubt," "Rachel Getting Married," "The Reader," ... "Valkyrie"...If you want to give me some more specifics about what you generally like, I can customize my recommendations!

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washingtonpost.com: Here is the link to the Taraji P. Henson profile.

Ann Hornaday: We're trying to post that Taraji Henson profile, everybody, here it is (I hope)...

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Morristown, NJ: I've heard that there is a "surprise" at the end of "Marley and Me" that I'm not sure my 4 and 8 year old will like. I keep hearing great things about it and it is not advertised AT ALL that there is a "surprise," so it almost seems very deceptive to me. Am I being hyper-sensitive about this?

Ann Hornaday: Yes, exactly, they are really baiting and switching the audience with this one. ... That "surprise" you're talking about is what's keeping me from seeing it at all! And I'm a professional movie-watcher-goer person! So...as a mom and a dog-lover, I support your decision to give it a pass. Have you seen "Tale of Despereaux"? It's very cool -- my 7-year-old loved it and there were older kids in the audience who seemed to enjoy it!

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DC: Saw "The Wrestler" the other night. I'm a huge wrestling fan, and I'm aware of the problems some of them are facing post-wrestling, but this was an awesome film. Emotionally invested in the entire thing, especially when I thought he was finally turning his life around.

Ann Hornaday: Hey DC! Glad you saw "The Wrestler," it is quite a movie, isn't it? I thought the scenes with Rourke's character and his fellow wrestlers were just heartbreaking -- so warm and full of fellowship and support. (I could have lived with less of Marisa Tomei's unclothed bod, but that's how I roll.) A very effective film -- all the more so for using so much footage of the back of Mickey Rourke's head!

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Alexandria, VA: So "Bride Wars" isn't the first great film of 2009. I couldn't really tell from your review. :)

Ann Hornaday: Hmmm, let me break it down for ya.... ! No, the first great one is next Friday. Stay tuned....

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Wait: "Doubt" is based on a true story? I didn't think so.

Ann Hornaday: No, not literally, just based on a real situation within the Catholic church (and other churches and institutions, too, just so we're clear).

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The Reader: The question I came away with from "The Reader" was just what was that young boy's/later Ralph Finnes family doing during the war? Sipping tea and reading books while it went on around them? Or did Daddy put on a uniform, too, and support the cause? I found that a big, fat road block I could not see around, especially since he was supposed to be so tormented by what the woman did.

Ann Hornaday: Oh, see, that was part of what I liked about it! I thought it was just telegraphed that they WERE complicit, actively or passively, and that was precisely one of the hard truths his character had to face...And yet he could never bring himself to ask outright.

Yet another case of one thing working for one viewer while totally NOT working for another!

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Denver: Hi, Ann. Have you seen "Happy-Go-Lucky"? I caught it recently, fully expecting to be annoyed by the main character. Instead, I found her charming and the plot (such as it is) thoroughly engrossing. One of my favorites of 2008. (En-ra-ha!)

Ann Hornaday: En-ra-ha, indeed! I loved, loved, LOVED "Happy-Go-Lucky," and like you I was thoroughly ambushed by that character. She wound up being so different than the kind of ditzy, fuzzy-wuzzy person you think she's going to be. And as wonderful as Sally Hawkins is is in that role, what an ensemble cast! Eddie Marsan as the driving instructor, the wonderul Alexis Zegerman as Poppy's roommate, that flamenco instructor! Bliss!

Like you, I put "HGL" on my 2008 Top Ten -- let's keep spreading the gospel!

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Gran Turino: Eastwood's version of "Unforgiven" for his Dirty Harry character? Or just a formulaic failure?

Ann Hornaday: I'd say the former, not the latter. Worth watching, if only to come to your own opinion about it. ... It's a mean, in-your-face, gutsy performance from an actor who, to his credit, could so easily do avuncular, lovable roles. Instead he really almost sabotages himself....It's a hard movie to describe, and definitely not for everyone, but if you're a big Clint fan it's a must-see.

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Columbia MD: Perhaps this has been suggested before, but I propose asking what are people's favorite under-watched movie. For example, a movie that someone has seen that is great, but no one else seemed to have seen it. My favorite movie from this category is "The Freshman" with Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando. It was a great, little-known film.

Ann Hornaday: OMG, "The Freshman" -- worth the price of admission if only to hear Bert Parks sing "Maggie's Farm."

What a great question....The movies that come to mind for me are recent ones, like "Ghost Town," with Ricky Gervais, "Music & Lyrics" with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant...Chatters? Nominees?

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McLean, VA: Hi Ann,

Second the Tale of Desperaux. Took my 11-year-old niece to it and she loved it. Marley and Me should be more transparent up front re: the ending--I'm a vet, and some people are extremely emotional about that sort of thing.

Thanks

Ann Hornaday: This is really useful information. Thank you! And thank you for doing what you do!

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Upper Marlboro, MD: Your perspective on "Not Easily Broken"?

Ann Hornaday: I liked it. It's not a 'great' movie or a perfect one, by any means -- but the story is engaging and it stars two of my favorite actors, Taraji Henson and Morris Chestnut...Plus Kevin Hart, who's the comic relief. I may not be doing handsprings, but I do give it respect!

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Potential Spoiler?: Not sure if this is a spoiler, but I read that Josh Brolin's character is portrayed as a closted homosexual in Milk. Is there any basis in fact about that or a liberty taken for the movie?

Ann Hornaday: That's an idea that's floated by one of the characters in the film, but I wouldn't say Van Sant is 'saying' that. One of the criticisms of the movie is that White's motivations are never really explored or spelled out...That wasn't a problem for me -- and maybe someone else will do that movie. "The Assassination of Harvey Milk by the Coward Daniel White," anyone?

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Ann Hornaday: Hey gang, I hate to do this but I have to scram out of here. Sorry I didn't get to all the questions. You've been grand, as always, and please come back in a few weeks so we can figure it all out together! Cheers!

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


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