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Desson Howe
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Behind The Screen
With Desson Howe
Washington Post Film Critic

Monday, April 28, 2003; 12:30 p.m. ET

Washington Post film critic Desson Howe brings Behind The Screen Live Online for a discussion on filmmaking and the art of the cinema. Have you ever wanted to know what the director had in mind when making a particular film? Or why the producer altered the original screenplay? Why was an actor or actress cast over another? Howe has answers to these and other questions about filmmaking.

Howe, a movie critic at The Washington Post for 15 years, was raised in England where he was entranced, like most, by Hollywood movies. And 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.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Desson Howe: Happy Spring day to all. Sorry to be starting late. But we're ready to go. Fire away!

Washington D.C.: There were a lot of shootings around the U.S. last week and in the news. Particularly sad was the shooting of 70s heartthrob Robbie Benson's actress daughter, Lyric Benson, by her boyfriend.

Desson Howe: Don't get me started on this country's "right" to own handguns and shoot our spouses and boyfriends. That is seriously tragic.

Annapolis, Md.: Thanks for taking my off-beat question.

We all went to see "Holes" this weekend, and found it be to be an exceptional movie.

My daughter later found on "eBay" a poster of the movie signed by all of the major cast members. The bid was $66. Any idea how to get a confirmation that these are, in fact the signatures of the cast?


Desson Howe: Glad you liked Holes. I don't know what to suggest on the E Bay thing, but obviously I'd check it out very closely before you part with cash. I'm sure this isn't how the cast wanted their autographs used either.

Baltimore, Md.: What did you think of Irreversible? And is this film going to be released in this area?

Desson Howe: It was released 2 weeks ago. I reviewed it. My take was: I tried to go along with the experiment that filmmakers wanted. The movie is structured like Memento. The first scene you see is chronologically the last. And you see a horrible beating. In the next few scenes you realize that beating is in response to an even more disgusting rape. And then you meet the victim of the rape in happier moments with her boyfriend and their friend. You're supposed to be feeling a certain understanding, a deeper sense of the nature of atavistic revenge and some other deep things. But I didn't.

Washington, D.C.: Desson: I watched "Cabaret" yesterday and was amazed at how well it has held up. And Michael York! Yum! What ever happened to him?

Desson Howe: Glad you liked it. Great great film. Wonderful hybrid of musical and drama. As for Mr. York, did you not see him as Basil Exposition in the Shagadelic movies of Austin Powers, or as steely Stone Alexander in the "Omega Code" christian movies?

Washington, D.C.: Haven't seen The Real Cancun but it sounds interesting the way it was made. Sort of like Blair Witch and then some. Referring to the giving out of a record number of cameras to individuals to shoot scenes. What's your take on it? I'm always up for something new in the movies. With all the crap that movies have become it's refreshing when someone tries something new even with NUDITY.

Desson Howe: I didn't see it, Washington, D.C., but my colleague Matt did. And here was his take on it last week:

Apparently, America's thirst for real-life naughty words and real-life naughty bits hasn't yet been sated by the "Girls Gone Wild" series. Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on this perceived hunger, or perhaps seeking to show that boys also go wild, Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, producers of MTV's "The Real World," bring us "The Real Cancun," which documents one week in the lives of 16 strangers on spring break who are forced to live in a swank hotel (the horror!) and have their lives taped while they do things mother definitely wouldn't approve of.

Like "The Real World," the "Cancun" cast was chosen not because of their "realness," but seemingly because they could fill certain roles that heighten the drama. There's unrepentant boy-toy Casey, who upon meeting his fellow revelers spouts lines like "Are we gonna get naked,
or what?" and "Don't any of you girls want to make out?" In general, he makes Joe Millionaire sound like George Will.

There's Sky, the self-proclaimed "token black girl," and Paul, who at first comes off as quite the player but later shows something approaching sweetness as he tries to win Sky's heart before the week is over. There's Sarah, who has a long-term boyfriend she left behind (she's unsure about their future together, a classic "Real World"
setup), and Matt, who spends the week getting closer to Sarah until the final night, when he brings home another girl from a club and, ahem, cleans up in the shower.

And then there's Alan, who at the start of the film doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't party, has trouble talking to girls and whose arrhythmic dancing is somehow reminiscent of both Pee-wee Herman and Iggy Pop. To put it simply, Alan is a nerd, and he steals the show. At first he does so with remarkably dorky yet endearing exclamations such as "I want hooters!," and later when he finally casts off his inhibitions, wins a hot-body contest and ends up spending one enchanted (and chaste) evening on the beach with a girl.

Alan sticks out so much because he is so different from the other male cast members, who all look as if they just stepped from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue and talk like cavemen. Plus, it seems as if he was the only cast member -- male or female -- at least trying to stand out. Some of the cast members introduced themselves at the
start of the film and then were rarely seen or heard from again, except in the background. I had trouble remembering many of their names.

Unlike "The Real World," the censor's beep and blur were nowhere to be found, meaning there were more swears, skin and sin. But it was hardly shocking. Casual profanity is found just about everywhere these days, and much of the skin flashed was limited to one scene, an extended
wet T-Shirt contest. In fact, the characters seemed to know where the hidden cameras were, as they went to great lengths to cover up any explicit canoodling with a blanket. Still, there's no doubting what went on.

Just like any vacation that is both sun- and alcohol-fueled, "The Real Cancun" becomes wearying by the time Snoop Dog (who is fast becoming the Michael Caine of movie cameos) gives the cast a hip-hop sendoff. And, like the end of most long vacations, it felt good to be going home.

Washington, D.C.: Desson, my friend, I keep forgetting that your chats are every two weeks. I accidentally post my message for you on the Travel guys. You write mostly about offbeat, foreign or independent films. Have you ever reviewed any of the Brazilian films (when released) starring one of my all-time favorite actresses Sonia Braga? Particularly Eu Te Amo(1981) translated to "I Love You". I have a 1980s Showtime taping of this with a dubbed soundtrack instead of a sub-titled one. Such a rarity these days. And the other Braga vehicles: "Dona Flor", "Lady On the Bus", "Gabriella" -- all 70s and early 80s.

Why do modern movies list every single solitary person involved in a film in the end credits? Whereas in the older movies, late 60s, film noir era, 40s musicals, and on back to the silents ... they simply print THE END.

Desson Howe: Hello Washington, D.C. Thanks for the note. Actually I write about all movies, but clearly the ones that come to your attention are offbeat, foreign and independent. As for the delightful Ms. Braga, my professional career started in 1987, so those Sonia movies predated me. However I have seen her in several movies, including of course Dona Flor. And I did a check: the only thing I think I've seen her in was The Rookie with Charlie Sheen. Oh well!

As for the credit thing. Well, movies have become increasingly sophisticated in terms of production and post-production and CGI and what-not. There are whole armies making these things now. And everyone wants a credit.

Washington, D.C.: I recently saw O Brother, Where are Thou. Great movie. I forgot where the title of it came from. Also, is there any movie based on the Homer's Odyssey or the Iliad? Thanks!

Desson Howe: I have to log off people because of gremlins in my computer. Back in a second, or maybe some minutes. Sorry folks. The techies are going to operate on my PC for a sec. But in answer to this , the movie was based on the Odyssey and also a movie within a movie in a Preston Sturges movie. Back soon, everyone. Apologies.

Alexandria, Va.: Hello Desson,

A few weeks ago on the online chat you gave the impression that you were underwhelmed by A Mighty Wind on first viewing, but that you were going to give it another try before writing your review. Your review, when it came out, was very enthusiastic.

What changed your mind?

Desson Howe: Like it more. Laughed. Changed my mind. Back soon.

Charlottesville, Va.: Great chat Desson

Loved Better Luck Tomorrow, but I heard that the theatrical release actually used a revised ending? Have you seen the original ending and if so, what did you think? I thought that the ending I saw was a little bit of a cop-out and not definitive enough with regard to the characters' fates.

Desson Howe: I'm back. I suspect the ending was changed, or tempered to avoid a starker, nastier ending. Of course such things are not unusual in Hollywood, in which endings are almost routinely reshot (because the kids in the mall in the test market screening didn't feel good about so-and-so dying.

Capitol Hill: Hi Desson, I just bought and watched this weekend a DVD of Zhang Yimou's latest film, "Hero." The cinematography was breathtaking and the plot, I thought, very intriguing the way Yimou played it out.

Is there any word at all on when "Hero" will make it to a D.C. theater? I'd love to see it on a "big screen." Thanks for your reviews. You're the best and I really rely on your columns.

Desson Howe: I saw this at the Berlin Film Festival (in Chinese with German subtitles, so I had to watch it without a lot of verbal help) and it was absolutely stunning, visually. I really hope it comes soon to Washington. Glad you saw it and enjoyed it. I see no evidence of it coming this spring or summer -- yet.

Herndon, Va.: Mr. H: Saw "Bend It Like Beckham" last week. An excellent movie! What other movies has that director made? Are any readily available?

Desson Howe: Yes, a charming picture. It was made by Gurinder Chadha, a delightful woman from England with Indian heritage, who was born in Kenya! She has made some terrific little films called Bajhi on the Beach and What's Cooking. You might find them hard to get at the useless Blockbuster Video But try Potomac Video or Hollywood video, or Video Americain in Takoma Park or Video Vault in Oldtown. Or Nexflix.com as a DVD.

Hilarity: I need some: With the level of drama of my personal life rapidly approaching the that of the current geo-political situation, I'm getting increasingly tense. I don't know about you all, but I could really use some very, very good comedy. I'm thinking along the lines of Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Airplane, Top Secret!... But I've seen all those before. What can I see to help me escape for a couple of hours?

Desson Howe: In terms of movies out now, see Almighty Wind. In terms of video rental, well, see all the Naked Gun videos. And I'm sure others will have suggestions.

Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Desson -

You said last time that you were doing a lecture with the Smithsonian Resident Associates -- I've checked the Web site and can't find anything about it. Has it been scheduled? Do you know when we will be able to sign up? Thanks.

Desson Howe: Well, I know it's happening! I called my contact person who's coordinating this and he wasn't there. At lunch probably. For now, all I can say is contact me later at Howed@washpost.com and I'll have the information by then. A few others have contacted me about this. And please resend an e-mail if you didn't get a reply. It'll be at Visions theater for five or six weeks on Friday afternoons. July and August.

Mt. Rainier, Md.: "Bend It" doesn't seem to be broadening its release any, despite good crowds? (I agree with you so totally on the obsessive-compusive gun stance popular in this country.)

Desson Howe: Thank you. As for the Bend It, well it did increase. It was at only one theater and then I noticed it's at a few now. Whether it expands more, I don't know.

Upper Marlboro, Md.: What's your favorite movie(s)? Just curious.

Desson Howe: I'm afraid that's a really big question. I usually say Lawrence of Arabia, but there are so many others. Rules of the Game by Jean Renoir is another. And the Wages of Fear. You could ask me by country, by year or by director and I'd have a different choice each time. And then there's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Or Monty Python and the holy Grail -- now there's 2 flicks for the person seeking hilarity!

Virginia.: Desson - Most of the extensive movie credits are required by union contracts and other rules between the filmmakers and the industry's trade guilds. Just FYI.

Desson Howe: Thanks.

Chevy Chase, Md.: On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) how scary is the movie Identity? I'm not a horror/slasher movie fan at all (prone to nightmares), but somehow I find myself interested in seeing it. Any feedback on how scary it is would be great. Thanks so very much!

Desson Howe: It's horrifying more than scary, I'd say. Deaths happen off frame, mostly. There are 2 horrifying car slams of bodies you should know about. So, it's more gross than scary. However, its whodunit element is really well done. I was surprised how enjoyable it was.

Funny movies: For the person looking for laughs: The two funniest movies I've seen are Monty Python's Holy Grail and Woody Allen's Love and Death.

Desson Howe: Great minds. Also loved Love and Death. And Annie Hall and Bananas, and Play It Again Sam.

Boston, Mass.: Hi. What do you think of "Chasing Papi" This is the "all Latin" movie. It was expected to do good, it's a comedy, but I have hardly heard anything about it.

Cristina Saralegui (Talk show host) said that this movie would open doors for many more Latin productions. Do you agree?

Desson Howe: I am all for movies which open doors for new groups, such as Latinos. But this movie was horrible. The worst. Yech.

Irreversible: Do you know which theaters?

Desson Howe: I looked through the listings and don't see it. It must have tanked.

"Better Luck Tomorrow" ending: About the revised ending. I had seen the original cut and from what I could see, only one line at the end was changed. The visuals were exactly the same (the line was a voice-over). Without giving it totally away, I thought that it was LESS corny and more nihilistic, which fit in better with the rest of the film.

Desson Howe: Very good information. Thanks a lot. See? These chats are useful.

ArtMovieLover, Va.: Seen anything good at FilmFest DC yet, Desson?

Desson Howe: Saw the John Malkovich film Dancer Upstairs. It's respectable but not great. And the Francois Ozon film Swimming Pool is supposed to be terrific.

Burbank, Calif.: Desson:

First of all, love your chats and columns ...

Just wanted a word from you re: "Reality" films now ... while watching the Cancun thing might be mildly entertaining for some, are you as alarmed as I am that we will start seeing more and more feature reality subject matter? As an employee from a major film studio, I am not terribly thrilled.

Desson Howe: Thanks Burbank for the compliment! Yes, it is truly alarming to see this soft-porn meets couch-potato TV programming start to infect the movies. And yes, there are more to come! Spring Break the Movie for instance.

Maryland: Why do all the good movies seem to come out at once? I've only got a certain amount of money to drop on a $8.25 ticket per month! I noticed that X-Men 2 and Matrix Reloaded are due out within a few weeks of each other. Ugh, now I have to choose. I suppose I can always go to weekend matinees, but then I have to put up with more loud kids.

Desson Howe: So, let's see, you're complaining because you have too many good movies to see?

Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: Hullo, Mr. Howe:

Did "Confidence" open in limited release? It didn't make in the top five box office draws this weekend, which seems strange.

Also, I heard your man Beckham is fixing to change lodging. Is he for REAL?

Desson Howe: Confidence opened in 29 theaters in the Washington area. Not limited at all. It had its chances.

Confidence?: What happened with Confidence over the weekend ... it seems like an intriguing film to me (at least much more so that Identity) but it was wholly overlooked by moviegoers. Is this a case of a studio burning off a mediocre flick in April (rather than watching it lose out to heavy competition in the summer/winter months) or is there something to this film that many are missing?
Thanks in advance ...

Desson Howe: Same thing as last question. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him pay a ticket to see Confidence. Edward Burns is not a box office attraction, obviously.

Confidence: Loved it. LOVED IT.

Desson Howe: Yes, it was enjoyable.

Vienna: "O Brother" title is taken from the Sturges film, "Sullivan's Travels", about a filmmaker who wants to make a "serious" film (entitled, "Oh Brother ...")

Desson Howe: Thanks. Didn't have time to recall which Sturges film it was when I answered.

Bethesda, Md.: Saw Bend it like Beckham this weekend, loved it! My only question is, throughout the movie the coach was portrayed as the heartthrob ... then at the end of the movie he's running in the airport like he's gay, what gives?

Desson Howe: Running like he's gay? Huh? I can't remember that moment! Sorry.

Maryland: Re: Movies coming out at once.

No, I'm complaining because I have to choose between the two. Limited funds, unfortunately. If they were spread out a little more, I'd go to both. But instead I see a "dry spell" of nothing much and then a cluster of movies that really interest me.

Desson Howe: I gotcha.

Washington, D.C.: What's the difference between a reality movie (what they're calling "The Real Cancun")and a documentary?

Desson Howe: A few shades of difference. People are sort of participating/acting in a reality movie. In a doc, it's similar but they're presumably less accommodating and the situation is less controlled by behind the scenes manipulation.

Washington, D.C.: Most people have said the second Austin Powers was better than the first. I have to agree that the first one was better. Just 2 words: Elizabeth Hurley. Grrr, baby, grrr!

Desson Howe: Any thought for the humor in the movie, at all?

Alexandria, Va.: I rented a video the other night and saw a preview for a movie "Liberty Stands Still" about the exact same scenario as the movie "Phone Booth" except the lady is on a cell phone cuffed to a hot dog cart. I remember seeing this Lion's Gate movie in the video store a while ago before Phone Booth came out. It's got Wesley Snipes and Linda Fiorentino. Have you heard about this movie?

Desson Howe: It may not have been released. I don't recall reviewing it. It must have gone straight into video release.

Capitol Hill: I have to say that THE Funniest movie I have ever seen is : Bullets Over Broadway ... written and directed by Woody Allen but thankfully he's not in it. Both Diane Wiest and Jennifer Tilly were nominated (Wiest won) HYSTERICAL

Desson Howe: Yes, agreed. I did like Bullets.

Arlington, Va.: I liked A Mighty Wind quite a bit, but am I the only one who found Eugene Levy's folk-version of Ozzy Osborne a major distraction? Early on, I thought his voice was a dead-ringer for the androgynous "Pat" character from SNL, and it stuck with me for the rest of the picture. Am I alone in this?

Desson Howe: Anyone?

SciFiGirl: Just wanted to say that I saw A Mighty Wind this weekend, and thought it was terrific. It was really fun seeing Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean together doing the folk thing. In its way, it was as perfect as Spinal Tap (one of my favorite movies). I'm glad you came around to it on the second viewing. I thought Eugene Levy was wonderful. He created such a great character.

Also, I saw 8 Mile on video, which has propelled me into an argument (an intellectual one) over Eminem's merits as an artist, and whether or not the artist can be separated from the art. I think that he's an amazing wordsmith, while I disagree with about everything he says with his words. I thought he was pretty likable in 8 Mile, even though I know that film was constructed to make him look better, and maybe answer some criticisms. I put forward the Roman Polanski model, that what he did was wrong, but he's still an incredible director. That got me nowhere, because she doesn't know who Roman Polanksi is. But it's an interesting problem to deal with. Art is so personal, both for the person producing it and the person experiencing it, I can understand how it's difficult to separate the two.

Anyway, thanks for letting me rant on this. I'd appreciate any insight from the peanuts, though!

Desson Howe: I like your comments. And in response, I guess I had a similar reaction to Eminem. I came around on him thanks to the movie. But I don't like his earlier statements on gays and so on. But he's a great artist in what I consider a limited genre.

Washington, D.C.: I saw Confidence on Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it and the cutie Ed Burns, but I got the odd feeling that he was a Ben Affleck clone or Ben was his clone or something.

Desson Howe: Agreed. He played an Affleck or Alec Baldwin clone.

New York, N.Y.: Hi Desson!

I just saw Identity and am a big fan. What did you think of the film?

I'm also curious if you saw Igby Goes Down (also starring Amanda Peet, fyi). I just bought it at Blockbuster and adored it. I don't think enough people know about this film -- RENT IT, peanuts!

Desson Howe: Yes, as mentioned, I liked Identity more than I thought possible. Igby is something I have been meaning to catch up on. My 20-year-old son watched it on video and dubbed it depressing. So it must be good.

Sonia Braga = Spider Woman, Kiss of the: You've seen her, you just haven't seen her do much besides hang out looking mysterious and sexy.

Desson Howe: How could I forget. Of course. Thanks.

Washington, D.C.: I saw Identity on Friday and still can't decide whether I liked it. I saw the central surprise coming, but was then impressed by the handling of it, although I thought the way they shot the ending was cheap and excessive. Better than average Hollywood product, though. And I love John Cusack, so seeing so much of him was nice.

Phone Booth is only at the Uptown for a few more days. Should I bother?

Desson Howe: Phone Booth is a small experiment well done. It's not bad. It's less than a full movie, but has its suspense factor.

Re: Liberty Stands Still: It is already on cable. It was on Cinemax last night, and is basically "Phone Booth" with a female lead.

Desson Howe: Thanks.

Too Many Movies at Once: Doesn't May mark the beginning of the hectic summer movie season? Looks to me like every week another good movie is opening for the next several months.

Desson Howe: Yes. And look for my summer movies cover story in Weekend May 9.

Laurel, Md.: Desson, since last we chatted I've seen two movies based on novels -- Lord of the Rings II and The Quiet American. They seem to represent the opposite ends of a spectrum about the adaptability bility of novels to film.

LotR (as a novel) was always intended to be of the form of a classical epic with many parallel plots. It is very difficult to adapt to film and hard to follow if you haven't read the literature. Quiet American is at least the third good film made from a Graham Greene novel (The Third Man and Our Man in Havana) because Greene wrote his novels with the idea that they would become films.

Having just one protagonist to follow throughout and avoiding non-visual elements (like long thought sequences) help make a novel filmable. But are there any other characteristics that set a novel up to be the basis of a significant film?

Desson Howe: Hi Laurel. Your final question is too big to answer satisfactorily. But I would say: the novel that has a great x factor -- an awe-inspiring mission for the central hero, a great quest, is one element. Also, a character who is rich in himself or herself is enough to generate a good story, movie or book. But the best element perhaps is a sequence of events that flow from one into the other. Which is why suspense, spy, ghost and horror stories always work for the screen because there's an ABC sequence of logic.

A Mighty Wind: I thought Levey was excellent. Hilarious. He played a seemingly vacant folk rocker, but you knew there was something else going on under all that hair. I just love him.

I really enjoyed that movie a lot. But beware -- it may have had a lot to do with my mood (silly) and the audience (also silly, and really into it).

Desson Howe: Thanks!

Washington, D.C.: NPR had an interview with Michael McKeon yesterday, who is starring in "A Mighty Wind." They played a clip from the film and even with no video I was laughing! The dialogue is great! I can't wait to see the movie.

Desson Howe: See it!

Funny?: What about some Peter Sellers movies? I haven't seen the Pink Panther movies in years so I don't know if I would still like them, but when they came out they were big favorites in my family. Also I seem to recall that "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" was pretty wacky.

Desson Howe: Loved them.

Sacramento, Calif.: Hi Desson,

Actually the Naked Gun movies are kind of creepy now. I doubt I'm the only one that doesn't laugh at OJ sneaking around at night in a knit cap.

Desson Howe: Yeah, I know what you mean.

College Park, Md: Any recommendations for Filmfest DC? Did you write any articles about it? Seems like the Post doesn't cover the Film Festival that much (or did i just miss it?)

When I lived in Philly, they had a big spread in the paper with capsules, showtimes, etc. ...

Desson Howe: We have a piece on the fest every single day. Read Style. I haven't had a chance to see much of it because of, uh, my day gig.

To ArtMovieLover, Va.: At the Filmfest so far, "Together" got exceptionally good reviews from the audience and not one person walked out with dry eyes. "The Weather Underground" seems to be another favorite among the patrons.

Desson Howe: Thanks for passing that along.

Los Angeles: Re: Benson shooting

From Fox News: "The wounded woman has the same unusual name and is about the same age as the daughter of 1980s Hollywood heartthrob Robby Benson, causing initial confusion.

In fact, the actor's daughter once accidentally was credited for the other Lyric Benson's frequent-flier miles, the actor's spokeswoman said."

Desson Howe: Interesting. Thanks.

Washington, D.C.: What will they be doing when Mr. Harry Potter and company get too old? I know it's one year per book, but the movies are being spaced out more than one a year.

Desson Howe: I'm sick of them already.

Indiana Jones IV: Desson, have you heard whether there's any truth to the rumor that a fourth Indiana Jones picture is in the works? I have heard that M. Night Shyamalan is going to write the screenplay for it, so it sounds like they'll have a great script to work with should this indeed get a green light and he is involved. I for one would welcome Steven Spielberg/Harrison Ford's return to this great franchise. How about you?

Desson Howe: I've heard it's been in the offing for years.

Washington, D.C.: I heard it said that Star Wars is the perfect movie because you can set your watch by when certain milestones occur in the movie (e.g. "romance" at the 60 minute mark) Why do you think this formula is the rule? Why does it work on the audience such that we feel "off" if the movie does not follow the traditional formula for when the hero says yes, when the side kick leaves etc.?

Desson Howe: Interesting question. Are we the problem or are the movies? Bit of both.

Nani: Hello Desson. Like the earlier poster, I too watched an old musical yesterday, Singin' In the Rain. Haven't seen Chicago yet, but in the trailer it looks as if Catherine Zeta-Jones is going for the Cyd Charisse look with the Prince Valiant type bangs and fringed costume Ms. Charisse wore in the "Everybody Dance!" number.

I mentioned in Rita's chat my disappointment in the reviews of Levity. I'm in the mood for a GOOD new Billy Bob film. The Man Who Wasn't There is one of those films I can watch over and over and over and get something new out of it every time. Some contend that kids won't watch black and white -- but my granddaughters loved TMWWT, though I did have to do a bit of explaining.

Desson Howe: Hi Nani. There are many elements of old time musicals as you mention in Chicago, but it's retrofitted, too, for the contemporary. It's modern as heck. Very flashy.

As for Levity, I wouldn't recommend it. It's as if Billy Bob is parodying himself.

Indiana Jones Franchise: Would Spielberg consider a 007 kind of franchise? Much as I 'love' Harrison Ford, he is getting too old to be a believable Indy!

Desson Howe: Good questions.

Re: Lyric Benson: Please let people know that the young woman who was killed by her boyfriend is NOT Robbie Benson's daughter. They have the same name, but it's not the same person. I'm a friend of Robbie's family, and your inaccurate post sent me into a panic until I checked it out.

Desson Howe: Thanks.

Castle Shannon, Pa.: The early buzz is very promising on a movie called "Seabiscuit," coming out this summer. What's the general plot of this one and what have you heard?

Desson Howe: It's about the real life racehorse of the prewar days, one of the country's most amazing horses in terms of victories. And it's based on the book by Hillenbrand.

O Canada ... : Tired of international events? Want to laugh a little? Canadian Bacon. Perfect for those of looking for a little humor with our international armageddon stories. And what about Dr. Strangelove for a little darker take? And maybe the Mouse that Roared?

Desson Howe: Well, I agree with the last two.

I thought Eugene Levy was brilliant: I found his portrayal the most moving of the entire picture -- sort of a counterbalance to Harry Shearer's which was one long wink at the audience.

Desson Howe: Thanks, I agree.

Washington, D.C.: Desson,

Saw "The Good Thief" this weekend, and liked it more and more as I walked out of the theater. It didn't blow me away, it grew on me. I loved the contrast between the washed-out sunshine of the French Riveria daytime as opposed to the seedy dark night scenes. Nick Nolte totally carried this movie. What I liked was you get a sense of the total desperation of the underworld and crime, and also a glimpse into the crime and gambling of the high society and Nolte fits perfectly in the two. Very unexpected that I liked it this much! thanks for the review ...

Desson Howe: Yes and thanks for your review too. Good take on the film.

Really Really Would Like to Know: I read a great review of the Spelling Bee documentary Spellbound in the Times this weekend. Please tell me that this film is coming to town! One of the featured spellers is local and I would love to check it out.

Desson Howe: Yes it's coming this summer. Check my movie guide to the summer May 9.

More funny flicks: Planes, Trains and Automobiles -- that's the one I re-watch when feeling blue. John Candy and Steve Martin are priceless!

Desson Howe: Thanks.

12th Floor Metro Center: Hi Desson. Caught a couple of old movies on cable Saturday night, "Rosemary's Baby" and "Mommie Dearest," both for the first time. Wasn't crazy about the open-ended ending, but thought that Ruth Gordon was great in "Rosemary's Baby."

And after hearing so many impersonations of NO ... MORE ... WIRE ... HANGERS, I was actually pleasantly surprised and generally pleased with "Mommie Dearest." Faye Dunaway made me forget that she wasn't really Joan Crawford. Do you think this movie is as bad as most of the critics say it was?

Desson Howe: I quite liked Mommie D. And Rosemary's Baby is one of the great horror films of all time.

Southside: Desson -- Always enjoy the columns and chats. I watched Rob Schneider's "The Hot Chick" last weekend; ugh. But I seem to recall that his "Deuce Bigalow," while nobody's idea of high-quality entertainment, did have enough small gags to make me laugh fairly consistently. As a critic, to what degree do you think isolated moments of humor elevate an otherwise junk movie? In other words, when do the little things push a reluctant "thumbs down" over to a guarded "thumbs up"? Thanks.

Desson Howe: If you really laugh hard and the rest of the movie's horrible, well, you have to decide as a critic what to say. I tend to be more relaxed with comedy than drama when it comes to that. Anger management was hardly art but I did laugh, and so I gave a good review. But when it comes to Rob Schneider, that's much more of a snoozefest between laughs.

Re: Harry Potter: The young man who plays Harry Potter recently said on an interview that he does not expect to do the second trilogy because of exactly the issue raised -- he will be too old to make it believable before too much longer.

Originally they planned to shoot the films one per year and thus allow the actors to age along with the characters. But since the novels aren't even coming out that fast, much less the movies, they abandoned that idea pretty quickly.

Desson Howe: Thanks.

Baltimore, Md.: Talking of FilmFest do you know anything about "Sweet Sixteen" or "1/2 the rent"?

I saw "Warriors" over the weekend. A spanish movie about Kosovo peacekeepers. It made "Black Hawk Down" seem like a walk in the park.

Desson Howe: Sweet Sixteen I' m aware of. It's a Ken Loach film and it will be released here this summer. See the guide on May 9!

Desson Howe: Okay, I have run into almost two hours for a one hour chat. I think it's time to say goodbye for now, folks. See you all in two weeks. Enjoyed it. Come back next time!

washingtonpost.com: That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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