(On Cable TV, December 2017) As I’m dutifully checking off my list of acknowledged film classics, I usually side with the critics in appreciating what generations of reviewers have seen in them. But there are exceptions, and Peter Bogdanovich’s Oscar-nominated The Last Picture Show is one of them. It’s not as if the film is objectively bad—it’s that it manages to be boring despite deaths, drama and sex scenes. It’s that it may be too successful in portraying the dead-end monotony of a dying town and what people do to escape it. The black-and-white cinematography makes it look even more lifeless, and the two-hours running time feels even longer. From a technical perspective, I found much of the film jarring—the cuts between angles are awkward and the editing is just as lifeless as the rest of the film. An impressive number of actors such as Cybil Sheperd, Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid, Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman all show up in significant roles, but it’s Eileen Brennan who steals scenes as a very tired waitress. I still haven’t decided where the film is a success or not, given how I suspect that the whole point of it is to be as dull as possible in order to put ourselves in the character’s lives. I’m just glad that I made it out of there, and can now check off The Last Picture Show from my list of films to see so that I never have to see it again.
(On Cable TV, June 2016) I hadn’t seen a screwball comedy in a long while, and veteran writer/director Peter Bogdanovich’s She’s Funny That Way is unapologetic about how it tries to re-create the confused romantic farces of earlier film eras. Here we have an adulterous theatre director, his wife (an actress), their friend (an actor), an escort changed by their meeting, the worst psychiatrist even, a private detective, a lonely judge … clashing together in weird and ridiculous ways. The film gradually builds it set pieces, goofs along its equally goofy characters, leaves the actors to do their best and lets the chaos take over. What’s unfortunate is that the film keeps its best set pieces (the restaurant clash) for the middle, leading to a curiously lacklustre ending. Still, the film is fun, and the surprising number of recognizable actors showing up in minor roles only adds to the film’s unpredictability. Owen Wilson is fine as the lead director, with Kathryn Hawn, Rhys Ifan and Imogen Poots holding up their end of the plot. Surprisingly enough, queen-of-blandness Jennifer Aniston also turns in a thoroughly despicable performance. She’s Funny That Way’s pacing is zippy, the misunderstandings are numerous, the dialogue relatively interesting and a stuffed squirrel even shows up as a plot point. I’m not sure I can ask for much more.