Tag Archives: Peter Bogdanovich

Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl divorces her parents.

Nine-year-old Casey (Drew Barrymore) has decided she’s had enough of her parents (Shelley Long, Ryan O’Neal) and wants to get a divorce from them by using the emancipation law, which states that a minor can be freed of their parents if it is found that they have not meet their legal or equitable duty. Her mother and father fight this in court, but in the process are forced to expose all their skeletons including the awkward way they first meet, their affairs and eventual disdain for the other.

What surprised me most is O’Neal’s presence. His career has become so tarnished by his own real-life accusations of poor parenting that I would’ve thought this material would hit too close-to-home and he’d avoid it, but at the time this was considered a career resuscitator for him even though it ended up being only a brief one. His performance is actually quite funny making this his best work since What’s Up Doc?

I was equally impressed with Long who plays completely against type. Normally she’s best as snotty, prissy types, but here she reveals a much more vulnerable side and does quite well. At one point I even felt some genuine sympathy for her, which is something I’ve never felt at any other time with any of the other parts that she has played.

Sharon Stone, who gets listed in the opening credits as being ‘introduced’ even though she had already had a part in another theatrical feature Deadly Blessing that came out three years earlier, lends strong support. The way her character transitions from a wide-eyed free-spirit to bitchy Hollywood diva is quite entertaining and she looks great especially when topless. However, the bit where she exposes her excessively hairy armpits is gross and kind of tainted my image of her the rest of the way.

The script, which is based loosely on the relationship between Peter Bogdanovich and his wife Polly Platt with the Sharon Stone character representing Cybill Shephard who became the other woman, is sharp and filled with a lot of Hollywood in-jokes. The two funniest bits are the conversations between the guests at a chic Hollywood party as well as a glimpse of O’Neal’s disastrous attempt to direct a big budget rip-off of Gone With the Wind by trying to turn it into a musical.

The film though spends too much time on the parents while almost forgetting about Barrymore who’s only seen sporadically. The story also takes too long to play out with a final reconciliation segment that is overdone and sappy and helps to lose the wonderfully cynical tone that the film had earlier.

The only truly interesting aspect about the film is that Barrymore later used this same emancipation law to divorce herself from her real parents when she turned 15 and stated in interviews that she did it based off of the idea that she got from doing this movie.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Shyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD

The Last Picture Show (1971)

last picture show 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Star 80 (1983)

star 80

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He kills his girlfriend

This film looks at the life of Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemighway) a teen from Vancouver who with the enticement of her controlling boyfriend Paul Snider (Eric Roberts) came to Hollywood to be a Playboy model. Soon she became a centerfold and budding film actress, but her boyfriend felt left behind and his ensuing jealousy lead to tragic results.

The film takes for granted that you know the story, which is based on fact and has shots from the final tragic scene sprinkled throughout. It was considered quite ‘topical’ and even in vogue at the time and yet for those born later this really won’t have much impact or significance. Stratten was just a young naive girl who got in over-her-head and her husband/manager was much the same way. For today’s audiences Stratten’s cult status has diminished significantly and probably should.

The plot has a sort of excruciating affect because we know what is going to happen and therefore sitting and watching it unfold seems almost tantamount to self-inflicted pain. The conclusion is intense, but leaves you feeling flat afterwards. There seems no reason to have made this film except for the sake of cashing in on its sleazy and provocative elements.

Director Bob Fosse creates a nice look for the movie with shades of soft lighting much like ones used for a photo shoot, which helps give it a distinctive quality.  However his direction is too manipulative and heavy-handed. It is structured like a documentary featuring talking head segments of supporting characters describing their take on the situation. These are spliced in throughout and really hurt the flow of the story and do not seem genuine. If they were going to take this route then they might as well have made it into an actual documentary and used the real people involved.

The two main characters are underwritten and overplayed. Hemingway has a cute young girl voice and her excited inflections are a nice addition to the character. However, her character is too sweet and naive almost to a Chrissy Snow-type extreme. She is also unable to stand up for herself at any time and it is hard for the viewer to sympathize with someone who can never help themselves.

Her boyfriend is just as bad in the opposite way. He is like the son-in-law from hell who wears suits that are so loud even your average pimp wouldn’t be seen in them. Roberts does give a good performance and supplies the film with a lot of its energy. This may be his best work and the film should be viewed for his presence only especially since it emphasizes him over Stratten anyways.

Cliff Robertson seems an odd choice to play Playboy founder Hugh Hefner as he doesn’t resemble him at all and never effectively creates his persona. The fictionalized character of director Peter Bogdanovich is no good either. He was supposedly the man who broke her away from the clutches of her boyfriend and gave her some independence. Yet here he seems just as creepy and controlling. Carroll Baker does the best of the supporting players as Dorothy’s mother a woman who can easily see through the man that her daughter can’t and at 52 she was really looking super.

In the end this film becomes as empty as the characters it is portraying. Even fans of the sleazy side of Hollywood will be disappointed. The disclaimer admits to being only a fictionalized account and therefore puts into question how fair or accurate any of it really is.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD