August 29, 2014 / 2:20 PM / 3 years ago

REVIEW-Bogdanovich's "She's Funny That Way" milks laughs in Venice

* Bogdanovich New York film has starry cast, special cameos

* “99 Homes” looks at grim aftermath of mortgage bubble

By Michael Roddy

VENICE, Aug 29 (Reuters) - A madcap New York drawing-room comedy that played out like a classic Hollywood farce saw “The Last Picture Show” director Peter Bogdanovich in sharp comedic form at the Venice Film Festival on Friday.

In “She’s Funny That Way” Bogdanovich, who in the 1970s was part of the “New Hollywood” wave of pioneering directors, has assembled an all-star cast including Imogen Poots as an aspiring actress who says she is a muse but works as a call girl.

Her liaisons weave a spider’s web that nets men, including Owen Wilson -- a theatre director who has played the rich sugar-daddy “benefactor” to a series of call girls over the years. The people revolving around her character eventually crash into each other, to everyone’s huge embarrassment.

Jennifer Aniston gives a refresher course in how to portray the woman scorned once she finds out about her husband’s hanky-panky partners.

Telling who shows up in cameo roles would be a spoiler, but it is all fairly ingenious, as well as preposterous.

A Venice screening audience that has so far been treated to very little in the way of humour since the festival’s opening on Wednesday laughed frequently at the slickly produced film.

It is set partly in a Broadway theatre, partly in a luxury hotel and also in a swank Italian restaurant, and is being shown out of competition for the main Golden Lion prize to be awarded next week.

The posh New York scene was a world away from American director Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes”, a grim tale about the lives that were destroyed, but also the big money to be made, during the tidal wave of home foreclosures that washed across Florida after the 2008 mortgage-market collapse in the United States.

The competition film stars Andrew Garfield as a young construction worker, Dennis Nash, who loses his job - and several weeks’ pay -- when a homebuilder he works for goes bust.

He then loses the home he shares with his mother and his freckle-faced son Connor when he cannot keep up the mortgage payments.

The foreclosure, which sees Nash and his family literally thrown out into the street, is overseen by a financial vulture of a realtor named Rick Carver, played by Michael Shannon (“Boardwalk Empire”).

He is the ultimate social Darwinist, or perhaps Ayn Rand follower, who has only scorn for anyone who failed to read the fine print of their mortgage contract or is sentimentally attached to a home.

America is “of the winners, for the winners and by the winners”, he says, giving a twist to Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” as he takes the down-and-out Nash under his wing and has him do the dirty work for him.

The Hollywood Reporter trade publication called it “a hard-hitting look at America’s economic divide”.

Variety had particularly strong praise for Shannon, saying: “like the devil that gets all the best tunes, it’s Shannon - ideally cast in a role that fully capitalizes on his dauntless stare and imposing, almost-handsome physicality - who gets the choice lines here, though his half-snarling, half-purring delivery lends a certain snap even to clunkier ones.”

“Anime Nere” (Dark Souls), an Italian competition entry directed by Francesco Munzi, was a partly humourous look at modern-day mobsters operating in a crumbling Italian city.

Two younger brothers want to stick with the family business, but their older brother wants to lead a pious life, leading to an escalating conflict that provides the film’s dramatic ending.

Michael Roddy is an arts and entertainment correspondent for Reuters, The views expressed are his own. Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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