Saturday, March 25, 2023

#2,902. Barefoot in the Park (1967) - 1967 Comedies Triple Feature


On October 23, 1963, Neil Simon’s play Barefoot in the Park opened at Broadway’s Biltmore Theater, and ran for 1,530 performances. It proved to be Simon’s longest running hit, and in 1967 he transformed it into a screenplay.

Directed by Gene Saks (the same guy who tackled Simon’s cinematic version of The Odd Couple), Barefoot in the Park stars Jane Fonda and Robert Redford as newlyweds who have very little in common. Fonda is Corie, a free spirit who loves trying new things. Redford (reprising his role from the play) is Paul, an up-and-coming lawyer who loves his new bride, even if she does get a bit out of hand sometimes.

After a 6-day honeymoon at the Plaza, the couple moves into a tiny 5th floor apartment in Greenwich Village. There’s no elevator; everyone has to walk up five flights of stairs to visit them (six if you count the stoop out front). Also, there’s no bathtub (just a shower); a double bed likely won’t fit in the tiny bedroom; the heat doesn’t work; and there’s a hole in the skylight. Still, Corie loves her new home. As for the reserved Paul, he’s too focused on his first big case to pay the poor living conditions much mind.

Their first guest (aside from Harry, played by Herb Edelman, who installed their phone) is Corie’s mother (Mildred Natwick), who, despite the long climb and lack of furniture (it won’t be delivered until the next day), says she likes the place, though she tends to agree with Paul that it’s a bit… cramped!

Later that night (actually, early the next morning), Corie and Paul meet their upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco (Charles Boyer), an older playboy who, like Corie, gets a kick out of life.

The first hiccup in their very short marriage comes when Corie sets her mother up with Victor, and he treats them to a meal at a very exclusive Albanian restaurant. Paul is none too pleased that Corie tried to hook her poor mother up with their boisterous neighbor, while Corie thinks Paul should loosen up. She chastises him for, among other things, not agreeing to walk barefoot in the park the other night (Paul points out it is February, and it was 17 degrees outside at the time).

All at once, the couple realizes they may be poorly matched. But will love win out in the end?

As with any play, or indeed any screen version of a play, it’s the cast that makes Barefoot in the Park so damned entertaining. Redford is stiff yet likable as the serious-minded Paul, while Charles Boyer lights up the screen as the eccentric neighbor.

That said, it’s the ladies who steal this particular show. Fonda is so bubbly, so wonderfully flighty as Corie that, by the time the film is over, every guy in the audience will have a crush on her; her cheery disposition and unbridled optimism are infectious. Even the guy from the phone company, who was none too pleased to have climbed so many flights of stairs, comes to like Corie before his job is done.

Matching Fonda every step of the way is Mildred Natwick as Corie’s mom, whose sensitive constitution is given a workout during her “date” with Victor (she’s so wiped out from the spicy food and alcohol that Paul has to carry her up the stairs!). Yet while they often don’t see eye-to-eye on some things, Corie and her mom have a genuinely loving relationship, and the scenes in which the two are chatting are among the movie’s best.

This isn’t the first filmed version of Barefoot in the Park I’ve seen. In the early ‘80s, HBO produced a made-for-TV version of a performance at Seattle’s Moore theater, which starred Richard Thomas as Paul and Bess Armstrong as Corie. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I have to say 1967’s rendition is even better. With its strong cast and Simon’s patented wit (the running joke about the number of stairs never gets stale), Barefoot in the Park is a real charmer!
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, March 18, 2023

#2,901. Powaqqatsi (1988) - Qatsi Double Feature


Godfrey Reggio’s follow-up to his 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi (which, in the Hopi language, means a parasitic way of life, or life in transition) is, at times, a beautiful film.

Shot in Africa, India, South America, Jerusalem, and other locales around the world, it observes how industrialization has encroached on more traditional ways of life. A boy walks along a road as a truck speeds by him, enveloping him in a cloud of dirt. A cart pulled by oxen makes its way down a busy city street. Customs and traditions that have gone on for thousands of years are still observed, but now against the backdrop of the late 20th century. In the villages of Africa, festivals are held (shown here in glorious slow motion). Along the Ganges, women wash their clothes by beating them against rocks. Yet there are skyscrapers now, and automobiles, and traffic.

Life is indeed, in transition.

As with Koyaanisqatsi, Philip Glass composed some extraordinary music for Powaqqatsi. The opening moments of the film grab you: thousands of men at the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil are carrying bags of dirt up a hill. They are covered in mud, and the work is clearly grueling. Yet set to the music of Philip Glass, there is something majestic about it. While Glass’s compositions for Koyaanisqatsi were also excellent, I believe his music in Powaqqatsi is even stronger. There is an old-world feel to it, and it enhances every image, every sequence.

Not all of Powaqqatsi worked for me. As with the first movie, there are two brief segments that show TV news broadcasts and portions of commercials from around the world (no audio, just video). Christie Brinkley, Dan Rather, and other recognizable celebrities pop on for a second or two. These quick asides worked with the theme of Koyaanisqatsi, where North America and other modern cities were the focal point. Here, these two segments stand out like a sore thumb. They were not necessary. Reggio was driving his point home well enough without them.

Arguably, the most impactful moments in Powaqqatsi are when Reggio and his cinematographers are focusing on the faces of children, most of whom stare directly into the camera. Some have inquisitive looks. Others are stern, perhaps even annoyed by the intrusion. These moments made me reflect on how these kids are growing to adulthood in areas that are both old and new. I found myself wondering what the future had in store for them, and which values they would embrace.

It’s one of several times Powaqqatsi caused me to think, and that makes it the perfect companion piece to Koyaanisqatsi.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Saturday, March 11, 2023

#2,900. Koyaanisqatsi (1982) - Qatsi Double Feature


In the Hopi language, Koyaanisqatsi means “life of moral corruption and turmoil”, or “life out of balance”. Director Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 non-narrative movie of the same name offers up images of the world as it existed at that time. Nature collides with cityscapes; humanity collides with technology. Aided by the excellent cinematography of Ron Fricke (who would himself dabble in non-narrative with Chronos, Baraka, and Samsara) and the otherworldly music of Philip Glass, Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi is equal parts beautiful and disturbing, moving and frightening.

Shot mostly – but not entirely – with time lapse photography, Koyaanisqatsi opens with the serenity of the natural world: Canyonlands National Park in Utah. From there, we’re treated to cloud formations, a waterfall, and other such images, which are abruptly, violently disturbed by footage of nuclear tests in the desert, the mammoth mushroom clouds filling the screen, and signaling our entry to the world of progress.

Sunbathers gather on a beach next to a nuclear generating station. Traffic moves quickly along the streets of Los Angeles and New York. Hundreds of tanks gather on the shoreline of an unknown country. There is plenty of urban decay as well, with the implosion of several dilapidated buildings.

Microchip manufacturing and assembly lines are interspersed with malls and shopping centers. Professionals as well as the homeless are given equal screen time. It all culminates with a rocket that explodes soon after its launch, the camera following the burning debris as it falls to earth.

The images come fast and furious throughout Koyaanisqatsi, and there is no dialogue, no narration of any kind. It is a movie defined by its visuals. But what does it all mean? Is it, as its title suggest, a depiction of “life out of balance”, or simply an exploration of the modern world?

When speaking of Koyaanisqatsi and its sequels (Powaqqatsi in 1988 and 2002’s Naqoyqatsi), director Reggio said “These films are meant to provoke. They are meant to offer an experience rather than an idea, or information, or a story about a knowable or fictional subject”, adding it was up to the viewer to determine what it means to them.

So what does Koyaanisqatsi mean to me?

Well, this was my second viewing of the movie, and I’ve had very different reactions each time. The first was about 15 years ago, and while I admired the film, it did not penetrate my mind or my emotions. It left me cold.

Watching it again now, the images, the music, the conflict of the natural and modern world, resonated with me. I was engrossed in Koyaanisqatsi, and when it was over, I came away feeling life truly was out of balance, perhaps even more so now than in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (Reggio and Fricke started shooting the movie in 1975).

Koyaanisqatsi gave me plenty to think about, and I will likely continue turning it over in my mind for days to come. What was initially an empty experience has become something I will not forget.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, March 4, 2023

#2,899. Terror Firmer (1999) - Troma Triple Feature


Inspired (ever so loosely) by the Lloyd Kaufman / James Gunn book “All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger”, 1999’s Terror Firmer is Troma’s attempt to out-do Troma, making as disgusting, as slimy, as sexy, and as hilarious a film as the studio ever produced.

Trouble is brewing on the set of Troma’s newest movie, helmed by blind director Larry Benjamin (played by Kaufman himself). First, lead actress Christine (Debbie Rochon) is sleeping with every guy she gets her hands on, right under the nose of her boyfriend, crew member DJ (Mario Diaz). Then, production assistant Jennifer (Alyce LaTourelle) finds herself juggling two guys who are smitten with her: boom-mic operator Casey (Will Keenan) and special effects artist Jerry (Trent Haaga).

On top of that, a maniacal killer in a dress is systematically - and quite messily - murdering the members of Benjamin’s crew. Can the police track down the psychopath? More importantly, will this next Troma “masterpiece” be completed on time?

Terror Firmer doesn’t waste a single moment, opening with the mysterious killer first tearing a guy’s leg off and beating him to death with it, then attacking a pregnant woman, ripping the unborn fetus from her body.

Sounds pretty intense, right? Well, would you believe these are two of the film’s subtler moments?

Throughout its 114 minutes, Terror Firmer throws everything at us: piss, shit, snot, farts, blood, dismemberments, exploding heads, masturbation, nudity and sex. Even Toxie gets laid at one point!

As for the humor, it’s mostly broad and aims very, very low (no surprise there), but I have to admit I laughed quite a bit throughout the movie. Especially funny were the Seinfeld spoof (complete with a laugh track), when Casey and Jennifer go to a café for dinner; and the “closed set” that is ordered when Jennifer and Jerry, standing in for the actors, have to do a sex scene. I also cracked up at the shameless commercial for Troma videos and DVDs, which was inserted into a random scene.

A few celebrities pop up in cameos, including Ron Jeremy as Casey’s dad; Lemmy from Motorhead as a TV interviewer; and Tiffany Shepis as a witness to one of the killings. Even Lloyd Kaufman’s real-life daughter Charlotte plays a small role (Larry Benjamin’s mute daughter). As for the violence, it’s very Troma-like, meaning it is way over the top. But that only adds to the fun.

Terror Firmer was designed to be an exaggerated account of what goes on behind-the-scenes of a Troma production. But aside from the killings, I have a feeling it isn’t as “exaggerated” as Kaufman and company would have us believe.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10