Posts Tagged ‘Carrie Fisher’

Movie Reviews 443 – Under the Rainbow (1981)

July 31, 2020

Under the Rainbow is one of the oddest and most un-PC films I’ve ever watched on the big screen as a teen, but for reasons that confound me I never forgot about it and had to see it again, if for no other reason than to confirm it wasn’t something I just dreamed up. I recall a lazy afternoon where a friend and I were scouring the “Now Playing” section of the local newspaper – that’s how we did it in those pre-computer, pre-Internet days – and deciding to go see it as there was nothing else of interest we hadn’t already seen. So this was already a non-standard movie going affair from the start. The only notable attraction in the film ad was that it starred Carrie Fisher, still riding high on her Star Wars notoriety. It also listed Chevy Chase but even then that was no draw for myself as I already loathed him as a comedian whose only track record was being the former SNL news anchorman. I hadn’t heard hide nor hair about it since then. One of those films shuffled under the rugs.

The title is a play on Over the Rainbow, the theme song of The Wizard of Oz movie and it is the behind the scenes filming of that film that is the setting for this comedy. To be precise, it is largely focused on the 150 ‘vertically challenged’ actors that were hired to portray the diminutive “Munchkins” in The Wizard of Oz. If legend and gossip are to be believed, those hired Munchkins, holed up in a hotel for months on end as the gruelling shooting for Oz wore on, were a drunken hoard of sex crazed maniacs that partied throughout the night and consistently got into trouble both on and off the set. In fact, a chaperone of sorts was hired to control and contain them lest their antics hold up shooting even longer.

This brings us to Under the Rainbow where that exasperated chaperone Annie (Fisher) shepherds the ‘little people’ into the Culver Hotel just across the studio where OZ is being filmed. There are only two other groups staying in the hotel. The first are a bus full of temporarily stranded Japanese tourists, all men wearing traditional white suits, a point that will be significant later. The second group is a travelling Austrian Duke (Joseph Maher) and his wife (Eve Arden) under the protective custody of U.S. Secret Service agent Thorpe (Chase), given worries of an assassin on the duke’s trail and the impending breakout of World War II.

Together these three groups will the intricately intertwined when Otto, a Lilliputian Nazi secret agent (Billy Barty), is scheduled to hand over U.S. invasion plans to a Japanese counter-agent (Mako) in the very same hotel. Otto is told to make contact with a white suited Japanese man, while the other is to look for a midget (their term, not mine). While both evil agents try to sort out which of the myriad other hotel guests are their supposed contacts, agent Thorpe fumbles at protecting his monarch charge while a real assassin hopelessly navigates the boisterous and meddlesome hotel invasion.

Yes, there are a lot of contrived and hokey wee folks slapstick, lame jokes, and even and oft scantily clad Fisher whose wardrobe is right up there with her golden bikini from The Empire Strike Back. Chevy Chase is … well Chevy Chase. And the film has one of those silly grand finale chase scenes where everyone heads from the hotel to the Oz film set to wreak havoc not only on OZ but Gone With the Wind.

But the film does have some genuinely funny scenes, a neat ‘wrap-around’ story with a short actor hoping for a Hollywood gig which kinda works, a recurring gag regarding the Duke’s wife’s dog ‘Strudel’, and some nice weaving of words in multilayered script.that play on the overlapping plot points.

Definitely an anachronistic oddity, and probably not for everyone, but sometimes this is exactly the kind of movie one needs for a change.

Movie Reviews 342 – The Blues Brothers (1980)

April 26, 2018

At the peak of their popularity in the late 1970’s, The original Saturday Night Live cast had a number of favorite, recurring skits one being John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd‘s Blues Brothers duet of dark sunglass wearing, black suited blues singers. As funny as their hopping, bopping antics made us laugh, it was immediately evident that these guys could really sing. A victim of its own success, the ‘Not Ready For Prime Time Players’ soon began leaving the show for more lucrative movie roles and The Blues Brothers was one of the earliest and more successful of such big screen spinoffs.

Like many SNL fans who flocked to the movie theaters to capture the duo, I only went with the sole goal of watching a funny movie. But given the lineup of talent that included such luminaries as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway singing his signature Minnie the Moocher, John Lee Hooker and the Godfather of Soul himself James Brown, the music was clearly the essence of the film.

The plot begins muted enough with Elwood (Aykroyd) picking up just released Jake (Belushi) from famed Joliet prison. Declaring “There’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses” their first stop is to make a promised visit to Sister Mary Stigmata (a.k.a. The Penguin), a nun who formerly taught the boys and who now finds herself in desperate need of funds to keep her orphanage running. Vowing to help, the boys decide to reunite their former band to raise the money.

As they visit their former mates on their “Mission from God” they are repeatedly attacked by a weapon toting woman (Carrie Fisher), stumble across bumbling Nazis and are pursued by cops in one of the greatest mall car chases ever to be captured on celluloid. The jokes and gags are fun but the impromptu performances by the aforementioned artists are just as enduring. At times the comedy and music collide to perfection such as when James Brown is a preacher putting on a performance that literally has his congregation flipping through the air or when the band soothes blues hating rednecks by resorting to the Rawhide TV theme song while protected from projectile beer bottles being hurled at them by chicken wire fencing.

Directed by John Landis the film was a huge success and I suspect that the music had as much to do with that as the comedy. I enjoyed the music so much that I bought the soundtrack CD before I ever got a copy of the film. Telling as I have only bought two others movie soundtracks in my life.

Watch it for the comedy, but revel in the music.

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