Category Archives: History

Video Game Movies are Unnecessary

It escapes me to name one movie based on a video game that hasn’t been critically panned.  Most have failed miserably at the box office to boot.  I haven’t seen the Assassin’s Creed movie yet, but judging by its current, very very “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and its disappointing box office haul, I don’t foresee it breaking the cycle.

So what gives?  Hollywood has seemingly tried everything to make video game adaptations work.  Acclaimed directors like Duncan Jones and Mike Newell and acclaimed actors like Angelina Jolie and Michael Fassbender have given it the old college try.  There have even been some good innovations, like the animation style in 2001’s Final Fantasy movie.  But nothing, except the occasional cult classic like Mortal Kombat (1995) or Resident Evil (2002) seems to stick.

I propose that there are two reasons for this problem.  First, many great video games don’t have inherent stories.  Second, video games with inherent stories typically aren’t original or coherent enough to carry themselves when separated from the interactive experience.

1. Category One – Video Games without an Inherent Story

The video game to movie adaptation concept got off to a bad start.  Let’s face it, making a live action version of Super Mario Brothers is about as bad of an idea as remaking Ghost in the Shell (1995) as live action film with a blonde, American actress starring as the Major (coming soon in 2017!).  The Mario games are fun because of their easy to understand design, not because there’s anything particularly interesting about the backstory.  Especially not when the backstory is expanded to include some convoluted nonsense about dinosaurs and parallel universes.

Fighting games were next on the list.  Street Fighter (1994) might be one of the worst films ever made, starring a coked up Jean-Claude van Damme. At least the late Raul Julia did a good job as the villain, despite slowly dying of cancer during the entire course of principal photography.

Mortal Kombat (1995) came next. The worst thing one can say about it is that it’s a below average martial arts movie – which puts it in the running for best video game adaptation of all time.

There were a couple more attempts to shoehorn storyless video games into film format, like Doom (2005) and the Angry Birds Movie (2016).  The Angry Birds Movie made a few dollars at the Box Office, but so far I’ve seen it on quite a few year-end “worst of 2016” lists.

Doom is essentially the “Man with a Movie Camera (1929)” of video games.  It has no backstory, and that’s the point.  You’re told you’re something called a “space marine,” you’re dropped into a maze, and you shoot bad guys.  For this emphasis on game design and the introduction of multiplayer, it’s a legendary game.  I have no idea what they were thinking when they greenlit a movie version.  Oh wait, yes I do – Hollywood is lazy and thinks they can always make money on an existing property.

2. Category Two – Video Games with a Story

Then there are video games with rich backstories and cutscenes.  You’d think these would translate better to the screen than the tale of jumping on turtles and mushrooms, but you’d be wrong.  Let me use a few examples to explain why.

The Wing Commander series was one of the most popular PC game series of the 1990’s – World War II style fighter pilot war, but in space!  The games were able to attract legitimate Hollywood talent  (Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, Tom Wilson,  John Spencer) to video games, a feat previously unheard of.  So naturally, when they made a movie version in 1999, it stunk on ice.

Here’s the problem with Wing Commander – the story is only fun because you are in it.  When stripped of its interactive elements, it’s nothing but cheesy science fiction clichés.  A similar thing would happen if they ever made a Grand Theft Auto movie – the GTA series is fun because you’re in a clichéd gangster movie, but if you’re not in it, it would just be a clichéd gangster movie.

Assassin’s Creed has a similar issue.  Even though its worldbuilding is far more original and less derivative than GTA or Wing Commander, that doesn’t automatically make it good.  I find the “animus,” ancient Greek gods, and budget Dan Brown nonsense to be an unnecessary distraction from jumping off rooftops and stabbing bad guys, so much so that I’ve written about it before.

This is the same basic problem with adaptations of World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and about a half-dozen horror games.  These are great games because of the game design, not because they have compelling or original stories.  Removing the gameplay aspects from the story does nothing in these instances except reveal flaws in the story.

Even if there were a strong story to adapt aside from the gameplay aspects (think “The Last of Us”), the way the stories are adapted are often lacking.   Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) is a modern classic partially because it would work as a self-contained entity if the theme park ride did not exist.  Video game adaptations, however, never seem to forget that they are adapting a video game, and try to retain too many elements from the games, like boss fights.

Conclusion

All that being said, I think a good video game adaptation is possible.  First, a game must have a story worth adapting.  Second, that story needs to be good enough that it can stand on its own without interactive elements.  Finally, a strong adaptation would not include reminders of “hey everyone, we’re adapting a video game here.”  I guess all of that is easier said than done.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

2016 Year in Review

“When she [Philosophy] saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting, she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, “Who has suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing remedies, but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease, but accustom them thereto.””

– Boethius

What of 2016?  As the Roman philosopher Boethius wrote of his consolation by Lady Philosophy, we have a choice.  We can indulge in our lamentations, or we can, through our reason, find a way forward.  Perhaps we can let Lady Philosophy take it from here to guide us in this way.

I thought of many muses to guide me through this past year, when a woman came to me in classical robes.  She was at once as tall as a giant, yet comforting and approachable.  Then she began to speak.

“I see you, reading the various years in review of 2016 to draw inspiration for this annual post,” she began, “I see nothing but hot takes and articles dripping with lament or sarcasm.   Let me assure you, this 2016 had its positive aspects.”

2016 Was a Good Year to Be…

1) Animators

Lady Philosophy continued, “Behold my friend, for the medium of animation, that artform long taken for granted, had a very strong 2016.  Six of the twenty top grossing movies of the year were animated.  With each passing decade, animation continues to bring inspiration and joy without the limitations of live action film. 2016 was in many ways a landmark year in this regard.”

2) HBO

“I should also point out to you that a great year need not mean a consistently great one wire to wire.  If something is felled low by the failure of an ill-conceived vanity project about classic rock in the spring, it can rise again through the premiere for two excellent shows in the fall.  Westworld has broken HBO’s losing streak when it comes to new dramas, and Insecure has continued its success in popular comedies”

3) Broadway

“If it is further inspiration you seek, behold the resurgence of the Great White Way as a force in American popular culture.  Hamilton was the most popular musical in decades, and live broadcasts of musicals on network television are exceptionally popular.  Indeed, one of this year’s top Oscar contenders, “La-La Land,” is a Hollywood musical of the old style.”

2016 Was a Bad Year to Be

1) A Franchise from the 1980’s or 1990’s

Lady Philosophy continued.  “While there were failures in 2016, I would counsel to learn from them rather than merely list them in a vain and sarcastic manner.  Box Office disappointments from the Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Independence Day, and Zoolander sequels should not be seen as affecting those fine memories of past success, but rather stand as stark reminders that not everything deserves a reboot or a sequel.”

2) “A List” Hollywood Marriages

“I also prescribe an end to your consideration of the troubled Depp/Heard and Pitt/Jolie marriages.  As troubling as the allegations associated with these divorces are, it is important to remember that you don’t know these people.  You will never meet them.  Their relationships have no impact on your life whatsoever.”

3) Internet and Social Media

“At last, I see that you are troubled by what you read on the internet and on social media platforms.  It might feel as though you cannot escape the constant stream of opinion and information.  You might feel that this has damaged your interactions with your fellows beyond repair, or trapped you in a vicious cycle of anger and mistrust.  Let me assure you that the old ways are still alive.  You can read a book and discuss it with a friend.  You can watch a movie with your significant other and discuss it over snacks afterwards.  You might feel the need to broadcast your feelings to the masses, but I would counsel you to remember that your friends and family are much more receptive to your ideas than the faceless void of the internet will ever be.”

Best Movies

Lady Philosophy cautioned me against creating a list of best movies this year.  She said to me, “Indeed you have not seen enough movies to truly make an honest “best of” list.  But keep in mind that such lists are flawed.  They lack the distance truly needed to examine and appreciate film as an artform.  As much as you enjoyed “Captain America: Civil War,” can you say it is the best blockbuster of the year when you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet?  As for artistic films, look at past years.  Does anyone really believe, with the proper distance, that “Crash,” “The English Patient,” or “The Greatest Show on Earth”  were worthy of Best Picture Oscars?  I would advise against indulging in such listicles.”

Dispatches from the Great Ale House in the Sky

This year, Lady Philosophy especially wanted to talk about the Great Ale House in the Sky.  She said, “I will prescribe the strongest medicine of all to help you acknowledge the many fine artists that left you this past year.  It is medicine that you, yourself, have often shared.

“Remember, it is the story that matters, not how long it lasts or how it ends.  Artists and inventors have the greatest stories of all, for their influence stays with us the longest and carries us all forward.  If it is useful for you to imagine these great artists together, I will partially indulge in this fantasy, but I will do so in a way that will help you, rather than a way that extends your sorrow.

“Perhaps this Ale House is in the form of a great music festival, where Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and others come together.  You could find great joy in that fantasy.  But you need not – for the music is still there.

“Or maybe, you imagine that Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Gene Wilder, Kenny Baker and others are still in talks for various roles.  These people may have never met in life, but it is fun to think about them doing so in your Great Ale House in the Sky.  I would advise an alternative – put on their films and television shows.  You can even do so with the fights of Muhammad Ali – which are readily available on the internet.”

And with that, Lady Philosophy left me in a better place.  The place that honors rather than mourns.  The place that learns from the mistakes of others.  The place that sees and emphasizes the positive.  There is great strength and great joy here.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Movies by State: So It’s Come Down to This…

Movies By State Map

And we’re back!  After the usual summer hiatus, I’m back publishing articles.  I’m going to start by wrapping up a project I got about halfway through last summer: Movies by State.  You may ask, interested reader, does this mean another 10 or so posts with detailed analysis?  No!  Instead we’re just going to mop this project up in one fell swoop.

Minnesota

One day I’ll do Minnesota justice with a long post, but today I’m just going to quickly summarize.  Let me start by pointing out that a number of movies are set in the North Star State, more than one would think given the New York/LA bias of movie settings.  Fargo (1996) is probably the best known.  The Coen Brothers grew up in St. Louis Park, MN right outside of Minneapolis, so Minnesota references tend to crop up in their movies pretty often.  A Serious Man (2009), one of the Coen’s bleaker efforts, is also set here.

Need a state to set your hockey or winter movie?  Hollywood usually picks Minnesota.  The Mighty Ducks series (1992, 1994, 1996), Jingle All the Way (1996), Miracle (2004), Inside Out (2015), meet this description, although they are films of varying quality to say the least.

Choosing a non-Fargo “definitive” movie set in Minnesota is a tough one.  I would call it a draw between Purple Rain (1984) and Juno (2007).  These movies couldn’t be more different, but that gets to the heart of the matter.  When a state is at once Western, Midwestern, and Northern, it’s hard to pin down with a “definitive” film.

Montana

We’re starting to get into Western country, and not just the region, but the genre.  Films set in the Mountain West and Southwest tend to be Westerns.  Montana is no different, although the modern Western tends to dominate with films such as The Horse Whisperer (1998), Legends of the Fall (1994), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Revenant (2015).

Oddly enough, arguably the best Star Trek movie (at least tied with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)) has large portions set in Montana.  Star Trek: First Contact (1996) takes the best parts of the Next Generation series and successfully translates them to film.  It includes call backs to some of the best episodes of the Next Generation series and the Original Series for good measure.

Washington

While Washington State finds itself home to a few notable teen movies, such as The Twilight Series (2008-2012), and 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), films about extraordinary animals seem to be the main attraction.  These include Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Air Bud (1997), and Free Willy (1993).

For more definitive Washington State films, one should check out either Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle (1993) or Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971).  These are two very different films about the things that isolate us.  One is positive, one is not.

Oregon

For movies set in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon doesn’t get nearly as much love as its northern neighbor.  The films set here tend to be a mixture of old, mostly forgotten westerns like 1946’s Canyon Passage or random films like Short Circuit (1986).

Fortunately for the State of Oregon, one of the heavy hitters of cinema history is set here too.  1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of only three movies to win Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay.

Idaho

There are a lot of potatoes in Idaho, but not a lot of movies set there.  2004’s Napoleon Dynamite is probably the best known to modern audiences, or any audiences for that matter.

Wyoming

Wyoming is home to a surprising number of important movies. Heaven’s Gate (1980) was such a massive flop that it brought down an entire studio and effectively ended the career of director Michael Cimino (although its reputation has improved over the years).  As for traditional westerns, Spencer’s Mountain (1963) is key Henry Fonda film, Shane (1953) is considered by many critics as one of the top echelon of old Hollywood movies, and The Virginian was once such a popular tale that they made four movies about it (1914, 1923, 1929, 1946).

For a definitive movie for Wyoming, for breaking conventions but also for being a damn good story, I’m picking 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, whose reputation has only grown more positive in the last eleven years, even after being widely acclaimed when it first came out.  A close second is 1992’s Unforgiven.

Colorado

Colorado is pretty fertile ground for movie settings, especially movies involving mountains.  There are “weirdos in the mountains” movies like Misery (1987), skiing in the mountains movies like Dumb and Dumber (1994), fire in the mountains movies like Always (1989), and chaos in the mountains movies like South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999).

Needless to say, the definitive Colorado movie is also set in the mountains.  Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) plants itself firmly in the first category of weirdos in the mountains.  Dangerous, axe murdering weirdos that is.

Utah

John Ford famously filmed a ton of movies in Utah.  Unfortunately most of them are “set” in Texas.  There aren’t a ton of notable films set in the Beehive state.  Carnival of Souls (1962), 127 Hours (2010), and Con Air (1997) pretty much sum up the selection – the strange, the independent, and the violent.

Nevada

Viva Las Vegas!  No, seriously, if it weren’t for Sin City there’d be like two movies set in Nevada.  I should note that one of them is The Godfather: Part II (1974), although much of that movies is also set in New York, Florida, Cuba, and Italy.

As for Vegas films, there are no shortage.  Both Ocean’s Eleven (1960 and 2001), Swingers (1996), Rain Man (1988), Leaving Las Vegas 1995), and Showgirls (1995) are a few examples, many of which came out in the mid-90’s.  It’s hard to call a definitive Vegas movie, although 1995’s Casino has pretty much all the elements that you expect from the Vegas strip: sleaze, flashiness, and knockoffs.  In this case, Casino is essentially a re-run of Goodfellas, although with a juicer part for Robert DeNiro.

New Mexico

The most iconic film set in New Mexico is not a film at all, rather the TV series Breaking Bad.  Otherwise, it’s mostly Westerns set here, like Stagecoach (1939), For a Few Dollars More (1965), High Noon (1952), and City Slickers (1991).

There’s quite a few random films you wouldn’t think of set here too, such as Thor (2011), the High School Musical series, Natural Born Killers (1994), and Contact (1997).

Arizona

Arizona has a similar profile to New Mexico when it comes to films set there.  There are random movies, such as Raising Arizona (1987)and Little Miss Sunshine (2011), but mostly it’s westerns set here.  My Darling Clementine (1946), Tombstone (1993), 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)  are some examples.

The most iconic Arizona movie?  By far Psycho (1960), which is a contender for best American film overall.

Hawai’i

The Hawai’i movie usually involves some combination of surfing, beaches, and vacation.  Movies such as Lilo and Stitch (2002), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), Blue Hawaii (1961), and North Shore (1987) meet this description.

That isn’t to say that all Hawai’i movies are fun and games.  Consider for example The Descendants (2011) or Tora Tora Tora (1970).  Indeed, the most iconic Hollywood film set in Hawai’i is From Here to Eternity (1953), which is about the waning days before the bombing at Pearl Harbor.

Alaska

Movies set in Alaska usually involve sled dogs such as Balto (1995)  or the Alaska Gold Rush, such as North to Alaska (1960).  Insomnia (2002), Mystery, Alaska (1999), and The Grey (2011) are set in The Last Frontier too.

The most iconic Alaska film is one of the oldest Hollywood classics.  The Gold Rush (1925) is commonly cited as one of the finest silent films.  Considering that his later masterpieces had some element of sound effects or speech in them, it could also be considered Charlie Chaplin’s finest purely silent film.

California

How many American films do you think are set in California?  I would guess roughly every 2 or 3 out of five.  Hollywood may have mastered the art of filming far away lands in Southern California back-lots, but when they are reaching for a setting, the American film industry has a tendency to settle in its own backyard.  I’ve avoided “top 5” or “top 10” lists in this project, but I’ve decided that it’s the easiest way to talk about films set in the Golden State.  Here, therefore, are your top 10 California films in alphabetical order:

  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Blazing Saddles (1974)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • East of Eden (1955)
  • The Graduate (1967)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • Vertigo (1958)

Feel free to disagree with the above list.

Anyway that’s (finally) a wrap on Movies by State.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leonardo DiCaprio – Ten Best Performances

In honor of Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning Best Actor, here’s a retrospective of some of his best performances. 

10. Titanic (1997) – Jack Dawson

For better or worse, Titanic catapulted DiCaprio from “up and comer” to “Hollywood superstar.”  The film itself has taken its share of criticism over the years, but it remains popular largely due to DiCaprio’s performance.  Jack Dawson isn’t close to the deepest character that DiCaprio would tackle over the years, but his charisma and heroism carry the movie.

9. The Basketball Diaries (1995) – Jim Carroll

After DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), The Basketball Diaries was the first time he demonstrated that he could carry a movie in a leading role.  His balance of charisma and personal demons here would serve him well in later roles.

8. Revolutionary Road (2008) – Frank Wheeler

DiCaprio plays of lot of larger than life figures, so Revolutionary Road was something a bit different for him.  Frank Wheeler isn’t a great hero from an interesting time in history.  Instead, he’s the stereotypical 1950’s “man in the grey flannel suit.”  The fact that DiCaprio snagged an Oscar nomination for this role is a testament to his versatility.

7. Inception (2010) – Cobb

Inception is a great film with fine performances.  Even so, DiCaprio gives Cobb a deep sense of pathos and connects with the audience.  This is no easy feat, Inception is a high-concept film and could have easily looked silly if its lead role was in the hands of a lesser actor.

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Jordan Belfort

Jordan Belfort is a scumbag, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by watching DiCaprio’s performance here.  He’s charming and charismatic.  Even as he sinks deeper and deeper into to depravity, violence, and stupidity, we kind of feel bad for the guy.

5. The Revenant (2015) – Hugh Glass

I wrote before that this was DiCaprio’s fifth or sixth best performance, and I’ve settled on number five.  It is certainly his most physically demanding role, but Glass himself is not a particularly deep character.  He deserves an Oscar here for degree of difficulty, but he’s been better when he’s had more to work with character-wise.

4. The Departed (2006) – Billy

The Departed has the strongest cast of the films that DiCaprio has appeared in.  He is excellent here, but his role is really a co-lead with Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon.  It gets moved down a couple of slots because in some ways, it’s easier to be part of an ensemble than to be asked to carry a movie yourself.

3. Gangs of New York (2002) – Amsterdam Vallon

Gangs of New York is one of the best movies of the 2000’s, and DiCaprio’s performance comes across as particularly powerful and authentic.  This is no small feat, since he’s opposite Daniel Day-Lewis here.  If DiCaprio’s performance wasn’t well-balanced against the great Day-Lewis, the film could have come across as far more melodramatic.  Instead we have a powerful glimpse into a dark corner of American history.

2. Blood Diamond (2006) – Danny Archer

I was debating putting this performance as #1, and it certainly has a lot to recommend it for that spot.  DiCaprio’s character arc is long and filled with pitfalls here.  For instance, he comes across as an authentic mercenary at the beginning, but leaves just enough room for a potential redemption.

1. The Aviator (2004) – Howard Hughes

There’s a reason why playing well-known historical figures often wins Best Actor awards.  How do you say something new and interesting about someone the audience feels like they know so much about?  DiCaprio pulls out all the stops here, and delivers a haunting performance as a man with control over everything except his own advancing mental illness.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

Movies by State: The Greater Midwest

Nebraska Prairie
Photo Courtesy National Park Service

This image of Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, NE brings us to our next category – movies set in the great American prairie.  There are a lot of states in this section, so let’s get started from north to south.

North Dakota

North Dakota.  The very name conjures up images of…well, not very much.  The state board of tourism has a tendency to buy out hours of commercial time during sporting events in neighboring states in an attempt to convince people to visit doughnut shops and places rightfully called “the badlands.”  Yes everyone – North Dakota is essentially the New Jersey/Jerry Gergich of the Midwest.

What movies are set there?  Even the most notable movie named after a city in North Dakota isn’t actually set in that city (more on that later).  There are a couple of westerns that deal with the Battle of Little Bighorn (which took place in Montana) like 7th Calvary (1956) and Bugles in the Afternoon (1952).  Cult horror film Leprechaun (1993) is also set in North Dakota, although it was shot in California and it’s terrible.  Man, North Dakota just can’t catch a break.

South Dakota

Just like in real life, South Dakota gets more attention that North Dakota as a setting of movies – although not by much.  There aren’t many more feature films by volume set here than North Dakota, and most are primarily set in other states.  However, there is one movie that is set here in a rather unforgettable fashion.

Sure, North by Northwest (1959) is set in several different states, but who could forget the epic showdown on top of Mount Rushmore?  Another key…ahem…scene, is also set in South Dakota (probably).  On a train.  You know which one.

I was talking about the train going through the tunnel.  What were you thinking about?  It’s a double entendre you say?  Hmmm…I’ll have to check that out again.

Yep.  Double entendre.  Anyway on to the next state…

Iowa

Iowa movies get a lot of unforgettable lines.  Our state fair is a great state fair (State Fair (1945)).  Seventy-six trombones led the big parade (The Music Man (1962)).   I’m having a birthday party, but you’re not invited, but you can come if you want to (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)).  I was just going to have some iced tea and split the atom, but that can wait. (The Bridges of Madison County (1995)). There’s a separation between religion and insurance – it’s in the constitution (Cedar Rapids (2011)).  

Okay those got increasingly more obscure.  But it sets up the most commonly quoted Iowa movie, 1989’s Field of Dreams.  It’s surprising how often baseball has come up in these posts, but this particular film, like the others, is hard to argue with.  After all, as James Earl Jones said in the film

People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Nebraska

Like its neighbors, a good number of westerns have been set in Nebraska over the years.  The creators of The Far Horizons (1955) thought the story of Lewis and Clark was too boring, so they made some stuff up.  The Nebraskan (1953) is a western set in Nebraska.  I just learned about it looking at Wikipedia this afternoon and I know absolutely nothing else about it.  Boys Don’t Cry (1999) is a kind of modern western, although it certainly doesn’t share the same themes, or thankfully, poor quality of the aforementioned films.

When most people from outside of Nebraska think of the state, they think of its large agricultural industry.  Although Children of the Corn (1984) is set there – and NOT about agriculture – many of the most notable films set in the Cornhusker State are set in its two biggest cities – Lincoln and Omaha.  Terms of Endearment (1984) ends up in Lincoln.  So does Nebraska (2013), well eventually anyway.   Election (1999) and About Schmidt (2002) are set in Omaha.

The most notable film set in Nebraska, in my opinion, is also largely set in Omaha.  Well, it’s not set there so much as grounded there.  Up in the Air (2009) has aged remarkably well for a film that is very much a creature of its time and place.  My bold prediction of the day is that it becomes known as one of George Clooney’s two or three finest performances.  If you haven’t seen it since it came out (or at all), I highly recommend giving it another viewing.

Missouri

The Show Me State.  I was thinking that I bit off more than I could chew lumping this in with the other states in this article, but, surprisingly, there actually aren’t that many films set in Missouri.

Last year’s fine film noir Gone Girl (2014) is set here.  As is Waiting for Guffman (1997), Winter’s Bone (2010), and Parenthood (1989).  There are a few more, but this article is running long and if you want a list of movies, go to Wikipedia.

The most notable Missouri film?  It’s probably the 1944 Judy Garland vehicle Meet Me in St. Louis.  I personally find it to be an annoying movie with incredibly low stakes – I mean, who really cares if they move to New York?  Anyway, most people seem to like it and it gave us one of our finest Christmas songs.  The “real” lyrics to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas are a little depressing, but Judy Garland’s performance here is a highlight.

Kansas

Any movie about Superman will have a large chunk set in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas.  It’s never clear where Metropolis actually is, it could be in Kansas for all we know.  Contrary to popular belief – Metropolis is NOT New York City, Gotham City is.  Gotham and Metropolis are two distinctly separate cities in the DC Comics universe.

There are few other films set in Jayhawk country, like Capote (2005) and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), but there is one film in particular worth highlighting.  The Wizard of Oz (1939) does not actually take place in Kansas for the most part (or does it? was it really all a dream?), but its grounding in reality adds to its emotional effect.  It remains one of the finest American films ever made.

Oklahoma

We’re not in Kansas anymore, and we’re at the end of our article.  Oklahoma doesn’t get a ton of air-time from Hollywood, but there are few notable films set here.  August: Osage County (2013), Oklahoma! (1955), and Far and Away (1992) are some examples.  The most notable?  The movie about the constant bane of this entire region of the country: 1996’s Twister.

 

Next, the state that I currently inhabit – Minnesota.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

Movies by State – Illinois

2015-06-20 10.38.28-1
Photo (c) D.G. McCabe

That’s a plush Ewok in front of the Chicago skyline – fun no?  In any event, here’s the long awaited “movies set in Illinois” article – well long awaited by my Chicago friends anyway.  However, before we get to the Windy City, let’s touch upon the rich history of films set in other places in Illinois, like Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and Halloween (1978).

Nah…let’s jump right in.

Chicago Crime Movies

Chicago has had crime problems since, well since some settlers came and decided the current residents didn’t live there anymore.  Most of the cinematic tradition of the Chicago crime film comes in during the age of Prohibition, when a bunch of holy rollers convinced the American government that outlawing alcohol would be a fantastic thing for some reason.

The Untouchables (1987) is typically the first film that comes to mind in this genre, but films like The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932) initiated the genre of the American Gangster Movie.  Equally mentionable is the 2002 adaptation of the Broadway musical Chicago.  Barely mentionable was the disappointing John Dillinger biopic Public Enemies (2009).

Chicago Suburban Movies

There are also a number of films set in the more suburban areas of Chicagoland.  Home Alone (1990) is one of the most popular films of all time and Mean Girls (2004) is one of the most quoted.  John Hughes films like Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), and Weird Science (1985) are set in and around suburban Chicago as well.  Even the Chicago airports get into the action in 1980’s classic “Airplane.”

Chicago Sports Movies

Chicago has a rich sports history.  Eight Men Out (1988) chronicles the darkest chapter in that history where eight White Sox players were banned from baseball for allegedly throwing the World Series for the profit of legendary gangster Arnold Rothstein, so that kind of touches on our first category.  The Natural (1984) is another fine baseball film about a very different topic – the magical powers of Robert Redford.

Let’s Cut to the Chase Already

Okay, hundreds of movies are set in and around Chicago.  One in particular comes to mind in taking advantage of every aspect of the city, however, and that’s 1993’s The Fugitive.  It isn’t directed by a legendary auteur (Andrew Davis is a working man’s director focused primarily on action movies) but it might as well have been.

It’s well known that Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones give career defining performances here (or “it is known” as certain horselords might say).  The film also puts all the Chicago movie pieces together.   The film is an essential crime movie.  There are fancy suburban houses.  Much of the film takes place in the area outside of Chicago.  There’s a St. Patrick’s Day parade, Chicago-based jokes, even the magical ability to tell the difference between the El and a regular, earthbound train.  Perfect right?

Anyway, next time – the Greater Midwest.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

Movies by State: The Great Lakes States

Lake Michigan
Photo Courtesy National Park Service

So here’s the thing – there will be separate posts for Illinois and Minnesota, and I’ve already posted about New York.  Otherwise, four more states border the Great Lakes: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.  Plenty of American films have been set in these four states.

Ohio

Films set in Ohio are a bit of a grab-bag of genres – the only one that’s really missing is the Western…well that’s what one would think anyway.  Annie Oakley (1935) would beg to differ.  There are political movies like The Ides of March (2011), buddy comedies like Tommy Boy (1995), sports movies like Major League (1989), controversial movies like Lolita (1962), teen movies like Heathers (1988), and bizarre movies like Howard the Duck (1986).

The iconic Ohio movie? In honor of the great Wes Craven, who left our mortal coil a few weeks ago, I’m going to go with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has been turned into a parody by subsequent sequels, but the original is a terrifying and existential masterpiece that blurs the distinction between reality and dreams.

Michigan

Michigan is shaped like a mitt, so Michigan folk will often make a mitt shape with their hands to point out where they’re from in the state.  Equally clever have been the movies set in the great State of Michigan – that is unless you count American Pie (1999) and its ilk, then there are clever movies and really dumb ones.  Fortunately 8 Mile (2002), The Crow (1994), Gran Torino (2008), and Hoffa (1992) are smarter than that.

The quintessential Michigan movie?  I’m going to pull one out of left field and go with 1987’s Robocop.  The movie’s setting of a deteriorating industrial Detroit hits close to home these days, but it’s sneakily one of the smartest action movies of the 1980’s.  It has continued to age remarkably well for a movie of its time and genre.

Indiana

Due respect to Natural Born Killers (1994), most of the notable films set in Indiana are sports movies.  Breaking Away (1979), A League of Their Own (1992), Rudy (1993), Blue Chips (1994), and Knute Rockne: All American (1940) are some good examples.  There is one sports movie, however, that I could have simply mentioned by name and moved on to Wisconsin.

Hoosiers (1986) is considered by many to be the finest film ever made about American sports.  Gene Hackman gives one of the best performances of his career, and with his career, that’s saying a lot.  I recently watched it again this summer and I’m definitely glad that I did.

Wisconsin

Of the Great Lakes states, Wisconsin is the one that gets the least amount of play as a movie setting.  Wayne’s World (1992), Starman (1984), and Bridesmaids (2011) are set there, of which Bridesmaids is by far the best.  Fortunately plenty of iconic TV series (Happy Days, That 70’s Show, Picket Fences) are set in the cheesy cheese state where cheese is made.

Up next: Illinois

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe