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.


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 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.


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.


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


Director Profile of the Month – Steven Spielberg

I’m starting a new feature here on Cinema Grand Canyonscope – the director profile of the month.  This month – Steven Spielberg

Ask yourself a question – how many Spielberg movies have you seen?  If you’re like me, the results may surprise you.  I was certain that I had seen more Bergman movies or Scorsese movies (I’ve seen 7 of each).  Maybe in my movie watching life I’d even more Michael Bay films (also 7, mercifully he’s only made 9 features).  I’ve seen twice as many Spielberg movies.

Spielberg’s films have an internal consistency to them, his vision is one of hope triumphing over despair.  I’ve heard people find his worldview too rosy, and it’s true that he can’t resist romanticism.  I don’t think this is always a bad thing, unless you think that every work of art needs to be as dark and gritty as possible.   Spielberg rarely delves that deeply into individual characters to penetrate the dark recesses of the soul like Ingmar Bergman or Stanley Kubrick.   But do we really need him to?

I used to think that Spielberg had such a mastery of the big picture narrative that he couldn’t really make a movie that was completely character driven.  Lincoln (2012) of course, changed my opinion.  While the historical implications of the film’s plot are unquestionably monumental, equally without question is the fact that nothing much happens in the film.  After all, it only takes place over the course of a couple of weeks for the most part.  Even Spielberg’s best film, Schindler’s List (1993) is heavily dependent on plot and a massive narrative arc.  Lincoln, his next best film if you asked me today, while dealing with an important historical figure and event, is almost Ozu-esque in its simplicity (almost being the key word – Spielberg can’t resist a bit of pomp and circumstance during the film’s bookends).

While many great directors struggles outside of a certain genre (Hitchcock after all made almost exclusively thrillers), Spielberg is a notable exception.  The other 8 of his best films include thrillers (Jaws (1975), Jurassic Park (1993), Munich (2005)), adventure stories (E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)), war movies (Saving Private Ryan (1999)), and comedies (Catch Me If You Can (2002)).   Certainly Jaws is as much horror as thriller and Catch Me if You Can is as much an police procedural as comedy, demonstrating that it’s hard to pin down his films into genres at all.

So what makes Spielberg a great director?  His films contain a unique over-arching vision, are incredibly diverse as to style and genre, and extremely well-made.  He is too contemporary to really judge his influence but if young directors such as J.J. Abrams are any indication, his career will cast a long shadow indeed.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe