Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Where the Boys Are [FIlm 1960]

Where the Boys Are [1960] takes four Midwestern college coeds [Paula Prentiss, Delores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, and Connie Francis] through their ”Spring Break” in Ft. Lauderdale with the boys [George Hamilton, Jim Hutton, Frank Gorshin]. Only poor Melanie [Mimieux] is unsuccessful. The film begins with a characteristic 1960s pushing of the sexual limits [massively tame by 2005 standards] by Delores Hart, takes the group down to Florida for the events of break, and sets them packing in love or disarray. A true classic of the 60s.

The geography begins with a short introduction of Midwestern college settings with deep snow and some with cold. It quickly shifts to the beach and motels. The beach is largely hidden by the crowds of college students lounging there. It does look warm and everyone is having such a good time. Sand plays a major role in that Delores Hart and George Hamilton spark up a relationship by putting question marks in the sand to ask about each other. The larger setting is cultural with the college students clearly letting loose and having fun. The police [admirably lead by the great Chill Wills] are loath to arrest anyone. By 1971 I think that kind of thinking had died.

While the film stands as a classic relic of an earlier time; it is a precursor of its decade. The 1960s are just beginning and change was in the air. The film posits change as a group of 1950s kids looking around for something to rally around, but that would become the mainstream in a couple of years. In the end Delores Hart found and alternative route to the same happiness and peace, of a different worldly nature, when she left Hollywood after this film and became a nun. Interviewed on television recently, she seemed happy. I wonder if she was not happier than most of her crowd?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Station Agent [Film]

The Station Agent [2003] is a quirky, neat package of a film. A guy working in a toy train store finds the owner dead. He loses his job, but inherits an abandoned train depot in New Jersey along the Susquehanna rail line. Having a place like this is a rail fan’s dream, and he moves in. Suffering from dwarfism, he is constantly ridiculed through the picture, and the depot offers him a place to get away to and be alone. He finds that people pull him into their lives, so his being alone is never realized. A mobile food vendor has his van parked by the station, about which one wonders about his locational-choice skills. A woman mentally harassed by the death of her child almost runs him down on the road with her SUV a few times before she enters his life on a regular basis.

The location for the film is Newfoundland, New Jersey according to Raymond Weschler [http://www.eslnotes.com/movies/pdf/the-station-agent.pdf]. The film did not clearly establish this spot to me. That would place one in the very middle of the most northern part of New Jersey near the New York border. The river in the film would be the Prossaic; and while the railroad line is the New York, Susquehanna, and Western.

The geography is one of rural emptiness. We see some woods, some obvious industrial decay, and rural roads and people. The inhabitants are not sophisticated urbanites, but rural “hicks.” They seem a bit backwards. The landscape is unexpectedly rural. For many this is not what they think of as New Jersey. It is not a place of super highways, but rural roads of a simple blacktop nature. There nearest store is a mile and half away, and looks like what one would expect on a small, remote Minnesota lake way up beyond Bemidji.

In all an interesting film showing that being alone is hard in today’s crammed world. The location information is vague; but clear in its unexpected charms.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Love Story

This 1970 classic divides between cold looking Boston and New York. The story begins at Harvard during the hockey season. The famous outdoors insert scene is of making snow angels and throwing the football in a snow-covered stadium. The jackets are thick and the hats are warming. In New York they fair no better. There is a harshness to it all. The movie ends at a skating rink as Oliver ponders Jenny's death.

Direcotr Arthur Hiller points out in one of the DVD extras that the two snow scenes were shot later. They needed extra footage, so they went back to Boston in the middle of a massive snow storm. Snow angels and snow football were all they could get. Time was money and they were under budget pressure to make a film at a cheap price because the studio lacked faith in it. And out of weather necessity comes two of the memorible scenes in the picture.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Two and a Half Men--Amazing Event

An amazing event for American television took place on February 14, 2005 on the CBS show Two and a Half Men. It rained twice. This is almost unknown in my surveying of place-related information on television, and it started in1973. The context of the events was very typical--the rain was needed by an event in the plot. In this one Charlie Sheen and his brother left the kid standing at school in the rain. They forgot about him. Since they forgot about him after school, it just had to rain to make it worse.

You also have the recent heavy rains and flooding in California making the rain events seem more realistic to viewers.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Two and a Half Men [TV]

Three and a Half Men [CBS]. This show is set in Malibu and provides a neat little lesson in the nature of life on the California beach front. Charlie Sheen plays a songwriter who has his divorcing brother and his son move in with him. It is a satire of California and its lifestyle. Just as Jethro Bodine engaged in every sin California had to offer as the basis for comedy on the Beverly Hillbillies, Two and a Half Men continues the ribbing.

The show is set in a house with a dandy view of the beach and ocean. The snad is used occasionally as a prop. The big element of local life though is the crazy nature of the characters. As with many California shows, the audience would not buy into the craziness if set in most other places. For example, would they buy Rose, a girl from down the beach who is crazy for Charlie, as she constantly lurks around outside trying to snarl Charlie in her life? Would Charlie’s Mom’s egotism make sense in Minneapolis? Well it might, but not to the national television audience.

The show follows Everybody Loves Raymond which is set in New York. Compare the arguing styles of the two shows to see an eastern and a western version of the dysfunctional famiy and how they bicker. The meanness of New York is tempered on the West Coast by alcohol and a sneering smoothness. The lower class nature of New York is placed against the laid back egotism of the Coast. Two comedy gems with a comparison of note.

[Note: it rained in the February 7, 2005 episode. The rare rain forced the guys to consider an ill-fated trip to Los Vegas.]

Monk [TV]

Monk. [USA] Monk is a psychologically challenged detective with OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] in San Francisco. He has a number of quirks that have led to his removal from the police force, but he continues to solve crimes. His crime-solving abilities stem from his deeply felt desire for order. In one episode he witnesses a murder because he just has to get out of his car and straighten the antenna on another car. Order is paramount. The environment of San Francisco is portrayed in great detail. There is no focus on the stereotypic cable cars, here. The show is in the houses, buildings, and neighborhoods. Occasionally they leave town, mostly for rural California.. They did travel to New York City once, but Monk could not take the noise and disorder.

This is a most enjoyable show that uses the environment just as Law and Order uses New York City, but without the addresses of where they are. The show is addictive and you must watch yourself. The true fan begins to straighten ajar papers and pens at meetings. Order becomes a way of life. Others seem to understand.

Also published in Dakota Alliance XV 1.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Beautiful Mind [Film]

This Golden Globe winning film is geographic in two ways, one major and one minor. In a minor way it shows the academic and larger environments of Princeton University in New Jersey and Harvard/MIT in Boston. The major aspect is that Professor John Hall's work is very geographic in nature. The drive to undertake that work is a major element of the plot. The work deals with the observation of animal and human behavior in groups. Hall analyzes the competitive activities of the life around him searching for pattern. That pattern searching takes over as the drive in the film. Magnificent work.

Billy Elliot [Film]

[Universal, 2000] Durham, England is the setting for this wonderful and under seen film about a British young man's self-realization that he wants to dance rather than box. Billy's father is a coal miner engaged in a long, bitter strike. Billy stumbles into a ballet class on his way to the boxing gym. He discovers the exhilaration and freedom of the dance. It takes him away from his difficult existence in a declining town. His father is angry at his son's interest in a "girl's" activity. In the end his father scabs so that his son can get an audition in London. Only a person with true support for and experience with unions can appreciate what a sacrifice his father makes. Few American kids will get it. If you are that union-experienced father, you will. Many people will underestimate its meaning. The film offers a glimpse of life in declining part of Europe. The poor quality housing, the dinginess of the sky and streets, and the sense of personal decay and entrapment are vivid.

Center Stage [Film]

[Columbia/Tristar 2000] For that person who has lost faith in New York as a place of promise, Center Stage offers the older media New York, the New York of "Lucy" and "Dick Van Dyke." The American Ballet Company at Lincoln Center is the focus for this ballet-oriented film about the attempt of several young dancers to make their dreams come true. Crime is non-existent. You do get a great look at a rarely seen part of the city, the arts backstage. Key elements are diversity, homosexuality, crowds, and landmarks. Take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Have your career decided upon by your performance on that one special night. New York is a tough place, but it still is the top of the world.

Chocolat [Film]

[Miramax, 2000 PG-13] This delightful film offers an enchanting view of the small village of Lansquenet, France in 1959. Juliette Binoche, as Vianne, is marvelous as a chocolaterie who arrives during Lent to tempt and change the people of the village. Her chocolate is a rare special mixture that is tasty and spiritually medicinal. The cinematography is spectacular. The village, the river, and the drive of the wind all create a place of dreams, a place where change is not an ugly word. The nature of life in a conservative French village bites your nose. You will not regret seeing this film. Sit back and let the magic engulf you. [Nominated for Best Picture 2000]

Kate & Leopold [Film]

[Miramax 2001] This light comedy stars Meg Ryan [Kate] and Hugh Jackman [Leopold] as lovers separated by 100 years of life. Leopold travels forward in time from a horse and buggy New York City to the metropolis that it now is. He falls in love with Kate, and she with him. The complications are fairly clear as they live in different times. The geographic contrast of New York City over a 100-year period is a major theme in the film. Life has changed. The Brooklyn Bridge has survived, but the nature of living and life has altered. The empty streets, easily open to a racing horse ride change to those of streets filled with people and vehicles. The ethics are the focus for the characters once they get over the shock of the geography. Overlaying all the buildings, vehicles, and conveniences of life are a massive shift in how people treat each other. An enjoyable film. It is a rare treat in being able to see the same spots through the eyes and minds of the same people 100 years apart.

Life as a House [Film]

[New Line Cinema 2002] has Kevin Kline building a house on the California coast as a vehicle for pulling the threads of his fleeting life together; in the process remaking his bond with his son and others. To the geographer and the searcher for life, the star of the film is the magnificent view of the Palos Verdes, California coastline. The house is built on a sweeping coastline of high cliffs and crashing waves. Shown on a wide theater screen, the view is breathtaking. The nature of the coast is integrated into the dialogue as jumping off the cliff into the crashing waves is made a significant part of several scenes. The encroachment of suburbia into a natural wonderland is stark. Such beauty on one side of the house and routine sameness on the other.

The Perfect Storm [Film]

The Perfect Storm can be a wonderful reference for several points in the social studies curriculum. George Clooney stars in this epic film about a massive storm in October 1991 that hits as he is fishing on the Grand Banks. Consider the following from the film: [1] The power of the ocean is clear established. Given North Dakota's distance from the ocean and its power, this film can give kids that sense. [2] The Grand Banks has been a major fishing area for centuries. The trouble George Clooney is facing as a fisherman stems from the extended overfishing of the banks. [3] The supply of fish was a powerful draw in the settlement of eastern Canada. The decline of that industry has been a problem in the fishing towns and villages of Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. Besides the important lessons above, the views of Gloucester, Massachusetts are spectacular. The docks, lighthouse, channel, and buildings show what a fishing dock area looks like.

Saving Grace [Film]

This humorous British film is available in video stores now. It takes place on the Cornish Coast of England, with tiny travels to London. Life in a small British village is the focus. Grace's husband has died and she needs cash to keep her house. She is a fantastic gardener, her only talent. A fellow who works for her uses this to grow very high quality marijuana. She and he try to peddle the stuff to save the estate. Joy follows. You get to see some wonderful shots of the coast, its cliffs and cascading waves. The small village has the traditional church and an active pub life. The estate house is a classic British place. They even toss in the traditional Scot to be the brunt of English jokes. The accents are heavy and the laughs are deep. You even get to see that the British have riding lawn mowers. A wonderful little film.

Woman on Top [Film]

[Fox-Searchlight 2000] Not your fully mainstream film, Woman on Top is available in video release. Isabella is a chef in her husband's restaurant on Bahia, Brazil. He plays the wild game of entertaining the guests while she cooks. Finding him unfaithful she escapes to San Francisco and the apartment of transgendered friend Monica. Her ability to mix emotional and sexual dynamite with cooking results in her becoming a lovcal tlelevision sensation. Her husband arrives to get her back. You get to see some fairly typical San Francisco scenes, but the spiritual and cultural aspects of Brazilian culture in Bahia are wild. [June 2001]

Providence [TV]

[NBC, Friday, Locational Use: strong] Providence takes place in Providence, Rhode Island. The show takes a plastic surgeon to the stars of Hollywood and puts her back home in Providence after her mother dies. The series begins with some typical contrasts of Califonria's hype and free lifestyle to the more basic qualities of home in the East. That home is not completely pure, as a Midwest location would imply, but has people with real problems who strive for something more pure. The series has numerous outside shots of buildings and landscapes. Mention is often made of where the show is and local characteristics. Of special note is that the theme song begins "there are places I remember" [Beatles]. Even the song emphasizes the show's theme that place is important. [April 16, 1999] Update: Providence continues to exploit the scenery of Providence. Outside scenes are a part of every episode I have observed.

Dawson's Creek

[Locational Use: Moderate] Dawson's Creek takes place on Cape Cod. It moderately uses the seaside themes available to it. Locations that would normally connect with people on Cape Cod (Boston, New York) are mentioned at times. There has been some mislocation of the show in some people's minds. This stems from the fact that the outside work is done in Wilmington, North Carolina. Some of my students have thought it was located there. Even the writers may be confused as TV Guide issued a "jeer" to Creek after Jen and Dawson went skinny dipping in December. TV Guide pointed out that it was too cold in Massachusetts in December for that. The show has numerous water-related scenes and makes use of other on-shore sites that would easily be found in Cape Cod. [April 16, 1999] Update: The 2001 season saw the group move into Boston for college and other things. Boston harbor is shown, and some pretty impressive spaces including dorms.

Judging Amy [TV]

[Locational Use: Moderate] Judging Amy followed Providence into lower New England. They are in two different cities, and seem very different in their thoughts on the nature of those cities. Judging Amy takes place in Hartford. media.htmIn Providence, the city is in a wonderfulplace. Hartford, on the other hand, seems seedy and trouble-filled. Amy's Mom is a social worker troubled with the usual problems faced in the line of work. Amy is a judge of family court. She faces the usual problems one has come to expect within families in postmodern America. Niether faces an attractive, peaceful world. While on Providence the neighborhood is wonderful, Judging Amy is in a decent, but lower quality, part of town. The environment shows up a lot less. Amy relies on a few outdoor scenes, while Providence shows a great deal of Providence. Providence relishes in its place; Amy is just in Hartford to have some geographic roots. The point seems to be more that one network went home to Rhode Island, so the other had to follow. This is very typcial behavior. Note ER and Chicago Hope. The are both in Chicago with similar hospital settings. They started at the same time.