Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Hey, I know that place!"

I usually wouldn't go four days after adding a movie like Paul Blart: Mall Cop to my Most Recently Seen list without hurriedly writing an explanation of why I watched it.

Then again, I'm the only one who knows I'm not scheduled to review it. And besides, I once mentioned that I might have to see it eventually, simply because it had made a staggering $146 million at the box office, so there would be a certain currency for a film critic in having it as a reference point.

Well, I moved up that eventual viewing for a different reason: It was filmed at the local mall where I grew up.

As it turned out, that wasn't nearly enough reason to endure this utter waste of 93 minutes of my life. I guess I haven't been to the Burlington Mall in Massachusetts for quite some time, because it was barely recognizable to me, though the end credits did confirm the location. Part of the reason it seemed foreign is that they must have used two different malls. Some exterior and interior shots were definitely familiar, but some shots were decidedly unfamiliar, leading me to believe they simply couldn't be the Burlington Mall. Like I said, it's been awhile, but I feel pretty sure they don't have a video arcade at the Burlington Mall. For some reason, I feel like I would have learned this had happened -- I always wanted there to be one when I was a kid. I'd be tempted to say that mall schizophrenia was the cause of the film's exceedingly poor quality, but I don't want to let Paul Blart off the hook that easily.

But it got me thinking about other movies I had seen simply because I knew the location where they were shot. And some of them were time-wasters indeed.

The Man Without a Face (1993, Mel Gibson). This is probably my fondest example. A number of scenes in Gibson's directorial debut were filmed at Bowdoin College in Maine, where I was an undergrad. In fact, not only that, but I was actually "in" the movie. I'll explain. My film class was invited to help out on the shoot in very menial ways -- for example, after a graduation scene shot on the outdoor track, I vacuumed up a bunch of confetti. I remember it taking quite a long time. But there was one instance that felt a bit more important, where I was keeping people out of the shot, which meant I was standing behind an arched brick entrance to the track. When I saw the movie later on, I saw that brick wall and started telling people -- not many people, but some -- that I was "in the movie, but you just can't see me." Don't worry, I was only trying to be funny. That same day, I also summoned the courage to approach Gibson and shake his hand, after which he made a funny gesture to the other people around, like my grip was either too strong, or my hand too sweaty. They laughed -- in fact, he had people laughing pretty regularly. Remember, this was long before he was unveiled as a drunken anti-Semite. But, the movie is actually good.

Live Free or Die Hard (2007, Louis Letterier). I probably would have seen the fourth Die Hard regardless, but I was slightly more jazzed because some of it was filmed outside my office. In fact, it was filming on the thoroughfare that leads to my parking lot during my first week on the job. While I never saw Bruce Willis or anything, it was quite inconvenient to get to work. In the movie, they made the road seem about fifty times longer than it actually is -- it's that ridiculous climactic sequence where Willis ends up on the wing of a harrier jet. Terrible True Lies flashbacks. As you know, the movie was sub par.

Breakin' All the Rules (2004, Daniel Taplitz). This highly forgettable Jamie Foxx vehicle was another film shot outside my office -- but it was my old office, and the scenes were shot in the courtyard of the outdoor mall where the office was located. (Malls and offices are a theme here.) I actually did see Foxx and Peter MacNicol, which is the only way I knew what film it was when it came out the following year. Fortunately, I got to review this one, otherwise it would have been an even bigger waste of time than it already was.

The Weight of Water (2000, Kathryn Bigelow). Slightly different circumstance here. The movie was based on a novel about some famous murders that occurred in the 18th century on Smuttynose Island, which is across the harbor from Star Island, where I worked for five summers during and after college. Both islands are part of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. I was hoping for a glimpse of Star Island, but all I got was a quick look at it on a map the characters are holding in one scene. I should have known better -- the movie was shot off of Baja California. And again it was not very memorable.

Ghost Rider (2007, Mark Steven Johnson). Our stated motivation for seeing this movie was that we had friends visiting from out of town, and it would be fun to see whatever was playing in the Dome at the Arclight in Hollywood. But my wife and I secretly wanted to see it anyway, since it was filmed in Melbourne, where my wife grew up, and where I would be visiting for the first time several weeks later. (It's also Nicolas Cage's preferred place to shoot, as he later shot Knowing there.) This is a bit of a stretch, since I actually hadn't seen the Yarra River and other famous Melbourne landmarks in person, but I had sort of an "aha!" moment when I actually did see them later on. Common theme: Not a very good movie.

Amistad (1997, Steven Spielberg). As I start to stretch further, I wrote a number of articles about Amistad when I worked for a weekly newspaper in Rhode Island, since it was shooting in nearby Newport, Providence and Pawtucket. More importantly to my readership, citizens from Barrington, Rhode Island seemed to be getting all sorts of minor roles in the film. I don't remember the locations per se, though I was definitely looking for familiar faces. I don't think Amistad is all that great, but it's the second best I've mentioned so far.

Matchstick Men (2003, Ridley Scott). They shut down my ex-girlfriend's office for an afternoon to shoot there. I'd been to the office, so I was curious. Verdict: Meh.

I'm sure there are many more, but I'm running out of steam here.

So now it's your turn, my readers. Audience participation time. What films have you seen because of the familiar surroundings?


Don Handsome said...

Here are five in order from best to worst:

1) and 2) Batman Begins / The Dark Knight - too many shoots to name were visible from my cubicle window, office building, on my commute, and from friend's roof tops. For Batman Begins I saw Bale being filmed giving his coat to the hobo guy. I was going to see these anyway, but being so close to much of the filming certainly elevated my excitement level.

3) Public Enemies - Got to see a car chase being filmed on my way home...I watched one take, and was an hour late arriving home. I barely remember seeing this chase in the movie. Boy that film sucked...its hard to believe the films get worse from here.

4) The Weatherman - they spray painted the bushes outside of the building I work in with grey sludge coloring to make it look like winter. It was July in Chicago and I didn't want to be reminded of winter, but I still went to see this movie in the theater. Stupid.

5) Fred Claus - I saw Fred Claus! I saw it because I witnessed Vince Vaughn being filmed on a pay phone, that had been moved into the middle of the street so it could be framed up nicely with a shot of the El tracks overhead. They were dumping water on the phone booth. It looked ridiculous and I had to see how it was used in the film. I don't think it was used in the film. I actually also saw Vaughn in action during the filming of The Break Up, in which he was on top of a double decker tourist bus doing shtick for a shot. I was for some reason more interested in the phone booth.

Vancetastic said...


I think it's funny that you've seen more films being shot in Chicago than I've seen being shot in Los Angeles.

I too saw Fred Claus, and while I agree with your assessment of its poor quality (read my review if you're interested in hearing more of my thoughts), I have to say, I thought the set piece where Vaughn was being chased by a horde of angry mall Santas was brilliant.