Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Michigan at the Movies

I get a kick out of watching movies set in Michigan. I think it's because I like the idea that Hollywood actors and actresses, probably most of whom have never set foot in the Great Lakes State, are pretending to be Michiganders, talking about places I've been or experiencing historical events about which I've read. I'm definitely not a Hollywood junkie, but I enjoy seeing how "big stars" interpret the people and events of the Great Lakes State.

Following are some Michigan-set movies that I've enjoyed. This list is limited by the fact that I don't watch a lot of films (so in the hands of someone else, it probably would be more extensive and more interesting). I've tried to include a variety of genres, though, so hopefully everyone will find a movie or two they've seen and loved (or a few they haven't seen and need to check out).

1. Dreamgirls (2006)

I'm obsessed with Motown music, so I LOVED this movie. It's based on the musical of the same name, and tells the story of the Dreams, a Detroit girl group that, thanks to luck, hard work, and some shady dealings, rose to the top of the pop charts in the 1960s and 1970s. "Dreamgirls" is a thinly fictionalized account of the Motown record company and the Supremes; every major character in the movie has his or her real-life counterpart. For example, the movie's slick music producer, Curtis Taylor, Jr. (played by Jamie Foxx), is essentially Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., while the soft-voiced ingenue, Deena Jones (played by Beyonce Knowles), who replaces the band's former lead vocalist, is a fictionalized version of Supremes lead singer Diana Ross. There are too many other parallels to include in this post, but if you're at all interested in musicals, Motown, or Michigan history, I highly recommend this film. Though much of the action takes place outside of Michigan (especially once the Dreams "hit it big"), the movie starts with a performance by the Dreamettes (which was the Dreams' name before they became famous) at the fictional Detroit Theater. Check it out here.

2. The Evil Dead (1981)

Okay, I didn't "enjoy" this movie so much as I "watched" it, but in the interest of having a well-rounded list, I'm including it here. I'm told that if you're a horror fan (which I'm not), you'll love this film. It was written and directed by Michigan State University student Sam Raimi, and stars his friend and fellow Michigan native Bruce Campbell. The plot revolves around five MSU students (including Campbell's character, Ash) who decide to vacation in a remote cabin in Tennessee. While there, they inadvertently unleash demons that possess several of the students, leading to mayhem, grossness, and hundreds of jump-out-of-your-seat moments. "The Evil Dead" premiered at the Redford Theater in Detroit, and eventually screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where horror master Stephen King gave it rave reviews. The film's popularity took off from there, and now it's a cult classic. (It also inspired a 2013 remake that my husband rented one evening; I had to leave the room after watching about twenty minutes of it because I was so creeped out. I have no idea how I got through the first one, but I can definitely attest to the fact that "The Evil Dead" is one freaky movie.)

I couldn't find a YouTube clip for this film that didn't involve buckets of gore, so I'll leave you with the 1981 movie's trailer (which is plenty gross in itself). If you don't like demons, stabbings, or bloody axes, it's best not to watch this.

3. Tiger Town (1983)

Anyone else remember this movie? It was a TV film that my family taped on VHS, and I must have watched it a thousand times. It stars Roy Scheider as Billy Young, an aging Detroit Tiger who is due to retire and is having a rough season. Young's biggest fan is a kid named Alex (played by Justin Henry, who was also the son Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman fought over in "Kramer vs. Kramer"). Alex desperately wants to see Young end his career on a high note. Noticing that Young hits a home run every time Alex is at a home game, the superfan decides that, from now on, he needs to attend every one, school and curfews be darned. "Tiger Town" was the first made-for-TV movie the Disney Channel released, so you can guess how it ends, but it's still a fun little flick to watch. "Tiger Town" also stars famous Tigers and Detroiters like manager Sparky Anderson, former Supreme Mary Wilson (who sings the national anthem during the championship game), and sportscasters Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane.

I couldn't find ANY clips of "Tiger Town" on the Internet, so here's a picture of the movie poster, just to prove this film does, in fact, exist.

4. The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

I typically hate romantic comedies, so I thought this one would be a real stink-a-roo, but I actually liked it. The movie is about a San Francisco couple, Tom Solomon (played by Jason Segel) and Violet Barnes (played by Emily Blunt), who get engaged, then face a variety of circumstances that prevent them from actually getting married. One of those circumstances is the fact that Violet has been accepted into a post-doctorate program in psychology at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she and Tom move (much to Tom's consternation, as he has just been offered a promotion himself, at the restaurant in San Francisco where he works as a sous chef). Tom's and Violet's relationship weathers various ups and downs, all against the backdrop of Ann Arbor, where the movie was filmed. "The Five-Year Engagement" doesn't present an entirely flattering picture of Michigan, as Tom has trouble finding a job, and tires of the frigid winter weather (I can't say I blame him on that last one), but it also showcases several Ann Arbor hotspots like Zingerman's Deli, and ultimately shows that Tom's and Violet's rocky ride in Michigan is a result of their own internal frustrations and lack of communication as a couple.

Here's the trailer:

5. Somewhere in Time (1980)

This is another movie that I can't say I "enjoyed" in the sense that it's one of my favorite films, but I did "appreciate" it. Anyone who has ever been to Mackinac Island has heard of "Somewhere in Time," as the movie was filmed there, at the Grand Hotel. Now, you can't go into any gift shop on the Island without seeing "Somewhere in Time" tchotchkes filling the shelves. To be honest, I can't remember whether or not the movie's plot actually takes place in Michigan...all we get as a reference point is that the action occurs at the "Grand Hotel," which I guess is as good an indication as any that it's a Michigan-set film. Anyway, "Somewhere in Time" tells the story of Richard Collier (played by Christopher Reeve), a modern playwright who, suffering from writer's block, travels to the Grand Hotel for some R and R. In the lobby, he sees a photograph of Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), a famous stage actress from the early 20th century, and immediately falls in love with her. Richard hypnotizes himself and travels back in time to 1912 so that he can meet and woo Elise, under the disapproving eye of her manager, played by Christopher Plummer.

"Somewhere in Time" is probably one of THE biggest things to come out of Mackinac Island, and every year fans of the film flock to the Grand Hotel, which holds an annual "Somewhere in Time" weekend. Some of the YouTube videos showing clips from this movie are literally ten minutes long, so I'll show you the trailer instead.

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