July 29, 2008 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | July 29, 2008 |


Since Dustin doesn’t know a lick of nothin’ about Pennsylvania, he asked me to step in and write an introduction to this little Guide to PA films, as written by some of the Eloquents. And I was happy to do so for one simple reason, which was to say this: For shame! For shame on all of you. Not a single mother fucking one of you bothered to do a write-up of Trading Places, a motherfucking classic set-in-Philly flick. I’m seriously disappointed in all of you and, were it up to me, I’d declare you all losers and call a mulligan on this whole damn thing. But as it stands, I humbly request that each of you spend five minutes in the corner thinking about what you did not do.

As for the Guide itself, here’s the thing about Pennsylvania — while some states in our great nation can be satirically described with a single broad-brushed stereotype, PA isn’t one of them. If I tell you about a redneck in a cowboy hat, an Eskimo, or an obnoxious Red Sawx fan, you instantly know what state I’m talking about. But there is nothing approaching a single characteristic to describe PA or its denizens. On the one side of the state you’ve got Pittsburgh, a city with blue collar, steelworking roots which is slowing trying to work itself into a sophisticated city that folks might consider an actual destination and not just part of the Fly-Over. On the other side, of course, there’s Philly, a city that still doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that it used to be the center of the country but now lives in the shadows of DC and NYC. And in between … Pennsyltucky. It’s a splash of the South above the Mason-Dixon line, going on for as far as the eye can see but for a pinch of drunken impropriety plopped down in the middle of the state, courtesy of Penn State. It’s a state run by a loud-mouthed Eagles fans (no, there really isn’t another variety), and though he’s a liberal Democrat, you’re just as likely to see a conservative Republican running things, so diverse is the state’s political spectrum. It’s a great state. It’s a terrible state. And most importantly of all, it’s home to Pat’s Steaks (fuck you Geno’s).

Each of the flicks below are good (and some, great) movies with their own value beyond the Pennsylvania connection. But that connection is the tie that binds them all together into a group which, collectively, does a surprisingly accurate job of portraying these various aspects of the Keystone State. And yes, we know that some of the entries in this Guide aren’t films actually set in Pennsylvania. While that was what we originally asked for, some of you chose to expand things to include flicks filmed in PA, and who are we to exclude you just ‘cause you can’t follow the fucking rules? …And more importantly, those films speak to the character of Pennsylvania just as well as those set in the state, if not more so. After all, the fact that Pennsylvania can so easily substitute for so many other places — because of its bizarre amalgamation of cities, people and ideals — is perhaps the thing that best describes the state. — Seth Freilich

Slap Shot: Johnstown, PA: Once one of the most prosperous steel cities in the United States, Johnstown has since become the least desirable place to live. Often hailed as one of the best sports movies ever made, Slap Shot has given a distinct honor to a region in need of a prized recognition. The War Memorial still stands strong a few hundred miles away from the steel mills that have polluted the Conemaugh River for the long haul. Paul Newman (in a role originally slated for Al Pacino), along with an odd-ball cast, portrays the spirit of a city in an economic crisis. Not only has Slap Shot created one of the most entertaining trios in the Hanson brothers, but did so by utilizing Johnstown natives and actual players from the Johnstown Jets team. Through its absurdly comedic dialogue and real-life inspired hockey scenes, Slap Shot has given western PA natives a truly unique sports cinema experience. I relish the opportunity to watch this film with anyone I meet from outside of Pittsburgh. And from a city where the bragging rights are few and far between, it’s a wonderful feeling to have a movie to show off like Slap Shot. — Colin

Groundhog Day: Everyone has that moment where we think that we are trapped in our own life, a prisoner to our family, our job, and the routines that pacify us but ultimately keep us from ever actually doing anything. And then there is Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, Phil Connors, who is trapped in one day of his life. For almost ten years. He’s got you beat on that one, huh? The story goes as such: Phil wakes up on Groundhog Day, he lives a little, he falls asleep, and wakes up to Groundhog Day. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Realizing that his actions have no longterm effect, he progresses from wish-fulfillment, to attempting suicide, to using his misfortune to save others and win over his producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell). It’s one of the few great comedies of the 90s, and it’s also a wonderful tribute to Pennsylvania. It shows the State for what it is rather than what others think it should be. It’s got heart, class, and charm, even in the middle of winter, when the sight of snow makes you wish global warming would hurry the eff up already. — Jeremy

Girl Interrupted: As the news circulates that the first photo rights of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s newly enlarged family have sold for $20 million dollars, one can’t help but wonder: what has Angelina Jolie ever done to deserve this kind of iconic status? The answer is her Academy Award winning turn in Girl, Interrupted. Based on the memoir by Susanna Kaysen and directed by James Mangold, Girl, Interrupted examines the darker side of women’s socialization in the 1960s. Winona Ryder stars as Kaysen, who has entered a psych ward after a nervous breakdown (on a coincidental note, Ryder herself would implode in the limelight less than two years after this film was released). She’s no slouch in this film, but she has to play the straight woman to a cast of heart-wrenching characters, led by Angelina Jolie at the top of her game. Each of Ryder’s companions in the ward highlights one facet of the many pressures facing women in 1960s America and the question facing Ryder/Kaysen is whether to surrender to that force or to try to rise above it. Girl, Interrupted is far from a perfect film, or book for that matter. But it takes an upfront approach with some pretty daunting topics and it has the most haunting use of the Skeeter Davis classic “The End of the World.” But most importantly, Jolie will rock your socks in a performance that could have easily become a caricature, and it’s nice to remember that in the midst of all this Brangelina hoopla. — Rollerson

*Bonus Entry*

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelpha: This country does not know what is funny anymore. These 50 great states have resorted to laughing at musicians who peaked in 1987 and former reality stars who can be shot out of a cannon, yet still don’t realize they’re the punchline. However, in a nation where political satire is a lost art and irony is only acceptable on t-shirts, comes a beacon of light from the Northeast, located in a city that is strangely not its state’s capital: Philadelphia. “Sunny” is what makes America great. It forces us to look at the issues of these United States, whether it be abortion, gun control, slavery, gay rights, poverty, drugs, terrorism, or brothers and sisters banging each other. It makes us stare in the face of these controversies, take a good hard look at them, and then, if you want, huff some glue and maybe do a little crack. This show is so good because it takes our problems and brings them to such an honest absurdity that we as citizens cannot help but see ourselves in those situations. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to own a bar, shoot a gun at a giant stump of wood, bang their friend’s hot mom, or smash someone’s face into a jelly? Simply put, “Sunny” is funny because “Sunny” is true. We want to be completely honest people who couldn’t care less about other people’s feelings, and have no consequences because of it. Isn’t that, ladies and gentlemen, the True American Dream?

Rock. Flag. And Eagle. — aidan

Mannequin: I have a theory that whenever movie producers get tired of the same old storylines for rom-coms, they pull one out of The Hat. The Hat is kept in a vault somewhere in Hollywood and contains scraps of paper with plotlines jotted down by writers when they’re drunk or high or just plain insane. Exhibit A: Mannequin. There’s just no other way I can see this movie getting greenlighted: a perpetually out-of-work “artist” falls in love with his greatest creation, a department store mannequin who happens to be a reincarnated Egyptian beauty. Oh, and she comes to life only when her creator (and no one else) is present. Make no mistake, this movie doesn’t even try to make sense, but it’s so much damn fun it’s hard to care. Kim Cattrall and Andrew McCarthy as the leads have more chemistry than any movie couple in the last 20 years, despite the fact that she spends most of her time as a block of wood. And the secondary characters are just amazing — Mannequin’s packed with all the 80s stock characters we know and love: the ice-bitch ex-girlfriend, the horny foreigner, the flaming homosexual (Hollywood Montrose may be my favorite movie character of all time), the bumbling security guard, James Spader, not to mention the 80s-tastic clothes. It’s proof that even the craziest movie ideas can work beautifully, if you just run with it. And it all takes place in Philadelphia! — s. pisaster

Rocky: Not enough can be said about the 1976 film, Rocky. One of the most well known films in America, it stands today as an icon. Besides being nominated for nine Academy Awards (and winning three: Best Director, Best Picture, and Film Editing), Rocky has been honored by the AFI, the WGA, and was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Its enduring “rags to riches” story, likeable-though-flawed hero, and the gritty realism of the darker corners of 1970’s Philadelphia as captured by the camera all go toward pulling the viewer into Rocky’s world, and ensuring this flick’s place in any film-lover’s heart. Few other movies have had such an amazing impact on pop culture. The famous “Rocky Steps” scene of the training montage, which takes place in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is easily one of the most recognized scenes in movie history. Philadelphia’s City Commerce Director Dick Doran even claimed that Rocky had done more for Philadelphia than “anyone since Ben Franklin.” The film went on to spawn five sequels (Rocky IV being undoubtedly the best) and to inspire countless filmmakers. Without question, this great film’s legacy will last forever. — Lammergeier13

Deer Hunter: I’ve only seen Deer Hunter once, so most of my impressions are simply that: impressions laced with the powerful emotions the film left with me. Sure, half the film takes place in the chaotic rice paddies of Vietnam, but these scenes are so beautifully balanced by shots of the Alleghenies and scenes set in the — dare I say it — almost peacefulness of steel town mining country. The silences that hover over the hunting scenes in the film remind me of the silences that surrounded the town where I went to college and the open stretches of unbroken space, punctuated by the harsh, beautiful hills. There’s a smokiness that hangs over the shots of the town, a smokiness in the bars, a smokiness that seems to come from the empty towers of factories that are no longer in use. I love the way this film depicts the Western Pennsylvania of the 1960’s, a Western Pennsylvania that is virtually unchanged today. — pseudoliterati

1776: I have always had a deep and abiding love for film version of this Pulitzer Prize winning musical. The film has a stellar cast, including William Daniels (the voice of KITT) as the obnoxious and disliked John Adams, Howard De Silva as the self-quoting Benjamin Franklin, and Ken Howard as the fanciful Thomas Jefferson. And as if that wasn’t enough, John Cullum (Holling from “Northern Exposure”) delivers a blistering indictment of slavery in a show-stopping number. The film follows the debate in the Continental Congress over the creation and approval of the Declaration of Independence, set primarily in the building now known as Independence Hall, with an uncracked Liberty Bell swinging from the belfry. As General Washington dispatches from a soon-to-be ruined New York, Adams, Franklin and Jefferson persuade, cajole and bully their brethren toward the cause of independence. And as other cities are discussed, the noisy New York, agitating Boston, and fey Richmond, it’s really Philadelphia, with its stifling summer heat and flies, that anchors the story in the infant United States; “foul, fetid, fumy, foggy, filthy Philadelphia” serves not only as a historically accurate backdrop to our story, but as an essential player in our country’s history. — Courtney

Philadelphia Story: This is Cary Grant at some of his wry, sophisticated, twinkling best. This is Jimmy Stewart earnestly bumbling along his earnest way without the Mr. Smith patriotism to distract him from what really counts. This is Hepburn the First doing glamorous, prickly coltishness in the way only she could. The basic story is this: Tracy Lord (Hepburn), a princess of the New England aristocracy, is getting ready to marry (his name is George, but we don’t really care, because he’s not worthy of her, anyway). Luckily, ex-husband C.K. Dexter-Haven is on hand with Spy magazine reporters Macaulay Connor (Stewart) and the delicious Elizabeth Imbrie to keep her from making a huge mistake with the help of a little blackmail concerning Papa Lord. Sexy, sophisticated hilarity ensues, but really it isn’t the what at all, but the how that matters here. You can’t claim to love any of the three main actors without seeing this movie, and I’m not sure you can safely call yourself a B&W film lover unless this is in your private collection. — cerain

Flashdance:

First when there’s nothing
But a slow glowing dream
That your fear seems to hide
Deep inside your mind.

All alone I have cried
Silent tears full of pride
In a world made of steel,
Made of stone.

Well, I hear the music,
Close my eyes, feel the rhythm,
Wrap around, take a hold
Of my heart.

What a feeling.
Bein’s believin’.
I can have it all, now I’m dancing for my life.
Take your passion
And make it happen.
Pictures come alive, you can dance right through your life.

Now I hear the music,
Close my eyes, I am rhythm.
In a flash it takes hold
Of my heart.

What a feeling.
Bein’s believin’.
I can have it all, now I’m dancing for my life.
Take your passion
And make it happen.
Pictures come alive, now I’m dancing through my life.
What a feeling.

What a feeling. (I am music now)
Bein’s believin’ (I am rhythm now)
Pictures come alive, you can dance right through your life.
What a feeling. (You can really have it all)
What a feeling. (Pictures come alive when I can)
I can have it all. (I can really have it all)
Have it all (Pictures come alive when I call)
(Call, call, call, call — what a feeling)
I can have it all. (Bein’s believin’)
Bein’s believin’. (Take your passion)
(Make it happen)
Make it happen. (What a feeling)
What a feeling. (Bein’s believin’) — Brian

Silence of the Lambs: To look at Silence of the Lambs is to look at what might be one of the scariest films in the last 20 years, if not ever. Relying on suspense and rich, frightening characters, Silence takes us into the mind of a serial killer, and we could not be more enthralled. The name Hannibal Lecter is synonymous with both fear and charisma. Sure, he’s a cannibal, but he isn’t the real villain of the film; we actually take quite a liking towards him. Also on the list of plusses is the story itself, a truly harrowing and quite realistic one, as a matter of fact. The criminal in question is one Buffalo Bill, a sociopath who picks up women, tortures them and uses their skin as fabric. Pretty chilling, huh? In the middle of all of this is Clarice Starling, a young but not too cocky investigator who takes on the case and eventually ends up catching the twisted killer. And finally, the film is also a superb adaptation of a scary novel, an almost rare occurrence. Best viewed when consuming liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. — kamikaze feminist

*Bonus Entry*

The Slinky: Did you know that the Slinky debuted at Gimbel’s Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1945? Didja? How ‘bout this, honkies: The Slinky is made in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania with the original equipment. It’s changed little in over 60 years, with the exception of a crimp added to the ends of the wire to ensure safe play and to stop lawsuits from parents of children who had lost fingers, poked out eyes, stabbed gerbils, and in the case of one Harrisburg incident, where a one-armed hobo used the sharp end of the popular toy to commit a heinous murder resulting in a six day Slinky stand-off with authorities. The hobo went down in a hail of gunfire after failing to impress SWAT members with the way it could “walk” down stairs. While the Slinky remains Pennsylvania’s official State Toy, little is said of Roman Q. Pennyfeather, Pennsylvania’s official State One Armed Hobo. — Skittimus Maximus

Gettysburg: The 1993 film Gettysburg is probably my favorite offering from Pennsylvania. Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, and depicting the events of July 1 - 3, 1863, it’s a complex, interesting (as well as mostly historically accurate) film. There are some great performances, including Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee — a man backed into a corner but too proud to run — Steven Lang as the blustering braggart Pickett, and an amazing turn from Jeff Daniels as Col. Joshua Chamberlain. There are many big-name actors involved, and even those who only have a line or two do an excellent job. Content-wise, the film walks a fine line by depicting neither side of the conflict as the “heroes,” but rather trying to humanize both. The battle scenes are impressive, particularly when you realize that nearly all of the extras were unpaid re-enactors. In all, a film that is edifying and entertaining. — Seige

Unbreakable: I’ve chosen Unbreakable by talent-vomiting director slash actor M. Night Shyamalan. Some critics found the film slow and plodding, but shit are they wrong! “Unbreakable” is a sprawling, abundant, deliberate film. A rainy, black and blue, inspirational, adaptable, and brooding, and cautious tale of sacrifice and self-reflection mixed with anger and passion — just like the film’s villain, Mr. Glass. Because Mr. Glass had it bad. He’s in a wheelchair, see, which means someone out there needs to be not in a wheelchair. And there is, like David Dunn, who has never gotten sick once. No, I’m super serious here. Not. Once. And now he’s a mother-fucking hero because of it, bitches, which makes Mr. Glass one happy villain indeed. Because you know why? He set up that train accident! Yup. Killing people all over the country and never — ever — getting caught. But you know what? Even though they have their differences, Dunn and Glass are both vulnerable and weak souls like everyone else because they can’t breathe water. I know. Because just like life and finding out who you are and making sacrifices, it’s a sad fucking deal not breathing water, and Shyamalan helps to remind us that. — Stacey A

Wonder Boys: Pajibans may not find this movie worthy of an “Underappreciated Gem,” but it gets my vote. Wonder Boys was adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Chabon about a Pittsburgh professor/author Grady Tripp and his struggle with a seemingly never-ending novel that he just can’t finish. Tripp’s character (Michael Douglas) is known to be based on Chuck Kinder, a professor that instructed Chabon at the University of Pittsburgh. Although the camera is peripatetic in its filming, leaving Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon, Chatham College and Shady Side Academy to view the other supportively dismal locations (Rochester, Rostraver Township and Beaver), it’s all Pennsylvania. The scenes are shadowed in cloud cover, ice storms, snow and rain, but the movie succeeds in not making PA seem uninviting; in fact, it does the opposite. The warmth of all those bodies vacillating in a blues bar while the snow falls outside or the sublime houses that every character seemed to inhabit. Wonder Boys pokes at your ribs, softly inviting you to Pennsylvania, reminding you to bring your favorite novel to accompany you along the way. It also doesn’t hurt that Bob Dylan and director Chris Hanson wrote the entire score with a few original songs from Dylan himself. — Dmo

Robocop: Robocop became a pop culture icon and the gold standard for the melding of man and machine genre of science fiction (sci-fi) films. Starring Peter Weller (Buckaroo fucking Banzai!) as the ill-fated Frank Murphy, it’s a heart-warming tale of man becomes cop, cop tracks criminals to hide out, criminals get the drop on him and proceed to turn into a bloody hunk of Swiss cheese, evil corporation takes the opportunity to turn cop into a cybernetic, one man/machine police force, cyborg rebels against programming and turns on creators and takes back his humanity and then goes on to film shitty sequels. Filmed in both Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, PA, the smoggy skylines and crumbling, old factories make an excellent backdrop for a dystopian Detroit. It’s ironic that “America’s most livable city” was used to depict a city that was overrun with crime and corruption. Just like Blade Runner before it, Robocop established many of the more commonly used subtexts for subsequent sci-fi films: Soulless corporations secretly controlling our daily lives, social satire hidden beneath state of the art special effects, a half man/half machine protagonist struggling to reclaim his humanity; hell, it even threw in a toxic waste mutant in PA native Paul McCrane’s character Emil’s uber-gory death scene. I could go on, but my geek-boner is making it difficult to type. There isn’t a film today about a half man/half machine hero that isn’t influenced by Paul Verhoeven’s work in this classic. Despite the now outdated stop motion effects used for the iconic villain ED-209, it’s still a joy to watch a film that managed to blend so many different thematic elements into a frosty milkshake of “fuck yeah.” — Manny

Kingpin: Nothing tickles internet-using Pennsylvanians’ pinker than the Amish. A living tribute to Pennsylvania’s hard-working and puritanical past, the Amish represent simpler times before the exploitation of harsh, unforgiving modernity. Of course, Kingpin excels at hilariously uniting this dichotomy by tracking the relationship of two unlikely comrades. Roy Munson, played to perfection by a balding, broken-down Woody Harrelson, is a one-handed ex-pro bowler brought to that condition with the help of a ball retriever and his pin-punishing rival Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray). In debt, and battered, Munson meets Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid). Boorg is an Amish farmer with an un-Godly gift for rolling. Munson sees in Boorg his own talent, but the sin-free life of the Mennonite hardly meshes with the rough-and-tumble way Munson makes a quick buck. The plot is rather rote and the execution is somewhat clumsy, but the Farrelly brothers manage to create a comedy that is distinctly Pennsylvanian. Most of the comedic moments center around Boorg’s first encounters with gambling, tattoos, sex and other sins of modern life. However, the fish-out-of-water style is counter-balanced when Munson appears just as out of place in Boorg’s home in Amish country. The resulting impromptu friendship earmarks the film with a Pennsylvanian flavor — the fast living of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with the quiet serenity of the inner country quaintly called “Pennsyltucky.” — jbag

——

And the winner of our Films of Pennsylvania contest is Jbag, with his oddly semi-serious take on the Farrelly brothers classic, Kingpin, which paved the way for a far better bowling comedy, The Big Lebowski. As the winner, Jbag gets two tickets to American Eagle’s two-day New American Music Union Festival, featuring Bob Dylan, The Raconteurs, The Roots, and Gnarls Barkley, which is completely fucking sold out. Thanks again to American Eagle for providing the tickets and the impetus for today’s guide. Jbag, along with our second-place winner, Manny, will both also receive Pajiba T-shirts.
Thanks to everyone who submitted entries.

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Guides | July 29, 2008 | Comments ()




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