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Issue Date: April 2014 Issue


Lights, Camera, Action: Movie Stars

After plenty of binge-watching and buckets of popcorn, we give you the lowdown on the best of Cleveland's cinematic history with these films that deserve two thumbs up for strong plotlines, interesting portrayals of our city and sometimes a story so bad it's good. 

The Deer Hunter (1978)

This three-hour epic won five Oscars, including best picture and best actor in a supporting role for Christopher Walken. It was also nominated for best screenplay and features great nominated performances by Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. As No. 53 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 Movies, this brutal take on the Vietnam War through the eyes of three Russian-American steelworkers starts with a joyous wedding filmed at Tremont's St. Theodosius Orthodox Cathedral. It features one of the most gripping moments in movie history — a Russian roulette scene set deep in the jungle — and ends in a puddle of tears.
 

A Christmas Story (1983)

Nothing says Christmastime to us like this cult-classic film. And thanks to TBS' 24-hour marathon, we can get our fill of Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun in one long gluttonous binge session. With scenes filmed in Higbee's department store, Public Square and outside a Tremont house, this story of childhood — the innocence and tribulations of it — is a gift we look forward to unwrapping year after year. Isn't that what the holidays are all about?
 

American Splendor (2003)

Harvey Pekar was fiercely Cleveland. His autobiographical comics captured life in Cleveland during its toughest years, and his loyalty to his hometown was unmatched. The biopic, based on his comic of the same name, was filmed partially in Cleveland and Lakewood, and those locations became homages to the city's prewar architecture and its people's blue-collar nature. Paul Giamatti captures Pekar's shlubby, irascible anti-charm completely. His acting becomes even more enlightening when the movie flirts with a documentary style, giving the viewer insights from the real-life Harvey and his wife, Joyce Brabner, to juxtapose their Hollywood counterparts.
 

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield — its towers as beautiful as a church and its walls as intimidating as a medieval castle — co-stars with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. One of the best prison dramas of the last 30 years, based on a story by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption honestly depicts the violence common among prison inmates, yet builds to a hard-earned uplift. It may inspire contradictory impulses in viewers: exultation for freedom combined with an urge to get inside the walls during tours.
 

Major League (1989)

Though mostly shot in Milwaukee — with some exterior scenes filmed here — this baseball flick starring Tom Berenger as washed-up catcher Jake Taylor and Charlie Sheen as bad-boy rookie Ricky Vaughn hits a cinematic home run in Cleveland sports fans' hearts. Battling an owner who wants nothing more than for them to finish in last place so she can move the team to Miami, the squad of misfit players swings for the fences and starts winning. We cheer every time we see fans in classic Tribe gear sharing in the collective pain and joy that a single season can bring. It's a feeling that's all too real, but one that we keep on rooting for.
 

Stranger than Paradise (1984)

Written with deadpan humor and shot in dirty black and white, Akron native Jim Jarmusch's breakthrough film won the top prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. It launched the independent film genre as we know it — unconventionally told stories filmed on low budgets to preserve creative control. A road trip from New York City to Cleveland, then Florida, drives the plot. In perhaps the most Cleveland scene ever filmed, the travelers walk through a snowstorm to view a vast gray-whiteness. "Well, this is it," says one, "Lake Erie."
 

The Fortune Cookie (1966)

This comedy stars Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in their first on-screen collaboration — and it's easy to see why the odd couple continued to make hits. When cameraman Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) is injured filming a Browns game, his brother-in-law (Matthau, who won an Oscar for this role) concocts a get-rich-quick scheme.
 

Welcome to Collinwood (2002)

A wacky lift on the 1958 Italian movie Big Deal on Madonna Street, this Russo brothers heist film is full of big-name actors such as Patricia Clarkson, William H. Macy and Sam Rockwell — with a quirky performance by George Clooney — who play shady characters in the even shadier neighborhood of Collinwood. The criminal crew embarks on a bellini (a big-score robbery) with the hopes that it will change their lives for the better, only to encounter plenty of setbacks along the way that could leave them for worse.
 

The Avengers (2012)

We first got bit by the blockbuster bug with the filming of Spider-Man 3 in 2006. But it wasn't until Marvel's other superheroes — Captain America, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye — barreled into town and teamed up to save the world in this all-star crusader flick that we totally geeked out. Director and co-writer Joss Whedon brings his expertise in ensemble casts to its script, packing the plot with wry humor and kick-ass men and women.
 

Antwone Fisher (2002)

Denzel Washington was so impressed by this script written by Clevelander Antwone Fisher that he chose it for his directorial debut. Newcomer Derek Luke delivers a riveting performance as a young, angry sailor who endured malicious abuse in a Cleveland foster home. His life turns around when a sympathetic yet strict psychologist (Washington) helps him learn it's possible for a broken man to let go of what hurt him.
 

Tommy Boy (1995)

Best buds and Saturday Night Live alums Chris Farley and David Spade star in this comedic classic about a son who becomes the heir to his father's auto parts factory after his dad suddenly dies. So stupid that it's hilarious, the duo ventures on a disaster-filled sales trip to try to save the business from being taken over by his stepmother. If the landscape looks familiar to you, that's because some of the scenes were set and filmed in Sandusky.
 

The Kings of Summer (2013)

Three teenage boys drop off the grid into a dense suburban woods, where they build a home from cheap construction material in this wistful film produced by Chagrin Falls native Tyler Davidson. Shot entirely in the Cleveland area — mostly in the Chagrin Valley, with a final scene in Berea — the story follows the fragile romance of their adventure entwined with the main character's quest to woo a beautiful classmate. Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation has a supporting role; Moises Arias as the slight, peculiar Biaggio steals the film.
 

One Potato, Two Potato (1964)

Filmed in Painesville, this Oscar-nominated, black-and-white film is set in the fictional town of Howard in the '60s, where a white divorcee (Barbara Barrie) falls in love with a black man living on a farm with his parents. Despite facing prejudice from the community, the couple elopes and moves in together along with her daughter from the previous marriage. The movie has an unexpected ending, as her daughter's biological father can't see past his own prejudices and sues for full custody. He wins, based on the judge's prediction about the future societal pressures the daughter will face.
 

Take Shelter (2011)

A storm is coming. But this kind rains motor oil and has clouds shaped like menacing hands. These ominous cues lead a paranoid Curtis (Michael Shannon in a gripping performance) to question whether to fear the storm or himself. They culminate into palpable fear and a masterful conclusion that will surprise even the most watchful viewer.
 

Howard the Duck (1986)

Howard is a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, wisecracking anthropomorphic duck from outer space who lands in rough and tumble '80s Cleveland in this cult-classic sci-fi comedy. Presented by George Lucas and based on a popular comic book series, this live-action flick is in so bad it's good territory as Howard tries to save the world with help from Lea Thompson, who plays an '80s pop rocker, and Tim Robbins as a hair-brained scientist.
 

The Soloist (2009)

Homeless and mentally ill cellist Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is simply a story to Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) until the seasoned journalist discovers Ayers once attended the prestigious Juilliard School. As Lopez pens nationally recognized columns about the musician, he also tries to help him exorcise his demons — a task that will make you examine the limits of the human mind and what it really means to be a friend.
 

The Kid from Cleveland (1949)

Taking place during and immediately following the Cleveland Indians 1948 World Series victory, a shaky plot and stilted dialogue aren't enough to strike out this movie about a wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid who loves the Tribe. It's filmed all around the city, including Cleveland Municipal Stadium and the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the best acting in the flick is provided by real-life team owner Bill Veeck and players such as Lou Boudreau, Hank Greenberg and Tris Speaker. Using actual game footage from the 1948 series, this is one of the few opportunities we have to watch the Indians actually win it all.
 

The Oh in Ohio (2006)

This raunchy, slightly absurd, pretty predictable and ultimately entertaining romantic comedy centers on Paul Rudd's and Parker Posey's characters, whose marriage hits a rough patch because of some — let's call them bedroom issues. Hollywood veteran and funnyman Danny DeVito and Mischa Barton co-star in this flick that embraces Cleveland and its landmarks and features a must-see cameo by American Splendor's Toby Radloff.
 

The Escape Artist (1982)

Known as the godfather of directing classic dramatic flicks, executive producer Francis Ford Coppola hands the reigns to director Caleb Deschanel in this suspenseful tale filmed in Cleveland. It riffs on the relationship between father and son ... if your father happens to be a magician. Well acted and compellingly told, with tricks galore, it's a little piece of '80s filmmaking lost to time.
 

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Our Theater District offices provided front-row seats for the making of this action flick that finds Peter Parker (Toby McGuire) embracing his inner alien and bad boy. High on special effects and low on engaging dialogue, Spidey takes on three villains, swings down Euclid — err, Madison — Avenue and fights to save his love, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
 

Uptight (1968)

Based on the 1935 classic The Informer, this film features actress Ruby Dee — who was born in Cleveland and went on to score an Oscar nomination for American Gangster 40 years later. It follows the activities of a Cleveland-based gang right after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. A drunk expelled from the group finds revenge by ratting out his best friend to the police.
 

Telling Lies in America (1997)

Kevin Bacon plays a charismatic, too-cool Cleveland WHK-AM disc jockey idolized by Karchy Jonas, a high school student and Hungarian immigrant. This 1997 Guy Ferland film has got Cleveland all over. From the opening line, in which Bacon's character Billy Magic calls the city "The Mistake on the Lake," to Browns jerseys to Jonas' part-time gig at the West Side Market, it represents the city in ways we both love and hate. As he is taken under Billy Magic's wing (where there's lots of money, glamour and girls), Jonas begins to make up lies to beef up his own persona and learns some valuable lessons from the mistakes.
 

Air Force One (1997)

After delivering a rousing speech about terrorism in Moscow (at a very recognizable Severance Hall), the president of the United States, his family and several passengers are taken hostage by terrorists aboard Air Force One. But this isn't any president — this is one played by action hero Harrison Ford, and he takes on the bad guys single-handedly, Indiana Jones style. The dialogue won't leave you breathless, but Ford's right jab might.
 

Alex Cross (2012)

Spoiler alert: Tyler Perry is not dressed as a foul-mouthed grandma— that would have been Alex Cross-dresser (and possibly funny). Instead, he tries on James Patterson's famous detective (previously played by Morgan Freeman). Heavily reliant on action scenes between Perry and the ruthless assassin nicknamed "Picasso" (Matthew Fox of Lost fame), the film's about what you'd expect: bad. Making it worse, Cleveland stands in for ... Detroit. But at least Akron's Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens plays a lavish French millionaire's estate.
 

Fun Size (2012)

While it debuted to mixed reviews, how could we not tolerate a movie that stars Nickelodeon darling Victoria Justice, funny gal Chelsea Handler and jackass Johnny Knoxville? Though this bite-sized comedy doles out laughs in small doses as Justice's Wren loses her younger brother during trick-or-treating, we gobbled up the scenes with her sarcastic best friend April (played by Jane Levy) like kids in a candy store.
 

Flicks that Didn't Make Our Final Cut ...

Against the Ropes (2004)

Boxing movies are supposed to make you want to box. Against the Ropes will make you want to sleep. From a slow-clap scene to the big fight climax, this film is a bundle of cliches. Though Meg Ryan puts in a solid performance as Jackie Kallen — the first female boxing promoter in an all-male world — it's not worth the knockout to your afternoon.
 

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013)

Even Jackass fans will find this comedy only slightly amusing. Johnny Knoxville plays crazy senior Irving Zisman, who's asked by his daughter to take her son Billy to his father in Raleigh, N.C., while she goes back to jail. With the hidden camera prank humor of the MTV show, the road trip is comical at some points, thanks to Jackson Nicoll, who plays Billy, but is mostly lackluster, filled with recycled jokes from past movies. It was fun, though, to catch a glimpse of the Veteran's Memorial Bridge on Cleveland's West Side.
 

Proximity (2001)

Rob Lowe stars as a college professor who is charged with vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to life in a Northeast Ohio prison where inmates suspiciously die and he appears to be next. Although some action sequences are thrilling, there are too many scenes that fall flat.
 

The Rocker (2008)

Set in our city where music legends are honored in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a washed-up drummer gets a fresh start in his teenage nephew's garage band. You'll be disgusted by Robert "Fish" Fishman (Rainn Wilson) sweaty performances — but you'll root for him and this all-star cast that includes Christina Applegate, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis and Bradley Cooper.
 

Those Lips, Those Eyes (1980)

This classic film also takes on that old-hat theme of a young man having to choose between his own dreams and the ones his parents have planned for him. Although Thomas Hulce offers a decent performance as a young adult in Ohio summer-stock theater, the story is rather dull and ultimately forgettable.
 

Underdogs (2013)

Based on real-life Canton football rivalry between the Herbert Hoover Vikings and St. Thomas Aquinas Knights, the movie was shot in the birthplace of football and features a cameo by former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath. When Vince DeAntonio (D.B. Sweeney) becomes the new football coach at a small Catholic high school, he works to transform the losing team into victors. While mediocre, it's heartwarming film.
 

View from the Top (2003)

Desperate to get out of her Nevada hometown, Donna becomes a flight attendant stationed in Cleveland. She is underwhelmed by Cleveland and plans to jet off until she falls in love and is forced to choose between following her dreams or her heart. While the movie starts off in a sweet way and stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Christina Applegate, the plot never takes off.  

You Thought This Was Filmed Here, But It Wasn't ...

The Rainmaker (1997)

This John Grisham novel turned '90s film stars Matt Damon as Rudy Baylor, a young lawyer who teams up with a cynical partner to take on one of the country's biggest insurance firms. Although the insurance lawyers are not menacing enough to fit the plotline and an unexciting love story is woven throughout, the film delivers on suspense. 

Movies Rumored to Be Shot Here ...

Happy Gilmore (1996)

From a beat down from former Price is Right host Bob Barker to a hilarious cameo by Ben Stiller, there are few moments in this '90s gem about a slacker pro golfer that don't elicit uncontrollable laughter. It's arguably the most quotable, funniest Adam Sandler flick of his nearly 30-year career.
 

Traffic (2000)

This drama was both a critical and commercial success, raking in more than $124 million at the domestic box office and winning four Oscars. Starring A-listers Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, as well as directed by Steven Soderbergh, this crime thriller examines the illegal drug trade by weaving together various perspectives from the trafficker to the enforcer. This gripping story will make you re-evaluate your opinions about the war on drugs.
 
 

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