Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Movie on the big screen in Alaska

The movie time on the web site was 8:00 pm. The movie time on the sign outside the building was 7:30 pm. They split the difference and started the show at about 7:45. With only one trailer (for Maggie's Plan, which we plan to avoid) and an ad, the actual movie started at about ten to. Which would have been okay; we were early, if we hadn't told friends to meet us there at 8:00 pm. But actually, movies are more of a sideline at the Blue Loon in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Blue Loon is a cool, funky space with a bit of a quonset hut vibe going. It's a bar and a restaurant and a concert hall, and four nights a week they show movies. The week we were there, they were screening (Wednesday - Saturday) Neighbors 2 at 5:00 pm (or 5:30?) along with our film for the night, The Meddler. By the time the movie was over, the eating area had a DJ (VJ?) at work along with the bartender, wait staff, and ticket seller.

You could have a full meal and drinks at a table in the theater area, but we just had popcorn (a small popcorn, because they didn't have butter).

We enjoyed The Meddler, the story of a recently widowed woman (Susan Surandon) who moves near her daughter (Rose Byrne) so she'll have someone to occupy her time. The great J. K. Simmons does a fine job in the role that writer/director Lorene Scafaria must have imagined would be cast with Sam Elliott. There are no churches or clergy in the film, but an interesting point about the film was raised by the critic Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle. So often screenwriters justify having characters do horrible things because they wanted to make things "interesting." Some actors talk about the villain always being the more interesting role. But LaSalle points out that Sarandon's character is good, genuinely trying to help others, but still an appealing and intriguing character. Good does not equal dull as a reading of the life of Christ makes clear.

Mindy and our friend, Stephen, liked that the film featured chickens. The chickens enjoy music, particularly the stylings of Dolly Parton.

Many find it an odd feeling to leave a movie matinee and walk out into the bright sunlight. Even stranger to leave an evening show (7:30? 8? 7:45?) and walk out into the bright sunlight. But this was Alaska in June.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Alaskan movies on the small sceen

Let's get the ugly stuff out of the way now. Charlie Chaplin's 1925 comedy, The Gold Rush, was filmed in... California. Like many films of its era, most of the film was quite obviously set on studio sets. But the setting of the film is the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska, and many of the elements of the story would be elements of Alaskan films for decades to come: the Gold Rush itself, the harsh winter, the unforgiving wilderness, bears, sled dogs, dance hall girls, and the humor that is necessary to survive in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

The film is one of the great achievements of one of the greatest filmmakers. Like the best of Chaplin, it is both funny and poignant. The Gold Rush has been ranked in the American Film Institute's list as one of the hundred greatest films. It was even nominated for two Oscars, even though the film was made before the Academy Awards existed. (In 1942 the film was re-released with synchronized sound and music added, and it was nominated for Oscars in those two categories.)

There are no explicit religious elements in the film, which is not surprising. It was written and directed by Chaplin, who was not (by all accounts) a religious man. But the Little Tramp's spirit of gentleness and humility is very Christlike indeed.

So back to those elements found in The Gold Rush and other Alaskan films:

The Alaskan Gold Rush
Anthony Mann and actor James Stewart made a series of classic Westerns in the 1950's. One of those films was 1954's The Far Country, about cowboys who tried to make their fortune shipping cattle to Alaska in 1896, the beginning of the Gold Rush. Like all their collaborations, this Mann/Stewart Western is exciting and much tougher than most action films of its time. Sadly, it was filmed in Canada.

The Spoilers, a 1942 John Wayne Western, is set in Nome, Alaska, during the Gold Rush. It tells the story of prospectors protecting their claim against crooked authorities. The tag line of the film was "Crashing Fists in the Gold Crazed Alaska of '98!" But is was filmed in California.

The Gold Rush is not the only time a great comedian used an Alaskan setting. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made a series of "Road" comedies notable for a breaking of the fourth wall. In Road to Utopia, like other films in the series, Dorothy Lamour provided the love interest. The film was made in 1943 but wasn't released until 1946, perhaps delayed because of World War II and perhaps to benefit Crosby's campaign for Best Actor for Going My Way (1944).

Growing up, one of my favorite things was watching Abbott and Costello comedies early on Sunday mornings before my family headed off for church. One of those films was 1952's Lost in Alaska. But like the film of other famous comedy team just mentioned, their film was made in California.

Dance Hall Girls
John Wayne returned to an Alaska setting in 1960's North to Alaska about a man who is supposed to bring his friend's mail order bride but, due to comic complications, must substitute a dance hall girl (played by Capucine) for the expected bride. Again, filmed in California.

In a Fairbanks, Alaska, museum we saw a large poster for 1943's Klondike Kate, in which Ann Savage starred as a true life dance hall girl with a notorious reputation. It was directed by William Castle, who would later make a reputation with cheesy horror films. I couldn't find out anything about where this film was made, so it probably wasn't made in Alaska.

Sled Dogs
There have been a number of films about sled dogs, and Disney couldn't stay out of the game. 1994's Iron Will tells the story of a kid who must win the big race. No spoilers about whether he wins the big race. And it was filmed in 'M' states, Minnesota and Montana.

There isn't even a question about 1995's Balto being filmed in Alaska because, well, it's animated. It is based on a true story a diphtheria epidemic in 1925 Nome. A team of sled dogs brought the needed serum to the town, the team led by a dog named Balto.

1997's The Edge tells the story of two rivals (played by Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin) who battle each other and a grizzly bear in the Alaskan wilderness. But the Alaskan Wilderness is played by the Canadian wilderness. (David Mamet wrote a great screenplay for the film.)

 On the cheerier side, in the 1996 film Alaska, kids lost in the wilderness find a polar bear cub that takes care of them. The film stars Charlton Heston and was directed by the actor's son Fraser. We had fun taking our kids to the film when it came out, but few others have seen it. And it was filmed in Alaska (and Canada).

The Wilderness
The Gold Rush is a comedy, so it gets a little dark, but not too dark. Things do not go so well in The Grey, the story of a group of oil workers who survive a plane crash in the Alaska wilderness, This very good but somber film that some refer to as Liam Neeson Vs. Wolves (Things go better for wolves than things usually go for people who abduct Liam's daughter) was filmed in Canada.

Sean Penn directed the 2007 film, Into the Wild, which tells the true story about a young man who decided to live in the Alaskan wilderness. Things did not go well. But we'll finish with good news: the Alaskan portions of the film were filmed in Alaska, including the Mecca bar in Fairbanks.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Clergy in Crisis: The Sandpiper (1965)

 Richard Burton as an Episcopalian pastor and school principal in 1965's The Sandpiper faces one of the great moral dilemmas: to be true to his wife (Eva Marie Saint) or have an affair with the mother (Elizabeth Taylor) of one of his students.

The film was one of eleven Burton and Taylor made together as they continued to marry, divorce and remarry themselves and others off screen. Directed by the great director of musicals, Vincente Minnelli though it wasn’t a musical, the film introduced the Academy Award winning song, "The Shadow of Your Smile."

I wondered for a bit whether to use this film for Movie Churches since it is about a school principal (or "warden" as he is referred to in the film) rather than a full time pastor. But the Rev. Dr. Edward Hewitt (Burton) is an ordained Episcopalian priest, and he does apparently regularly preach in chapel to the students of his boys' school. More importantly, everyone views him as a minister of the Gospel.

Laura Reynolds (Taylor) thinks of him as a Christian, and that is the very reason she doesn't want her son to attend his school. She calls herself a "naturalist" who doesn't believe in the supernatural. She thinks religion corrupts people's spirits, but a judge rules that her ten year old son must either attend Hewitt's school or reform school, so she consents. He tries to assure her that even though chapel is compulsory, you can't force someone to pray.

Laura had been homeschooling her son, Danny. They've both been memorizing The Canterbury Tales (not a great way to keep one's mind religion free). I find it rather interesting that a half century ago, homeschooling is presented as the province of anti-religious free spirits while in the more recent past, people think of conservative Christians when they think of homeschoolers.

Billy Graham had what proved to be a wise policy of never meeting alone with a woman who was not a family member. The Rev. Dr. Hewitt visits Miss Reynolds (she's never been married, a scandal to all) in her home to report on her son. On his first visit he finds her modeling topless for an artist. He sticks around until after the artist leaves so he can talk to her alone. Not prudent.

Hewitt wants information on Laura’s background, so he asks around in the locker room at the Pebble Beach Country Club. One of the men wonders if Hewitt can handle the sordid details, being a minister and all. The man says he had an affair with Miss Reynolds.

Hewitt continues to visit Reynolds and eventually admits his desire for her. They begin an affair. He lies to his wife, claiming to be off at school fundraising appointments. He tells Laura that his wife is a good woman (and Mrs. Hewitt does seem to be kind, affirming and supportive). He tells Laura that he is a hypocrite (good call).

Laura has an artist friend (Charles Bronson) who calls himself "the village atheist" and enjoys trying to bait the Rev. Dr. into theological arguments. Hewitt responds with the proverb about not answering a fool in his folly. When the atheist finds out about the affair, he mocks the Rev. Dr., who attacks him and tries to choke him to death.

So, in his relationships with two defiant non-Christians, Hewitt tries two different methods of communication. Not surprisingly, neither adultery nor violence leads to conversion.

Laura does attend the last school chapel of the year, a time when parents are invited. In a rambling, pseudo-profound sermon, the Rev. Dr. Hewitt announces his resignation. He doesn't confess his sin, but he tells his wife and lover he is leaving them both. I believe all parties will be better off. The Rev. Dr. Hewitt and his chapel receive One Steeple.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

50 State Trip Half Way Point - The TV Shows

On our trip across the United States, we've been noting the movies we've watched that were set and/or filmed in the states we've visited. But we've also been watching a TV show set and/or filmed in every state. We go to a variety of sources to find the shows; chiefly YouTube but also Hulu, Amazon, and regular television.  I've been reporting the shows to the podcast TV Talk Machine, and they've been reporting the progress of the trip. Obviously, some states have many shows to choose from, while other states... Well, we had to stretch the definition of "set and/or filmed in" a few times. So here's where we are at the half way point:

1) Nevada - Crime Story (1986)

2) Arizona - Sky King (1951)

3) New Mexico - Better Call Saul (2015)

4) Texas - King of the Hill (1997)

5) Oklahoma - Carnivale - (2003)

6) Kansas - Gunsmoke (1955)

7) Missouri - The John Larroquette Show (1993)

8) Arkansas - Evening Shade (1990)

9) Louisiana - Treme (2010)

10) Mississippi - In the Heat of the Night  - (1988)

11) Alabama - Hart of Dixie (2011)

12) Florida - Fresh Off the Boat (2015)

13) Georgia - The Walking Dead (Season One - 2010)

14) South Carolina - American Gothic (1995)

15) North Carolina - The Andy Griffith Show (1960)

16) Tennessee - Nashville (2012)

17) Kentucky - Justified (2010)

18) West Virginia - The X-Files - episode 731 (1995)

19) Virginia - The Waltons  (1971)

Bonus - Washington, D.C. - Veep (2012)

20) Maryland - Homicide: Life on the Street (1993)

21) Delaware - The Pretender (1996)

22) Pennsylvania - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia  (2005)

23) New Jersey - The Sopranos (1999)

24) New York - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt  (2015)

25) Alaska - Northern Exposure (1990)

If you'd like to see what we watched in the other 25 states during 2016, you can find it here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

New York Movie on the Big Screen

I grew up singing along with the radio, “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.” Everyone knew that song, because everyone knew who the boxing heavyweight champion of the world was; whether it was during Muhammad Ali’s reign or George Foreman’s or Smokin’ Joe Frazier’s. In junior high, we talked at snack break about the fight on pay per view that we couldn’t afford to watch. On rainy days our P.E.  teacher, Mr. Grey, would sometimes show ABC’s Wide World of Sports highlights reels, often featuring Ali (sometimes from back in his Cassius Clay days). The last time I knew the belt holder was in Mike Tyson’s day. When Ali passed away a few weeks ago, it felt like the death of that part of my childhood.

Which is why, when I saw that Michael Mann’s 2001 Ali was playing at a local theater in Staten Island, I knew it would be our New York theater film. (Actually, it wasn’t our first choice. We hoped to visit Nitehawk Theater in Brooklyn because it’s rated as one of the best theaters in New York on various polls and lists. But the show we wanted was sold out, so we didn’t see The Lobster there.)

Ali was playing at a United Artists Theater. I worked several years for a UA theater in my college days, but when we went inside we found that the box office and the lobby were covered with Regal Cinema merchandising. Sad to hear UA had merged with Regal (and Edwards). Regal seems to be taking over all the theaters in the nation.

But neither Mindy or I had seen Ali, which was acclaimed upon its release. Will Smith was deservedly nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Ali. I thought it was a cool thing to re-release the film in honor of Ali’s passing, and the ticket tearer told us that after Prince died, the theater screened Purple Rain. I wish theaters did this kind of thing more often. Still, considering that we were the only ones attending our matinee show, I understand why they usually don’t.

Religion plays a big role in the film, as it did in Ali’s life. Much of America was shocked when Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam. Clay appears embarrassed by the Christian faith of his father, who painted blonde haired, blue eyed portraits of Jesus for African American churches. The Nation changed his name to Ali, but many Americans wouldn’t acknowledge the change. Ali faced even more opposition when he was drafted and refused to serve in Vietnam. When he faced prison time for that decision, the Nation of Islam excommunicated him; he was not allowed to go to the mosque to worship or communicate with other Black Muslims. The film also portrays another man excommunicated from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X. (We see Malcolm preaching against turning the other cheek.) After Ali won his case before the Supreme Court, he was reinstated.

Best of all for this post, Ali was partially set and filmed in New York. We see the Apollo Theater and hear about the New York State Athletic Commission banning Ali for his decision to refuse the draft (though they did allow convicted murderers to fight). Admittedly, it is less difficult to find a New York film than a film made in most other states. But we almost went to see The Lobster at the Nitehawk, and it was filmed in Ireland.

Monday, June 20, 2016

New York Movies on the Small Screen

There are states where I search high and low to find a few films set and/or shot in a state. Face the facts, Delaware, you are not the new Hollywood. But then we come to New York. Aside from California, more films have been made in and about New York than any other state. So the problem I face here is not trying to scrape enough films together to write about, but to narrow films down. Instead of a dozen films, there are thousands of films to choose from. So I needed a system.  I decided to go with a dozen New York films from a dozen of the best of American directors.

You might be surprised that when I say that I’m talking about the best of directors, I first bring up Rob Reiner. It’s been a couple of decades since he made a decent film. But for one decade, he made some of my favorite films. One of the most quoted comedies of all time is his mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap, and a number of people would call The Princess Bride their all time favorite films. And one of the best of romantic comedies -- and New York films -- is Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally. Made in 1989, the film brings to life the Rodgers and Hart song, “I Could Write a Book,” by showing “how to make two lovers of friends.” There is a lot of talk of sex in the film, but it is also a celebration of marriage, with an interesting device of interspersing the story of Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) with old couples telling their love stories.

And the film is full of New York icons: the Yankees and the Giants, ice skating in Central Park, marvelous views of the skyline, and, of course, delis. Nora Ephron’s screenplay makes this the best Woody Allen film Woody never made.

My favorite film director is Alfred Hitchcock. He made a number of films partially set in New York (such as North by Northwest which we will come back to in a later state), but The Wrong Man was filmed primarily in NYC and is also set entirely in the city. It is also unique in that it is based on a true story, and it’s not a thriller. Henry Fonda is a man falsely accused of robbery, and the film follows his struggles with the criminal justice system. There are also some faith moments in the film, as Fonda turns to God for help. Aside from I Confess, it’s Hitch’s film most filled with Catholic imagery.

My second favorite director is Akira Kurosawa. You may not be shocked to discover the Japanese director never directed a film about New York. But another favorite, Billy Wilder, did make a great New York film. 1960’s The Apartment won that year’s Oscar for Best Picture. The moral satire shows that Fred MacMurray could play sleazy as well as he played avuncular.

My favorite director(s) currently working are Joel and Ethan Coen. They’ve made films in all parts of the country, and they have worked in New York. 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis is the tale of a folk singer in the early 1960’s going to Greenwich Village to seek his fortune. It has a wonderful soundtrack rivaled only by the soundtrack for the Coens’ Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? For a key to what the film is all about, pay attention to the name of the cat.

The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, won the 1972 Oscar for Best Picture, and since then has often topped polls of the best films ever made. The film has scenes in a great variety of locations, including Italy, but a majority of the film is set (and was filmed) in New York City. There is a climatic scene in a church, the baptism of a child, within a montage of great acts of violence.

John Huston, a two time Oscar winner, directed a lesser known but very good New York gangster film, Prizzi’s Honor. Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner star as two professional killers who fall in love and (inevitably) are given the assignment to knock off the other.

The drug trade is the theme of William Friedkin’s Best Picture Winner, The French Connection.

Mob control of the unions was the subject of Elia Kazan’s Best Picture Winner, On the Waterfront (which featured Marlon Brando’s famous “I could have been a contender” speech and the film will be featured soon when Movie Churches looks at the Mob).

Crime was set to music in Robert Wises West Side Story, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet featuring juvenile delinquency, dance, and the Big Apple.

West Side Story also won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but it was not the first musical that featured location filming in NYC. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s musical, On the Town, was the first MGM musical to film on location and it has fewer deaths than WSS.

I asked my daughter Jil, who lives in Brooklyn, what I should feature as a New York film and she suggested 2012’s Frances Ha. Directed by Noah Baumbach, creator of a number of independently produced comedies, the film features a millennial woman belatedly coming of age. Jil suggested the film because she likes it and because it features upstate New York and not just the city.

If one was to pick the quintessential New York director, it seems the two most likely options would be Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. And because life isn’t fair, I’m not including a Scorsese film (sorry, Marty). I will include Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.  Chuck Colson once listed this comedy/drama as essential Christian viewing. In the film, a man gets away with a crime and finds that the worst possible punishment is not being caught. It is my favorite film by Allen and like most of Allen’s work, it is set and filmed in New York.

(Coming Wednesday, another New York film by a great American director, as seen on  the big screen)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Clergy in Crisis: The Third Miracle (1999)

Eating at a rescue mission and living in a sleazy rent by the week hotel, Frank Shore (played by Ed Harris) is not living the life of a priest. He says he's happy being out of the priesthood, but like Michael Corleone with the mob, when just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in.

Shore has a specialty in the Roman Catholic Church: investigating miracles for authenticity and candidates for sainthood. Throughout the film we learn more about the case that made him drop out of the priest business. A priest, Father Falcone, had a reputation for being a healer. Shore found testimony from Jewish doctor who said the man had healed tumors, but further investigation uncovered heretical papers and Falcone’s death by suicide. He was no longer a candidate for sainthood, and many people found their faith crushed -- Shore’s faith along with Falcone's followers.

So he hesitates before taking the case of woman named Helen, recently deceased, who people are advocating for sainthood. Helen, though not a nun, lived in a convent. When she died, a statue of the Virgin Mary near her room began to bleed, and a young girl praying to that statue was cured of terminal lupus. If these miracles proved to be true, Helen might become an American saint (though the film was made in Canada).

During his investigation, Father Frank meets Roxane (Anne Heche), Helen's daughter, and begins an affair with her. He tells her about his decision to become a priest, based on a deal he’d made with God. If his father was healed, he would become a priest. His father's health improved and so Frank went to seminary and took his vows. Immediately after he took his vows, his father died. He felt God cheated him.

Father Frank begins to believe in Helen and fights the Vatican bureaucracy that doesn't look fondly on the idea of American saint. (The Archbishop of the Common Cause of Saints isn't fond of America in general. He admits he's heard there is a passable restaurant in San Francisco, but otherwise...) The Archbishop wonders why, if Helen was a true saint, God would entrust her case to someone like Father Frank?

The miracles of the statue and the healing would count for two of the three miracles needed for sainthood. Father Frank searches for a third. Eventually, he finds clues that there may have been a third miracle in Helen's childhood. During World War II, she prayed when bombs were dropped over her city; the bombs turned into pigeons.

He doesn't convince the Vatican mucky-mucks, but Father Frank finds his faith again. That’s swell, I suppose, but the whole procedure of a trial process to ratify saints (as portrayed in the film) looks rather silly to me, which is why I'm giving Father Frank and the church in the film just Two Steeples.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Movie on the big screen in New Jersey

Princeton Garden Theatre
I'm not a medical doctor but I have picked up some cinematic diagnostic skills through the years. So I know that although a cough in ordinary life might just be from a common cold or a sip of water going down the wrong throat, if someone coughs in a movie, that person probably has T.B. (tuberculosis). The accuracy of this diagnosis increases greatly if the film is set prior to World War II. The Man Who Knew Infinity is the story of Srinvasa Ramanujan Ivengar, an Indian mathematician who was born in 1887, so....

Though this film was not set in the United States, let alone New Jersey, much of the film is set at Trinity College, Cambridge, a most prestigious school of learning. We watched the film at the Princeton Garden Theatre, which is just across the street from Princeton University, a most prestigious school of learning. The theater opened its door in 1920. (The first movie shown was Civilian Clothes starring Thomas Meighan. No, I had not heard of that movie or that actor until now.) In 1993 the theater was purchased by Princeton University, and it was renovated inside and out. It now has two screens. In 2014 Renew Theaters took over management. The theater specializes in foreign, independent, and classic films. Our other viewing choices the day we went were Love and Friendship (we saw it in Nashville) or Rear Window (love that film, but it was playing too late).

Princeton Garden Theatre
I appreciated that the music played before the film was the soundtrack of The Maltese FalconThe theater has a nice collection of vintage movie posters and a very cool P.S.A. Apparently, actor Ethan Hawke grew up in the area, and this was his theater. So the star of Boyhood, The Purge, and Gattaca is the guy who lectures the audience on turning off their cell phones.

But back to the movie we did watch. The Man Who Knew Infinity tells the (as always, mostly) true story of Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire), an Indian mathematician without a formal education who was brought to Trinity College at Cambridge University just prior to World War I. There is a bit of a Movie Churches angle to the film, too. Ramanujan's mentor, G. H. Hardy, was an atheist and a good friend of Bertrand Russell (author of "Why I Am Not a Christian"). But Ramanujan believed inspired theories were truly inspired, from the gods. Another math guy in the film, John Littlewood, is a Christian (as was Isaac Newton who gets more than a mention or two in the film).

Some have said it's difficult to make an interesting film about writing because neither typing or cursive is inherently cinematic. Frankly, adding and subtracting aren't ripe for montage either. On the other hand,   as we mentioned regarding a New Jersey film on the small screen, A Beautiful Mind (about the great Princeton mathematician John Nash) won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Anyway, there's a reason more films are about cops than actuaries.

Monday, June 13, 2016

New Jersey films on the small screen

There are a whole lot of films set and/or made in New Jersey, so we aren’t going to talk about them all. But I’ll eliminate a good deal by not including films made in both NJ and NY. Just dropping Woody Allen NJ and NY films eliminates a whole lot.

So let’s try to keep things short by starting with Peter Dinklage. Dinklage’s breakthrough role (long before Game of Thrones and about the same time as his bit role in Elf) came in The Station Agent, the story of a dwarf (as the character describes himself), Finn, who inherits a train station in rural New Jersey and decides to live there (because he has nowhere else to go). When many think of the Garden State, they think urban, but aside from the opening scene in Hoboken, the film takes place in a lovely, woodsy, small town. The film is not just set in New Jersey, but also filmed there as well.

As for churches (see the blog’s name), we see a brief cameo of a church when Dinklage walks through the country. Otherwise there is no church, and there are no clergy in the film but the film is really about the search for community. Finn is isolated by his size and shape. He has a hard time relating to people. He encounters a woman (Patricia Clarkson) isolated by her grief and a man (Bobby Cannavale) isolated by his lack of social skills. The three together eventually find community, the very thing many search for in a church. It’s often a difficult search.

Some people have a more built in community in their lives. 1950’s Cheaper By the Dozen, the mostly true story of the Gilbreth family of Montclair, New Jersey. Two parents and twelve children make for quite a community by themselves. The father, Frank, was an efficiency expert who used his children in research on time saving. Sadly, the film was made on Hollywood sets rather than NJ.

Other films about real New Jersey residents were filmed in New Jersey. For instance, a couple of members of the Princeton faculty have been featured in major motion pictures. Walter Matthau played Princeton University’s* Albert Einstein in heavily fictionalized comedy, I.Q. The 1994 romantic comedy is more concerned with whether Meg Ryan and Tim Robbin’s characters will hook up than with any theories of physics. Closer to real life, but still off in significant detail is 2001’s A Beautiful Mind. The 2001 drama about Princeton mathematician John Nash and his struggles with mental health. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture, and Russell Crowe won an Oscar playing Nash. It fudges a bit, particularly about Nash’s marriage, but, like I.Q., it was filmed in New Jersey.

Of course, plenty of quite fictional films have been set and filmed in New Jersey. Kevin Smith’s career began with the 1994 New Jersey film Clerks, which follows a couple of convenience store clerks who do little of consequence. But they do have a rather awesome conversation about the construction crew on the Death Star in Star Wars.

The great French director Louis Malle captured one of Burt Lancaster’s last great roles as a small time gangster trying to protect a young woman (Susan Sarandon) in 1980’s Atlantic City. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear the film was set and filmed in Atlantic City.

Also set and filmed in Atlantic City: Bob Rafelson’s 1972 cult classic The King of Marvin Gardens with Jack Nicholson. An early film by John Sayles, Baby It’s You, was set and filmed in New Jersey with a soundtrack featuring two of Jersey’s most celebrated troubadours, Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen. Another cult classic with a great soundtrack is 1983’s Eddie and the Cruisers about a fictional rock star who vanishes. And there is, of course, Garden State, which set new trends in wall paper.

Finally, I'd like to mention a film that many think is fictional, but actual sites on the internet make it clear the film is actual fact. 1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension tells the story of a brave physicist, test pilot, surgeon, and rock star, Buckaroo Banzai, and his brave struggle against evil space aliens attempting to take over and/or destroy earth. We learn in the film that in 1938, when Orson Welles produced the famous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, an actual invasion of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, was taking place -- but Welles was brainwashed by the aliens to say that it was all a hoax. I’d say the film is hardly fiction, but rather hard hitting journalism. But whether true or false, the film is very great fun. Sadly, though it is partly set in New Jersey, and even has a character named New Jersey, it was not filmed in New Jersey.

*Our next post will feature the film we saw on the big screen in New Jersey, where we return to the location of A Beautiful Mind.