Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Hometown Blogathon

Some weeks ago, the theme for Thursday Movie Picks, the weekly meme hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves that I participate in, was Movies Set Locally. Bloggers were free to define "locally" however they wished. For me, the choice came down to two places: where I grew up and where I live now. I went with the latter.

Thanks to Caz at Let's Go to the Movies, I have a chance to make amends with my old stomping grounds. Caz is hosting the My Hometown Blogathon. To take part, bloggers must create a post about their hometown pertaining to its cinematic (and television) history. We're encouraged to include, but not limited to:

  • Films set in that town
  • Films filmed in your town
  • Famous people in film born in your town
  • Famous people in film who grew up in your town
  • Famous people in film who now live in your town

  • For me, that hometown is Queens, New York. It's one of the city's famous five burroughs and, though it's not the epicenter of entertainment that Manhattan is, it has a rich cinematic history in its own right. I'll start with some things I knew off the top of my head before ever even hearing about this blogathon.

    Elementary School P.S. 155.
    This is nearly the identical view I had of it from my house.
    Strangely, I never attended it.
    The impresario of gritty, urban crime drama, the one and only Martin Scorsese is a Queens native. I would spend time running down his resume for you, but either you already know or you're not a film buff.

    Speaking of crime, one of the most notorious gangsters of the second half of the 20th Century, John Gotti, is also a Queens guy. I happened to go to high school not far from his home during the height of his, um, "career." How is this relevant? There was a movie made about him, of course, silly. It starred Armand Assante as The Teflon Don as Gotti was called. I think there was more than one movie about him, but that's the one I saw. More on my high school, later.

    One of my favorite movies to watch, and I've seen it more times than I can count, is set in Queens. I'm talking about none other than Coming to America starring Eddie Murphy. I used to hang out from time to time on Queens Boulevard where the fictional McDowell's restaurant was said to be located. It was actually a Wendy's that closed its doors for good in 2013.

    R. I. P.
    Parts of the recent movie about magicians, Now You See Me is set in Queens. Even the late great Joan Rivers filmed a segment of a performance at small club there. Yes, of course, Scorsese has set parts of several movies there including GoodFellas.

    Talking about movies and my hometown gives me a chance to name drop, too. I've mentioned this before so some of you might remember that I went to high school with rapper Fredro Scruggs, AKA Fredro Starr of the group Onyx. He went on to have a solid movie career. His most successful film was probably Save the Last Dance. He also appeared in Spike Lee's Clockers, Sunset Park with  Rhea Perlman, and Light it Up which starred Vanessa L. Williams, Forest Whitaker, a very young Rosario Dawson, and an equally young R&B/pop sensation named Usher. Since Save the Last Dance in 2001, Starr has lots of appearances on TV shows and roles in direct-to-home-video movies. I'm rooting for him to land another part in someone's big screen feature.

    Speaking of the Hip Hop-Hollywood connection, a number of my favorite rappers are from Queens and have made the leap to the big screen. My absolute favorite emcee ever, Nas, released my favorite album ever, Illmatic back in 1994. The making of this album serves as the subject for the current documentary Time is Illmatic. Sadly, it's not coming to the city where I now live. I can't wait to see this. Prior to this, he had a starring role in 1998's Belly, as well as a handful of bit parts here and there. Most recently, he shows up in 2013's Black Nativity. Of course, he contributed to a whole slew of soundtracks. Perhaps my favorite of these is the track "Shine on 'Em" which plays over the closing credits of Blood Diamond.

    Before Nas, the greatest rap group in the genre's history, Run DMC, also made their way from the streets of Queens to Hip Hop royalty to the big screen. As a matter of fact, I wrote a post about their cinematic debut: Movies I Grew Up With: Krush Groove. Their follow-up Tougher than Leather is definitely so bad, it's awesome!

    Let's go back to Krush Groove for a moment. Another Queens native made his big screen debut in that movie. He had barely broken into rap at the time. Since, he's become a hip hop icon and forged a very successful career as an actor. Sure, he's appeared in some duds like SWAT, Deliver Us from Eva, and the remake of Rollerball, but he's had some successes, too. His best work is probably as a gangster who calls himself God in the under-appreciated In Too Deep. He was also in a little football movie called Any Given Sunday. His biggest commercial successes all came on television. First, there was In the House. Currently, he plays Special Agent Sam Hanna on NCIS: Los Angeles. He's even hosted the Grammys for the last three years. To top it all off, he'll forever have a special place in my wife's heart. I'm talking about none other than Mr. James Todd Smith, better known as LL Cool J.

    The way I like LL...

    the way my wife likes LL.
    Other Queens natives who've rocked the mic and the big screen include: Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson with a growing filmography, and the group A Tribe Called Quest who were the subjects of Michael Rapaport's documentary Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Lead rapper Q-Tip also has a handful of other acting credits to his name including John Singleton's Poetic Justice which starred Janet Jackson and Tupac, among others.

    Now, for stuff I learned while doing a little research on the matter.

    Another one and only kind of guy, Francis Ford Coppola was born in Detroit, Michigan but moved to Queens at the age of two, where he did his growing up. Yeah, yeah, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, that guy.

    Obviously not feeling the pic above his.
    I've gained new respect for one of the ladies I have a crush on, Lucy Liu. I had no clue she grew up in the Jackson Heights area of Queens. She's only a couple of years older than I and I remember the Heights as being a rough place. I think I love her even more, now. In case you don't know why she's relevant to this post, I'll give the quick and dirty. Kill Bill, Chicago, Kung Fu Panda, Charlie's Angels, The Man with the Iron Fist, etc. Nowadays, she does it up on TV's Elementary.

    The way my wife likes LL...

    the way I like LL.
    Other Queens luminaries include:

    Judd Apatow
    Hank Azaria
    Adrien Brody
    Fran Drescher
    Jon Favreau
    Mae West

    Oh, two other guys I have to mention because, well, they are a pair big players in Hollywood especially come time for the Academy Awards. They are Harvey and Bob Weinstein.

    The way I like the Weinsteins...
    just kidding.
    The entirety of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is set, and was filmed, in Queens. How have I never seen this movie? Must change that, ASAP!

    Queens has also served as a stand-in for other parts of the city. While most of GoodFellas is set in Brooklyn, and A Bronx Tale is set in the Bronx, duh, they were both mostly filmed in Queens.

    Wow, that was exhausting. There's actually more stuff out there than what I've written here, but I think that's enough for one post. Hope you enjoyed this journey through my hometown as it has been splattered all over the big screen. Please check out Caz's blog and the other entries in this blogathon.

    Other blogathons I've participated in:


    1. LL Cool J.... hip-hop's version of Rod Stewart. A guy who keeps catching on trends to remain relevant only to look like a dinosaur.

      The only film that I know was shot around my hometown is.... ugh.... The Watch w/ Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. The football was shot in my old high school along with a few locations near by. Julia Roberts is born in the town where I live. It's a fucking shithole.

      1. Ouch! Harsh words for LL. Honestly, I feel that way more about Busta Rhymes who keeps jumping on tracks with the likes of Chris Brown and Lil Wayne. Hmph.

      2. Busta is doing tracks with Chris Brown and Lil' Wayne?

        OK, I take that back now.

      3. Sad, I know. I guess it's keeping the bills paid, though.

    2. This is a great idea for a blogathon. I may give it a go, even though I don't live in a place nearly as interesting as Queens. :-) I can think of a couple of films that were filmed around here, though.

      Great post! Your double takes on LL Cool J and Lucy Liu are hilarious.

      1. Do it. I'd love to see what you came up with. Thanks a bunch!

    3. Martin Scorsese! I'd love to be from the same place as my favorite director / cinephile.
      Nice that you mentioned Mae West and Fran Drescher - two gals I really like.
      Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

      1. Thanks. Who doesn't love Mae West? And Scorsese is one of my faves, too. I'll definitely check out your post. Glad you stopped by mine.