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Picks of the Week: Best & Worst Place-Based Films

by Julie Schwietert Jun 9, 2008
The Pulse editors share a love for film. This week, we’re servin’ up a menu of our favorite–and least favorite–films about place.

Eva’s Best Picks:
Shake Hands With The Devil – Moving, harrowing, and deeply compelling docu-drama about General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of all United Nations forces in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, who was given orders not to intervene.

Bonus points for filming on location in Rwanda (sometimes literally on the sites of massacres), and also for having its characters speak French at times – rather than miraculously conversing in English. You can see my short review of the film here.

Zodiac – There’s a school of thought that says reading mystery or crime fiction is one of the best ways to prepare for a trip – and if that’s the case, why not detective movies, too? I saw David Fincher’s carefully constructed, beautifully acted, slow-building thriller not long before my first visit to the Bay Area, and that night, it was the scenery, and the unfamiliar, enticing place names, that kept me up as much as the grisly murders.

Eva’s Worst Picks:
Boys and Girls – Nerdy Boy and Cool Girl go to Berkeley, strike angry sparks, become best friends, then… well, you know. Can their secret love survive that one fateful night? Can boys and girls ever just be friends? Could there be a bigger waste of the Bay Area as backdrop? Again, I’ve got a short review here.

Made of Honor – I didn’t even like “My Best Friend’s Wedding” that much in the first place – I liked this messy remake even less. It managed to simultaneously brutalize two of my favorite places: New York City and Scotland. In fact, the Scottish scenes were so appalling I’d guess the movie’s release could have touched off riots in Glasgow. My mini-review is here.

Julie’s Best Picks:
Bling – I rolled my eyes when my husband added this to our Netflix queue, but the beauty of “Bling” is that it shows just how powerful and important travel is. When RaeKwon of the WuTang Clan refuses to get off the tour bus to meet Sierra Leonians lacking limbs due to genocidal violence and says, “This shit is blowin’ my mind,” you understand how being in a place rather than just reading about it changes everything.

Beyond the Gates of Splendor– This is another documentary I was hesitant to see, not being particularly interested in another story about the veiled imperialism of Christian missionaries, but I was converted. The story of five couples who went to Ecuador as Christian missionaries and attempted to convert the indigenous Waorani is fascinating, resurrecting persistent questions about the effects of travel, both for those who are visiting and those being visited.

Julie’s Worst Picks:
Reel Paradise and The Man Who Bought Mustique:
Quite possibly two of the worst documentaries ever, but definitely two of the worst place-based films. Both marked by the arrogance of their main characters– displayed in both men’s belief that they were making positive differences in the lives of locals, their inability to think of people other than themselves, and their patent refusal to learn much about local culture while taking full advantage of it–these two documentaries confirm that the ugly American (or the ugly Brit, in the case of “The Man Who Bought Mustique”) is indeed alive and well.

What are your most and least favorite films about place? Leave your list in the Comments section!

Photo: Tala (creative commons)

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