When Hollywood film crews headed to Arizona to make movies, the East Valley became a favorite choice, and as a proud Arizonan, I seem to gravitate to films that I otherwise might not choose to see simply because I hope to see somewhere I’ve been.
Call me someone who’s rather easily entertained, but I seek such movies so I can look for not only the local locales, but also any thinly-veiled local references only someone who lives here would understand. It also provides a common experience to share for me and friends from out of state who have never been here before. (“Remember that palm tree in the parking lot scene? I almost backed into it once.”)
The Tribune reported last week that an East Valley film series called “Cult Classics” was screened the 1989 comedy smash, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” in Chandler on Saturday night.
The film is rich in Valley locations, from Metrocenter mall in west Phoenix to my alma mater, Coronado High School in Scottsdale, to a Circle K store on Southern Road in Tempe immortalized in this quote from Ted, played by a quite young Keanu Reeves: “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”
(This is the talent actors have. Reeves was actually believable years later as the deadpan Neo in “The Matrix” movie series and as the equally humorless outer space alien Klaatu, sent to destroy our planet in the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”)
The heyday of movies shot in the Valley was the 1980s and early 1990s. Not every one was worth it; the one most longtime residents name in this category was 1978’s “A Fire in the Sky,” a made-for-TV effort about a comet on its way to destroy Phoenix.
So in honor of Bill and Ted’s “excellent” return to an East Valley big screen, I opened up the vault of my memory and then searched through the movie information archive IMDb.com to find some favorite films shot at least in-part here in the East Valley and a few quotes from them:
• Used Cars (1980) — Kurt Russell and Jack Warden starred in this crazy comedy about overly-competitive car salesmen whose lots were along Apache Blvd. and Main Street in Tempe and Mesa. A nationally televised football game at Sun Devil Stadium is the scene for an attempt to break into the broadcast for our boys’ important commercial message. One of director Robert Zemeckis’ early films, it features some great examples of car-sales puffery such as this line Russell drops on a female customer, “Do you know that your hair exactly matches the color of these tires?” The sales crew also fools a customer into thinking he ran over the dealership’s pet dog (which didn’t happen; it was a block of wood the characters put under a tire) and buys a beat-up old car out of guilt.
• Raising Arizona (1987) — The Coen Brothers’ effort had locals laughing and America chuckling at a young Nicolas Cage as an escaped convict and Holly Hunter as a Tempe police officer who fall in love and plot to kidnap the baby of a prominent Phoenix furniture magnate named Nathan Arizona. Scenes were shot throughout the East Valley, from Carefree to Scottsdale to Tempe to Apache Junction. I first saw this movie with fellow Arizonans I was visiting in Oakland, Calif. We were the only ones laughing when Nathan Arizona introduced his wife… Florence Arizona.
• Wayne’s World (1992) — With scenes shot in Mesa and Scottsdale, director Penelope Spheeris presented “Saturday Night Live’s” Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in an extension of an “SNL” skit that actually was an entertaining film. Wayne (Myers) and Garth (Carvey) produce a show on a public-access channel set in suburban Chicago. Terms like “party on” were the film’s contribution to the cultural lexicon.
• Waiting to Exhale (1995) — Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett star in the story of women looking for real love with real men, not the temporary kind with flaky guys. With scenes shot in Chandler, Paradise Valley and Fountain Hills, this film by director Forrest Whitaker provided believable performances that gave insight into the kind of relationships we want and the kind we sometimes settle for. One of the characters, Robin (Lela Rochon), defines what will please her in this quote, whose exact words I found in the Nov. 24, 2007, entry in a blog called “Rantings of a Creole Princess”: “I want a house, in Scottsdale. I wanna get married. I want two, maybe three kids. I wanna eat out, two, maybe three times a night. I wanna go a way for long weekends. I wanna be happy!”
Read Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Watch his video commentaries at eastvalleytribune.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.