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As a pop-culture junkie, I love visiting places I've seen in a movie or on TV and comparing the "reel" to the "real." Some places always remind me of movies, anyway. I can't drive down a hill in San Francisco without thinking of the chase scenes in Foul Play.
If I'm walking down a New York City sidewalk, I always expect to see Dustin Hoffman appear in the crowd as Tootsie. I can't even have a latte at my neighborhood java joint, Indie Coffee in North Hollywood, without remembering Julia Roberts getting into a car wreck in the beginning of Erin Brockovich. That intersection is where it all went down.
But some movie sites are more memorable than others. Here are five of my faves:
Upper Kananaskis Lake from Brokeback Mountain
Even if there were no movie, this mountain range outside Calgary would be awe-inspiring. But knowing that this is where the most acclaimed gay romance of all time was made gave my visit added resonance. Our guide brought along a DVD player, and he'd play various scenes in the exact location where they were filmed.
A fellow journalist, Jimmy, and I couldn't resist recreating the heart-wrenching "I wish I knew how to quit you" scene. I played Jake and Jimmy was the late, great Heath. I overacted like crazy, but I was so overwhelmed by natural beauty that underplaying was simply not an option. You can check out that embarrassing video here.
The Distillery District (www.thedistillerydistrict.org) from Chicago and Cinderella Man
Parts of Chicago were shot at this distillery-turned-entertainment complex, but my guess is that they were the dramatic scenes, not the big numbers, because it'd be tough to dance on those 19th-century brick streets in heels. Today, the buildings house restaurants, shops and galleries, but so much period detail remains that it's easy to see why directors like Ron Howard ("Cinderella Man") like to shoot here. They even have a swanky spa, The Oasis, where I like to imagine Russell Crowe soothed his weary muscles before heading back to his hotel to throw a phone at somebody.
Palacio Nightclub from Testosterone
Buenos Aires, Argentina
I'm being self-promoting here, since I co-wrote this movie. But I have to give a shout out to this elegant, three-story 19th-century department store-turned-night spot. It's one of the most fun, fabulous gay bars I've ever been to.
For the movie, we dressed it to be a deserted dive bar that our hero (David Sutcliffe) goes to in search of his wayward lover (Antonio Sabato Jr.). A few days later, when director David Moreton and I returned for the Sunday tea dance, it was like a totally different place, packed full of beautiful Argentines dancing to fun pop songs like Elvis' updated "A Little Less Conversation." My only regret was that I discovered it too late in the shoot to go back for more.
Phi Phi Ley Island from The Beach
Near Phuket, Thailand
When your movie is about people who drop out of society to live on a beach, you gotta have a super-spectacular beach. Phi Phi Ley fits the bill and then some. It's so jigsaw-puzzle beautiful it seems Photoshopped. On the boat ride there, our guide let me listen to the movie's haunting theme music on his iPod, which made our approach even more cinematic.
I rented the movie when I returned home and was delighted to discover a deleted scene that showed Leonardo DiCaprio's character taking part in the traditions of Thai New Year's -- water fights and face painting -- that I had just experienced a few days before. It was like a home movie, only I was played by a movie star and had much better lighting.
Circus Liquor Store from Clueless
in North Hollywood, Calif.
I drive by the place every day and I always smile when I think of poor Cher (Alicia Silverstone) getting stranded there in Clueless. An ex nicknamed the giant neon clown on the sign "Boozy." Boozy, we decided, is a clown with a lot of demons. I see crews shooting there all the time, but I doubt anything will ever be as iconic as Clueless. Unless VH-1 decides to give Boozy his own reality show. Come to think of it, he'd be good for season two of Celebrity Rehab.