Friday, April 4, 2014

CAP MEETS CONDOR

Where did filmmakers Anthony and Joe Russo seek inspiration for Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Headlines from today and the late 70's.

"It was important to us to try to make something as topical as we could because that’s what we always felt were the most successful political thrillers," Joe Russo said in a Los Angeles Times interview. "If you look at “Three Days of the Condor,” Cliff [Robertson], at the end of that movie, he’s basically predicting the war for oil that happens over the next 20 years in American history, in world history. You want to try to grab onto headlines that feel very current and topical so that the audience is really engaged in a way that they’re going, God, this is my paranoia, this is my psyche, these are all the things I’ve been thinking about. Weirdly the [Edward] Snowden thing happened while we were shooting, but we were already grabbing onto headlines about civil liberties and drone technology, preemptive strikes."

It's interesting to point out that Robert Redford appears in both Three Days of the Condor and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  "Condor", released in 1975, concerns a CIA operative (Redford) on the run after discovering his associates have been killed. He eventually uncovers a conspiracy to seize oil in the Mideast.  

'The American people want oil and they want us to get it for them. They don't care how we get it. They just want us to get it.'"
--Cliff Robertson's CIA character

A very believable political thriller genre emerged in that era, including The Parallax View and All the Presidents Men, also starring Redford.  Partly inspired by the Watergate incident, CIA probes, and general distrust of government during the Vietnam War, these films echoed the times, with renegade journalists and whistle blowers attempting to uncover dark secrets and hidden agendas.   For "Condor", Redford consulted with real CIA director, Richard Helms.

As for Captain America, the character has evolved dramatically since it was first introduced prior to WWII, when true blue patriotic comic superheroes ruled the day (see previous Film2Fact entry on Captain America).  He once had the American Constitution written on the back of his shield as a metaphor to protect the country's ideals.  But black and white good vs. evil ideals waned with the advent of the Cold War and then 9/11.   In the late 60's Cap did some serious soul searching, no longer trusting authority or blindly fighting for 'truth, justice and the American way'.  Both comic book writers and current filmmakers have used current political corruption headlines (i.e. leaking classified information) to infuse their story lines and hero's motivations.  "He's gone from the '40s to today; he comes from a world where people were a little more trusting, the threats not as deep," said Chris Evans (Captain America). Now, it's harder to tell who's right and wrong. Actions you take to protect people from threats could compromise liberties and privacy. That's tough for Steve to swallow."

The title "Winter Soldier" historically has referred to alleged war crimes by the U.S. military committed in both the Vietnam and Iraqi conflicts.

Read more here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

50 YEARS AGO: NUKE SCARES

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of a trio of film releases that addressed the nuclear arms race during the Cold War.  Dr. Strangelove Or:  How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Fail-Safe, and Seven Days in May all took aim at the political and planetary perils of pushing the red button.  Each film based elements of their story on real people, theories, and places-- often without the consent of the U.S. military.  Each film also impacted our culture, reaching as high as the oval office. 

Seven Days in May
The screenplay, penned by Rod Serling, centers on a military coup led by Burt Lancaster, upset over the 'weak' President's passing of a nuclear disarmament treaty.  The Kennedy administration approved of the film and Press Secretary Pierre Salinger  gave production designers access to Kennedy's office and other rooms to conduct research. At the same time, director John Frankenheimer was forbidden to shoot at the Pentagon.  To capture a shot of Burt Lancaster approaching the facility, he hid a camera inside a station wagon. When Lancaster walks to the entrance dressed in full uniform, officers salute him, thinking he's the real deal-- all captured on celluloid.  Frankenheimer also incorporated 'guerilla' filming techniques to shoot scenes at the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in San Diego without permission.

Dr. Strangelove

This acclaimed satire written and directed by Stanley Kubrick features Peter Sellars in three roles and George C. Scott as a crazed general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on Russia.  Many characters were based on real people. President Merkin Muffley was based on former Presidential candidate and U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. 
Strangelove was fashioned after rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, Edward Teller ("father of the hydrogen bomb"), and Herman Kahn, of the RAND corporation. Director Stanley Kubrick incorporated Kahn's theory of 'mutual assured destruction' in the storyline, in which superpowers with large nuclear arsenals would probably not fire on each other for fear of cataclysmic results. The film also pokes fun at the idea of repopulating society with people housed in mine shafts.  In actuality, Kahn, Edward Teller, and Nelson Rockefeller devised a costly plan to provide millions of people with underground shelters across the nation in the advent of nuclear war.
Sellars as Muffley
Adlai Stevenson

Fail-Safe  
Henry Fonda portrays a U.S. President trying to avert an all-out war after U.S. planes are accidentally sent to drop nukes on Russia.  The film's realism prompted led to the U.S. government ordering filmmakers to add a disclaimer stating that events leading up to the nuclear attack could never actually happen.  The U.S. Air Force wouldn't cooperate with attempts to acquire footage of real bombers and fighter,  fearing a negative backlash in the military's failed attempts to avert disaster. As a result, stock footage of a Convair B-58 Hustler and other planes were used in key flying sequences.  The plot mirrored "Strangelove" so closely that Kubrick demanded his film be released of Fail-Safe.  As a result, audiences were less receptive, despite positive reviews.

All these films came out amid Cold War tensions.  Sadly, "Strangelove" and "May" were pulled from their original 1963 release dates, due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  All three films continue to be relevant, as threats of obtaining nuclear arms and disarmament remain hot button issues across the globe.

Monday, March 10, 2014

VIRUS MOVIES

The frozen Pithovirus sibericum virus
Once in awhile a news report reads like a sci-fi movie or a Michael Crichton novel.  For instance, scientists recently unearthed a 30,000 year-old frozen virus buried deep in Siberia.   Could it be deadly, unleashing untold terror around the globe? Will it manifest itself into The Thing?

Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel of France, who led a team that made the discovery are quick to state that the 'giant' virus (minute, but visible through a regular microscope) is harmless. That said, lab tests showed that the virus easily infected an amoeba.  Incredibly, not only did it survive for thousands of years, it was alive and kicking.

One film comes closest to matching this story: The Thaw, starring Val Kilmer. A research team in the Artic uncovers a frozen wooly mammoth and a bad ass prehistoric parasite along with it.  They blame global warming for unleashing the deadly bug.  Could more of this happen in the near future? Maybe, depending on the effects of Mankind's probes into deep, icy regions and dramatic climate changes.

"Mining and drilling means ... digging through these ancient layers for the first time in millions of years. If 'viable' [viral particles] are still there, this is a good recipe for disaster," said Claverie and Abergel.  But other research proves otherwise.

"The idea would make a great movie but is extremely unlikely unless the virus came from a frozen human being who possibly died from a virus that is no longer in circulation," said Edward Mocarski a professor of microbiology at Emory University.

Movies about deadly viruses range from the believable to complete fantasy. With a hefty dose of science to back up their stories,  Contagion and Outbreak generated speculation about the real  possibilities of wide spread pandemics.  Films like Andromeda Strain (from the novel by Michael Crichton),  Quarantine, and 28 Days Later explore viruses that drive people insane, turn them cannibalistic, or transform the dead into zombies.   Believe it or not, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.  Okay, it was issued as a stunt to raise awareness for real disasters, but still it makes one wonder...

A list of virus-themed films:


World War Z
Twelve Monkeys
I Am Legend
The Crazies 
Infection
Cabin Fever
 
 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

PHILOMENA

Pope Francis meets Philomena Lee
Why did the real-life subject of Philomena meet the Pope at the Vatican in February? And why was the film screened for some of the highest-ranking members of the Catholic Church? The hope was to gain their help with "Project Philomena", an initiative to raise awareness and encourage the Irish government and Catholic Church to make adoption records public.  The movie chronicles the true story of Philomena Lee, who while living at a home for unwed mothers in Ireland, was forced to give up her son for adoption to an American family.  Many years later, a reporter helps Lee try to connect with her long-lost son and expose the controversial practices that prohibited thousands of young women from meeting or knowing about their adopted children (the film is partially based on reporter Martin Sixsmith's book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee).  Since the film's release, Lee's saga set off an adoption rights chain reaction, reaching many groups around the world.  The Adoption Authority in Ireland observed a significant increase in the number of women attempting to locate members of their family.  Other adoption agencies have reported what they call "The Philomena Effect",  with more women seeking their lost children.  Lee was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Award by The Feminist Majority Foundation in honor of her work helping other women.  Also, she's met with U.S. Senators, received special recognition by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, stood on stage at the Golden Globes,  and was invited as a special guest to the 2014 Academy Awards.  It's clear that Lee's story is another example of how film can have an enormous impact on popular culture and how its message can bring real-life positive change, even 50 years after the tale gave birth.
Philomena Lee

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Authentic Olympic Moments

"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"
 --Al Michaels, ABC Sports commentator, in "Miracle"

1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey winners
Hollywood loves stories of unlikely heroes, guts, glory, and courage. What better backdrop than the Olympic Games?  From awe-inspiring individual performances to unforgettable team efforts to harrowing dramas, many of these films deserve a medal, if not an Oscar.  See below.

WINTER GAMES

Miracle Kurt Russell plays dynamic coach Herb Brooks, who leads a young U.S. hockey squad to its historic upset over the Soviet Union in the 1980 games. Actual hockey players were cast to give the film a raw and real feeling.

Spider Sabitch
Downhill Racer.  Robert Redford's character was modeled after two American pro skiers, Spider Sabitch, and Billy Kidd.  Filming in Grenoble, site of the 1988 Winter Games, and other notable ski areas gave the movie a quasi-documentary feel.

The Other Side of the Mountain.  Based on the real story of 18-year old Jill Kinmont, a promising skier aiming for the 1956 Olympics, left paralyzed after a devastating crash on the slopes.

Cool Runnings.   Loosely, and we mean loosely, based on the first Jamaican bobsled team to reach the Olympics, in 1988.  However, actual crash footage from the games is incorporated in to the final race.



SUMMER GAMES

Chariots of FireSet in 1927, two British runners compete for gold against a backdrop of anti-semitism.  In 2012, the London Olympic organizers paid tribute to this Academy Award winner for Best Picture during its opening ceremonies.

Prefontaine.  Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) stars as Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car accident after competing in 1972.

Without Limits.  Another take on the American Olympian, this time starring Billy Crudup.

Munich.  After Israeli athletes were murdered at the 1972 Olympics, a special group of men are assigned to find the killers and avenge their deaths. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Sunshine.  Partially based on the life of Hungarian Olympic champion Attila Petschauer who won gold in the sabre in 1932 games in Los Angeles.


Monday, February 3, 2014

ROBOCOP

We've got the future under control.
--Omnicorp slogan

Think we'll be seeing robotic law enforcement in the near future? The recent Robocop reboot might make you a believer.   To promote the film at the recent high-tech Consumer Electronics trade show,  producers introduced a clever keynote address from Omnicorp, dated 2027, marketing the perfect mix of man and machine: innovative robotic cops that make moral decisions.  To blur the lines between fact and fiction, you can find a 'reaction' video with a mock reporter and man on the street interviews singing praises of the new robocop design.
You might be surprised to learn that more than one real developer has tried to make a bigger, badder robotic foot soldier. Back in 2007, the Russian police debuted the R Bot 001, with several built-in cameras to scan for criminal activity. Alas, its makers failed to prep for nasty weather and a little rain short-circuited their cop.  The U.S. Department of Defense has hired developers to design ways to equip soldiers with 'Iron Man' type hardware that gives them super-human strength and tougher resistance to ballistics.  DARPA's web suit is one step closer to realizing a RoboCop blend of man and machine.  At DARPA-sponsored robotic competitions, you'll find bots with the power to rescue victims trapped in buildings and under rubble, use tools, and slice through walls.

DARPA web suit enhances body strength
Yahoo offers a brief parallel between Robocop and real-world technology, featuring Dr. Wolfgang Fink, associate professor at the University of Arizona (Fink also spoke about robotics for a special bonus feature for the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Star Trek The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection-- produced by F2F's Stephen R. Wolcott).

Time Magazine has an interesting list the most evil corporations in movies, including The Terminator, and Blade Runner.

Monday, January 27, 2014

INSPIRED BY THE MOVIES

Anyone remember James Bond whipping out a small tube to breathe underwater in Thunderball? 

Or in Star Wars The Phantom Menace, you might recall Obi-Wan Kenobi using an A99 aquata breather , allowing oxygen-breathing lifeforms to survive underwater for up to two hours.

Is this kind of technology possible?  One innovative designer comes close.

A99 aquata breather
James Bond breather replica


Triton Oxygen Respirator

A Korean scientist came up with a kind of artificial gill device that extracts oxygen under water through a filter with tiny holes. A small, powerful micro compressor stores extracted oxygen in a storage tank with the help of a micro battery 30 times smaller than any current battery. As a result, the Triton Oxygen Respirator makes it possible for a diver to breathe like a fish under water.  There's only one problem. Despite several postings of this device, someone called 'foul'.  The device doesn't exist and is only hypothetical.  What's more, the actuality of the device working is highly doubtful according to some critics, since it uses pure recycled oxygen, instead of a healthy mix of nitrogen and oxygen.  But once again,  this is another great example of how movies inspire great minds to figure out a way to make fiction become reality.
Bond breather
Star Wars breathers

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

At the recent Golden Globes ceremony Matthew McConaughey seemed to have gained back most of the 50 pounds he shed to play Ron Woodroof, the lead character in Dallas Buyers Club diagnosed with an HIV/AIDS.  His gripping, no holds barred portrayal of a bigoted Texan at-the-brink-of-death earned him a Best Actor award and high praise from critics.  The story is based on Woodruff's real ordeal as a patient struggling to survive beyond the 30 days his doctor tells him he has to live. He launches a plan to smuggle in drugs to help himself and others.  According to Slate Magazine many facts in the story ring true, and some story elements are fabricated.  For instance, there was no Rayon, the transvestite business partner character played by Jared Leto (who also won a Golden Globe), and no Eve (played by Jennifer Garner). They were a composite of people merged for creative license according to Screenwriter Craig Borten, who was lucky enough to interview Woodruff shortly before he died.  But Borten says that some significant aspects of the film's story were authentic-- particularly the transformation of Woodroof from homophobe to compassionate advocate trying to assist AIDS patients with unapproved, but effective pharmaceutical drugs.   Unfortunately, the film inaccurately leads viewers to believe that some drugs were ineffective and dangerous (AZT, which could cost $10,000 a year to use) and some were good (Peptide T., which panned out as a useless treatment).  AZT actually helped prolong life for a year and was later used as part of one of the most effective treatments combined other drugs.
Ron Woodroof
McConaughey and Leto

Peter Staley, who consulted on the film, told The Washington Post that the film wrongly portrays the FDA as the bad guys, trying to

Monday, December 30, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis


Was that Bob Dylan stealing the spotlight from the Coen Brother's title character in Inside Llewyn Davis? Indeed, his dubbed voice sings through a Dylanesque performer, suggesting the legendary balladeer was about to hit the big time.  And although mostly fictional, the film was inspired by a folk singer named Dave Van Ronk and his memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street.  In fact, the cover of Van Ronk's album shamelessly matches  the movie album mock-up (see below).  Plus, Van Ronk's version of "Green, Green Rocky Road" is heard over the end credits.

In The Village Voice, Van Ronk's wife, Terry Thal, offers an interesting 'reality check' of the times, places, and people of the 1960's folk scene in New York.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 True Story List

"Some of this actually happened." 
--words displayed at the beginning of "American Hustle"

 
At the end of the year,  it's always interesting to note the large number of releases in theaters 'inspired by real events' or 'based on a true story' that capture the attention of critics, audiences, and 'for your consideration' voters.  Here's a list of notable films in theaters at the end of 2013:

Saving Mr. Banks *
Mandela *
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave *
Philomena
Lone Survivor
The Invisible Woman
The Wolf of Wall St.
Captain Phillips *
The Butler *

And released earlier in 2013:

Rush
Fruitvale Station*
Diana
42*
The Fifth Estate
Bling Ring
Gangster Squad

* Film2Fact entry.