Monday, February 1, 2016

The Revenant


 (ˈrɛv ə nənt) 

1. person who returns, esp. after a long absence.
2. person who returns as a spirit after death.

The Dictionary entry helps clarify the meaning behind the motion picture title, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  This harrowing, grisly, historic telling of one man's efforts to survive a bear attack, nature's cold brutality, and attacks by Native Americans is based on the life of a real frontiersman named Hugh Glass.  The only recorded account of these exploits comes from a fur trader named Daniel Potts, who wrote that Glass 'was all so tore nearly all to peases bya a White Bear and was left by the way without any gun who afterwards recover'd.'
The real Hugh Glass (left)

If you want to know the 'truth' behind the story, there's a comprehensive Slate article that's worth reading. In essence, not much is known about Hugh Glass other than accounts from a few travelers.  Much myth has been spun with juicy details added to enhance the saga.  The film strays from the facts most notably in the relationship between survivor and nemesis (Glass never had a son or faced-off with Fitzgerald after his ordeal). 

To his credit, DiCaprio researched his part well-- including learning how to start a fire without a match, crawling in dead carcasses,  practice shooting old rifles,  and eating raw bison.   Director Alejandro Inarritu insisted on filming in natural light and authentic conditions, requiring the cast and crew to endure extremely cold conditions (F2F feels that Inarritu displayed both ultra realism and dreamy flourishes resulting in an interesting balance reminiscent of epic Greek storytelling). 

FYI:  this isn't the first time a film tackled this mountain man's tale. Man in the Wilderness, starring Richard Harris as Zachary Bass (rhymes with Glass), mirrors the plot of The Revenant. 

As pop culture, films like this can inspire thrill seekers to test their mettle in the wild. As a result, interest in extreme adventures has picked up around the globe.   Also curious visitors can travel to Northeast South Dakota and visit the Hugh Glass Recreation Area, near the site of the famed bear attack.  

To learn more about Hugh Glass you might want to read:

by Jon T. Coleman

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Trade Show of the Future

Every January, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) presents the latest, greatest, coolest, wildest, most futuristic gizmos anywhere.  It's a place to ponder how one-time sci-fi fantasies are becoming reality.  You want robots? They got truckloads.  Virtual reality? Seeing is believing (or disbelieving). There's drones aplenty, 3D printers that can make artificial limbs, hoverboards that will make Marty McFly envious, gadgets suited for the next Bond or Mission: Impossible installment, and computer innovations to knock your socks off.  And the movie industry shows up. Netflix shows some upcoming fare. Baz Lurhmann previews his next opus. It's an event to consider connecting film fact and fiction.

We've seen driverless cars in several movies, including Minority Report  and Batman (1989). Ford announced that their driverless cars will be actualized by 2020.  
Ford driverless car

For "Star Trek" fans wondering how close we are to food replicators, there's Somabar, 'the world's smartest bartender'.  The device creates cocktails in seconds, has Wi-Fi connectivity, sensors, and other cool stuff.
Somabar cocktail maker
R-7 Smart Glasses
Geordie LaForge in Star Trek Generations
 And one of "The Next Generation's" crew members, the blind Geordie LaForge, would marvel at  R-7 Smart Glasses, special shades that not only provides a Virtual Reality experience but whose makers are building life-changing applications that will significantly improve the eyesight of the visually impaired. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

2015 Real Life Films

It seems that every fall season around September, Hollywood releases a slew of 'movies based on real events', with hopes of earning Oscar nominations.  2015 is no different.  Below are some notable fact-based films.

Trumbo.   A profile of famed blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston.
Spotlight.  The in-depth investigation of Boston's Catholic abuse scandal.
The Revenant. Inspired by legendgary explorer Hugh Glass, who survived harsh winter elements, incuding a bear attack.
Joy. Based on the story of Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop.
The 33.  The harrowing saga of trapped Chilean miners.
The Danish Girl. A true story of a transgender subject, played by Eddie Redmayne.
In the Heart of the Sea.  Was there a real Moby Dick?
Bridge of Spies.  See F2F entry.
Steve Jobs
Black Mass. See F2F entry
Experimenter.  Fascinating story of Stanley Milgram, who performed controversial human lab studies.
Legend. The Kray Brothers are gangster twins played both by Tom Hardy--yes, both.
A Walk in the Woods
Pawn Sacrifice

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Future

Too good to be true hoverboard
 October 21, 2015 marked the 30th Anniversary of Back to the Future II and "Back to the Future Day" was celebrated by fans around the world.  The film trilogy is the perfect match for this website, because audiences back then and today have asked the question: 'could that really happen?'  Will the movie's predictions made in 1985 come to fruition? Time magazine tried to answer that with a list of innovations that we know of today that appeared in the film, including personal drones, video phones, flat screens, video glasses, and clothing tech.
Arguably the most interesting device is the hoverboard, a skateboard that lifts off the ground.  Many pseudo inventors have tricked people into thinking hover technology has been achieved.  Lexus got into the act, claiming they'd created a hover board (not).  Then there's Huvr, who produced a slick video, featuring Christopher Lloyd and others celebrities (i.e ..Tony Hawk, Moby, Terrel Owens) actually riding a floating board. Fact or fiction? Well, a few folks went on Youtube to discredit the company and then Hawk apologized, admitting it was dreamed up by some Funny or Die filmmakers.
But before you say it's all 'hot air', Canadian inventor Catalin Alexander Duru flew over 900 feet on a propeller-driven hoverboard, setting a Guiness World's Record.  And is you can shell out $10,000, you can get the closest thing to the real deal--  Hendo hovering technologies makes a hoverboard that will travel a short distance.

One of the more amusing predictions in the film involved the Chicago Cubs, who would win the World Series in 2015.  They came close, making the National League Division playoffs.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Spielberg's History

Hats off to Steven Spielberg for keeping history alive.  From Schindler's List to Amistad to Saving Private Ryan to his most recent effort, Bridge of Spies, the Oscar-winning director expertly brings forth captivating real-life sagas that enlighten viewers, plus makes history enjoyable and accessible.  Granted, Spielberg may be guilty of adding his own flourishes of grandeur and bending the truth for the sake of good storytelling, but his efforts to present lesser known true tales to the public --forever imprinted on celluloid-- is commendable.

To add authenticity to the Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies, Spielberg opted to film in actual locations where events took place in 1962, including Glienicke Bridge, where the infamous spy exchange took place. It's "a movie that is relevant to our times," said Spielberg, "because the Cold War seems to be coming back."
The story follows a lawyer's negotiation mission to bring home American pilot Francis Gary Powers after his plane was shot down by the Russians (for an added touch of reality, Power's real son makes a cameo in the film). Tom Hanks re-teams with Spielberg for another real-life drama (Hanks also starred in Catch Me if You Can, Ryan, and The Terminal).  Hank's character, James Donovan, is an interesting figure in real life. Not only did he get tapped to negotiate the release of Powers, but in the same year was tasked with releasing over 1,000 Cubans in exchange for food and medicine.

What's not true in the film? Well, filmmakers couldn't recreate scenes that took place at the Berlin Wall, since, well, it's not there anymore. Those scenes were filmed in Poland.

To read more interesting facts about Bridge of Spies not seen in the film, click here and  here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

*True Crime Update: Black Mass & The Departed

While Johnny Depp's portrayal of Whitey Bulger in Black Mass generates Oscar buzz, F2F recalls another film that parallels this true crime story (the entry was originally posted 07/2011).

Jack Nicholson's real-life inspiration for Frank Costello (the mobster he played in The Departed ) was arrested in Santa Monica, California in June, 2011.  James "Whitey" Bulger, a notorious crime boss and former FBI informant for three decades, went into hiding for several years after his deal with the Feds unraveled.   The film's plot centers on a Boston police officer (Leonardo DiCaprio) going undercover to arrest Costello. At the same time, Costello's planted an insider (Matt Damon) within the police force for personal gain. Both men are trying to rat out the other. In real life, Damon's character was based on FBI Agent John Connolly, who tipped off Bulger for years to avoid arrest.  Billy Costigan, played by DiCaprio is based on a New England State Trooper who joined Bulger's gang. The film's technical advisor, Thomas Duffy, was a former detective assigned to investigate the Bulger's crime syndicate.  So if the film feels authentic, it is!

"Whitey" Bulger was ranked in the top ten on the F.B.I's Most Wanted List, and linked to several murders.  At the time of his arrest he was found with over $800,000 in cash and 30 guns. The charges against him include racketeering, possession of firearms, conspiracy, and money laundering.  Former partners of Bulger have testified that he made payoffs to two dozen Boston police officers and half a dozen F.B.I. agents.   John Connolly was convicted for his ties to the crime syndicate, but several other shady characters never faced trial.  Despite the fact vs. fiction similarities, The Departed ends much differently than the real-life saga (*Spoiler alert*). Frank Costello meets an untimely end as opposed to Bulger who eluded authorities for almost 16 years. During that time, Bulger reportedly saw a screening of the film.

Since his capture, there's been increased interest in movie location tours in Boston, where some of the filming occurred and Bulger hung out with his mob cronies.

The Departed won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker known for his realistic depictions of crime and urban life (see the F2F segment on Taxi Driver).

Read more about Bulger's arrest here
Other Boston-area crime sagas:

Mystic River
The Town
The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Buzz Aldrin
“We have to go to Mars, and this his how we do it,” Buzz Aldrin said with intensity, his eyes boring into me, riveting me to my chair.  I was interviewing the 2nd man to walk on the Moon for a "Star Trek" television special.  We wanted a reaction from NASA astronauts on the impact of the famous sci-fi series on our culture.  Mr. Aldrin graciously offered a few choice comments for us.  But he was more eager to explain his Mars plan, and spent 20 minutes on camera doing so.  He convinced me it could happen in our lifetime.  Back then, I thought he was a little off his rocker. But today, it's no joke.  Serious plans are in the works.  In an August 2015  U.S. News report, Aldrin announced that he's joining the Florida Institute of Technology to develop a 'master plan' for colonizing Mars in less than 25 years. 

Over a dozen films have imagined a trip to Mars, and some with real scientific theories embedded in the storyline.  But nothing compares to The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott.  NASA was on board to provide facts about space travel, ultimately contributing 50 pages of script material.  Also, the flight mirrors many aspects of actual planned missions.  Jessica Chastain met with real astronauts and various personnel from JPL in preparation for her role as a female space traveler.   Andy Weir, who wrote the book the film is based on, spent serious research time watching space documentaries and scouring the Internet for information.  The plot deals with a marooned astronaut (Damon) determined to survive Mar's harsh environmental conditions.  He must find ways to grow food, find water, and withstand one calamity after another.   Weir admits that some plot points were not accurate, including depicting an intense sandstorm that wreaks havoc on the stranded astronaut's habitat.  Based on inertia in the atmosphere, “even a 150-km-an-hour sandstorm on Mars would feel like a one-mile-per-hour breeze on Earth,” Weir said. “But this is a man versus nature story, and I wanted nature to get the first punch in.”  Planetary scientist Dr. Jim Green praised Ridley Scott on his attention to detail. “He wanted to make it realistic and I've appreciated pulling together teams of people and answering questions that he asked," said Green. "And the more that happened, the more I got excited about that, because the film does indeed look very realistic. It has a lot of real elements on it and that's appreciated from a NASA perspective.”  As a marketing strategy for The Martian, Neil deGrasse Tyson devoted a special episode of his program Space Talk on Mars, exploring the potential dangers of visiting the planet (cosmic radiation, solar flares, etc.).

Mars One colony depiction

In recent years, Mars has become a hot news topic.  Mars One, a non-profit organization, vows to create a manned colony on the planet, and volunteers have signed up for a one-way ticket to the Red Planet, beginning in 2026.  In a 2010 speech, President Barak Obama said, "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it."   Hopeful words indeed.

Dark narrow streaks indicate water flowing on Mars

And on September 28th, NASA reported that they've discovered evidence of water on Mars.
“It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”   This is an amazing news story for two reasons.  One, water equals potential life on the Red Planet. Two, this comes --mysteriously -- days before the release of The Martian, which may be a sneaky public relations ploy (was NASA holding out until the movie came out in hopes of riding on its marketing heels?).  Then again, this may prove problematic for the film, since its story premise depends on the absence of water. 

Other films featuring Mars:

Red Planet
Total Recall
Mission to Mars

Monday, July 27, 2015


Believe it or not, Sherlock Holmes continues to receive mail at 221b Baker Street, London—as if he were a real person! That’s how strong a hold the great inspector has on pop culture. No doubt films like Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen, and  Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr. helped keep his popularity alive. And if one wants to play detective, they can find plenty of fascinating truths surrounding this super sleuth.

For instance, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle credits real life medical lecturer Dr. Joseph Bell for inspiring the character of Holmes.
“You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it,” Conan Doyle said of Bell.
Bell was a master of keen observation, logic and expert diagnosis. He also helped to pioneer the use of forensics. Plus, Bell was adept at deducing the occupation and key details of perfect strangers, which Conan Doyle discovered while working with the doctor at the University of Edinburgh.
As for the motion pictures, Mr. Holmes imagines that Sherlock actually lived and Mr. Watson wrote the books (blurring the lines between fact and fiction).  For Sherlock Holmes, director Guy Ritchie and his creative team relied on solid factual material to establish a plausible period, circa 1890’s London. For example: history points to more than one “secret society” (like the film’s Temple of the Four Orders) strongly tied to government and politics. In fact, filming took place at the real Freemason’s Hall --home to a powerful sect often charged with seeking world domination by conspiracy theorists.
Also credible for the time was the use of cyanide as a weapon, albeit with the right diabolical mind behind it (in 1854, a British chemist advocated the use of a cyanide weapon during the Crimea War; in 1887; the New York Times attributed the death of several horses to cyanide poisoning; a few years later a group of Russian nobles tried to kill famed mystic Rasputin using cyanide). The use of guns and artillery appears accurate for the time, although Holme’s attempt to create a gun with a silencer would not be realized until around 1909.
It’s also interesting to note that both films dismiss the trademark deerstalker cap and curved pipe, which were never in the books (the curved pipe used by an actor so as not to hide his face).   The younger sleuth's use of hand-to-hand combat can be traced to the novels. The Sign of Four portrays Holmes as an expert boxer and in The Final Problem, Sherlock draws upon his martial arts prowess to defeat his arch enemy Professor Moriarty. In real life, actor Robert Downey Jr. had studied Wing Chun Kung Fu for over 6 years and Ritchie practices jujitsu. The two men combined their love of these martial art forms to create a distinctive style of fighting seen in the film.

A huge casebook of fascinating facts can be unearthed on Holmes. But suffice it to say history will forever note this detective’s enormous influence on modern day crime investigation practices. Although in their infancy at the time Conan Doyle was writing, Sherlock’s trademark techniques – from forensic science to collecting trace evidence to ballistics and beyond—have now become reality. Elementary? Not hardly, Watson.
Notable Sherlock Holmes films:

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Heads Up!

Dr. Canavero
No one would think for a minute that a film entitled The Thing with Two Heads would warrant a spot on this website.  But then comes the news that an Italian neurosurgeon is attempting a real head transplant. I quickly scour films dealing with this subject. And what pops up first: a cheesy cult B-movie featuring Ray Milland and former Los Angeles Rams football star Rosey Grier. The plot deals with a dying surgeon attempting to graft his noggin onto another human, and the only willing victim is a black inmate on death row (Grier). No more needs to be mentioned about the film, other than it exemplifies Mankind's age-old curiosity to create or sustain life  via organ harvesting (i.e Frankenstein).  Upon further research, I found other films dealing with the head transplant subject, including Robocop, The Brain That Wouldn't Die, The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (with Bruce Dern), and X-Files I Want to Believe, directed by X-Files creator Chris Carter.  F.B.I. agents Muldar and Scully uncover a plot by a corrupt medical team to abduct people and harvest their organs. The end game is to graft a human head onto a dying Russian man.  So could this possibly happen in real life? Another Russian thinks so.  30-year old scientist Valery Spiridonov aims to be the first person to have a human head transplanted onto another body.  He's enlisted Dr. Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group to attempt the task -- which could take 100 surgeons and 36 hours to complete.  Canavero will attempt a risky spinal cord fusion procedure, which requires an ultra-sharp blade to limit damage to the severed spinal components.  If all goes well, Spiridonov, bound to a wheel-chair due to a degenerative muscle disease, could be walking within a year.   Skeptics think the procedure could result in paralysis, rejection without the proper immunosuppressant drugs, and medical advances that don't yet exist.
Valery Spiridonov

     Upon further research, F2F found out that in the 1970's doctors transplanted the head of monkey, which survived for 9 days.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

American Sniper

Sometimes the real impact of movies on society and our culture appear in relevant stories that would ordinarily find themselves buried in the back pages of newspapers.  For instance, two days after the 2015 Oscars ceremony, several media outlets, including The New York Times, reported that a jury found Eddie Ray Routh guilty of killing Chris Kyle, sentencing him to life imprisonment.  Perhaps if American Sniper--which chronicled Kyle's life as a Navy SEAL sharpshooter-- had not racked up several award nominations, that story would have not received much attention.  The trial rankled defense lawyers, since several potential jury members may have seen the film, thus tainting their opinions. The film ends with subtitles stating that "Kyle was shot by a veteran he was trying to help." 
"Sniper" also stirred controversy for its alleged glorification of war.  Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that 'snipers were cowards', while Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin supported the film. 
As for historical accuracy, the film took liberties in some areas while the production team and cast took great pains to realistically portray the legendary sniper's life. Critics have pointed out that the memoir which the film is based on (American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History), doesn't depict Kyle targeting an armed child, and also includes fictitious characters.  In contrast, actor Bradley Cooper reveals that he spoke with Kyle before his death, studied footage of the marksman, gained 40 pounds, and went through vigorous sniper training with a Navy SEAL.  At one point, Kyle's family and friends admitted doing double takes watching Cooper because of his close resemblance to Chris.
Chris Kyle
Bradley Cooper