Monday, July 27, 2015

SHERLOCK HOLMES UPDATED

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Real Life 2014

Every year, there's a significant number of films released based on real people and events.  A lot of them find themselves in Oscar contention and win numerous awards. 2014 is no different.
Here's a list:

The Imitation Game
American Sniper 
Selma 
The Theory of Everything
Foxcatcher
Rosewater
Kill the Messenger
Wild
Jersey Boys
The Good Lie
Mr. Turner
Unbroken 
Get On Up
Million Dollar Arm
Heaven is For Real
Pride
When the Game Stands Tall
Belle
Jimmy P.

Film2Fact will update this list and profile select movies soon.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

INTERSTELLAR

"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species”--Stephen Hawking.

What happens when Hollywood visual effects wizards brainstorm with a legendary physics wiz? Well, in the case of Interstellar , the result is a groundbreaking new look at our universe. Director Christopher Nolan (Inception reviewed by F2F) and famed scientist Kip Thorne wanted a realistic representation of how black holes and wormholes behave, requiring complex computer models (that ate up hundreds of hours of rendering time). Thorne delivered a slew of  theoretical equations to the Vis FX team at Double Negative, who transformed them into accurate computer simulations.    Subsequently, the images became valuable new tools for physicists to study.  Thorne also wrote two new scientific papers: one for the astrophysics community and one for the computer graphics community.  Fiction assisted fact and vice versa. 
Nolan (left)  and Thorne (right) discuss big science ideas
Thorne's depiction of how black hole distorts light
What's interesting is how Nolan, screenwriter brother Johnathon Nolan, the production team, and the actors went to great lengths to present a realistic depiction of how NASA might tackle a way to save a dying Earth. The actors gained insight from real astronauts. In particular, Anne Hathaway (an admitted science nerd) conferred with retired astronaut Marsha Ivens, who completed five missions and logged over a thousand hours in orbit, delivering supplies to the Russian Mir station and the International Space Station.  Michael Caine (who plays Professor Brand) was asked to model his character on Kip Thorne. Also, since the plot involves blight and dust storms plaguing Earth, director Nolan got permission from famed documentarian Ken Burns to include interviews with actual Dust Bowl survivors in the movie.  The production team also mimiced real dust storms of the 1930's that blew through farmlands, caused by severe drought.
Dust storm circa 1935


But the crux of the saga depends on viewers to believe Mankind might find salvation through incredibly lengthy journeys through a wormhole  --shortcuts to other galaxies-- that stem from Einstein's theory of relativity.  Some critics believe it would be impossible for humans to travel through them if they existed.  F2F wanted to learn more and discovered several websites that attempt to explain much of this science behind the fiction. But quite frankly, we don't have Phd's, so we'll reference a neat video here (thanks to qa-nature.com. ) and another site here.

Black Hole in Interstellar
Side note: Wormholes appear in other sci-fi films and TV fare, most notably "Star Trek". (F2F's author once interviewed science consultant Andre Bormanis about wormholes and other space phenomena for special documentaries available on DVD releases of Star Trek: Voyager). 
Wormhole in Interstellar


Other films featuring wormholes and black holes:
Thor
The Avengers
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Stargate 
The Black Hole




More info on Interstellar here and here.