Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and there are many interesting films of this or last year which are based on true stories, including Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Tesla, Hillbilly Elegy, The Dig and The Mauritanian. Crime and war films are often inspired by real stories (Catch Me If You Can , The Pianist ) and I previously compiled a list of 25 “Must-See” Biographical Films (see also my related list of 5 Great Films About Adventurers Based on Real Stories). Below are five films which were based on, or inspired by, real stories which, in turn, are simply remarkable.
I. The Sound of Music 
The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, might have been a book and a theatrical musical once, but it was also based on an incredible true story. In her memoir titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers , Maria von Trapp tells the story of her family who originally came from Salzburg, Austria, but who were then forced to cross borders and emigrate to America to escape Nazi persecutions in Europe.
Even though the true story was dramatized substantially for the film, it remained true in essence. So, in reality, a young woman from a religious background did come to work in the Trapp family, but not as a governess, but as a tutor to one of the children (who were in reality ten in number, not seven as in the film). Georg von Trapp was the father in the family, and Maria (as this was the name of the woman/the author) came to love the children first (and only then the father) (source). Georg, who was in reality a much kinder person than in the film, did marry Maria, and the family eventually travelled to Italy and America, and not to Switzerland as in the film. The Sound of Music is also not the only film to be based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir. Previously, Wolfgang Liebeneiner directed a German film The Trapp Family , which was also based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
I missed writing the kind of posts where I preview films to be released at some future date (I previously wrote only three such instalments, one in 2015, one in 2016, and one in 2017). Now, I am talking about three films I am excited to watch in 2021, and all three of them are based on books – Paul Greengrass’s News of the World, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water.
News of the World (2021)
Story: Based on a novel by Paulette Jiles, this film tells the story of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) who, in the year of 1870, travels across the US, spreading “the news of the world” to people. When he comes across a little girl, who has recently been an Indian native and is now left abandoned and homeless, he decides to take charge of her and return her to her real family in South Texas. The issue for the Captain, though, is that Johanna still considers herself a Kiowa, an Indian native, and, as the two travel together, they soon discover many things that bond them in the increasingly hostile and threatening world around them.
Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention… committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or aircraft and directed…on the high seas against another ship or aircraft…”. In 2017, there were 117 piracy incidents recorded (Statista statistics); and, in 2016,191 similar incidents were reported (ICC statistics); in 2010, Somali pirates took hostage 49 ships with over 1.000 people on board (International Maritime Bureau information).
Captain Phillips (2013)
The film showcases just this instance of a rising cross-border illegal activity, and tells of an incredible true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking (see also a Danish counterpart “A Hijacking” (2012)). Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) was in charge of one ship destined for Mombasa, Kenya from Oman. Captain Phillips and his crew then had to handle four Somali pirates who boarded their ship. “Captain Phillips” has plenty of nicely-executed, tense scenes, and Hanks gives a magnificent performances in the lead role, even though Barkhad Abdi (later “Blade Runner2049” (2017)) was the only actor nominated for an Academy Award. In the film, it is easy to empathise with the Captain Phillips’s situation and admire his and his crew members’ actions. Perhaps, the film is a little too straightforward for the lovers of intrigue and nuance, but Hanks always plays sympathetic characters excellently, and the film largely holds on the fascinating situation involving the lead character’s commitment to preserve the lives of his crew members as he tries to reason with irrational demands of the invaders. 9/10 Continue reading ““International Crimes” Films”→
Narrated by Tom Hanks, John Mayer, Sam Shepard and David McCullough, among others, “California Typewriter” is an insightful documentary about the particular loss which technological advances are capable of causing. One small family-run business in California revolves around the selling and mending of typewriters, and still believes in the power and value of typewriters in today’s world, which has become dominated by personal computers and digital technologies. Through the interviews held with various people, we realise the particular value which typewriters can still bring into this world as well as get to know the fascinating history of typewriters.
Growing up around typewriters, this documentary resonates with me personally and makes a very persuasive argument about the value embedded in old technological processes and machines that we leave behind. “California Typewriter” opens with the crime scene of a typewriter being intentionally destroyed by a speeding car in 1963, and from that point on, as the narrator says, a typewriter stopped being one thing and became something totally different. This scene cuts to a present small Californian business that still sells typewriters –California Typewriter. The head of this business is Herbert L. Permillion, III, while their star Kenneth Alexander is a master of typewriters’ repair. Obviously, the business is not doing well, and its failure to generate enough interest in typewriters is contrasted with Apple’s new products launch events where the frenzy and long queues for new Ipads start the day before at night. Then, we meet people who are still in love with their typewriters (an avid typewriters collector, a song-writer, a book-writer and a metal sculptor), and hear why they prefer their machines to any other alternatives. And, there is even the Boston Typewriter Orchestra that performs music on old typewriters!
A number of remakes (new film adaptations) is coming soon or has already hit the screens, including “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) and “Suspiria” (2018) (still to premiere), and “It” (2017) and “Flatliners” (2017) (already here). Perhaps, it is time to revisit/draw attention to some other in existence. While such remakes as “The Departed” (2006), “The Fly” (1986) or “The Italian Job” (2003) are relatively well-known, some others may just not be. So, without further ado and in no particular order:
“Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) is a popular fast-paced heist film directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Side Effects” (2013)) and starring such major names as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts. In the film, Danny Ocean (Clooney) assembles his team to steal millions from three casinos in Las Vegas: The Bellagio, The Mirage and the MGM Grand. Extremely entertaining and amusing, “Ocean’s Eleven” proved to be a great film overall, largely thanks to the clever script and the star-packed cast. However, “Ocean’s Eleven” is, in fact, a remake of the movie by Lewis Milestone (“All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930)) of the same name, i.e. “Ocean’s 11” (1960). Here, Frank Sinatra plays Danny Ocean, and the story now echoes the remake, save for the fact that Las Vegas here is the old one, and all the technology employed in the 2001 version is, understandably, nowhere to be seen. That also means that both films differ in a way the teams do their job and rob the casinos. It looks now that few people will prefer the 1960 version to the 2001 one. “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) not only has a more ironical and sharper script, its secondary characters received their full spotlight, something which could not be said for the 1960 version.
“…in chess, the small one can become the big one…” (from the trailer “Queen of Katwe”).
Story: The movie is the upcoming Disney-produced drama based on the real story of Phiona Mutesi (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga), a 10-year old Ugandan chess prodigy, who, against all odds, becomes a Woman Candidate Master after the World Chess Olympiads. Brought up in the slums of Katwe, an area in the city of Kampala, Uganda, young Phiona endures a daily routine of trying to survive when she discovers a game named “chess”, which turns her life upside down. Encouraged and supported by her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and couch (David Oyelowo), Phiona quickly becomes a young chess sensation in her country, participating in international competitions abroad.
Other nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street
Well, there are hardly any surprises here, with virtually every film commentator predicting ‘12 Years a Slave’’s win. It is easy to see why there was hardly any competition at all in this category, too. With the greatest of respects to other nominated films, ‘12 Years a Slave’ just stands out in terms of its artistic merit and, most importantly, the impact it produces. I don’t mind if ‘Gravity’ sweeps every award out there, as long as the Best Picture goes to its most deserved contender. Arguably, ’12 Years a Slave’ is the only film in the category to which you can comfortably assign the word ‘masterpiece’. It is a great achievement for everyone involved in the production of this film, especially for its director, Steve McQueen.