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17 Movies Based on Magazine and Newspaper Articles (And Where To Read Them)

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When it comes to adapting stories for the big screen, novels and comic books aren't the only things to get love from Hollywood (it just seems that way). Here are 17 examples of magazine and newspaper articles that inspired major feature films—some will probably surprise you.

1. Argo

Screenwriter Chris Terrio adapted Joshuah Bearman's article, "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran," from Wired and CIA operative Tony Mendez's book, The Master of Disguise, to write the screenplay for Argo. The film went on to be one of the most profitable movies of 2012, and it received the Academy Award for Best Picture the following year.

"How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran" [Wired]

2. The Fast and the Furious

While the Fast and the Furious film franchise has certainly grown and evolved over the past 13 years, it's often forgotten that the first movie in the widely popular series was based on an article from a 1998 issue of Vibe magazine. Kenneth Li Rafael wrote the piece, “Racer X,” which chronicled the illegal street racing subculture of the late '90s.

"Racer X" [Vibe]

3. Shattered Glass

Based on Buzz Bissinger's article “Shattered Glass” from Vanity Fair’s September 1998 issue, writer/director Billy Ray’s film of the same name adapted the story of the rise and fall of Stephen Glass, a young journalist for The New Republic. Glass came to prominence in the '90s before it was discovered that he fabricated a number of quotes, sources, and events in magazine articles he wrote over the span of three years.

“Shattered Glass” [Vanity Fair]

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Believe it or not, the horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street is based on a series of newspaper articles from the Los Angeles Times. The articles reported on a series of deaths in Southeast Asia where young men apparently died in the middle of terrifying nightmares. Wes Craven read these articles and was inspired to make A Nightmare on Elm Street.

"Medical Experts Seek Clues to 'Nightmare Deaths' That Strike Male Asian Refugees" [Los Angeles Times]*

*This is a 1988 Los Angeles Times article that summarizes some of the previous reporting

5. Bigger Than Life

Nicholas Ray’s 1956 masterpiece Bigger Than Life was based on Berton Roueché's New Yorker article “Ten Feet Tall” from 1955. The piece chronicles a teacher’s descent into addiction after his doctor prescribes him the drug Cortisone.

"Ten Feet Tall" [New Yorker]

6. The Killing Fields

Based on Sydney H. Schanberg’s New York Times Magazine article “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” The Killing Fields followed two journalists trapped in Cambodia during Pol Pot’s Year Zero takeover and genocide in 1975. The film went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations, and Haing S. Ngor won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Cambodian photojournalist Dith Pran, the centerpiece of Schanberg’s article.

“The Death and Life of Dith Pran” [New York Times Magazine]

7. The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm is based on “The Storm,” an Outside article from journalist Sebastian Junger published in 1994. The piece was eventually expanded into a book titled The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea in 1997. The film adaption starred George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John C. Reilly, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, William Fichtner, and Karen Allen.

“The Storm” [Outside]

8. American Gangster

For American Gangster, screenwriter Steve Zaillian and director Ridley Scott adapted Mark Jacobson’s New York Magazine article “The Return of Superfly,” which follows the rise and fall of '70s drug kingpin Frank Lucas.

“The Return of Superfly” [New York Magazine]

9. Boogie Nights

Mike Sager's 1989 Rolling Stone article, “The Devil and John Holmes,” was used by Paul Thomas Anderson as inspiration for his film on the adult film industry, Boogie Nights. The article chronicles porn star John Holmes' descent into drug abuse and his involvement in the Wonderland murders of 1981.

"The Devil and John Holmes" [Rolling Stone]

10. Saturday Night Fever

British rock journalist Nik Cohn’s "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” was first published in the June 1976 issue of New York Magazine. It follows New York City's disco subculture in the mid-'70s from the point of view of Vincent, a young man from Brooklyn who turns to the music to get away from his troubled life. While the article was the basis for the hit 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever, it was later revealed to be a complete fabrication.

Nik Cohn came out with the truth 20 years after his article was first published. "My story was a fraud," he wrote. "I'd only recently arrived in New York. Far from being steeped in Brooklyn street life, I hardly knew the place. As for Vincent, my story's hero, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd's Bush mod whom I'd known in the Sixties, a one-time king of Goldhawk Road."

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” [New York Magazine]

11. Adaptation

Adaptation was partly based on a New Yorker piece titled “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean. Adaptation uses Orlean’s article (and subsequent book) as a framing device for a meta-story about the struggles of adapting non-fiction into fiction.

“The Orchid Thief” [New Yorker]

12. Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous is based on “The Allman Brothers Story,” an article he wrote for Rolling Stone in 1973 as a teenager.

“The Allman Brothers Story” [Rolling Stone]

13. Dog Day Afternoon

P.F. Kluge’s 1972 LIFE magazine article, “The Boys in the Bank,” tells the story of a bank robbery that turns into a media sensation. It eventually became the basis for Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon. Interestingly, Kluge describes the main bank robber John Wojtowicz as “a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman." Al Pacino was cast as Sonny Wortzik, the film’s lead.

“The Boys in the Bank” [LIFE]

14. Live Free or Die Hard

The fourth installment in the Die Hard film franchise took its cues from a 1997 Wired article by John Carlin, “A Farewell to Arms." The article surmises that cyber warfare is going to be the new form of terrorism in the future. Live Free or Die Hard follows John McClane on hot pursuit of the hacker responsible for a nationwide cyber attack on government and commercial computers.

“A Farewell to Arms” [Wired]

15. The Insider

Michael Man’s The Insider was adapted from Marie Brenner's 1996 Vanity Fair article, "The Man Who Knew Too Much.” The article follows Jeffrey Wigand, played by Russell Crowe in the film, who is a whistleblower in the tobacco industry, and his journey from Capitol Hill to his TV appearance on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

"The Man Who Knew Too Much” [Vanity Fair]

16. The Bling Ring

Nancy Jo Sales’ “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” was first published on in March 2010 and tells the story of a group of entitled teens who break into the homes of celebrities across the Hollywood Hills. Sofia Coppola turned Sales' piece into The Bling Ring, a stylized crime movie about privilege in America.

“The Suspects Wore Louboutins” [Vanity Fair]

17. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Terry Gilliam’s film is based on Hunter S. Thompson’s two-part Rolling Stone epic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.” The articles were first published in 1971 and followed the drug-induced exploits of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, the fictionalized versions of Thompson and his attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” [Rolling Stone]

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]