Saturday, October 18, 2014

Two Bloody New Olympic Films

Two major motion pictures with Olympic connections will enjoy silver screen debuts in just a few weeks. Both films portray Olympians in competition before their life journeys took them each down dark roads.

Sadly, one of these journeys ended with a tragic early demise.

With "Foxcatcher" starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Vanessa Redgrave, viewers will learn more about Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz (Tatum and Ruffalo, respectively), the 1984 gold medalists who were training as contenders for an Atlanta Olympic berth when Dave was shot dead by his coach and patron John E. du Pont (Carell).

"Foxcatcher" earned outstanding early reviews through screenings at major film festivals, and I'm currently reading an advance copy of the same-titled book (Mark's autobiography penned with David Thomas for Dutton Books) on which the movie is based.

A one-word "Foxcatcher" trailer description: Creepy.

The film's title comes from the Pennsylvania du Pont family estate at which the Schultz brothers and other wrestlers lived and trained.

Also based on a nonfiction book, the upcoming film "Unbroken" -- based on the best selling "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption" by "Seabiscuit" chronicler Laura Hillenbrand -- portrays the life of Louis Zamperini, a 1936 Berlin Olympian for Team USA.

Five years after running on the Olympic track in Germany, in 1941 Zamperini enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces. During WWII, he endured an epic list of horrific events, first surviving a military plane crash at sea only to remain adrift for weeks in the shark-infested Pacific before his capture by Japanese soldiers who held him in POW camps for years.

Fortunately, Zamperini survived to tell his story of survival and inspiration (as with the book "Foxcatcher" I am currently reading Hillenbrand's book for a future review on this Olympic blog).

In spite of the NBC/Universal touches that over dramatize an already compelling story (right out of the NBC Olympic broadcast playbook), the new "Unbroken" trailer does entice.

It will be interesting to see how the Coen brothers' (of "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski" fame) screenplay contributions sync-up with Angeline Jolie's directing.

"Foxcatcher" opens November 14 and "Unbroken" debuts on Christmas Day.

Film poster for "Unbroken" via this link. Film poster for "Foxcatcher" via this link.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Place Your Bids

Today's mail included the usual assortment of bills, junk and coupons, but an oversized postcard from RR Auction in Boston caught my eye.

Turns out almost 75 old and rare Olympic items are up for bids in a sale that opens Sept. 11, continuing through the following week.

Highlights include a bronze medal from the second Winter Olympic Games, a silver medal from London's 1908 Games, several Stockholm 1912 and Berlin 1936 items (including pins, glass items and other souvenirs) and a Lake Placid 1980 Olympic hockey medal (bronze) won by a Swedish star player.

As with several Olympic auctions over the years, many of the items are, for this collector, priced with an opening bid near or above the retail value. I do think the auction is priced fairly; however, I think it would be challenging for a dealer to buy something here and expect to make much profit.

For instance, a 1932 Los Angeles Olympics bracelet is listed with a $150 opening bid (I bought a similar item, inclusive of its original with-color Olympic rings, on Ebay for a similar price a few years ago). An autographed 1956 Melbourne Olympic ticket signed by Al Oerter seems to have an appropriate opening bid.

I'm not an Olympic medal collector, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn the 1980 Lake Placid medals bear a hallmark from their manufacturer, Tiffany & Co.

We'll see where the bidding leads.

Photos via RR Auction

Coffee Fix For PyeongChang 2018

Though 3.5 years or 1,256 days remain before the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games open in South Korea, news media are on a (caffeine?) buzz about the planned opening of a coffee-themed amusement park set to open in the same province as the five-ringed event.

According to and other sites, a "coffee theme park" is confirmed to open by 2017 in Gangwon Province.

One story references a nearby LEGOLAND and an island tourism destination as other possible distractions for those heading to the next Winter Olympic site (though this Attractions Management story states the LEGOLAND is but a rumor, at least for now).

With Coca-Cola's worldwide sponsor status locked in with the IOC for decades, I don't anticipate a competing "official coffee shop chain of the Olympics" to get signed any time soon.

But it may be interesting to experience the Tom N Toms Coffee locations in Korea upon arrival for the Games.

Now curious whether the new coffee theme park may include a "coffee bath" experience like the one apparently open in Japan, I'm also curious whether the spinning rides in Korea may eventually feature oversized coffee mugs or branded paper containers versus teacups.

Image via

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Two Years to Rio 2016

Oh, happy day. Just two years until the opening ceremonies for Rio 2016. Brazil is going to host a great event.

Let the naysayers keep droning on about woes of South America's first Olympic host duties. Of course there will be bumps along the way, some small and some bigger than Sugarloaf Mountain.

But when the dust settles and everyone eases into their seats 730 nights from now, all will be forgiven and the Games will be brilliant.

As a past tourist who enjoyed Brazil, at this two-year milestone I'm personally more excited about the 2016 Olympiad than any since Athens 2004. Beijing was a wonderful experience, mind you, though at the two-years out marker, it was unclear whether I'd pursue that Games due to cost (as it turned out, a work assignment picked up the tab).

When London rolled around, I just could not get in the spirit until about four months from the opening ceremony. Of course, the 2012 Games are now my favourite, with a very high bar set for Rio. But I think comparing Great Britain's Games to Brazil's will be too apples to guaranas. And like the tiny berries from South America, the Rio Games entice with the promise of sweet, caffeine-infused highs.

Hope to see you at Rio 2016.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Tale of Two Heroes

If you love cinema and you did not yet see it, don't walk -- RUN! -- to experience "Life Itself," the new documentary about the late great movie critic Roger Ebert.

This film is a rare gem incorporating a compelling nonfiction biography, decades of film history (while creating some of its own), excellent storytelling and music, world travel, sly humor and medical drama, love stories (romantic and brotherly love for a pair of foes turned best friends), and several moments that bring a lump to the throats of its viewers.

Upon viewing "Life Itself" for a second time (I hadn't paid to see an in-theatre film twice since "The Social Network"), this blogger found not one but two endearing heroes on the big screen.

Of course, hero No. 1 is Roger Ebert. As noted in my tribute blog post when he died, his writing and reporting style inspired this blogger in many ways.

Like his excellent autobiography on which the film is based, "Life Itself" shares dozens of well-known details about the Illinois native who got started in small town Urbana and grew into role of Chicago icon.

The film is outstanding for reminding viewers of well-known Ebert achievements while revealing many new details about his decades-long career (well, particulars that were new to this writer), such as:

Spoiler Alert!

-- Ebert's heroic "Stop the Presses!" moment when a poorly laid-out newspaper ad inappropriately juxtaposed JFK's portrait with a smoking rifle only hours after the president's assassination.
-- The young newspaper editor Ebert taking to task fellow students, college administration and U.S.
culture in response to terrible racist violence during the Civil Rights Movement (another college era Ebert deed that impresses).
-- The special person Ebert met at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and how his choice to join A.A. inspired several of his closest friends to follow his lead.
-- Favorite Chicago hangouts that are among my favorite places to visit in The Windy City.
-- Passages from "The Great Gatsby" that Ebert enjoyed, and how the Leonard Cohen song "I'm Your Man" saved Ebert's life.
-- Details about Ebert's declining health (previously revealed in an Esquire cover story I read in an airport many years ago) and how he worked to overcome many of them.
-- The prestigious national newspaper that tried to entice Ebert to relocate (which he rebuffed because he was "not going to learn new streets!")
-- Ebert's (and his television partner Gene Siskel's) professional and personal influence on Martin Scorsese during four decades of the director's career.
-- The story of an accomplished filmmaker who, as a young girl, shook hands with Ebert on an awards show red carpet (and how they corresponded years later).

More than one scene or "reveal" moved me close to tears during "Life Itself," including moments David Brubeck's "Take Five" quite the same way after hearing Chaz's very personal story related to this tune.
with Scorsese, Werner Herzog (who dedicated one of his films to Ebert because "He reinforces my courage"), Siskel's widow, and with this film's No. 2 hero, Chaz Ebert, whose remarks about her husband's influence on family, friends and film, as well as his (and her) determination set a high bar for courage in the face of many challenges. She is one brave woman, a strong storyteller, and I will never listen to

Be sure to listen to Terry Gross' "Fresh Air" interview with Chaz and "Life Itself" director Steve James, who is to be commended for excellent work on this documentary (my hopes are for Oscar nomination).

One of the best lines of the film may go up on my office wall, as Roger Ebert explained his drive during the most challenging final years, stating he chose as often as possible to, "zero in on work [because it] makes me feel good, in the zone, [and] it pushes troubles to the back of [one's] mind."

You may chuckle as I did at the gift Ebert's stepdaughter presented him at Christmas, the in-flight prank Siskel played on Ebert, the body part at which "Siamese twins" Siskel & Ebert were conjoined, and how Siskel's name wound up first on the marquee (hint: not at all related to Gene's trips to the Playboy Mansion).

As noted early in this post, "Life Itself" also contains a film history-making little puzzle (figuratively and literally) that may go into cinema trivia books as a memorable object as iconic as the Maltese Falcon, "Rosebud" from Citizen Kane or a Hattori Hanzo sword from the "Kill Bill" series.

One of Ebert's colleagues described the critic's ability to view a film and in 30 minutes bang out a review for the every man, setting a new bar for this blogger (and I suspect other writers as well) to pursue or attain in everyday writing (it should not take me three weeks to post a review!). I am so glad blogging became a new voice for Ebert, who inspired so many. And it's pleasing to the senses the film "Life Itself" cleared the bar and sets some new ones for great documentary film making.

Photos via IMDB; wedding photo by Magnolia; Oriental Theatre photo by Nicholas Wolaver

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fun With Finster

Private collection not for re-use.
Three months is a long time to pause from blogging.

Unfortunately, the day after the most recent post, my mother died in hospice care while I awaited flights home from Sochi and Frankfurt.

Upon returning to my home state, where my dad was recovering from a January stroke, there were many weeks of anxious work to try helping with his recovery.

Though there were days of improvement, unfortunately he also died, on April 15 (perhaps fitting given his 35+ year career working for the Internal Revenue Service).

It's been a tough many weeks.

Sincere thanks go out to family, friends and readers (some acquaintances, some strangers) who sent notes of condolences.

Finally home in Atlanta for more than a few days, a couple of weeks ago I took some time to explore a North Georgia destination that lingered on my "to do" list for a good long while.

Paradise Garden in Summerville, Ga., is tucked away in the mountains of North Georgia up the highway from Rome and a few clicks south of Chattanooga, Tenn.

For the uninitiated, the Garden in this case is the proper name given to the private residence of Rev. Howard Finster, an Alabama-born minister who, in 1976 (approaching age 60), enjoyed his first "visions" from God telling him to spread His word through art -- 5,000 pieces of art, to be exact.

Finster tackled this assignment in earnest, and by the early 1980s his faith-inspired work made it to the homes of many friends and fans, and onto the covers of music albums by R.E.M., Talking Heads and others, not to mention into the marketing plans for big companies in Georgia and beyond.

He transformed Paradise Garden from a densely wooded patch of swamp into a living work of art, transforming others' trash (and his own tools and collection of bottles, machinery, toys, junk and "stuff") into treasured and unusual immersive experiences, with many bones of his work -- mosaic walls and footpaths, a workshop, chicken coop, garage and corridor of items inspired by and gifted to the Garden -- still on view.

In my part-time P.R. assignment at the High Museum of Art, I take monthly walks over to the Folk Art section to view their large assortment of Finster objects billed as the "largest public collection of objects from Paradise Garden."

Prior to the Summerville sojourn, it was fun to see the easy-to-recognize self-taught objects in the National Gallery of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum and other destination museums in the U.S.

The trek to Paradise Garden taught me a lot -- I recommend a visit. In the new visitor's center attached to a previous Finster workspace, guests should take time to view the videos including interviews with the artist, including an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Out in the Garden, take time to view the fading Keith Haring while it's still there, and also the Cadillac covered with hand-drawn and painted portraits beyond saving but surprising morsels of Finster's handiwork not yet touched by the on-site restoration team.

During the afternoon on site, I learned of two other Finster experiences of note. Sadly, this blog post is too late to preview today's Finster Fest 2014, which continues this afternoon (Sunday, June 1).

But readers have a full-year to trek to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, which last week mounted a special exhibition titled "Howard Finster: Visions of Coca-Cola" featuring a private collection of Coke-inspired Finster creations, including a few for which there is an Olympic connection.

For five-ringed aficionados, be sure to view the Atlanta Olympic Coke bottle cutout painting (among the first works visible at the exhibition entrance) -- Finster was one of many artists from around the world who created Olympic/Coke bottle folk artwork for the 1996 Games. The exhibition also includes some rarely-displayed items from Finster's studio, including a stool, brushes and other artifacts of his home. For any Finster fan, this is a must-see exhibition.

The downtown Atlanta display also teaches a self-taught technique Finster often employed (Paradise Garden also features more details on this process from a private commission).

To create portraits or patterns he intended to re-use, the Reverend took a snapshot or other image of his subject, drew a paper illustration in his own hand, then created a cutout version he could use to recreate the likeness many times (as I understand it, Finster referred to the cutouts as "dimentions" -- see example in photo at base of this post).

This technique also evolved into some shapes for his more popular works on boards, such as cars, shoes, wagons, dinosaurs or beverage bottles, helping with consistency of form while permitting customization and -- back to the original vision and mission -- an effective manner of spreading God's word across the world.

Finster needed a little help, perhaps, as he eventually created more than 46,000 numbered works, and many thousands more unnumbered, executed before and after his original vision from God, which he saw in the form of a smiley face of paint on his fingertip.

Back at Paradise Garden, Olympic-minded collectors may wish to purchase a fine-art print featuring Finster's non-Coke take on the "OLEMPICS" in the form of numbered prints priced at $500, featuring an Atlas-like figure holding up a globe with hand-written messages about Atlanta's Games.

Not a bad vision for the Olympic world.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver, with thanks to the World of Coca-Cola for a ticket to the exhibition and museum.

Section of Howard Finster's hand-painted Cadillac.
One of two covered wagons on view at Paradise Garden studio entrance.
View from entrance to special exhibition "Howard Finster: Visions of Coca-Cola"

Detail of Howard Finster's 1996 Atlanta Olympic Coke Bottle.
Private collection items on view
in the World of Coca-Cola exhibition.
Example of cut paper "dimention" by Finster.
Paradise Garden includes further examples
of cutouts Finster used to create and repeat
portraits of individuals from presidents
and private commissions to personal
friends and family members.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Non-Olympian "Thanks, Mom"

With a heavy heart I'm posting from Sochi with news my wonderful mother Betty entered hospice care in Oklahoma on Monday night. The news is surprising given her condition just two weeks ago was good. Writing in a fog.
Too many non-Games memories to share, but I will always love that Mom bought me the influential-to-seven-year-olds Lake Placid 1980 Olympic color book when I was in first grade, and she took my sister and I to the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Torch Relay in Edmond, Okla., the fifth-grade summer event that launched my Olympic journeys.
In 1989 we volunteered together at U.S. Olympic Festival '89, and the following summer she drove me to the 6 a.m. flight to Minneapolis for my first paid Olympic gig at U.S. Olympic Festival '90 (setting the course for my college days in the Land of 10,000 Lakes). Neither of us knew that flight would be the first of hundreds for this traveler (hard to know who had more nervous excitement).
It was Mom who first told me the 1990 news Atlanta won the 1996 Olympics, setting another course for nine Olympiads of fun. On Mother's Day 1996 she held the "runner flag" to start my leg of the Atlanta Olympic Torch Relay. 
Before and since her diagnosis of Alzheimer's in 2008, she always supported my five-ringed dreams and every dream. In her determined fight to slow down her condition, we shared dozens of walks and talks -- the above photo from one hike at Lake Arcadia near Edmond -- and it was so fun to show her around D.C., Atlanta and Savannah in recent years. As she did through years of working hard as a self-employed parent (her seamstress business boomed during the 1980s and 1990s in support of my sister's and my dreams), she continued to smile and laugh through each step of her declining condition.
I love you, Mom. Thank you, Mom. I will be home to Oklahoma on Friday, the soonest airlines could arrange passage from Sochi. Prayers appreciated for Mom, my dad and sister at her side, and for many family members, friends and caregivers helping mom. Fingers crossed the journey home will get me there safely and in a timely manner.
The blog will resume in due time. Thank you for reading and for support.
Photos by Nicholas Wolaver
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