Sunday, December 20, 2015

Olympic Rings To Fill Silver Screens In 2016

With all the recent attention on "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and other big films opening for the holidays, some previews are popping up for new Olympic-themed features set to open in 2016.


Not since Leni Riefenstahl assigned her crews 80 years ago have there been so many filmmakers with an eye and lens on Olympic action.

Here's a look at the big studio releases and smaller potential gems with a five-ringed connections coming soon to a theatre near you:



Title: "Race"
Release Date: 19 February 2016
Website: www.FocusFeatures.com/Race
Production/Distributor: Focus Features
On screen: Stephan James, Jeremy Irons, Jason Sudeikis, William Hurt, Carice van Houton
Off screen: Stephen Hopkins (director)

Description: Tailored to the masses fresh look at Jesse Owens and his journey from rural Alabama to the world's stage at the Berlin Olympics. Title is a double (or perhaps triple) entendre about Owens' running prowess, the color of his skin and (hinted by the previews) a "race against time" for the track star to decide whether to compete for Team USA in spite of obvious discrimination in its ranks and Germany's emerging Aryan aspirations.

Curious facts: According to IMDB, the title role originally went to John Boyega, who backed out to appear in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Jeremy Irons will play the role of U.S. Olympic chief Avery Brundage, an official likely to appear in two of the upcoming Olympic documentaries listed later in this post.

Olympic Rings And Other Things prediction: Film will entertain with a new, crowd-pleasing spin on Owens' feats while disappointing the fact checkers who call to question the fictionalized bio for the sake of tension/drama (sort of like in the film version of "Unbroken").


Title: "The Bronze"
Release Date: 11 March 2016
Website: SonyClassics.com/TheBronze
Production/Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
On screen: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Cecily Strong
Off screen: Bryan Buckley (director)

Description: Comedy about a twentysomething Olympic bronze medal gymnast "putting the nasty in gymnastics" whose star is falling while a younger athlete's profile is on the rise in the same small Ohio town they call home.

Curious Facts: Gary Cole is often quoted for the TPS Report-loving manager he portrayed in "Office Space." Since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, several Team USA women's gymnastics Olympians took home bronze medals, including: Mary Lou Retton (1984 uneven bars, floor exercise), Kathy Johnson (1984 balance beam), Phoebe Mills (1988 balance beam), Shannon Miller (1992 uneven bars,), Amy Chow (1996 uneven bars), Dominique Dawes (1996 floor exercise), Courtney Kupets (2004 uneven bars), Nastia Liukin (2008 floor exercise) and Alexandra Raisman (2012 balance beam). In 1948, Team USA earned a bronze in the "team combined" women's gymnastics events in 1948 London, 1992 Barcelona and 2000 Sydney.

Olympic Rings And Other Things prediction: Future cult classic and solid scores for F-bomb vaulting.


Title: "Eddie The Eagle"
Release Date: 26 February 2016
Website: www.FoxMovies.com/movies/Eddie-the-Eagle
Production/Distributor: 20th Century Fox/Lionsgate
On screen: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken
Off screen: Dexter Fletcher (director), Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, David Reid, Rupert Maconick and Valerie Van Galder

Description: Highly fictionalized version of events leading to the world famous British ski jumper's Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Curious Facts: In a BBC interview, the athlete on which the film is based said, "I've been warned only 10 to 15 percent of it is based on my life."

Olympic Rings And Other Things prediction: Future boxed set with the other Calgary Games comedy "Cool Runnings."


Title: "Munich 72 And Beyond"
Release Date: TBD
Website: www.MunichMemorial.org
Production: Foundation for Global Sports Development, Crisman Films
On screen: Surviving family members from 1972 Israel Olympic Team
Off screen: Stephen Crisman (director)

Description: According to the official site, the film will, "... capture the story of the Munich Memorial, and create an unflinching, elegant and timely examination of contemporary remembrance. The film will revisit Munich's history and bring it to a contemporary moment through intimate interviews and access to those involved. The film will also follow the construction of the Memorial ... with blueprints and renowned architects as guides.

Curious facts: The New York Times wrote up new revelations to be discussed in the film, and Around The Rings aired a podcast interview about the project. The 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic attack is covered here

Olympic Rings And Other Things prediction: Surviving family member inch closer to closure while the Oscar-winning "One Day In September" (documentary which covers the same topic) proves tough to beat.



Title: "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice"
Release Date: TBD
Website: www.1936OlympicsMovie.com
Production: Coffee Bluff Pictures
On screen: Blair Underwood (narrator), Carl Lewis, Isaiah Thomas
Off screen: Deborah Riley Draper (director)

Description: Documentary exploring the 18 black American athletes (including Jesse Owens) and the discrimination they faced at home before, during and after they competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Curious facts: Draper, who is based in Atlanta, previously created the documentary "Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution."

Olympic Rings And Other Things prediction: Audiences will be treated to an accurate and detailed look at what Team USA's black athletes endured in spite of their accomplishments.


Title: "Roads to Olympia"
Release Date: TBD
Website: www.RoadsToOlympia.com
Production: Beacon Revolt
On screen: Daniel Alexander
Off screen: Ramazan Nanayev (director/writer)

Description:  "Weaving between Russia, Saudi Arabia and South America ... a dark yet truly empowering story that follows young people testing their strength and endurance, as athletes and as people, while the attempt to achieve their dreams."

Curious facts: Like "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice" this film was funded in-part through a public campaign via Seed & Spark.

Olympic Rings And Other Things prediction: Effective international version of "Race" portraying athletes overcoming oppression, poverty and intolerance due to ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

Images courtesy of the respective film production companies or distributors listed in this post. 


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Get On The Bus for Civil Rights Tours Atlanta

On this beautiful late autumn Saturday, that wonderful "right place at the right time" feeling kicked-in for about 30 fellow Georgians and this blogger, who each held a ticket to the day's Civil Rights Tour Atlanta.

This new arrival on the city's attractions scene -- which takes visitors on a three-hour coach bus tour of numerous and important urban landmarks -- opened earlier this year, and I was overdue for the experience. 

Man, was it ever a great day to finally get on the bus!

Today's tour included several friends met during nearly 20 years of living in the city, one of my professional mentors and her family, a client and his son, and other V.I.P. passengers including a former Atlanta mayor and the city's District Two councilman

The tour headliner/special guest: U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who represents the Georgia district in which I reside.

What a treat it was to hear the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient's first-hand accounts of Atlanta and Civil Rights history woven into the excellent tour narrative provided by the experience creator and weekly host, Tom Houck. At 11 a.m. the bus embarked from The King Center and passengers were quickly immersed in Atlanta's story as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.

Organized in eight sections with three stops, a typical tour includes Houck's in-person storytelling and a mix of video presentations featuring other Atlanta icons including Ambassador Andrew Young, Julian Bond and Valerie Jackson, among others. During today's special tour, Houck shared the mic with Lewis as honorary "fact checker" and narrator who shared his own memories along the ride. 

The first tour section includes some house-by-house/building-by-building details about the streets surrounding Auburn Avenue (where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got started and was later laid to rest). I found it fascinating to learn specific offices, night clubs, markets, churches and other landmarks provided the venues for big decisions (i.e. the choice to march in Selma) and moments (selection of SCLC leadership) in the movement. 

It is also amazing to see the progress made in and around Sweet Auburn, which has come a long way since my early visits to the city during the 1990's, and I can't wait to return to try the new restaurants and historic markets in the area.

A dose of Olympic history arrived during the tour's second section, which focused on City Hall and the first black Atlanta mayor, Maynard Jackson, elected during the 1970's and re-elected as the city presented and won its bid to host the 1996 Olympic Games. Houck and Lewis also recalled Muhammad Ali's first professional fight held in Atlanta after the boxer's ban for opposing the Vietnam War. 
Meandering through downtown and the campuses of Atlanta's collection of historic black colleges (the third tour segment), our group made its first stop at 234 Sunset, the home where the King family resided before MLK Jr. was assassinated. 

On the front steps and lawn, Houck shared details about his many visits to the home, where he, then a twentysomething, got a job as Dr. King's driver and where the King children affectionately nicknamed him "Uncle Tom" during a game of catch in the front yard. 

On a more somber note, Lewis and Houck explained that in the week following Dr. King's murder in Memphis, the home hosted Vice President H.H. Humphrey, Jackie Kennedy, several heads of state and Senator Robert F. Kennedy only months before he was assassinated in Los Angeles (Lewis was in the Ambassador Hotel on that fateful night).

Civil Rights Tours Atlanta provides its second tour stop at a Vine City neighborhood shopping center surrounded by several dining destinations including the original Paschal's (an updated version now operates a few blocks closer to downtown) and the Busy Bee Cafe

I marveled at the early 1900's residential architecture and the campus buildings at Clark Atlanta University, and learned about The Herndon Home and Atlanta Student Movement for the first time. 

On our trek further south to see South-View Cemetery (the original resting place for MLK Jr.), passengers learned the lyrics and sang along to several gospel and/or protest songs. 

Later tour views included more gorgeous red brick homes with huge lawns, each juxtaposed as neighbors to the Atlanta Federal Prison built in 1902. We also passed Oakland Cemetery and the original mattress factory where MLK Jr. briefly worked as a young man. 

Similar to our stop at 234 Sunset, when participants disembarked from the bus at South-View, Lewis and Houck shared somber details from Dr. King's funeral, pointing out pock marks on his crypt (where King Sr. now rests) from vandal bullets fired at its marble. 

I highly recommend Civil Rights Tours Atlanta for locals, visitors and anyone interested in an excellent, thorough and entertaining look at Atlanta history. In less than a year of operation, Houck's team hosted more than 3,000, a number that's sure to increase in 2016. Admission includes the three-hour tour and access to the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights

And for Georgians fortunate to reside in his district, if you're heading to Washington, D.C., be sure to contact Lewis' office in advance for access to the U.S. Capitol and White House tours. 

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Frick Collection = Unfrickinbelievable!

According to this Urban Dictionary entry, when a person does something completely out of the ordinary, those actions may be deemed unfrigginbelievable.

Given my affinity for puns, on a recent holiday visit to Manhattan I could not help but apply this term to The Frick Collection, an unfrickinbelievable private assemblage of art gathered by Henry Clay Frick. 

In his day (1849 to 1919), Frick amassed a fortune as a coal-to-coke conversion entrepreneur with ties forged to steel production.

His colorful life also included some savvy crisis P.R. moves related to the Johnstown Flood, union-busting, surviving an assassination attempt and missing his reservation on the maiden voyage of the Titanic when his wife injured her leg.

Frick also collected art -- lots of art -- and he built an enormous mansion on the east site of Central Park to display his paintings, furnishings, carpets and sculpture ... sort of the early 1900's residential version of Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (the unfrigginbelievable modern entry from Bentonville, Arkansas).

With thanks to The Frick Collection media relations team for the blogger ticket on short notice, presented below are a few notes on the experience and why anyone heading to New York should make time to join the museum's 300,000 annual visitors. 

First, the building. 

Like an introvert at the prom, the mansion sits quietly on the east side of Fifth Avenue a few blocks south of its extroverted neighbors the Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Frick can dance like the best of New York's art destinations, and the Collection features a few moves rarely seen anywhere stateside or abroad.

Entering the museum from 70th Street, just inside visitors find a gorgeous enclosed courtyard. After an early morning flight and long, chilly train ride in from JFK, this was a comfortable, quiet and surprising tropical oasis in which to briefly recharge before exploring the galleries.

Amazing awaits in almost every room. The Frick displays not one but three Johannes Vermeer showstopping canvases. 

I must have spent an hour (20 minutes each) studying these magnificent paintings -- "Officer and Laughing Girl" is easily my favorite of the bunch, but I loved "Girl Interrupted at her Music" and "Mistress and Maid" as well. For this blogger, the Vermeer trio alone warrant a special trek to The Frick. 

But wait, there's more!

I lost count of the Rembrandt portraits, the Turner nautical scenes and El Greco images. Turn through a doorway and (ta-da!) there's a Renoir of parading youngsters, a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, and numerous works by James McNeill Whistler. 

Degas, de Goya, Manet ... the major artist list goes on and on.

Lush furnishings, tapestries, carpets and objects adorn each room, with many areas decorated as Frick intended during his few years in the residence. 

One bronze that caught my eye -- an Italian work titled "She-Wolf" -- is reminiscent of the Rome 1960 Olympic logo. A peek at the online collection shows a Frederick Remington "Bronco Buster" bronze is another Frick acquisition though not currently on view (something I'll seek during a future visit).

The oldest item I spotted was an enamel work created in the years 1308-11 titled "The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain" -- gorgeous, and so rich with detail. The largest object I noted is a giant female figure of "Diana the Huntress" displayed near several large windows (this fully nude form is perched in a manner that almost showcases the bright side of the moon to passersby on Fifth Avenue). 

Though I did not use the museum audio guides (included with admission) nor the Frick app (very helpful post-visit, and recommended pre-visit), I spoke with three of the docents who enthusiastically answered my questions about several works and clarified The Frick did not loan objects nor paintings for Cultural Olympiads. 

The best conversationalist on site is the Frick employee named Lauren (sadly, I did not catch her title), a Michigan native who came to the Frick by way of the Detroit Institute of Arts -- she is one smart woman and just might be related to Debra Winger or Zoey Deschanel in the classy, dark-haired, blue-eyed department. 

Lauren knows a thing or two about Vermeer; The Frick hosted "Girl With A Pearl Earring" just after then-client the High Museum of Art's tour stop for "The Dutch Mona Lisa" a couple years back, and it was clear Lauren did some homework about loaned works from The Netherlands. 

In addition to swapping art stories, Lauren recommended an excellent neighborhood eatery, Via Quadronno, for a late lunch. Walking back from the cafe, I stumbled upon a Madison Avenue gallery with some Linda McCartney photographs and a shiny Roy Lichenstein "Bonsai" sculpture in the window (unfrigginbelievable!) -- something to pick up the next time I have $2.4 million handy in New York.

Exterior photos of The Frick Collection and Gagosian Gallery by Nicholas Wolaver. All art images via The Frick Collection online galleries except the Johnstown Flood image (not a Frick item) via this gallery




Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jewell Film May Rile

During Christmas of 1996, I could not resist changing the lyrics to the popular holiday tune "Good King Wenceslas" thanks to a Georgia name that grabbed a lot of headlines during the Centennial Olympic Games held in Atlanta.

Good King Wenceslas looked out,
on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, 
deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, 
tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight ...
is that Richard Jewell?

Nearly 20 years later, Richard Jewell -- the hero security guard of the 1996 Games -- still comes to mind each caroling season. For those in need pf a refresher on his story, the ESPN 30 for 30 short "Judging Jewell" provides a good recap. 

During winter/spring 2015, I got another reminder of Jewell in the form of a dateline Hollywood news article

Not quite Christmas in July, but noteworthy for Olympic film fans.

Turns out Jewell, who died at 44 in 2007, will get his own silver screen feature with the working title "The Ballad of Richard Jewell." 

According to published reports, Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio will play Jewell and his attorney, respectively, in a big budget release set for 2016, possibly in time for the Rio Olympics. 

The title comes from the headline to the famous Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner, who landed one of the biggest 1x1 interviews of 1996 when Jewell agreed to his first media conversation before his acquittal for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Brenner is also known for in-depth writing that inspired the award-winning film "The Insider."

In Brenner's extensive post-Olympic "American Nightmare" article, Jewell unloaded months of pent--up rage and anxiety caused after his "right place at the right time" heroics earned scrutiny of the world's media (and just about everyone else) thanks to some loose-lipped law enforcement officials and an overzealous reporting team. 

Anxious for a global news scoop hours after the bombing, and imbued by "official sources," reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution led with coverage of Jewell that -- like the Bee Gees lyrics to "I Started A Joke" -- started the whole world crying the security guard's name with specious accusations. 

Details for the new Hill/DiCaprio project remain sparse, but according to one report, Clint Eastwood was initially considered to direct the film. This turned out to be wishful thinking during all the attention for "American Sniper," however, as Eastwood put the kibosh on project speculation during a public Q&A

Just as well since Eastwood has a record of skewing Olympic facts, as reported here

With no Eastwood option, this writer hopes Martin Scorsese might direct Hill/DiCaprio again on the heels of their shared success for "The Wolf of Wall Street." 

Screenwriter Billy Ray -- working with Scorsese on his adaptation of "Devil In The White City" (starring DiCaprio) -- is confirmed to write the screenplay for "The Ballad of Richard Jewell" so maybe a Scorsese-Ray-Hill-DiCaprio combo pack for the Jewell bio may work (though not likely in time for Rio 2016, methinks).

No matter the director, I can hardly wait to see if the screenplay recreates the "Saturday Night Live" 1997 season opener scene during which beleaguered FBI Director Janet Reno -- masterfully portrayed by Will Ferrell -- absorbs a gut-busting punch by the real Richard Jewell, who followed the hit with a great one-liner: "Same time next week?" 

Later in the same SNL episode, Jewell sat in the guest chair for a funny "Weekend Update" interview with Norm MacDonald

I am also curious how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution marketing department and editorial staff will report on "The Ballad of Richard Jewell." The newspaper that "Covers Dixie Like the Dew" unfortunately stepped in poo through the whole Jewell episode, and its likely the AJC will gets its due -- in the form of unflattering publicity for a free press outlet gone awry at great expense to a private citizen -- when the film project gains steam. 

This copy of court documents related to Jewell's legal action against the AJC offers a peek at both sides of their cases which became moot upon Jewell's death.

When the film starts shooting, here's hoping Centennial Olympic Park may finally get some screen time as well. 

Photos via Hollywood Reporter, AJC.com, Associated Press, Hulu and Howard Berger blog.



In case Billy Ray is reading, here's my contribution to "The Ballad of Richard Jewell" screenplay drafts: 

INT. JEWELL FAMILY APARTMENT - SUMMER AFTERNOON

RICHARD enters from bedroom as his mother places home-cooked meal on small dining table by window facing suburban apartment complex parking lot. He is wearing an Olympic security uniform and ball cap. She adjusts the volume on small TV screen to soften Tom Brokaw's NBC evening report on monitor. 

RICHARD
(while sitting at table and scooping food onto his plate)

Looks good, momma. 
Glad to eat quick before heading downtown. 
This beats that fast food from last night
that upset my stomach.

MOTHER

You eat your veggies. 
I don't want you getting 
hungry on your late shift.

(BROKAW on monitor talking about the first week of the Atlanta Olympics reaching the weekend, highlights from the day's competition, and live shots of crowds at Centennial Olympic Park -- audible volume but part of background while RICHARD and MOTHER meal conversation continues)

MOTHER (CONT'D)
(looking at screen while talking with cheek full of food)

Looks like it'll be a busy night for you down there.

RICHARD

Should be. 
I'm glad for the peace 
and quiet here at home. 
It gets noisy there. 

(RICHARD and MOTHER continue eating and chatting inaudibly as camera pans back to show relative calm of tree-lined apartment parking lot out the window).

MOTHER
(cheerfully)
I just love Tom Brokaw. 
He is so handsome. 
He's always been one of my favorites.

The film advances through the evening of the bombing, Richard's heroic actions, and initial interviews with investigators. The film later resumes in the same apartment during breakfast a couple of days later. 

INT. JEWELL FAMILY APARTMENT - MORNING LIGHT OBSCURED BY WINDOW BLINDS

RICHARD enters from bedroom in boxer shorts and T-shirt, rubbing eyes after a near-sleepless night as his mother places scrambled eggs and bacon on dining table by window. The TV is off.

(Audible muttering heard from outside window)

MOTHER

Come get something to eat. It's been so noisy outside. 
They must finally be getting around to painting things. 
I keep hearing the painting crew yelling at each other 
but I didn't open the blinds since I'm in my robe. 
I didn't even go out to get the paper yet. 

RICHARD

Oh, I'll get the paper. 
I want to see the latest reports 
from the other night.

RICHARD opens door to reach down for paper on welcome mat. 

(Off-screen REPORTER yelling "There he is!" as flashbulbs pop reflected in apartment entryway)

RICHARD quickly shuts door and steps back slowly, startled and bewildered. Holding newspaper, he turns attention to table as MOTHER reaches for the window blind string to draw up the blinds. Camera across room facing table and window shows RICHARD and MOTHER from behind and their view as the raised blinds reveal a sea of hundreds of television news cameras, reporters, photographers and bystanders -- some in the threes or atop news trucks -- peering at the Jewell breakfast scene. 

MOTHER
(gasps from shock of the scene, quickly lowers blinds for concealment)

Oh, my God! What in the world?!

As if to distract herself, MOTHER quickly turns on the television which is still tuned to NBC. On screen, Tom Brokaw is speaking about the Olympic Park bombing from earlier evening. RICHARD and MOTHER watch intently as camera zooms in on BROKAW on screen.

BROKAW
(with photo of RICHARD on screen)

They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still holes in this case.

MOTHER
(lips quivering) 

What is he talking about? 

(she starts to cry as RICHARD looks down, somberly shaking his head as he unfolds the newspaper to reveal his photo on the cover and an accusatory headline above the fold)

# # #

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Dalí Museum Emcees Escher

Last month while in Florida for a 10 day client assignment, I trekked over to St. Petersburg for a third peek at The Dali Museum.

During the drive west from Orlando, my guess was that last year's outstanding "Picasso/Dalí: Dalí/Picasso" exhibition would prove tough to beat.

The current exhibition "Escher At The Dali" upended my expectations with another showstopping assemblage of amazing works by a world renowned artist.

According to the museum's press release, the exhibition includes 135 works by the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher.

I quickly lost count and lost myself exploring the dozens of woodcuts, prints, drawings and other works on loan from the Herakleidon Museum in Athens, Greece.

Greatest hits, in no particular order, include:

-- Gorgeous landscapes from Escher's travels around Italy and other Mediterranean destinations including Spain, where he got hooked on repetitive art features viewed at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada

-- Book illustrations created during Escher's early-career "hungry" days spent starving for paid assignments

-- Portraits of family and friends including his wife

-- Nautical-themed three-dimensional (pentagon-shaped) candy tins featuring shells and starfish

-- The 13.5-foot panoramic design "Metamorphosis III" showcasing Escher's mastery of tessellations (in brilliant color for this piece)

-- Additional color works including the vivid "Other World" and "Horseman" both from the mid-1940s.

My favorites: "Puddle" featuring a forest reflected in the wet tracks of car/bike tires with shoe prints (made me wonder the extent to which artist R. Crumb found inspiration from Escher) and the lithograph "Three Worlds" featuring a swimming fish beneath a leaf-covered surface.

Of course, the best-known Eschers featuring impossible structures, waterfalls, ladders and people about the illustrations are great fun.

Best surprise was the whimsical look inside the "Print Gallery" featuring museum visitors studying a row of framed mini-Eschers.

Gazing upon each work, I marveled at the painstaking detail and countless hours that must have gone into creating each image. Escher, it seems, was an extremely patient artist and perfectionist.

Though I found no direct Olympic connections in his work, future organizers of a Cultural Olympiad should take notice of Escher's mastery.

"Escher At The Dali" remains on view through Jan. 3, 2016, and is indeed worth a special trip to St. Pete.

Images via MCEscher.com




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