Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Deep Schmid: Russia NOC's Day of Reckoning

On Tuesday I walked out of a morning meeting to find my phone exploding with Olympic headlines.

The International Olympic Committee finally lowered the boom on Russia's National Olympic Committee, banning the NOC from competing in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. 

According to the IOC announcement, the decision came after close review of "The Schmid Report" compiled under the leadership of Samuel Schmid, former president of Switzerland. 

That's right: Russia's Olympic officials are in deep Schmid.

The reasons are well documented through amazing reporting by, and brave sources to, The New York Times, which identified and nudged the first, big dominoes on the Sochi Olympic doping scheme last year then kept up with the avalanche of crud, recently showcasing a vast diary of doping maintained before and during the Games of 2014. 

Now it is up to individual athletes, the Russia NOC and leaders in Russia Federation to determine who, if any, Olympic hopefuls from the world's largest nation may travel to South Korea in two months.

The Times published a great graphic of which sports/disciplines are to be most effected. 

I feel worst for the athletes who had no part in the scandal. It feels icky that so many wrongs still need to be righted in the Olympic record books for 2014, and that elite athletes from many winter sports must forge on with or without top clean contenders to push each other to bring their best in PyeongChang. 

Also kinda feel like the IOC finally got some guts after they slapped Russia on the wrist during the eve of Rio 2016. If they had bigger cojones, maybe a ban for Tokyo 2020 would also send a message. Only time will tell.

More personally, the scandal and today's IOC decision, which I think was apt, pretty much nixes the chance that one of my favorite Moscovite friends -- fellow Olympic-big band/jazz-English language-fine arts fan Valentina K., will seek a travel visa to meet me in Seoul in February (boo!). 

Guess we'll have to wait for "jazz hands" in Japan. 

Images via The New York Times, Getty Images and RussiaMaps.org

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Grazie Mille

Thanksgiving ranks among my favorite U.S. holidays. It's the one around which the very best family gathering memories of youth are centered, and for which some of the most fun solo or con amigos experiences resonate.

I am thankful for so many people, places, things and ideas spanning a lifetime to recent weeks and months. It's been an extraordinary year of personal change, mostly positive, and of renewed optimism for the future.

Lots of travel, too, thanks to good timing and the generosity of clients who engage the P.R. team of partners with whom I'm privileged to collaborate.

Through visits with friends and family, some of the top Thanksgiving events spanning 1973 to present (my 44 turkey days) are fresh on the brain, so capturing a few here for posterity and shout-outs to those with whom a shared experience took place.

Love, love, love being thankful.

1978 -- Kindergarten Pilgrim hat, buckle and turkey (cut from the outline of my hand) made of construction paper, and earliest recollection of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and consciously comparing female friends my age to the characters on the screen (yes, Lucy and the football). Can't get enough of that Vince Guaraldi soundtrack!

1980 -- Flying a Styrofoam glider and a "pheasant kite" (sort of a sling-shot and paper toy bird) at the big park in Oklahoma City with my sister, Uncle Scott, Grandpa Louis and dad. The first of many cloudless and wonderfully warm Southwestern Thanksgiving Days.

1982 -- The holiday was the eve of my sister's tonsillectomy, teeing up a father-son cooking experience featuring Campbell's alphabet soup and turkey leftovers (the tradition continues!)

1984 -- Thanksgiving in "Big D" Dallas, Texas, during which I learned about Cole Porter and Big Band music, saw "The Karate Kid" on the silver screen and we ate the best damned turkey chili

1985 -- Turkey and ping-pong during our first and only holiday trek to my maternal family's home town, Enid, Okla.

1986 to 1990 -- Trivial Pursuit, home movies and pie

1991 -- Screening "Point Break" then feasting with the Nord Family at Lake Minnetonka, which froze solid in the moonlight as we watched from their cozy living room. This turned into a house-sitting adventure and experiencing my first white-out blizzard later in the weekend

1993 -- Working a double-shift at KMSU-FM in Mankato, Minn., learning about nearby musical hero Prince in detail (the station had a complete collection of his tunes) and discovering radio God of KCRW-FM Joe Frank via his astounding holiday special "Pilgrim" (available via free download through www.JoeFrank.com this month)

1994 -- Saint Louis holiday with college first-love, Jenny, with a sumptuous meal hosted by Fran and John at their historic home in suburban University City, Mo.

1995 -- Celebrating my sister's 21st birthday in St. Louis before a day-long road trip to Oklahoma City for one of the last Thanksgivings with most of the elder family members. We enjoyed a cousin-hosted feast before the full family (about 12 of us) drove caravan-style to see "The American President" together

1997 -- My first international flight from Atlanta to Barcelona, eventually enjoying a "borrowed" bottle of red wine on the Mediterranean sands before translating the Burger King menu for a bunch of female U.S. Navy sailors on shore leave at Las Ramblas

2001 -- Buying a $30 round-trip flight to Washington, D.C. (via post-9/11 pricing), to meet longtime friend Joanne on The Mall after a wonderful solo day in several free museums

2003 -- Surprising a special woman in Milwaukee to launch a 12-year romantic adventure and partnership (now evolved into a tremendous 14-year friendship); not long after the meal, she dumped her Thanksgiving date (which I crashed) so we could share our first official date and trek to The Windy City for the third time that year

2004 -- Window shopping, ice skating and absorbing all the sites of Christmastime Chicago for the second consecutive Black Friday (see 2003)

2015 -- Connecticut holiday with newlyweds Jason and Dominick hosted by Faith and Philip. Still looking for a family game rematch (victory was robbed!)

2016 -- Fessler feast in suburban Birmingham with longtime friends, their son and mother, a source of inspiration, strength and perseverance

2017 -- Early pancake breakfast, turkey via Whole Foods Market, and a quiet afternoon packing for a weekend road trip. Destination: Manhattan/Long Island/Middletown, N.J. Enjoyed a record number of calls and messages from friends from coast-to-coast and even a Thanksgiving fan over yonder in Moscow!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Nicholas Wolaver

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Everything You Want To See

In 2001, while on the set of CNN Headline News for a lawyer client interview, it was my great pleasure to shake hands with the legendary film director/producer Sir Ridley Scott.

He was in-studio to promote his latest work of the day -- "Black Hawk Down" -- and during a commercial break, with just enough time to ask one or two questions, I vaguely recall bringing up any potential for a sequel to one of his science fiction masterpieces, "Blade Runner."

He did not say much in response, and honestly his reply is long forgotten by this starstruck observer, but tonight watching "Blade Runner 2049" about 25 years after seeing the original, it was impressive to see Scott's likely touches and influence on the sequel in his role as executive producer. 

WOW, what a show! 

Here's a taste:

"Blade Runner 2049" has more Easter Eggs than a holiday ceremony on The White House lawn. They packed so many minor and major piques of interest and points to ponder the uber-fans will take years to decode and pontificate. 

This film really delivers on all fronts. 

First, the excellent writing/script provides a thought-provoking and shape-shifting story built upon Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (inspiration for both films). Audiences will savor an enjoy almost three hours of simmering plot and reveals. 

Loved the futuristic touches like a sunroof-turned-drone, wingless stone-shaped cameras, in-home projection units and monolithic video advertising across the concrete landscape of Los Angeles in 32 years. 

There's also outstanding music with movements inspired by Vangelis' work in the original film now treated by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, who brilliantly advanced the score another few decades.

Driving to the theatre, I reflected on the thousands of times my "Blade Runner Soundtrack" cassette and later CD got played, and now that the new film's soundtrack is available, it's likely to get played thousands of times as well. 

For the most part, the acting is strong, too. Of course, Harrison Ford makes a dramatic and impressive entrance and, come to think of it, a near-miss exit, each reminiscent of his early action star work in "The Fugitive" as well as "Patriot Games" and "Star Wars." 

Ryan Gosling is a rock as the protagonist Replicant named "K" assigned to exterminate Nexus 8 Replicants on the lam. More on the story in a few lines. 

I enjoyed many of the cameos in this version, including Edward James Olmos still divvying out origami creations (a Taurus in place of a unicorn ... any guesses as to why?). Sean Young's character Rachel returns -- some of the film's most creative, memorable and intense lines of dialog set up her reunion with rolling cameras. 

The strongest newcomer is Mackenzie Davis, sort of Part II's answer to Daryl Hannah's knockout "Pris" of the original. Robin Wright impresses as the stern top brass of the LAPD. 

The film's early sequences take "K" to a stretch of rural pasture that looks like snow-covered farmland from a bird's eye view, quickly revealed as a maze of "farmland" completely covered by synthetic greenhouses. Elements of nature like trees, grass and other flora and fauna are all but extinct -- small pieces of genuine wood command top prices by collectors, it is later revealed. 

Gosling quickly puts down a fellow Replicant before answering the fugitive's question "Have you ever seen a real miracle?" To reveal the answer to this leading question would be a giant spoiler; let's just say, discovery of a buried body under what's left of an ancient tree -- and a race to find a person related to that corpse -- sets in motion the adventures ahead. There's both crime and genetic sleuthing, visits to incredible sets (filmed in Hungary, Iceland, Spain, Mexico City and the deserts of Nevada), and great action.

I can't even start on the astounding and seamless special effects, but noted a team of 56 CG artists collaborated on the film. They take the audience from desolate arid lands to new wetlands behind a new Pacific Coast Sea Wall, across endless miles of favela-style urban neighborhoods to the most massive rust belt junk yard one can imagine. 

Most interesting visual: A surprising tech-infused threesome with Gosling, Davis and one of the film's other starlets, Ana de Armas. 

Most moving scene: Swiss actress Carla Juri -- cast as a specialist in creating Replicant's false memories -- as she engages Gosling in an updated version of the "Voight-Kampf" exam. 

Best line (one of several): "There's a bit of every artist in their work." 

Runner-up best line: "This moment is beautiful, isn't it?" (for me personally the context in which this line of dialogue appears is reminiscent of an introduction to my own "Rachel" of days gone by). 

And yet another great phrase: "Sometimes to love someone you've got to be a stranger." 

Watching this gem, I was on the lookout for architectural cameos like The Bradbury Building and Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House of the 1981 edition. No such luck, but there was a brief cameo by what may be a Wright-designed office chair. 

For Jared Leto's villainous corporate tycoon of "Blade Runner 2049" there's a breathtaking all-wood indoor platform surrounded by a fish-filled pond, showcasing his fabulous wealth as if to project, "Ahhh, to own that much authentic wood and real koi, not to mention an army of on- and Off-World servants!" 

Ford's splash pad turns out to be an entire floor of a decades-old Las Vegas high rise with his own in-hotel theater and jukebox that play virtual reality Elvis and Frank Sinatra concerts, respectively (nice touch).

It's rare to see a new release in a theatre and wish to view it again right away. "Blade Runner 2049" is one such film, and like the towering billboards peddling unknown products to its inhabitants, enjoy "Everything You Want To See" when you screen it. 

Images via Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lose Yourself at LUZIA

Over the years, it's been my good fortune to experience an equal measure of international Olympic treks and Cirque du Soleil live shows: Ten each.

The current "big top tour" just arrived locally, and audiences are in for a treat under the grand chapiteau in Atlanta as "LUZIA" performances continue through at least mid-November at Atlantic Station in Midtown.

I'm not into proclaiming favorites, but "LUZIA" easily cracked my personal Cirque Top Five also inclusive of  the mostly-aquatic "O" and mostly naked "Zumanity" in Las Vegas as well as the steam punk-themed "KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities" and bugged-out "OVO" tours of recent years. 

Disclosure: Cirque du Soleil was a PR client'o'mine and the agency teams on which I worked for "Corteo," "KOOZA," "Dralion" and the Immortal Tour celebrating the legacy of Michael Jackson was my fifth client as an independent publicist in 2012.

"LUZIA" takes audiences south of the border to explore an array of personalities, flora and fauna of Mexico's diverse landscapes. As with some of Cirque's other tours, the "guide" or pseudo-narrator is a good-natured and oft astounded clown, this time arriving by parachute to explore and collect experiences.

¡Y qué grandes experiencias comparte el payaso!

Along the trail there are contortionists, acrobats, jugglers (of bowling pins and, in a sports-themed segment true to the region, soccer balls), giant swing and hoop riders and all sorts of other spectacular performers.

For this heterosexual male writer, the troupe of female pole dancers captivated me most; some women who attended had to put their eyes back in their sockets, too, when a Tarzan-like and washboard-stomached male performer dangled and twisted on his rope trapeze through the show's in-venue waterfall.

Did I mention "LUZIA" features water? This show is like one extended scene (yes, that scene) in "Flashdance" with hundreds of gallons of hair-soaked H2O sprayed into the stands by all sorts of hard-bodies.

Que sentimiento.

The soundtrack of "LUZIA" impressed me as well -- Spanish guitar, horns, percussion and haunting lyrics really set the scenes. Always performed by live musicians, one Second Act segment featured a group of percussionists going to town on some of the largest xylophones ever to meet my ears and eyes.

This video showcases some of the great brass and vocal work also on stage.

And as in "OVO" the costumes and puppetry of "LUZIA" are as astonishing as the jungle and desert scenery. The menagerie includes all sorts of insects and creatures del mar, as well as over-sized butterflies, tigers and stallions. Just wait for the trio of cacti.

In a word, "LUZIA" = Excellente.

Photos by Matt Beard for Cirque du Soleil

Monday, September 25, 2017

Wintry Mix At Team USA Media Summit

It's fun to be back in Utah for the first time in four years. 

As in 2013, the U.S. Olympic Committee organized its Team USA Media Summit -- now underway through Wednesday in Park City -- to introduce reporters to more than 100 Olympians and Olympic hopefuls looking ahead to the 2018 Winter Games at PyeongChang

Flying into SLC International Airport brought back five-ringed anticipation for a some fun days of networking and gathering story ideas. Driving into the mountains brought a rush of memories from my first visit here in 1997 and, of course, 10 days here during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. 

It's always fun to pull off Interstate 80 and spot the ski jumps, then pull into downtown Park City, the village that in some ways remains as decked out for the Games as it was 15 years ago.

The biggest surprise so far: SNOW in September! 

A few miles up the slopes from Salt Lake City, a blizzard welcomed my rental Toyota, and most of the evergreens in and around the city have a great coating of fresh powder. 

Only two weeks ago I was taking sun at Sandy Hook's beaches in New Jersey, juxtaposed with a snow and fog gondola ride up one of the Rocky Mountain's greatest ski resorts.

Day one's press conferences and athlete or official interview opportunities included (as of early Monday afternoon) the U.S.O.C.'s top brass and announcements, a briefing by the PyeongChang committee's media operations team, a star-filled stage featuring top U.S. female ski and snowboard champions, and roundtables with athletes from biathlon, bobsled, speedskating and Para nordic disciplines. 

Enjoyed getting reacquainted briefly with Elana Meyers Taylor, a fellow Georgian and Olympic silver and bronze medalist who got married since her trip to Sochi. She also provided the welcoming remarks at a Sunday evening mountainside party to kick off the Media Summit. 

Also enjoyed a follow up conversation with Mikaela Shiffrin, first interviewed at the last Winter Olympic Media Summit before she went on to win gold in Sochi. We talked briefly about how her P.R. savvy and ability to speak "on message" evolved in recent years. 

I'll post more specifics from these and other athlete interviews in the days and weeks ahead on the road to PyeongChang. For now, it's time for some USA Hockey and USA Luge Q&A.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Lost & Found In Summer 2017

Like Hillary Rodham Clinton in her new and excellent autobiography, as autumn 2017 begins, I'm still sorting out "What Happened" in recent months.

With the Team USA Media Summit starting Monday in Park City, Utah, and a last-minute flight booked from Atlanta to Salt Lake City confirmed Saturday night, it's time to get back in the saddle and write up the Olympic Rings again. 

But first, some Other Things.

Any friend who would listen during recent months knows that last October, after a New York film screening at which Michael Moore spoke to the audience, I met a smaaaart, funny, politically-motivated, curious, kind and beautiful woman while crossing a rainy 56th Street in Manhattan. This younger polyhistor knocked my socks off!

Long story short, we kept in touch through the wires, shared a couple of winter-spring reunion visits (including one upon my return from Paris in May), and eventually traveled together to Chicago, Washington, Long Island and Connecticut while also visiting each other's home bases in Brooklyn, Atlanta and northern New Jersey. 

I could have and should have written many more experiences of summer 2017 -- some Olympic, most not -- had my attention and energy remained on task. 

It didn't. And out of respect for another's privacy and my own, folks won't be reading why (at least not on this blog ... let's just say a potential doozie of a screenplay and book are on the table -- suggestions for a literary agent are welcome as only one comes to mind).

I went little crazy, and got lost. With the help of family and my closest of friends, things are getting back on track. Here's a guy with issues. The array of summer experiences, for better or worse (well, mostly for the better) shed some new light on how to fix them. 

The imagined but unwritten posts June to now include more about Paris, reviews of Glenn Close in "Sunset Boulevard" on Broadway and "Hamilton" at last experienced in The Windy City, a U2 concert at Soldier Field, museum visits to The Met, MoMA, Chicago Art Institute, Cincinnati Museum of Art and the High, sunburn in East Hampton and a D.C. hotel rooftop on the Fourth of July, an all-time Top Five meal at Café Spiaggia, and experiencing world-class tennis and the solar eclipse in Ohio.

A nice surprise in June was the invitation to attend Intel's Olympic sponsorship announcement at Rockefeller Center. 

Discovering a love of exercise, improved diet, weight loss (14 lbs. and counting since July 6) and the joy of cycling also made the summer list. Just no posts.

And the recent five-ringed wins by Paris and Los Angeles for the 2024 and 2028 Olympiads, respectively, were welcome news on which I dwelt but did not scribe except for this post mentioning the IOC's initial announcement finally made official last week.

But I do want to write about one shared experience since its inclusion of filmmaker Moore sort of bookends the summer October 2016 and spring/summer 2017 experiences. It was definitely not "the end" but "the beginning of the end" in my mind with regards to my Garden State-born buddy. 

Opening night of previews for Moore's stage performance of "The Terms of My Surrender" on Broadway took place on Friday, July 28, a lovely pre-serotinal evening that proved to be, at once, extremely frustrating and the launch of a concatenation that still perplexes me two months later. 

I bought a pair of tickets to "Terms" after reading an early report on its inspiration and creative process. It sounded like a fun way to experience Moore again, only this time -- as a gift to my friend -- accompanied by the fellow fan who walked into my life on the October evening that included Moore last year (you see, in our first conversation my friend and I talked about Moore, Hillary, the Obamas, activism and other left-leaning topics in some detail, and it delighted me to find a kindred spirit in politics and our brands of collecting experiences). 

In spite of her strengths, my friend's on-time track record proved to be lousy. I was lucky if she showed up less than two hours late to any one outing we shared.

So on the approach to July 28, we discussed the importance of an early arrival, theater attire and the like. And it was reassuring to read texts with her promises there'd be "no chance" and "no way [she'd] be late for Moore" and the like. 

Optimism reigned. Not only for her pending arrival on the big night, but also for Moore's writing and performance. The New York Times published a piece on preview eve with some encouraging words that suggested a good time might be had by all in attendance. 

Fuck. It wasn't. And, goddamn it, my friend showed up 75 minutes late -- with a bundle of lame and never-confirmed excuses (launching many hunches). I had even built-in an extra pre-curtain hour for a cushion of time, only to be ... foiled again! UGH!

Save a late night meal down the street from the theater, and Moore signing autographs after the show, things were mostly a bust. I spent most of the stage presentation simply fuming in my seat.

Moore posted a video with a bit of his own take after the first night (blogger and guest cameo at the 1:50 mark).

For Michael's part, the show provided a few early moments of promise. When his opening albeit awkward stand-up set shifted to a scene of the filmmaker "unpacking" an array of Trump-inspired airport security troubles, the biggest laughs and audible gasps came when a banned Middle Eastern immigrant popped up out of this suitcase as the visual punchline.

It also was interesting, but not particularly big on laughs, to learn some of Moore's early career achievements in activism. And a positive takeaway -- that any individual may inspire change for the better -- was a message received. There just wasn't much later in the show that proved memorable nor worth writing about further. The evening's celebrity cameo, whom Moore interviewed about current events, was a dud.

The Times' critical review nailed it on other aspects of the show. For a die-hard Moore fan, this could be your bag, baby. For anyone looking to drop $100 or more for a night out on Broadway, take time to find "Book of Mormon" as an alternative (this particular Tony winning show is top of mind writing from a hotel room near "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" in "Oo-tahh").

It took the rest of that late July weekend and the dog days of summer for other relationship particulars to unfurl. Incomplete or simply false information, and plenty of little things, made for some unraveling, revelations and lessons learned. I acknowledge and accept responsibility for my part. Not sure that's going on at the other end of the line.

Blah, blah, blah. Done.

The optimist in me believes the friend mentioned in this post is out there working as hard on her self-improvement projects as this guy is.

The realist in me believes it more likely there's just been "more of the same" running around and procrastination as in June through August. She's better than that and knows it. Get busy working and living is my wish -- I'm not the first to suggest this. And in spite of all that rolled out on our penultimate and last visits, envisioning I'd willingly still offer an ear and support, amics para siempre-style, after a much needed breather. Missing the good parts.

The romantic in me hopes time heals all wounds and something just like this may be possible again, if not with this nuked friendship then with someone with a similar potential for joie de vivre.

The writer and PR pro in me says extensive uphill road work is ahead with a smoother ride and blue skies further down the road.

Lord Huron's lyrics to "The Night We Met" kind of summarizes things.

More to follow from the summit.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Blog Archive

Web Analytics