Air

Posted on April 5, 2023 at 5:45 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 7, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
A good movie will capture our attention even when we know, because it is a true story, how it turned out. How it happened can be an engrossing story itself, especially if it was a shift with consequences so pervasive we can hardly remember when things were different. Today, dozens of celebrities, even the biggest box-office actors and platinum-selling singers, make more money from their lines of cosmetics, fragrances, clothing and shoes, housewares, books, phone plans, liquor, and perhaps, someday, steel-belted radial tires and vacation time shares. But it began when a man named Sonny Vacarro, working for Nike, made a deal with an athlete who had not yet played his first professional basketball game. His name is Michael Jordan.

Matt Damon plays Sonny, with director Ben Affleck as Nike founder Phil Knight. As the movie begins, In 1984, Nike was known as a running shoe company. Converse and Adidas had most of the market for basketball shoes. Nike, with only 17 percent, was considering giving up entirely. Vacarro, whose life could easily fill a few more movies, wants to change the division’s approach, a poor (in both senses of the word) imitation of the vastly more successful competition. They would pay the top athletes a set fee to appear on posters and ads, representing the brand. Sonny and his colleagues discussed the lower-tier athletes they might be able to afford but no one thought that pursuing the same failed strategy would produce a better result. They just did not know what else to try, and the old system might not work, but it was safe.

Nike was an upstart company, and, as Sonny reminded Phil Knight, before they were a public company, with all of the bureaucracy and high profile disclosures that requires, they were the opposite of safe. The film cleverly uses the company’s real-life principles as commentary or chapter headings. “Our business is change” is number one.

Sonny decides that instead of hedging their bets by picking three basketball players and hoping one of them would excel, they should spend their entire budget on Michael Jordan a #3 draft pick rookie who has not yet set foot on a professional court. He has to persuade his colleagues (Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman, both excellent as always). He has to persuade Knight. He has to persuade Jordan’s ultra-alpha agent, David Falk (Chris Messina, nailing it like the real-life Jordan buzzer-beater). And when Falk refuses to give Sonny a meeting, Sonny has to persuade Jordan’s parents, more specifically, Jordan’s mother Deloris.

She is played by the magnificent Viola Davis because that was real-life Jordan’s one request for the film. And she is on fire. A scene near the end has a phone conversation between Deloris and Sonny that will be in the highlight reels for both stars forever.

Affleck is a fine actor and a better-than-fine director. As an actor since childhood, his skill at selecting the right actors and allowing them to do their best is to be expected. He also has an exceptional sense of narrative structure. The script from first-time screenwriter Alex Avery was chosen as Best Unproduced/Blacklist Screenplay of 2021. He gets sole credit, but Affleck and Damon, Oscar-winning screenwriters in their 20s for “Good Will Hunting,” worked with him on the final version. It is the way the story is shaped that allows each of the characters to make a contribution and keeps us somehow wondering how it will come together.

There is also a deeper meaning, a medium is the message connection. It is the first film from a new company formed by Damon and Affleck that hopes to do for the people who work on films what Sonny did for Michael Jordan, recognizing the contributions of below-the-line crew like cinematographers, designers, and sound technicians with a chance to share in the profits of the work they help to create. Let’s hope they all do as well as Jordan, who, according to the film’s ending updates, makes $400 million a year from the Nike products bearing his name.

Parents should know that this film has constant strong “locker-room” language

Family discussion: What made Nike different from its competitors? Which of the Nike principles do you think are most important? Would you buy something just because it had the name of a celebrity on it?

If you like this, try: “Sole Man,” the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Sonny Vacaarro and some of the interviews with Vacarro on YouTube, especially the ones concerning his reversal from creating marketing programs that exploited amateur athletes to leading the Supreme Court challenge that recognized their right to be paid for the use of their images and names

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Smithsonian’s New African-American History Museum: Virtual Tour

Posted on September 6, 2016 at 3:57 pm

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest addition to the Smithsonian, is finally opening this month. Free tickets for the first few weeks are already gone, but everyone can take a virtual tour of exhibits like “Musical Crossroads” featuring artifacts like Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, and an immersive visual presentation. Musical performances on the surrounding screens include artists as varied as Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Outkast. In the Sports Gallery, a life-size sculpture records the moment at the 1968 Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the air on the medal podium and tributes to legends like Michael Jordan and the Williams sisters. The museum’s theater is named for major donor Oprah Winfrey.

Copyright Smithsonian 2016
Copyright Smithsonian 2016

As visitors wait for the elevator, they will view a wall of thought-provoking and inspiring quotes. And the casket of slain teenager Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman, will be on view, with a recording of his mother telling the story.

Museum director Lonnie Bunch wrote in Smithsonian Magazine:

I think the museum needs to be a place that finds the right tension between moments of pain and stories of resiliency and uplift. There will be moments where visitors could cry as they ponder the pains of the past, but they will also find much of the joy and hope that have been a cornerstone of the African-American experience. Ultimately, I trust that our visitors will draw sustenance, inspiration and a commitment from the lessons of history to make America better. At this time in our country, there is a great need for contextualization and the clarity that comes from understanding one’s history. I hope that the museum can play a small part in helping our nation grapple with its tortured racial past. And maybe even help us find a bit of reconciliation.

The museum pays tribute to the environment as well, seeking to become the first Gold LEED-certified building on the National Mall. Solar cells on the building’s roof produce electricity to heat water for the structure. Other sustainability-driven features include the green roof along Constitution Avenue and the water recycling and filtration system. The three-tiered trapezoid shape of the bronze corona that wraps around the outside of the glass building is inspired by a sculpture from the early 20th-century Yoruban artist Olowe of Ise of a woman wearing a three-tiered crown. Most of the building is underground, so that the structure does not overwhelm the nearby Washington Monument and other icons of the Mall.

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