Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Football, Fall, and Film - My Favorite Football Movies

Movie poster for "Undefeated"

Autumn is in the air, and that means football! I live in Utah, where football stadiums are graced with views of the Rocky Mountains carpeted in trees turning red and gold this time of year. It is a beautiful sight, and makes for some wonderful evenings watching football. I also like watching football movies.

I just watched the 2012 Academy Award winning documentary, Undefeated.  What a movie! If you aren't familiar with this one, get into the spirit of fall football and catch this uplifting story. Bill Courtney volunteers, that's right, folks, volunteers for six years to coach the Manassas Tigers high school football team in North Memphis, Tennessee. To say that this football program is struggling is an understatement. After the closing of a Firestone factory, this part of town dies. The football team has not won a game in years. Enter Bill Courtney. For some reason not explained in the documentary, he wants to coach this team.  And in six years, he builds a program, and more importantly, he builds young men. 

Coach Bill Courtney (left) on the field.

This film follows Coach Courtney and the players, particularly OC Brown, Montrail "Money" Brown, and Chavis Daniels. All of these young men have struggles. OC has the potential to play college ball, if he can make the grades. Chavis is returning to the team after missing his sophomore year serving time, and Money suffers an injury that takes him out of the game. Will he be able to return before the end of the season? I am not giving any spoilers here, but taking the journey with these kids has some nice pay-offs at the end. Filmmakers Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin do a marvelous job of making the viewer care about these players, this coach, and this team. I found myself pulling for these kids to make it not just in football, but in life, and there were moments when I found my eyes tearing up. At the beginning of the film, Coach Courtney says:
"The foundation has got to be a solid platform that you can stand on and speak to these kids and say this is the way you build yourself. If you build yourself this way and handle yourself this way, and have character, you get to play football. And winning will take care of itself because young men of character and discipline and commitment end up winning in life and they end up winning in football. But when you flip it, and the foundation of what you are doing is football, and then you hope all that other stuff follows, well then you think football builds character which it does not. Football reveals character."
Amen, Coach. And thanks to all involved for giving us this uplifting story!

Can't get enough football? Check out my other favorite football movies (they are all based on true stories).

Movie poster for "The Blindside"

The Blindside tells the story of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, and how they take Michael Oher out of foster care and him part of their family. It is an amazing story of reaching out to save a fellow human being. Michael experiences stable home and family life for the first time, and is able to get through high school and make it to college with the love and support of this family.  I am always amazed that one family can open their hearts and their home and make such a difference. 

Quinton Aaron portrays Michael Oher in the movie, The Blindside

The movie features the acting talents of Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy and Kathy Bates as Michael's tutor. Oher has spent most of his upbringing in foster care, the son of a mother struggling with addiction. When he is enrolled in a different school, mostly for his athletic ability since his academics are lagging behind, his life begins to change. He is befriended by the Tuohy family, and is eventually adopted by them. Football is a sideline in this tender story. As you may know, Michael Oher went on to play in the NFL. The Blindside is rated PG-13.

Real-life family: Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, Michael Oher, Collins and Sean Jr.

Remember The Titans movie poster

Who doesn't love Denzel Washington in Remember The Titans? This 2000 movie tells the story of coach Herman Boone (Washington) who became the coach of racially segregated T.C. Williams High School in the 1970s. It is a difficult task to integrate the football team, and the story is engaging. Although the movie received mixed reviews, it is an appropriate vehicle to introduce civil rights and racial and social issues in a family setting. It also has some nice football moments. And did I mention it has Denzel Washington? Remember the Titans  is rated PG.

Image from Remember The Titans

The first time I saw Invincible, I remember thinking "these people are always in a bar!" Maybe I was hyper-sensitive to that because I had my kids with me at the time. The movie ran recently on TV, and I found myself watching it again. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this film!

movie poster for Invincible

Invincible tells the story of Vince Papale who, at age 30, becomes a Philadelphia Eagle. The movie version has Papale (played by Mark Wahlberg) as a bartender who rather miraculously impresses the Philadelphia coaches at an open tryout and makes the team. In reality, Papale had been playing semi-pro ball, so making the team in real life was not quite the leap it is in the film. Still, to have a 30 year old achieve his NFL dream when many people would have written him off due to his age is a wonderful story. The likable Greg Kinnear plays Eagles coach Dick Vermeil. Invincible is rated PG.

Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale in Invincible

Lastly, I liked the movie We Are Marshall. This is a story of rising out of tragedy.

movie poster for We Are Marshall

In 1970, a plane crash killed all 75 people on board, including 37 members of the Marshall University football team, several coaches, trainers, and the athletic director. Football boosters and airline crew members also died. It was a horrible event. According to the film, Marshall University considered suspending its football program after the crash. As you can imagine, losing that many people in your football program would be pretty devastating. However, there were still players on the team (many new players who had not made the trip), and the university makes the difficult decision to hire a new coach and move forward. This movie tells the story of healing and rebuilding in the wake of the crash. Matthew McConaughey stars as the new football coach at Marshall, and Matthew Fox plays his assistant. I found myself rooting for this school and this program to rebuild and get past their grief after this tragic event. We Are Marshall is rated PG.

Matthew McConaughey leads the charge in We Are Marshall

There you have it--my football film picks for this fall! All of these movies are fairly family friendly. The documentary is not rated, and does have some language. But it also has a coach admonishing his players and asking them not to make him mad enough to swear at them again, since he had to go home and pray for forgiveness! All of these movies have positive messages about life, not just football.

What are your favorite football movies?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fortune to Fake and Back Again - Van Gogh Painting "Discovered"

Van Gogh's Sunset at Montmajour

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam unveiled this painting today, declaring it a work of famed artist Vincent Van Gogh.  This painting has spent much of its life lying in an attic.  Originally painted in 1888, it was in the possession of Vincent's brother, Theo.  The painting passed from Theo to an art dealer, who did not record the sale of the painting, creating a gap in the provenance. The painting is unsigned, and was originally rejected by the museum as a fake for that reason.

So why is it considered authentic now? Vincent wrote letters regularly to his brother, Theo. In one letter, he describes this painting, and says he painted it the day before (July 4, 1888). 
"At sunset I was on a stony heath where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill and wheat fields in the valley. It was romantic. ... The sun was pouring its very yellow rays over the bushes and the ground, absolutely a shower of gold."
 In Theo's collection, the painting was numbered 180, and that number is on the back of the painting.  The subject matter matches the description in Vincent's letter. The brush strokes look typical of Van Gogh as well, though this piece is considered a transitional work as the artist progressed to his famed thick strokes of paint.  In essence, through his writing, Vincent was instrumental in authenticating his own piece of art.  What could be better than that?

A Norwegian industrialist bought the painting in 1908, and was told it was a fake.  He banished it to the attic. In 1970, the painting was again declared a fake.  It changed hands, and in 1991, the museum declined to authenticate it. This wonderful piece seemed doomed to a lifetime of obscurity.  However, it has now "resurfaced" and with technical evaluation of pigments and the written record of Vincent himself, it has been officially declared a Van Gogh...again (since Theo sold it as a Van Gogh originally).  Thanks, Vincent, for another beautiful treasure in a wonderful body of work!

If you would like to know more about the modern processes involved in authenticating artwork, check out the wonderful BBC series, Fake or Fortune.  These shows are entertaining, as well as educational.

You might also be interested in my other blog posts about Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers-Sur-Oise, and a painting that many claim is a work by Leonardo DaVinci.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Celebrating Grandma Moses

"Moving Day on the Farm" - Grandma Moses

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860.  She grew up in New York, then married Thomas Moses and moved to Virginia.  Several years later, the couple returned to New York. After Thomas died in 1927, Mrs. Moses continued to farm with the help of her son.  Besides practicing domestic arts such as making jams and preserves, Mrs. Moses was talented with a needle. She made many embroidery projects for friends and family.  When arthritis made using a needle difficult, Anna Mary turned to painting. She was 76 years old. I think you can see the influence of needlework designs in her paintings.

Grandma Moses painting

Grandma Moses' painting career spanned 25 years.  Early in her painting career, she gave paintings away as gifts, or sold small paintings for $2 and large paintings for $3.  Years after her death, her painting Sugaring Off sold for over $1 million.  She exhibited as Mrs. Moses, staging her first formal art exhibit in the 1940s.  The press quickly dubbed her as Grandma Moses, however, and the moniker stuck. Always wanting to stay busy, Grandma Moses  painted over 1,600 pieces.  She said, "Painting is not important.  The important thing is keeping busy."

"Sugaring Off" - Grandma Moses

Grandma Moses is known as an American folk artist.  She painted scenes around her home in New York, and activities in her community like apple butter making.  After her death, her art work was exhibited in Europe and became very popular there.  While she is often held up as an example of starting a new career late in life, I don't think she ever intended to have a career in art. She was very creative and used her talents around her home and in making gifts for others.  The fact that she became a famous artist and made money at it was probably a surprise to her.  She is quoted as saying "A primitive artist is an amateur whose work sells."  She also said if she hadn't started painting, she probably would have raised chickens.

Grandma Moses' art was used in her lifetime to promote products.  She was honored with a postage stamp in 1969.  She was also on the cover of Life magazine in 1960 to celebrate her 100th birthday. She died a little more than a year later at the age of 101.  Her work had been reproduced on everything from curtains to cookie jars.  

Grandma Moses, painting

Grandma Moses was born near the beginning of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was president.  She saw everything from horse and buggy travel to airplanes.  Her paintings captured a slice of American life that is rapidly disappearing.  She leaves a wonderful legacy of life and art behind.  Happy Birthday, Grandma Moses!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book Warp 1 - Reading Blue Willow

I am a re-reader.  I realize that not everyone is, but I love to revisit a good book. Some books are like comfort food.  I like a variety on my shelf, so I can find books that fit my mood.  I have funny books and sad books, historical books and fantasy books, fiction favorites and non-fiction, grown-up books and kid books.  I always wanted a cozy library with a comfortable chair for reading. My library, however, is scattered around my home, wherever I can fit in a bookcase. Since I re-read books, I am going to post periodically (hopefully monthly) on my blog about a book I have revisited. In a nod to a time warp, I am calling this feature "book warp," as I am going back "in time" to a book I previously read.

For my first re-reading adventure, I pulled out an old copy of Blue Willow by Doris Gates. I confess as a child, I only read this book because the author had written a horse book that I loved, Little Vic. But I ended up liking Blue Willow, too.  I had not read this book since elementary school, so I wondered as an adult if it would hold up. Is Blue Willow well-written enough to hold my attention today, and is it still relevant?

Author Doris Gates

Happily, the answer to both questions is yes! Gates does a wonderful job of crafting likable, believable characters, and her story flows easily. Blue Willow tells the story of ten-year old Janey Larkin, who moves around with her migrant-worker father and her step-mother. The book begins as the family reaches the San Joaquin valley in California for cotton-picking season. Janey treasures her blue willow pattern plate, the only item left connecting her to her mother.  To Janey, it represents both the past and her hopes for a home in the future.

Blue Willow Plate

Having lost his ranch in the Dust Bowl, Janey's father travels to find work, taking his small family with him. The family moves in to a vacant shack, and Janey is befriended by Lupe Romero, a neighbor girl whose living situation is more stable than Janey's. The Romero family quickly embraces the Larkins, and Janey hopes against hope that this time, her family will not have to move on. Janey knows they can stay as long as the cotton is in the field, but what will happen when cotton picking season is over? Janey treasures books, longs to attend a "real" school rather than the camp school, and loves to see the red-winged blackbirds in the tall grasses. What's not to love?

Cotton field

The challenges of poverty and homelessness play out in this gentle story appropriate for young readers. Gates' novel is credited with being one of the first "realistic" books for children. It was published in 1940, and in 1941 was named a Newbery Honor book.  In today's challenging economy with many families struggling with unemployment and losing their homes, Blue Willow is very applicable today, not just as an historical account. Themes of friendship and courage are also present in the book. Doris Gates was a librarian in Fresno, and was quite familiar with migrant families and the "camp schools" that educated them. Janey and Lupe are well-written characters. I really loved Lupe, and how hard she worked to be Janey's friend. There is a wonderful scene where Lupe thinks Janey doesn't have the money to ride the merry-go-round at the fair, and she is trying to find a way for Janey to ride, without hurting her friend's pride. Lupe's sensitivity to Janey's situation and feelings are a great example of how friendship can be. I also appreciated that Janey's relationship with her stepmother is a good one.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading Blue Willow, and was happy to learn the book is still in print and still available. Not bad for a book written over seventy years ago. I will keep this one on my shelf.

Happy Re-Reading!

Check out another great read at Book Warp 2 - The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.