Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: Dunkirk

Dunkirk

Dunkirk is the telling of one of the most historic battles of World War II on land, sea and air.

Admit it. This summer was one of the most lackluster summers in a long time. Very few reasons to get people to come to the cinemas. Dunkirk, however, was one of the films that gave people one of the best reasons to go to the cinemas. One can see why.

The film does share some minor similarities with Titanic. Firstly, it’s a film that features a lot of action as part of the story. This being about the Battle of Dunkirk and the evacuation would be a film that would feature a lot of action and a lot of intense drama. Also like Titanic, it features some fictional stories or story lines inside a moment of history. Like Titanic, they also include historical figures who were part of the Battle, however even there the depictions of incidents do stray away from what really happened and go for the story.

Basically film is so loose, I’m okay with seeing a fictional depiction of moments in history as long as I’m made aware of its fiction. This film is a very good, very complex story of the Evacuation of Dunkirk. We should remember that the Battle Of Dunkirk was very important in the history of World War II. It was the first sign to the Allied forces that Hitler and the Nazi army had a vulnerable side and that the Nazis could be the losing side of World War II, despite how menacing Hitler and the German forces appeared. The rescue mission that accompanied it is a sign of the heroism as 300,000 Allied soldiers survived. The story focuses on three different aspects of the Battle– land, sea and air– and captures in the time frame of a week about what the heat of the moment must have been like for soldiers, civilians, casualties and leaders. The stories of what happened during the Battle of Dunkirk can be told through many different aspects and from many different viewpoints. This film succeeds in capturing the moments as the tension begins, the battles ensue, the devastation is done, the rescue has its own friction and the eventual triumph happens. It allows the viewer to relive the moment of all that happened. I even remember for a brief period of time that I thought the Allied soldiers would lose. Of course I learned in history that they did not lose, but the film succeeded in making me forget it sense that they might lose. That’s the magic of film.

The film is not just about giving a moment in history three different sub-plots. The film also captures the human element of the battle for those part of it. Although the characters are fictitious, they are based on real people from the Battle Of Dunkirk. First there’s young Tommy who goes from being the sole survivor of a battle to joining two other Allied survivors in a new fight for survival and shelter. There are the Dawsons who find themselves rescuing a shell-shocked soldier and seeing their friend George die because of his violent reactions. There’s the RAF pilot who goes from one one of the following pilot to leader of the battle as his leader is shot down. All three stories may not be exact true stories, but they capture the human side of the battle. In all three scenarios, it’s the story about surviving right as they’re witnessing death and destruction around them. It’s likely that what we see in the stories of Dunkirk are similar stories that thousands faced during the very battle. It’s even a reminder of why we should look at those who were part of the Battle, both soldiers and civilian participants, as heroes.

This film is arguably writer/director Christopher Nolan’s best film to date. He came across the idea of doing this film in the 1990’s as he and his wife sailed across the English Channel along the same path of the Dunkirk evacuation. This was no easy film to make. He had his concept of three different scenarios of the Battle Of Dunkirk. He not only had to give the human element to his stories, but also include the action of the battles and the intensity of the various moments. He did an excellent job of constructing such a story that was not only well-done and well-pieced, but was also able to engage the audience as well.

As for the acting, there was not a single stand-out role. Nolan even admitted he didn’t want to put emphasis on the characters for who they are, but instead on will they survive this. Even the role of Tommy was kept very minimal, but Fionn Whitehead did a very good job in his performance as the young soldier struggling to survive. I believe the best acting performance came from Mark Rylance as Peter the mariner who’s caught in the intense situation, but tries to remain cool and calm. Another standout is Tom Hardy as the Spitfire pilot who’s thrown into the leadership role. I know some that are loyal to One Direction may take interest in this because of the appearance of Harry Styles. His performance is good, but his role is limited.

The film needed to have top technical efforts in order to be successful and it had some of the best of the year. There was cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who delivered excellent camera angles,editor Lee Smith who was able to piece the three stories together very well, production designers Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis who did an excellent job of constructing seaside Europe in 1940, composer Hans Zimmer who delivered yet another score that fits the movie to a tee, and the visual effects team for recreating the battles and attacks that occurred.

On an Oscars note, the craziest thing about the months before December is that one does not know which films will have enough juice to qualify for a Best Picture nomination. It’s become very obvious in the last few decades that the big studios save the release for their ‘Oscar bait’ movies for December because they know how things work. Most of the time, a lot of excellent movies that get released in the summer or earlier often miss getting nominated for Best Picture. The year when it was best made obvious was 2002 when all five Best Picture nominees were films either released in December or given wide release in the New Year. Winning an Oscar or even getting nominated is as much about studios doing a strategy or ‘playing the game’ as it is about doing an excellent effort. Don’t forget this is showbiz. Even awards of merit like the Oscars, guild awards or even critics circle awards need to be campaigned and marketed for the win.

The expansion from five Best Picture nominees to a maximum of ten back in 2010 opened doors to a lot of films that were released in much earlier months to have better chances of earning a Best Picture nomination. Dunkirk is one of two films released before the month of November that received a Best Picture nomination. Even before the Oscar season began, Dunkirk was seen as a favorite to be nominated for Best Picture. I myself am relieve to see it as a ‘summer survivor.’

Dunkirk is not just a simple re-enactment of one of the first major battles of World War II. It delivers in the human side of the story as it delivers in the action of the battles. This explains why while the summer movie season of 2017 was known for being lackluster, this movie was a top highlight. And a top-quality highlight too.

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Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Lady Bird is about a 17 year-old girl (played by Saoirse Ronan) dealing with her life and her future, and her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) trying to steer her in the right direction.

Lady Bird is a top contender for this year’s Academy Awards. If you’ve seen it, you can see how this film is not a typical ‘teen movie’ and actually a story with a lot packed in.

Christine McPherson is a frustrated 17 year-old girl living in Sacramento in 2002. She has a stormy relationship with her parents as well as her adoptive brother and his girlfriend. To make things more frustrating, she’s put in Catholic school for Grade 12 because there was a shooting at her public school. She appears unclear about her life direction and frequently insists that all people refer to her as ‘Lady Bird,’ including family.

Starting school, she has a close friendship with Julie Steffans whom she joins the drama club with. Through the club, she meets a sweet talented boy named Danny O’Neill. They soon start dating and they appear to be a match made in heaven until Lady Bird catches Danny in a bathroom stall kissing another boy.

Throughout her time at the school, Lady Bird develops a mean streak of rebelliousness. One minute, she’s consuming Eucharist wafers with Julie. The next, she vandalizes the nuns’ car with a sing saying “Just married to Jesus.” Another moment, she lashes out at a pro-life speaker who visits her school, which leads to a two-week suspension. This leads to a lot of friction with her friend Julie who sees her as one who does things for attention.

During this time, it all leads to a lot of friction with her mother Marion, who has a lot of high expectations for Lady Bird and her life, especially with applying for colleges. Marion often feels that Lady Bird lacks goals or appears like she doesn’t want to do anything meaningful with her life. Marion feels that way because she had to work hard to achieve. This generation gap appears to Lady Bird that her mother is an interference to her life and her own goals. To make family struggles worse, her father loses his job and is struggling with depression.

Lady Bird tries to escape from those headaches. She gets a job at a cafe where she meets Kyle Schieble, a boy from school she knows is part of a rock band. She strays away from Julie and starts hanging out with popular girl Jenna Walton. She sees opportunity after Jenna was reprimanded by the school for wearing short skirts. Thus Lady Bird bring Jenna into the ‘just married to Jesus’ prank. However none of her efforts to mix with the ‘cool kids’ works out. She lied to Jenna about her house so she can fit in, but Jenna finds the truth out. Also she agrees to have sex with Kyle, believing his claim that he’s a virgin, only to find out he’s had other girls before.

As graduation nears, things change for the better for Lady Bird. She gets a letter from a college in New York saying she’s on the waiting list, though she tells her mother she’s been accepted. She’s willing to go shopping for a prom dress with her mother. Her relationship with her brother and his girlfriend gets better as he gets a major job. On prom night, she forsakes a party with Jenna and Kyle to meet up with Julie. There, she rekindles the friendship and they go to the prom together. She even attends Danny’s school performance.

Over at the graduation party, Lady Bird admits to her mother that she was on the waiting list to the university in New York, to which Marion appears either hurt or angry. Lady Bird’s 18th birthday comes soon after. Marion has a letter written for Lady Bird to read when she’s settled in her college dorm. Then it’s the flight to New York. Marion does not talk to Lady Bird, appearing like she’s disappointed with her. Marion even drives away when Lady Bird enters the airport, but cries soon after. It’s in her first month in New York after reading the letter and a near-fatal bout of alcohol poisoning that she leaves a heartfelt message to her mother.

The biggest quality of this film is that it’s a story many people can relate to. Sure, it’s about a 17-year-old tart-tongued girl from Sacramento who’s clueless about which direction to go, but one will find themselves relating to this story. Many can watch what Lady Bird is going through at school, through her job, through falling in love, or through her stormy relationship with her mother and say: “That’s also what I went through,” or “That was my attitude at 17,” or “I knew someone like that.”

One of the things is about the character of Lady Bird is that despite her eccentricities, it also captures the essence of being a seventeen year-old well. Seventeen is that bizarre age where one is just a year away from becoming an adult. It’s a bumpy road as they are in the process of defining one’s self and making choices of what direction in life they want to pursue. We see that in all of the seventeen year-old characters in the film like Julie, the best friend who’s a social misfit, Jenna who thinks she’s too cool, Kyle who thinks he’s all that just like every rock star, and Danny who’s struggling with being gay in a conservative Catholic family.

Lady Bird is at the centre of being seventeen. The character of Lady Bird captures being 17 in a lot of its best traits, but also in some of its worst traits too. Lady Bird is all about her self-definition where she feels she has to find herself in the drama club. Lady Bird is one who also still feels social pressures despite her individualism and tries to fit in with the cool students despite leaving close friends behind. Lady Bird is also about her spiritual confusion too. She wants to be an individual and think for herself, even rebel against the Catholic Church at times, but somehow shows that she longs to believe in a god despite her rebellion.

Lady Bird is also about having that teen frustration towards her parents, especially her mother. In fact, the mother-daughter relationship between Lady Bird and Marion has to be one of the biggest elements of the film, if not the biggest. Lady Bird has desires for her life, but Marion has goals for her. Often Lady Bird feels she has to explode at Marion, but she learns to calm down and have the normal frustration a 17 year-old has to their mother. As for parent-teen relations, the film is also about Marion too. The personalities of Marion and Lady Bird are like oil and water trying to mix. Marion had her own upbringing and her own difficulties resonate in her personality and even how she raises Lady Bird. Marion feels that the best way she can steer Lady Bird down the right path is to tell her off about her misdoings and wrong directions. She has expectations for Lady Bird, but often feels she falls short. Over time, Marion becomes more accepting of Lady Bird, but she does show disappointment when she finds out Lady Bird lied about her application. That scene near the end where Marion is unemotional in the ride to the airport but cries after dropping Lady Bird off is an example of her personality.

I’m sure many people first thought that this film would be about Lady Bird Johnson. The funniest thing about this film is that there is not a single reference to the former First Lady! Not even a case of one of her classmates uttering out: “Hey Lady Bird, where’s LBJ?”

The true star of the film isn’t exactly an actor, but writer/director Greta Gerwig. After years of having an acting career of mixed results, she came up with this story that is not completely biographical. There are some similarities in Lady Bird that tie into Greta’s own teenage years, but Gerwig insists it’s its own story. Whatever the situation, Gerwig did an excellent job of constructing an entertaining story about a 17 year-old that anyone could relate to. I’m sure anyone no matter what race or gender can identify with moments in Lady Bird to moments in their own life at 17.

Additional top kudos go to Saoirse Ronan for delivering a character that is quirky, but shares a lot of common traits of teens. She does an excellent job of making the role of Lady Bird multi-dimensional. Also worthy of praise is the performance of Laurie Metcalf. She succeeds in turning this film into Marion’s story as much as it is Lady Bird’s story. She’s good at capturing the essence of the mother of a teenager both inside and out. She also does a good job of blending in Marion’s own personality traits of hardship and having a hard attitude. Laurie’s also very good at leaving out all traces of Jackie from Roseanne. Fans of the show would be surprised how different she acts here.

The actors in their supporting roles also did a great job of owning their moment. The most noticeable being Beanie Feldstein as the best friend who sometimes appears to be Lady Bird’s better half, Lucas Hedges as a boy who loves to act but is troubled by his sexuality in school, Timothee Chalamet as the teenage bad boy girls drool over but parents hate, Stephen McKinley Henderson as the priest that’s troubled on the inside, Jordan Rodrigues as the brother caught in the middle, and Tracy Letts as the father trying to make sense of it all.

Lady Bird is a quirky and humorous film about a mother-daughter relationship and the difficulties of being seventeen. Despite its off-the-wall humor, it’s also deep and touching and will resonate with the audience.

PyeongChang 2018: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

Two days ago, I did a blog focusing on the foreign athletes to watch for at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Now it’s time for me to focus on the Canadians to watch out for. We may not have the superteam we had back at the Vancouver 2010 Games, but we’re still a winter sports superpower and feature some top contenders throughout the sports. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadian athletes to win a total of 30 medals including nine gold. That’s third only to Norway and Germany. Without further ado, here are some Canadians to look out for:

Mark McMorris – Snowboarding: Now Saskatchewan doesn’t come to mind to most in terms of producing top-notch skiers. However the hills and mountains are high enough to breed some good snowboarders. Mark McMorris is one of the best ever. He already has 16 X-Games medals, including seven gold, won in both the Slopestyle and Big Air events. He’s also famous for being the first ever to perform a ‘cork 1440’ in slopestyle. His feats and charming personality have made him a huge celebrity for fans of snowboarding and extreme sports.

Major titles have eluded him in the past. His best result at a World Championships is a silver in 2013. As for the Sochi Olympics, McMorris had broken a rib two weeks before. His bronze in Slopestyle is actually seen by him as a miracle. Here in PyeongChang, he wants to win gold. He has two chances: in Big Air and Slopestyle. In both events, he will face rivalry from Norway’s Marcus Kleveland, who is the first ever to do a ‘cork 1800.’ In Slopestyle, he will be challenged most by the US’ Red Gerard and Japan’s Hiroaki Kunitake. In Big Air, he will face rivalry from American Chris Corning and his Canadian teammate Maxence Parrot. The hills in Korea will determine his fate.

Kaillie Humphries – Bobsledding: Women’s bobsledding has only been contested four times in the past, but Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse are already the only female double-gold medalists. However Kaillie appears poised to achieve a feat none of the male bobsledders have ever achieved: winning the same event three times.

It’s not to say it hasn’t been without its difficulties. After Sochi, she traded partners with Melissa Lothholz. She has won two World Championship silvers since. Here in PyeongChang, she will have former hurdler Phylicia George as her partner. As her former partners of Heather Moyse and Melissa Lothholz, they will both compete in PyeongChang with different drivers. Humphries’ attempt to return to the top will be challenged by the German sled driven by Stephanie Schneider and the American sled driven by Elana Meyers, which actually won at last year’s Worlds. PyeongChang could be the final chapter for Kaillie’s legacy in the sport.

Pyeongchang medalsAlex Harvey – Cross Country Skiing: Cross country skiing is in Alex Harvey’s blood. His father Pierre competed in cross country skiing in 1984 and 1988 and gave Canada its best ever results at the time, and they weren’t even Top 10 finishes! That just shows how much progress Canadians have made in nordic skiing. In fact Alex himself delivered two Top 10 finishes at the Vancouver Games, including a fourth in the Sprint.

Harvey has won a medal at every World Nordic Championships ever since the Vancouver Olympics including two golds: the most recent being in the 50km last year. He’s hoping to win the Olympic medals that have eluded him throughout his career. However he has only made the podium in three World Cup events this season. His biggest challenges come from Switzerland’s Dario Cologna and two Norwegians: Martin Johnsrud Sundby and rising 21 year-old Johannes Høsflot Klæbo. PyeongChang could finally give him the break he’s always been pursuing.

Mikaël Kingsbury – Freestyle Skiing: Canada has won three of the seven golds in men’s moguls skiing. There’s Jean-Luc Brassard in 1994 and Alexandre Bilodeau in 2010 and 2014. Mikaël Kingsbury is seeing to make it four for eight. Kingsbury has developed a top reputation in the event. He first finished third in the 2010-2011 World Cup season but has come out on top every World Cup season since including this year.

Major events have been his weakness. He’s been on the podium for moguls at every World Championship since 2011 but has only won gold once: in 2013. Also it was in Sochi in which he, not Bilodeau, was the Canadian most expected to win gold, but won silver instead. He will be challenged here in PyeongChang by Japan’s Ikuma Horishima, who handed him is only World Cup defeat this year, and Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Reikherd. This could be Kingsbury’s year.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – Figure Skating: Ah yes. Figure skating. Ever since 1984, Canada has bagged at least one figure skating medal in every Olympic Games since. Many expect 2018 to be Canada’s strongest team ever. Leading the pack is star ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The pair have been inseparable on the ice since 1997 when Tessa was eight and Scott was ten. Their skating magic has resulted in Olympic gold and silver as well as seven World Championship medals, including three gold.

After they won silver at the Sochi Games of 2014 behind their American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, it appeared they won everything they needed to and retired after Sochi. However they returned to amateur competition starting in 2016 and acquired former Canadian ice dance pair Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon as their coaches. The plan worked to success as they returned to the top of their sport. Of course they want to end their careers with a final gold medal, but they will face challenges from all three American pairs, most notably Maia and Alex Shibutani, and the French pair of Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This is their chance to end their Olympic careers as they started.

The Canadian Hockey Teams: The news broke months ago. The NHL won’t allow any of their players to play at the Olympics. This is not permanent for the Olympic Games, but it is a drag for many who enjoyed. Heck, opening the Olympics to NHL pros allowed Canada to win gold in three of the five occasions. It does not however mean Canada doesn’t have a chance for the gold. Canada’s men’s team consists of pros, but mostly from the American Hockey League, the predominantly Russian Kontinental Hockey League, the Swedish Hockey League and Switzerland’s National League. Canada’s team is predicted by Sports Illustrated to win bronze with Sweden to win and Russia to take silver. Chances are the Canadians could surprise.

As for the women, Team Canada has always made it to the gold-medal final of every Olympic tournament since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut back at the Nagano Games of 1998. The inaugural competition is their only loss of the gold. The team in PyeongChang is coached by Lauren Schuler from that team in Nagano consists of thirteen from Sochi 2014 and ten newcomers. All but one play for Canadian teams. However Team Canada has finished second to the US at ever Worlds since the Sochi Games and the Americans promise to be the Canadians’ toughest rival. They’re coached by Cammi Granato who was part of the US’ gold-medal winning team in 1998: the US’ only victory in women’s hockey. Can Team Canada make it five in a row? Only time will tell.

Canada’s Curling Teams: If hockey is our national past-time, curling would rank second. Many people wonder how? It’s a gift from Scottish immigrants to us. Canada has a habit of blending things from the ‘old country’ into our national fabric. Our love for curling has paid off on the Olympic level. Ever since curling was officially added to the Olympic program at the Nagano Games in 1998, all ten Canadian teams have won medals and have even won gold five of the ten times. Sochi was especially a treat as it was the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s team won gold.

As for the lineup in PyeongChang, the men’s team is headed by Kevin Koe who headed the Canadian team that won at the 2016 Worlds and the women’s team is headed by Rachel Homan whose team won the World Championships last year. New for Pyeongchang is mixed doubles curling. Canada’s team is headed by Winnipeggers Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris. Both have gold medals from past teams: Kaitlyn in 2014 and John in 2010. However they’re not the favorites as Swiss pair of Jenny Perret and Martin Rios beat the Canadian pair 6-5 to win. As of yet, Canada has never won gold at the Mixed Doubles Worlds. Could this be their year to finally shine?

And there you have it. Seven Canadians to watch out for in PyeongChang. There’s many more to talk about but I’ll let the action at the Olympics do more telling. It all starts Friday the 9th at 3am PST. Can I wake up that early to see the opening ceremonies live? We’ll see.

PyeongChang 2018: Ten To Watch

Olympic Flame

After thirty years, the Olympics are returning to South Korea. After 20 years, the Winter Olympics return to an Asian country. The region of PyeongChang will be ready to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. There are expected to be over 2000 athletes from 92 nations competing. From February 9th to the 25th, medals are to be awarded in 102 events in 15 sports. Here are ten athletes and teams expected to catch your eye during the Games.

Marcel Hirscher/Austria – Alpine Skiing: Much the same way the Dutch always shell out new greats in speed skating, Austria always seems to create a new great in alpine skiing. Seeking to be the next Austrian great is Marcel Hirscher. Hirscher has been the Overall World Cup winner for the past six years and has won gold at the world Championships six times. The one title that eludes him is an Olympic gold. His one and only Olympic medal is a slalom silver at the Sochi Games of 2014.

He currently leads the World Cup standings in slalom, giant slalom and overall. He’s expected to win slalom, giant slalom and combined here in PyeongChang. He will face rivalry from Norway’s Kjetil Jansrut and France’s Alexis Pinturault. PyeongChang will be the scene where he could become a ‘best ever’ or a ‘best never.’

Mikaela Shiffrin/United States – Alpine Skiing: Back at the Sochi Olympics when Shiffrin was 18, people were already anticipating her to be the next great. She was already world Cup slalom winner and World Champion in the slalom the year before. Her gold medal in the slalom in Sochi would set in stone that she was one to watch.

Since Sochi, Shiffrin has won the World Cup in slalom every year except 2016 and finally won the World Cup overall title last year. She is expected to win slalom, giant slalom and the combined here in PyeongChang, but she will face challenges from France’s Tessa Worley, Italy’s Sofia Goggia and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather. PyeongChang is her chance to crown herself a great.

Martina Sablikova/Czech Republic – Long-Track Speed Skating: There have only been two long-track speed skaters that have won the same event twice: American Bonnie Blair in the 500m from 1988 to 1994, and German Claudia Pechstein in the 5000m from 1994 to 2002. One of two seeking to be the third is Czech Martina Sablikova in the 5000m.

Sablikova has won three of the Czech Republic’s seven gold medals at the Winter Olympics. Before Sablikova, no Czech speed skater has won a medal. At the Turin Games of 2006, an 18 year-old Sablikova missed a medal in the 5000m by a second. The following year, Sablikova set the first of her world records in the 5000m. Her Olympic coming-of-age came in Vancovuer 2010 as she won two gold and a bronze. Success continued for her in Sochi as she repeat at 5000m champ and won silver in the 3000m. She serves message she’s prepared to threepeat in the 5000m and return to gold in the 3000m, but she faces rivalry from Canadian Ivanie Blondin and two Dutch skaters: veteran Ireen Wust and newcomer Antoinette de Jong. Whatever happens, Sablikova has already solidified her greatness in the sport.

Johannes Thingnes Bø/Norway – Biathlon: Norway has always fielded greats in the Nordic skiing events. The sport of biathlon is no exception with greats like Magnar Solberg and Ole Einar Bjorndalen. This year with Bjorndalen failing to make the Olympic team, Norway’s future rest with their latest protege Johannes Thingnes Bø.

Bø is actually the youngest brother of Tarjei Bø who won Olympic gold in the biathlon relay in 2010. Johannes Bø first competed at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 at the age of 20, but did not win a medal. However talent was yet to come as he finished third in the overall category in that year’s World Cup. He first burst onto the scene at the world Championship the following year when he won gold in the Sprint and two additional relay medals. The following year, he won the Mass Start event and a relay gold. At last year’s worlds, he won silver in Sprint, Pursuit and Mass Start. He hasn’t won a World Cup title yet, but he has eight World Cup victories this season. Sports Illustrated predicts him to win three gold medals, but he will face rivalry from his own brother Tarjei, Slovenian Jakov Fak and Frenchman Martin Fourcade, who leads Bø in the World Cup overall this season. PyeongChang should make for an exciting showdown.

Martins Dukurs/Latvia – Skeleton: Latvia has never won a winter Olympic gold medal. In the past 15 years, Latvia has sent top contenders in the sledding sports. Latvian lugers, bobsledders and skeleton sledders have won a total of seven medals in the sledding sports since the Turin Games of 2006. Poised to win Latvia’s first ever winter Olympic gold is skeleton sledder Martins Dukurs. Martins and his brother Tomass have become two of the top skeleton sledders in recent years. Both are tndrained by their father Dainis who was a former bobsledder.

Dukurs has had the Olympic misfortune of being the silver medalist to sledders from the host nations: Canada’s Jon Montgomery in 2010 and Russia’s Aleksandr Tretyakov in 2014. The last one is biting because Tretyakov is one of many Russian athletes in which the IOC had on a lifetime ban for their part in their systematic doping for the Sochi Olympics, which I will talk about later. Their stripping of their Sochi medals, including Tretyakov’s gold, was overturned by the Court of Arbitration of Sports just on February 1st. It’s also biting for Tomass as he finished fourth in 2014 and would have been elevated to the bronze medalist.

Dukurs serves notice he is finally ready to claim the elusive gold medal. He has won every World and European skeleton title since Sochi. However he is ranked fourth in the World Cup standings this season with South Korea’s Yun Sung-bin leading, German Axel Jungk second and his brother Tomass third. PyeongChang could be his last chance to seize Olympic gold.

Marit Bjorgen/Norway – Nordic Skiing: Some of you may remember from my Sochi Olympic preview blog that I anticipated more greatness for Marit Bjorgen. I was right as she added three more gold to her legacy. She’s one of only three females with ten winter Olympic medals and one of three with six Winter Olympic golds. She continued her legacy at last year’s world Championships where she won three individual events and the relay.

Leading up to the Olympics this year, Bjorgen’s success has been lackluster, compared to previous seasons. This season she’s only had two World Cup victories and a second-place: her lowest ever. On top of that, young talent like Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, American Sadie Bjornsen and her own teammates Ingvild Østberg and Heidi Weng are seeking to overtake her supremacy. PyeongChang looks like to be her last Olympics. However even without a gold medal, she can still add to her legacy. She’s just needs to win a single medal of any color to become the first woman with eleven winter Olympic medals and even just one gold away from being the first woman with seven golds. Keep in mind the men’s records are eight for golds and thirteen for total medals. Both records are owned by Norwegians. These Olympics are the place for Bjorgen to send the message that she’s not done yet. There’s still more to win.

Felix Loch/Germany – Luge: The nation of Germany pretty much owns luge. German lugers have won 32 of the 44 Olympic gold medals awarded. Felix Loch ranks as one of their greats. When he won at the Vancouver Games of 2010 he became the youngest male winner ever at the age of twenty. He has won almost every World Championships he has been in since 2008, only finishing second in 2011 and 2015. He also won gold again in Sochi both in individual and as part of the inaugural mixed relay.

However he has had his difficulties. He was too injured to compete at last year’s world Championships. In addition, he finished second at this year’s European Championships held just last week. Semen Pavlichenko of Russia who won will be there to block Loch’s path to a third straight gold medal, as well as Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl who won the Worlds last year. 2018 should prove to be an interesting challenge for Loch, but he definitely intends to rise to the occasion in PyeongChang.

Team Of Olympic Athletes From Russia: It all started at the Sochi Olympics where Russian athletes won the most gold medals. Then the secrets were unraveled before the Rio Olympics of 2016 of systematic doping of Russian athletes. They were told to accept the doping or be dropped from the team; reminiscent of the East German Olympic teams of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was the IAAF, the governing body of Athletics, that was the first whistleblower. The International Olympic Committee responded by banning all Russian athletes from the athletics events and allowing Russian athletes to compete in the other sports, as long as the sports’ governing bodies can prove then clean through consistent testing results.

The doping even extended as far back as the Sochi Olympics. The IOC made the move to have athletes on the list face lifetime suspensions and even be stripped of their gold medals. This involved 28 athletes who had won ten medals including three gold in Sochi. However the moves to have the athletes banned and their medals stripped were overturned by the Court of Arbitration of Sport on February 1st because of lack of evidence. Not only are their bans overturned, including those banned for life, but they are allowed to keep their medals from Sochi.

Now PyeongChang. The IOC faced pressure to ban Russian athletes because of past controversies and also because there’s no evidence to suggest the doping system has ceased since Rio. In December, the IOC rules that athletes under the Russian Olympic Committee were banned from the Olympics in all sports. The IOC also ruled that like Rio, Russian athletes who have passed all doping tests and have been cleared by their respective sports federation and even the IOC’s own accreditation commission would be allowed to compete in PyeongChang. However they will compete under the label ‘Olympic Athletes From Russia.’ They will complete under the Olympic flag and if any of them win a gold medal, the Olympic hymn will be played.

As for the team, the team currently stands at 168 athletes across all fifteen sports. There have been restrictions as Russia originally qualified eleven biathletes, but only four are allowed to compete. Luge has also seen their entries reduced from 10 qualifications to eight invited and skeleton go from five qualified to two competing. Only one athlete in Nordic Combined is invited. The level of competition has gone down–Sports Illustrated predicts Russian athletes to take 11 medals including two gold– however some events will remain unscathed. Russian figure skaters are ones who are still expected to contend well and the men’s hockey team is still expected to win a medal. Russian athletes’ results should prove to be interesting and get one thinking about their future if they want to compete any further.

AND FROM THE HOST COUNTRY:

Lee Sang-hwa – Long-Track Speed Skating: Martina Sablikova isn’t the only long-track speed skater seeking a threepeat. South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa is seeking to do that in the 500m. She first competed at the Turin Games of 2006 at the age of 16 and finished fifth in the 500. She would grow in world supremacy over the years as she would win the event in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 as well as win the event at the World Championships three times.

She is anticipated by the home country to win again, but she will face challenges from China’s Yu Jing, who finished third at last years’ Worlds, and two Japanese skaters: newcomer Arisa Go and 2017 World Champion Nao Kodaira. Whatever the situation, she will celebrate her 29th birthday on the day of the closing ceremonies!

Choi Min-jeong – Short Track Speed Skating: If there’s one Winter Olympic sport South Korea dominates, it’s short-track speed skating. Ever since short-track speed skating became an official Olympic event in 1992, South Korea has won 21 of the 48 golds warded in the sport. All but five of South Korea’s Winter Olympic golds and all but eleven of South Korea’s total Winter Olympic medals have been won in short track.

Their latest great is expected to be Choi Min-Jeong. She was too young to compete at Sochi in 2014, but she has come a long way since. She first burst onto the scene at the 2015 World Championships when she took home three gold and a bronze at the tender age of 16 including winning the Overall title. She would repeat her success the following year by repeating as Overall champ and winning two more gold and a silver. However 2017 was a bad year as she left those Worlds empty-handed. She has served notice that she will be on fire in PyeongChang, but she will face rivalry from last years’ Overall World Champion Elisa Christie of Great Britain, last year’s Overall runner-up Marianne St. Gelais of Canada, and even her own teammates Shim Suk-hee and Kim Ji-yoo. Her chance to prove herself a national hero on home-turf awaits.

One More From The Host Country (Added After Publishing):

Yun Sung-bin – Skeleton: Here’s a bit of trivia. All of South Korea’s 53 Winter Olympic medals, including 26 golds, have been won on skates. Short-track speed skaters account for 42 medals including 21 gold. Long-track speed skaters won a total of nine medals including four gold. The remaining gold and silver were won by figure skater Kim Yu-na. That could all change thanks to 23 year-old skeleton sledder Yun Sung-bin. Back at the Sochi Games in 2014, the 19 year-old Yun didn’t seem like muck of a future threat as he came in 16th. A lot can change in four years. Since then, he won this year’s World Cup season and finished second in the previous two. He even won a silver at the 2016 World Championships. In fact many anticipate he’s the one person most likely to block Martins Dukurs from winning the elusive gold medal. We’ll wait and see.

And those are ten athletes to watch for in PyeongChang. My blog of Canadians to look for in PyeongChang was published Thursday.

My Predictions For The 2017 Academy Award Nominees

Chocolate Oscar

I know I haven’t been too active on my blog lately. I’m just slowly getting my energy back. Recent new subscribers have definitely boosted my ambition again. I have seen a good number of movies lately and will be posting reviews soon.

One thing that won’t change is that I have posted my predictions for the Oscar nominations. Of course I would post my picks and guesses for who will get the nominations on Tuesday morning. Just below are my predictions for this year’s Oscar nominees:

BEST PICTURE

  • The Big Sick
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • The Darkest Hour
  • Dunkirk
  • Get Out
  • I, Tonya
  • Lady Bird
  • The Post
  • The Shape Of Water
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape Of Water
  • Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  • Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
  • Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out

BEST ACTOR

  • Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  • Tom Hanks,The Post
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
  • Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour

BEST ACTRESS

  • Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape Of Water
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
  • Meryl Streep, The Post

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
  • Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Christopher Plummer, All The Money In The World
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
  • Hong Chau, Downsizing
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape Of Water

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Guillermo Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor, The Shape Of Water
  • Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  • Emily Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out
  • Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Lee Hall, Victoria & Abdul
  • James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name
  • Scott Neustadter & Michael Weber, The Disaster Artist
  • Dee Rees & Virgil Williams, Mudbound
  • Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • Ferdinand
  • Loving Vincent

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
  • Bruno Delbonnel, The Darkest Hour
  • Dan Lautsen, The Shape Of Water
  • Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
  • Hoyte Van Hoytema, Dunkirk

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread
  • Jacqueline Durran, Beauty And The Beast
  • Lindy Hemming, Wonder Woman
  • Jennifer Johnson, I, Tonya
  • Luis Sequeira, The Shape Of Water

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Walter Fasano, Call Me By Your Name
  • Jon Gregory, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos, Baby Driver
  • Gregory Plotkin, Get Out
  • Lee Smith, Dunkirk

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • A Fantastic Woman – Chile
  • In The Fade – Germany
  • Foxtrot  – Israel
  • Loveless – Russia
  • The Square – Sweden

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

  • Beauty And The Beast
  • The Darkest Hour
  • Wonder

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Carter Burwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Alexandre Desplat, The Shape Of Water
  • Benjamin Walfisch & Hans Zimmer, Blade Runner 2049
  • John Williams, The Post
  • Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Home” – Ferdinand
  • “Mighty River” – Mudbound
  • “Mystery Of Love” – Call Me By Your Name
  • “Remember Me” – Coco
  • “This Is Me” – The Greatest Showman

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Beauty And The Beast
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Dunkirk
  • Murder On The Orient Express
  • Phantom Thread

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • Baby Driver
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Dunkirk
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Wonder Woman

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • War For The Planet Of The Apes
  • Wonder Woman

Those are my predictions for nominations. I also include predictions for possible upsetters for my main predictions. I predict upsetters for all the major categories, but not every category. Just for those in the case I feel they could get nominated instead of the favorites. Without further ado, here is my list for the most likely upsetters:

BEST PICTURE

  • The Florida Project
  • Phantom Thread
  • Wonder Woman

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
  • Steven Spielberg, The Post

BEST ACTOR

  • James Franco, The Disaster Artist
  • Denzel Washington, Romeo J. Israel

BEST ACTRESS

  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
  • Emma Stone, Battle Of The Sexes

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape Of Water
  • Mark Rylance, Dunkirk

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
  • Leslie Manville, Phantom Thread

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Liz Hannah & Josh Singer, The Post
  • Steven Rogers, I, Tonya

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Jason Fuchs & Alan Heinberg, Wonder Woman
  • Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad & Stephen Chbodsky, Wonder

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Despicable Me 3
  • Napping Princess

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Sayonbhu Mukdeprom, Call Me By Your Name

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Renee April, Blade Runner 2049

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Joe Walker, Blade Runner 2049
  • Sidney Wolinsky, The Shape Of Water

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • On Body And Soul  – Hungary
  • Felicite  – Senegal

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

 

  • I, Tonya
  • The Shape Of Water

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Johnny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
  • Rupert Gregson-Williams, Wonder Woman

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Evermore” – Beauty And The Beast
  • “Stand Up For Something” – Marshall

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • The Shape Of Water
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • The Shape Of Water

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Dunkirk
  • Kong: Skull Island

Tune in Tuesday morning live to see which predictions I got right and which I got wrong. Should make for an interesting lot.

Golden Globes Turn 75: And My Predictions

Golden Globe

Ever since the Golden Globes were introduced in 1944, they’ve become one of the most prestigious awards on the entertainment circuit. Only the Oscar or the Emmy are more coveted.

Today will be the awarding of the Golden Globes. This year isn’t just any Golden Globes, but the 75th to take place.

A Very Brief History

Some of you may wonder how did the Golden Globes come to be? Firstly, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was founded in 1943 by Los Angeles-based journalists to give a more organized process of distributing cinema news to markets outside the U.S. The following year, they formed their own film awards, the Golden Globes, to give their opinions of who are the best of the year. While the AMPAS Academy consists primarily of professionals in their respective film field, the Golden Globes would be the decisions of these journalists.

The very first Golden Globes held back in 1944 consisted of six categories: Best Picture, Best Director and the four acting categories. Their decisions for the winners would be three for six with the Oscar winners. The Song Of Bernadette was chosen as the Best Picture winner while the Oscars went for Casablanca. Same thing with Best Director; Globes chose Bernadette director Henry King while the Academy favored Casablanca director Michael Curtiz. The acting categories almost completely matched each other as Globe-winners Paul Lukas, Jennifer Jones and Katina Paxinou would also win the Oscars later. Only Supporting Actor winner Akim Tamiroff from For Whom The Bell Tolls wouldn’t win an Oscar, despite being nominated.

Over the years, the Golden Globes would grow in popularity as their matches would be very close to that of the Oscars. They would also include cinematography categories temporarily and even a Best New Star category, which would be retired after the 1983 awards. The eighth Golden Globes would see the Awards giving separate awards for Best Picture and lead acting in both drama and comedy or musical. Something that still continues today. The Golden Globes would start to include awards to television starting in 1955: six years after the Emmy awards were created.

The Golden Globes would eventually become the second-most coveted film or television awards with only the Oscars or the Emmies being more coveted. It’s not to say it hasn’t been without its controversies, and not just because of hosting done by the likes of Rickyy Gervais et al. The make up of the Hollywood Foreign Press is often under question for their qualifications. Also their tendency to favor glitz and glamor at times have made people wonder at their choices. Even how in cases where one actress who did an interview for the HFP would later receive an award would get some people wondering. There was even suspicion at the 1981 Awards when Pia Zadora won Best New Star for her performance in Butterfly. Some claim that Meshulem Riklis, her millionaire husband at the time, paid the HFP to have her win. However nothing has been proven. Also it goes to show that there’s no such thing as an impartial judging body for any awards show. The Oscars and the Golden Globes are no exceptions to that. Nevertheless they still remain the most coveted.

And My Predictions For This Year

This year’s Golden Globes will be hosted by Seth Meyers. Some are saying he can be as controversial as Ricky Gervais tonight. This year’s Globes have fourteen categories for film and eleven categories for television. To start things off, here are my predictions for both the winners and their respective most likely upsetters in the film categories:

FILM:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: 
Dunkirk
Most Likely Upsetter: Call Me By Your Name

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Lady Bird
Most Likely Upsetter: Get Out

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour
Most Likely Upsetter: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Most Likely Upsetter: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Most Likely Upsetter: Sally Hawkins, The Shape Of Water

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Most Likely Upsetter: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Winner:
 Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Most Likely Upsetter: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Winner: 
Alison Janney, I, Tonya
Most Likely Upsetter: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Director
Winner: 
Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape Of Water
Most Likely Upsetter: Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Most Likely Upsetter: Guillermo Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor, The Shape Of Water

Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner:
 The Square (Sweden)
Most Likely Upsetter: Loveless (Russia)

Best Animated Feature Film
Winner:
 Coco
Most Likely Upsetter: Loving Vincent

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
Winner:
 “Remember Me”, Coco
Most Likely Upsetter: “Mighty River”, Mudbound

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk
Most Likely Upsetter: John Williams, The Post

Those who know me well enough know I will predict the winners for the television categories but not predict the most likely upsetters. So my predictions for the winners:

TELEVISION:

Best TV Movie or Miniseries: Big Little Lies

Best TV Series, Drama: The Handmaid’s Tale

Best TV Series, Comedy: Black-ish

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama: Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us

Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy: Aziz Ansari, Master Of None

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Pamela Adlon, Better Things

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Robert De Niro, The Wizard Of Lies

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: Christian Slater, Mr. Robot

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie: Laura Dern,  Big Little Lies

And there you go. Those are my predictions for tonight’s Golden Globe awards. Winners to be revealed starting 8pm EST.

2018 World Cup Group Stage: Draw Time

World Cup Draw

It’s right there on FIFA’s website on how much it took to determine the 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 209 teams, 868 matches played, and 2454 goals scored. All 31 available berths up for grabs were decided by November 15th. December 1st was the day to decide the four teams for all eight groups for the World Cup.

Qualifying for the World Cup is already enough of a battle. The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches and conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. The qualifying rounds made a lot of news for those that qualified, but those that didn’t got a lot of news of their own too. The second-round qualifying matches for the CAF saw two of Africa’s best-ever teams–Nigeria and Cameroon– pitted against each other. Only one can qualify and it ended up being Nigeria. Another surprise was the Ivory Coast being surprised by Morocco and Ghana being overtaken by Egypt. Asia didn’t have many surprises, but Qatar finished last in the Second Round group. Not good since they will be hosting in 2022. The CONMEBOL almost saw the non-qualification of Argentina, but they recovered to win their last game and qualify. Instead the most shocking non-qualifier was 2015 and 2016 Copa America winner Chile which was third the day before the final game for all teams.

The biggest shockers in qualifying came from the CONCACAF and Europe. On the last day of CONCACAF qualifying, all the USA needed to do to qualify was beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last game. It was something they could do as Trinidad would finish last of the Final 6. Instead the USA lost 2-1. That was enough for them to kiss their qualification chances goodbye as Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 to earn a berth in the interconfederation playoff against Australia. Europe had some of the biggest shockers as The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for a UEFA playoff round and Italy thwarted their playoff against Sweden losing 1-0 the first game and a scoreless draw the next. Russia 2018 will be the first World Cup since 1958 in which Italy didn’t qualify and only the third World Cup ever with Italy absent!

Now enough of this World Cup’s also-rans. On with those that qualified. Twenty of the 32 teams for Russia 2018 played in Brazil 2014. Brazil makes it 21 for 21. All former World Cup winners except for Italy will be present. The team with the longest absence making a return to the World Cup stage in 2018 is Peru whose last World Cup appearance was back in 1982. There are only two countries that will make their World Cup debut in Russia: Iceland and Panama. Iceland is especially noteworthy as it has become the first nation with a population of less than 1 million to qualify for a World Cup! Actually there aren’t even half a million people living in the nation of Iceland so that makes it even more remarkable.

Now onto the draw. The draw was held Friday at 18:00 Moscow time at the Kremlin. Legends from all eight countries that have won the World Cup in the past were present: Laurent Blanc, Diego Maradona, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Miroslav Klose, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and Carles Puyol. Gary Lineker was host of the event and Russian legend Nikita Simonyan was also part of the event, Vladimir Putin was defintely in attendance, an d the Igor Moiseyev Ballet provided the performance before the draw.

Now onto the actual drawing. In the past, FIFA has organized the pots to give appropriate correlation with continents and availability. FIFA wants the eight groups of four to be a case of no more than two European teams and only one team of the other confederations. There are fourteen European teams (UEFA) including host Russia, five South American teams (CONMEBOL), three teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), five African teams (CAF) and five teams from the AFC (Asia and Australia).

FIFA wants to create better parity among the groups for this World Cup. FIFA doesn’t want a case of two or three top-ranked teams in a group as only two can advance past the Group Stage. We all remember the dreaded Group D of 2014 which consisted of three top-ranked teams. This time around FIFA decided to break the draw into four pots of eight. The pots are all based on the teams’ FIFA World Ranking as of October 2017, regardless of continent. The only exception being Russia as the host nation is always automatically in Group A. Here’s how the pots break down with their confederation listed and their ranking in brackets:

POT 1:

  • Russia – UEFA (65)
  • Germany – UEFA (1)
  • Brazil – CONMEBOL (2)
  • Portugal – UEFA (3)
  • Argentina – CONMEBOL (4)
  • Belgium – UEFA (5)
  • Poland – UEFA (6)
  • France – UEFA (7)

POT 2:

  • Spain – UEFA (8)
  • Peru – CONMEBOL (10)
  • Switzerland – UEFA (11)
  • England – UEFA (12)
  • Colombia – CONMEBOL (13)
  • Mexico – CONCACAF (16)
  • Uruguay – CONMEBOL (17)
  • Croatia – UEFA (18)

POT 3:

  • Denmark – UEFA (19)
  • Iceland – UEFA (21)
  • Costa Rica – CONCACAF (22)
  • Sweden – UEFA (25)
  • Tunisia – CAF (28)
  • Egypt – CAF (30)
  • Senegal – CAF (32)
  • Iran – AFC (34)

POT 4:

  • Serbia – UEFA (38)
  • Nigeria – CAF (41)
  • Australia – AFC (43)
  • Japan – AFC (44)
  • Morocco – CAF (48)
  • Panama – CONCACAF (49)
  • South Korea – AFC (62)
  • Saudi Arabia – AFC (63)

As you can tell by the pot arrangements, they’re trying to make the contest as balanced as possible. In addition, FIFA knows the top seeded teams are Team 1 in each group–host nation being Team A1– but FIFA still wants a drawn ball in all cases to make it official, even drawing the order of the last group team drawn. That explains all those red balls at the beginning of the draw; to make defaults official. Confederation rules still apply as far as maximums per group. Pot 1 had six UEFA teams and Pot 2 had four. It could have been a case where four groups could have reached their maximum two for UEFA teams by the time Pot 2 was all drawn out. Instead it was just two groups with UEFA berths completed. Drawing teams and placing them in the right groups was not as hard and tedious as I had anticipated. In the end, all eight groups had their teams drawn and allotted with only minor complications which were sorted out with ease:

GROUP A:

  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Uruguay

GROUP B:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Morocco
  • Iran

GROUP C:

  • France
  • Australia
  • Peru
  • Denmark

GROUP D:

  • Argentina
  • Iceland
  • Croatia
  • Nigeria

GROUP E:

  • Brazil
  • Switzerland
  • Costa Rica
  • Serbia

GROUP F:

  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Sweden
  • South Korea

GROUP G:

  • Belgium
  • Panama
  • Tunisia
  • England

GROUP H:

  • Poland
  • Senegal
  • Colombia
  • Japan

So those are the groups for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It makes for some interesting analyses. The draw usually tries to make for the host nation to have an easy time qualifying to the knockout phase. Russia has a good group with only Uruguay looking to be a real threat to them. Group B is most interesting not because of the challenge of the teams, but of the geography: Spain, Portugal and Morocco! The draw was aimed so that there could be better parity among ranked teams, but there are possibilities of a ‘Group Of Death’ or two. First bet is Group D; Croatia and Iceland are underdogs that can cause a surprise, and Nigeria meet Argentina for the fifth time out of six World Cups. The second potential Group Of Death could be Group F with Germany and Mexico plus possible upsets coming from either Sweden or South Korea.

And there you go. That’s the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The teams now have six months to prepare themselves and be among the top two to advance. Lots of excitement guaranteed.

2017 Grey Cup Preview

105th-Grey-Cup-Festival

It’s Canadian tradition during the last Sunday of November. It’s Grey Cup Sunday. This will mark the 105th contesting of this momentous event. Once again, the final is East vs. West. Interestingly it’s like a rematch of the 2012 Grey Cup. It will be the Calgary Stampeders vs. the Toronto Argonauts.

First Time For TD Place; Seventh Time For Lansdowne Field

This will be the first time the TD Place Stadium, which was completed in 2014, will host the Grey Cup. This will be the seventh time for the field. It hosted five times before as Lansdowne Park between 1925 and 1988. It hosted once as Frank Clair Stadium in 2004. The older stadium was able to field more spectators in the past. TD Place normally has a capacity of 24,000 but it will expand to 36,000 for the Grey Cup. Shaw Cable is the main sponsor for the event. Freedom Mobile will be sponsoring the halftime show which Shania Twain is slated to perform.

And Now The Game

For the second straight year, the Calgary Stampeders will represent the West while Toronto will represent the East. It’s easy to predict the Stampeders to win, but don’t forget they were the heavy favorites last year. The Argonauts could pull the same upset the RedBlacks pulled last year.

stampedersWEST: CALGARY STAMPEDERS

Last year, the Stampeders led the CFL in game stats and entered the Grey Cup as the clear favorites, only to be surprised by the Ottawa RedBlacks in overtime. That’s considered by many to be the biggest upset in Grey Cup history.

This year, they find themselves in the same position: the best team in the regular season and the favorites to win.

Despite leading the regular season, they did show some weakness in the team such as losing the last three season games. Some say they simply gave it away since they knew they’d be tops anyways. Even their 32-28 win in their West Final against the Edmonton Eskimos would be in question as they had a convincing lead at the start of the final quarter only to give nine points away.

Calgary has their strengths and their weaknesses. Their strengths were the most present throughout the season. On top of that, they won both their games against the Toronto Argonauts. I know there are no guarantees in sport, but it’s hard to see Calgary losing the Cup this time around.

Toronto ArgosEAST: TORONTO ARGONAUTS

Calgary had the best performance this CFL season. Toronto’s, on the other hand, was nine wins and nine losses. Actually all but one team from the West had better win-loss stats than Toronto. It’s hard to believe Toronto came out on top of the East. That just goes to show how far ahead most of the West was this season.

Many people predicted that the Grey Cup would be an all-West game, but Toronto prevented this from happening by beating the Saskatchewan RoughRiders 25-21 in the East Final. Admit it. We all want the Grey Cup to be an East vs. West affair.

Even Toronto’s win in the East Final showed they do have some issues as they almost gave it away thanks to some strong last-quarter play from Saskatchewan. It took a last-minute touchdown from Cody Fajardo to save the Argos. If they look to win against the Stampeders, they can’t give anything away and play like they’ve never played before this year.

My Prediction

I feel that Calgary will win the Cup 40-15. They’ve been the best team this season. Plus I feel after the shock and humiliation of losing to the RedBlacks last year, I think they will want this more than ever. Plus I feel winning on the RedBlack’s home field will make this extra-sweet.

And there you go. That’s my preview of the 105th Grey Cup. Kickoff is 6pm Ottawa-time Sunday. May the best team win!

VIFF 2017 Wraps Up

Cinema

This year, I’m late again in wrapping up my experience at the VIFF. Actually I’m way earlier than last year. This time, I publish my wrap-up just three weeks after it ended.

The 2017 Vancouver Film Fest ended on Friday, October 12th. Crowds came again and again. There was a lot to offer with over 300 films from 69 countries. There were 19 films that are official entries for the Academy Awards category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year. Eleven films made their World Premiere at the Festival, nine their International Premiere, 37 their North American and 46 their Canadian Premiere.

The VIFF again offered Hub events and special lectures on film making topics from various professionals in its many fields. There was the Buffer Festival dedicated to the topic of online film making which included lectures on such filmmaking and even a Q&A featuring a lot of top Canadian YouTube personalities.

The award winners were announced at the closing gala on Friday:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by the Harold Greenberg Fund, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: Luk’l Luk’l (dir. Wayne Wapeemukwa)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA & William F. White
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Canadian Film Awards

Narrative Features

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Black Cop (dir. Cory Bowles)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Documentary Features

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Unarmed Verses (dir. Charles Office)

Short Film Awards
Best BC Short Film
Presented by CreativeBC
WINNER: Rupture (dir. Yassmina Karajah)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Lexus
WINNER: Shadow Nettes (dir. Phillip Barker)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: The Crying Conch (dir. Vincent Coi)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: BLUE (dir. Karina Holden)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Indian Horse (dir. Stephen Campanelli)

VIFF Most Popular International Feature
WINNER: Loving Vincent – Poland & UK (dirs. Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Faces Places – France (dir. Agnes Varda Jr.)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Documentary
WINNER: Shut Up And Say Something (dir. Melanie Wood)

#mustseebc Presented by Storyhive
WINNER: Shut Up And Say Something (dir. Melanie Wood)

As for my volunteer experience, this was a unique experience in doing driving for the VIFF for a change. It wasn’t all about driving VIPs or those involved in film. There was one Friday just days before the VIFF where we had to bring two cars, an SUV, a moving van and a hauling truck from a Langley rental agency over to the VIFF theatre. It was crazy because this was my first time learning on how to drive an automatic car. All my life, I’ve started cars by turning the key. This was completely different and even had me freaked out. Nevertheless things got easier over time.

Our shifts were mostly simple. We’d wait at the Sutton Hotel to find out who we’d be picking up and from where. My first day was a Tuesday and it was confusing as I was getting used to driving the downtown Vancouver streets for the first time. Believe me, Burrard St. has very limited left-turn options and it was annoying. The second trip on my first day driving was crazier as we had to drop some people off at the back entrance of a hotel. The entrance is located at a ramp to a parkade and there was a car being us trying to enter the parkade as I was dropping the people off. vacating the hotel was a headache. The days after were easier as I mostly had to pick people up either at the Sutton Hotel or at the theatres and drive them to the airport. There were even a couple of times I had to pick people up from the airport and bring them to the Sutton Hotel. One of which I was transporting an orchestra’s musical instruments in the moving van. That was definitely interesting. On closing Friday, I was with five people who had to bring five of the ten vans back to the auto dealer’s headquarters. I thought I knew my way, but Surrey’s highway system is extremely confusing and I got lost. I did make it there, half an hour late.

As for films, I feel I saw a good variety of film. I saw thirteen feature-length films and at least one shorts segment. I was lucky to see at least three Canadian features. I saw a lot of foreign films. I saw two films that were official Oscar entries for the Best Foreign Language Feature category. I even saw an African film for the first time. I saw at least three Altered States films that were either bizarre or ridiculous. The biggest standout for this year’s films I saw had to be experimental films. I saw three such films: two Canadian. One was good while the two others came off as either a failed experiment or just something ridiculous. That’s one thing about experimental films. You have to welcome them first and then make your own judgement after.

For the end of the VIFF, there was a volunteer party held the Saturday after closing. Volunteers were treated to films shown at this year’s VIFF. Three of the best. After that, they were treated to a Mexican buffet and to karaoke singing. It was fun and I even sang three numbers. I always sing at least one Elvis number at a karaoke party!

So there you go. The 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival ended very well and it was another good year of films and volunteering for me. Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 27th to October 11th, 2018 and should offer a lot, if not more. I may end up being an usher or I may end up driving again next year. I’ll see what they have to offer me. In the meantime, see you next year!

VIFF 2017 Review: Housewife

Housewife-4

Clementine Poidarz (left) submits herself to a ‘master of the mind’ (played by David Sakurai) in Housewife.

It’s my tradition to end the VIFF by seeing the very last film they show. It’s always on the final day and at the Rio Theatre at 11pm. This year, it’s Housewife: a horror-thriller from Turkey in English. It wasn’t just the last showing at the VIFF, but its only showing at the Festival and a Canadian Premiere too.

The film begins on a snowy day 20 years ago. Seven year-old Holly lives a quiet life with her family until one day, her sister menstruates. Her mother reacts chaotically as if it’s a curse and kills both her sister and her father. Flash forward twenty years later. Holly is married, but the memories still haunt her from that horrific night. Her husband wants to start a family, but she pops birth control pills without him knowing.

One day, a childhood friend meets up with Holly again. They reconnect after all these years. The friend even invites Holly to an event her and her husband will be attending called ‘Umbrella Of Love And Mind.’ Holly comes to the event with her husband. The two couples are having a nice time together. Then the event starts. The event gives an impression it’s like a bizarre cult. The audience is introduced to a charismatic mastermind by the name of Bruce O’Hara. Bruce picks Holly right out of the audience as the first person he ‘demonstrates’ on. He’s able to get her mind to travel to another level and even into her fears. Holly and the crowd are impressed, but her husband is unhappy and mistrusting.

Holly carries on with life after the event, but the memories are now mixed with bizarre visions of murder. Holly goes back to Bruce for help. He continues to put her under his mind control. Meanwhile the husband is getting upset. He feels this is all a hoax. Finally Holly goes back one last time. The dreams are now of Bruce committing murder on Holly, ripping off her face and even wearing it! The movie ends on a bizarre, if not ridiculous, note that makes the film look like it’s incomplete or missing a lot of stuff to make sense.

The thing about the film is that it attempts to create the intrigue of a thriller it should create, but later comes across as confusing and even clumsy at the end. The opening looks promising as the opening scene shows some elements of Carrie in it. Actually even before you go to see the film, you’d get a sense that this would be a horror film, or something close to it. The master-of-the-mind who comes off like a cult leader is where you first start thinking if this will help the story or make it look ridiculous. Especially when he comes dancing onto the stage with ‘I’m Your Boogie Man’ playing in the background. It’s as the story moves into the second half that it starts treading into areas that are either confusing or ridiculous. The film even ends on a bizarrely ridiculous note that gets you wondering what the point of this story is.

It even gets you wondering what is director Can Evrenol trying to do as far as it being a thriller movie? Is he tapping into common thriller elements? Is he trying to create new thriller elements for the cinema? What is he trying to do? I left thinking he didn’t accomplish too much in the 80 minutes of the film, except add a lot of bizarre gore that makes you wonder what its point is. Maybe if he and co-writer Cem Ozuduru gave the film more time and better script, we’d get a better understanding of it, possibly even a decent understanding of it.

The acting was not the best. This is Can’s first English-language feature and he hires either Turkish or European actors for the roles. You can notice the accents. Lead protagonist Clementine Poidarz did well with her role, despite noticeable imperfections. David Sakurai looks awkward and even wooden in his role as Bruce O’Hara and even looks like he isn’t fully in character at times.

Housewife is Can Evrenol’s first attempt at an English-language feature and his first feature-length horror film. It’s not much of an accomplishment since its imperfections are very noticeable.

And there you have it! This is the fourteenth and last review of all the films I saw at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival. Quite the experience. My wrap-up is coming soon.