Tag Archives: Australia

Oscars 2016 Best Picture Summary: Part 3

Most of you have already seen my first summary or even my second summary. This last summary will have a look at the last three Best Picture nominees I saw. They were Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water.

film-lion

Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley, an Australian searching for his family back home in India in Lion.

LION

Lion is one of those films which came out of nowhere to surprise everyone who has been lucky to see it.

We have seen many against-all-odds stories in the past. This is something because this is a true story of something that really was against all odds. It wasn’t just about making it happen but also of the family relations Saroo has developed over his lifetime. What will happen? Will he leave the family he’s always known? Is the family he’s searching for still alive? The best quality of this story is that it keeps us intrigued and hoping Saroo reunites, but also has us concerned of what will happen after.

Another quality of this story is that it does not forget the cause of the problem. Saroo is seen as the lucky one who was able to reunite with his family after all these years. However throughout the film, especially at the beginning, we see the cause of the problem. Saroo was unsupervised when he boarded the express train. The language barriers caused problems. Even Saroo’s mispronunciation of Bengali words caused problems. The train stations of Calcutta are loaded with stray children ready for abductors to prey on, and station police looking the other way. Even the missing posters advertised before his adoption were no good as his mother is illiterate. India failed Saroo and Saroo succeeded thanks to Google Earth and his fierce will. The film at the end lets people aware of the problem; 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The film’s website informs people of how they are making a difference in aiding to protect children in India.

This film is an accomplishment for the Australian film industry. I don’t know if Australia has ever had a film nominated for Best Picture before. This is director Garth Davis’ first ever feature length film. Bet you wouldn’t believe that. Luke Davies did an excellent job in adapting Saroo’s biography into a winning screenplay that keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best in the end. Dev Patel’s performance as Saroo was the highlight as he did a great portrayal of a young man who’s angry on the inside and knows what he needs to do. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the mother who appears grateful on the outside but has some inner hurt waiting to come out. Young Sunny Pawar was also very good playing the young Saroo. He was cute but he didn’t take it overboard. He played his part well. The film also featured top notch cinematography from Greig Fraser and excellent original music from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.

Lion is an excellent film featuring a story you won’t forget. A surprise contender this year and a worthy one.

hidden-figures

Hidden Figures is the story of three African American women working for NASA who broke new ground and brought down racial barriers.

HIDDEN FIGURES

It’s good that we have a film like Hidden Figures to tell us about a piece of history that we never knew about.

The film comes at the right time as it deals with a lot of situations that are relevant in our world. This may be set in the early 60’s and revolves around a moment in space history but it has a lot of situations relevant to today. One is of workplace racism. It’s not as bad now as it is then but there are still a lot of unsolved problems. The second is of technology being so good, it can replace workers. These three women had iron wills. They knew they had potential, they knew they had what it takes and they wouldn’t let racism or the threat of modern technology stop them from reaching for their achievements.

The year of 2016 was a crushing year. It was a year that constantly reminded us that there was still a lot of racism to overcome. Despite the improvement over the decades, it was able to show its ugly head with low employment rates and police beatings. This is a film that reminds us that racism can be overcome. When you look at it, the women were doing this all during a turning point in the history of African Americans. African Americans in Virginia had less rights than they do now and discrimination was perfectly legal. Back then there were still separate washrooms for colored people, separate library books for white and colored people, and police beatings during civil rights marches. The women overcame these barriers and they opened doors for other colored people for generations to come.

This is only the second film Theodore Melfi has directed and written. This is the first feature-length script Alison Schroeder has written. Does come across as like something you’d get from Hollywood, but it’s not a weakness. It does all the right moves. Taraji Henson was great as the protagonist Katherine Goble-Johnson, but the show-stealer was Octavia Spencer. She was not only good at playing a woman who wouldn’t let technology kill her job, and the jobs of 30 other black women, but she was a colorful scene-stealer too. Janelle Monae completes the trio as one who just wouldn’t say die to her ambitions. The male actors were mostly supporting roles but Mahershala Ali was the biggest one as Jim Johnson, Katherine’s new husband. The mix of Motown music mixed in with the original score from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch also added to the spirits of the movie.

Hidden Figures showcases a little-known fact about a big moment in American space history. It’s also the right uplifting movie needed at this time.

hell-or-high-water

Hell Or High Water is about two Texas brothers on a robbing spree and a policeman (played by Jeff Bridges, right) trying to chase them down.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

I missed Hell Or High Water when it first came out in the theatres in August. I admit I was caught up in the summer fare and I overlooked it. I finally saw it recently and I’m glad I did.

One thing is I miss seeing is crime comedies. You know, the dark comedies featured in crime stories. This film has a good amount of comedy to it with their failures at robbing first. Even the situation where the brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank and pay the mortgages they have with the bank off with the robbery money is full of surprising irony. It’s not even the robbery spree that has all the comedy. There’s the comedy when the rangers visit the places they question. There’s even comedy with that hard waitress at a restaurant they eat at: “What don’t you want?” The comedy doesn’t last as the story gets darker later on. However it does end on an ironic note as the now-retired Officer Hamilton does meet up with Toby Howard, perfectly free, and inquires of the robberies he and brother Tanner committed together.

One thing about this crime drama is that it has a lot to say. We have two brothers–Tanner who appears to have no redeeming values and Toby who’s as cool as a cookie– robbing various branches of the same bank. You see signs advertising debt relief. You hear from people– both family and people the brothers run into– talking of their own economic hardships. You see the indigenous people, who are still referred to as ‘Indians’ with their own outlook on things. Mostly negative. Looks like this story has a lot to say. Even hearing Alberto Parker say that he believes the true criminal is the Texas Midlands Bank does get you thinking. Maybe it’s the Bank that are the true robbers around here.

This is actually the first American production from Scottish director David MacKenzie. He has a reputation back in the UK with films like Young Adam, Hallam Foe and Starred Up. His first American production is top notch and really delivers as both a crime story and an offbeat Western. This is also an accomplishment for writer Taylor Sheridan. Already having made a name for himself in Sicario, he delivers again in what is actually his second feature-length script. Of all acting performances, Jeff Bridges is the one that was the best. He delivered a top job in character acting from head to toe. He was completely solid in character. Chris Pine was also good as the brother who’s smart and tries to play it cool. Ben Foster was also a scene-stealer as Tanner who a complete ruthless loose cannon who appears to have a bone to pick with everyone over anything and possesses a false sense of invincibility. Gil Birmingham was also good coming across as the wise partner who plays it cool. The country music in both recorded format and original from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fit the film perfectly.

Hell Or High Water makes for an intense thrill ride that’s big on thrills but also takes you to the heat of the moments. The story even gets you thinking. Now why did I miss it during the summer?

That does it. My final summary of the Best Picture nominees for 2016. After seeing Hell Or High Water, that makes it 16 straight years of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. My predictions for the wins coming on Saturday.

 

 

Rio 2016: Fourteen To Watch

London Flame

The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:

Rio 2016

The Rio 2016 logo features three characters in the Brazilian colors in a triple embrace resembling Sugarloaf mountain.

-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.

-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.

-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.

-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.

-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.

-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!

-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.

-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Rio 2016

Vinicius, seen left with Rio Paralympic mascot Tom, is the 2016 Olympic mascot. Vinicius is a mix of Brazil’s mammals. Both mascots are to represent Brazil’s diverse people and culture.

Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.

Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:

Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.

Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.

TEAMS:

Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.

United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.

TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.

Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.

In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.

Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.

And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.

2016 Eurovision Song Contest Final Preview

eurovision2016euro

I’ll admit I had no intention of posting a preview blog about the final. I was just content with watching the performers and playing ‘armchair judge’ for my own leisure. Besides I intended for my detailed blog of the ESC to be my only blog about it.

However that all changed last night as I was on Youtube and the ESC channel watching video after video of the night’s semi-final performances. Hey, when the show’s on live at noon your time, that’s your resort. That all changed after I added comment after comment with many of the videos. And that’s what inspired me to do this preview of the final for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest.

For this preview, I’ve decided to post my opinions about the performances in the semi-finals. I will be judging the performances of both the competitors from the semis as well as those from Sweden and the Big 5 whom I will call ‘automatics’ because they automatically have their berths in the Final and their performances in the semis are simply a dress rehearsal for the Finals.

I felt it best that I place my judgements mostly on their semi-final performances. A lot of people have based their judgements from the song’s official music video released on YouTube months before the Contest. The videos are very telling in terms of how well each song will do however I feel the performances in the semis are more telling as it gives a good sense what their live show will be and even how together they are as a performer. Sure the semi won’t tell it all but it will tell it most. I do feel that the song is the key thing to base a judgement on. No matter how big of a show you put on, the song and its content is unavoidable. However I will consider showmanship as a performer will still have to make the song entertaining and eyecatching. Simply put, I will give top kudos to those performances who deliver best.

I will also start with my first section where I give opinions of the performances that have qualified for the final. I will then give my personal picks for who I would give the biggest point to if I were a jury. Note I will not be making predictions like I normally do. I will be giving my preferences and opinions. I’m not familiar with the music tastes of most European countries nor am I familiar with jury tastes. So here goes:

SEMIFINAL 1:

  • Hungary: Freddie  ‘Pioneer’ Very good song with a very dramatic opening. Freddie has very good vocals in singing the song. The song is far from boring. It will catch your ears. A deserving finalist.
  • Croatia: Nina Kraljic ‘Lighthouse‘ – Nina came to Stockholm in hopes of breaking Croatia’s bad-luck spell of missing out in the finals since 2009. She did exactly that. As for her performance, you’ll think her outfit at the beginning is ridiculous but that’s part of adding drama or theatrics to the song. I’m cool with that as long as it’s done right. Her performance was very good and deserving of her final berth.
  • Netherlands: Douwe Bob ‘Slow Down‘ – This is one of my delights of the night. I’m impressed to see how the Dutch know how to do bluesy rock or rockabilly. The Dutch did it before in 2014 with ‘Calm After The Storm‘ and they do it again here. Best song of the evening that delivers as a great alternative after so many techno numbers. Stage show is minimal but it works for the song instead of against it. I ranked it my 3rd place of this semi.
  • Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan ‘LoveWave‘ – It’s not the best of the night but it’s still good and a deserving finalist. Very good song with good vocals. I felt the stage show was a bit iffy. Otherwise very deserving nonetheless.
  • Russia: Sergei Lazarev ‘You Are The Only One‘ – What can I say? For me that was the show of the first semi and my #1 pick for that night. It didn’t have the same song quality the Netherlands had but still an entertaining song with the most entertaining stage show of the evening. Definitely an eye-catcher and it will not surprise me if this song is a top contender for the win on Saturday.
  • Czech Republic: Gabriela Guncikova ‘I Stand‘ – Not exactly a song that stands out too much. Nevertheless Gabriela did sing it well and perform it well on stage. what it lacks in catchiness, it makes up for in its consistency and professionalism. A very deserving finalist. Especially since this is the first time in five tries a Czech performer qualifies for the final. Great job!
  • Cyprus: Minus One ‘Alter Ego‘ – You’d think with this being Cyprus, it would be ethnopop, right? Actually this is a hard rock song high in energy. I could even feel the energy of the song while watching it. Great song and great performance which was one of my favorites of the night. I feel it should do strong on Saturday.
  • Austria: Zoe ‘Loin d’Ici‘ – This was my surprise of the night. I like it when a song goes beyond my expectations. At first you’d think a number too sweet would come off as saccharine to you. However this is one ‘sweet’ song that actually did everything right and even charmed me. Excellent stage show that tried mimicking what was in her video. However if anyone had doubts about her song while watching her video before the Semi, I think her performance in the semi increased her chances of winning. It was better than the video. I consider this my 2nd place of the semi.
  • Azerbaijan: Samra ‘Miracle‘ – Once again a case of an Azerbaijani singer performing a song written by Swedes. This is one of only two semifinalists whom I did not have on my list of my ten ‘finals picks.’ The song was good but I’ve seen better performances by Azerbaijani acts in past ESCs. I think 2013’s ‘Hold Me‘ is their best ever.  Also the back-up dancers did a real tacky job of dancing. That’s all I can describe about it. Their dancing was tacky. Nevertheless Samra was dressed well and she did sing her song very well despite t not being much of a song. I just feel it didn’t deserve to be in the semis.
  • Malta: Ira Losco ‘Walk On Water‘ – Once again a case of a stageshow that was hard to swallow thanks to backup dancing. Ira did her song very well. However the dancer on stage just plain came off as ridiculous and irritating. It actually turned me off the song. This is the other finalist from the first semi that I felt didn’t deserve it.

SEMIFINAL 2:

  • Latvia: Justs ‘Heartbeat‘ – The biggest thing about the song is its arresting instrumentation. The stage graphics fit the song very well and Justs delivers the song in style and with the right moves you’d expect from a male pop singer. Justs does it solo without backup singers or backup dancers and does it with style. I ranked it the best performance of this semi because it grabs your attention from the very start and won’t let go.
  • Poland: Michal Szpak ‘Color Of Your Life‘ – This is a good ballad delivered very well from Michal. Its style really stands out. Michal delivered it very professionally despite missing a note near the first chorus. The biggest glitch I feel has to be the vintage military jacket he wears on stage. I don’t think it fit the performance that well. Especially since Justs that was on just before him came on stage with a leather jacket. Backup violinists and stage graphics blended well with the performance.
  • Israel: Hovi Star ‘Made Of Stars‘ – This is an excellent ballad delivered very well with excellent singing from Hovi. I almost thought he was doing a cover of an Adele song. The stage graphics added excellently to the song. However the two dancers on the spinning hoop had me questioning whether they were worth it or not? Do they add or subtract? Because Hovi delivers well in a no nonsense performance.
  • Serbia: Sanja Vucic ZAA ‘Goodbye‘ – It’s both a ‘Balkan Ballad’ and a power ballad. Excellent vocals full of emotion and a set up back-up singers that add to the drama and power. Might bring back memories to some of 2007 winner ‘Molitva’ but it holds its own. The male backup dancer didn’t add but he didn’t subtract from the performance either. If there’s one weakness, it’s her stiff black dress. Overall an excellent package and I rank it second-best of this semifinal.
  • Lithuania: Donny Montell ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘ – A powerful song with a lot of energy and Donny knows how to deliver it vocally. However I didn’t like how he added Michael Jackson-like dance moves to his performance. I feel it did not fit the song at all. Maybe the front flip near the end helped but the dancing didn’t. This is one of two from this semi that qualified for the final that didn’t make my personal Top 10.
  • Australia: Dami Im ‘Sound Of Silence‘ – A very powerful ballad delivered excellent by Dani. I also have no problem with the dress since it was meant to fit the song. However I’m not too happy about some of the stage choices she was given such as sitting on that platform until after the second chorus. She does walk around after that and deliver the song well but I don’t think she was given enough movement.
  • Bulgaria: Poli Genova ‘If Love Was A Crime‘ – Many people felt Poli was robbed of a finals berth five years ago with ‘Na Inat‘ but she finally gets it here. I’ll admit this is not that much of an attention-grabber of a song. Nor were a few of her dance moves the best. Nevertheless Poli delivered the song well and gave it its energy and made it enjoyable to hear. It’s very good for the most part.
  • Ukraine: Jamala ‘1944‘ – This is the first song at the ESC with Crimean Tatar lyrics. This is probably the most political song at this Contest. She has a song with a message and she delivers it with emotion in the song. The wailing at the end of the song is a big plus and especially shows off her vocal abilities. However political songs are touchy grounds at the ESC. They welcome it as long as it’s subtle. I feel this is deserving of its finals berth.
  • Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz ‘Midnight Gold‘ – The number starts with a lot of potential with some exciting rock instrumentation and fitting stage graphics. However it goes downhill when the singer delivers vocals with notes that don’t seem to fit the song. I don’t know if he did it for creative purposes but his choices don’t really fit at all. Can’t complain about the instrumentation as it’s the best part. However this is the second qualifier to the final from this semi that I felt didn’t deserve it. Actually I ranked it second-to-last of this semi.
  • Belgium : Laura Tesoro ‘What’s The Pressure‘ – At last! A song that makes you wanna get down! Laura delivers a funky, feel-good energetic number that delivers all the best qualities of a pop number including vocals, dancing and even trying to get the crowd involved. I ranked this the third-best of this semi.

AUTOMATICS:

  • France: Amir ‘J’ai Cherche‘ – Good song, has a lot of energy, very good singing, but it comes across as rather boring. I don’t know what it is but when I saw Amir perform, I felt like there was something missing. I don’t know how this will fare on Saturday.
  • Spain: Barei ‘Say Yay!‘ – Now this is one number I feel will go far. A very good song that is full of energy and has good potential of being catchy. Also she performs excellently on stage. She dances like she’s in control and delivers the song as she should. I question her dress, especially with the 03 on it. However I feel she will be great on Saturday night.
  • Sweden: Frans ‘If I Were Sorry‘ – Sweden has one of the best success records at Eurovision. This number however is very questionable. Frans delivered a boring performance where the background tries to make the song interesting by flashing key words. He does sing the song well but his accent is too thick to comprehend some of the lyrics. I think he might score well in the popular vote because of his teen idol status but I don’t think he’ll score well with the judges.
  • Germany: Jamie-Lee ‘Ghost‘ – I have to say a good song and Jamie-Lee is a very good singer. However her outfit was too over the top. I’m cool with a weird outfit done for theatrical purposes such as Nina Kraljic’s outfit during the opening of ‘Spotlight’ but that was too ridiculous like Alice In Wonderland went through a flower garden. The backup singers had on sensible clothes and the trees that shot laser beams worked good but that outfit is dumb and works against her performance. However the outfit will make her win the Barbara Dex award.
  • United Kingdom: Joe & Jake ‘You’re Not Alone‘ – I have to say it’s a very good song with a very good performance. The two sing the song very well and add to the young energy of the song. It’s hard to find something to dislike about this number, especially since it’s very low in gimmicks. I think the one cheesy thing was probably the jumping near the end. One thing we have to keep in mind is that ‘no nonsense’ performances like these are great but they face the obstacle of winning attention from both televoters and the juries. Nevertheless I do wish the best for both of them. Especially since the UK used to have quite a Eurovision legacy and the 21st century has been very unkind to them with only two Top 10 finishes.
  • Italy: Francesca Michielin ‘No Degree Of Separation‘ – Italy rarely disappoints. They’ve mostly delivered some top notch performances to the Contest over the years, even in the last few years. And this year’s entry is a delight too. 21 year-old Francesca Michielin is already a seasoned pro. You’ll notice it as she sings the song consistently and with feeling. Adding the feeling to the song is a big plus. A big minus to the song however is all those stage props and stage graphics. I don’t know if they were trying to reflect a theme or emulate the music video but I feel it went too far and they were distracting from the song. This could work against her performance which holds its own without all the added stuff.

So those are my thoughts for the qualifiers. As for the ‘also-rans’:

Semi-Final 1: I know I said Malta and Azerbaijan didn’t deserve to be in the final. In their place should be Iceland and Moldova. They did their performance better. Finland’s Sandhja was good but came off as flat. That’s not good especially when you’re first up. Greece must have forgotten the golden rule of rap acts at Eurovision: rap acts go nowhere, even if it’s mixed with ethnopop. It’s a shame because I usually like the Greek numbers. San Marino’s Serhat had a style but I didn’t see it as enough to qualify for the final. Estonia came off as ridiculous in his stage antics and his voice. Montenegro’s number sounded like a mashed-up song and Bosnia’s on-stage theatrics made me wonder if it was really necessary for the song.

Semi-Final 2: If I were to trade Georgia and Lithuania from the finals, I’d put in Ireland and Macedonia. Ireland was full of energy and delivered well. Macedonia was also excellent, especially in her vocal range. Switzerland had a good song but it all fell apart with all the on-stage props and moves she was given. Belarus had potential but I thought the face stripes were dumb. Slovenia was good but the singer delivered awkward stage poses that worked against her. The Danish vocal trio came across as rather boring. Norway delivered a song that alternate from one tempo and mood of the verses to a different tempo and completely different mood in the chorus. It didn’t really mix well. And Albania had good potential but I feel her chances were marred by lousy backup singers.

Overall I have to say this is a mostly good set of performers for this Contest. There is a bit of the eccentric in some elements but it’s nothing compared to the ‘freak shows’ of five years ago or even ten years ago. I think the freakiest moments will come from Germany and Italy. I guess the country’s are now getting the message that doing something super-eccentric or super-gimmicky doesn’t pay. I didn’t notice too many off-key moments and those that did recovered well.

Like I said, I don’t know enough about European music tastes to make predictions. So instead I’m giving my personal Top 10. Eurovision style, of course:

  • Poland, 1 point.
  • Australia, 2 points.
  • Spain, 3 points.
  • Cyprus, 4 points.
  • Netherlands, 5 points.
  • Belgium, 6 points.
  • Serbia, 7 points.
  • Austria, 8 points.
  • Latvia, 10 points.
  • And my personal 12 points goes to…Russia!

So there’s my summary of the 2016 Eurovision finalists and their semifinal performances. I’m glad I don’t have to be a jury member because it’s a headache ranking them. Mind you anything can change on Saturday. They may go off key or something may malfunction or the energy that was there in the semi may not be there in the final. Even things like performance order can play a factor. How ironic how Belgium who ended the second semifinal will open the final? Ending the final will be Armenia. Whatever the situation, I wish all the performers the best and the winning performer’s country to get ready to host next year!

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group D Focus

You’re probably wondering how do the berths at this World Cup get decided? Firstly, the number per continent is decided by FIFA. Often the continents with more berths have better prowess in women’s football. You’ll notice as North America and Asia have a bigger presence than at the men’s World Cup. So here’s the continental breakdown of the 24 berths at this year’s World Cup:

  • Host Nation – 1
  • North and Central America, Caribbean countries under CONCACAF- 3
  • Europe or UEFA-Allied countries – 8
  • Africa or CAF-allied countries – 3
  • Asia or AFC-allied countries – 5
  • South America or CONMEBOL-allied countries – 2
  • Oceania countries under the OFC – 1
  • CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff – 1

That’s how FIFA sets the Women’s World Cup for an even distribution among the continents. Now that it’s all explained, here’s the latest group in review. Funny thing is that it’s already being called a ‘group of death’ because of how all four teams have significant cred to themselves. Heck, what do three teams in the FIFA Top 10 tell you about this group? Without further ado, here’s my review, along with another stadium focus and a bonus where you can have a ball:

GROUP D:

USA-United States (2): There’s no doubting the legacy the United States have in women’s football. While the men struggle to make it past the Round of 16, the   U.S. excel like no other country having won two World Cups–they’ve never finished worse than third at a Women’s World Cup– and Olympic gold in four of the five Games women’s soccer has been contested. They’ve churned out legends of their sport in the past like Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain and they continue to churn out current greats like Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo.

The U.S. may excel like no other country but they’re not invincible. 1999 is the last year the women have won a World Cup. Even play this past year has shown their imperfections as they’ve lost to Brazil and France and tied against China and Canada. They’re not even guaranteed to finish top of their group as they lost to Sweden in their last meeting with them March of last year. Remember that they lost to Sweden in the Group Stage of Germany 2011. Even though Coach Jillian Ellis is hoping to lead them to their first World Cup in sixteen years, she will acknowledge this will be a tough group. If they’re all together here in Canada, they can do it. They do have what it takes.

Australia-Australia (10): You know how the men are called the ‘Socceroos?’ The women are called the ‘Matildas!’ Australia’s women have competed in all but the first World Cup. They had very good success under the OFC as they competed in two Olympics and even earned a 5th place finish in 2004. Switching from the OFC to the AFC have helped them in terms of World Cup play as they were able to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time back in 2007 and win the Asian Cup in 2010.

Australia is looking for its first big breakthrough on the world stage. However it will have to come with a fight. They’ve been playing very well against Asian teams but have struggled against teams from outside the AFC such as a 3-0 loss to England back in March. Their group chances also look questionable as they’ve lost their most recent meetings against Sweden and the U.S. and they’ve never played Nigeria before. Whatever the situation, this World Cup could be either new glory for Australia or another learning experience for the future.

Sweden Fixed-Sweden (5): If there’s one team that can prevent the U.S. from finishing atop Group D, it’s Sweden. They beat the U.S. in their last meeting. They also have a reputation of their own to match. Sure, their best Olympic finish is fourth and sure, Germany has hoarded all but one of the Women’s Euros. However they have finished in the Top 3 at three World Cups including third in 2011 and they’ve had many second and third place finishes at the Women’s Euro.

They’ve had a good play record since the least World Cup but it has been imperfect. This year they’ve had wins against Germany, China and Norway but they’ve also had losses to Germany, Brazil and Switzerland. Whatever the situation, Canada will be another proving point for them. They could just emerge the winners if they play right each time.

Nigeria-Nigeria (33): Nigeria is one of only seven teams that have competed at ever Women’s World Cup. Clinching the African berth is a cinch for them. Just as the men have possibly the most illustrious success among African football teams, the women are consistently tops of Africa too. They’ve won the CAF Women’s Championship all but twice. They’ve even made the quarterfinals of both a World Cup and an Olympic Games once before.

However Nigeria has the difficulty of being in the toughest group. Yes, they have a good reputation but this is a tight group and they know they will have to be very tough against the U.S. and Sweden because they’ve beaten Nigeria very often in the past. One advantage is that they’ve never played Australia so that game can be a proving point for them. Whatever happens in Canada, I’m sure it will be a benefit to the Nigerian team either as a plus to their reputation or as an opportunity to learn more.

MY PREDICTION: This is the hardest group to decide all the places. First and second will be a toughie. I’ll take a risk and predict Sweden to finish first and the U.S. to finish second. I expect third to go to Nigeria. Predicting third was a toughie too.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

-OTTAWA: Lansdowne StadiumOttawa

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, quarterfinals

Talk about name changes. The stadium was first named Frank Clair Stadium, then chanced to TD Place Stadium and will be known as Lansdowne Stadium due to FIFA’s orders.

The actual playing field dates back to the 1870’s. The first event stands were added in 1908. Lansdowne Park has gone through numerous ramps and revamps over time. It had played host to Ottawa’s CFL teams and college football teams as well as many concerts. However it wasn’t until September 2007 when the lower-south side was showing cracks in the concrete that it was clear a new stadium was needed. Unfortunately it could not be done until there were plans to return a CFL team to Ottawa; Ottawa lost their CFL team in 2005. An agreement was reached in 2008 to have a new CFL team for Ottawa once a new stadium was created. The ‘Design Lansdowne’ program was launched to construct a new stadium over Lansdowne Park. By July 2014, the stadium was completed and Ottawa was ready to welcome their new CFL team, the RedBlacks, in July. The new stadium is also home to Ottawa’s NASL team Ottawa Fury.

BALL FOR THE WORLD CUP: CONEXT15conext15

We see it every men’s World Cup. Adidas doesn’t just simply launch a ball specific to the World Cup for the sake of a nice design. It does so with the hopes of adding a new technological innovation to the football. You don’t hear of the football for the Women’s World Cup adding an innovation to the football. However it will be the case for the Conext15.

The Conext15 features a new design inspired by the three elements of nature: earth, wind and fire. The flowing green, red and blue design will reflect the perfect balance of the three natural forces. It will include many elements from the Brazuca, the ball from the 2014 World Cup, but will have an innovation of its own: designed for never-before-seen power, swerve and control. Its structural innovation is a unique symmetry of six identical panels alongside a different surface structure that provides improved grip, touch, stability and aerodynamics on the pitch. Guaranteed to be more player-friendly than the Jabulani of 2010, that’s for sure.

And there you go. My review of Group D and many more WWC bonuses. Just ten days to go and two more groups to review.

WORK CITED:

Byrne, Bryan. “Official WWC Match Ball Released – Adidias Conext15” Soccer Cleats 101. 5 December 2014<http://www.soccercleats101.com/2014/12/05/official-wwc-match-ball-released-adidas-conext15/>

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group B

The funny thing about the World Cup group draws is its unpredictability. They try to make things easier by designating seeded teams from all the others to give better parity only to end up with a crazy combination. Group B has a combination crazy enough to have the very first match a rematch of the exact World Cup final from 2010! Also just as surprising is that Group B has four teams that are very talented but it’s not enough to call it the ‘Group Of Death.’ I think there was more than one ‘Group Of Death’ for this World Cup. It’s a wonder why Group B didn’t get that label.

Despite these oddities, Group B is loaded with talented teams and should make some exciting play. Here’s my rundown of the Group B teams:

Spain Fixed-Spain (1)- Now seems to be ‘The Reign of Spain.’ Spain has always been known to be full of football talent but the team hardly ever came together at World Cup tournaments of the past, often performing below people’s expectations. This would cause Spain to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ for a long period of time. This all changed when Vicente del Bosque was appointed coach of Spain’s national team in 2008. Since then, Spain’s magic came about. It all started with winning Euro 2008, then surprising everybody including their compatriots with a win of the 2010 World Cup. Spain’s long-awaited legacy continued with a win at Euro 2012 and becoming the first team ever to successfully defend their European Championship. Spain’s success continued as they played without a loss until the finals of the Confederations Cup where they lost to Brazil 3-0. Spain continues to be brilliant only losing one game since, 1-0 to South Africa. Spain just recently beat Italy 1-0 in a friendly. They appear poised to repeat in Brazil. It’s the next month that will define things.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (15)- While Spain is no longer ‘football’s greatest underachievers,’ the Netherlands have the misfortune of being seen as the greatest team in the world to never have won a World Cup. Three times a finalist, never a winner. Oranje is waiting for that day to prove themselves the best in the world. However it will come a t a challenge. Back during Euro 2012, the Netherlands performed one of the biggest chokes in their history by losing all three of their Group Stage matches. 2013 was a year they really wanted to make up for things and they did well by not losing a game. However failing to win all four of their friendlies since World Cup qualifying including a 2-0 loss to France shows that they might not be ready for this World Cup. This is unfortunate for head coach Louis van Gaal as he would like to leave team Netherlands on a positive note. Nevertheless it could be that Oranje is just ‘playing possum’ and may come alive in Brazil.

Chile-Chile (13)- Chile is another team full of talent that has yet to prove itself in a big way. The team that is affectionately called ‘La Roja’ by its compatriots and supporters have only gone as far as 3rd at the World Cup, and that was back in 1962 when they hosted it. In recent years, Chile has been better at its consistency. They’ve qualified for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and finished in the Round of 16, the only other two times they’ve made it past the Group Stage. Chile has had a great play record since 2013 in both friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. They’ve shown they can challenge some the best teams in the world, if not defeat them. They beat Uruguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier last March, tied Spain 2-2 in a September friendly and even beat England 2-0 in a friendly in November. However they have lost to Brazil 2-1 back in November and lost to Germany 1-0 this March. Most people are predicting Spain and Netherlands to be the two advancers from Group B. There could be a Chilean surprise.

Australia-Australia (59)- The Socceroos were the surprise of the 2006 World Cup. Their 2006 advance to the Round of 16 led them to be transferred from Oceania’s continental federation to Asia’s. However their prowess has taken a bit of a dip. They didn’t advance past the Group stage in 2010 and have struggled in play for the Asian Cup. The 2013 and 2014 play seasons have been unimpressive including 6-0 losses in friendlies against both Brazil and France. In 2014, they’ve had a 4-3 loss to Ecuador and a 1-1 draw to South Africa. 2014 could be a further learning experience for Australia.

So now my prediction for the two advancers from Group B: Spain will definitely advance but it will be tight between Netherlands and Chile in which I feel Chile will be the one moving on.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

More stadiums in focus. Like the stadiums focused in my Group A review, these two will also host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. I also want to remind you that in my Stadium Spotlight, I won’t completely compliment the stadiums. In fact I will make aware of some of the glitches, especially since glitches in the construction and/or upgrades of stadiums have made big news leading up to the World Cup. And these two have been two of the ‘bad news bears.’ So without further ado:

-CUIABA: Arena PantanalPantanal

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 42,968

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, H

There’s been a lot of concern of the readiness of many of the stadia set to stage the World Cup. Cuiaba is one stadium that’s been causing some of the headaches. One of the headaches happened back in October when a fire caused structural damage, which has since been repaired. In fact Cuiaba needed a second World Cup warm-up match on April 28th to prove its readiness. FIFA was pleased this time around. Nevertheless it didn’t guarantee the stadium was 100% ready. Work returned to the stadium shortly after and on May 9th, a worker was killed when he was electrocuted while working on the installation of a telecommunications network. Work was halted temporarily after his death.

Ready or not, Arena Pantanal will be the stage for four Group Stage games. After the World Cup, the Arena is to be reduced in capacity and to be the home venue for both Cuiaba and Mixto Esporte Club.

-CURITIBA: Arena da BaixabaCuritiba

Year Opened: 1999

World Cup Capacity: 41,456

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H

Not all World Cup stadium problems are about the new stadiums. Existing stadiums have had their own problems too in terms of renovations or upgrades. Curitiba’s Arena da Baixaba is one stadium that had its issues. The stadium had plans for upgrades like extra seats and a retractable roof. The stadium suffered a setback in October 2013 as work was suspended  on the orders of a Brazilian labor tribunal due to numerous and serious safety breaches. An extra headache came in January 22 of this year when FIFA’s General Secretary visited the Arena and said Curitiba could be dropped if significant improvements in the renovations didn’t take place within a month. FIFA decided to keep Curitiba the following month. Recently there was some good news about the Arena. Valcke visited the Arena again on May 22nd and this time he praised it for being a ‘top-class’ venue.

The venue is expected to have its seating reduced once again to its usual 30,000 and return to being the host venue for Atletico Paranaense.

So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.

VIFF 2013 Review: The Rocket

Ahlo, a Lao boy, attempts to win a rocket-launching contest to bring his family good fortune in The Rocket.

Ahlo, a Lao boy, attempts to win a rocket-launching contest to bring his family good fortune in The Rocket.

The Rocket is Australia’s official entry for the Best Foreign language Film category for the Academy Awards. The question is how does it fare as a film?

The story revolves a young Laotian boy named Ahlo. Ahlo’s birth is supposed to be a happy occasion but is not as a stillborn twin is born shortly after. Even though Ahlo is the one who survived, the grandmother is still suspicious of him, believing that a twin can either be good luck or bad luck.

Ten years pass. Ahlo is a typical normal boy in his Laotian village protected by a dam from an Australian corporation. However all residents in the village have to relocate as the corporation is proposing a second dam which will flood the village. All the villagers including Ahlo, his parents and grandmother pack up to walk to their new home planned by the corporation. It’s a long walk to the area and they have to use a boat to transport their goods. Unfortunately while going up a hill, they lose grip of their boat and it hits the mother, killing her. Once again the grandmother feels Ahlo is a bad luck child. Even the father feels that sense.

When they reach the top of the hill, they learn their settlements are not finished, leaving everyone to create a temporary village of makeshift shelters for themselves. Ahlo continues to get himself into trouble and damages many properties. However he does find a friend in a young girl named Kia. Kia lives with her eccentric uncle in a small shack. She is an orphan, losing her parents to malaria and has a fear of water. Her eccentric uncle is a James Brown fan who dons his hairstyle and a purple outfit in his like. They make Ahlo feel welcome but the uncle is also shunned by the village, including Ahlo’s father who warns him to stay. Both cause problems: Ahlo with constantly getting into mischief whether with Kia or himself and Purple for stealing electricity. It’s right after Ahlo damages sacred areas in the village that they’re all chased out.

The five of them–Ahlo, the father, the grandmother, Kia and Purple–reluctantly travel to another rural village together. The village is only temporary as it is on an area littered with undetonated bombs that belonged to Americans during the Vietnam War. The father contemplates taking the family to the city where they can find labor jobs. This would mean Ahlo would never be able to see Kia or Purple again.

Ahlo gets an idea when he learns about an annual rocket launching contest held by the nearby village. The prize money is good enough for all to start a new life anywhere. Ahlo wants to make a rocket of his own but most believe it would be both dangerous and impossible for a child to construct a winning rocket for the contest. However Purple believes differently and gives Ahlo an idea. The father builds a rocket of his own to prevent Ahlo from entering. However Ahlo is stubborn enough to saw off a bamboo bush and get bat dung from a bat cave to make it.

The festival starts and Ahlo is still at work on his rocket. The contest is pretty chancy. The rocket has to fly straight in the air. If a rocket fails, the flyer is humiliated by being thrown into the muddy river. The contest is also dangerous as seen when one man’s rocket explodes with him launching. The result of the contest ends with a somewhat predictable moment. Many would have guessed the ending by now. However the full ending is a total surprise and a delight.

I will admit that this is a common formula of a person beating the odds to win. We’ve seen it before. However this does take a different turn of events. This is not simply about a simple child trying to win a contest. This is more about a boy considered a ‘bad luck charm’ trying to win good fortune to his family after so much misfortune has happened to them. The setting of an impoverished location like the bomb-ridden valleys of Laos may give some reminders of Slumdog Millionaire. The superstitious attitude of the Lao people comes off as a bit foolish. I guess it’s also here where the movie is attempting to defy the superstitions.

Some may see it as a family movie since this is a story of a boy who’s able to help his family out. However there are some things that many may feel are too dark or a discussion starter from children that’s too soon to happen. I’m sure if children saw this, they may ask about the country of Laos and why the people had to be moved. The images of all those bombs I feel is also too much for the children. Also questions about Lao tradition and believe, of why Ahlo suspect of being a ‘bad luck’ child because he’s a twin, will also be things parents would not be prepared to answer.

It’s interesting that this film is Australia’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars but it’s not in say one of the languages of the indigenous of Australia. Instead it’s in the Lao language. Also interesting is that it takes place completely in Laos. The Australian things about this film is that it was done by an Australian director and the films plot includes an Australian corporation building a dam which causes the Lao villagers to move. Once again this is a case of a film making one think about what would define a film from another country, especially one that’s running in such a category. It’s just like last year where Canada’s nominee Rebelle was a story situated in Congo and the winner Amour was an entry from Austria because of Austrian director Michael Haneke even though it was situated in France and in the French language. I guess that category is always subject for discussion.

One thing to take note of is that Laos has never submitted an entry into the Best Foreign language Film category ever. I don’t think that they would want to do it with this film as it makes Laos look like an impoverished country with undetonated bombs all over the place. A bit of trivia: director Kim Mordaunt once did a documentary released in 2007 called Bomb Harvest of Laos being a dumping ground of unused bombs by Americans during the Vietnam War. One thing to note is that Australia isn’t shown as the good guy as it’s an Australian corporation causing the people to relocate themselves.

This was very good work from Australian director Kim Mourdant. She has already had experience as an actress including being a former cast member of Australia’s famous drama series Home And Away. She’s started writing and directing in recent years. I’m unfamiliar with her previous works but this film is very well-written and well-thought out. She has to be very familiar with Lao culture and Lao tradition in order for this to look true. A great performance from newcomer Sitthiphon Disamoe. A street kid in real life, Disamoe is an excellent discovery for this film. Loungnam Kaosainam is also great and charming as Kia. Most of the main actors are newcomers with the exceptions of Sumrit Warin and Alice Keohavong, a Lao-Australian actress with a healthy resume in film, television and theatre.

The Rocket follows a familiar premise but adds its own elements into it. It makes for an impressive film that will cause you to think but also keep your faith in hope.