VIFF 2021 Review: Flee

Flee is an animated documentary of Amin: an Afghani refugee living in Denmark who always felt he had to hide his true past from everyone. Including the man he loves.

Flee was the first time I was able to see an animated film at the VIFF this year. It isn’t just an animated film. It’s part-story, part-documentary that tells a lot about a remarkable story.

The story begins with a man named Amin. He tells the story of his life and his ordeal. He tells it in fluent Danish. He first tells of his story of how he had to flee as his whole family had been killed off. This is a story he also tells his boyfriend Kasper. This is on the verge of Kasper about to buy a house for him and Amin. Meanwhile Amin is undecided whether to accept living with Kasper or accept a teaching job at a university.

The interviewer then takes Amin to a private place. There, Amin can tell the true story. It starts when he reflects of his childhood in Kabul. His biggest memories are of being four in the mid-1980’s and running down the streets with a Walkman with pink earphones in his hand and wearing a dress! However the harsh realities hit Amin and his family in 1989 when Amin turns eight. The Mujahideen have taken over Afghanistan, just two years after the Soviets withdrew from the nation. Their father has been captured and they don’t know what happened to them. Fearing they’ll be next, Amin, his mother, two sisters and brother seek refuge on a plane. The plane takes them in Moscow as the USSR is one of few countries willing to take the family in because of their status.

Life is not very good for the family in Moscow. Even after the fall of communism, they can only do limited work, live in a cramped flat and constantly be harassed by corrupt policeman who heckle them for being different. They know they will have to flee to another country if they are ever able to be free for once. However their only hope depends on human traffickers. They all want to flee to Sweden. The eldest brother is the only one who can work. It is he who will have to provide the money for these trips.

The first trip, which involved being in a car failed and they found themselves back in Moscow. The second trip involved the whole family travelling at once. This involved a long walk through the woods with others right in the coldness of winter. It then led them all to a fishing vessel where they had to hide themselves in the fish trap. The feel of the boat trip was nerve-wracking with the water splashing. Then water started coming in, which involved the passengers coming out of the trap to get the water out. Fortunately a cruise ship discovers the boat. Unfortunately, the cruise ship calls Estonian police to rescue the passengers. That meant back to Moscow.

The long wait is frustrating. The mother is getting older, the siblings including Amin himself are growing and missing out a lot on their future, and the oldest brother is having the frustration of his future being squandered to saving up for these illegal immigration stings. It’s frustrating, but they can’t go on watching Mexican soap operas and being harassed by Moscow police forever. Finally the brother finds a new illegal immigration operation. It’s way more expensive than the ones in the past, but this has excellent chances of working. However this involves each of the family members to go alone.

Amin is to go with one other teen male. The agent gives both boys strict instructions to obey. The trip starts with both of them being inside a van and lying down. During the trip, Amin senses a feeling he has toward the other male. The male gives him his gold chain. Before they board the plane, the agent gives the two plane tickets and passports: Amin for Denmark and the other boy for Switzerland. They all go on a flight to Istanbul. As the flight lands, the agent advises the two to do everything he instructs them to do and once they arrive in their country of destination to tear up the passport and tell officials their story. After the agent leaves, the two depart but not without one final goodbye.

Hours later, Amin arrives in Copenhagen, tears up the passport, and tells his story of being a completely orphaned Afghani refugee. As he’s transported to safety, he looks out the window of the car and sees freedom, but can’t feel it or sense it. He spent years living in a shelter living with various families and pursuing excellent grades in school. Then one day, he receives a phone call. It’s his brother in Sweden. Amin learns his brother found refuge in Sweden from his own trip from the trafficker.

Time would improve for Amin. Soon he’d learn all of his family including his mother had found refuge in various places in Europe with his two sisters also living in Sweden. His life has improved as he has been able to become a strong academic and even had lecturing jobs at American colleges. However he’s still had to keep his true life a secret from his boyfriend and his homosexuality a secret from his family as Afghani culture considers homosexuality to bring shame to the family. One day, when the brother and sisters get into conversation about Amin not being married, he then outs himself to the shock of all. The brother then tells Amin to get into the car. Amin is uncertain and fearful about what will happen next during the car ride. The brother takes him to a gay bar and hands him some money. They knew all along! Inside the gay bar, Amin discovers a freedom he never thought possible. The film then flashes forward two years later showing how Amin’s life has improved.

This is definitely a story about a current hot topic: refugees and illegal immigrants. It’s constantly an issue. As long as there’s political oppression and corruption, there are going to be people fleeing. Refugees and illegal immigrants probably feel they have something to hide about themselves. Even if they become legit citizens of their country, they feel they still have something to hide and they have to lie for their freedom. Roughly they’re still mentally ‘on the run.’ Even the fact that the subject has to tell his whole truth under the pseudonym Amin Nawabi adds to this factor. It becomes evident when Amin first tells the interviewer of his story of his family deceased. Then when he’s in a private room, he tells the truth. It’s also evident how he’s unsure whether to commit to marrying his boyfriend Kasper and instead accept an offer at an American university.

Amin’s story is definitely a story of intrigue. This is a story of a man who pretty much feels he has his ‘life on the run.’ He had to flee his home of Afghanistan with his family and first settle in Russia, only for all to find another nation to live in. This is a case of three attempts and the frustration of wondering if you’ll ever be free. This is about feeling that you have to hide the truth of yourself even though you’re now living in a free country. This is about even hiding a truth about yourself that is forbidden and seen as shame in your home country. I think that’s the point of the story. About hiding things. It starts off as a case that Amin has a lot to hide. However over time, he opens up. Hidden truths about himself no longer become a taboo. It’s a case as we see the story unravel over time just as we get to the part where he outs himself to his siblings.

This is a story of from a life of refuge to a newly discovered freedom. When you look at it, Amin’s freedom in Denmark is the best thing to happen to him. We all see he had to deal with life in Russia along with his siblings. Even without attempts to immigrate, Russia was no place for them. Not as they were constantly being harassed. Afghanistan was no place for them either as their father may had been killed and they would be in pursuit. It’s especially no place for Amin as his sexuality was obvious at a young age. If he had not fled from Afghanistan in his lifetime, he could have been executed for his homosexuality. That really gets you thinking. Especially when we recently heard about the return of the Taliban to power. It’s something how Amin is born in a country with the harshest attitude towards homosexuality and finds himself in one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage!

I give top accolades to writer/director Jonas Poher Rasmussen. He’s done films about people’s struggle with homosexuality before. The story does a very good job as it goes from the interview to the re-enactments of Amin’s past. From running down the streets listening to Take On Me to the family forgetting their problems as they watch Mexican soap operas, it does a good job of telling the story while mixing other elements in the background. The images do a great job in capturing the drama of the time. The voice acting was also very good. The animation from Sun Creature Studio did an excellent job of depicting the story in both the present and the past. The addition of the music of the times and of the Mexican soap operas also add to the story.

Flee is a great animated film about a man who feels like he has always had to be on the run. On the run from danger, on the run from authorities, on the run to achieve freedom, and on the run from how he was meant to live and who to love. It’s an eye-opener and a delight to see at the same time.

UEFA EURO 2020: Semifinal Predictions

Four teams left. Who will be the finalists for Sunday?

Hard to believe it took 135 goals in the 48 matches in 11 stadiums in 11 nations to decide the four semifinalists. Anyways the four semifinalists have all been decided: Denmark, England, Italy and Spain. All semifinals and the final for the Cup will be held in London’s Wembley Stadium. You can expect a lot of chants of ‘It’s Coming Home’ to echo. In the meantime, here’s my focus and predictions on the two Euro 2020 semi-finals:

SEMIFINAL #1: ITALY vs. SPAIN

Head-to-Head Stuff: Spain and Italy have played each other 33 times. Nine times they drew. The other 26 times, the results have been split! Their last head-to-head match was in September 2017 during World Cup qualifying which Spain won 3-0. Spain has won five of the last ten meetings including the 2012 Euro final for the Cup. Italy’s only won two of the last ten but their last win over Spain was a Euro 2016 rematch in the Round of 16 where they won 2-0!

Team By Team Analysis:

ITALY: Italy is a team that went from a national embarrassment to success in most recent years. We’re talking about a nation with one of the world’s biggest football legacies with three World Cup and winning Euro 1968. However recent years after their most recent World Cup win in 2006 would soon expose some of Italy’s weaknesses. They failed to win a game at the 2010 which they were defending World Cup champions and found themselves out in the Group Stage. Another out in the Group Stage happened at the 2014 World Cup. 2016 failed to redeem them as they were out in the quarterfinals of the Euro that year. And them World Cup qualifying. Italy was in Group G which was won by Spain. With Italy being second in the group, they were given a playoff chance where they were drawn against Sweden. The first game, that was played in Sweden, the Swedes won 1-0. The second game was to be in Italy, which seemed to assure they would take it. The whole game went scoreless and Sweden was the team going to the World Cup. World Cup 2018 was only the third World Cup without the Italian team present!

What happened after worked in their favor. There would be a new lead of the Italian Football Federation and the team would be managed under Roberto Mancini. The team also showed promise as they would finish third at the under-20 World Cup and fourth at the 2019 under-20 World Cup, showing a lot of potential for young talent to rise. The results turned out to be very winning. Italy’s last loss was to Portugal in September 2018. Italy went through straight wins in 2019. 2020 was a case where they won five of their eight matches and 2021 has been another case of nothing but wins so far. At Euro 2020, they won all three of their Group Stage matches without conceding a single goal. Italy would go on to win their Round of 16 match against Austria and their quarterfinal against Belgium.

Italy find themselves in the semifinal against Spain. Every Euro game, they’ve been showing their renewed strength and reminding people why Italy is a football superpower. However the Spaniards are an experienced team and they might lose out to them. Also if it becomes a case for penalty kicks, it can be a losing battle for Italy as penalty kicks are one of their weaknesses. It will all be decided Tuesday.

SPAIN: Spain is a team that for a long time has been commonly known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers.’ They have always been a team loaded with talent, but couldn’t seem to deliver during the biggest events. Then something changed around the late-2000’s. Spain won their second Euro in 2008. Could it be that Spain could win the World Cup in the near future? The World Cup in 2010 answered that with a big “Yes!” It started off with a loss on their first game, but game after game was win after win up to winning the Cup. Spain continued their success with a win of the 2012 Euro and runners-up at the 2013 Confederations Cup. Then the downfall. At the 2014 World Cup, Spain became the latest defending champion to be out in the Group Stage. Further humiliation came when Spain was out in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016 and the Round Of 16 at the 2018 World Cup.

Things have changed ever since Luis Enrique, who himself represent Spain at three World Cups and Euro 1996. The team began to regroup and reorganize itself better. Of the 35 matches Spain has played since the 2018 World Cup before Euro 2020, they have only lost three matches and won eighteen. Here at the Euro, they started out slowly with drawing the first two games, which is common for Spain, and then let out its best team traits by first winning 5-0 to Slovakia. This then led to a Round of 16 win against Croatia 5-3 in added extra time and a penalty kick win over Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Spain has what it takes to win the semifinal and even the Euro.

They know how to deliver. They just need to do all the right moves in order to make it happen. We should remember that Spain’s 3-3 tie against Croatia after regulation was because of an own-goal. They’re just as capable of losing to Italy as they are winning over Italy. They can’t afford any more bad mistakes or slack play as they’re getting closer to the final.

My Final Verdict:

Fourth straight Euro Italy and Spain cross paths. First was 2008 in the quarterfinals, then 2012 was group play and the final for the Cup, 2016 was the Round of 16, now this semifinal! This is a tough one considering both the head-to-head statistics and the way the two teams have played here in Euro 2020. I anticipate it will end up a 2-2 draw after added extra time that will go to penalty kicks, which Spain will win.

SEMIFINAL #2: ENGLAND vs. DENMARK

Head-To-Head Stuff: England and Denmark have faced each other 21 times. England won 12 of those games. Five have been draws. Denmark has won four. Three of those Denmark victories have been in the last six meet-ups. The most recent being a 1-0 victory over England in October 2020.

Team By Team Analysis:

ENGLAND: England has always been known to have a wealth of talent. And rightly so. Its Premier League showcases the best English football talent has to offer. However the difficulty always comes when trying to get a national team together. So many players who play great for their clubs, and they bring it to the national team. However the national team almost always falls short. Like the team players can’t function properly as a unified team unit. England did win one World Cup all the way back in 1966, but it’s been a struggle since with the most being two fourth-place finishes. England is the only team in the semifinals who never won a Euro; their best result being third-places in 1968 and 1996. However it was 2104 when England appeared to really hit rock bottom when they were out in the Group Stage of World Cup 2014 without a win. Being ousted in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016 didn’t help much either.

Then things changed when they introduced Gareth Southgate, a former Team England player himself, as head manager. Things really improved as the team started to show improvements in their play together. The 2018 World Cup was a case where they finished fourth, but they showed a remarkable improvement in their play and even won their first ever World Cup match on penalty kicks against Colombia! England has since shown impressive play since them. Before Euro 2020, they’ve only lost five of the 30 games they’ve played since and won 21 games. Since Euro began, they haven’t been like Italy and had straight wins, but they do have a tournament milestone that they have not conceded a single goal in the tournament so far. They appear to be getting better every game. For their Round of 16 match against Germany, they won on home soil: 2-0. And to think during Euro 1996, Southgate, who was a player for England at the time, was the one who delivered the missed penalty in the semifinal which got England out! Their 4-0 win over Ukraine was dazzling to watch.

England has the luxury of a talented team that performs better than ever as a team unit. Not to mention the home advantage with the semis and final in Wembley stadium. However it could fall apart right there. Plus that 1-0 loss to Denmark was back in October 2020, so not all that recent. England will have to keep on playing as well as they have in recent games if they want to reach the final for the Cup.

DENMARK: Normally you don’t think of Denmark as a football superpower. I mean they only competed in their first World Cup in 1986 and their best World Cup finish has been the quarterfinals all the way back in 1998. However Euro tells of bigger success. This is Denmark’s fourth time ever in the Top 4. Past success includes a third-place in 1984 and a win in 1992. Denmark did have a downturn in their success as they failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euro. Things changed after they were taken on by Norwegian manager Age Hareide. In qualifying for the World Cup, Denmark finished second in their group against Poland, was pitted against the Republic of Ireland in their playoff matches and won 5-1. Denmark would then go on to finish in the Round of 16. After that was the switch to a Danish manager, Kasper Hjulmand, who has helped make the improvements in the team.

The Danes played their first game in Copenhagen expecting to show the world what they’re made of. Instead the first half of their first game against Finland had a shocker of a moment when midfielder Christian Eriksen suddenly collapsed. The whole stadium was in shock. The whole Danish team was distraught and his wife was heartbroken. The game was ordered to stop. Over time, it became apparent that Eriksen was alive and conscious. Eventually he was taken to a nearby hospital where his condition was diagnosed as cardiac arrest. A bombshell would come the following day that he was deceased for five minutes!

Once it was clear Eriksen was alive and being hospitalized UEFA gave the go-ahead to resume the game more than an hour after it stopped. Many did not like the idea. In the end, Finland won 1-0. Denmark has not fully recovered from the shock when they were to play Belgium. They lost 2-1. Over time, the Danish team overcame the shock. Eriksen recovered well enough to visit his team mates. For their last game against Russia, they really showed what they were made of by winning 4-1. Their Round of 16 match was against Wales which they won 4-0, and then their quarterfinal over the Czech Republic which they won 2-1. As has happened in the past, Denmark has delivered the unexpected. They can deliver the unexpected again in Wembley. However it could easily be the end for them if they don’t play as well as they have in recent games. It can be just as much Denmark’s as it can be England’s on Wednesday. It’s about which team delivers the most.

CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN Update: For those wondering what happened to Christian Eriksen since his cardiac arrest, he has been released from the hospital and has met with teammates in Helsingor, but more importantly, he did undergo a successful operation beforehand on June 18 and he’s since returned to be with is family. No word if he’ll play professional football again. Most leagues won’t allow a footballer to play again after they suffer cardiac arrest.

My Final Verdict: This is a tough prediction, especially since the last England vs. Denmark match was a Danish victory, but I think the win will be England 2-1.

And there you have it. My predictions for the two semifinals of Euro 2020. Hard to believe the final for the Cup is coming so soon. Hard to believe we all had to wait forever for it! Anyways, stay toond!

UEFA EURO 2020 Revised Quarterfinal Predictions

The field has been narrowed from 24 to eight. For most, like myself, not the eight we expected!

Normally I don’t concoct a blog of quarterfinal predictions of a major football tournament if it has a Round of 16. Normally I predict the winners of the Round of 16 matches, then make quarterfinal predictions based on my picks of Round of 16 winners and leave it at that. However those that read my blog of my Round of 16 guesses are undoubtedly laughing at how I only got three right. That explains my rewritten predictions for the quarterfinals. I feel they deserve a redo. So here goes my predictions:

Switzerland vs. Spain – Here is the big irony. Switzerland beat out reigning World Cup holders France on penalty kicks to qualify, and Spain beat out World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia in added extra time to qualify! Additional irony is both teams here had Round of 16 matches that ended with 3-3 after regulation time! Interesting!

This is Switzerland’s first-ever win of a knockout game at a Euro ever, and their first in a major tournament since the 1938 World Cup. For Spain, they’re in familiar territory as they’ve won three Euros and a World Cup in the past. Also in the 22 times the two countries played each other, Switzerland has only won once. Switzerland could come alive in soring prowess like they did against France, but I will predict Spain to win here.

Belgium vs. Italy – Two different teams. One is the result of years of teamwork and perfecting that has taken them to the rank of #1 in FIFA’s World rankings. The other is a fresh team with a history of a legacy that’s making a comeback after failing to qualify for the most recent World Cup. Both teams have one thing in common. They both all have straight wins in this Euro tournament.

This is the one quarterfinal lineup I predicted correctly! Hard to choose. The goal scored by Austrian Sasa Kalajdzic was the first goal Italy conceded not just in Euro 2020 but since their match against the Netherlands in October! Belgium only conceded one goal in Euro 2020 in their group game against Denmark. It’s tough to pick a winner in a quarterfinal of two teams with straight wins in this Euro. I know Italy has beaten Belgium more often in head-to-head matches but I pick Belgium because they are the powerhouse of the moment and this Italian team is a rising power.

Czech Republic vs. Denmark – Another quarterfinal of teams that surprised in their Round of 16 match. Most people would have touted the Netherlands over the Czech Republic. However the Czechs delivered a surprise win of two goals. Also many would have predicted Wales to beat Denmark as they have the more lauded players. Denmark surprised them with four goals!

It’s interesting in these past two games, Denmark scored four goals each game. Their group match against Russia was do or die for them to qualify and it became a case where the Danish Dynamite finally exploded! The Czechs are also a team that appear to be showing their best traits in only their most recent games. For this match, I will predict Denmark because they’re best at pulling surprises. Also if this is a possible draw, which is quite likely with the head-to-head record, I think the Danes will take it in penalty kicks.

England vs. Ukraine – Tuesday was a case where the eventual winners were not the favorites going into their Round of 16 matches. England has been known in recent decades of losing to Germany. How easy we forgot they beat Germany to win the 1966 World Cup. And in the old Wembley Stadium. However it was a case of one of the best English teams ever against a struggling German team and it resulted in a 2-0 win! And in the new Wembley Stadium. Their first win of a knockout game since Euro 1996, which England hosted! And current coach Garreth Southgate was a player for the team back then!

For Ukraine, Sweden had the bigger expectations to win considering they topped their group with two wins and a draw, while Ukraine squeaked in with just a win and two losses. Anything can happen in a match. The game drew 1-1 after regulation and then in the stoppage time of added extra time, Ukraine’s Artem Dovbyk scored the winning goal!

England have not yet conceded a goal during the Euro 2020 tournament. Ukraine have lost games during Euro 2020, but have also delivered some surprise moments. In football, anything can happen. England have won four of the seven head-to-head matches while Ukraine has only won once. I will have to go with England on this. Even though they won’t be in their home country for this quarterfinal, it won’t rob them of their luck.

And there you have it. My revised predictions of the Euro 2020 quarterfinals. Interesting that the quarterfinals is the last round that will have the teams play in alternating cities and countries. The semis and finals will all be held in Wembley. Stay tuned for some exciting play!

UEFA Euro 2020: Knockout Round Predictions

Well the Group Play has just been conducted. There were a lot of surprises and there were a lot of expected results. Whatever the situation, the sixteen qualifiers have all been decided. And after their two days of rest, the Round of 16 starts the knockout part of the Euro en route to deciding the winner of the Cup. So in the meantime, here are my predictions on how I think the games will go:

ROUND OF 16

First off the Round of 16. This is only the second Euro ever to have such a round. One good thing that time around is there isn’t as much huge traveling around from place to place. And here are my predictions with my picks for the winner in bold.

Wales (Group A 2nd) vs. Denmark (Group B 2nd): Wales showed their strength with a win against Turkey and a draw against Switzerland. Their 1-0 loss to Italy showed they are able to rival the best. Denmark is a team that was visibly shaken after the cardiac arrest of Christian Eriksen. However it was in their last group game against Russia that they finally came out of their shell and won. For this match, I predict Wales as they’ve been more consistent in team unity and delivery.

Belgium (Group B Winner) vs. Portugal (Wildcard: A/E/F): Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup. Portugal is defending Euro champions. Belgium have shown their dominance since the start of the tournament. Portugal’s biggest success in Euro 2020 play is their 3-0 win against Hungary. However Cristiano Ronaldo keeps on breaking Euro scoring records! This is a tough one. Belgium’s team prowess against Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring. I will have to go with Belgium to win.

England (Winner Group D) vs. Germany (Group F 2nd): A classic rivalry with landmark moments and moments of infamy such as in both the 1966 and 2010 World Cup. And to make it a bonus, it’s right in Wembley Stadium! This is the only Round of 16 match which has a home team playing!

England has been performing very well as a team and only suffered a scoreless draw against Scotland. Germany show great scoring ability in their games, but their team unity which normally is what takes them far in World Cups and Euros is missing here. Also England is in one of its best eras of team play ever, but their two wins were 1-0: both times scored by Raheem Sterling. A tough one but I’ll go with England in added extra time.

Italy (Winner Group A) vs. Austria (Group C 2nd): Italy came to Euro 2020 with redemption and the chance to show a new Azzurri in mind and they have been excellent. They’ve one all three of their group games scoring seven goals and not conceding one. Actually the last game Italy conceded a goal was against the Netherland way back in October! Austria have reason to celebrate as they achieved their first-ever qualification to the Euro knockout round: one of two Group C teams to make it their first ever. However this is where Austria is going to be brought to an end here. Italy are practically unanimous favorites here, and my pick too.

Netherlands (Winner Group C) vs. Czech Republic (Wildcard: D/F): Like Italy, Netherlands is another powerhouse that failed to qualify for World Cup 2018 and looked to Euro 2020 as a shot of redemption. And like Italy, they won all three of their games. They scored eight goals and conceded only two against Ukraine. The Czechs have also played very well too with Patrik Schick scoring all three of the team’s goals. I’ll predict the Netherlands and their team play.

France (Winner Group F) vs.  Switzerland (Wildcard A/C): France comes out of a tough Group F with two draws and a win that came thanks to a German own-goal. Switzerland has had mixed results but has done a good job in play and scoring. In fact they did a good job scoring in their match against Turkey. France has still shown the better team unity. I predict France to win this match.

Sweden (Winner Group E) vs. Ukraine (Wildcard B/C/D): This marke Sweden’s first time to the knockout round since 2004 and Ukraine’s first time to the knockout round ever! Sweden appeared conservative at first with just having draws but performed very well in their win against Poland. Ukraine is a team that’s unpredictable. It won against North Macedonia. However their 3-2 loss to the Netherlands showed they can contend with the best. Ukraine is a team that can do the unexpected. I predict the win to go to Sweden in added extra time.

Croatia (Group D 2nd) vs. Spain (Group E 2nd): This is a case of both teams playing substandardly their first two games and then pouring it on in their final games. Spain drew against Sweden and Poland, but was spectacular against Slovakia. Croatia first lost to England and then drew to the Czechs, but was brilliant against Scotland. Their win against them here during the Euro is their first victory over the Scots ever! This is a tough one and could be the one Round of 16 match that could be decided on penalty kicks. I’ll go with Croatia.

QUARTERFINALS:

Unlike group play and the England vs. Germany match of the Round of 16, none of the games will have a home team. Here’s my bonus quarterfinal predictions. For each quarterfinal, I assume each prediction I make for the Round of 16 is true, though you know it won’t always be the case. Whatever the situation, here goes:

Belgium vs. Italy – Should this match-up result, it would be interesting. Two teams who won all three of their group games. One team has a reputation for consistency, the other is making a comeback. The Round of 16 games they play in could tell more about them. For now, I think this could go into a draw in which Belgium would win on penalty kicks.

France vs. Croatia – This would be a rematch of the World Cup final. However both teams are not playing as the teams they’re reputed to be. Croatia struggled at first and finally came active in their last group game. France topped Group F, but not without three tough bouts. One important statistic. Croatia has never beaten France in the eight times they’ve played each other. So I’m picking France to win.

Sweden vs. England – This would be exactly like it was during the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals. England have been playing well, but conservatively while Sweden has been delivering better than expected. Despite it, I anticipate that England will take this.

Netherlands vs. Wales – Both teams are unpredictable. Remember that Wales made the semifinals at the last Euro. Netherlands however just qualified for their first Euro knockout stage since 2008. The Dutch have shown their dominance so far and that’s why I think the Netherlands will win this, should this quarterfinal result.

And there are my predictions for the first two knockout rounds. It’s not an easy job as things can change from the Group Stage to the knockout rounds. It should all result in a lot of excitement. And I’ll see you all again in the semis.

UEFA EURO 2020: Group Stage With One Game To Go

To be among the 16 to qualify, it takes two wins to guarantee. The only way it could ever be possible for a team with two wins not qualifying is if all six groups had three teams with two wins and a loss. And that’s extremely unlikely. Whatever the situation, all four teams of each of the six groups have played two games and there are a lot of telling stats. Three have qualified already while twenty others still have the last game as one last chance, and only one is officially out. Here’s how the groups look so far. Those who have already qualified are bolded:

GROUP A:

Italy came to Euro 2020 with the hope of redeeming their reputation in the football world. They delivered 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland to guarantee themselves qualification for the Round of 16. Wales’ 2-0 win over Turkey and 1-1 draw against Switzerland put them in very good chances of qualifying.

For the next game, Italy could lose to Wales and they’d still qualify, but I’m sure they’d want to win or at least draw so that they can keep their #1 status. Wales’ chances of qualifying are healthy, but they would have to win to take the lead in Group A, draw to guarantee 2nd place, or rely on their game stats and goal differentials if they were to lose to Italy. Switzerland will have to win over Turkey if they want to qualify. A draw won’t cut it as game stats and goal differentials decide the four third-placers that qualify. And Turkey will need nothing less than a win for them to have a chance. They’ve lost to Italy and Wales. Only a win against Switzerland will do if they are to have any chance of qualifying.

GROUP B

Many touted Belgium as the team most likely to win Group B based on their third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. With two wins, they’ve already guaranteed a qualification no matter how bad their game against Finland goes. They haven’t completely guaranteed the #1 spot. If Finland beats Belgium they will be the #1 team as a result of head-to-head play.

With Russia and Finland having a win under their belts, drawing can guarantee a 2nd place for Russia and a 3rd-place for Finland which would have to rely on their wildcard stats to qualify. However I’m sure Neither of the teams simply want to draw in their last matches on Monday. Denmark is in the uncomfortable position that they will need to win against Russia if they are to have any chance to qualify. It would not surprise me if the Danish team has been shaken since the collapse of Christian Eriksen. That’s a shocker he was dead for five minutes. It’s very good fortune that the first aid on the field did all the right stuff to resuscitate him and have him taken to a hospital. Actually since Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, it’s a reminder to us all that living is more important than winning.

GROUP C

Most groups would normally have a simple qualifier if they have two wins by now. Group C has an official first-place with the Netherlands! It was their two wins and big goal differential that did it! And I doubt if they will want to lose to North Macedonia in their last game!

The game of Ukraine vs. Austria will be the game for second-place in the group. If there’s a draw, Ukraine will have the advantage because of bigger scoring. Austria could qualify due to the combination of game results and goal differentials. If both qualify for the Round of 16, or either one, it will be their first time ever at the Euro that they do. As for North Macedonia, they have the misfortune of being the first team eliminated. Even if they win against the Netherlands and by a big margin, it won’t matter because of their head-to-head losses to Ukraine and Austria.

GROUP D

Interesting that Groups A to C already have a qualifier guaranteed while Groups D to F don’t have anything decided and it will take Matchday 3 to not just decide it all but decide anything. If if any team in those groups is guaranteed a Top 3 finish, that still doesn’t completely guarantee them qualification. Focusing on Group D, Both first-matches for the group’s teams resulted in wins, but both second-matches on Friday resulted in draws. That means with two teams having a win and a draw and two teams with a loss and a draw, none of the four have secured qualification and all four still have a chance in their third-matches on Tuesday.

In the match of the Czech Republic vs. England, the winner will naturally claim the #1 spot of Group D. If there’s a draw, the Czech Republic has the advantage with better goal differentials. However I’m sure both teams want to win. Croatia and Scotland both have a win and a draw. Croatia leads because of goal differentials and a draw would solidify Croatia to finish in third place, but that most likely won’t be enough to qualify. The six third-place teams will be ranked by game stats and goal differentials. Only the top four will qualify for the Round of 16, and two draws and a loss will most likely make Croatia one of the two third-place packing sooner than they hoped. So either Croatia or Scotland will have to win and nothing less if they want to secure qualification.

GROUP E

Like Group D, Group E has the difficulty of two draws causing the statistics to remain completely undecided for who will qualify. One thing that is certain is that all four still have chances to qualify and it’s up to Matchday 3 to decide it. Sweden has the best luck so far with a 1-0 win over Slovakia despite their scoreless draw against Spain. Despite the loss, Slovakia is second in ranks thanks to their 2-1 win over Poland. Spain, normally a powerhouse, has just two draws while Poland looks like their still waiting to deliver. They’re lucky they saved themselves against Spain 1-1.

Sweden has the luxury that they can qualify simply by drawing, but I doubt if they want a simple draw. Especially since Poland will be hungry for the win. The winner of Slovakia vs Spain will definitely qualify, but Slovakia will have better qualifying chances if they lose because of their win over Poland. You can be sure Spain want to win this. Attempting to qualify on a wildcard with three draws is pushing it. Possible, but pushing it. Also Poland requires nothing less than a win if they want to qualify. Two draws and a loss has very low chances of cutting it. Plus they’d have the added bonus that is they win over Sweden, they’d overtake Sweden in standings because of the head-to-head result!

GROUP F

Group F looked to be the Group Of Death. However a lot of lopsided play has turned a lot of things around unexpectedly. France is one team that has underperformed. One would usually expect a lot of big play from the team that are the reigning World Cup holders. However their 1-0 win over Germany came thanks to an own-goal from Germany’s Hummels and they drew 1-1 to Hungary. Drawing against Portugal will guarantee them qualification, but they will have to win if they want to prove themselves a worthy winner. Isn’t that something? A rematch of the Euro 2016 final happening in group play?

Germany has had it most interesting. They got a loss to France because of an own-goal, but a 4-2 win over Portugal thanks to two own-goals from the Portuguese! A draw against Hungary will guarantee them qualification, but Hungary won’t make it easy as they will want to win. Despite the loss, Portugal are still in good contention after their 3-0 win over Hungary. They can still qualify if they lose to France, but they would have to rely on goal differentials to see if their stats are good enough for the wildcard berth. Finally Hungary proved themselves strong players by drawing 1-1 against France, but they need nothing less than a win against Germany if they want to qualify. That’s how it is for them with just a loss and a draw.

And there you go. This is how things look right now with the teams of Euro 2020 with only one game to go. Matchday Three will finalize everything to decide the thirteen others who will advance and the seven others who will be packing for home sooner than they hoped. Looking forward to it!

UEFA EURO 2020: Intro and Group A and Group B Focus

Euro 2020 which starts on Friday the 11th will be a multi-nation event contested in eleven stadiums in eleven countries.

The 2020 UEFA European Football Championships, or Euro 2020, were one of many big sporting events of 2020 that had to be cancelled out because of the pandemic. The Euro was relocated to 2021 in hopes that conditions would improve and that the tournament would be contested. The UEFA Euro will take place in 2021, with the first game to start on Friday, June 11th, but will still keep its original name Euro 2020.

For the 2020 tournament, Michel Platini intended back in 2012 not to have a single host-nation for the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Instead he decided to have multiple host stadiums in multiple nations as a ‘romantic’ one-off event to celebrate the tournament’s anniversary. The event was originally planned for 13 stadiums in 13 nations. It eventually was reduced to 11 stadiums in 11 nations.

The 2020 Euro is the first major multi-nation sporting event to take place since the pandemic started. UEFA wants crowds for the tournament, but is well aware of the precautions they will need to take during this pandemic. This is what led to Aviva Stadium in Dublin to withdraw from the tournament as they couldn’t guarantee spectators could attend. Spain also relocated their site from Bilbao to Seville as there was a bigger guarantee there spectators could attend matches. Also worth noting is that this is the first Euro in which VAR (Video-Assisted Referee) technology will be included.

All stadiums except Puskas Arena will have limited crowd sizes to prevent the spread of the pandemic. However Puskas Arena organizers say it will maintain stadium entrance requirements. One note about the stadiums is that the host country of the stadium would not guarantee their national team’s qualification. Nine of the eleven nations hosting games were successful in qualifying their team for the tournament. Here’s a list of the stadiums for the tournament. Asterisk (*) denoted national team did not qualify:

Final, Semi-Finals, Round of 16 Matches and Group Matches
Wembley Stadium – London, England
Quarterfinal and Group Matches
Baku Olympic Stadium – Baku, Azerbaijan*
Stadio Olimpico – Rome, Italy
Allianz Arena – Munich, Germany
Krestovsky Stadium – St. Petersburg, Russia
Round of 16 Match and Group Matches
Parken Stadium – Copenhagen, Denmark
Puskas Arena – Budapest, Hungary
Johan Cruyff Arena – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Arena Nationala – Bucharest, Romania*
Hampden Park – Glasgow, Scotland
La Cartuja Stadium – Seville, Spain
Group Matches
Friends Arena – Stockholm, Sweden
Millennium Stadium – Cardiff, Wales

And now to get with my common tradition every World Cup or Euro, my group-by-group review of the teams competing at the Euro. For my blogging, I decided to review two groups in each post. Note that this might be harder than in most years: both blogging two groups and making predictions altogether. It’s quite possible the pandemic may have changed a lot of team statures. It’s quite possible teams that didn’t have such a high expectation the first time around could be better this time or teams with a high standing before the pandemic can end up being worse. Anyways here’s my review and prediction with the most recent FIFA ranking in brackets:

GROUP A

Overall Group A is a mixed bag. They have a traditional powerhouse in Italy and three teams that could pull a surprise. It can go any which way.

Turkey (29) – Turkey is a nation with a proud football legacy. They have a third-place finish at both a World Cup and a Euro as their best-ever results. Their current roster is full of good players. Four play for England’s Premier League, four for French teams, four for Italian and one each in Spanish and German leagues. However Turkey’s success has been known to have a yo-yo effect. They do very well in the years leading up to the Euro but struggle during the year before the World Cup. That may explain why they’ve only qualified for three World Cups.

These past two years, Turkey has played very well only losing to Hungary. They’ve drawn against top-ranked teams like Germany and Croatia and even won against the Netherlands in World Cup qualifying. Chances look good that the Crescent-Stars could defy all expectations this Euro and come out better than most expected.

Italy (7) – The Azzurri have normally been one of the most admired and most feared football teams in the world. Their reputation took a beating during the 2018 World Cup qualifying when they failed to qualify for the tournament. Russia 2018 was only the third World Cup ever where Italy was not present! The coach was subsequently fired and the President of the Italian Football Federation resigned in response.

Here in Euro 2020, the Azzurri come as a team with a lot to prove. All was not lost to Italy in 2017. The same year they failed to qualify for the World Cup, Italy’s under-20 men’s team finished third at the Under-20 World Cup. Their last loss came to Portugal in September 2018. Italy had an excellent 2019 in Euro qualifying winning all of their games. Their biggest win was 9-1 over Armenia. They’ve also proven themselves with wins over teams like the Netherland, Poland and the Czech Republic in recent years. Italy knows it has a lot to prove and Euro 2020 is the perfect domain for the new Italian team to prove itself.

Wales (17) – Many people the success of team Wales due to Gareth Bale. However the success is a team effort. In fact Bale isn’t the most capped member of the current Welsh team. Defender Chris Gunter is. Also goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey has more caps than Bale. Eighteen players play for the Premier League and one plays for Juventus. Back at the last Euro, The Dragons surprised everybody when they became semifinalists. And that was their first-ever Euro! However their prowess at the Euro didn’t carry over for World Cup qualification.

It’s interesting Cardiff is one of the Euro 2020 venues but team Wales won’t play any of their Group games there! Recently Wales has shown a mixed bag of results in terms of their play. They’ve achieved wins over Mexico and the Czech Republic. However they’ve also had losses to England, Belgium and France. This group looks to be a good group for Wales to play in and their chances to advance are good. Euro 2020 will give them the chance to prove themselves again.

Switzerland (13) – Switzerland has always been a team that is full of talent but doesn’t seem to reach high. These last twenty years, they qualified for the last four World Cups, but the furthest they ever got was the Round of 16. 2016 was the first Euro Switzerland made it past the Group Stage, but it ended at the Round of 16 match against Poland there.

Switzerland’s play since World Cup 2018 has been mostly up and down. They’ve had wins against Iceland and Belgium, but they’ve had losses against England, Portugal, Spain and 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar. They have had a great 2021 winning all five of their pre-Euro matches. Euro 2020 can be an exciting time for team Switzerland to prove what they have.

My Prediction: Judging how things look, I predict Italy to top the group with Wales coming in second. I anticipate Turkey to be third and to be a wildcard qualifier.

GROUP B

It’s easy to assume certain teams of Group B will do better than others, but don’t be too fooled. Surprises could come and the big favorites may not come out on top.

Denmark (10) – Denmark is known for mixed success. One quadrennial, they’re there. Another quadrennial, they’re in a slump. They failed to qualify for Euro 2016 but they were successful in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup where they made the Round of 16. The current team consists of six members in the Premier League, seven players in Italy’s league and four in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Since 2020, Denmark’s only lost games came to Belgium. They’ve won against England and Sweden and even drew against Germany. Their biggest win was 8-0 over Moldova. Chances look good for The Red And White to be able to prove themselves. They may not have the same form as they did when they won in 1992 but Denmark could have their best result since.

Finland (54) – Many regard Finland as one of the least successful football teams in all of Europe. Finland is the biggest European nation never to qualify for a World Cup. This will be the very first Euro Finland has ever qualified for. The players play for various leagues throughout Europe and in the MLS.

The current Finnish team will surprise you. Since the start of 2020, they’ve had wins against Greece, Sweden and France. 2021 however has been a difficult year for them. They haven’t had a single win and have lost to Switzerland, Finland and Estonia. Finland comes to Euro 2020 as possibly the biggest underdog. However anything can happen during the total 270 minutes of Group Stage play.

Belgium (1) – Possibly the biggest change of football in the last ten years has to be the mega-success of team Belgium. The 2010’s saw a turnabout where The Red Devils went from delivering substandard play to suddenly performing as one of the best team units in the world. With players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany, Belgium wen from underachievers to a third-place finish at the 2018.

As for Euro, Belgium’s best result is runners-up in 1980. Belgium definitely want to do better than the quarterfinal finish they had at the last Euro. Belgium have continued their winning ways since the World Cup. They’ve had wins over teams like Switzerland, Russia and England. England is also the only team they lost to, during a Nation’s League match in October 2020. Euro 2020 is a good chance for Belgium to show Europe what they’re made of. Possibly even clinch their first-ever win.

Russia (38) – Russia’s abilities and prowess as a team was always very questionable leading up to the 2018 World Cup which they were host nation. During the World Cup, Russia sent a message to the world just how good their team really is by finishing in the quarterfinals. All but four of the team’s current players play in the Russian Premier League. The other four play in leagues in France, Spain, Italy and Turkey.

Since 2020, Russia has had a mixed bag of results. They’ve won against Serbia and Hungary. However they’ve also endured losses to Sweden, Serbia and Slovakia as well as draws to Turkey and Poland. In football anything can happen. And Russia could just end up going further in Euro 2020 than most people expected.

My Prediction: I’m tempted to say Belgium will top this group with Denmark being second. I expect Russia to be third, but I don’t know if their stats will hold up for their qualification.

And there you have it. That’s my first review of the groups for Euro 2020. More reviews of the groups coming your way. Remember that the tournament is just three days from starting!

VIFF 2018 Review: The Guilty (Den skyldige)

Some of you are wondering when will I finish with my blogs about the VIFF? This is my fourth-last review. The end is coming very soon.

guilty
The Guilty is a unique drama which centres on the officer (played by Jakob Cedergren) and the voices he hears through his headset.

I usually like film that delivers the unexpected. That’s the best thing about the VIFF. The Guilty is a Danish film that delivers on surprises in the best way.

The film begins with Asger Holm operating the emergency call system at the Copenhagen police department. He has his call technology with him which includes the computerized phone system and a monitor consisting of a map mapping out the geographical range of the cellphone calls he receives. His calls are mostly mundane as it’s an evening and of situations that aren’t so violent and more cases of stupidity. Asger also receives the occasional phone calls from his lawyer. Cellphone calls on his personal line are not allowed during his job.

Soon there’s a call he receives that causes him concerned. It’s of a woman named Iben. She first tries to hit on Asger, but we soon learn she’s in the back of an SUV driven by Michael, her ex-husband. The monitor shows her travelling close to the Sjaeland area but there’s no knowledge what the car looks like or the license place. Asger tells police along the route to look out for a white van, which no one finds. Asger researches her ex-husband’s name and finds out he’s a convicted felon. On top of that, Iben has two small children she misses a lot.

We should keep in mind Asger is nearing the end of his shift, and must transfer whatever feedback to the next person who will be working the shifts. Nevertheless Asger sticks to it. Asger sends police to the house to tend to the small children while he tries to get police to chase the van. Asger receives a phone call from the police who visited the house. The police found the daughter with blood all over her but no wound. However they found the infant son dead with stab wounds all over him. Asger is convinced that Michael committed the murder. Asger learns the van has stopped and tells Iben to get something where she can hit Michael on the head  as part of an escape. She does so. When Michael calls in about being hit on the head, Asger lashes out at him and hangs up.

Now that Iben has escaped, it’s a matter of keeping her in a single location until the police arrive. Meanwhile Asger receives distracting phone calls from his lawyer about his trial for tomorrow. Asger will go on trial for the wrongful shooting death of a 19 year-old. Right while Asger is keeping Iben on the line, he learns a shocking result. Iben thought there were snakes inside her infant son. So she took a knife and stabbed him to cut them loose. Asger now has more to deal with. He first has to let his fellow police know of the shocking turn of events. He also has to deal with Michael and reassure him that he now accuses him of nothing and to stay calm. Also Iben now wants to jump into the coast water, now realizing the terrible thing she did. Asger reassures him and keeps her calm. Asger even tells her about the wrong he is about to face the music about. It works as Asger is able to keep Iben on the line and for police to come to her. The ordeal finally ended on the right note as Asger walks off.

This is more than just a detective story. This is a film that allows us to be the judge and jury of the whole action too. All we have is Asger on the phone, the police computer screens and those on the phone Asger converses with. The story is successful in giving us a scenario where we all think a common thing and make common assumptions: that Iben is abducted by her ex-husband, that Michael murdered his infant son, that Michael will murder Iben next. However it’s right in the middle that we are reminded that what we think we know is not the true story. I even remember hear gasps  or reactions of shock in the audience when it was made clear that Iben killed her infant son. That is the top quality of the story. With it being in one location and consisting of telephone conversations adding to the story, it allows us to confront what we thought we knew and shock us with the truth that we don’t see, but hear. Also the cellphone conversations to Asger along the side appear to be distractions to the story at first, but later prove vital in telling the story about Asger. It too gives us our own thoughts at the beginning, but later reveals a truth we didn’t know.

I have seen a lot of single-location films before. However I thought for the longest time that it would be next to impossible to do a single-location feature-length film. This film proved me wrong. It may have switched rooms on occasion, but it kept the story within the same building and was able to use it with the use of cellphones or computer terminals. The phone conversations that deliver the unseen drama work to the quality of the film and help make the story. I know I said the film’s gift is working with what we don’t know or what we assume at first. Everything in which the film did helped make the story work for us and kept us glued to our seat.

The story is not only about what happens through the phone conversations. The story is also about Asger Holm. When the film begins, we first think it’s about an officer assisting on an emergency line at the police station and that the story is mostly about Iben. Later on we learn the story is also about Asger.  We are led to believe that emergency operator is his assigned job. We often wonder why Asger won’t leave the crime situation to others, even after he’s told his shift is over. We wonder if he cares about being fired. It’s later we learn that Asger has a blemish too. The following day, Asger will need to go on trial for the shooting death of a 19 year-old. We soon understand his phone operations are not his job. It’s because he has been demoted since the shooting incident. As for continuing with dealing with Iben, it appears more than just sticking to it and doing the right thing despite the risks to his job. I think he knows this day will be his last day of any kind of police work and that may be the additional reason why he’s doing it. He know that his career will end with a blemish and I believe he wants his last act of police work to be a job of dignity. At the end of the film, he is not acknowledged at all by his co-workers and walks off. Nevertheless we in the audience know the excellent work he did. It is quite something how a policeman about to face trial becomes the one who prevents Iben from committing suicide and puts her in the right hands.

This film is an excellent work by Gustav Moller. This is actually Moller’s first-ever feature length film with only brief experience doing a short and two television episodes. This film he directs and co-writes with Emil Nygaard Albertsen who’s also mostly known for work in TV and shorts really delivers on the story and is excellent pieced together. The story becomes like a puzzle that needs to be pieced together piece-by-piece and it succeeds greatly in piecing it all together. Also excellent is the acting from Jakob Cedergren. The story is him, the computers and the phone calls he receives. Being the one who centres on the crime story as well as other stories that surround him through outside cellphone calls, he makes the story work and makes it interesting. He helps us focus on the situation and makes what could be a boring story interesting, thrilling and even thought-provoking. Also excellent was the acting of Jessica Dinnage. There’s no physical acting here. The only acting we have of Jessica is her voice through her cellphone calls. Nevertheless her voice-acting was perfect in both telling the story and in embodying the character. Her voice over the phone and the things Iben said really made the unexpected drama happen.

The Guilty is Denmark’s entry in the Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film. The film won the Audience Awards at Sundance as well as a nominee for the Grand Jury Prize. The film has also won a wide variety of awards at other film festivals such as the Critics Choice Award at the Zurich Film Fest, the Special Circle Jury award at the Washington DC Film Fest, the IFFR Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Fest and the World Cinema Winner at the Montclair Film Fest.

The Guilty is a remarkable film. Not just because of how it’s filmed on a single location, but also because of how it reminds us what we think is not what’s fact. Definitely an unforgettable eighty-five minutes.

******************

This blog is dedicated to Uncle Rick,

My Blog’s biggest fan.

1952-2018

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group C

Group C may prove to be one of the groups that’s hardest to predict. Some may appear to be clear favorites or likely to be eliminated at the end, but don’t be so quick to judge. Don’t forget nobody expected Costa Rica to top Group D at the last World Cup. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group C:

France fixed-France (7)- Les Bleus has had a reputation of being an all-or-nothing team. France is never short on talent. The 2014 World Cup saw a lot of young French talent on the rise like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezman. This World Cup’s team promises a big mix of the old and the new. The team is still coached by legend Didier Deschamps and are poised to perform very well, especially after the strength of making it to the finals of Euro 2016. France’s play since Euro 2016 has been consistent with wins against England and the Netherlands, but they have also lost to Sweden 2-1 and Columbia 3-2. 2018 is an opportunity for France to win their second World Cup. It’s a matter of them all being there and delivering.

Australia-Australia (40)- When Australia made it to the Round of 16 at the 2066 World Cup, people were expecting more to come from the Socceroos. However they haven’t done as well as originally hoped. In fact they’re coming back from three straight losses in 2014. Not everything is down for Australia. They did win the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Their play is still struggling to show. The only win against a team outside of Asia was against Honduras in a World Cup playoff.

Australia is coached by Bert van Marwijk who coached the Netherlands to the World Cup final. The team consists mostly of players from the Premier League and Australia’s A-League. 38 year-old Tim Cahill leads the team in what will be his fourth World Cup. The team has a good mix of young and old. Australia can provide another surprise again.

Peru-Peru (11)- Ten of this year’s teams at this year’s World Cup had to wait longer than four years to return to the World Cup stage. Peru has had the longest wait of all: 36 years to be exact. Things have changed ever since they’ve been coached by Argentine Ricardo Gareca who was part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning team. The team consists of players whom play mostly for teams in North and South America. The players are a good mix of youth and experience with defenseman Alberto Rodriguez leading. Peru may have the most experience playing against South American teams, but they’ve had three wins this year against European teams like Croatia, Iceland and Scotland. Peru could be the surprise of the Cup.

Denmark fixed-Denmark (12)- The last time the Danish Dynamite made it to the World Cup was back in 2010. There they didn’t advance past the group stage. Since then, they’re recently acquired Norwegian coach Åge Hareide. The team was able to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and finished in the quarterfinals. They’ve done very well having not lost a game since 2016. They’ve had some notable wins against teams like Ireland and Poland and even drew against Germany last year. Denmark’s current lineup consists of players mostly from the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. Denmark looks poised to be one of the teams from Group C to advance. Russia will be their big test.

Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be France and Peru that will advance.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Two more stadiums. Both in focus are at least five years old. Both were also built to host major events before this World Cup.

-KAZAN : Kazan ArenaKazan Arena

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 45,379

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 & a quarterfinal

Kazan Arena was first build to host the 2013 World University Games. Kazan Arena has also hosted the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe and the largest LED installed on a football stadium in the World.

After the World Cup, Kazan Arena will be the home venue of team FC Rubin Kazan, replacing the 25,000-seat Central Stadium.

-SOCHI : Fisht Olympic StadiumSochi Fisht

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 41,220

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & A quarterfinal

If you remember the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, you will remember this stadium very well. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies took place. You may also remember the hefty price tag of the Sochi Olympics. This stadium cost $779 million to build!

Names after Mount Fisht, the stadium was originally built to be an enclosed stadium, but has stayed an open-air stadium since 2016 in order to conform with FIFA rules. The stadium complex now serves as a training centre and match venue for the Russia national football team.

And there you have it. The four teams of Group C and two more stadiums. Less than two weeks to go!

Oscars 2016 Shorts Reviews: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:

ANIMATED:

-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.

The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.

-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.

I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.

-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?

It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.

-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.

Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.

-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.

And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:

-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?

It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.

-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?

It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.

-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.

They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.

It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.

-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.

Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay?  Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.

-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.

At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.

And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.

With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.

 

VIFF 2015 Review: In Your Arms (I Dine Hænder)

In Your Arms is a Danish film that's about more than granting someone their wish to die.
In Your Arms is a Danish film that’s about more than granting someone their wish to die.

Let’s face it, films about euthanasia are rarely watchable. However Danish film In Your Arms (I Dine Hænder) succeeds in making a film that’s watchable and even entertaining and touching.

Niels is  a man with a debilitating illness. First it left his legs useless, then its making his arms more useless day by day, and Niels wants to die. Maria is a nurse at Niels’ hospital who longs for freedom, especially after the end of a troubling romance. Maria finds it very hard to be a nurse to Niels, one of her many patients. She finds him very stubborn and selfish, especially after he recently tried to slit his wrists.

Niels has a wish to die. He wants to be taken to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. His mother and brother don’t want it, feeling it’s just Niels being selfish again. Maria is reluctant at first but agrees to comply. She has decided to be the one to accompany Niels on his trip from Copenhagen to Switzerland which also consists of a stop in Hamburg, Germany.

After his family bids Niels good-bye, Niels and Maria board the train and it’s there that the two get to know more about each other, such as their likes and their personal lives. In Hamburg, Niels wants to be taken to places where he spent his younger years, especially the restaurants and bars.

During the time, he’s able to meet again with people from the past. Maria meets two key people. One is Niels ex-girlfriend from his ‘Hamburg Days.’ She learns he has a four year-old son. The other is the pub manager. He invites Maria to visit during the night. Maria agrees and it’s over at the pub that night it appears that Maria is able to live again. Unfortunately it comes at a price to Niels as she’s not there to help him first thing in the morning. Niels does not want his son to see him dying so she is able to make Niels watch his ex-girlfriend pick up his son so he can see him for the first and only time in his life.

During the trip, it appears as though the relation of Maria and Niels is growing. Often making one question it’s a friendship or even more. As Maria drives down the wide roads of Germany to the Swiss border, the two decide to take in the nature that they view. Maria even swims in the lake despite how snowy cold the day is. Then they finally reach Switzerland and visit the clinic where Niels wants to end his life. After receiving details of what the following day will entail, Maria spends one last night with Niels. The ending is somewhat predictable and melodramatic but done right.

I don’t think this film is trying to peddle the message of euthanasia, although it’s obvious the film maker has no qualms about it. As for me, I’ll save my view. However it appears the film is not about euthanasia. This looks like many film before it of a dying person spending their last days. Even still I believe it is to do about the relation between the two. At first, both Maria and Niels were polar opposites. He was an ailing patient in the care facility. She was a nurse who just happened to take care of him along with the others. The chances of the two being friends were slim to none but it was that trip that changed it. The film does question whether Niels did love Maria all along or if Maria did love Niels in any which way. The bond of friendship was obvious but was it more than that? I think the film maker wants to keep us guessing. Even despite whatever friendship occurred, Maria knew she still had to honor Niels’ wish even though it would hurt her dearly.

It’s not just about the two together but the two as individuals. Niels has had it with life. The disease has taken away all that he has to live for. Maria longs to live but her job and failures at relationships prevent her. It’s when the two join together on the trip that things become better for them. Niels is able to die content and Maria is able to discover her freedom within herself.

I will admit that this is a rather short film. Nevertheless this is a good melodrama that presents itself well. Samanou Acheche Sahlstrom has written and directed a good drama that centres on the characters both as individuals and as a pair. It’s the bond that occurs during the time of the trip that helps make the story. The acting from both Lisa Carlehed and Peter Palugborg made the story work as well as develop the necessary chemistry for the film. In Your Arms has won two awards at the Gothenburg Film Festival and was nominated for a producers award at the Hamburg Film Festival. Here at the VIFF, it made its North American debut.

In Your Arms may be short and may lack the qualities to make it a film of renown. What it achieves is honest sensitivity and a connection to the story and its main characters.