Tag Archives: Mexico

2017 Confederations Cup Preview

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The 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup will take place in Russia one year before they are to host the World Cup.

With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.

Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.

While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:

  • Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
  • Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
  • Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
  • Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.

The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.

Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.

NZL-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.

Mexico-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.

Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.

GROUP B:

Cameroon-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.

ChileChile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.

AustraliaAustralia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.

Germany fixed-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.

Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.

And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.

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VIFF 2016 Review: We Are The Flesh (Tenemos La Carne)

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Noe Hernandez plays a svengali-like philosopher of a man with a warped desire for control in We Are The Flesh.

DISCLAIMER: This film review will mention of various explicit acts and may offend some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

“This is not your average party!”

Back in 2014, I ended the VIFF with a Mexican film that was part of the Altered States series called The Incident. I end my VIFF at the Rio Theatre again with another Mexican film part of Altered States called We Are The Flesh. And boy was it something!

The film begins with Mexico City in a completely ruined state. A recluse of a man taking shelter in a hidden location: one of the few livable locations left. Even without uttering a word, he displays some eccentric human behaviors. Even making a bizarre mix of batter, fish and human blood. He talks of the essential elements and of gas.

Two siblings find their way into his location. They’ve been out in the city’s ruins for years and are in need of food and shelter. The man, named Mariano, teaches the two his beliefs and his philosophies. He offers to help them but they must comply to his demands. First he wants them to help him build his domain. They agree, building the walls to his desires. Then he wants the two to have sex. It’s a world where there are no laws. Not even anti-incest laws. The sister complies, fellating the brother. The acts become even more explicit and Mariano dies while masturbating watching them.

The two try to find a place for Mariano’s body. After they find a place in the area, they’re left to their vices on how to fend for themselves. The sister has been mesmerized by Mariano and does things according to the way he wants it but the brother is hesitant. Suddenly Mariano appears again. It’s like he came back to life. But he’s not ready to die yet.

Mariano wants to make sure his world is created before he can die. Cannibalism is part of Mariano’s world. The first victim is a soldier who finds his way into Mariano’s domain. The soldier is scared for his life but Mariano is able to calm him down with his mesmerizing talk and even having him singing along to the Mexican national anthem before being killed by Mariano and the sister. Before Mariano is to sacrifice his own body as flesh to be eaten, he needs more people to be part of his world. Over time the number of people grow. Mariano is then ready to die and have his flesh consumed. The film ends with a man in a dress making his way out of the world and into Mexico City which has returned to its normal state.

Without a doubt the film creates another world: a deeply disturbing world. This world is to be a shelter from a ruined city but instead it’s a world completely devoid of morals and full of lust and animalistic desires. This is the world created by Mariano. This is the world he tries to incorporate the brother and sister into. This is the world he wants to incorporate others into before he decides to leave this earth for good. However it’s a sick world, a world where unspeakable things like incest and cannibalism are the norm because there are no earthly rules. The rules are all gone because Mexico City outside is a load of debris. The two have no choice but to help Mariano create his world and become a part of it.

To make this world work, it all boils down to the character of Mariano to work. Mariano isn’t just a svengali. He comes across as a crazy man full of his wild imagination at first. However he also comes across as a mesmerizing madman reminiscent of Charles Manson of how he’s able to convince the sister that it is the right thing to do all these things including kill the soldier. Mariano’s mind control goes as far as working on the soldier he’s about to kill. The soldier is first scared for his life but as Mariano sings the national anthem, the sister joins in as does the soldier and the soldier is then willing to be killed. That’s the type of mesmerizing mind-control of Mariano. However Mariano knows that if he was to die, it would have to be at the right time. It’s only after hundreds of people become a part of his world that he’s able to sacrifice his body for his feeding. He wanted it that way so that he could create a world of his own. He couldn’t stop at just the brother and sister.

One thing about this film, it’s obvious it’s done for artistic and experimental purposes. This film features countless elements that would make this film uninviting and unwatchable: incest, cannibalism, torture, murder and a demented insanity. It may not be as disturbing to watch as 1975’s Salo but it’s disturbing enough. The subject matter of incest and cannibalism is enough to deter lots of people from seeing this.

Obviously this is a film meant for the film festival circuit. In order for a film like this to get screened, it would need support. Emiliano Rocha Minter is a director who has earned acclaim from fellow Mexican directors Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Support of the director from elder Mexican directors is a definite boost for a film like this. However it would surprise me if a film like this does get a release in a box office anywhere. I know dildos were used in certain sex scenes and you can’t call it porn, but even knowing that doesn’t stop those scenes from being hard to stomach. Even with the film being hard to watch, there were some scenes that became confusing. One example: that batter that we see Mariano make at the beginning and then add more flesh to it in a later scene. It’s not clear what it’s for. Even the ending with a person who’s not one of the main characters being the first one to leave gets one questioning.

The film’s possibility of a box office release may be in question but it has actually won some acclaim at some film festivals. The film was nominated for one award at the East End Film Festival two awards at the Rotterdam Film Festival including a Bright Future Award. It even won Best Film at the Fantasia Film Festival.

This is the first feature-length film for writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter. As I mentioned, Cuaron and Inarritu are already touting him as the next big thing from Mexico. I don’t know if a film like this is good enough to send a message that Minter could be the next big thing from Mexico but it definitely shows his fearlessness. The acting of Noe Hernandez is the highlight of the film. He did an excellent job in capturing Mariano with his eeriness, controllingness and insanity but also his creepy charisma and imagination. It took the right character choices for a lead character like Mariano to work for the film and Hernandez made it work. The next-biggest highlight is Maria Evoli who played the sister. Going from a naive young adult woman to a follower of Mariano is definitely a big effort. The music from Esteban Aldrede added to the eeriness and creepiness of the film.

We Are The Flesh can best be summed up as an ‘envelope pusher.’ It’s definitely an over-the-top film that’s meant for the film festival circuit as it has subject matter too discomforting for your average movie-goer. Even though it can cause many people to leave the cinema, those that stay will be as intrigued as they will be disgusted.

And there you have it. That’s a wrap for my experience at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Wrap-up blog coming soon with big news.

VIFF 2016 Shorts Segment: Teen Trouble

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One thing about the VIFF is that you will have the opportunity to see shorts films whether it be a short shown before a feature or a segment of shorts assembled together. They pack a lot of entertainment value for something brief in length. The first shorts segment I was lucky to see was Teen Trouble. It consisted of seven different shorts situated in seven different countries all with a teen-related subject and boy were they entertaining:

-I Love Anna (Finland)- 12 year-old Finnish boy Santeri has always had a crush on Anna: the local farm girl. Anna likes Santeri too. One night Anna’s parents are away and she has to look after her little sister. This could be Santeri’s chance to take it to new levels.

The quality of this short is that it takes you into the excitement of the moment as it progresses without any added music score. It adds to the excitement of the moment. Another added quality is it will remind you of when you fell in love for the first time or even of your own sexual curiosities when you were that age.

-Fabrizio’s Initiation (Argentina)- Sexual feelings many years later. Only Fabrizio is now a 15 year-old Argentinian boy who has been in a relationship with Nadia for over a year. Their chances of doing it for the first time are constantly interrupted. However Fabrizio’s friends derive a plan to make it work by conniving the village elder into giving them his car and fixing it up for the moment. Will this finally be it? The film ends with a surprise in more ways than one.

This is a humorous short about the constant pressure of losing your virginity for the right moment and trying to make it right. Hey, it’s not always prom night! It also will remind you of your own teenage love and of all the stuff you tried to do behind your parents’ back.

-The Law Of Moments (UK)- The lessons of Isaac Newton younger sister Mal studies from physics class play into this drama. Mal and Lucy are teen sisters who lost their closeness as older sister Lucy got involved with partying. It’s been of concern to Mal as she sees Lucy and her mother constantly fighting. One night, Mal goes to the farm to see what kind of crowd she’s hanging with. It’s not pleasant at all. Mal goes to help Lucy only for things to end not as it should.

Here we go from comedy to drama. This is a good story that shows the end at the beginning and how it came to be. The addition of Mal’s physics lesson as well as her childhood memory of her and Lucy on the see saw add style to the story line. Very creative.

-Three Minute Warning (UK/Palestine)- This possibly the darkest short of the segment. Palestinian teen girl Miriam has to look after her mother who has a leg problem. It’s a daily thing which includes cooking for her mother and even assisting her to the bathroom and it robs her of the carefree life most teenage girls have. One night a warning bomb– a bomb sent three minutes before the real bomb is to hit its target– hits their apartment. Miriam has to help her mother make the escape while all the others leave them behind. It’s hopeless and it sets up for the heartbreaking ending.

No doubt Palestinian director Iqbal Mohammed has something to say in this short. It was very well-told and will leave you infuriated with the political situation in the Middle East today.

-On The Roof (Spain)- Five Barcelona teen boys love to go to the top of their apartment balcony to spy on sunbathing women during the summer. Bonus points if they’re topless. One day they go to check out a topless sunbather. One boy, Adrian, spots a naked man showering. He also learns something of himself he never knew. One of Adrian’s friends senses his attraction and reacts with hostility. He even senses it on the youngest of the friends and pressures the young boy to take a photo of the bather standing on the top ledge. Adrian stops and volunteers to do it. The end comes with a surprising result but nothing dreadful.

This short focuses on a teen boy’s discovery of his same-sex attraction which catches him by surprise and causes hostility among one of his friends. The short also focuses on teen male machismo which naturally approaches same-sex attraction with hostile discomfort. A reminder of some of the difficulties gay teens go through.

-Winds Of Furnace (Mexico)- A young Mexican teen boy faces a daily responsibility of looking after his grandmother. One day, two of his friends come to his house with a van they stole. The three go out to have fun in their neighborhood. However you know something will go wrong when they take a body found in the van and dispose of it. It’s the case as a van driven by a cartel crosses their paths and shoots one of the friends. This leads to a vicious chase where the boy fires a gun at the cartel. The ending ends with you thinking this is what’s meant to be.

This short didn’t have its subtitles on at the time so it was hard to make sense. However it was a good story of peer pressure taken to the extreme with the potential for dangerous consequences. The heat of the moment left you wondering if he would be killed by the end. I’m sure a lot of boys in Mexico have gone through this temptation. It’s good to see he was possibly the one who didn’t get killed.

-Aeris (Canada)- A young rising teen snowboarder is seen as a possible future great in the sport. However, the 19 year-old suffers a broken leg during competition requiring plates, screws and months of healing. Months later, she goes snowboarding with her friends to see if she still has it and to get her competitive drive back. This proves difficult as she encounters fans on the mountain and even the fear of her broken leg returning if she tries another jump.

This may be the least heavy short of the seven but it does feature a pressure: a personal pressure young rising phenoms in sport know all too well. It makes for a good snowboarding story. It even gets you fearing for her as well as she questions whether to make that big jump.

In summary, all seven shorts were very good and had a lot to say about teen life in the humorous moments, the tense moments and even tragic moments. All definitely gave an image of what it’s like to be young.

Teen Trouble was an impressive selection of shorts. Anyone can be entertained by something in the selection.

 

2015 Copa America: Tournament Intro and Group A Focus/ Torneo de Presentación y el Grupo A Enfoque

The Copa America has actually been contested longer than the World Cup. Since 1916 to be exact.

The Copa America has actually been contested longer than the World Cup. Since 1916 to be exact.

The biggest football tournament is the FIFA World Cup, right? The second-biggest men’s tournament is UEFA’s Euro, right? What’s the third-biggest? I don’t know either but I think the Copa America should be it. Here, it’s almost like a continental tournament the way the Euro is, adding in two CONCACAF teams. However knowing that the tournament consists mostly of South American teams should draw big football interest. Here we’re talking about a continent that has won nine of twenty FIFA World Cups and continues to show some of the top football prowess in the world today.

HISTORY:

The Copa America actually began fourteen years before the World Cup. The first competition was actually called the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football. It was contested in Argentina on July 2 and July 17, contested in two stadiums in Argentina and featured four teams competing: hosts Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. The competition was decided strictly on round robin play between the four teams. The game results became that the final match, Argentina vs. Uruguay would be a contest to decide the Championship. Argentina needed a win and nothing less because of winning one game and tying another while Uruguay could afford to draw to win the Championship. A scoreless draw is what happened and Uruguay was the first ever Championship winner.

During that time the president of the Uruguayan Football Federation proposed that a continental federation be founded. On July 9, 1916, Argentinian Independence Day, the CONMEBOL was founded. Funny how while Europe and North America were fighting in World War I, South America made advances for football competitions.

The Championship was actually to be a yearly event and except for 1918 because of a flu epidemic in Brazil, it was an annual event until 1928. More countries would be added including Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru. However because of the creation of the World Cup and a bitter rivalry between Uruguay and Argentina, the Championship was no longer an annual event. It would then take a six-year break between 1929 and 1935 and re-emerge either bi-annually or irregularly such as two competitions in 1959. The inclusion of the Copa Libertadores that year affected how those saw the Championships.

The last Championships were held in 1967 but the idea of returning a continental championships for the CONMEBOL countries was still under consideration at the time. In 1975, the Copa America was born. There was no fixed country as round robin games were contested throughout the continent over a period of five months. Only the ten CONMEBOL countries competed and it consisted of round robins, two semi-finals, two finals and a grand final. The continental champion would earn a berth to the upcoming FIFA World Cup for the first and only time. Since then all previous continental championships have been official recognized as Copa Americas.

The Copa America would have its growing pains over the next two decades. It was originally to be a quadrennial event and the format from the 1975 tournament would continue to be the norm where competitions would be scattered throughout the countries and a grand final held in a country other than the finalists’. In 1987, the Copa would then be contested in a single host country. It was held in Argentina that year consisting of three groups of three. The winners of the three groups would qualify for the semifinals with the defending Copa champions automatically earning a semifinal berth. In 1989, the Copa changed to a bi-annual event and was held in Brazil. The Copa consisted of First Round group play of two groups of five. The Top 2 from each group would move to the Second Round of additional round robin play to decide the Copa winner upon play statistics. That would continue to be the format in 1991.

In 1993, the Copa underwent a new format that currently exists today. The Copa held in Ecuador would be the first ever Copa to include two invitees from the CONCACAF countries of North America, Central America and the Caribbean nations. There would be three groups of four with a maximum of one CONCACAF invitee per group, quarterfinals, a semifinal and a final to decide the Copa winner. The event would continue to be bi-annual until 2001 when the next Copa was played in 2004. It would be tri-annual only temporarily until 2007. Since then, the Copa is slated to be a quadrennial event like the Euro except for a commemorative Copa America to be contested in the United States next year to commemorate the event’s centennial.

Here’s something to take note of. As I’ve said in past blogs, sometimes it’s harder for a team to win a continental championship than it is to win the World Cup. Brazil has won eight Copas but the country that has won the most is Uruguay with a total of 15 including the last Copa America in 2011. Argentina has won fourteen. Countries that have never won the World Cup like Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru have won a Copa America. Actually a total of seven countries have won the Copa. No country outside the CONMEBOL has won a Copa but Mexico has been a finalist twice.

Host country Chile has never won the Copa: one of three CONMEBOL countries that have never done so. They’ve been runner-up four times but they’re hoping to win for the first time ever this year. The winner of this year’s Copa America will represent the CONMEBOL at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. So there’s some additional pressure here.

So without further ado, here is my review of the Group A teams. Number in brackets are the FIFA rankings of May 2015:

GROUP A:

Chile-Chile (16): Well, Chile is host this year. It’s actually a good time since Chile is experiencing one of its best eras in football. Chile is actually one South American country long overdue for a major international win. It’s been runner-up to the Copa four times: they’re one of only three CONMEBOL countries never to have won the Copa. Its best World Cup finish was third back in 1962 which they hosted. Nevertheless this could be their competition as anything can happen in football. They’ve had some good plays since the World Cup where they were ousted by Brazil once again. They still face a tough rivalry with Brazil as they lost to them in a March friendly 1-0. Other friendly results include ties with Mexico and Bolivia, a 2-1 loss to Uruguay and wins over Peru and Venezuela. But they also include losses to Iran and Uruguay. Nevertheless football is a game of surprises and they could just do it if they play right.

Mexico-Mexico (22): Mexico is the sleeping giant of football. A country loaded with talent but still waiting for their big breakthrough. The last World Cup didn’t help because they lost their Round of 16 match against the Netherlands on a controversial note. An interesting note: ever since the Copa America has allowed invitees from the CONCACAF to play starting back in 1993, Mexico has qualified every time. Mexico could pull an upset as the first ever non-CONMEBOL country to win the Copa. They’ve had a great 2015 with wins over Ecuador and Paraguay but they’ve also had a loss to the United States back in April. Mexico could be the big surprise of this Group and possibly the whole tournament.

Ecuador-Ecuador (34): The 21st century has definitely been good to Ecuador. They never qualified for a World Cup during the 20th century but this century has given Ecuador berths in three of the four World Cups. Copa America success is a different story as they’ve failed to advance past the first round in all four Copas this century. Their best Copa finish ever is fourth-place finishes in 1959 and 1993. The team is full of talent as they have five players playing in Europe and three in Mexico. However they’ve had a rocky 2015 as they’ve lost to Mexico and Argentina. Chile will be another proving point for them.

Bolivia-Bolivia (92): Bolivia is an on-again off-again team in terms of success. They’ve played in three World Cups: the last being in 1994. They have won the Copa before in 1963 as hosts and was runner-up when they hosted again in 1997. They’ve had greats before like Luis Cristaldo and Erwin ‘Platini’ Sanchez but their team lacks the depth they’ve had. Most of the team plays for Bolivian teams or for lesser celebrated European teams. Whatever the situation, this Copa should be a meet where the Bolivians learn to improve themselves en route to the next World Cup.

PREDICTION:

My prediction for this group is that Mexico will top it with Chile in second. Third will be Ecuador. Instead of predicting if the third-place team will be the wildcard qualifier, I’ll just leave it with a third-place pick.

That wraps up my first blog of the Copa America. Like the next two, I will just predict group finishes and wait until further into the tournament to predict the eventual Copa winner once each team’s performance give indications which ones have the edge. More on Tuesday.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Copa America. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Wikipedia: Copa America>

BONUS: Also you’re in for a treat. I have included a Spanish translation of my blog courtesy of Google Translate!

BONUS: También estás de enhorabuena. He incluido una traducción al español de mi blog cortesía de Google Translate!

¿El torneo de fútbol más importante es la Copa Mundial de la FIFA, verdad? ¿El segundo mayor torneo de los hombres es de la UEFA Euro, verdad? ¿Cuál es la tercer mayor? Yo tampoco lo sé, pero creo que la Copa América debe ser la misma. Aquí, es casi como un torneo continental de la forma en que el euro es, añadiendo en dos equipos de CONCACAF. Sin embargo, sabiendo que el torneo se compone principalmente de los equipos sudamericanos deben atraer el interés de fútbol grande. Aquí estamos hablando de un continente que ha ganado nueve de veinte Copas Mundiales de la FIFA y continúa para mostrar algunas de las proezas de fútbol más importantes del mundo en la actualidad. 

HISTORIA: 

La Copa América comenzó en realidad catorce años antes de la Copa del Mundo. La primera competición se llamaba en realidad el Campeonato Sudamericano de Fútbol. Se disputó en Argentina el 2 de julio y 17 de julio, impugnada en dos estadios en la Argentina y contó con cuatro equipos que compiten: los ejércitos de Argentina, Brasil, Chile y Uruguay. La competición se decidió estrictamente en juego del round robin entre los cuatro equipos. Los resultados de los juegos se hicieron que el partido final, Argentina vs Uruguay sería un concurso para decidir el campeonato. Argentina necesitaba una victoria y nada menos porque de ganar un partido y empatar otro, mientras que Uruguay podía permitirse el lujo de sacar para ganar el campeonato. Un empate sin goles es lo que pasó y Uruguay fue el primer ganador del campeonato. 

Durante ese tiempo el presidente de la Federación Uruguaya de Fútbol propuso que se fundó una federación continental. El 9 de julio de 1916, Día de la Independencia argentina, la CONMEBOL se fundó. Es curioso cómo, mientras que Europa y América del Norte estaban luchando en la Primera Guerra Mundial, América del Sur hizo avances para las competiciones de fútbol. 

El campeonato fue en realidad ser un evento anual y con excepción de 1918 a causa de una epidemia de gripe en Brasil, fue un evento anual hasta que se añadirían 1928. Más países incluyendo Paraguay, Bolivia y Perú. Sin embargo, debido a la creación de la Copa del Mundo y una amarga rivalidad entre Uruguay y Argentina, el Campeonato ya no era un evento anual. Luego tomaría un descanso de seis años entre 1929 y 1935 y re-emerger ya sea dos veces al año o irregularmente como dos competiciones en 1959. La inclusión de la Copa Libertadores de ese año afectó cómo los vio a los Campeonatos. 

Los últimos Campeonatos se celebraron en 1967, pero la idea de volver a los campeonatos continentales de los países CONMEBOL todavía estaba bajo consideración en el momento. En 1975, la Copa América nació. No había ningún país fija como juegos del round robin fueron impugnadas en todo el continente en un periodo de cinco meses. Sólo los diez países de la CONMEBOL compitieron y consistieron en round robin, dos semifinales, dos finales y un gran final. El campeón continental ganaría un puesto para la próxima Copa Mundial de la FIFA por primera y única vez. Desde entonces todos los campeonatos continentales anteriores han sido reconocidos como oficial de Copa América. 

La Copa América tendría sus dolores de crecimiento en los próximos dos decenios. Fue originalmente para ser un evento cuatrienal y el formato del torneo 1975 seguirían siendo la norma en competiciones estarían dispersos por los países y una gran final que tuvo lugar en un país distinto de los finalistas. En 1987, la Copa y luego se disputó en un solo país de acogida. Se llevó a cabo en la Argentina ese año que consiste en tres grupos de tres. Los ganadores de los tres grupos calificarían para las semifinales con los campeones defensores de la Copa ganando automáticamente una plaza en semifinales. En 1989, la Copa cambió a un evento bianual y se llevó a cabo en Brasil. La Copa constaba de Primera Ronda de juego en grupo de dos grupos de cinco. El Top 2 de cada grupo se trasladaría a la Segunda Ronda de juego del round robin adicional para decidir el ganador de la Copa en las estadísticas de juego. Eso seguirá siendo el formato en el 1991. 

En 1993, la Copa se sometió a un nuevo formato que actualmente existe en la actualidad. La Copa celebrada en Ecuador sería la primera Copa de incluir dos invitados de los países de la CONCACAF de América del Norte, América Central y los países del Caribe. Habría tres grupos de cuatro, con un máximo de un invitado de la CONCACAF por grupo, cuartos de final, una semifinal y una final para decidir el ganador de la Copa. El evento seguirá siendo semestral hasta el año 2001 cuando la próxima Copa se jugó en 2004. Sería trianual sólo temporalmente hasta 2007. Desde entonces, la Copa está programado para ser un evento cuatrienal como el Euro a excepción de un conmemorativa Copa América que se disputará en Estados Unidos el próximo año, para conmemorar el centenario del evento. 

Aquí hay algo para tomar nota. Como he dicho en blogs anteriores, a veces es más difícil para un equipo para ganar un campeonato continental de lo que es ganar la Copa del Mundo. Brasil ha ganado ocho Copas pero el país que ha ganado la mayoría es Uruguay con un total de 15 incluyendo la última Copa América en 2011. Argentina ha ganado catorce. Los países que nunca han ganado la Copa del Mundo como Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay y Perú han ganado una Copa América. En realidad, un total de siete países han ganado la Copa. Ningún país fuera de la CONMEBOL ha ganado una Copa, pero México ha sido finalista en dos ocasiones. 

País anfitrión Chile nunca ha ganado la Copa: uno de los tres países de la CONMEBOL, que nunca lo han hecho. Han sido finalista cuatro veces, pero que están esperando ganar por primera vez en la historia de este año. El ganador de la Copa América de este año representará a la CONMEBOL en la Copa Confederaciones 2017 en Rusia. Así que hay un poco de presión adicional aquí. 

Así que sin más preámbulos, aquí está mi crítica de los equipos del Grupo A. Número entre paréntesis son los ranking de la FIFA de mayo 2015: 

GRUPO A: 

ChileChile (16): Bueno, Chile es sede de este año. De hecho, es un buen momento ya que Chile está viviendo uno de sus mejores épocas en el fútbol. Chile es realmente un país de América del Sur desde hace mucho tiempo para una importante victoria internacional. Ha sido finalista de la Copa de cuatro tiempos: son uno de los únicos tres países CONMEBOL nunca han ganado la Copa. Su mejor resultado en la Copa del Mundo fue tercero en 1962 que se organizó. Sin embargo esto podría ser su competencia como cualquier cosa puede suceder en el fútbol. Han tenido algunas buenas jugadas desde la Copa del Mundo donde fueron expulsados ​​por Brasil, una vez más. Ellos todavía se enfrentan a una dura rivalidad con Brasil, ya que perdió a ellos en un amistoso 1-0 de marzo. Otros resultados incluyen amistosas relaciones con México y Bolivia, una derrota por 2-1 a Uruguay y victorias sobre Perú y Venezuela. Pero también incluyen las pérdidas a Irán y Uruguay. Sin embargo el fútbol es un juego de sorpresas y que sólo podría hacerlo si juegan bien. 

MexicoMéxico (22): México es el gigante dormido del fútbol. Un país lleno de talento, pero a la espera de su gran avance. El último Mundial no ayudó porque perdieron su ronda de 16 partido contra los Países Bajos con una nota polémica. Una nota interesante: desde que la Copa América ha permitido a los invitados de la CONCACAF para jugar a partir en 1993, México ha calificado cada vez. México podría tirar una sorpresa como el primer país no CONMEBOL para ganar la Copa. Han tenido un gran 2015 con triunfos sobre Ecuador y Paraguay, pero también han tenido una pérdida para los Estados Unidos en abril. México podría ser la gran sorpresa de este Grupo y posiblemente todo el torneo. 

EcuadorEcuador (34): El siglo 21 sin duda ha sido bueno para el Ecuador. Nunca se clasificaron para la Copa del Mundo durante el siglo 20, pero este siglo ha dado literas Ecuador en tres de las cuatro Copas del Mundo. El éxito de la Copa América es una historia diferente, ya que han fallado para avanzar más allá de la primera ronda en las cuatro Copas de este siglo. Su mejor final de Copa siempre es el cuarto lugar acabados en 1959 y 1993. El equipo está lleno de talento, ya que tienen cinco jugadores que juegan en Europa y tres en México. Sin embargo han tenido una rocosa 2015, ya que han perdido a México y Argentina. Chile será otro punto de prueba para ellos. 

BoliviaBolivia (92): Bolivia es un en-otra vez de nuevo fuera del equipo en términos de éxito. Han jugado en tres Copas del Mundo: la última de ellas en 1994. Ellos han ganado la Copa antes en 1963 como anfitriones y fue subcampeón cuando acogido de nuevo en 1997. Han tenido grandes antes como Luis Cristaldo y Erwin ‘Platini ‘Sánchez, pero su equipo carece de la profundidad que han tenido. La mayoría del equipo juega para los equipos bolivianos o para los equipos europeos célebres menores. Sea cual sea la situación, esta Copa debe ser un encuentro donde los bolivianos aprenden a mejorarse a sí mismos en el camino a la próxima Copa del Mundo. 

PREDICCIÓN: 

Mi predicción para este grupo es que México superará con Chile en la segunda. En tercer lugar será Ecuador. En lugar de predecir si el equipo de tercer lugar será el calificador comodín, sólo voy a dejarlo con un tercer puesto de recogida. 

Que envuelve mi primer blog de la Copa América. Al igual que los dos siguientes, me limitaré a predecir acabados de grupo y esperar hasta más lejos en el torneo de predecir el eventual ganador de la Copa una vez que el rendimiento de cada equipo da indicaciones cuáles tienen el borde. Más el martes.

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group F Focus

Okay. I just have one last group to go. But before I head into it, I’ll give you the links to my other Group reviews for those that missed:

And now here is my last group review for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup:

GROUP F:

France fixed-France (3): France is one team loaded with talent and prowess but still looking for their first big break in a major international competition. The highest ‘Les Bleues’ have ever finished at a World Cup or an Olympics is fourth and they’ve never made it past the quarterfinal of a Women’s Euro.

No doubt they come to this World Cup with something to prove and the hopes of finally proving it here and now. France has been very impressive in their play these past two months. They’ve only lost to the United States. This could be their year.

England fixed-England (6): England is one of those countries that has constantly seen football as a man’s game leaving the women getting the short end of the stick. That was made evident in the 2003 movie Bend It Like Beckham. Things have gotten better as many Premier League teams have their own women’s teams like Everton, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool to name a few. They even have their own league, the WSL. Heck, even Prince William gave the national team a royal send-off before they left for Canada. However as they improve, so does women’s football as a whole and they struggle to show their greatness. They’ve only gotten as far as the quarterfinals in the World Cup. The ‘Three Lionesses’ did however make the finals of the 2009 Women’s Euro.

Play for the national team has been a struggle in recent years. They failed to advance past the group stage of the 2013 Women’s Euro. They also suffered a blow knowing that there won’t be a Great Britain team for the 2016 Olympics remembering the difficulties getting Great Britain teams were for London 2012. So it’s no wonder they’ll be looking for Canada for glory. They did however win the Cyprus Cup back in March where they beat Canada in the final as well as Finland and Australia. The last eighteen months have also been consistent for England as they’ve won most of their matches, losing only to France, Germany and the U.S. Their reputation can increase after this World Cup which will be a plus because at last year’s World Cup, the men failed to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1958. Trust the girls to give England that well-needed upper.

Colombia

-Colombia (28): Colombia is an emerging nation in women’s football. They competed in their first World Cup in 2011 and they’ve finished second in the last two Copa America Femininas. They even have a berth in the 2016 Olympics upon their second-place finish at last year’s Copa and with winners Brazil automatically competing as host nation.

However ‘Las Cafetaras’ are still relatively inexperienced in terms of international play. The only UEFA team they’ve ever won against is Wales and they’ve never won against Mexico. They have some good talent that even plays in American and European leagues but they still have along ways to go to contend for bigger things. Nevertheless it’s all uphill from here. It would be interesting to see how far they go over time.

Mexico-Mexico (25): Mexico is one team on the move in women’s football. They’ve competed in two previous World Cups and one Olympics. They’ve been runner-up at the CONCACAF Cup twice and medalists at the Pan Am Games three out of four times.

‘El Tricolor’ have a talented line-up with no less than twelve players playing for American or European leagues. This is the team that is most likely to pull an upset as they have drawn against England in their last meeting. Their qualifying chances are very good. They could also progress well but they have a mixed record from the past twelve months. They’ve won against Italy, Czech Republic and Colombia but lost to Canada, U.S., Costa Rica and South Korea. Nevertheless whatever happens in Canada, El Tricolor have a bright future.

MY PREDICTION:

I feel France will take the top spot in this group. I feel England will most likely be second but Mexico could surprise. Mexico will definitely be third at the least.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-VANCOUVER: BC Place StadiumBC Place

Year Opened: 1983

World Cup Capacity: 54,500

World Cup Groups Hosting: C,D,

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Final

The stadium was built with the intention of being a highlight during Expo 86.It consisted of a unique air-supported dome until 2010. Highlights of its use have primarily been CFL games and concerts. Noteworthy use in the past include Vancouver Canadians baseball games, the Pope’s visit in 1984, and ceremonies venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics.

Vancouver however has a special liking to the sport of football. BC Place’s first ever event in June of 1983 was actually a soccer match starring the Vancouver Whitecaps who were then part of the NASL. The Whitecaps have had a loyal following over four decades and whatever name changes over the years and their transfer to the MLS five years ago were met with open arms. The Whitecaps have since gone on to be the fifth-most attended team of the MLS. It’s no wonder with this kind of football support Vancouver was easily chosen as a venue for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. One noteworthy item: all the tickets for the final at BC Place are sold out.

And there you have it. My last Women’s World Cup group review. More WWC blogs to come like my experience at the Trophy Tour, tournament analyses and my own experience at a Round of 16 game (Yes, I have a ticket!). The Cup all beings in Edmonton on Saturday the 6th!

VIFF 2014 Review: The Incident (El Incidente)

The Incident (El Incidente) is a Mexican film about the mysterious and the supernatural.

The Incident (El Incidente) is a Mexican film about the mysterious and the supernatural.

The Incident was actually the very last movie shown during the VIFF. I actually saw four more in the VIFF repeats: some I will post my review in later days. The Incident turned out to be a good choice because I felt I was missing a film that was either envelope-pushing or edgy. This Mexican film turned out to be just that.

The film begins with two seemingly unrelated scenes. One is of a couple in a hotel just married and another is of an elderly woman lying on an escalator. Then cut to the first scene. Two brothers living in an apartment ion the ninth floor are confronted by a detective who thinks they’ve done them wrong. He has a gun and he’s after them down a staircase. Then a mysterious explosion happens. One of the brothers is shot in the leg. They go for help but once they hit the main floor, they find themselves back on the ninth floor. They’re both confused as is the hitman. They try and find a door to get out but they’re stuck. Adding to the bizarreness, whatever food or drinks that were taken from the vending machine in the stairwell comes back instantly. Then the brother dies. That leaves the other brother and the hitman stuck in the stairwell with no way out.

Second scene is a seemingly unrelated incident. A family head out on a road trip. It’s the mother, stepfather, teenage son and the six year-old asthmatic daughter. They pass a convenience store on the way to the camping ground. Then an explosion like the one involving the three men happened. The daughter has an asthma attack. They look for an inhaler but Daniel the son admits he forgot it at home. The stepfather accidentally broke the other one on the road. They go back to the convenience store only to find it empty. They try to head back home but the pass the campground sign they saw just miles ago. Meanwhile the daughter’s attack is worsening. Nevertheless the family keep coming across the same empty convenience store and pass the same campground sign. They too are stuck in the infinite standstill with no way out. The daughter does die.

The film returns to the stairwell. This time it’s filled with litter and is full of writing on the walls about various things including how long it’s been since the incident. It’s 35 years past. We see one elderly man and one middle aged man. This has been their ‘house’ during that time with nothing but food from the machines to eat and using water bottles for showering and using empties for sewage. Thirty-five years have passed for the family as well. Daniel is now a middle-aged man while his parents are elderly and unkept. The desert has been their home since and the ground is where the little girl was buried.

It’s all a mystery to get it solved even though they both know the cause of the problem. It’s because they won’t let go of the bad memories. The brother because of the shooting and Daniel for believing he caused his sister’s death. However it’s when one of the men in the apartment talks of a memory he had a long time ago of what happened when he was with his father when he accidentally died. After finally making sense, they’re able to get it solved and a door can finally be opened. After that, the people in both scenes can now live their lives in a forward motion. The daughter is still alive and Daniel can live his life even though it’s imperfect and full of problems. The two brothers and the detective also live their lives even though one will get a life sentence for a murder they commit later. However it’s at the very end when we see a newlywed couple in an elevator controlled by an elevator man named Karl that we learn it’s not all completely over.

This is one of those paranormal things I’ve never seen before. It consists of an everyday scenario then a sudden explosion happens. Then a near-fatal incident happens. After that, it’s nothing but a repetitive infinite that eventually leads to the vulnerable person’s death and everyone within that circle stuck in the same time and place forever. Four different scenarios of the infinite. All but one unrelated to the other and exactly thirty-five years apart. This may have been done before or it may be something original from director Isaac Ezban but it will haunt you. Especially seeing time elapse 35 years and how those involved in the two main situations all age staying stuck in the same place. It’s the creepiness of the bizarre that keeps you in suspense.

You hope those involved with the two scenarios will find a way out and they do. They’re also able to live their lives out, even though they’d live out a life that would have both Daniel and the detective lose in the end. But at least they lived lives where they moved forward. However even though we see the two live out their lives, we’re reminded from a moment seen during the opening scene that there was one thing unanswered: how it all started or who is behind it. We learn it right there at the end when the married couple get their own nightmare of the infinite. The ending can even leave one wondering if the couple will be able to work their own way out of the tragedy and the infinite that came with it.

As for whether it would be a crowd-grabber, that’s a question. I know crowds are willing to go to something as gruesome as Saw but you wonder if they’d go to something like this. It is something the thriller crowd would get their attention stolen with. It’s also a very smart and creative thriller that gives nothing away. I can see this being made into an American version in the future and can attract crowds of sci-fi. However seeing a six-year old girl die from asthma may be too much for them to handle. Seeing the long-haired old people might also freak them out.  Also this story may be a bit too bizarre for them to understand.

Kudos to Isaac Ezban for creating a creative story that’s both mysterious and smart, even if there were scenes that might creep many out. It’s hard to pick out the one single performance that was the best because there were so many good performances. Humberto Busto, Erick Camacho, Gabriel Santoyo, Hernan Mendoza, it’s hard to pick out the one who’s the best. It’s the ensemble of actors that delivered here. No one stand-out. All very good and all very believable.

The Incident (El Incidente) is an original thriller that may not be something that most moviegoers would want to see, including young fans of thrillers, but it’s very smart, very mysterious and worth watching.

VIFF 2014 Review: Güeros

GuerosMexico has delivered a lot of unique films over the years. One such film that has caught festival attention is Güeros which is filmed entirely in black and white. It makes for a unique story and a unique message within the story.

The film begins with Tomas, a young teenager from Veracruz, getting in trouble for tossing a water balloon off the top of his apartment. It lands on a baby. The baby’s fine but the mother’s had it with him and sends him to his student brother in Mexico City. There he meets his brother Federico, nicknamed ‘Sombra,’ who is supposed to be in university but the college is under strike for five months and has become almost threatening territory. Instead he lives in an evaded apartment with his friend Santos. One of the first things Santos notices is how Tomas is unlike his dark-skinned brother. He’s a Guero: a Mexican of light skin and hair. The apartment they live in is without electricity until Aurora, a mentally impaired girl in the suite down below, hands them an orange cord to steal electricity. It’s not easy for Sombra especially since the nights are cold and he has a hard enough time trying to sleep with the images of tigers in his mind because of his panic attacks but he has put up with it since the beginning. Their one getaway is the car but Sombra is too nervous to leave. Possibly because of his panic attacks.

Tomas already finds the first few days frustrating with limited time for electricity and relying on his Walkman to hear the music of Epigmenio Cruz and his camera to take pictures whenever he wants to. Epigmenio Cruz is no ordinary musician to the boys. He was a musician that ‘made Bob Dylan cry’ and almost launched Mexican rock into the mainstream. Then Tomas reads that Epigmenio was admitted to the hospital with cirrhosis of the liver. Tomas wants to meet him but Sombra won’t let him. Tomas then leaves in a fit of anger, especially after three hellish days of living with what Sombra puts up with. To make matters worse, the neighbors down below find out Sombra’s scheme to get electricity and the father chases after them. It’s then that they finally find Tomas who left to find Epigmenio. Sombra’s reluctant to leave the apartment but agrees to do so temporarily. It’s in the trip to the hospital to find Epigmenio that Sombra’s panic attacks come back.

At the hospital, they don’t find him there. They know he’s still alive but information of his whereabouts are kept secret. In the pursuit to find Epigmenio, the three boys first encounter a gang of thugs. Fortunately they leave before they could get into any more trouble. Then they come across a garden of carrots where they can finally have a chance to eat some real food. The next place they head to is the campus but Sombra is hesitant as he knows how dangerous it is. The three are able to make it in there where they’re able to retrieve Sombra’s girlfriend Ana, one of the activist leaders during the strike. Ana shows all the territories of the strike where the students set up their living quarters. Ana soon agrees to go with the boys to find Epigmenio before he dies.

Along the journey, they go to the city zoo and aquarium and Ana is able to help Sombra confront his fear over tigers. They go across the rich area of town and amongst people staring at their smart phones. They also go to the outer part of the city where they encounter store thugs and a boy who drops a brick from a bridge. Yeah, more bad apples in all shapes and sizes. They also come across a woman who was actually a model for the album of Epigmenio’s the boys have. They’re even introduced to his drawings. It’s right after they learn of his restaurant whereabouts of his that they leave town. This leads them to their destination and finally their chance. After the outcome, they return to the campus in the midst of the protest which Ana joins immediately and Sombra approaches without fear and with no panic attack whatsoever.

The thing about the film is that you think it’s going to be about a certain thing but no matter what you thought it would be about, it’s about something else too. And something you didn’t expect it to be about. I first thought it would be about Tomas growing up or learning something about student life at first. I’m sure most of you thought it was about that trip to see Epigmenio. Even though it was about that as far as the plot is concerned, it’s about more. I’ve sensed it’s about Mexico and its art. The boys are immersed in Epigmenio’s music but they also see and hear other art. They hear the poem Ana says as it talks of the struggle of Mexican people and hope coming from it. We hear Mexican music. We see art amongst the student protesters. We see the superficiality of the rich. We see the pettiness and the struggle of the poor from all sides. We’re also given the plot of student protests. A key factor since news has come out about killing and abductions during student protests in Mexico. Then the four meet Epigmenio for the first time and they tell his they realized why his music means so much to Mexicans including their late father and themselves. Interesting that we never know if they got his autograph or not.

Spoiler Alert:  For discussion of the theme, the ending will be revealed in this paragraph. I think that what the top point of what the film was. There was the point of the hardships Mexican people have gone through before and now it’s the young’s turn to be fighters for a better tomorrow. But the top point I believe was to take a visual snapshot at Mexican life through all the four experience both on campus and throughout their trip all over Mexico and show what makes the message of hope in Mexican art. Then the film ends with Tomas taking a picture of his brother in the midst of the protest. It’s like his picture is the making of Tomas’ art. Sometimes in looking back I often think that the scene where Tomas and the three others approaching Epigmenio is almost like the ‘passing of the torch’ of Mexican artistry from Epigmenio who’s near death to Tomas who’s young and full of pictures to take.

Interesting that this is Alonso Ruiz Palacios’ first ever feature-length film. He’s done short films and television before but this is his first feature-length and it’s an excellent work. Sebastian Aguirre also did very good as Tomas. He did a very honest portrayal of a young Mexican teen that wasn’t too over the top or showy. Tenoch Huerta and Ilse Salas were both good in their supporting roles. Sometimes you’re tempted to think the film’s about them. A bonus note is that Gael Garcia Bernal is an associate producer of this film. Unique that a story like this can attract a big name like him. The film has already won awards like Best Debut Feature at the Berlin Film Festival as well as Best New Narrative Feature and Cinematography In A Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Fest

Güeros is a unique Mexican film that is worth watching. It’s been said ‘the journey is the destination.’ Such is the case here where the journey is an eye-opener for the four and a message of hope for young Mexicans.

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group A

Those of you that have known my writing over the years have  known that when I do soccer blogging of major events, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Some of you may have guessed I’d be doing it again for the World Cup, and you are right. However I’m doing a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. So much to preview, so little space. With this being my first blog of the upcoming World Cup, then it’s no question the first blog will be done on Group A. For the record, my summary of  the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2014. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.

GROUP A:

Brazil-Brazil (4)-No other country has as much of a football legacy as Brazil. Brazil is the only country that can boast competing at all nineteen past World Cups and the only country to have won the World Cup five. The World Cup arena has been an excellent showcase of Brazilian football at its best and it has inspired the world around. However we’ve also seen Brazil choke at times, especially in recent competitions. Just ask France. They’re known as Brazil’s ‘achilles heel’ and have handed Brazil some surprising defeats including the 1998 world Cup final and the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal. In both cases, Brazil was the defending World Cup holder. Brazil’s recent chokes were more humbling as they choked to the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal and at the 2011 Copa America, they lost their quarterfinal in what was Brazil’s worst-ever Copa America performance.

Brazil can’t take any chances at this World Cup more than any World Cup. They’re the host country and all the world expects them to win. They especially want to rid their compatriots of the 1950 ‘Maracanazo,’ which I will talk about in another blog. Yes, Brazil may have won the World Cup more than any other country but of the eight countries that have won the World Cup, Brazil and Spain are the only ones to fail to do so as host country. Brazil hopes to end this ignominy this time around. After their Copa America debacle, they sacked their coach in favor of Luiz Felipe Scolari who helped coach Brazil to its last World Cup in 2002. The return to Scolari has paid off as Brazil won last year’s Confederation Cup defeating reigning World Cup holders Spain 3-0. Since the return of Scolari, Brazil’s overall record has been excellent losing only twice: to England and Switzerland. No doubt they’ll face huge pressure but the Confederations Cup proved that Brazil is back in action and ready to deliver.

Croatia ficed-Croatia (20)- If you were to do a pound-for-pound rational of football teams, Croatia should rank amongst the top. Croatia is one of only two countries in FIFA’s current Top 20 with a population of less than 5 million . Uruguay being the only other country. Ever since their independence in 1991, Croatia has proved itself a formidable force in football, especially at the 1998 World Cup where they finished third. However that was the last World Cup where they even advanced past the Group Stage. 2002 and 2006 appearances didn’t pan out and a failure to qualify in 2010 almost made the Vatreni’s glory a thing of the past. However Croatia is looking to mount a comeback. In 2012, they signed on a new president in Davor Suker, himself a former great as the top goalscorer at the 1998 World Cup. The role of manager was replaced by former team captain Niko Kovac. The team successfully qualified for the World Cup. They also have a good mix of talent from veterans like Darijo Srna and Luka Modric and fresh young talents like Dejan Lovren and Mateo Kovacic. Croatia is one country that’s very capable of causing a surprise.

Mexico-Mexico (19)- Mexico is without a doubt the best team in the CONCACAF as far as legacy goes. No other North American team has qualified for the World Cup as often. However its greatness has appeared to have alluded them in the past couple of years. They failed to advance past the Group Stage of last year’s Confederations Cup, they lost to Panama in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and almost missed  qualifying for the World Cup in a qualifier against Costa Rica where they trailed 1-0 after 80 minutes. Two goals in the last 10 minutes kept them alive where they’d go on to beat New Zealand for the wildcard berth. Mexico has made efforts to make their near-loss to Costa Rica a thing of the past. They have not lost a game since but they have come across some tight ties like a scoreless draw against Nigeria and even a 2-2 tie against the US last month. Mexico hopes to be ready for Brazil. Miguel Herrera is one tough coach who favors home grown talent over talent from European leagues. That could be the factor that could either spell success or failure. Only the World Cup stage will decide that.

Cameroon-Cameroon (50)- Older people may remember Cameroon as the team that came from nowhere in 1990 to win 1-0 against defending champions Argentina. Cameroon charmed the world that year by reaching the quarterfinals and becoming the first African team to do so. However their glory appears to be a thing of the past. Cameroon has not advanced past the Group Stage since. This time around doesn’t show too much promise. They do have a German coach, Volker Finke, and have good talent in Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song but they do face a heavy battle in group play. Already this year, they’ve had mixed results with a 5-1 loss to Portugal and a 2-0 win against Macedonia. Nevertheless it’s too soon to judge. I’ve seen teams where nothing was expected of them and they’d advance far.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

This is a new feature. This is where I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Brazil has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup: seven just opened within the past year. The crazy thing is how the Group Stage play is organized. Usually in most cases at a World Cup, the country would have organized certain Group Stage groups playing at a set stage of stadiums. In Brazil’s case, a country with twelve stadiums may have three stadiums in cities close to each other to host the Group Stage games of two groups. Division that simple. Brazil has done it weird. All twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Additionally, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. That will mean a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams, especially in a country of over 3 million square miles.

It’s confusing but hopefully it won’t interfere with the play as badly as the vuvuzelas did at the last World Cup. As for stadiums, Brazil has twelve good stadiums. Five are old and traditional but renovated in time. Seven are new built especially for the sake of hosting the World Cup. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:

-NATAL: Estadio das DunasDunas

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 42,086

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G

One of seven new stadiums built especially for this World Cup, the most unique thing of the stadium is definitely the roof. While Brazil had made headlines with difficulties of building and completing stadiums in time for the World Cup, this stadium however earned praises from FIFA not just for the stadium itself but for development of areas surrounding the stadium which I will talk about later. This stadium finished in good time and officially opened this January. After the World Cup, the stadium capacity is to be extended to 45,000 seats and to be the stage of home games for both the America Futebol Clube and ABC Futebol Clube. The area surrounding the stadium has planned a shopping centre, commercial buildings, hotels of international standard and an artificial lake.

-MANAUS: Arena AmazoniaAmazonia

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 42,374

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, E, G

There was some criticism from England’s manager Roy Hodgson about Manaus hosting World Cup matches. He should watch his tongue as England will be playing the very first World Cup match of his group there, against Italy. This was one new stadium that actually was under question whether it would be ready for the World Cup. The stadium has been completed and was officially opened in March. The stadium has a full capacity of 46,000 and is to be the host stadium of Nacional FC after the World Cup, replacing the now-demolished Vivaldao Stadium.

And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Brazil and Croatia.

Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2014 starts. Stay tuned for more.

VIFF 2013 Review: Heli

Heli isn't just about corruption in Mexico. It's also about those caught in the middle.

Heli isn’t just about corruption in Mexico. It’s also about those caught in the middle.

Heli is a Mexican film that has garnered huge buzz since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. The question being is it worth the hype?

Heli is a 17 year-old young man in Mexico. However he is married and the father of a baby. Both his wife and his infant son live with his father and sister in a shabby house on the outskirts of town. Heli has a job as a laborer at an auto plant and makes a limited income.  His sister Estela is a 12 year-old girl in school who has fallen for a 17 year-old cadet in training named Alberto. Alberto is tired of the military life and wants to devote his time to Estela. However the age difference causes problems especially since Alberto wants to have a sexual relationship with her and she fears young pregnancy.

Alberto makes a decision just after the police and the government holds a public media event where they burn all seized marijuana and cocaine in declaring their war on drugs and war on corruption. Alberto knows of a secret place in the compound where there are bags of cocaine secretly held by the general. He agrees to sell two bags he stole in another town so that he can afford to marry Estela. This plan is unknown to the father but Heli discovers the bags inside the water tank on the roof. He disposes the cocaine in a distant remote location and punishes Estela by locking her up in her room.

Late one night, some members of police storm the house, kill the father and take Heli and Estela to their secret place along with a badly beaten Alberto. They throw the body of the father on the road once Heli confesses to destroying the bags of cocaine. All three are taken to a house within the police compound. Alberto is beaten and burned mercilessly. Heli is badly beaten but not as badly as Alberto and is spared the burning. The torturers hang Alberto from a bridge, keep Estela at their place and drop Heli off on a remote road to walk home.

Heli does return home much to the relief of Sabrina who was left distraught after seeing what happened inside the empty house. Estela is still missing however. The police cooperate to locate the father’s body but believe Heli and his father are involved with the drug trade. Even Heli is nervous about telling the whole story fearing he will be classified as a criminal. The aftermath and trauma affects Heli for days as he loses his job and even becomes abusive to his wife. To make matters worse, a female detective offers to close the case if Heli consents to her offer of a sexual favor, which Heli rejects.

In the passing days, the policemen who held them captive are later killed and decapitated. Heli sees the news on television including the images of the decapitated heads. Estela arrives home to the relief of both Heli and Sabrina. She too had to do the long walk Heli did. However Estela is scared from the violent events and the rape she suffered during the walk home to the point she can’t speak. She is however able to draw Heli the location to where she was raped. That paves the way for Heli to solve the problem in his own way and lead to an ending that makes it look like the right thing in the end.

This film is a story written based on actual events in the Mexican news. It is a depiction of the corruption happening in Mexico but it’s more. It tells the situation from a human perspective through a family that’s caught in the middle. We learn of why this happens, who gets hurt, who does the hurting, who survives and how they try to carry on in the aftermath. It’s not just about the events and incidents being played out. It’s also about who is involved in this too. That is apparent as both Heli and Estela try to carry on after the incident even to the point where it almost threatens Heli’s marriage to Sabrina and Estela’s sanity. Even seeing how this incident threatens to tear the surviving members of the family apart adds to the human aspect of the film. There’s also the subplot about young love. There’s Heli, a 17 year-old married father and his young wife. And there’s Estela, a 12 year-old falling in love for the first time and clueless about the potential realities of marriage, especially to someone as irresponsible as Alberto. That makes the film more than just a crime drama.

The best efforts in the film without a doubt are the efforts of Amat Escalante. His directing and co-writing of the script with Gabriel Reyes is a very good depiction of corruption in Mexico and how it won’t tear a family apart despite all that it takes away. I’ve never read of such a new story referenced but this is a good adaptation of such incidents into a feature film. The acting in this film including the young actors was also very good. Armando Espitia was very good as Heli. His performance told as much through his silence as it did when he was talking. That was also the same with the other young actors in the film. Also very good was the performance of Andrea Vergara as the young sister. She was very good in representing the young naivety of falling in love at 12 without being a typical cutesy kid performance. The film itself being played out without an added music score actually added to the intensity of the drama and the storytelling.

Heli has already received a lot of awards buzz. Director Amat Escalante won the Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the film itself was nominated for the Palme d’Or that was eventually won by Blue Is The Warmest Color. However the film has not received a lot of good buzz in terms of audience fair. In fact many critics have often questioned the watchability of such a film, especially the torture scene where Alberto has his gasoline-doused genitals lit on fire. It’s safe to assume it was prosthetic genitals that Juan Eduardo Palacios wore during that scene. I don’t see how else that scene could be done. Even as well the feel of the movie may come across as too down and depressing. I do believe that the film doesn’t end as sown and depressing as say movies like Kids or Thirteen. Instead I saw the ending as images of hope for the family even after all they’ve lost and all they were violated of.

Another criticism of Heli comes from people from the home country of Mexico. This film is Mexico’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2013 Academy Awards. However many people both inside and outside of Mexico’s film industry are unhappy with the depiction of corruption in Mexico. Escalante responds that his film is not anti-Mexican. Co-writer Gabriel Reyes even added it would be socially irresponsible not to speak out about the bad things happening in Mexico.

Heli is a very good story about a young family sticking together despite the things that threaten their unity. Nevertheless it also a story that can be considered unwatchable to many.

2013 Confederations Cup: More Than A Soccer Tournament

The FIFA Confederations Cup is as much of a pre-World Cup test event as it is a major international soccer tournament.

The Confederations Cup is as much a pre-World Cup test event as it is a major soccer tournament.

So 2014 has the World Cup and 2012 had the Euro. I guess that means 2013 will be devoid of big-time international soccer excitement, right? Wrong! 2013 is the year of the Confederations Cup, an eight-team competition held in Brazil. It’s good and important for a lot of reasons.

A TOURNAMENT GROWS IN SIGNIFICANCE:

The Confederations Cup is more of an intercontinental competition than international. Six of the eight teams that are competing here have earned their berth by winning their respective continent’s confederation championship. The only exceptions being the World Cup winner and the host country. That’s how the Confederations Cup is contested.

The idea of having a soccer competition of the best of the continents was an idea that evolved over 21 years. Actually the first attempt at such a competition came not with the participation of FIFA. It came through the royal family of Saudi Arabia through a competition called the King Fahd Cup. The first King Fahd Cup was contested in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia over five days in October 1992 and consisted of Saudi Arabia, which was the Asian Cup holder at the time, CONCACAF Gold Cup winner USA, African Cup Of Nations holder Ivory Coast and South America’s Cop America holder Argentina who won the Cup. The King Fahd cup was contested once more in 1995 and expanded to six teams: five continental cup winners and host Saudi Arabia.

By 1997, FIFA became involved and the King Fahd Cup had been renamed the Confederations Cup. This is the turning point with the Cup being contested the year before the World Cup and with the competition consisting of the eight teams through the qualifying format that still exists today. There were however two exceptions as two second-place teams from their continent’s championships competed: Czech Republic because Euro winners Germany declined to participate and United Arab Emirates because the hosting Saudis had already qualified as hosts. This would also be a new standard for the Cup  that if one of the continental cup holders already earned their berth as either host nation or World Cup holder, the runner-up team would be given the continent’s berth.

After the 1997 tournament, the Confederations Cup would be contested bi-annually and in a different country every year. The 2001 tournament featured a unique twist as the host countries were Japan and South Korea, the host of the following year’s World Cup. That would be the norm from now on in which the Cup held the year before the World Cup would be hosted by the World Cup host nation(s). Six of the stadiums that were to be for the World Cup the following year were the sites for the Confederations Cup.

The Confederations Cup would continue being a bi-annual competition. Germany, the host nation of the 2006 world Cup, would continue the tradition by hosting the 2005 Confederations Cup with five of the venues for the following year’s World Cup used for this event. Since 2005 in Germany, the Confederations Cup has become a quadrennial event and seen as a warm-up event for the following year’s World Cup. South Africa used it to prepare for their hosting of the World Cup and you can be sure Brazil will do the same here. Six venues that will participate in next year’s World Cup including the legendary Maracana stadium will stage this competition. You could say the Confederations Cup has really grown a lot in the last decade.

WITH THE WORLD CUP A YEAR AWAY…:

You can be sure with the Cup being contested, the media will be paying close attention to how prepared Brazil is for this event and how ready they will appear to look with the World Cup just a year away. Already the media has paid high attention to Brazil’s troubled preparations for the World Cup. FIFA and even local critics have complained of construction delays and cost overruns. Few infrastructure projects were completed and even the 3G network couldn’t work properly. Even the official musical instrument of the World Cup was a failure as fans of losing teams would throw it on the field. Only two of the six stadiums participating in the Confederations Cup were completed by December and two cities were almost axed from hosting. In fact delays have caused FIFA to make an exception in their pre-World Cup demand that the host country hold three major competitions.

It’s not to say it’s all bad. Tickets for the World Cup and the Confederations Cup were a success. Also a record number of volunteers for both the Confederations Cup and World Cup signed up. Even exports from Brazil look optimistic as Brazil anticipates to export $1 billion from this Cup. Brazil has openly vowed it will be ready for the World Cup and even FIFA believes they’re confident Brazil will be ready. There’s only one year to go.

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

Now enough talk about hosting the tournament. Let’s move onto the teams and see how well they stack up for this. All but two teams are winners of their respective country’s continental championship. The two exceptions are Brazil who qualifies as hosts and Italy which was runner-up at Euro but qualified since the winner Spain already qualified as World Cup winner. Here’s how they pare up group by group with their current FIFA ranking in brackets:

GROUP A:

-Brazil (22)- You’d think a country like Brazil with a legacy and depth of talent would enter the competition as the favorites but it’s actually not the case. Brazil first surprised everybody at the 2010 World Cup with a quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands. They surprised soccer fans even more by being ousted in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America. Brazil just wasn’t Brazil. Lately Brazil has been making some changes like bringing back coach Luis Felipe Scolari who helped coach Brazil to the 2002 World Cup. Their play has gotten better in a slowly but surely pace. They may have tied Italy 3-3 three months ago but just last week they won a friendly against France who has been traditionally considered Brazil’s ‘Achilles Heel.’ The Confederations Cup could be a turning point for Brazil and send a message how much their team has improved and how far they would have to go to win the World Cup. I’m sure the world will be watching.

-Italy (8)- If you remember last year’s Euro, you’d remember it for Italy’s comeback as much as for Spain’s win. Italy was a team that was direly in need of improving after the 2010 World Cup and their qualification for the finals shows how far they came. Their play in World Cup qualifying matches have also been excellent. However they’re not immune to choking as noticed in a 2-2 friendly against Haiti. Nevertheless this tournament can also send a strong message to Italy how their team looks en route to the World Cup.

-Mexico (17)- Mexico has always been considered the ‘sleeping giant’ of soccer. The team has always been loaded with talent and skill but they have yet to prove themselves in a big way at a major tournament. They may be the current CONCACAF Gold Cup holders but even now with World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF they still find themselves third in the standings with the USA leading. This group being the ‘group of death’ in the Cup could also pose a challenge. Nevertheless Mexico could pull one of the big upsets of the tournament. We also shouldn’t forget Mexico won the gold medal in London. It’s a given in any tournament to never count Mexico out.

-Japan (32)- If there’s one continent that has grown the most in terms of soccer play in the last two decades, it has to be Asia. And Japan has to be one of its strongest examples of accelerated success. Nevertheless Japan finds itself in a tight situation here in the Cup against three teams known for their legacies and their consistency of play. But don’t count Japan out. They’re the first team to earn a World Cup 2014 berth on play by already leading their AFC qualifying group by a huge margin. Plus they’ve won three of their six matches in 2013. So if any team can most give the biggest surprise at the Cup, it’s Japan.

GROUP B:

-Spain (1)- How about that? Spain has gone in five years from being ‘soccer’s greatest underachievers’ into the top team in the world. Two straight Euros and a World Cup. They sure have come out of their shell and they come to the Cup as the favorites to win. Heck they haven’t had a single loss not just in 2013 but 2012 too. They look to have an easy Group Stage play but play in the semis and possible finals could make things more challenging for Spain. Just because a team is #1 and undefeated for two years doesn’t mean their infallible. We shouldn’t forget they lost to the USA in the semis at 2009’s Confederations Cup. Here could be yet another achievement in Spain’s recent legacy or a sudden reminder of their own weaknesses. Only the next two weeks will tell.

-Uruguay (19)- Uruguay has to be the comeback story right now. It seemed as though Uruguay’s soccer legacy was a thing of the past. Their prowess from the 30’s to the 50’s captured the imagination of the world. However it was their fourth place finish at the 1970 World Cup that appeared to mark the end of Uruguay’s greatness. However recent years has seen Uruguay make a comeback with a fourth-place finish at the 2010 World Cup and the win of the 2011 Copa America. But before you can shout out that Uruguay was back in a big way, it hasn’t been completely easy. They currently stand fifth in the standings of World Cup qualifying play for the CONMEBOL. Nevertheless while their play against South American teams have been a bit of a struggle, their play against other international teams have been quite impressive. This tournament can also send a message to the Uruguayan team in terms of what they need to do to qualify for the World Cup.

-Nigeria (31)- Nigeria has always been one of the top African teams. They look impressive in world Cup qualifying right now. The big question is their international play. Not much is known and past international and World Cup play has not given to impressive results. One result that did send a strong message was a 2-2 tie against Mexico two weeks ago. Nigeria could prove to be a stronger team here than most experts think.

-Tahiti (138)- Usually the OFC Nations Cup goes to either Australia or New Zealand. Last year it went to little Tahiti! Tahiti has become the least populous nation ever to win a continental championship. Here at the Cup, Tahiti’s biggest victory is just simply qualifying. Not much is expected since all the other teams have stronger depth in talent and international experience. In fact Tahiti is the only team at the Cup that doesn’t have a chance in even qualifying for the World Cup as the Oceania contestant for a berth against a CONCACAF team is New Zealand. Nevertheless the Cup can be a valuable learning experience for Tahiti. They’ve had hardly any international experience outside of Oceania. Now’s their chance to experience play against some of the best teams in the World. Despite their meager chances of qualifying for further play, Tahiti is probably the only team at the Cup with nothing really to lose and everything else to gain.

So there’s my rundown of the eight teams for the Confederations Cup. I’m not going to hazard predictions until the Group play is done and the semifinal berths have been decided. In the meantime stay tuned to see who will win the 2013 Confederations Cup. And stay tuned to see how ready Brazil appears to be for hosting next year’s World Cup. Both should be interesting to see.