2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Last year, I was only able to see the Oscar-nominated short films online through VIFF Connect. This year, they returned back to the theatre. I had the good fortune to see the nominated films for both the Animated and Live-Action categories. All the films are unique and deserving of their nominations. Here’s my review of the nominated films for Animation and Live-Action:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Affairs Of The Art (dir. Joanna Quinn) – Beryl is a struggling artist. She comes from an eccentric family. She has a sister whom, as a younger child, had a fixation with deceased animals and dissecting them. It paid off for her as her sister has done a very profitable post mortem business in Los Angeles and has attracted many big name celebrities. Beryl has always had an obsession with drawing and colors and has a goal of being an ‘artiste of note,’ but it’s only paid off very humbly for her. How can she make it work?

This is a charming animated film. Full of quirky drawings with a quirky story and charming characters. Not to mention very colorful 2D animation. It’s a story that will get you either laughing or weirded out. You will find yourself liking it in the end.

Bestia (dir. Hugo Covarrubias) – This stop-motion animated film tells the story of a Chilean woman. She has a good relationship with her dog. The outside world on the other hand, she is savage to. She is cold and calculated in every move she does. She cuts her meat in sinister fashion. Whenever she plays music, it’s in cold fashion. And she’s cold to the people she meets. She just comes as a very sadistic emotionless person.

The character is inspired by a female prison guard who is one of the most infamous Chileans ever. The film in stop-motion is done excellently giving a cold feel of the story. Although most of us outside of Chile may never know this person, it does an excellent job in capturing someone cold, merciless and emotionless. Also a reminder of how Chile still harbors silent wrath over some of its past infamy.

BoxBallet (dir. Anton Dyakov) – The film is a story of two people. One is a female ballet dancer, slender and graceful. The other is a male boxer, rough and laden with visible scars. Boy meets girl and opposites attract. But can it result in love? What unfolds is a love story between two people that one would not expect to see happen.

This is another charming 2D animation story. It has its own quirky style of animating and telling the story. The visuals are comedic and entertaining to watch. The story does seem odd at first, but the relationship and the story does come across as right in the end. Very enjoyable.

Robin Robin (dirs. Dan Ojari and Mikey Please) – This is a sweet fable of a robin who is raised by mice since birth. The mice have a habit of stealing from humans houses. But every time they attempt stealing, the robin gets the ‘who-mans’ angry and after them. It happens every time. The Robin breaks the top rule of their stealing: “Don’t attract attention.” And now they’re down to the last house in the neighborhood. On Christmas, the robin wants to prove to the mice, and a cat who’s pursuing her, that she can be a good mouse and steal the Christmas Star. In her attempt she fails again, but she later learns a lesson of self-acceptance.

This is a charming story, a fable put to good visuals, Kind of what most of us expect of animation. Aardman Animations, the studio famous for the Wallace and Gromit and Shaun The Sheep movies, does an excellent job in telling the story with great visuals and great characters in its short time. A charming delight for all to see. It’s because of this I give it my Should Win and Will Win picks.

The Windshield Wiper (dir. Alberto Mielgo) – Inside a cafe, a man is smoking a whole pack of cigarettes and reading a newspaper. Then he poses a question he asks all of us: “What is love?” The film then goes over his narrative of how humans view love along with visual images of dates, encounters and even dating apps.

The film is a 2D film full of visuals that are key to telling the story. It gives us colors and various images that we can identify with and also add more significance to what the man is talking about. Funny thing is in these 2D images, we can see us. Sometimes it makes it look like humans nowadays are more clueless about love than ever!

To sum up the five nominated films, all are good in their storytelling. Some are 2D and some 3D. All have their own different style. No two are alike. What’s most surprising is that none of the films shown before the Disney Studios or Disney Pixar films were nominated this year! Most years, one of the films is nominated. That’s a surprise!

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Ala Kachuu: Take And Run (dir. Maria Brendle) – Sezim is a young girl in a village in Kyrgyzstan who dreams of going to college. Her friend Aksana is supportive of her and arranges an interview with the college for her. She even gives her a brief driving lesson. This does not sit well with Sezim’s mother who wants her to be more traditional. One day while working at the bakery, three men come looking for one of her female co workers. The co-worker is absent for her shift. They first leave, but then return to abduct her and have her married off to a man she never met before. This breaks Sezim’s heart because she had so many future goals. Her mother is very approving. The village is supportive of this and her husband acts loving to her. However Sezim is frustrated and needs to find a way to escape. Can she seize the opportunity?

This is an excellent film from director Maria Brendle. It deals with the taboo of marriage-by-capture or “bridenappings.” This is something that is happening in many countries. In most of them, they’re illegal, but law officials are too laxed to enforce the law. Traditionalists often embrace it as the way to be. Often the woman is pressured to stay in the marriage by the society and even her families. This story puts a human image to this taboo issue. Even seeing of how her mother is approving of this sends a message of one of the barriers to stop it. That scene where Oksana is searching for Sezim, but her mother talks scornfully to her about her independent way of living also adds to how traditionalism adds to this problem. Even the attitude of traditionalists to “city girls” says a lot about this issue. It’s because of how a hot but taboo topic is tackled is why I give it my Should Win pick.

The Dress (dir. Tadeusz Lysiak) – Julia is a woman with dwarfism in her thirties who works cleaning motel rooms. She’s been single all her life. Her best friend, Renata, her co-worker for years, is a full-grown divorced woman and the mother of three. Julia often confides to Renata her personal feelings. Julia hates feeling like a misfit. She strongly feels if she was “normal-sized,” she’d have a man in her life. One day, she attracts a patron named Bogdan. She later learns Bogdan lives in the same building as her. Bogdan has been showing attraction to her, but it’s hard to date since he has a trucking job where he frequently goes to Kyiv and back. Could she finally have a chance at love? Julia always dreamed of having a nice dress. Renata helps assemble a dress for her for the big night. The big night between her and Bogdan finally happens, but it turns out to end not how she expected at all.

This is a story you want to have a happy ending. Like finally Julia meeting the man of her dreams. Finally Julia’s in love. Instead, Bogdan turns out to be a misogynist. The ending of the film leaves you wondering if the overall message of the film is about the way women are treated. Julia learned Bogdan gets misogynist in his lust, but Renata has an abusive husband. Maybe the message is saying that it doesn’t matter whether a woman is full sized or small like Julia. Women share the same struggle with their treatment from men. I mean the story appears to be one about a woman with dwarfism searching for a purpose or a belonging but maybe it was meant to be something else.

The Long Goodbye (dirs. Aniel Karia and Riz Ahmed) – The film begins with an Indian family in the UK getting ready for a wedding. Everyone in the house is excited and panicking at the same time. They all want to look their best but will they be ready? However the simple concerns about being dressed properly end as they notice a group of white nationalists enter their area with a van and a gun. Riz is the first to notice and warn the family, but it’s too late. The nationalists enter and demand the family get out of the house where they are lying down on the street. Then one of the men shoots five of his family. Riz gets up and does a rap full of anger about British imperialism and how his people have been treated by the UK in history.

White nationalism is on the rise in many countries, including the UK. Something that many were hoping to see become a thing of the past has seen a recent resurgence as many right-leaning politicians in the world have help embolden racists and stimulated in them a will to be more vocal. Most threatened are the racial minorities. Like families from India who come to settle in the UK. And this is where Riz starts his angry rap about where he’s from. They came to the UK to get a better life only to get this racist incident. He doesn’t know whether to see the UK as a country of opportunity or this monster who’s constantly running his people through the mud time and time again. The mix of drama and Riz’s rap really makes a strong angry statement. He concludes it well when he says “Where I’m from is not your problem, bro.” That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

On My Mind (dir. Martin Strange-Hansen) – It’s morning in a bar in Denmark owned by a husband and wife named Preben and Louise. Louise doesn’t have too many customers to serve which allows Preben to do accounting of all the receipts from the previous night. A depressed-looking disheveled man comes into the bar and asks for a large amount of a whisky. His name is Henrik. As he’s drinking, he notices the bar has a karaoke microphone. He asks Louise if he can do a song for his wife: the country song “Always On My Mind.” The problem is the karaoke system isn’t on until the evening. Henrik can’t wait until the evening. He has to do it now. He even gives the two 500 Krone to do it. Preben is stingy about it, but Louise is more willing. Preben begrudgingly allows him one chance. Henrik starts singing and Louise records his singing on his smartphone, but it’s interrupted by a message. Henrik attempts to do it again, but Preben cuts the power to the screen. He’s had it with him, especially since running the karaoke machine is costly. He even gives Henrik his money back, but it’s there when Henrik explains the reason why this is so important; his wife doesn’t even have an hour to live. It’s there when Preben is willing. Henrik is finally able to complete his rendition of the song and play for his wife to hear, even if she’s brain-dead when he plays it for her.

At the end of the showing of the shorts, I was with some Danish students who said it’s very common in Danish student movies to have it set in a bar. I never knew that. Whatever the situation, this is a good story. You think it’s one thing but it turns out to be something more instead. You think it’s a simple karaoke song, but instead it’s Henrik’s last opportunity to tell his wife he loves her. Even though she’s brain-dead, he senses she got the message. The film gets you believing in the human soul and it convinces you the love between Henrik and his wife is eternal. Not just “til death do us part.”

Please Hold (dirs. K. D. Davila and Levin Menekse) – A young man named Matteo is just living his life normally when all of a sudden, a police drone, gun and all, has let him know he’s under arrest. He’s ordered to enter the automated police car which takes him to the automated holding centre. He’s instructed to go to his cell, where he’s unattended and supervised by video cameras. He can see a lawyer, but it’s through an online legal service where lawyers meet through Zoom-style meetings. Making phone calls to anyone is very costly and credits can be earned back through time or hobbies automatically delivered. That’s especially frustrating since Matteo is in danger of being sentenced to over 20 years in prison. He needs a lawyer bad. He takes a knitting hobby which he slowly earns credit. He does get the lawyer money he needs from his mother, but the appointment fizzles out, leaving him extremely frustrated. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a very unique “What If” scenario. We have computers and Zoom meetings taking care of a lot of our duties. Can we really trust an automated justice system or police drones? Sure, the flesh-and-blood police have lost a lot of our trust, but replaced by computers? This film seems to think computerized technology can’t replace human interaction. Also Matteo’s scenario of being in a prison where he can only communicate through automation could even remind a lot of people of the pandemic and of its tightest days of how people had to confine themselves to their houses. A lot of ways you can look at this film.

To sum up the nominated Live-Action Shorts nominees, all of them are very good films. There are a lot of stories that are well thought-out and some stories that end up being more than what one originally expects. Some have topics that are very relevant to what’s happening now, like about racism and sexism. There’s one that focuses on a futuristic topic and fancies what the future of justice will be like, which is nothing to fancy over. And there’s one about a universal topic of love beyond death that has always been one of thought and continues to be one of thought.

And there you go. This is my summary of the films nominated for the Oscars for Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. Hope you’re lucky enough to catch them in the movie theatre like I did. Some may be seen on streaming services or YouTube, but the big screen experience can’t be beat.

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: Group E and Group F Review

Interesting to note for this year’s qualifying teams, there are only two new teams competing this year: Finland and North Macedonia. Also this year are nine of the ten countries that have one at least one Euro title. Greece is the only former winner that didn’t qualify. The funny thing about football is that any team can win the Euro. There have been surprise victories before when the underdog came out the winner like Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. It’s very possible a country that has never won a Euro before can win here.

Continuing on with my group reviews, I focus on Group E and Group F today.

GROUP E

For this group, this looks to be the most unpredictable. This group consists of two teams that are known for great play, but frequently fall short. It also has two teams that can go further than most people expect them to.

Spain (6) – La Furia Roja are an enigma. For so long they had been known as football’s greatest underachievers. However that all changed around the time of the late-noughts, early-2010’s. During that time, Spain won two straight Euros (2008 and 2012) and finally clinched the World Cup in 2010. After that, Spain lost their winning edge. They were stopped in the Group Stage of the 2014 World Cup and since then it’s been the Round of 16 at both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Spain have been in a struggle to get their winning ways back. The current team has an all-Spanish team of coaches. Most of the players play for La Liga with six playing in England’s Premier League teams. Since the start of 2020, they’ve only had a single loss, to Ukraine. They would also beat Ukraine in that time as well as Germany, Switzerland and Lithuania. They also had draws against Greece and Portugal. Chances are Euro 2020 could be the domain for Spain to redeem itself.

Sweden (18) – One thing about football is never underestimate the Blågult. After a disappointing Group Stage ouster at Euro 2016, they came back with a World Cup qualifying surprise against Italy in the playoff round and would then go on to finish in the quarterfinals of the Cup. And this is after superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from the national team!

You can thank coach Janne Andersson for the turnaround. Team Sweden’s players play for various leagues around Europe. They arrive at the Euro competition with a set of mixed results since the beginning of 2020. They’ve had losses to France, Portugal and Denmark, but they’ve also had wins against Russia, Croatia and Denmark. Whatever Sweden does here in Euro 2020, they have what it takes to deliver the unexpected.

Poland (21) – Making it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 has been Poland’s biggest Euro success ever. This is a team that has finished as high as third at two World Cups and three Olympic medals including gold in 1972. Unfortunately Poland didn’t get the breakthrough they were hoping for at the 2018 World Cup as they were out in the Group Stage. Robert Lewandowski didn’t even score a goal.

The current Polish team consists of players who mostly belong to teams in England’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A. Poland has had mixed results in its play since the beginning of 2020. They’ve won against Bosnia, Finland and Ukraine, both also lost to England, Italy and the Netherlands. The Euro 2020 arena will be another chance for Poland to prove itself and what it’s made of.

Slovakia (36) – Slovakia is a team that is constantly under low expectations, but will surprise many of their naysayers. They’ve only qualified for a single World Cup back in 2010 and their first-ever Euro was the Euro 2016. In both cases, they progressed past the Group Stage into the Round of 16.

Here in Euro 2020, The Falcons hope to do much better. Their coaching staff is completely of Slovakian coaches and the players play for a wide variety of leagues throughout Europe. Slovakia have had a mixed set of results since the beginning of 2020. They’ve won over Russia, Scotland and Northern Ireland, drawn against Cyprus and R. O. Ireland, and lost to Israel and the Czech Republic. Anything can happen in Euro 2020 and the Slovaks have what it takes to pull a surprise.

My Prediction: For this group, I anticipate that Spain will top it and Sweden will come in second. I have a feeling Poland will come in third but may not have enough to earn the wildcard qualifying berth.

GROUP F

Of all the groups in Euro, this is the group most deserving of the title the Group Of Death. Two of them have won the World Cup in the past ten years, one is the defending Euro champion and the other is a former great looking to reclaim its greatness.

Hungary (37) – The Magyars have been hoping to regain the success their team used to have from the 1930’s to the 1960’s that carried them to two World Cup finals and three Olympic gold medals. For those that don’t know, the Euro began in 1960 and Hungary’s best-ever result is a third back in 1964. For a long time it seemed like their era was long over. However Euro 2016 showed signs of a comeback as the team qualified for the first time since 1972 and made the Round of 16.

The head coach is Italian Marco Rossi whose been hired since the 2018 World Cup. A majority of the players play for teams in the Hungarian league. Since 2020, they’ve only had a single loss to Russia, a single draw to Poland, and wins against Iceland, Serbia and Turkey. Not much is expected of Hungary here but they have what it takes to pull an upset in Euro 2020.

Portugal (5) – Portugal comes to Euro 2020 as the defending champions. They started the Group Stage with straight draws but came on in the knockout round winning all their games en route to the win. Unfortunately, they followed it up at the 2018 World Cup with an ouster in the Round of 16.

Fernando Santos, who coached them at Euro 2016 is still their head coach. Cristiano Ronaldo is their captain, but they also have a lot of other greats with the team like Pepe, Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio. Since the start of 2020, they’ve only had a single loss, to France. They’ve had draws to Spain and Serbia, and wins against Croatia, Sweden and Israel. Portugal has made it as far as the semi-finals in four of the last five Euros. It’s highly likely the magic of the Navigators will be back in Euro 2020.

France (2) – France is a case of a success story that rose over time. They started after humiliation at the 2010 World Cup. Then became slow-and-steady progression with a quarterfinal finish at the 2014 World Cup to becoming runners-up at Euro 2016 to winning the World Cup in 2018.

Les Bleus is still coached by Didier DesChamps who has coached them since the 2012 Euro. Ironically there are more players on France’s team that play for Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League than in France’s Ligue 1! Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who is the team captain, plays for Tottenham Hotspur! For play, France has only had a single loss since the beginning of 2020, to Finland. They’ve won against Croatia, Sweden and Wales, but also had both a win and a draw against both Portugal and Ukraine. Euro 2020 could be the stage where France can claim their third title.

Germany (12) – The Mannschaft have always been known as a top contender in football, whether it be the World Cup or the Euro. Their win at the 2014 World Cup kept their reputation of consistency alive. However their reputation took a severe beating at the 2018 World Cup when they were ousted in the Group Stage. That made it the first World Cup in 80 years Germany failed to progress past the opening round. Some say it was because of a team that wasn’t together. Some even say it’s the ‘curse’ of the defending World Cup champion. Germany’s disappointment would continue as they struggled during the first year of the UEFA Nation’s League.

Despite the setbacks, Joachim Low is still the national coach. The current team features some of the 2014 World Cup alumni but mostly consists of a lot of new younger players. A majority of players play for Germany’s Bundesliga. Since the beginning of 2020, Germany have only had two losses: to Spain and North Macedonia. They’ve also drawn against Spain as well as Switzerland and Denmark and they’ve achieved wins over Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Iceland. A recent 7-1 win over Latvia shows the Mannschaft have something to prove. Euro 2020 could prove to be the domain for Germany to redeem themselves.

My Prediction: This is a tough one as even the best teams have shown some visible weaknesses. I predict Spain to top the group with Portugal second and Germany third, but with enough game stats to qualify as a wildcard.

And there you have it. That’s the last of my predictions for Euro 2020. Sure, a lot could be told. However we should remember that lots have changed since the pandemic and that could also mean the prowess of some teams. Those expected to fare well might now here. That’s why whenever I make my predictions, I tell people not to use them for gambling bets! Anyways this should be an exciting month with a lot of exciting play.

VIFF 2019 Review: Pain And Glory (Dolor y gloria)

Pain And Glory
A film director, played by Antonio Banderas (right), seeks to get back his creative inspiration despite his failing health in Pain And Glory.

It’s to be expected that Pain And Glory would get a huge turnout at the VIFF. Pedro Almodovar is a darling of the arthouse film world. The buzz is this time, he’s reuniting with Antonio Banderas for the first time in over 30 years. Is it worth the hype?

The film is told by the first-person view of film director Salvador Mallo. Salvador is in a pool meditating alone. He has had open-heart surgery in the past. He’s had issues involving both his family and his sexuality in his past. He became renowned through his breakthrough film Sabor– a still beloved in its current remastering — but considers every film since to be a failure. He’s also had issues with back pain and other medical issues. All of this has caused a struggle to get inspired again with filming. He knows he has to, but he can’t. Not even as his landmark film Sabor (‘flavor’ in Spanish) has been remastered and re-released.

Over time, he learns he has to make peace with his past. He first reflects back to his childhood. His mother was the biggest influence in his life. As a child, he was a dreamer and his mother always fancied him to be one. He did great in academic studies, but he had a love for singing and a special love for movie stars. He was sent over to a convent school; something that was of great expense to his mother. However he also reflects to the last days he was with his mother. He was so consumed with his filmwork and his writing, he was negligent to his ailing mother. He did however promise he would take her back to the countryside where she could spend her last days, but she died before he could.

As his film Sabor is being re-released and even shown to film enthusiast, he reunites with Alberto Crespo, the lead actor of the film. Mallo hasn’t spoken to Crespo in 30 years because of his perceived ‘bad’ performance in the film. Crespo is not happy to see him, but gets Mallo into smoking heroin. During his heroin-smoking, he’s able to recount some of his memories. One is of the time in his childhood when his parents had to move into a whitewashed cave house because of how poor they were. The mother hired a laborer to repaint the inside. As part of the deal, Salvador is to teach the illiterate laborer how to read and write.

Another flashback of past memories comes during a Q&A during a screening of Sabor. Mallo, at Crespo’s house at the time, is too down to attend, but corresponds with the crowd through Crespo’s phone. Crespo is able to tell the crowd of some of the wonderful memories of the 80’s and talks of Federico: Mallo’s boyfriend at the time. Federico is in the crowd and responds. That infuriates Mallo and he responds to Crespo violently. It just reminds him it’s another past memory he has to come to terms with. Mallo loved Federico and the two were almost inseparable, but Federico had a bad drug addiction at the time and Mallo had to end the relationship. The heroin abuse Mallo is addicted to is very similar to the struggle Federico went through during their time together. Eventually Federico and Mallo reconcile during a dinner. He learns Federico has sobered up since, moved to Buenos Aires, married a woman and fathered three children.

Over time, Mallo needs to recover from his own drug addiction and have further check-ups on his throat which causes him to choke for no reason. He knows his time is very limited, or feels strongly that it is. His assistant gives him tickets to an opening to an art gallery. Over at the opening, Salvador notices a drawing of a boy sitting with a book. That drawing isn’t any child. It’s Salvador! It then reminds him of the time in Salvador’s childhood the laborer was drawing a picture of Salvador sitting with a book as a thank-you gift. Only his mother would later hide the drawing without Salvador’s knowledge. After the laborer finished, he needed to bathe. Salvador left to lie down in the bed from all the heat, but woke up to get the man a towel. When he saw the laborer naked, Salvador had a look of delightful surprise and fainted. The laborer thought Salvador fainted of heat stroke.

Soon Salvador is able to buy the drawing and he sees the thank-you message from the laborer on the back. His assistant recommends Salvador to find the laborer through a Google search, but Salvador feels it’s not worth the bother. Soon Salvador does go for the surgery to get the growth removed from his throat. The film goes to a scene to Salvador’s childhood of him with his mother waiting for a train during a village fiesta and watching the fireworks in awe. Only it’s not a flashback. It’s a scene from a film Salvador is directing about his past life. His desire to film has returned again!

When one watches the film, one can easily wonder if this is a film meant to be autobiographical of Almodovar himself? The life of Salvador does seem to mirror Almodovar’s own life in many ways. Pedro himself fell in love with films and movie stars as a child He was sent to a religious school as a boy in hopes of becoming a priest and was abused. Pablo is openly gay, and of course became a renowned film maker. Even the falling out between Salvador and Crespo is actually symbolic of the falling out between Almodovar and Banderas. However there are a lot of differences between Salvador and Pedro. Salvador appears to be born around 1960 while Pedro was born in 1949. Salvador is an only child raised by a mother and father who’s rarely there while Pedro was one of four raised by both parents; his father being alcoholic. Salvador appears to have had one masterpiece film while Pedro has had decades of masterpiece films. Also while Salvador appeared to lack inspiration and the drive to make films after illness and physical setbacks, Almodovar appeared to continue well.

Nevertheless it still gets one thinking. The film got me thinking does Almodovar see Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, his breakthrough film outside of Spain, to be garbage or the bane of his existence to him? Artsy types are so full of self-loathing! Also I have not been too familiar with Almodovar’s health problems. I have not known of any health problems happening to Almodovar. If there are any problems, they have not been made too public. Almodovar has made his back problem open recently, but did he ever have that throat problem? And the drug addiction. I know addiction is common in Almodovar films, but I haven’t heard of Almodovar addicted to heroin smoking.

This film may not be the best film Pedro Almodovar has done, but it has to be his most personal. There are a lot of similarities between Salvador and Pedro. There are also some that become questioning. Was Almodovar ever hooked on heroin? Is Almodovar envisioning what he could have been if he were a one-hit-film-wonder? One thing about Almodovar’s films is that he doesn’t just tell a story. He creates a lot of moods and images as if he’s paining a cinematic portrait. He tries to get us to feel the characters, feel the moments, feel the emotions. He has the ability to romanticize even the most bizarre moments. Even a man who impregnates a comatose woman (in 2002’s Talk To Her). This film is no exception. He helps us see the story through the eyes of Salvador in both his flashbacks and of the present moment, and romanticizes it. This is another accomplishment for Almodovar. It’s no wonder he’s become a film festival darling.

The funny thing of the film is that the flashbacks of Salvador’s childhood appear to be flashbacks. However it’s at the end that we learn that the flashbacks of his childhood we see are the flashbacks intended for Salvador’s new film. Filming within a film. That should have been apparent when there was Penelope playing the younger version of the mother in the flashbacks while the older mother had blue or green eyes. It made you wonder how did that happen? Now you know at the end.

The film also marks a great return to Almodovar collaborating with Antonio Banderas. Those of us in North America remember how he became a huge movie star in the 1990’s. What many did not know is that it was through Almodovar’s films that Banderas had his breakthrough. I still remember how he played a husband in Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Banderas actually acted in five of Almodovar’s film before breaking into the US upon the release of Mambo Kings. It appears like both made the other’s success. Here they reconnect and Banderas delivers what could be his most intimate, if not his best, acting performance ever. He does an excellent job of adding dimension to the character of the filmmaker in all of his joys, his hurts and his passions. Also Banderas isn’t afraid to show the surgery scars from his own open-heart surgery here.

Asier Exteandia is also good at the actor Crespo who is able to make peace with him, albeit turbulently. Also a delight to watch is Asier Flores as young Salvador. He added to the light-hearted parts of the film and even added some comedy too. The score from Alberto Iglesias helps dd to the feel to the film. Iglesias has contributed to the scores of many of Almodovar’s films and he does a great job of it again here.

The film could do well at this year’s Oscars. For the Cannes Film Festival, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or and won Best Actor for Banderas and Best Soundtrack for Iglesias. The International Cinephile Society gave the Prix Du Jury award to Almodovar and the Best Actor award to Banderas, and Banderas also won Best Actor at this year’s Hollywood Film Awards. This film is also Spain’s official submission to the Oscar category of Best International Feature Film; the seventh Almodovar film to be Spain’s official entry in this category.

I wouldn’t say Pain And Glory is worth the hype, but it is a very unique story. It almost autobiographical in some ways. Even if it’s not completely autobiographical, it makes a good story all its own.

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group B Focus

One thing about football is that there is normally a lot of foregone conclusions on who will win the Cup and who don’t have the best chances. Those are not all guarantees. Even the best teams can bomb out sooner than anyone expected. And I will be getting to that very shortly in my blog. In the meantime, I will be focusing on Group B today. It’s easy to assume one team will win the Cup, but upsets are bound to happen. So without further ado:

Germany fixed-Germany (2): Germany has been seen as one of the best women’s teams consistently. They’ve been in all seven previous World Cups and won twice. In 2016, they won their first Olympic gold medal after three bronzes. They’ve been in the Women’s euro all ten times and won eight. However it’s not to say they’ve had some inconsistencies too. The last World Cup where they finished in the Top 3 was their winner in 2007. Also a year after winning Olympic gold, they were beaten in the quarterfinals of Euro 2017 by Denmark. Even the best have an Achilles heel.

If there’s one thing, Germany has been consistent in play in the last twelve months. They’ve won against Canada, Italy, France and Sweden. They’ve also drawn against Japan and Spain. Chances are if Germany’s on target, they can make this World Cup #3.

ChinaChina, People’s Republic of (15): China is another team that experienced big success when women’s football started establishing itself in the 1990’s. They dominated in the 90’s, but have been set back in recent years. There was even a brief time at the beginning of this decade, they didn’t qualify for either the World Cup or the Olympics. Recent years have shown an improvement with China as they made the Round of 16 at the last World Cup and the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics.

China’s last twelve months have had a lot of ups and downs. They’ve had wins against teams like South Korea, Cameroon and Russia. They even tied the Netherlands at the Algarve Cup. However they’ve also had losses to France, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the United States. France 2019 will be the place for them to show the world what they’re made of.

Spain Fixed-Spain (13): Spain’s women’s team is a team just starting to enter the stage of women’s football. In fact their appearance at Canada 2015 was their very first WWC. It was a learning experience for them as they left with two losses and a draw. In the women’s Euro, they did have one semifinals appearance all the way back in 1997. They were able to qualify for the last two Euros and finish in the quarterfinals both times. However the most recent Euro was another case of scraping by as their only win came against Portugal.

In the last twelve months, Spain has shown that they’ve made a lot of improvement. They may have lost to Poland, England and the United States, but they did achieve draws against Canada and Germany, and they also won against Finland, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Brazil. France is the arena for them to prove themselves once more.

South-Africa-flag.jpg-South Africa (49): South Africa is one of four teams making their Women’s World Cup debut. South Africa has competed in the Olympics twice in 2012 and 2016. South Africa has also been runner-up five times in the CAF Women’s Championship.

South Africa will be coming to France with a lot to prove. They’re one of the lowest ranked teams in the world competing in France. In 2019, they have yet to win a game, enduring losses to the United States and the Netherlands. However they did draw against Jamaica and Sweden. It’s quite possible South Africa is just a team that hasn’t proved themselves and France 2019 could be the domain to show how much they can do.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This is one of the easier ones to predict. I’ll have to say I predict Germany to top with China in second. I anticipate Spain to take third.

And there’s my take on Group B. I aim to have all my takes on the groups completed by Wednesday. Which means I’m planning Group C’s focus tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Oscars 2018 Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m good at keeping count of all the years I’m able to see all the Best Picture nominees, but I don’t know how many consecutive years I’ve seen the shorts. However I did it again this year. I lucked out and saw all the shorts for this year’s Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film categories. There were a lot of differences of the films, but a lot of similarities too. Here’s my review of the films:

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS:

The col thing about this year is that two films — Fauve and Marguerite — come from Canada. More specifically, Quebec. The five films nominated are very different in genre and story, but all are deserving of their nominations:

Detainment: dir. Vincent Lambe – This is the most controversial of the five films. February 12, 1993 started off as a day in which two 10 year-old boys named Jon Venables and Robert Thompson simply played truant from school and stole items from nearby stores. That all changed when they saw 2 year-old James Bulger standing outside the butcher shop unattended. The film focuses intensely on the police interrogations. Both Thompson and Venables are interrogated separately. Both boys’ parents are in the room listening in, and in complete paralyzing shock.

The film is based off of some of the recorded interrogations of the two boys. The film appears to be a character study of the two individual boys. Thompson appears defiant and remorseless while Venables is constantly lying and frequently cries, even hysterically. The film also relives the moments such as when adults butt in and how they walked Bulger the long distance to the track where he died. It becomes gripping without getting too disturbing.

NOTE: The film has attracted a lot of controversy because of its subject matter. The James Bulger murder is a murder that still upsets the UK, especially Liverpool, to this day. The mother has gone on BBC speaking her anger and demanded the film be removed from the list of nominees. That’s why even though I think it’s the best film of all five, I feel it should not win the Oscar. I don’t see it trying to bring any sympathy to the two boys, but it still upsets many from the UK to this day.

Fauve: dir. Jeremy Comte – Two boys, Tyler and Benjamin, are playing an innocent power game. They first do it around an abandoned train. However they decide to take their game to a surface mine for a concrete factory. Then the game becomes deadly as Benjamin finds himself sinking in the wet cement. Tyler tries to help, but to no avail as it stops him too. Any help from Tyler helps to no avail. Then the aftermath as a woman offers a ride home tells a lot.

The film is a good short story. The story starts off as simple fun and games, but then turns to a dark tragic drama when you least expect it. Even the ending leaves you asking questions at the end. Very good short.

Marguerite: dir. Marianne Farley – Marguerite is an elderly lady nearing the last years of her life at home. She is nursed on a daily basis by a young nurse named Rachel. One day, she overhears a phone conversation between Rachel and another woman. It sounds romantic. Later, Marguerite notices Rachel’s phone in the bathroom and sees romantic photos of Rachel and the other woman. One day, Marguerite unearths a photo album. The photos are back in the 1960’s and are of her and another woman named Cecile. It brings back memories of the two. Cecile would later marry a man. After being put to bed early because of a fall, Marguerite confesses in her bed to Rachel of Cecile and why she never ‘loved’ her.

This is a story that is slow, but it tells a lot. It’s about two women, both lesbians, who are a product of their times. One couldn’t love a woman because it was considered a ‘mortal sin’ and was criminalized. The other is free to love another woman without guilt. It’s there where they share their special bond at the end. That’s why I declare this my Should Win pick.

Mother: dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Marta is relaxing at her place with her mother around. Her son Ivan is on the coast of the French Riviera with his father on vacation. Soon Marta receives a phone call from Ivan. Ivan is alone on a remote area of the coast. The father abandoned him. Nobody except a strange man is around. The battery in Ivan’s phone is dying. Soon Marta calls the police, but the police have no way to locate Ivan as Ivan doesn’t know where he is. Then a second phone call from Ivan happens. That leaves Marta even more frightened and causes Marta to rush out.

The film’s best attribute is that it captures the moment. It’s between cellphones and Marta’s domain. The qualities are what we know and what we don’t know and it builds on the suspense. The weakness is that it appears to be part of a film rather than a full film. It feels like it has a beginning and a middle, but no end. I’m sure the purpose of the director was to give us a film that leaves us in suspense, but it leaves you wondering what was the point of this partial-film? Social message? Suspense story? What?

Skin: dir. Guy Nattiv – Troy is a ten year-old boy growing up in a remote area of the southern USA. The father, Johnny Aldd, is bringing him up to be rough and tough. The father even teaches Troy how to shoot a real gun with the help of his neo-Nazi friends. One day at a supermarket, Troy smiles at an African American man just simply buying groceries. Johnny gets angry and shouts racist slurs, but the black man walks off calm, collect, but angry and lets him know it. Johnny response by getting his friends to rush over and beat the black man up near his van while his family watches in horror, and Troy watches on.

Days later, Troy and Johnny go out somewhere, but the father is captured by a van of African American men. They put a sleeping injection in Johnny and a tattoo artist goes over his racist tattoos, leaving you wondering what will come. After eleven days, Johnny is dropped back at his home. The tattoo artist completely covered him in black, to Johnny’s horror. As Johnny tries to come home, his wife and son react in fear. It ends with a surprise ending.

No question the main theme of the film is about racism. However the film is also about cliques and breeding fear into people. The film can say that the culture of fear can also be why the United States has a gun problem. Seeing how neo-Naziism exposed its face in the Unite-The-Right rally in August 2017, this is a film very relevant to our times. Even with its bizarre story and surprise ending. That’s why I pick it at my Will Win pick.

ANIMATED SHORTS:

This makes for a very eclectic five films chosen for this year. One of the films is from a Canadian animation company. However there are two American films that hint they may have some Canadian ingredients:

Animal Behaviour: dirs. Alison Snowden and David Fine – Various animals walk into a psychology group meeting with a dog doctor leading the meeting. All have a problem to confess. However problems arrive when a gigantic ape with an anger problem comes in. He doesn’t want to be helped. The pig, the leech and the moth are all cooperative, but the ape is disruptive. Then the ape confesses his problem, but also throws a fit in the process and all havoc is wreaked. Right at the end, and with all the damage done, the ape appears helped and will be back next week.

This is some clever 2D animation that may appear simple and crude by most, but fits the story well. Also the whole story of all the animals involved and their problems makes for funny hilarity.

Bao: dirs. Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb – A Chinese-Canadian woman makes dumplings for her busy husband, but one comes alive. She raises it to be like her own baby. She mothers it with her caring nature, but the son grows up out to be rebellious and even leaves to marry a white woman he loves. She can’t handle it and eats him. Heartbroken after ‘eating’ him, she wakes up to find out it’s just a dream. She’s a mother going through empty-nest syndrome and the child dumpling in her dream was mirroring her own son’s life. It ends on a happy note.

This is the short shown before Incredibles 2. Once again, Pixar adds another excellent writer to its dream team. Director Domee Shi started as a storyboard artist for The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out. Here she has a chance to let her creativity flow with a charming story which transcends race and delights people of all ages and backgrounds.

Late Afternoon: dirs. Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzales Blanco – Emily is an elderly woman who is constantly tended to by Kate. Frequently Emily’s memory goes back to her past from moments in her childhood and her carefree nature and then to moments in her young adulthood. Her memory keeps going in and out. Then at the end, she’s reminded Kate is her daughter.

This does seem like a heavy short as the story appears to be either about Dementia or Alzheimers. The use of animation helps with the drifting of Emily’s mind from the present to the past back to the present again. A very good short, but it may be too deep for some.

One Small Step: dirs. Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas – Luna is a Chinese-American girl with dreams of becoming an astronaut. She lives with her father, a shoe cobbler. He has always let Luna know how much he loves her with the shoes he crafts for her and with his business. He uses his money to promote Luna’s dream. As a young child, Luna cherishes every minute of her father. As she grows up, she becomes more distant from her father and even too busy with her college work. Things take a turn for the worse as she starts failing courses and is denied acceptance into astronaut training. Then one day she comes home and learns that her father has passed. Heartbroken, she then turns her life around and starts a new ambition. This leads to the happy ending we all want.

The story is a very good story as it deals with a common theme of father-daughter relationships. The story may appear heartbreaking, but ends with the positive energy it began with. The animation was excellent and the story, with no dialogue at all, told us a lot. I call this my Should Win and Will Win pick.

Weekends: dir. Trevor Jimenez – A young boy living in downtown Toronto in the mid-1980’s is divided between the time between the homes of his father and his mother. The father is more playful with an imagination into samurai swords. The mother is more serious while she’s dating a man who doesn’t take well to the boy. As the stories shift between the two world, they become intertwined with the boy’s dreams and the dreams tell a lot about the realities of the home lives he’s going through.

Trevor Jimenez has been a storyboard artist for Pixar films and has his chance at doing his own short film. It’s all hand-drawn which adds to the effect of the story. The point of this story was to mix the eerie dreams with the boy’s unfriendly reality. It does a great job in creating the right environment for the film and the drama.

And that’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Last year I was better at predicting the shorts winners, but this year looks to be very open. There are some that look like clear winners, but anything can happen in these categories. It will all be decided on Sunday the 24th.

VIFF 2018 Review: Petra

Petra film
Petra is the film of an artist (played by Barbara Lennie) who seeks tutelage from a legend (played by Joan Botey) but gets more than what she bargained for.

Interesting how a lot of films I’ve seen at the VIFF are to do about deep dark secrets being exposed. Petra is one of those films that exposes some dark secrets.

The film is seven chapters starting with the second chapter. Petra is a young budding artist. She is arriving at the estate of a well-known artist named Jaume. Over at the place, we sense an unhappy vibe. The house consists of wife Marisa, son Lucas, housekeeper Teresa, her husband Juanjo and their son Pau. She is seeking artistic guidance from Jaume, but gets nothing but insults from her. That leads her disheartened with her own work. Jaume is actually a tyrant to everyone he works with. Lucas talks with Petra of a dark ‘confession’ and tries to advance to her, but she rejects.

In the third chapter, Jaume had just finished having sex with Teresa. He criticizes her for not enjoying the non-consentual sex and threatens to tell Pau. Teresa later commits suicide. At the funeral Lucas looks at his father with contempt. Moving to the first chapter, Petra’s mother is dying. She tells of an artist she loved. However she does not reveal it to be Jaume. She doesn’t want Petra to have Jaume in her life. In the fourth chapter, Petra confronts Jaume with reason to believe he is her father. She tells him of a letter her mother wrote years ago. Marisa later admits there has been infidelity in both their lives. Throughout their marriage, they both have had their share of various lovers.

In the sixth chapter, Jaume does admit to Petra that he is her father. Right as Petra is pregnant. He also tells that truth to Lucas. Lucas is infuriated. He tries to shoot Jaume but Jaume reminds him he doesn’t have what it takes. Instead Lucas shoots himself. In the fifth chapter, we learn that Petra and Lucas have become more than just friends. They even get romantic. In the seventh chapter, the people try to deal with their lives after the death of Lucas. Marisa confesses to Petra that Lucas is not Jaume’s son, but the son of an extramarital affair she had. Petra is infuriated and tells Marisa never to see her again. Jaume is seen conversing with Pau. Then as Jaume walks away, Pau shoots him dead. The film ends with Petra looking after her daughter and Marisa showing up as a meeting of goodwill. The film ends with them conversing together in a friendly manner.

The film is definitely one in which goes from something simple to being a film where dark truths are exposed. At first you think Petra is there to see Jaume to learn how to be a better artist. That would appear to be the case. However then it becomes clear that Petra is soon after a truth. A truth that could not just destroy Jaume, but those around him too. In time, a truth about Marisa is also exposed. Dark secrets come to the forefront and a lot of lives are destroyed because of it. You sometimes think there’s no way the film would end with anyone at peace, but somehow it does.

The unique thing about Petra is not just telling the story, but doing it in a non-chronological order . This may be a film of seven acts, but it begins with act two, continues with act three, but then leads into act one. There’s also the shift from act four to act six, and then leading back to act five. That shifting around of the acts works because the film presents itself in situations that has the viewer asking why the situation? Why the friction? It’s when it goes back to the recent past that we get the answers why. This playing around in time, just like it’s done in Pulp Fiction, works for telling the film’s story.

Also it’s unique how this film takes place in the world of art. I know I’ve seen a lot in terms of the freeness or even the foolishness of the way actors live out their love lives. It’s interesting seeing this about an adulterous artist whose wife is just as adulterous. It often leaves you wondering if they lived a strained marriage where they decided to stay together for the sake of Lucas? Or were they an open marriage? There are a lot of open marriages in the world of arts and entertainment. It makes you wonder.

Whatever the situation, the film sometimes seems it’s as much about Jaume as it is about Petra. Petra is a woman searching for the truth and relating to the people she meets along the way. However the film shows just how much of a monster Jaume is. I know that arrogance is common among artists and even berating behavior, but Jaume appears to be a person with no conscience. He berates the artists he works with and Petra’s work, he berates Lucas for being unable to break away from him, he lures his housekeeper in sexual temptation, and even appears at the end as if he doesn’t care about Lucas’ death. It’s no wonder after Jaume is shot to death, Petra and Marisa appear to be at peace as they meet. I think that was it about the film. Jaume was the tyrant in people’s lives and Petra would be that missing link that would free others.

This is the latest film from Spanish arthouse director Jaime Rosales. Rosales has developed a reputation over the years starting with his 2003 short film The Hours Of The Day which won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, his 2007 feature Solitary Fragments which received a lot of critical renown, and 2014’s Beautiful Youth which was nominated for Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Here he directs a story he co-wrote with Michel Gatzambide and Clara Roquet. He places it in an artistic setting with a mostly quiet environment, but that doesn’t take away the intensity of the friction. Instead the quiet slow nature makes you feel the friction. Barbara Lennie does a very good job of playing the lead protagonist, but it’s Joan Botey playing the tyrant Jaume that steals the show. Both do an excellent job of managing their roles well.

Petra is a film that tells a story in a varying chronological order. However it does so to get us to the heart of the story in a surprising way.