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 C and Group D Review

Some people are surprised to see me do two Euro 2020 groups in a single post. I admit it’s a break from my usual tradition of doing a single blog per group. I’ve been busy with courses and getting used to new work at my job. Nevertheless it won’t stop me from doing my traditional football blogging. Euro 2020 is an event worth looking forward to. This time I will be blogging about groups C and D

GROUP C

Interesting this is the one group full of teams that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Hard to believe that the 2022 World Cup is just a year away. Hard to believe qualifying matches have already been played and Euro hasn’t even started!

Netherlands (14) – All too often in a World Cup, there’s a semi-finalist that usually struggles to qualify for the next World Cup. Netherlands finished 3rd at the 2014, but the team had been lackluster since. For qualifying for Euro 2016, they fell prey to the Czechs, Turks and Icelandics. For World Cup qualification, they were shut out by France and Sweden.

Since their demise in 2018, they’ve hired a new coach Ronald Koeman, They’ve brought in a lot of new young talent to the team. Most of the players are from Dutch clubs. They’ve been successful in qualifying for this Euro. They’ve however had a mixed bag of results. They’ve won against Germany and Poland, drawn against Spain and Scotland, and lost to Italy, Mexico and Turkey. Whatever the situation, Euro 2020 will be a chance for the Netherlands to showcase their new team. A brand new Oranje!

Ukraine (24) – Ukraine is a team that struggles to define itself. It amazed the world when it got as far as the quarterfinals at the 2006 World Cup. However that’s been its only World Cup appearance. As far as Euros go, out in the Group Stage the two previous times. Their only win was against Sweden on home soil in 2012. 2016 was a disaster with losing all three of their matches.

Since 2016, the team has been coached by the legendary Andriy Shevchenko. Most of the players play for team sin the Ukrainian Premier League with four members playing with Belgian teams and two playing with teams in England’s Premier League. They were successful in qualifying for Euro, but their games since have shown them struggle. They’ve had wins against Switzerland and Northern Ireland, draws against Finland and France, and losses to Spain, France and Germany. They’ve been without a loss in 2020. Anything can happen in Euro 2020 for Ukraine.

Austria (23) – Austria is one team that used to do well in decades past, but struggles now. Their third-place at the 1954 World Cup is just a memory now. Actually the last World Cup they competed in was 1998. They came to Euro 2016 hoping to do better than the showing they did in Euro 2018 when they hosted, but they failed to muster a win there.

The current team hope to finally achieve their first-ever Euro win, and hopefully take it even further. Nineteen players play in Germany’s Bundesliga. Austria has an impressive record since the start of 2020. They’ve won against Norway, Greece, Northern Ireland and Romania, but they’ve also had a loss to Romania as well as losses to Denmark and England. Euro 2020 is another chance for Austria to show the football world what they’re capable of.

North Macedonia (62) – Just being at Euro 2020 should be enough to excite the fans of North Macedonia. This is the first time North Macedonia ever qualified for a major football tournament. The new format of the Euro qualifying which would allow for teams of smaller-populated countries to contend added to North Macedonia’s boost and allowed them to qualify. for those curious, their nickname is ‘Lavovi’ (The Lions).

North Macedonia’s players are in various clubs in Europe with most in Croatia, Italy, Spain and Cyprus. Since the start of 2020, they’ve had losses to Armenia and Romania, draws against Georgia, Estonia and Slovenia, and wins against Kazakhstan and Germany. Euro 2020 can be the ideal arena for North Macedonia to be the Cinderella team of the tournament.

My Prediction: I predict the Netherlands to top it with Austria in second and North Macedonia to come in third and advance as a wildcard.

GROUP D

The four teams of Group D really make for a lot of variety in terms of playing style and in terms of past achievements. Two of them even met during a World Cup semi-final! I’m saving the term the ‘group of death’ for another Euro group, but here It’s possible any two or three of the teams can qualify and go far.

England (4) – Team unity has normally been England’s biggest weakness. The Three Lions did the smart thing after Euro 2016 by ditching Roy Hodgson as coach and hiring Gareth Southgate. In two short years, England went to becoming a new team at the 2018 World Cup where they went as far as the semi-finals, had the best goal scorer with Harry Kane, and even won a World Cup match on penalty kicks for the first time ever!

England is hoping this success will continue on into Euro 2020. since the beginning of the year 2020 they’ve had a lot of excellent wins to Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Poland and Belgium, but they also had a loss to Belgium and lost to Denmark too. The furthest England has even gone in a Euro is the semifinals and England is hoping to make this their best Euro ever. This could very well be it.

Croatia (14) – Croatia come to this Euro looking to shed the bad memories of the fan disturbances during Euro 2016. They also come after their brilliant performance at the 2018 World Cup where Vatreni surprised everyone by making it to the World Cup final! They became the first nation with a population of under 5,000,000 to qualify for the World Cup final since 1950.

Zlatko Dalic is still coach of The Blazers. Since the start of 2020, they’ve struggled in play. They’ve had wins against Sweden and Switzerland and a draw against Turkey, but they’ve also had losses to Portugal, France and Belgium. One thing Croatia hopes to do at the very least during Euro is win their first-ever knockout match. Whatever the situation, Euro 2020 is the ideal arena for Vatreni to pull another surprise.

Scotland (44) – Euro 2020 marks the first time since 1996 Scotland qualified for the Euro. Scotland have been known to be a sentimental favorite that just can’t seem to edge itself out of group play, whether it be either the World Cup or the Euro. With the recent creation of the UEFA’s Nation’s League, Scotland got a boost when the upgraded themselves from the Division C to Division B with brilliant play.

Most of the players play for either England’s Premier League or the Scottish Premiership. Since the start of 2020, they’ve won against Slovakia and the Czech Republic twice. However they’ve had draws against Serbia and Austria and had three draws and a loss to Israel. Euro 2020 can be the chance for Scotland to finally prove to its naysayers, that they have finally arrived.

Czech Republic (40) – Ever since Czechoslovakia split up in 1992, the Czech Republic has struggled to prove its football greatness. The team would always have great stellar players, but they would frequently struggle as a team. They’ve qualified for every Euro since 1996 and even made it into the semifinal round twice, but only qualified for one World Cup and only got as far as the Group Stage.

Most of the players play for teams in the Czech First League. Since 2020, the Czechs have had a mixed bag of play. They’ve won against, Slovakia, Israel and Estonia, and drawn against Belgium, but lost to Germany, Italy and twice to Scotland. Euro 2020 is another proving point for the Czech team and they just could prove themselves to be a better team than most people first estimated.

My Prediction: I will pick Croatia to lead the group with England second and Scotland third with enough game cred to qualify as a wildcard.

And there you have it! Those are my predictions for Group C and Group D of Euro 2020. Hard to believe it just starts in two days. Yes, we’ve all waited long enough for this!

VIFF 2019 Review: Mr. Jones

Gareth-Jones
Mr. Jones is about journalist Gareth Jones, played by James Norton (left) who seeks to expose a tragedy in Ukraine the USSR is determined to hide from the outside world.

I was interested in seeing Mr. Jones at the VIFF as it’s based on a topic of my interest: the Holodomor or Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. It’s an intriguing story with a relevant message for today’s world.

In 1933, Gareth Jones is a 28 year-old Welsh journalist who is very good at getting stories. He was the first foreign journalist to fly with Hitler and Goebbels at the start of Hitler’s regime while working as an advisor for British statesman Herman Lloyd George. During the time, he discovered of Hitler’s intentions to wage war. His story fell to deaf ears in the press and his job as advisor is dropped due to budget cuts. Despite being dropped, George gave Jones a letter of recommendation. He hopes to use it to go to the USSR to find an investigative journalist. Before he does, he gets a phone call from a friend named Paul Kleb in the USSR. He talks of how the economy is booming in Russia, but he is about to tell of something terrible happening in Ukraine… and then he gets disconnected.

Jones arrives in Moscow. His trip is regulated from start to finish: what he does, how long he stays and where he goes. That’s how things are in the USSR. In fact his job as a foreign journalist is under heavy scrutiny by national officials during his stay and no foreign journalist is allowed outside of Moscow. He arrives at the hotel in Moscow of New York Times bureau chief Walter Duranty. Duranty welcomes him and introduces him to his assistant Ada Brooks. Jones is expected to be in the USSR for seven days but he can only stay at the hotel for two days. Duranty offers Jones to stay and partake in the late-night partying. At the parties is all kinds of debauchery from prostitutes to heroin shooting to even homosexual advances. Jones wants none of this as he knows Paul Kleb was killed in Ukraine and has to find out why.

Jones finds a train headed to Eastern Ukraine. He breezes past security to stow away on it. When he arrives in Ukraine, he steps off to see the farmed grains loaded onto trucks by the Soviet army, but people dead in the snow and farmers starving. He tries to get answers. He goes to soldiers putting the bagged grain in a truck. He asks in English where it’s going, but is suspected as a spy. Soldiers go out chasing and shooting after him. Fortunately, Jones is able to evade the pursuit. He comes across some children who sing a haunting song to him of the death and starvation happening around him. He goes to a house which is in a photograph he holds, but sees the residents dead in their beds. Jones goes into a town where he sees the Soviet army take the dead bodies in the snow and pile them in a sled to be buried in a mass grave. They even take a baby that’s alive and still crying. Jones goes into a house where he is able to find living residents. They give him something to eat, which appears to be meat, and from Kolya. He soon learns they’re staying alive by cannibalism, and Kolya is a famine fatality.

Soon Jones is captured by Soviet forces. The Communist government commands him to be silent by using the lives of six British auto workers as hostages. Jones tries to plead with Walter Duranty to expose the truth of what’s happening, but Duranty is ‘in bed’ with the Soviet regime. Duranty has a habit of writing of the ‘Worker’s Revolution’ in the USSR like he romanticizing it. In fact Duranty has the reputation of being known as ‘Our Man In Moscow.’ Ada however is more supportive towards Jones and believes he has to get the story out. This can’t be hidden and knowing that Jones is to be sent back to the UK, she encourages him to make the truth known.

Back in the UK, Jones can’t get any British paper to buy into his revelations of a man-made famine. The government either doesn’t want to believe it, or fear it will jeopardize diplomatic relations with the USSR. This upsets Jones as he knows this must be stopped. The events upset him so much, he can’t stop himself from breaking down in tears in his hometown. However he has an opportunity to talk to William Randolph Hearst while at a newspaper office. Hearst, however is extremely busy and will only allow Jones thirty seconds to state his case. However when he mentions of the death of Paul Kleb, that grabs Hearst’s ear and makes Hearst want to hear everything Jones saw. Finally the story ‘Famine In Ukraine’ makes the front page of the New York Times. Jones is defamed. He is not allowed in the USSR again. Duranty is also defamed, but never had his Pulitzer Prize rescinded. Nevertheless George Orwell is caught in the intrigue of Jones’ pursuits and it inspires him to write ‘Animal Farm’ published ten years after Jones was shot to death.

I’ll admit any story about the Holodomor catches my interest. I’m of Ukrainian ancestry. My great-grandparents arrived in Canada around the 1890’s-early 1900’s. They came here long before World War I even started, before Ukrainian land was annexed as part of the USSR and before the Holodomor. This film showcases the Holodomor and is possibly one of the best cinematic depictions of it, but the Holodomor is not the biggest theme of the film. The biggest theme of the film is about censorship in the USSR at the time. All the censorship that happened in the film is an example of the censorship that happened in the USSR since it began after World War II until it broke down in the mid-80’s to when it dissolved in 1991. All news was censored. Nothing but good news was to be published in Soviet newspapers and whatever negative news could not hit either Soviet news nor news to the outside world. Phone wires were tapped and letters were opened and investigated by authorities before it reached the mailboxes of the citizens or outsiders. Even speaking negative words of the Communist government would get one a jail sentence. The Soviet media promoted propaganda to glorify itself and its Communist system and vilify the capitalist system in the United States.

As seen through Gareth, the Soviet system was also restrictive to outsiders. The system decided if a person from an outside country could visit, where they could go and stay and for how long. There were already six British autoworkers who were treated like hostages at the time and threatened with death to have the UK comply to their demands. You can understand just what Jones had to face in order to get the truth out.

Gareth had good reason to pursue the story. It’s not just trying to find out why Paul Kleb died, but Ukraine had personal interest to him as his mother taught English in Ukraine in the 1890’s. Gareth even had barriers in journalism to overcome once he had his story. He had top journalist Walter Duranty to deal with. Duranty had a big reputation at stake and kept insisting that the Holodomor isn’t happening. It isn’t until Jones meets with William Randolph Hearst that he finally gets a willing ear. The big feud between Duranty and Jones shows how even in what is supposed to be the ‘free world,’ there is still a lot of truths that are suppressed or even denied. Seeing all that goes on can make one wonder if this is happening today in what is supposed to be free countries. If we are really getting this freedom of speech or if we’re getting a lot of concocted stories.

This film is great in making a point about journalism and getting the truth out. There are a lot of truth even in today’s world that need to be exposed, but are covered up. The film does a good job in making a moment of past history, and the journalistic feuding surrounding it, make for a relevant message for today. Even the fact that Gareth was shot to death in 1935 while investigating a story in Chinese territory bordering Russia (which many consider to be a Soviet plot of revenge) reminds us of how many journalists risk their lives to uncover truths.

The film was very good at making its point. However the story didn’t seem to be heading on a straight path. There were times when moments that only deserved a certain time, like all the debauchery at Duranty’s hotel party, was slowed down and given more screen time than necessary. Even the moments of the journalistic feuding and political feuding appeared to take too long. The moments involving Jones witnessing the Holodomor in Ukraine were given the best screen time and the best on-screen depiction. It showed a lot of brutal honesty of the Holodomor, including that of cannibalism. It may have taken over less than half the screen-time, but it was done in excellent detail and gave the right haunting feel to this moment of tragedy.

Veteran director Agnieszka Holland teams up with emerging writer Andrea Chalupa to bring this story to the big screen. The story is one of great personal interest to Holland as she is well-knowledged of the Holodomor. Holland also has renown for her depictions of the Holocaust in some of her films. She does a very good job in directing the story, even if there are some moments of irrelevance or moments drawn out longer than they should be. James Norton does a good job in his portrayal of journalist Gareth Jones, but his part could have been developed more. Most of the parts didn’t have too much development and could have had more done with it. Nevertheless, Peter Saarsgard was able to make Walter Duranty hateable on the big screen. Vanessa Kirby was able to make her role of Ada gain more dimension over time.

Mr. Jones is about more than just about the Holodomor. It’s also about the topic of censorship that is just as relevant now with the ‘freedom of speech’ we’re led to believe we have in the ‘free world.’

VIFF 2018 Review: Volcano (вулкан)

VolcanoI took an interest in seeing Volcano knowing that it was to be the one feature-length film at the VIFF from Ukraine. I was left with a big surprise with what I saw.

The story begins in Southern Ukraine as Lukas is hired by the OSCE to be an interpreter during the Crimean conflict. Instead of soldiers or diplomats to transport, he has three people in the fashion business. As he tries to fill up with gas, he is out of coverage. He tries to get a cab for the three, only to find them gone. Lukas boards a bus, but it breaks down in a remote area. He stays over at a youth home and is beset by teens who only care about drinking and partying. He just leaves for a moment, but he left his wallet, passport and jacket inside the place. They won’t allow him in.

He finds help in a place he least expects. A failed inventor named Vovo who lives with his mother and daughter Marushka. It’s good for one night, but he feels one night is enough. After that, he wants to move onto his mission. Besides Vovo is too eccentric. The next day, he finds himself in a violent conflict with local militia men, a mass brawl culminating in a fireworks display, and being attacked by men for no reason with him ending up in a dug-out pit in a dead sunflower field.

The only person to discover him is Vovo. Vovo gives him some good advice “It is total anarchy. If you get used to it, you will survive.” During the time, he learns Vovo’s way of doing things, even if it seems off. Lukas even helps with some of the metal scavenging that Vovo seeks out in both land and sea. Occasionally Lukas gets reminders from the news of the conflict and that there’s a nationwide search for him. To take a break from it all, Vovo, Mama, Lukas and Marushka go to a one-man circus show, but it does include flashes of reality. The show includes saluting the new young soldiers in the war and a performance by a choir of woman from a village that was flooded to make way for a hydro-electric dam.

It’s not to say that it has its own difficulties. Vovo gets in conflict with his mother about his ambitions. Also Marushka flirts with Lukas, unknowing that he’s married. However Lukas confesses about the crossroads he’s going through in his life and questions his life, love and ambitions.

Without a doubt, the film is very bizarre. This is something I was not expecting to see at first. It does seem odd for a film of a man who gets separated from OSCE bureaucrats in the middle of southern Ukraine, loses the car with people he was to taxi, goes from place to place and every wrong thing happens, only have the one place he can call a shelter being the home of an eccentric metal scavenger. The story is very entertaining and even humorous. It becomes ironic how an eccentric man becomes the best person for Lukas to be with in this hard time. It does however touch on some serious elements, like when Lukas is dealing with the life he’s supposed to be leading and even dealing with whether he truly loves his wife. Being completely away from it all does get one thinking deeply about the things in one’s life. Here it made Lukas think. It’s an intriguing story of how a young man becomes found while lost, and in the most unlikely place.

Throughout the film, there are a lot a scenes related to the Crimea conflict. First off, there’s Lukas acting as an interpreter for the OSCE. The television at Vovo’s household constantly gives stories of the ongoing conflict. There’s also the television showing Putin talking of how Ukraine is a part of Russia (of which I gave the finger to). There’s also the event of the one-man circus where they later hold an event saluting the latest young soldiers for Ukraine. I think the message Roman Bondarchuk is trying to say in the film is that even though Ukraine has a lot of areas that are unruly and anarchic, it is still worth defending.

This is a unique film for Roman Bondarchuk. This film he directs and co-writes with Darya Averchenko and Alla Tyutyunnik is a bit of a drama and a comedy into one. A bizarre situation of how one becomes found when lost. This is his first feature-length film that isn’t a documentary. It’s not that huge on actions or thick on dialogue, but the scenes he has tells a lot about the story and about Ukraine. This is also a debut for actor Serhiy Stepansky. Stepansky has actually had more experience as a sound mixer. Here he gives a good performance of a person who’s quiet, thinks a lot, but colorful in character. Viktor Zhdanov was a good show-stealer as the eccentric inventor Vovo. Khrystyna Deilyk was also a good attention-stealer as the flirtatious Marushka.

Volcano has already won top film awards like the Golden Apricot at the Yerevan Film Festival and the Grand Prix at the Split Film Festival. It has also been nominated for Best Film at festivals of Sao Paulo, Karlovy Vary and Athens.

Volcano may seem like a slow film that doesn’t seem like it makes a lot of sense, but you’ll come to understand it later after you leave the theatre.

UEFA Euro 2016: Group C Focus

Super Victor
Meet Super Victor, mascot of Euro 2016.

This is actually my favorite group of the six because I’m 3/4 Ukrainian, 1/4 German. Plus I like Poland because Poland and Ukraine have a lot in common, especially in their language. Nevertheless this should make for an exciting group with a lot of rivalry. So here’s my review of Group C:

Poland fixedPoland (27): Poland may have a good World Cup legacy with seven appearances and two third-place finishes but they lack a Euro legacy with competing in only the last two and going out in the Group Stage both times. Last Euro was especially embarrassing since they were co-hosts and didn’t win a game. Since then the White Eagles has gotten better. And it’s not just with Robert Lewandowski becoming a star striker for Bayern Munich. It’s the whole team that has been performing consistently. In fact the team even scored their first ever win against Germany in October 2014 during Euro qualifying. They’ve had other notable wins in the past two years against Ireland, Czech Republic and Serbia. Their only loss in the past two years came to Germany when they got their Euro qualifying revenge last September. Before I even give my predictions, I can already say I know Poland will advance to the Round of 16 at the very least. Poland could be the team most likely to cause a surprise.

Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland (26): This is Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro. They’ve played in three World Cups before and even made the quarterfinals in 1958 but no previous Euro. The team may not have a George Best right now but they appear to be getting stronger in recent years. Five players play for the Premier League and they’ve scored notable wins against Hungary and Greece. Their two losses to European teams in the past two years were to Romania and Scotland. France could be another proving ground for the team.

Germany fixedGermany (5): You think that since they’ve won the World Cup in 2014, they should be top of the world, right? Well one of the reasons why they won the World Cup is because they had the most team unity and best team chemistry of all. No standout superstars, just one functioning team. And that’s how it should be. However three of its top players from World Cup 2014–Per Mertesacker, Phillipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose–retired immediately after. This led to dealing with a new team format since then and also into developing new national team players. Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze and still part of The Mannschaft but they’re also added some new younger talent too.

With the changes to the team, they’ve gone through some ups and downs. They qualified for the Euro top of their group. They’ve had some notable wins against Poland, Spain, Scotland and their traditional ‘Achilles heel’ Italy.  However they’ve also had some notable losses to Argentina, Poland, the U.S., France, England and most recently Slovakia. However Germany has a habit of coming alive when they most need to so it’s not right to dismiss them quite yet. Plus Euro 2016 could be the grounds for a lot of the new younger players to come of age. Only time will tell.

Ukraine FixedUkraine (22): Ukraine is a team that either gets better or keeps on learning over time. They first arrived as a team at the 2006 World Cup where they made the quarterfinals. However they’ve struggled to qualify for a World Cup since. They played in their first Euro in 2012 as co-hosts going out in the Group Stage. The current team mostly plays for teams in the Ukrainian Premier League. The current team has a lot of good talent like veteran Anatoliy Tymoschuk and rising great Andriy Yarmolenko. In the past year, the team has had some notable wins over Wales, Romania and Slovenia. Their only loss in 2015 came to Spain. In their history, they’ve either won or tied Northern Ireland, had mixed results against Poland and never won against Germany. Chances they could be on at Euro 2016.

Prediction: I think Germany vs. Poland will be a draw game and both teams will have the exact game results in all of group play. But I think Germany will come out on top over Poland because of goal differentials. Third place in this group will go to Ukraine.

And there you go. My thoughts on Group C. My thoughts on Euro 2016’s Group D coming soon.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of other groups:

2016 Eurovision Song Contest Final Preview

eurovision2016euro

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

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

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

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

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

SEMIFINAL 1:

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

SEMIFINAL 2:

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

AUTOMATICS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2012 Review – High Five: An Adoption Saga

The Wards and their five adopted children are the focus in the documentary High Five.

High Five is a documentary filmed over a five-year period. It’s a story about international adoption and about a couple’s iron will to let their heart win out over politics, finances, and inter-family strife in their attempt to adopt and parent five Ukrainian siblings. We don’t get what we expect to have but we do get an eye opener on the subject of international adoption and the lives of all seven.

We first meet Cathy and Martin Ward, a couple from Surrey, BC who’ve always wanted children. A car accident to Cathy ten years earlier to which she constantly needs operations for even now makes pregnancy very risky. They first decided to play host to a 7 year-old Ukrainian orphan named Alyona in 2006. During the visit, they learn that Alyona have additional siblings. They bring Alyona with her next oldest sibling Snezana the next year. The following year they visit all five at the orphanage in Gorodnya, Ukraine. They decide to adopt all five but laws allow them to only adopt two at the time. They first adopt Alyona and Snezana but promise the other three–Older siblings Yulia and Sergey and youngest sibling brother Sascha–that they will adopt them the following year. Politics delay the adoption of the other two siblings for years. After much struggle–political, financial and emotional–the three other siblings are finally adopted. Problem solved, right?

Not completely. Even before the full adoption process we learn of potential problems that could arise. The five come from an abusive household in Ukraine where their mother died and their stepfather was an abusive alcoholic. It took the courts to remove the children from the stepfather and put them in the orphanage. All five remember the abuse very well. The gap between the two adoption periods also has an effect on the siblings too as there’s a sense Yulia has lost some feelings to the two others. One thing to keep in mind is that Yulia, the oldest daughter of the five, acted as the mother figure to her four younger siblings in the orphanage. There are also the health problems of the two. Martin is a nurse at the BC Children’s Hospital but Cathy needs frequent surgery from her car accident and Martin has a bout of the flesh-eating virus. Sergey himself has a growth stunt that has slowed his growing down to which he’s only 4’6″ at the age of 17. The adoption process is also a financial risk. The process was very costly and Martin would have to take a nursing job in the territories to help make finances more manageable. Then there’s the fact that the siblings are growing up. There’s always growing pains and approaching adulthood for some. Even Sergey returns to Ukraine temporarily for better job opportunities.

The biggest difficulty appears to be the relationship of the family with Yulia. Yulia has always been a sensitive and emotional girl. Since the adoption, Yulia would now have to go from the mother-figure to the parented. This does not fit well with her as she’s so used to being the mother figure. Her relationship with Martin is mostly unaffected but it’s sour with Cathy. The bad vibe also doesn’t go well with the other siblings as they find her hard to stand, even Sergey whom she’s always been the closest with. On top of it, she’s a growing girl who’s graduating from high school, working a job, has a boyfriend and is entering adulthood. She had made two trips to Ukraine both for employment purposes and to meet with another sibling of theirs who was adopted by a Ukrainian family.

The documentary ends with Yulia still in Ukraine. She still has a negative attitude: “I have no mother.” The other four are still seen being parented by Martin and Cathy. The documentary ends with the six on a local snowboarding trip. As Martin looks out to them as they’re having fun, we’re left wondering what he’s thinking about as he watches them. As for the documentary’s ending, it ends with a ‘to be continued’ ending. It leaves off in the present as the continuing story that it is and leaves one asking questions. Will Yulia return to the family? Will the five be one again? Will any of the other sibling try to pursue opportunities in Ukraine? Those are questions only time has the answers for.

This documentary is a good example of international adoption and how it doesn’t always worked out as wished. It didn’t have a completely happy ending nor did it have a tragic ending. It just presents the story as is and is able to balance the positive aspects with the negative aspects. As I just said, this documentary ends without a real ending. It’s a story that continues to this day with the cameras no longer rolling and will have changes to the lives of all seven over the years. Nevertheless I wish the Wards and the five all the best in the future.

Directors Yulia Ivanova and Boris Ivanov did a very good job of filming this story which appears to be like a daily or yearly chronology of the adoption story over the five-year period. Even though most of the documentary is narrated by Martin, the story is seen through a wide variety of angles: both the parents and the siblings themselves. There are moments when it’s about the family and moments when it’s about one individual. They give the right focus for each situation. Sometimes they try to be mediators in this situation by attempting to help the interviewed subjects by giving advice behind the camera. That doesn’t become a weakness for the documentary. This documentary does give a feel of being like a reality show but this is not a ‘reality show’ as one would commonly associate with popular reality TV. There’s no sensationalism or explosive brattitudes. This is a real situation with real human emotions present and real problems and crises arising in the adoption process.

This is another documentary that’s meant more for the television than for the big screen. The fact that it’s produced in association with the Knowledge Network is the best example of why. From what I heard at the screening, it will be shown on The Knowledge Network in British Columbia in December. I have no information about whether there will be a DVD release for it. I feel it’s worth a DVD release since this is good teaching material. Those interested in international adoption will get a good experience to what it’s like and the potential risks that lay ahead.

High Five is as much a documentary that tells a story as it teaches. It presents a common story of international adoption that presents the viewer with the stories of the individuals as much as it does with the family. It’s worth watching.

Euro 2012: With One Last Group Stage Game Left

Go Slavek! Go Slavko!

It’s always that way whether it’s the Euro or World Cup. The Group Stage is always what separates the contenders from the pretenders. The contenders qualify for the quarterfinals and keep playing until the last team is standing. The pretenders pack for home earlier than they hoped. This Euro has told a lot about each of the four teams in each of the four groups. So with the final game for each group’s teams coming up, here’s my team-by-team rundown:

GROUP A

Russia- They have been the class of the group so far with their 4-1 win against the Czechs. But they would soon find themselves humbled by Poland with a 1-1 draw. Even a simple draw against Greece would have them advancing and it would have to take a win from the Czechs or a big win from the Poles to displace Russia from #1. The only way Russia could fail to qualify is if they lose to Greece by at least a -4 goal differential and either team from the other game winning. Otherwise Russia is very comfortable in qualifying.

Czech Republic- Czechs are also comfortable as they could just simply draw against the Poles and still advance. They may have taken a beating from Russia but their win against Greece keeps their hopes alive. Mind you it’s very chancy. Poland has pulled some surprises. If Poland wins, Czechs are packing early. Simple as that.

Poland-If there’s one team in this group that had the most to prove, it was Poland. The team at Euro with the lowest FIFA ranking (65th), they had something to prove and boy have they done it. They haven’t won a game yet but they’ve drawn 1-1 against Greece in the Euro opener and even drawn 1-1 against Russia. The latter is remarkable since Russia had one of the tournament’s biggest winning games so far. Goes to show what a homefield advantage can do. Since Greece and the Czech Republic already have a loss, this puts Poland at an advantage as they face their final Group Stage match against the Czech Republic. Already Poland is ranked 3rd in the group standings. A win, and nothing less, is what it takes for them to qualify for the quarterfinals. Can they do it?

Greece-They drew hosts Poland in the opening game and then lost to the Czech Republic. This is it plain and simple. They need to have nothing less than a win of +3 goal differential against Russia if they are to have any chance at qualifying. The winner of the Poland vs. Czech Republic game will be the one qualifying and Russia already has a 4-1 win. Even if the Poles and the Czechs draw, Czech Republic will be the one moving on if Greece doesn’t win.

GROUP B

Germany- They seem to have it the most comfortable of all teams at this Euro. Two games, two wins. That doesn’t mean they’re completely guaranteed a berth in the quarterfinals. The only ways Germany can fail to qualify is if Portugal wins and Denmark wins either 1-0, 2-1 or with a +2 goal differential. That just shows how tight it is in this Group of Death. There’s no telling what will happen. Even though Germany’s comfortable right now, who know? A simple draw against Denmark can have them qualifying #1 in their group but don’t forget the Danes surprised the Dutch.

Portugal- Portugal started out with a 1-0 loss against Germany and then came roaring back against Denmark with a 3-2 win. Even though Portugal and Denmark have the same win-loss stats and goal differentials, Portugal has the advantage because their win was bigger than Denmark’s 1-0 win. Draws in the next games will help Germany and Portugal advance. The only chance Portugal doesn’t have of qualifying is if the Netherlands wins and both Denmark even so much as draws Germany. Knowing that all final games of the Group Stage are simultaneous, there are no taking chances. And Portugal wouldn’t want to do that.

Denmark-They were the surprise of the group. Lowest ranked of the four but they beat Netherlands 1-0 and give Portugal a strong challenge in their 3-2 loss. They can qualify not just by simply drawing against Germany but if the Netherlands beat Portugal. Otherwise nothing less than a win against Germany is what they need to move on.

Netherlands-The problem with being in the Group Of Death is that even the best teams in the World can face stiff competition and look less powerful than they are. Netherlands is the team that had it the worst here at the Euro. A 0-1 loss to Denmark and a 2-1 loss to Germany. Its only chance of qualifying comes not just in beating Portugal but in Germany beating Denmark. Anything less and the Dutch are packing. This should make for an interesting match. Will the Dutch play hard and well or will it all be in vain?

GROUP C

Spain-Funny how they used to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ and they sure have been achieving a lot in the last five years. They’ve continued their achieving here with a 4-0 victory against Ireland and a healthy 1-1 draw against Italy. Their lead is comfortable enough that they could still qualify if they lose against Croatia and Ireland draws against Italy. Mind you they could be out if they lose to Croatia and Italy wins. This group may not be as much of a group of death as Group B but they have their own tight statistics that can even cause Spain to be out in the Group Stage. It will all be decided Monday.

Croatia-Like Spain, they too are quite comfortable. A win against Spain means they win the group. A draw against Spain still has them moving on but the draw would have to be at least 1-1 and Italy doesn’t do better than 2-0 against Ireland. A 2-2 draw against Spain would help them qualify provided Italy doesn’t win 3-0. Even if they lose to Spain, Croatia can still qualify if Ireland beats Italy. Mind you I’m sure the Croats won’t want to take any chances.

Italy-After 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia, this is it. Croatia and Spain both have a win and a draw under their belt. They have to win against Ireland if they are to move on. The real complicated part comes in being #1 in the group. The only way that could happen is if a win of 2-0 and Spain and Croatia have a scoreless draw. A 1-1 draw of Spain and Croatia would mean Italy would have to beat Ireland 4-0 for #1. Yeah, this numbers thing is confusing but for the teams it matters tons. Especially for the Azzuri since they want to recover from their Group Stage ouster form the 2010 World Cup.

Ireland-Simply put, it’s over. A 3-1 loss to Croatia and a 4-0 loss to Spain marks the end of Ireland’s chances completely. This should make it interesting in their game against Italy. Even though it’s over, they could still try to beat Italy for the sake of their own pride. I’ve seen it done before at World Cups where the team that’s out and knows it still makes the effort to win with one last thing to prove. Could Ireland do it? They face a tight challenge from the Azzuri hungry for its first win.

GROUP D

France-If you remember the 2010 World Cup, France’s performance was so dreadful the president of the French Football Association resigned before their last Group Stage game. When you hit rock bottom, all that you can do is rebuild. France’s rebuilt team has obviously paid off here. A 1-1 draw against England and a 2-0 win against Ukraine has France top of the group with one last game to play. The only way France can fail to qualify is if they lose to Sweden and Ukraine beats England. And even then it would have to come down to some tricky goal-scoring numbers to deny France a quarterfinal berth.

England-Like France, they too have a  draw and a win. Unlike France, their win against Sweden was 3-2. Their single-goal differential is what puts them in second. For England to be top of the group, they not only have to win but France would have to lose or draw against Sweden or England’s win would have to be two more goals than a France’s win. England can simply draw against Ukraine on Tuesday and they’d still qualify. A loss to Ukraine would be what would deny England a quarterfinal berth. The only way they could qualify upon losing against Ukraine is if Sweden beats France by at least two goals. Do you think England would want that to happen?

Ukraine-Like co-host Poland, they too had low expectations but surprised everyone with a 2-1 win against Sweden. The excitement died down four days later with a 2-0 loss to France. Plain and simple, Ukraine has to win against England if they want to qualify. The only other option would be drawing and Sweden beating France by at least 3 goals. Knowing that’s an impossibility, you can imagine Ukraine wants to be ready on Tuesday. Three Euro hosts of the past have failed to make it past Group Stage. You can bet Ukraine doesn’t want to be added to that list.

Sweden-Like Ireland, they’re out. Not even a big win against France can help them qualify for the quarterfinals. Their match against France would be as interesting as Ireland’s match against Italy as it could be one last thing for Sweden to prove. Also interesting for Sweden, Ireland or any of the other six countries that get eliminated is to see in the months ahead what changes they’ll be making to their football board, coaching or even player roster as the World Cup qualifiers start just months from now. The teams will want to take from this experience in all their victories and defeats and learn from it in preparation for qualifying for a World Cup berth. Will they improve? Will they still stay the same? Or will they get worse during the qualifying matches? Only time will tell.

And there you have it. A summary of the teams and what they need to do to qualify for the quarterfinals. Nothing is really sacred for any team right now. Even though Germany has the most comfortable qualifying chances, there’s still a slim chance they may be eliminated: slim but still possible. It will all be decided during these next four days. I have to say there’s something about the final Group Stage match. What is it? The simultaneous play? The heat and pressure of qualifying? The sometimes thrilling moments of some games? Whatever it is, they will finalize all the Group Stage play of Euro 2012 and sports history will be paved from then on.