Tag Archives: USA

VIFF 2017 Review: PROTOTYPE

Prototype

PROTOTYPE is a film by Blake Williams about the Galveston hurricane of 1900. It’s to be his depiction and his thoughts and images of the event.

The film begins with images of the aftermath if the Galveston hurricane of 1900: a disaster where 8000 people died. The film progresses into images depicting what happened during the storm, like waves in the water, various images of people and television screens, various images of color, all featured against disjointed music in the background. The film then focuses on what happens three weeks later with even further images of people, television screens, lucid colors and even computer images of automobiles. The film ends with images of Galveston today where natural images of the city and of the Gulf of Mexico are shown along with blended-in images.

When I first came to this film, I was told this would be a documentary. I was also understanding abut this since hurricanes have been big news in 2017 with two or three big-name hurricanes hitting North America. The film is less of a documentary and more of an experimental film. There’s no narrator and we get disjointed music as the score for the film. I will have to say that I admit that when I first came for this film, I didn’t know what to expect. When the film talked about the Galveston Hurricane, I had my own expectations about what this ‘documentary’ would be and it didn’t turn out that way. I was disappointed in this for a long time.

The biggest reason why I was disappointed was because this film didn’t make much sense. Sure, I know there are a lot of films that try to be experimental–this is an experimental 3D film– but its use of various film images in relating them to the Galveston hurricane didn’t make a lot of sense. Like I wondered what the computer graphics of an SUV had to do with what happened three weeks after a hurricane in 1900. I could understand pictures of strong waves shown at the beginning and the end of each film segment because of the Gulf Of Mexico. However other images like that of computer screens or of all these lucid colors did not make sense at all to why they’re in a film about this disaster in 1900.

We should not forget that here at the Vancouver Film Festival, we will be having a lot of experimental films. There will be a lot of films that will try to be different and eccentric for the sake of stretching the boundaries of artistry. It becomes evident that director Blake Williams is trying to stretch artistry or use artistic expression for his own detailing of this event. I have no objection to that; I’m welcoming to that. However I’m welcoming to  it as long as it’s done in a way that would make sense. I’m sure Blake would give his explanations for why all these images and why they relate to the events of that disaster, but most of it would not be made apparent to the audience.

I think at best, this film is a film that’s meant more for those who welcome different approaches to film and welcome all types of artistic eccentricities. Especially in art galleries where there are all sorts of films with all sorts of elements and imagery. However I don’t like things that give the impression that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. I’m sure it does know, but it doesn’t make it obvious enough. It gives the impression only Blake Williams knows what it is.

PROTOTYPE first appears to be a 3D documentary, but is actually more of an experimental film. This appears to be a film that would belong more in an art gallery.

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Oscars 2016 Shorts Reviews: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

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

ANIMATED:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

VIFF 2016 Review: The Eyes Of My Mother

eyesofmymo

The Eyes Of My Mother tells a story of how a young girl named Francisca inherits a blood lust.

I knew with The Eyes Of My Mother being an Altered states film, I would be taken into the world of either the bizarre, sinister or paranormal. I got sinister this time but I was not too impressed.

The film begins with a truck driver stopping to what appears to be a body in the road. The woman is very much alive but tortured physically. Flashback to at least 25 years earlier. Young Francesca is the young daughter of a Portuguese farming couple. The parents used to be cow ranchers back in their home.

One day, they’re visited by a man named Charlie who needs to use the phone. You can tell by Charlie’s face that he’s not worth your trust. Francisca witnesses Charlie bludgeoning her mother in the bathtub. The father responds by keeping Charlie captive and tortured in the barn. Francisca asked Charlie what it was like killing her mother. He responds: “It’s amazing.”

Many years pass. Francisca develops a blood lust of her own. She keeps Charlie tortured. However she also kills her old ailing father in the bathtub. She kills a stranger named Lucy. She appears to kill a mother named Kimiko and has taken to looking after Kimiko’s son Antonio. Actually Kimiko is alive but tortured in the barn the same way Charlie is: shackled and eyes dug out. Somehow Kimiko develops the strength and the willpower to find her way out on the barn. She however ends up on a road where a truck driver stops to see what’s up. This sets up for an ending that’s too brief.

Stories of ‘bloodlust’ are not that uncommon. If you’ve studied MacBeth, you get possibly the most renowned example of bloodlust. Here in this film, we hear why the feeling of bloodlust from both Charlie and older Francisca: because of its ‘amazing’ feeling. The feel of power from killing or torturing someone with your own hands can give one a feeling of satisfaction. Just ask soldiers, just ask dictators, just ask… the list is endless.

Here’s a case of the ‘bloodlust’ going from Charlie: the killer of Francesca’s mother, to Francisca. She acquires a lust for murder at her own hands from Charlie. She also acquires a desire for torture as demonstrated by her father on Charlie. The whole story revolves around Francisca and her own lust for murder and torture on others. Even the incorporation of the Portuguese language in her conversation takes the element of bloodlust into being like poetry. Even making it sensual.

That’s the best traits of the film: portraying a unique method of acquiring bloodlust and even making it poetic. However the film has a lot of noticeable weaknesses. We see Francesca has acquired this bloodlust but the film doesn’t make it convincing enough in her ability to receive it. It’s like she just received it. She may have been taught the love of murder by Charlie and the love of torture from her father but it doesn’t appear she acquires this bloodlust that believably. It’s like it just happened briefly. The other weakness is that it ended on a weak note and too abruptly. I feel that 77 minutes was too short of a time to have a film like this and the ending just seemed to be the weakest part of the film. Too sudden and too fast.

Despite the noticeable flaw, this is a good debut for Nicolas Pesce as a director and a writer. His first effort has won awards at the Fantastic Film Festival and was nominated at the AFI Fest for American Independents. Kika Magalhaes is another impressive newcomer as she does a great job in embodying her character’s madness. The other supporting characters also did a good job in their roles. Will Brill as Charlie is the one that stood out as you sensed right from the start it would be Charlie starting the trouble.

The Eyes Of My Mother makes for a good Halloween film. It’s very sinister but very poetic and charming at the same time. Nevertheless the flaws are noticeable in the film.

VIFF 2016 Review: To Keep The Light

to-keep-the-light

Erica Fae plays a Maine woman determined to keep her lighthouse in 1876 in To Keep The Light.

Here at the VIFF, you’ll see many films directed by female directors. One is To Keep The Light, directed by Erica Fae. It’s a very impressive work.

Abbie is the wife of Thomas, a lighthouse keeper in Maine in 1876. However Thomas has recently fallen ill and has become bedridden with a complete loss of appetite. That means Abbie will have to tend to the lighthouse while he is sick. She does everything Thomas does and keeps record of everything although she does commit one error.

One morning she sees a body of a man has washed ashore. The following day, she sees the man has not awaken so she assumes he’s dead. However just as she’s about to cast the body to sea, the man awakens. She gives him shelter and food as he’s about to recover. He tells her the story of how he ended up in the sea. As he’s recovering, she tells Thomas of this man: a Swede named Johan. It’s only a matter of days that Johan gets better. He’s even able to help Abbie with the lighthouse.

Abbie’s even able to go to town with Johan but the townpeople do not look fondly towards Abbie or Johan. Some are suspicious of the two considering Thomas is still bedridden. Even the postal lady Mrs. Williams has a suspicion towards Swedes as do many of the townfolks. It’s difficult enough since one family, the Eaton family, feels they should have owned the lighthouse only to have been outbid by Abbie and Thomas.

One day Abbie sees the breakfast eaten, assuming Thomas is starting recover and lies next to him, only to discover it’s Johan. Abbie soon learns the horrific news. Thomas is dead; he drowned himself. As if Thomas’ death isn’t hard enough, she knows she could lose the lighthouse to the Eatons. Troubles turn worse as the Chief Inspector conducts an inspection and gives it a scathing review, mostly because of his male chauvinism. Soon Johan reveals her love towards Abbie just around the time the Eatons are trying to claim her lighthouse. Abbie would have to make an important decision. She does, but not the decision most would expect.

Listening to the first five minutes of the Q&A with Erica Fae, I learned a lot more about women who looked after lighthouses in place of their ailing or deceased husbands. It’s documented but the times whitewashed their contributions those many years ago. Erica Fae is able to bring their achievements to full view and for us to finally see. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, it’s enlightening to see what they did during the time. I’m glad Erica has the chance through this film to finally tell us their story and finally commend their accomplishments.

If there’s one glitch about this film, it’s that it doesn’t appear like it’s solid in its intention as a film. It becomes obvious it’s about one woman’s struggle to keep the lighthouse she should rightfully own being the widow of the previous owner. However the story of Abbie’s struggle has the distraction of her romance with Johan. I’ll admit while watching this, I was left wondering if the film was intended to be a romance: a story about the man Abbie truly loved. I don’t have a problem at all with films conveying a message of women fighting for their rights but I think the romance from Abbie and Johan took away from the story’s message and would leave confused about what the main intention of the film is to be.

SPOILER ALERTDo Not Read This Paragraph IF You Dont Want To Know The Ending: Even the ending had me confused. It’s obvious Abbie loved Johan but it couldn’t be that she was thinking of marrying him to keep her lighthouse. Even if it was right after the death of Thomas, Abbie didn’t come across as that type of woman. If she were to marry Johan, it would be because she loved him. I admit I had different expectations in the film. I thought Johan would follow his heart and come back to her. I think that’s why the ending of her writing the letter to set her ownership of the lighthouse in stone left me confused.

I give a lot of respect to Erica Fae for this film. Fae is best known as an actress in the film Synecdoche, New York and a recurring character in Boardwalk Empire. She wrote, directed, researched and played the lead in the film. She does an excellent job in all the duties she takes on in the film but there are some noticeable flaws. I know I made mention of a story of a love mixed with a woman’s fight for her right as coming off as uneven. As far as Fae’s acting, she does an excellent job of playing the character but she doesn’t come across as too believable as a woman from the 1870’s in New England. She comes across as too 21st century in her movement and her speaking. Antti Reini did a good job of playing Johan. The other cast members also did very well in their parts. The cinematography by Wes Cardino was excellent and gives a great feel for the East Coast. The score by Caroline Shaw was also very fitting for the film.

To Keep The Light has its noticeable flaws. Nevertheless it is a good story about what certain women had to fight for that often goes overlooked. I thank Erica Fae for giving us this story.

Rio 2016: Fourteen To Watch

London Flame

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

Rio 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Rio 2016

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

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

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

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

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

TEAMS:

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

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

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

FROM THE HOST NATION:

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

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

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

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

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

Oscars 2015 Shorts Review: Best Animated Short Film

Cinema

Just recently I published my review of the live-action shorts nominees of this year. Now’s my chance to publish my thoughts on the nominated animated shorts of this year. They range in variety from 2D artistic to primitive 2D to common 3D computer animated to 3D with a unique style. All five are excellent and unique in their unique way but who deserves to win?

Bear Story (Chile): dirs. Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart – It’s a story of a bear who misses his wife and son dearly. Every day he goes out on the street and shows a diorama show to those of the story of how he was abducted from them both and taken away to be part of the circus. The show also ends showing his hope that one day he will be reunited with them both.

The film is a sad story that touches your heart without trying to mess with it. It’s 3D animation but instead of the characters looking human, it comes looking like toy soldiers. I’m not too sure of the creative purpose of that. Nevertheless it does make for an entertaining short film.

Prologue (UK): dirs. Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton – This is one film where there was a viewer discretion warning and advised minors to leave the theatre before it was shown. The film takes part 2,400 years in the past. A child watches a brutal war between two teams of Spartan and Athenian warriors.

This is the rawest nominated short I’ve ever seen ever since they’ve shown the shorts in theatres. The art is simplistic as it consists mostly of pencil drawings with very little coloring. However it merits a lot in terms of its artistry. It also tells a story in brutally relentless fashion even depicting the battles in gory manner. It’s very rare to see a short animated film that’s strictly adults only. It also made it refreshing to see such a short.

Sanjay’s Super Team (USA): dirs: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Paradis Grindle – Sanjay loves watching the Super Team on television but his father is very insistent on a religious prayer habit, even at Sanjay’s young age. Right during the prayer ritual, Sanjay’s imagination comes alive. The gods he’s praying to form a Super Team of his own and they join Sanjay in the battle against a nemesis.

This is from Pixar and was the short before The Good Dinosaur. Director Sanjay Patel has an impressive resume working as an animator for Pixar in films like A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, the two Monsters movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. This film in which he co-directs is his directing debut. The film shows similar imagination to that of the Pixar team while also taking us into a brief but memorable time into an incredible fantasy world. Very good from start to finish. I predict it as my Should Win pick and Will Win pick.

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia): dir. Konstantin Bronzit – Two childhood friends train to be cosmonauts in space. Only one will go off into space. The other will be the alternate or next in line if something bad happens to the first. One friend got picked. The other friend wishes him well on his voyage. However shortly after blast off, the friend disappears. The friend down on earth is unhappy. He can’t even adjust well to his alternate whom he doesn’t get along with at all. Actually the alternate can’t get along with anyone. The friend makes a decision to the surprise of many, and to us. It’s a decision we’re glad he made.

It’s a 2D film with a story that doesn’t need dialogue for us to get the messages. Over time we learn the story isn’t about trying to make it into space but about just how close the friendship is. The two train together and dream together. When his friend is lost into oblivion, his ambition to be the next in space disappears just like that. You can easily see why he made the decision to do what he did.

World Of Tomorrow (UK) dir. Don Hirtzfeldt – The story begins with a toddler named Emily in a room. Out of nowhere comes a clone also named Emily who came from 227 years into the future back to the present. The adult Emily, ‘Emily Clone,’ tells the child Emily, ‘Emily Prime,’ of the human’s attempts to achieve immortality through cloning and showcasing the various worlds including the ‘Outernet’ and the various memories of the clone Emily. Very different and very unique.

This is another 2D short. The drawing is very simplistic. However it’s the story that’s the top quality of the film. We see a bizarre but unique story of Emily Clone and Emily Prime the future world and the future of Emily. The funniest element of the short is Emily Clone keeps on talking in her highly scientific speech and all Emily Prime does is just respond back in her childish gibberish. That adds to the humor of the short.

In conclusion I know I picked Sanjay’s Super Team as both my Should Win and Will Win choice. Normally I wouldn’t pick such a film to win but I find it hard to see any of the other four films try to top it. All five are excellent but I think Sanjay stands alone. I know World Of Tomorrow won the Annie Award but I have my feeling about Oscars voters. Mind you the shorts categories are some of the least predictable categories of the Oscars.

And there you go. My thoughts on the Oscar nominated Animated Shorts. Winner to be decided in two weeks.

Oscars 2015 Shorts Review: Best Live-Action Short Film

Cinema

The Oscar-nominated short films were back in theatres again. However this year I only had the chances to see the live-action one day and the animated another. I have no problem writing separate reviews for both. So here’s my take on the live-action shorts:

Ave Maria (Palestine/France/Germany): dirs. Eric Dupont and Basil Khalil – Five nuns pray at a convent in a ‘war-zone’ area of Palestine. Then they hear what sounds like an explosive car crash. One tries to help despite the fact they are under a vow of silence. What happened was a car driven by Jewish residents accidentally crashed into the Virgin Mary statue. They try to help but there are conflicts with the nuns’ vows of silence and the family’s strict adherence to the Sabbath and with kosherisms. Not to mention they don’t want to be noticed by Arab residents in the area.

The film does focus on the religious tensions in Palestine but in a humorous way. All of this takes place in the area of the convent. However it’s funny how something as little as a car crash and people trying to seek out help can lead to such religious conflicts. That may have been the least of problems in Palestine but even then it just shows the humor of the whole situation and of how in the end it’s all about doing the right thing. I feel the film’s mix of humor while conveying a social message is why I predict it Will Win the Oscar.

Shok (Kosovo/UK): dir. Jamie Donoughue – A car driving on a Kosovo road stops at an abandoned child’s bicycle. But why would a grown male from the car leave the car to look at the bicycle? And why would he ride it soon after?

The answer flashes back to the mid-90’s. Two Kosovar Albanian boys Petrit and Oki are the closest of friends. They frequently go to school riding on the bicycle Oki bought after a year of selling almonds. Petrit wants a bike of his own but feels he can get it by selling drugs and rolling papers to Serbian soldiers who’ve taken over the area. He feels it could also prevent them invading their village despite news stories of other areas of Kosovo being invaded. He even tells Oki he’s safe with him.

However Petrit’s promise and ‘business’ is put under heavy question during one of his ‘deals’ as a Serbian soldier wants Oki’s bicycle. It’s not the lost bicycle Oki’s angry about but the fact Petrit is willing to do something dangerous and dishonest for money and it threatens their friendship. They reconcile after Petrit is willing to take an assault from a soldier after Albanian books are found in Oki’s bag and Petrit claims them as his own. Unfortunately the invasion of their village eventually comes and with it the tragic end of the friendship of Oki and Petrit.

Of all five shorts, this is the one that still stayed with me long after I left the theatre. This is a story based on true events. I easily remember the war in the Balkans, especially the bloodshed in Bosnia, back in the 90’s. It dominated the news that decade. The war in Kosovo just years after the war in Bosnia ended was another example of the tyranny and I remember that as well. It does leave you feeling it was unfair of what happened to Oki. He was the smart one. He was the one who kept Petrit’s head on straight. But he was the one killed. Also that end scene where we see a grown-up Petrit still haunted by the war more that fifteen years later reminds you that war still haunts even as time passes and even if Kosovo did get its independence. My cousin once said: “No country’s freedom came without some amount of bloodshed.” True, but the bloodshed still leaves people with a trauma not even independence can solve. That’s why I pick Shok to be my Should Win pick.

Eveything Will Be Okay (Austria/Germany): dir. Patrick Vollrath – The film starts on a simple note. A man named Michael goes to see his daughter Lea for visitation. His ex-wife and new boyfriend don’t have a problem with that at all so we think it will just be a fun day of the two of them without incident. It starts on a fun note as he buys her a big Playmobil toy and promises to taker her to the fair afterwards. However things get a bit suspicious as the two go to a photo booth where he gets Lea to have a photo of her own and takes to a passport office for rush processing. Things get even fishier when Michael sells his car and they take a cab to the airport. Soon we get what’s going on. It’s a miracle the flight to Dubai was cancelled but they have a replacement flight the next morning. Despite Lea wanting to go home, Michael is insistent on taking her and for her to cooperate. It’s by the luck of Lea making a phone call to her mother overnight that they’re able to prevent an abduction from happening. But not without a struggle.

This is a film of a scenario that happens all too often. A broken marriage and children caught in the middle even to the point of them being abducted. This is something that happens all over the world. However the story is not just about the child caught in the middle but the parent who’s hurting and feels that the child is being taken away from him. The film leaves you wondering if Michael suffers from a mental illness or if he’s just a hurting person. It leaves you feeling that way of a lot of parents from failed marriages. Is that why they abduct their children? The film also leaves you relieved that the flight was cancelled and that Lea was able to make that phone call to her mother in the early morning. Not as many children are as lucky.

The best quality of the film is that it helps the audience live the moment. We don’t know what’s really happening at first but we soon get a better understanding of what’s happening as time goes on. Even as they go to the fair and ride the bumper cars, we still can’t take our mind off of what we suspect will happen. And as time moves on, what we suspect is exactly what’s happening. In addition that scene which we think is the end where the police, Lea’s mother and the hotel personnel try to stop the heist ends up being a scene where a new conflict begins. Michael still struggle to hang onto Lea. That’s another quality of the film where right where we think it’s all over, it’s not and a new struggle begins. On top of that the film’s story is shown without any musical score which adds to the intensity of the drama.

This is a film of a story of an incident that happens all too often in our world. The film’s best qualities are the story unfolding quietly as time unfolds and the unexpected twists in the drama.

-Stutterer (UK/Ireland): dirs. Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage – Greenwood, a twentysomething London male with a stutter finds life difficult. His stutter is so severe, it causes problems when calling customer service. He has a job as a typographer but his social life is limited to him with his father. Often he fakes himself as death to try and avoid conversation. His thoughts however are perfectly coherent.

Despite his social flaws and his speech problem, he has developed an online relationship with a woman named Ellie. That works excellently and they keep the relationship going for six months despite never meeting face to face. However the day comes when Ellie would like to meet Greenwood for the first time. He’s in a crisis of what to do and abandons her at first but agrees to do so the next day despite being nervous as hell. The ending will surprise you.

This is a charming story. It takes you into the person’s feelings as well as their insecurities. You learn of Greenwood’s stutter and of what he’s really thinking and easily see the barriers he has to face. You learn about Greenwood the person and hope that in the end he does win Ellie. The ending will delight you. Very clever short film.

 –Day One (USA): dir. Henry Hughes – Feda is a young woman just hired by the U.S. Army to act as interpreter. She’s in her 30’s and admits to her colleague who also speaks Arabic that she’s never been married and has no children. Her operation on Day One involves dealing with an enemy bomb maker the army is about to arrest. The operation involves a lot more. It also involves bring his fatherless niece to safety. It also involves dealing with his wife who’s about to give birth.

As if trying to deliver the baby isn’t stressful enough, there’s the fact the baby’s hand is hanging out. The doctor tests for a pulse from the baby and assumes there isn’t one. Feda is given orders to cut the deceased baby’s limbs so that the mother doesn’t bleed to death. Even before Feda attempts the first cut, she notices the hand move. The baby’s alive. There is a sigh of relief but there’s the new stress of making sure the baby’s born right and the mother not bleeding to death. The film ends on a sad but hopeful note.

Just like Everything Will Be Okay, it captures the drama of the moment and allows the audience to capture the intensity as the events are slowly unfolding. The various twists and turns in the story also adds to the continuous drama. The happy ending we all hope for doesn’t happen but it does end with a moment of hope, especially for Feda.

In conclusion, I feel Shok should win the Oscar because of how it’s a story that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. It was creative and it told a story that will touch you deep down inside. I still remember hearing a couple of people in tears after Oki was shot. However I don’t know if the Academy will pick a short that’s all too serious. I think they might want to go for a story leading more to the humorous side. I think Ave Maria with its mix of humor and social awareness will take the Oscar. I think the Academy would prefer a film like that.

And there are my thoughts for this year’s five nominees in the category of Best Live Action Short Film. Winners to be decided on the big night. Also click here for my reviews of the animated shorts.

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: My Prediction For The Final

Womens CupIt took 50 matches to round the 24 contenders to the two finalists for the Women’s World Cup on Sunday. It was decided to be the United States and Japan, same as at the 2011 WWC. It was an interesting match where the game ended 1-1 in regulation and 2-2 after extra time. Penalty kicks gave Japan the win. Anyways Japan have a chance to repeat or the USA can get their revenge and their third Women’s World Cup in the process. However I will make my prediction here for who I feel will win the final.

Third-Place Match: Germany vs. England

Of course I have to make a prediction for who I think will win the bronze medals. We have two teams that are broken-hearted and you can’t blame them. Germany was ranked #1 in the world and sure played like it during the tournament until they got to the semifinals. There the Americans came alive and had their best win over the Germans 2-0. Especially biting for Celia Sasic as she has been the WWC’s top scorer and miss a penalty during that game. The German team was hoping for this World Cup to be the one where they can make a comeback. Even though it’s a big improvement over their quarterfinal exit from four years ago, the loss still bites.

I don’t think I need to explain the frustration England is going through. This World Cup was to be the WWC where the Three Lionesses finally came of age and they did in their quarterfinal win against Canada. Cheers came from all over including the most lauded male players in England. In their semifinal against Japan, they appeared like they had the advantage as they did most of the attacking and shooting. Then just in injury time in the second half came the heartbreaking own-goal from Laura Bassett. That ended it for them as Japan would win 2-1 and become the finalist instead.

Head-to-head play undoubtedly favors Germany as England has never won against Germany in their seven previous matches. Their last duel together was a year ago and Germany won 3-0. However anything can happen and this game could go to whichever team is the least disheartened.

My Verdict:

As heartbroken I am for Bassett, I will have to say that Germany will take it 3-1. The Germans just have that much of an advantage.

WWC FinalWOMEN’S WORLD CUP FINAL: United States vs. Japan

Team Overview

The United States- What can I say? The Americans have been the best performers of the Cup so far. They may have drawn against Sweden but they’ve had convincing wins elsewhere. Their wins have mostly been conservative but they’ve known how to deliver each time. It was their 2-0 win against Germany however where the Americans were finally starting to show their brilliance.

It’s not to say they’re a 100% bet to win the World Cup. We shouldn’t forget the US lost to Japan at the last World Cup final on penalty kicks. Also the two tied 1-1 in their most recent duel last year. It’s all up to the Americans to deliver.

Japan- Until 2011, the furthest Japan ever got at a WWC was a single quarterfinal. 2011 changed everything as they became Women’s World Cup champions. Nadeshiko has continued their success since with an Olympic silver medal and a Women’s Asian Cup victory. Here they appear on fire as they’ve won every single match they’ve played in Canada.

However there’s one thing about Japan people have noticed. They’ve noticed that they’re not always all together. In fact some even noticed some errors in their game against England. A lot of people are saying Japan’s just lucky. They will have to perform solidly and strongly in the final if they want to repeat as Women’s World Cup holders. Also in terms of head-to-head stats, Japan has lost to the US more often than won.

My Verdict:

Okay this is going to be a tight one but I think the USA will win 2-1 in extra time. Actually it could be possible the US’s winning goal could be during injury time after 90 minutes or even in the last five minutes of regulation. Do you know how many game-winning goals have been scored here in Canada either after the 85th minute or in injury time?

And there you have it. My predictions for who will win the Women’s World Cup and the bronze medals. Now all I have to do is find a place to see the game. Can you believe tickets for the final were sold out months ago?

2015 FIFA WWC: My Semifinal Predictions

WWC SemisOkay, it’s getting closer to crown the winner. First the group play, then the Round of 16 and then the quarterfinals. Now we have four survivors. Three of which have already won the Women’s World Cup at least once. The other having their best WWC ever. It’s time to hold the semifinals to decide the two finalists and the two for the third-place match. Here are my thoughts on who should take the semis:

SEMIFINAL #1 – GERMANY vs. USA

Head-To-Head Stuff:

I really doubt FIFA.com has all the stats together on this. For the record, FIFA.com states Germany and the U.S. have met only three times before with the US winning twice. The US has scored a total of 8 goals in those matches with Germany scoring 7. Another website has stats from 11 years back and shows Germany has actually lost to the US three times in the seven times they’ve played each other in that time. The US’ only loss was on penalties. The US’s last actual loss to Germany was 3-0 at the 2003 World Cup semifinals.

Breakdown:

The quarterfinal of Germany vs. France was something. Two teams raked both first and third in the world respectably playing a quarterfinal where it took penalty kicks to decide it. Now comes the semifinal and it’s also going to be something. The teams ranked both first and second in the world playing for a trip to the final. Adding to the drama is that both teams are the only ones to win two Women’s World Cups. So how do they stack?

In terms of play, Germany has been the stellar one in terms of scoring but it took France in the quarterfinals to send the message about Germany’s vulnerability. They may be #1 but they’re not invincible. The United States have been consistent en route to keeping their solid record of making the Top 4 of every WWC intact. They haven’t been scoring as big as Germany but they’re not making any losses happen and have only conceded a single goal. However playing to a 1-0 win against China in their quarterfinal may question their ability to challenge Germany in the semis.

MY VERDICT:

This is a toughie. It’s even possible this game could end up being a 0-0 draw after extra time in which Germany would win on penalty kicks. I believe it could be as tight as Germany’s match against France on Friday. However I predict Germany will win 1-0 in extra time. Sure the Americans have the better history against them but Germany is the team that’s been playing with power.

SEMIFINAL #1 – JAPAN vs. ENGLAND

Head-To-Head Stuff:

Once again FIFA.com doesn’t provide too many reliable stats. They just mention Japan and England playing head-to-head twice with a 2-2 draw (2007 World Cup) and a 2-0 win for England (2011 World Cup). Actually another website helped me track down a game the two played in 2013 where they drew 1-1.

Breakdown:

The Nadeshiko, as the Japanese women are commonly called, are defending champions and they are playing like the champions they’re reputed to be. They’ve had nothing but straight wins. Even if they are conservative in size, they’re showing themselves to be a team strong, ready and full of talent from Homare Sawa, their most capped player on the team, to 22 year-old Mana Iwabuchi who scored the winning goal against Australia. However the play here in Canada has showed that teams are capable of rivaling them. Australia gave an excellent challenge as did ‘lesser’ teams like Cameroon and the Netherlands. I know they haven’t really shown any vulnerability here in Canada but they will have to deliver more against England if they want to make it to the finals.

As a Canadian, I’m not too happy about England beating us in the quarterfinals. However this is a breakthrough for the Three Lionesses as this is England’s first-ever trip to the WWC semifinals. Having their own Premier League sure helps. I’ve often said that the women can teach the men a thing or two about winning. Sure, they’ve never lost to Japan but Japan has a record of strong play and a field with more talent and experience. England is still growing at their own pace. It’s a lot of growth but I don’t think it’s enough to make the World Cup winners. In fact their loss to France in group play is an example of how vulnerable England can get.

MY VERDICT:

I feel Japan will take it 2-1 in extra time.

And there you go. My predictions for the semifinals. Stay tuned to see who two teams will be playing for the Cup on Sunday.

Movie Review: Argo

“So you want to come to Hollywood, act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in.”

Argo is a story about an important moment in American History: The Iran Hostage Crisis. This focuses on the part that would be known as The Canadian Caper. What we get is more than just a reenactment of history.

The film starts in November of 1979. Iran has gone through its Islamic Revolution. The Shah had been dethroned. Ayatollah Khomeini was the figure of a revolution of Islam in the country and the people wanted justice. They wanted the Shah tried and hanged and were outraged he was housed in the United States, which was already denounced by Khomeini as ‘The Great Satan’. On November 4th, Iranians stormed the American embassy, captured at least 50 Americans and held them hostage. Some managed to escape and six were given refuge in the Canadian embassy under Ken Taylor.

More than ten weeks would pass and the Americans held hostage were still held captive facing an unknown fate with a kangaroo court of Iranian students. Those six in the Canadian embassy were still being sheltered with a future just as uncertain. Now it was a matter of finding them ways of getting them all out safe and sound. Some Americans thought military intervention and even a war was the thing to do but it would cause more bloodshed to the American and even could lead to the embassy being bombed. This was an embarrassment weighing heavily on the entire United States at the time. President Jimmy Carter made it clear he will not back down to terrorist demands. That left the CIA to decide what actions to pursue especially as time was running out and the fates of all were uncertain.

Enter CIA Tony Mendez. He hears about the six from people at the CIA table trying to devise rescue plans for the six. None come up as good ideas. It’s when he’s talking to his son from his failing marriage that his son’s talk of science fiction entertainment sparks an idea about a fake film production as the rescue mission. First: find the right Hollywood people for the idea. He finds it in makeup artist John Chambers and film producer Lester Siegel. Second: find the right movie title and subject line. Siegel finds it in a rejected script titled Argo. Third: give all those in refuge Canadian identities and a trial run through the local bazaar. Tony himself poses as the director. Fourth: know the ins and outs of how to make it out of Iran. One thing we’re reminded is there are guards at the airport who could arrest any American or even a citizen with an American name in their documents for possible connection to the Shah. It all sounds good but it’s not going to be easy. CIA may feel this mission is not as important as the main issues to deal with. Cooperation from the Canadian government would have to occur. President Carter giving the okay on the Swissair plane tickets to get them out would have to happen. The Hollywood people would have to be there whenever a guard questions Kevin, Tony’s guise. And this all has to be done before the Iranian people find out the secret of the hidden Americans and they eventually will. Will this mission succeed? History has already told us so. Nevertheless it’s all how it plays out in the film.

The best quality of the movie is not just its redirectioning of the events of the time but capturing the pressure of the moment. I was a child when the hostage crisis occurred and I knew that the six would all make it out alive. I knew the Shah would eventually be moved to Egypt where he’d spend his last months. I knew that all the other American hostages would be freed almost a full year after the six escaped. Nevertheless watching the movie made me forget all the facts I knew and made me wonder what will happen next? Will they succeed in their mission? Will something go wrong? It captures the sense of everything that was happening at the moment. It also captures the reasons why such an operation was necessary instead of an act of war. It captured the reasons why a war would only escalate the situation. This was not a simple political situation. This was a moment in history almost reminiscent to the French Revolution of 1789 where it was a revolution of the people consisting of a kangaroo court of trial, verdict and sentencing of even death. Anything more than the Canadian Caper would be disastrous and bloody. Anything less would be disastrous and humiliating.

Meanwhile it’s not just about a rescue mission. It’s also about people and what they mean to others. There’s Tony, a CIA agent who has the responsibility of these Americans in their hand. He’s also a father who values his time with his son even though it’s not often. There are the hostages who are fearing for their lives and nervous if this mission will fail. Especially the Lijeks, a married couple. There are all those involved in the mission–Tony, the six Americans, the film producers and the CIA–that feel the weight of this mission and know it’s can’t fail. Not with the eyes and hopes of all the USA watching. This was as much a human story as it was a thriller.

Often when a piece of history is reenacted on the big screen, it’s often a question if this moment is relevant today. I feel it is. Khomeini may have died in 1989 but anti-American sentiment is still present in many of the predominantly Muslim countries. The Iranian people have calmed down a lot since the Islamic Revolution of the late 70’s and have become somewhat more American-friendly, if imperfect. Nevertheless Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current President of Iran, is a man who idolizes Khomeini and his beliefs. We should keep in mind Ahmadinejad was 22 when the shah was overthrown and the Islamic Revolution began. Ahmadinejad has spoken narcissistically and even eccentrically about the ‘end of the American empire’ and has spoken openly about his nuclear ambitions. Most Iranians do not accept Ahmadinejad’s views but they’re either too afraid to speak or they’ve been punished criminally. This comes at a tense time as the US is trying to improve relations with the Muslim world. So I can see what happened in Argo quite possible to happen again now.

Ben Affleck did an excellent job in directing the movie. He took a smart script from Chris Terrio and directed an excellent movie out of it that was as much thought provoking as it was thrilling. He did a very good job of acting too. I liked how right during the very first scene I saw Ben play a role instead of coming across in typical Ben Affleck style. Mind you Ben was not the complete standout. Alan Arkin gave a great turn as Lester Siegel that stole the show many times. John Goodman was also a show stealer as John Chambers. Victor Garber also held his own as Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.The script from Chris Terrio was also smart, funny at times, touching and thrilling. It also did a very good job of capturing the chaos of the times from the riots in the town to people being hanged from cranes. The inclusion of news footage added to the drama both before and after. Even hearing Jimmy carter speak during the credits added to the story and its significance in history. Other standout efforts are Rodrigo Prieto in cinematography and Alexandre Desplat in film scoring.

Argo is a movie about a piece of history that we often forget but is very relevant towards the poitical situation in the world now. Seeing it played out on screen does more than just retell history.