Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 World Cup, 1st Round Soccer vs Film & Predictions Review

First Round Comparison

9 countries advanced to both the soccer World Cup and movie tournament’s second round as all 8 groups provided atleast one common nation, with Group A being the only group that provided the same two nations.  Argentina, USA and Paraguay were the only three countries that topped both their soccer and movie groups.

Regional Comparison of the 16 Nations Advancing from the First Round

Soccer World Cup -- South America (5/5), Europe (6/13), North & Central America (2/3), Asia (2/3), Africa (1/6), Oceania (0/2).

Movie World Cup -- South America (3/5), Europe (7/13), North & Central America (3/3), Asia (2/3), Africa (1/6), Oceania (0/2).

It is quite remarkable that the regional representation is almost similar for both the soccer and film World Cups with the numbers for Asia, Africa and Oceania completely identical. In that sense, my film selections ended up being consistent with the different regional soccer team's performances. However, South American teams have stood out in the soccer World Cup with a brilliant performance as four of the five South American nations advanced in 1st place in their respective groups and Chile only gave up first place on the final day on goal-difference.

Predictions vs Actual Results in the Soccer World Cup

I correctly picked 12 out of 16 nations for my 2nd round picks. I clearly over-estimated Serbia's abilities while under-estimated South Korea, Ghana, Japan and Slovakia. Although I am still not convinced about Ghana because they failed to find the target from open play and had penalties to thank for their 2 strikes. One can argue that had Harry Kewell not used his arm then Ghana would have had a clear goal but Ghana owe a huge debt of gratitude for Zdravko Kuzmanovic’s gift of a handball. Serbia have only themselves to blame for their exit and their two needless handballs depicted the mental meltdown of their players. Vidic maybe reliable for Man Utd but he panicked against Germany and handled in a similar silly manner to Kuzmanovic.

Even though I didn't do too bad with my picks, I still got plenty of things wrong.

1) Group C

"Despite all their shortcomings, England will comfortably advance from this group along with USA."

Yes, both teams advanced but it was not very comfortable as England and USA needed 1-0 wins on the final day, with USA getting their winner in injury time.

"The big question will be whether the US can beat England to the group's #1 spot."

Yes this was answered as USA grabbed top spot but only on goal-difference. Prior to the World Cup, I thought that the only way the Americans could get top spot was if they beat England 2-1 otherwise if they only tied England 1-1, then they would finish in second place on goal difference because I expected England to beat Algeria 3-0 and Slovenia 2-0.

2) Group F

"I do not expect Italy to achieve anything and I am sure they will comply. It is hard to see this Italian team make it to the semi's but they have enough talent to win their group and advance to the next round."

Yes Italy did not achieve anything but instead of winning their easy group, they finished bottom.

"2nd spot will come down to Paraguay vs Slovakia with New Zealand finishing comfortably in 4th. For now, I am going to pick Paraguay to advance even though my instinct tells me Slovakia will go through."

Both Paraguay & Slovakia advanced but New Zealand finished impressively unbeaten in 3rd.

3) Group H

"Despite their injuries and possible fatigue, Spain should easily win the group. Chile had an excellent world cup campaign and should follow Spain out of this group. Ottmar Hitzfeld will ensure the Swiss put on a good display but Switzerland's style will be a complete contrast to Chile and Honduras."

Spain did win the group but it clearly was not a stroll.

Overall, I got the standings of all four teams correct for Group A, G and H but Group G & H were a bit easier to get right. I am most delighted with my group A predictions where I correctly picked the order of Uruguay, Mexico, South Africa and France. Most people I know expected France to not make it out of their group but quite a few of them expected South Africa to join Uruguay. I take pride in picking the game scores of the French games to be 0-0 with Uruguay, 0-2 Mexico and 0-1 South Africa. France lost 2-1 to South Africa but atleast I got 2 scores and goal difference correct for the French team. Ofcourse, with Raymond Domenech in charge, failure was the only option available for the French. The only reason that Domenech didn't fail miserably in 2006 was Zinedine Zidane.

Second Round

The only match-up similar in the second round of the soccer and movie world cup is Spain vs Portugal. In the movie world cup, Pedro Costa’s beautiful film narrowly advanced over Victor Erice’s feature but it is hard to see the Portuguese soccer team beat out a Xavi-Iniesta-David Villa powered Spanish team.

Still, good football awaits this weekend. Hopefully there will be goals.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cheats, Dives & Waka Waka

Evil handball vs Good handball

Every British soccer commentator has felt it their duty to talk about Thierry Henry's handball against the Irish every time the camera turned towards the French striker at this World Cup. In addition, every British newspaper finds ways to include the handball mention with any article related to the French team because they believe Henry's double juggle is no less than a war crime. And moments after the French lost 2-0 to Mexico, Soccernet decided the only headline they could come up with was "Irish Eyes are Smiling" and ignored any mention of Mexican joy at such a famous result. Yet, no one seems to find anything wrong about Luis Fabiano's double juggling of the ball to score Brazil's second goal against the Ivory Coast. This is how the Guardian summed it up.

Superb again from the Sevilla striker. Dinks the ball over Zokora, dinks the ball over Touré, (then brings the ball down with his arm), before cracking another fizzing shot past Barry. More than a hint of controversy about that one, but the skill was sublime in the build up.

So does that mean as long as the skill is sublime, then a double handball is ok? Or does it simply mean that as long as a double handball is not committed against a British team, then it is perfectly alright?

Canadian broadcasters did highlight the illegal usage of the arm but still dubbed it a beautiful goal of amazing skill. It is remarkable that Henry was blasted for cheating yet people find Fabiano's illegal goal perfectly acceptable. To add a comical touch to the whole matter, the ref asked Fabiano if he used his arm in scoring the goal. As expected, Fabiano said no but one can detect a hint of a smile in his response.

Today, a partial admittance came from Fabiano but it is still nonsense:

But in order to make the goal more beautiful, there had to be a doubtful element. It was a spectacular goal and I believe it was not a voluntary handball. It was a legitimate goal and it was one of the most beautiful goals that I've scored in my career. Where better to score such a goal than at the World Cup?"

I may be the only person on the planet who cannot see it as the beautiful goal that it is being called. If players can use their arm to bring the ball down, then I am sure we will see many such "beautiful goals".

Oh the acting...

Abdel-kader Keïta showed the world what cheating is all about when he got Kaka sent off by going down as if a sniper's bullet had hit him in the face. To make matters worse, Chile's Arturo Vidal decided to copy Abdel-kader Keïta and faked a slap to the face thereby getting Behrami sent off. Chile duly beat the Swiss 1-0 but it is hard to view that game after such an act of blatant cheating.

Such play-acting has become all too common and has tarnished this game. FIFA need to do something to stop this play-acting but as usual they remain silent while the World Cup continues to be ruined by cheats.

2002 Deja vu? or recurring travel blues?

French, Italian, Portuguese and English players all struggled and looked tired in 2002 when the World Cup was hosted in Asia for the first time. Even though Germany got to the 2002 final, they did it on the back of three consecutive 1-0 results. Now in Africa’s first World Cup, France, Italy and England are struggling once again but after a lackluster opener, atleast Portugal have found their shooting boots with a 7-0 win over North Korea.

Could it be that some of the current generation of European national players struggle or are not interested when the tournament is away from Europe? Or are the European nations just following history by performing poorly on foreign soil? Historically, European nations have not won a World Cup hosted outside of Europe in 8 attempts. On the other hand, European teams have won 9 out of 10 World Cups hosted in Europe. The sole non-European victory was provided by Brazil, ofcourse, who won the 1958 World Cup in Sweden by beating the hosts 5-2 in a memorable final when a young Pele announced his arrival on the world stage. Including the European triumph, Brazil have won the World Cup in 4 continents with a 1962 win in Chile, Mexico in 1970, USA in 1994 and Korea/Japan in 2002. Shockingly, Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup on home soil to Uruguay. After Brazil, Argentina are the only nation to have won in multiple continents as they won the 1978 World Cup at home (albeit with some luck in the final against Holland and maybe a bribe against Peru) and managed a famous (that goal and that handball) victory in Mexico 1986.

So a European winner in South Africa can dent the European travel blues theory although this theory will still get a stern test in 2014 when Brazil hosts the next World Cup. Safe to say, Brazil will be keen to erase memories of 1950 by achieving a home win four years from now.

Waka Waka -- This time for South America, not Africa

The record of the 6 African teams at this World Cup stands dismally at just one win (Ghana 1-0 Serbia), 4 draws (1-1, 0-0, 0-0, 1-1) and 7 losses. The six teams have just managed 6 goals between them but have conceded 15, with South Africa and Ivory Coast letting in 3 each in their 3-0 and 3-1 losses to Uruguay and Brazil respectively.

Prior to the World Cup, a lot of soccer writers/commentators mentioned that an African team would reach the semi-finals in South Africa. I always found that statement puzzling because I could not envision any of the African teams to even make it out of their groups let alone reach the semis. As it stands, Cameroon have become the first team to be officially eliminated from the World Cup and going into the final group games, only Ghana is best poised to make the next round but they have a tough test against Germany and have to find a way to score a goal from open play as both Ghanaian goals in this tournament have come from the penalty spot.  Algeria have already surpassed expectations with their 0-0 tie with England and still have an outside chance to make the second round but they have to score a goal for that to happen.

There isn't one easy explanation for all the African teams’ failures although all six teams have suffered from not having creative midfielders. In the case of Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon, the managers have to take a good chunk of the responsibility regardless of the time they have been employed in their jobs. Ivory Coast brought in Sven-Göran Eriksson in March and Nigeria hired Lars Lagerbäck in Febuary. A few months is not enough time for the managers to work with their teams especially if key players are plying their trade in Europe but Eriksson & Lagerbäck should have atleast established a tactical shape to utilize the players on hand. Although Paul Le Guen demonstrated that even a year may not be enough time to get things right as Le Guen's puzzling tactical decisions have aided Cameroon's poor display, especially in their opener against Japan when Alex Song was left on the bench and Cameroon's most lethal striker Samuel Eto'o was deployed wide right where he was rendered ineffective. On the other hand, in South Africa's case no amount of time may have been sufficient because their team lacks enough creative personnel. Even though Carlos Parreira is in his second tenure with South Africa, it is hard to see how much better he could have done given the resources at his disposal. South African players played above their strengths in the opener and almost got a winner but their weaknesses were on display against Uruguay.

On the other hand, South American teams continued their incredible unbeaten run at this World Cup thanks to Chile's win over Switzerland, Brazil's handball aided 3-1 victory over Ivory Coast and Paraguay's efficient 2-0 win over a dull and uninspired Slovakian team. The 5 South American teams now have 8 wins and 2 draws, scoring 18 goals and letting in just 4 goals.

Bragging rights for Europe and South America are also at stake in this World Cup as South America and Europe have split the previous 18 World Cup wins -- South America has won the cup 9 times (Brazil with 5, Uruguay and Argentina with 2 each) and Europe also has 9 wins (Italy with 4, Germany with 3, England and France with one each). Teams from the remaining four continents are still in contention at this World Cup so there is a still tiny (a generous 0.1%) chance that someone other than Europe or South America might succeed in Africa. But for now, things point to a South American champion in Africa.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Signs of Life

The World Cup kicked off on June 11 but for me the tournament really started on Tuesday, June 15 when Brazil edged off North Korea 2-1. This was easily the biggest mismatch of the tournament with the #1 ranked Brazilians taking on the 105th ranked North Korean team. 5 time World Cup Champions Brazil are the favourites at every tournament and are the only country to have played in every single World Cup. On top of that, they are the nation most associated with the beautiful game and every single aspect of their game is constantly studied, analyzed and talked about. Their players are well paid professionals who play for some of the top European teams. On the other hand, North Korea is an isolated nation whose football is invisible from the international stage and who were last seen in the World Cup back in 1966. The North Koreans only have three players who play international club football with An Yong Hak and Jong Tae Se playing in Japan and Hong Yong Jo based in Russia. Yet for almost 55 minutes they kept Brazil at bay and even had more shots on target than Brazil in the opening 20 minutes. Such a display is one of the real charms of the World Cup. In fact, only in soccer can two teams with such a vast gulf in skill set compete equally because soccer is truly a global game that is accessible to anyone with or without money. All one needs is a ball and if a ball is not available, then any round object will do.

If North Korea’s brave effort was eye catching, then the Swiss result over Spain is truly amazing. Ofcourse, Switzerland hardly had the ball but when they did have it at their feet, they made the most of it, first by bundling it over the line and then almost doubling their lead only to be denied by the post. Spain may have had 99.9999% possession of the ball but for the best part of an hour, they hardly did anything with it. As has often been by demonstrated by Arsenal, making sideway passes is absolutely pointless unless there is an end product.

The Swiss victory has the potential to change everything because if Spain finishes second in their group, then they will face Brazil in the next round, as opposed to meeting Brazil in the final. This assumes that Chile does not knock Spain out of the world cup.

South American delight

The 6 matches played by the South American teams have yielded 4 wins and 2 draws -- Uruguay 3-0 South Africa, Argentina 1-0 Nigeria, Brazil 2-1 North Korea, Chile 1-0 Honduras, Paraguay 1-1 Italy and Uruguay 0-0 France.

There is a strong possibility that all 5 South American teams can progress to the next round and 4 South American teams can occupy all the semi final spots. It will be interesting to see if Chile can maintain its high tempo entertaining style as the tournament goes along and whether Paraguay & Uruguay can continue to post impressive results.

Based on the first week’s results, it won’t be surprizing to see a South American World Cup winner. Ofcourse, it would be a real fairy tale if a South American team other than Brazil or Argentina can win the title.

2010 Movie World Cup, Second Round

The second round draw & rules:

1) The match-ups will be as per the FIFA World Cup knock out round draw, such as the winner of Group A will play the runner-up from Group B.

2) Three categories will be used to decide the head-to-head film match-ups -- Direction, Structure (story and editing) & Cinematography.

If film A is better than film B in a category, then film A will get 1 point and film B will get 0. So the maximum score a film can earn is 3-0 when it prevails over the opposing film in all three categories.

If both film A and film B are equal in a category, then they each get 1 point. This could lead to a situation where two films can be tied 3-3. In that case, the winning film will be decided by a subjective vote, which I equate to a penalty shoot-out.

So here are the film match-ups and winning scores:

1) Mexico (In the Pit) 3-1 Greece (The Lost Monument)

The Mexican documentary is quite sublime and thoughtful and earns maximum points in all categories whereas the Greek short film earns a point on the strength of its cinematography.

2) USA (Ballast) 3-2 Germany (Dr. Mabuse The Gambler)

The German entry scores points on its structure and direction, both of which are years ahead of the film's production time but Ballast excels in all categories, especially the cinematography which accurately conveys the bleak mood.

3) Japan (The Human Condition, part I) 3-0 Italy (Il Divo)

Interestingly, both films depict humans at their backstabbing best. However, The Human Condition is a far more engaging look at the difficulty in dealing with manipulative and egoistic personalities.

4) Portugal (Colossal Youth) 2-1 Spain (The Spirit of the Beehive)

This is the only match-up where the two films split up scoring in the three categories, as Colossal Youth scores on direction and cinematography, while The Spirit of the Beehive earns a single point on the strength of its linear structure and editing. Almost every scene in The Spirit of the Beehive serves a purpose to the overall film's flow whereas Colossal Youth has some scenes which are questionable. On an amusing note, Mark Peranson does extract the purpose of one such scene in Colossal Youth:

The corporeal walkouts at Cannes, highly expected, began en masse during Vanda’s first scene, the camera unmoving in her doll’s house-like bedroom, as she engages Ventura in a seemingly endless conversation about diapers, or something; hacking up half a lung, she becomes trapped in some kind of loop (is it the methadone talking?), and to those not on her (or Costa’s) wavelength, I can easily see how it could be torture, especially on the ninth day of the festival. "That scene is in that place to get everyone out of the theatre who doesn’t want to be there, right?" I asked him. His answer: "Exactly."

5) Argentina (Liverpool) 3-1 Uruguay (Gigante)

The beautiful liberating cinema of Lisandro Alonso vs the structured contemplative cinema of Adrian Biniez. Gigante is thoughtful and amusing in a dry humorous manner and scores a point due to its direction.

6) Serbia (The Life and Death of a Porno Gang) 3-0 Algeria(Daughter of Keltoum)

Two completely different styles on display here. The Serbian feature strips away any emotion in displaying the cold savage human mind at work whereas the Algerian feature is filled with tender emotions which warm the heart.  The Algerian film has lot of good qualities but if both films are judged objectively, then the Serbian feature easily comes out on top.

7) Paraguay (Paraguayan Hammock) 2-3 Denmark (Flame and Citron)

The only match-up where a group winner loses out to a runner-up film but it was certainly close and in the end, the Danish film's engaging story makes the slight difference.  Flame and Citron gives some insight into its characters psyche whereas Paraguayan Hammock is content to keep its characters a bit distant.

8) Honduras (El Porvenir) 3-0 North Korea (North Korea: A Day in the Life)

The only match-up to feature two documentaries. The Honduran film features a far more in-depth analysis of its subject where the North Korean entry barely scratches the surface of its material. Ofcourse, the watchful eye of the North Korean government is a huge reason why Pieter Fleury's film cannot explore its subject freely.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, First Round Recap

All 32 World Cup films have been viewed and the group stages have been completed. The top two films from each group will advance to the next round.

Here is a recap of the 16 films advancing to the knock-out round. Also, the total points earned by each group are listed. Each group could have earned a maximum of 36 points, that is 9 points for a film x 4 films.

1) Group A -- Total points 29

Mexico: In the Pit (2006, Juan Carlos Rulfo)
Uruguay: Gigante (2009, Adrian Biniez)

2) Group B -- Total points 29

Argentina: Liverpool (2008, Lisandro Alonso)
Greece: The Lost Monument (2009, Stefanos Tsivopoulos)

3) Group C -- Total points 27

USA: Ballast (2008, Lance Hammer)
Algeria: Daughter of Keltoum (2001, Mehdi Charef)

4) Group D -- Total points 28

Serbia: The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009, Mladen Djordjevic)
Germany: Dr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang)

5) Group E -- Total points 29

Japan: The Human Condition, part I (1959, Masaki Kobayashi)
Denmark: Flame and Citron (2008, Ole Christian Madsen)

6) Group F -- Total points 24

Paraguay: Paraguayan Hammock (2006, Paz Encina)
Italy: Il Divo (2008, Paolo Sorrentino)

7) Group G -- Total points 27

Portugal: Colossal Youth (2006, Pedro Costa)
North Korea: A Day in the Life (2004, Pieter Fleury)

8) Group H -- Total points 26

Honduras: El Porvenir (2008, Oscar Estrada)
Spain: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973, Victor Erice)

Groups A, B and E had the highest points total of 29 out of a possible 36, which is 81%. The lowest total went to Group F with 24 (67%). Overall, just 5 points separated the top groups from the bottom group, so there was an overall decent selection of films with no group falling too far behind in the quality of films.

Group A was quite close overall with the top two getting 8 points, the French entry getting 7 and the South African title picking up 6.

Five of the Eight groups had a film earning 9/9 points and safe to say, it will be these films that will feature the longest in the competition. Thankfully, no group winner earned less than 8 points.

This is the regional breakdown of the 16 teams:

Europe -- 7 (Greece, Serbia, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Portugal and Spain

It is not surprizing that seven European films progressed because Europe had the largest representation providing 41% of all the films with a total of 13 European entries out of 32.

North and Central America -- 3 (Mexico, USA, Honduras)

The North and Central American region performed best with all 3 entries progressing to the next round.

South America -- 3 (Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay)

Three of the five South American films progressed.

Asia -- 2 (Japan, North Korea)

The Asian films did quite well with 2 out of their 3 entries moving on with the South Korean film narrowly missing out despite earning 8 points. Even though Australia booked their place in the soccer World Cup from the Asian qualifying zone, I am placing the Australian film as part of Oceania along with New Zealand. Both Oceania films failed to advance to the next round.

Africa -- 1 (Algeria)

Unfortunately, only one of the six African titles advanced as the Algerian film took second place spot in Group C. The limited availability of films from some of the African countries such as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon meant that I had a very limited selection to choose from thereby forcing me to pick the first title I came across from these nations.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group G

Group G -- Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea, Portugal

Films: Almost Brothers, Adanggaman, North Korea: A Day in the Life, Colossal Youth

Brazil: Almost Brothers (2004, Lúcia Murat)

The film has an interesting setup in linking the Brazilian military junta's political imprisonments in the 1970's to a modern day depiction of favela gangs. The story starts off in the 1950's when two men from vastly different social backgrounds are brought together by their common love for music. Two decades later, their sons find themselves as cell mates during the military junta's crackdown. The two develop a frienship in the prison but find themselves on opposite sides after an experiment to treat all inmates as equals fails leading to a prison divided on racial grounds. And another few decades later, the two friends find themselves on opposing sides again, with Miguel a politician seeking to improve slum life and Jorginho stuck in prison yet running a slum gang remotely via phone. To complicate matters, Miguel's daugther is involved with a gang member who works for Jorginho.

There are some engaging prison sequences in the film and some interesting moments involving a friendship continously put to the test due to racial, social and political divisions but overall, it is a disappointing effort given the previously thorough depiction of Favela/gang life on film. The presentation of the story across decades with constant cuts disrupts any flow the film builds and weakens both the present and past portrayals.

Ivory Coast: Adanggaman (2000, Roger Gnoan M'Bala)

Adanggaman blends fact and fiction in its depiction of slavery from an African perspective in the 1600s. The film starts off with Ossei's clash with his parents over his refusal to marry as per tradition and their wishes. But after an attack on his village, Ossei finds himself on the run and is eventually captured to be sold as a slave.

North Korea: A Day in the Life (2004, Pieter Fleury)

A lot of credit must be given to Pieter Fleury for making an accurate film depicting state of things inside North Korea despite working under the watchful eye of the North Korean government. The government chose the family that Fleury could interview and probably limited where his camera could go. Still, despite being confined in a rigid framework, Fleury has emerged with a film that confirms what one reads about North Korea and its controlled environment.

The chosen family, from grandfather to the young granddaughter, utter anti-US messages every chance they get, thereby pleasing the North Korean officials who probably reviewed the footage. Besides filming inside the family home, Fleury also films in a factory, an office, a local school, an English language learning class and all these sites confirm people are working/talking under a watchful eye. The family and the office workers words don't ever seem genuine and thereby serve as evidence of the staged nature of the interview. In the factory, Fleury's camera is able to give a truthful view of the working conditions that exist. The employees have daily targets to meet and even if there is a power shortage (which are frequent and almost daily), it is up to the employees to work harder and faster to make up for the lost time.  Fleury is also able to capture a discussion among a group of school teachers about whether the lessons and stories they teach in school will accurately emphasize their great leader's generosity.  It is amazing to think that tiny footage could have escaped the North Korean censors as it clearly shows that only things related to the great leader are to be taught in the classroom.   There are also radio annoucements included in the film which convey the daily propaganda fed to the people about the great cause of their nation and beliefs.  And the film ends by giving us a good look at the great leader, naturally.

The film won a special Award for Best Documentary at Pyongyang Film Festival in 2004, so obviously the North Korean powers were pleased by the image the film presents. It is remarkable that the film manages to depict exactly what the government would have wanted to stop anyway. There are subtle things that maybe the government didn't pick up such as the office workers body language giving away the artificial nature of the interview.  The documentary comes off as a comedy in its observation of people's routines but ofcourse it is no laughing matter considering that these people have to spend each day under the watchful eye of the great leader and his followers.  Orwell's fictional 1984 is still a reality.

Portugal: Colossal Youth (2006, Pedro Costa)

Colossal Youth is a living breathing painting that lets us observe its beauty and allows us to listen in to the sounds flowing within the canvas.

The mesmerizing opening shot is an indication of the beauty that lies ahead.
The film completes the Fontainhas trilogy and picks up after most of the residents from In Vanda's Room have been relocated to pristine lifeless clean apartment complexes.

Vanda is back as well, along with her cough, but this time around it is Ventura who is the camera's main focal point. Here he goes looking for Vanda.
Ventura has to select his apartment but he is taking his time and is in no hurry. The clean walls of the apartment hold no joy for Ventura as his heart is torn in between Fontainhas and his dream Lava House in Cape Verde.
Fontainhas provides Ventura an opportunity to do most of his thinking from his red throne where he can view the disappearing neighbourhood.
And there is just one scene where Costa's camera gives a glimpse of life that exists beyond the two worlds of Fontainhas and the apartment complex. This scene shows lights glittering in the distance and is the first indication of a city's existence in both Colossal Youth and In Vanda's Room.
Otherwise, Costa's camera is only focused on the relevant details, be it alleys, walls or faces.

And finally, the music and words of the infectious liberation song that Ventura plays on the record player stay long in the mind even after all the credits have taken leave.

Standings and Points (Maximum out of 9)

Colossal Youth: 9
North Korea: A Day in the Life: 7
Almost Brothers: 6
Adanggaman: 5

The big surprize has to be the North Korean elimination of Brazil who were the defending movie world cup champions from 2006. Since the Brazilian film In the Middle of the World had won my 2006 movie world cup, I had put some pressure on myself to ensure I got a good Brazilian film for a worthy title defense. After I failed to get my first pick of Garapa (José Padilha), I had little to choose between my 2nd pick of Margarette's Feast and 3rd pick Almost Brothers. In the end, I went with Almost Brothers by default because my 2nd pick was not readily available. Yet, I am sure I could have made a better selection than Almost Brothers.

Technically the North Korean entry is a Dutch film made by a dutch director. However, it is set entirely in North Korea and the work got the approval of the government so I see no problem in using it to represent North Korea in this movie world cup.

Soccer Group Prediction

This group was initially labeled as a Group of Death because of the stellar players on display for Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast. But this group does appear to be light weight with Brazil clear favourites to take top spot and advance along with Portugal in 2nd place.

Brazil might not play with too much flair and score many goals but they will get their 3 wins. Drogba's possible absence will be felt dearly by Ivory Coast who need his experience to muscle in some goals. Plus, it is hard to see what Sven-Göran Eriksson can accomplish with the limited time he has had with Ivory Coast. If Portugal's golden generation of Luis Figo and Rui Costa could not win anything for the national team, then it is hard to see the current squad do much at the world cup. Ronaldo will be busy doing his step-overs but they will amount to nothing. It will be interesting to see if Portugal can get rid of their diving and play acting. North Korea are an unknown entity but are unlikely to repeat the shock result of 1966 when they beat Italy 1-0.

Brazil, Portugal and North Korea are also tied historically to the 1966 World Cup. In 1966, Portugal were in the same group as Brazil and the two took part in an ugly game when the Portuguese players kicked Pele out of the world cup. Even today, it is hard to watch those images of Pele being repeatedly hacked and fouled in one of the earliest examples of ugly football. North Korea's last match in the World Cup was a Quarter-Final tie in 1966 against Portugal where they raced to a shock 3-0 lead before Eusebio took over and scored 4 goals en route to a 5-3 Portugese win. No repeat of that score line will take place when these two meet but atleast the North Korean team will be encouraged that a previous generation of national players scored three goals in the opening 25 minutes against Portugal.

2010 Movie World Cup, Group E

Group E -- Holland, Cameroon, Japan, Denmark

Films: Amsterdam, A Trip to the Country, The Human Condition, part I, Flame & Citron

Holland: Amsterdam (2009, Ivo van Hove)

Amsterdam depicts a modern cosmopolitan mosaic of Dutch life and tackles issues such as racism, illegal immigration, crime, broken marriages and familial bonds by juggling multiple story lines which converge with a bang, literally in the form of an accident. Marisa Tomei has a small role where she plays a woman frustrated in her marriage.

Cameroon: A Trip to the Country (2000, Jean-Marie Téno)

A great thing about this movie world cup is that it gives me a chance to catch up with director's works from different countries. I had read about Jean-Marie Téno previously but had never seen anything by him, so I was delighted to view his A Trip to the Country.

Jean-Marie Téno travels from the capital Yaoundé to the Cameroonian country side to highlight some concerns relevant to the local economy such as the decline in agriculture and lack of infrastructure and also examines attitudes related to the desire for westernization and emulation of the west.

The film's ending gives a perfect example about the infrastructural and organizational problems in African soccer and brings to mind an incident when in the mid 1990's the Cameroonian soccer team almost walked out of the tournament due to a dispute about payment/bonuses. Similarly, in the ending of A Trip to the Country a local soccer championship game is almost disrupted due to money issues. As narrated in the film, all local teams had to pay increased registration fees to enter the tournament whose winner would get a trophy and prize money. However, moments before the final's kick-off, the finalists are informed there's going to be no trophy nor any prize money handed out. The players are not happy but are told by the officials to play.

When the game eventually starts, the players have to play on a terrible pitch with the ball occasionally getting lost in the tall grass.

If organizational and infrastructure problems can plague the national team, then it is not surprizing to see these problems taking place at the root level of the game. Although such problems are not confined just to Cameroon but inflict many other African nations as well, thereby making it hard for an African team to mount a serious World cup challenge.

Japan: The Human Condition, part I (1959, Masaki Kobayashi)

Part I of Masaki Kobayashi's 9+ hour, 3 part film, is a brilliant depiction of opposing values and beliefs in treatment of prisoners and human beings. The person caught in the middle of an ideological tug of war is Keiji (Tatsuya Nakadai), the supervisor of a Japanese controlled World War II labor camp. Keiji's desire to have the Chinese prisoners treated properly bring him in constant conflict with his supervisors and even the prisoners themselves. The film is a fascinating case study in showing how diplomacy cannot thrive in an environment of doubt, violence and inflated egos. The examples the film represents regarding the treatment of captured prisoners/citizens of a conquered nation are relevant even today as the world is engulfed in a state of perpetual war where distrust and anger grows on both warring sides.

Denmark: Flame and Citron (2008, Ole Christian Madsen)

A slick and polished production about the brutal emotional wear and tear that political killing takes on an individual. The film is based on two WWII Danish resistance fighters who made their name by tracking down and shooting Nazi party members. Things get complicated when Flame learns that he may have been involved in killing innocent people. Citron refuses to acknowledge that he killed any innocent person because he wants to believe his murders were for a just cause. The information available to the duo only gets more murky and vague as the film goes along, thereby increasing their doubts and shaking their convictions.

Flame and Citron is a smart and stellar film that knows when to let the two lead actors expressions speak for themselves and does not bog the film down with needless words. There are some eye catching camera angles in the film with one of my favourite being the scene in which the Nazis raid Flame's safe house. Flame is shown to be quietly seated at the dinner table when the camera cuts to a close-up of his troubled face followed by a quick cut to show us the view from Flame's eyes which see an army of Nazis swiftly moving towards the house. Another close up gives us a look at Flame's calculating face. Any other person would have panicked in that instance but true to his character, Flame remains calm before making his next move.

Standings and Points (Maximum out of 9)

The Human Condition, part I: 9
Flame and Citron: 8
A Trip to the Country: 7
Amsterdam: 5

Flame and Citron was a very late substitute entry because the original choosen Danish entry Allegro became unavailable and amazingly, it ends up being one of the best films out of the 32.

I took a gamble with the Dutch title by picking a film I knew nothing about it in the hope of discovering a gem. Unfortunately, the gamble with Amsterdam didn't pay off. But part of the fun with this movie world cup has been trying to discover some worthy titles without reading too much about a movie before hand. So there have been some pleasant surprizes and some disappointments as well.

Soccer Group Prediction

Like the film group, this group should present a diverse set of styles and provide plenty of entertainment. However, Holland should easily win this group but the big questions around the Dutch squad have to do with Robben and Van Persie's fitness. Both are technically world class players but the duo are equally injury prone. Some say that Van Persie is just unlucky with injuries as his injury issues problems came in three seperate incidents over the last three years -- the first was caused by his post goal celebration against Man Utd and the next two took place in meaningless international friendlies against Austria and Italy. Van Persie began the 2009/10 season in fine form but Chiellini's awful tackle in the Italy game put him out for almost the entire season. Whatever the case, these injuries have certainly weakened Van Persie and it is hard to depend on him being fully fit to get through an entire tournament let along a full soccer season.

Denmark should progress to the next round in 2nd place because Cameroon have to sort out their internal team squabbles, most recently with Samuel Eto'o threatening to walk out of the team. Eto'o is clearly Cameroon's best player but equally important has to be Alex Song, who has emerged as one of best players in the Arsenal team. I had high hopes for Japan back in 2002 but since then they have been fading and it is hard to see them make any impact at this World Cup.

Note: Friends keep telling me the fact that Eto'o has stayed around means he is committed to the national team and that Cameroon will take 2nd place behind the Dutch.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group D

Group D -- Germany, Australia, Ghana, Serbia

Films: Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, Celia, The Perfect Picture, The Life and Death of a Porno Gang

Germany: Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang)

Hypnosis, psychoanalysis, seedy gambling dens, stock market crash, mind control, greed, mystery, a long chase and ofcourse the magic words -- Tsi-Nan-Fu!

It is remarkable to think that Fritz Lang made this film in 1922. The film's black and white appearance give an indication of the production year but the story, acting and structure present a film far more mature beyond its years. Dr. Mabuse may be one of the earliest (or the first?) cinematic villians but few modern day cinematic villians can capture the brilliant insanity that Mabuse shows.

A truly remarkable epic film that is easily accessible and presents a fascinating journey into the depths of dark insanity.

Australia: Celia (1989, Ann Turner)

An intriguing film that parallels a young girl's nightmares to that of a society fearful of a rabbit plague and communists. The film also shows that not all young children absorb their parents fearful beliefs but the ones that do can become quite dangerous bullies and as a result taunt and torment kids.

Ghana: The Perfect Picture (2009, Shirley Frimpong-Manso)

The Perfect Picture is a humourous look at relationship issues of three friends and their quest to find true love in their lives. The three women are in different stages of a relationship, one is married, the second is having an affair and the third is caught between two men, but they all have their own problems. Their friendship gives them strength and comfort as they deal with their men.

This is the only light hearted film in the group and presents a nice break from the heavier material depicted in the other three films.

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009, Mladen Djordjevic)

The word dark is incorrectly thrown around to describe plenty of movies but in the case of The Life and Death of a Porno Gang the word is perfectly applicable. In fact, Mladen Djordjevic's film is a base line standard that can be used to calibrate the words "dark movie" to judge other films. But ..Porno Gang is more than just dark. It is intelligent and presents plenty of material to chew on. Although the title does not do the film justice. The porn element is only at the start of film and is shown in a comedic manner like what is shown in Zack and Mirni Make a Porno. The film then moves into darker territory with violent torture elements related to snuff films and even a bit of Hostel. Since it is a Serbian film, a war/political layer is tacked onto the snuff videos. It is this addition of a political layer that helps to make sense of everything and gives a framework to the film. There is also a nod to Emir Kusturica's Underground in the final scene when the main character is wearing a jacket with the word "underground" clearly visible. The connection makes sense as this film can also be seen as an indirect successor to Underground. Aside from the political elements, the film manages to explore ideas about individual identity and how society immediately shuns those that dare to be different.

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is not the easiest film to view given its content but it a relevant film that is one of the best films of the year. And it will clearly not be playing in a North American multiplex this year. As far as I know, the film's next showing in Canada will at the upcoming Fantasia film festival in Montreal as part of their Subversive Serbia spotlight.

Standings and Points (Maximum out of 9)

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang: 9
Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler: 8
Celia: 6
The Perfect Picture: 5

Soccer Group Prediction

Like the film results, both Serbia and Germany should easily advance from this group. Serbia are much more stronger than 4 years ago when they finished bottom from a very tough group that included Holland, Argentina and Ivory Coast. However, despite their strength I am not sure if Serbia can take their chances to beat Germany to top spot in the group. On paper, Serbia should finish first in this group but in reality, they may squander their chances and only tie Germany, allowing Germany to take top spot on goal difference.

Even with Michael Essien, Ghana would have had a tough time in advancing but without him, their chances to move to the 2nd round are limited. Australia are unlikely to advance from the group stages like they did in 2006.

Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, authors of Soccernomics, have come up with a mathematical formula that predicts that Brazil will beat Serbia in the final of the 2010 World Cup. For that to happen, Serbia would have to beat Germany to take top spot in Group D otherwise if Brazil win their group and Serbia take 2nd spot, the two will instead meet in the semis, provided if the two win their knock-out round games. But very rare do results go as expected in the world cup.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group C

Group C -- England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia

Films: Of Time and the City, Ballast, Daughter of Keltoum, How I Killed a Saint

England: Of Time and the City (2008, Terence Davies)

Terence Davies pays tribute to his home city Liverpool in this autobiographical documentary. The film is a blend of newsreel and archival footage accompanied to Davies' mesmerizing voice. Unfortunately, the end product has no fixed pattern and drifts as per Davies' memory. So the recollections feature some pleasant memories mixed with some angry recollections but not everything is engaging.

USA: Ballast (2008, Lance Hammer)

Lance Hammer's fine debut film is a poetic look at a family's ability to cope with a tragedy. The film starts off in dark circumstances and eases up gradually presenting a tiny glimmer of hope for a better future by the end. The cinematography perfectly captures the grim circumstances and Hammer is brave enough to let the images speak for themselves, without pausing to explain anything. In fact, the film plunges head first into the tragedy with no build up. After that opening sequence, we see events unfold without any unnecessary flashbacks and as a result, the film is able to maintain a consistent powerful flow throughout.

Algeria: Daughter of Keltoum (2001, Mehdi Charef)

Rallia (Cylia Malki) goes to an Algerian village to find her biological mother but her trip ends up being a brave journey across the Algerian landscape filled with danger in the form of Resistance fighters and violence related to oppression of women. What unfolds is an emotional tale about poverty, survival and strength required to take all the punches and carry on. Cylia Malki's pleasant face perfectly depicts the complex emotions required of her character who moves from innocence to defiance to anger especially at the beliefs around her. And when all the emotions have exploded, there are much needed tears to heal and repair the damaged bonds.

Note: The political, social and religious tugs in Algerian life along with violence against women have been present in one form or the other in the last few Algerian films I have seen such as Enough and Rachida. That trend continues in Daughter of Keltoum. At first, Daughter of Keltoum appears to be free from any political depiction but as Rallia leaves the village, resistance fighters make an appearance followed by issues of head covering and violence against women.

Slovenia: How I Killed a Saint (2004, Teona Strugar Mitevska)

How I Killed a Saint is a Slovenian co-production set in Macedonia and uses a brother and sister's differing life paths to depict a society wrapped up in civil war. The bubbling anger and frustration experienced by the brother could easily apply to that felt by other citizens of Eastern European nations at their country's situation and presence of foreign troops. The brother joins a political movement and decides he will take matter into his own hands to do something for his national cause but he does not realize that his violent actions will have a consequence close to home.

Standings and Points (Maximum out of 9)

Ballast: 9
Daugther of Keltoum: 7
How I Killed a Saint: 6
Of Time and the City: 5

For me the biggest disappointment was Of Time and the City. The film has been critically praised and I bought into that hype making this the first selection of my movie festival. Also, since Davies is an auteur, I felt the selection was a no brainer. Unfortunately, I found the film hugely disappointing and one of the poorest selections out of the 32.

In a way, the selection of Of Time and the City and its disappointing end result is reflective of the English soccer team. The English media hype their team up time and time again expecting them to win the World Cup yet the English team has been very tactically weak over the last decade and that is reflected in the poor on-field results. Yes, in theory penalties have cost England in the 1998 & 2006 tournaments but those kicks only mask the incorrect tactical formations and the unimaginative display of the team. In 2002, England were a man up against Brazil in the Quarter-Finals but could not muster even a decent chance in the second half and simply faded away. Fatigue might have been a factor but something also has to be said for which players were picked and which were left out.

Soccer Group prediction

For me, this is weakest of the 8 groups in the World Cup. Despite all their shortcomings, England will comfortably advance from this group along with USA. The big question will be whether the US can beat England to the group's #1 spot. Algeria did well to overcome their bitter rivals and African Champions Egypt to qualify for the world cup but it is hard to expect any upsets from this squad like that from the 1982 Algerian team who beat West Germany and Chile 1-0 and 3-2 respectively and were then unfairly robbed from advancing from the group stages when Germany and Austria conspired to a 1-0 result.

2010 Movie World Cup, Group A

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France

Films: U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, In the Pit, Gigante, Sans Soleil

South Africa: U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha (2005, Mark Dornford-May)

A creative interpretation of the Spanish opera Carmen set in a South African setting. The opera is moving at times but the real gems are the African music/dance sequences which are uplifting and a joy to watch. Besides these dance sequences, my other favorite moments are some of dialogue-less scenes where the memorable music forms a perfect companion to the beautiful images.

Mexico: In the Pit (2006, Juan Carlos Rulfo)

Cars. Gridlock. Congestion. Solution? Freeways. Congestion on Freeways. Solution? Building more freeways or adding another level to existing freeways.

Mexico City. Teeming with people. And the location of one of the world's longest and highest 2nd level freeway. The film starts on a tiny portion of the freeway construction site where we meet some of the people doing the hard work and the day to day physically grueling tasks. We learn about these people's beliefs, attitudes and even myths regarding the construction and Mexican life in general.

The film's true beauty shines through in the final overhead shot of the construction site which gives a glimpse into the enormous task. The extended view of the partially completed freeway puts the whole project into context and gives a magnitude of the thousands of people who toil in the sun to get the project completed on time. And then there the millions that will benefit once the construction is done.

We meet only a few people working on a small portion of the bridge but as the mesmerizing final shot shows there are many more stories waiting to be told.

A truly amazing documentary!!

Uruguay: Gigante (2009, Adrián Biniez)

Gigante is quite a treat and presents its pleasures in quietly developed moments. The film artfully mixes dry humour, beauty with a pinch of simplicity.

Jara is a lonely security guard who falls for a cleaning girl named Julia while working night shifts observing the supermarket monitors. His gazes gradually become obsessive and he starts stalking Julia. He believes she is flirting with another co-worker and follows her to a restaurant. But instead Jara finds her on a date with another man. So he then follows that man only to rescue him from a bunch of thugs. The two return back to the resturant to have some drinks and chat. Through their conversation, Jara learns that the man found Julia through an internet dating site and that she loves heavy metal. So naturally Jara goes about learning to love heavy metal in his bid to win over Julia.

There are plenty of charming humorous moments sprinkled throughout the film. Two interesting moments come in a restaurant and involve a soccer game on tv. When Jara follows Julia to the restaurant, he sits across the restaurant while looking over to observe her. In the meantime, the man next to Jara is busy watching the soccer game and chats about the game but Jara only looks on blankly.

Later in the night when Jara returns to the restaurant with Julia's date, they make small talk. Jara is only interested in getting some info on Julia whereas her date is busy watching the game. This time around, the waiter also chips in with his view about how the ref ruined the game.

It is interesting that everyone around Jara is interested in the soccer game but he shows no emotion whatsoever. The game on tv is a local league game but even if the match was a world cup game, you be sure that Jara would not pay attention. Unless someone told him that Julia liked watching soccer. Then Jara would become the biggest soccer fan in Uruguay.

France: Sans soleil (1983, Chris Marker)

A perfect choice for the movie world cup because this film does not set up roots in one place and is a travelogue that jumps in between Tokyo and Guinea-Bissau with a brief touch down in San Francisco. The film touches 3 continents and has ties to the current world cup and three of the past 4 world cups -- the film travels to USA & Japan, host/co-host nation of the 1994 & 2002 respectively; Chris Marker is French and France hosted the 1998 World Cup; the current world cup is in Africa which gets a decent viewing time courtesy of Guinea-Bissau.

The film features a series of letters read by a woman about a man's journey from the crowded streets of Tokyo to Guinnea. A memorable moment arrives in an African market when Marker's camera captures a woman's smile and beauty.

Ofcourse, the woman knows a pair of eyes (and a lens) are on her, so we see her look away yet she is still aware of the presence fixated on her face.

There are many other images which stay long in the memory.

Standings and Points (Maximum out of 9)

In the Pit: 8
Gigante: 8
Sans Soleil: 7
U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha: 6

It was a very tough decision deciding who got top spot as there is very little to seperate In the Pit from Gigante. My choice was made more difficult by the fact that I saw both films almost 6 months apart -- I saw In the Pit back in December and recently saw Gigante in May. In the end, I have to give a narrow nod to the Mexican documentary.

Soccer Group Prediction

I would not be surprized if like the film results both Mexico and Uruguay advance to the second round. On paper, Uruguay are the most capable team in changing their tactical formations with Mexico not too far behind in adapting to different styles. As is often repeated, no host team has failed to advance from its group. South Africa is not a very strong tactical team and a noisy home crowd may not be enough to power them through to the next phase. On the other hand, if South Africa can get an early goal, then there is a chance their spirits might be lifted by the home crowd. Also, South Africa's opener against Mexico presents them with a good chance of nabbing a win or atleast a draw.

As for France, I have no hope. France have been mostly inept, dull and uninspired under Raymond Domenech. Domenech is not entirely at fault though because he did inherit a pretty weak team after Euro 2004 but he has done nothing to improve the French game. The ultimate blame for France's failure should not rest on the players or Domenech but should be put on the French Federation's shoulders. They had a chance to put things right after a disastrous Euro 2008 but they did nothing. The French Federation know the team will fail which is why they were quick to name Laurent Blanc as Domenech's replacement well before the World Cup. The Federation did this to take away some of the anger that will be directed towards them once France stumbles and fails. The biggest surprize for me will be if France advances from this group. And I will be even more surprized if France manages to score more than 1 goal in any of the three group games.

For now, I am going to go with Uruguay and Mexico to finish 1st and 2nd in the group.

Monday, June 07, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group H

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

Films: The Spirit of the Beehive, A Crude Awakening, El Porvenir, Historias de fútbol

Spain: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973, Victor Erice)

Victor Erice said in an interview that the following image of Frankenstein formed the genesis for The Spirit of the Beehive.

This picture of a monster's interaction with a young child is turned into an extraordinary tale about how a nightmare haunts a young fragile mind and leads that child into darker territory. The film starts off innocently by showing the allure that cinema has but young Ana is mesmerized by the image of Frankenstein. She has questions about the movie but her sister lies to her and says that Frankenstein is a spirit that can be summoned at will by Ana. After that point, the images of Frankenstein grab hold of Ana's psyche and change her perception of reality. Also, things are complicated by the external situation that exists in a post civil war society and under a dictatorship. In a way, this film forms an early predecessor of Pan's Labyrinth.

Switzerland: A Crude Awakening (2006, Basil Gelpke & Ryan McCormack)

Oil. Progress and root of evil. A double edged sword.

On one hand, oil fuels human progress further but on the other hand, it threatens to take society back to the stone age with the destructive wars that its possession causes. The documentary starts off by showing excess dependence on oil before moving onto discussion about peak oil and the future decline of oil supply. The film also shows some examples of places that have run out of oil, such as the following oil field in Baku.

Finally, the movie ends with a discussion about possible alternate sources of energy. A Crude Awakening is about 4 years old and since 2006 there has been much debate about the dangers of over dependence on oil and the need for alternate source of energy. Yet, changes are happening slowly.

Honduras: El Porvenir (2008, Oscar Estrada)

In April 2003, 69 prisoners, mostly gang members, were killed in a violent clash inside the El Porvenir penal farm in La Ceiba, Honduras. The killing was put down as an isolated incident involving fights among rival gang members but the brutal slaying indicates that it was a preplanned event. The film constructs a thorough investigation by including detailed accounts and opinions from the two opposing sides -- the victims families are interviewed along with prison inmates, and prison guards. Estrada then steps back and looks at the series of events leading up to the clash and puts the incident into a larger social context by examining why young people are lured into gangs in the first place. The film shows how poverty and basic human necessities forces some people into gangs and also examines the role of corrupt/inefficient police and government officials in making things worse.

El Porvenir is a model example of a good documentary as the film objectively tries to examine an event and does excellent research in looking at the larger issues around the event.

Chile: Historias de fútbol (1997 Andrés Wood)

The film is divided into three short stories titled First half, Second Half and Overtime. All three segments demonstrate love of football with the “First half” showing the professional game and issues such as bribing and betting. The “Second half” presents a pure love for the game that can only be found at the youth level. “Overtime” looks at the obsessive addiction to the game that men develop. Yet, “Overtime” is also the most mature segment and shows that lust for a woman can make a man forget about the game. Soccer may be an obsession and sole focus for a single man but as a man grows up and discovers other loves, soccer is integrated into their daily lives along with their job and relationships and is no longer their only focus. Well in theory atleast.

A normal soccer match goes down in skill as the game goes into overtime because the tiring legs prevent too many genuine creative chances. However, Football Stories is strongest in the "Overtime" segment and is weakest in the "Second half."

Standings and Points (Maximum 9)

El Porvenir: 8
The Spirit of the Beehive: 7
Historias de fútbol: 6
A Crude Awakening: 5

Note: Rules and point criteria.

El Porvenir is a real gem of a discovery and it is still a mostly unknown entity. The films is still not listed on I had high hopes for Historias de fútbol because I was very impressed with Andrés Wood's 2004 film Machuca but Football Stories is disappointing.

Soccer Group Prediction

Despite their injuries and possible fatigue, Spain should easily win the group. Chile had an excellent world cup campaign and should follow Spain out of this group. Ottmar Hitzfeld will ensure the Swiss put on a good display but Switzerland's style will be a complete contrast to Chile and Honduras. The Honduran squad has some good players in David Suazo, Wilson Palacios and Amado Guevara but it is hard to see them progress out of this group.

Constant Noise

Question: What is loud, annoying and refuses to shut up?

Answer: Barcelona football club.

The 1000th story doing the media rounds is yet another Cesc to Barca headline.

After Arsenal told Barca a firm NO, Laporta refused to shut up and continued making noise.

35 million euros a fair price for Cesc?

Are you having a laugh?

And then there is Barca's official mouthpiece, Xavi, who just keeps talking and talking. I always knew Xavi to be an expert passer but I had no idea he was an expert PR rep.

Barcelona have officially become more annoying than Real Madrid in their lustful chase of Arsenal players. After Henry and Hleb, Cesc is their latest obsession. Yes, Cesc was once a Barca player. But Barca only have themselves to blame for letting him go. They didn't value him and now are desperate to get him back. Why do Barca want him so badly? Because Barcelona football club loves showing the world what a spoiled brat they are.

I have lost all respect for Barcelona football club. If there is justice, then Barcelona will not win a single trophy next season.

Friday, June 04, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group F

Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia

Films: Il Divo, Paraguayan Hammock, Black Sheep, Orbis Pictus

Italy: Il Divo (2008, Paolo Sorrentino)

This glossy political film based on real life prime minister Giulio Andreotti has some interesting moments in its depiction of corruption and abuse of power. While the film does a decent job in showing how easily truth and justice can be extinguished in a democratic system, it is still tame and disappointing. The dramatic introduction of some characters does not mesh with the film's overall low key tone and as a result, the film does not have a consistent feel.

In a way, Il Divo is an appropriate choice for the movie world cup as the Italian soccer team disappoints more often than lives up to its potential. Even though Italy won the 2006 World Cup, it should have won the 1990 and 1994 tournaments but failed to play to its potential. Italy should have done a lot better in 2002 but fumbled out due to their own mistakes; the ref incorrectly sent Totti off but Vieri should not have missed an open net and Italy should have stayed with 3 attackers in the second half against South Korea. Also, it can't be forgotten that Italy were a mere 30 seconds away from winning Euro 2000 but eventually lost out to France. So like the Italian soccer team, Il Divo promised plenty, offered some nice moments, but failed to deliver a winning end product.

Note: linking political leaders to mafia and murder may not be seen too much in North American films but it is a common topic in most Bollywood political films. Even average Bollywood films do a good job in depicting the ruthless nature of politics and showing how easily rules can be twisted in a democracy. Some of the better political movies such as Gulzar's Hu Tu Tu, Satta, Shool, Haasil and Gulaal provided me with more viewing pleasure than Il Divo.

Paraguay: Paraguayan Hammock (2006, Paz Encina)

Paz Encina's meditative film evokes sentiments of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. An elderly couple sits around in a hammock, talking and waiting for their son to return from the war. The two do fear that their son will not come back and later on in the film, the father does indeed learn that the war has been over but his son has failed to return. But the two still wait not for happiness in the form of their son but instead for death which can be seen hovering in each frame amid the silence. Their time is passed away by simple activities and talk of rain, which also threatens to occur at any moment.

Simple. Haunting. Poetic.

Note: It took me almost 3 years to track this film down but the wait was worth it.

New Zealand: Black Sheep (2006, Jonathan King)

Beware the killer Sheep! Beware even more of the killer sheep that can drive!

Given the number of jokes that circulate about kiwi's and sheep, a horror treatment was long overdue to bring in some balance. The real experiments of cloning sheep are used as a germ of an idea in Black Sheep to create a dangerous killer sheep. The film ultimately comes off as a B grade horror movie with unexpected laughs in scenes of serious biting and blood letting. Though there are a few well done moments such as the following scene in which the top of the frame is packed with sheep rushing to attack the unsuspecting humans.

Slovakia: Orbis Pictus (1997, Martin Sulík)

A young girl's, Terezka, journey across the land to track down her mother leads to unexpected meetings and adventures. Terezka gets plenty of help and advice along the way but also has to guard against some lustful eyes. Her journey, aided by a map, leads her to the poetic end of the world. The film does a good job of keeping out darkness by incorporating a playful and innocent tone througout.

Standings and Points (maximum 9)

Paraguayan Hammock: 8
Il Divo: 6
Orbis Pictus: 6
Black Sheep: 4

Il Divo narrowly takes 2nd spot over Orbis Pictus.

Soccer Group predictions

Starting with Italia 1990, Italy has failed at the World Cup everytime I expected them to do well. But when I had no expectations in 2006, they ended up winning. So will something change this time around? Yes. I do not expect Italy to achieve anything and I am sure they will comply. It is hard to see this Italian team make it to the semi's but they have enough talent to win their group and advance to the next round.

2nd spot will come down to Paraguay vs Slovakia with New Zealand finishing comfortably in 4th. For now, I am going to pick Paraguay to advance even though my instinct tells me Slovakia will go through.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group B

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece

Films: Liverpool, Without Shame, Like you Know it All, The Lost Monument

Argentina: Liverpool (2008, Lisandro Alonso)

Simple. Poetic. Liberating. Lisandro Alonso’s film is as beautiful and fluid as watching a perfect Messi goal.

Liverpool starts with a lonely man, Farrel, leaving a ship’s confined space and heading off into a vast open land. The purpose of Farrel’s journey is to seek closure by seeking out his past. The audience also makes this journey along with Farrel because Alonso’s flexible camera film allows one to breathe in the environment and take in all the sights and sounds.

This breath-taking film is easily a front runner for winning the movie world cup!

Nigeria: Without Shame (2005, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen)

It was only appropriate to dig up a Nollywood title to represent Nigeria. In order to narrow down the search, I started off with the insightful Canadian documentary Nollywood Babylon. The documentary focuses on the films and methods of Lancelot, a film-maker with over 150 films to his name. I decided to pick a film at random from his collection and ended up with Without Shame.

Steve rebels against his father's (Ben) second wife Jenny and refuses to accept her as a mother. Steve's flirting activities bring him in conflict with Jenny leading her to leave the house. After Jenny’s departure, her sister, Nina, comes for a visit but wants to leave when she finds out that Jenny is no longer at the house. However, Ben calmly and causally asks Nina to stay because he does not have anyone to cook and clean the house. And to make things worse for Nina, both father and son rape her every night. When Jenny returns, Nina is too ashamed to admit anything and continues living in the household. The film ends with both father and son escaping from getting caught with their pants down. However, Ben and Steve learn about each other's sexual relationship with Nina. Without Shame 2 offers another complicated twist in the form of a second affair for Ben leading to three pregnancies before everything is resolved albeit in deadly fashion.

Without Shame is a soap opera packaged in two parts and serves as an example of the appeal that some Nollywood films have in their portrayal of familial issues and relationships.

South Korea: Like you Know it All (2009, Hong sang-soo)

Film Festival, movie directors, programmers, festival jury, alcohol, artists, food, love, lust, jealousy and rape. Sounds like an average film festival? or Hong sang-soo’s version of a film festival?

A film director's trip to a festival to be part of the jury leads into an unexpected diversion towards a long lost love surrounded by pit falls of affairs and alcohol fueled talk of art, inspiration and fame. Similar to Hong sang-soo’s Woman is the Future of Man, the conversations in Like you know it all are fluid and the words flow almost effortlessly. Ofcourse, it is alcohol and food that serves as a lubricant for ensuring that the characters loosen up and speak their mind and express their feelings, thereby moving the film through a series of sexual conquests obtained either by mutual consent or force.

A true delight of a film.

Greece: The Lost Monument (2009, Stefanos Tsivopoulos)

The only short film in the movie world cup but the film's beauty and simplicity makes every second count of the 27 minute running time.

A discovered statue of Harry Truman makes an extraordinary journey across Greece and Turkey, via land and water. Each person who discovers the statue has their own take on the identity of statue and its meaning. And through each leg of its journey, the lifeless construction presents a political angle no matter where it goes.

The most beautiful sequence takes place after the statue is pulled out from the ocean and the tired men gaze at it.

Additional Info: Film description and director’s notes.

Group Standings with a maximum of 9 points at stake

Liverpool (Argentina): 9
The Lost Monument (Greece): 8
Like you Know it All (Korea): 8
Without Shame (Nigeria): 4

Liverpool is a clear winner with the Greek short film edging out the Korean film by a narrow head-to-head count.

Note: Point Rules and criteria.

Soccer Group predictions

It will be interesting to see how Group B in the World Cup will compare with the movie world cup standings. Argentina should be a clear group winner despite any mistaken decisions that Maradona will make. After Argentina, it is a toss up to see which one of the other three will advance to the second round. The Greek team will be organized defensively but they may find goals hard to come by while Korea and Nigeria are not as strong as past tournaments. If I have to go for a 2nd place team, I will go with Greece.