Movie Review: Coco (2017)


Title: Coco
Release Date: November 22, 2017
Director: Lee Unkrich
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Coco is a delightful animated film by Pixar that weaves in the traditions of Día de los Muertos to a celebration of family and music. Miguel is boy in a family of shoemakers who loves the music of the local legend Ernesto de la Cruz, and wishes to pursue making music of his own.  The problem is that his family has banned music for several generations after his great-great-grandmother and his great-grandmother Coco (then a child) were left behind by great-great-grandfather seeking a music career. What follows is a wonderful adventure where Miguel accidentally travels to the Land of the Dead (depicted humorously as a bureaucratic parallel to our own world). with the help of a  bumbling skeleton named Hector, Miguel seeks to return to his own world and get his family’s blessing to play music, learning a lot about his family in the process.  There are some unexpectedly dark parts to this film – maybe not what would scare a young child in a movie full of skeletons – but nonetheless very serious material for a family film.  Visually it’s splendorous and I enjoy the wide ranges of expressions given to the skeleton’s bony faces.  Definitely another terrific addition to the Pixar catalog.

Rating: ****

Book Review: What was the Alamo? by Pam Pollack


Author: Pam Pollack
TitleWhat was the Alamo?
Publication Info: New York, New York, USA : Grosset & Dunlap, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., [2013]
Summary/Review:

The Alamo is something this northeasterner only knew the vague details about, so I was pleased to read this children’s history book with my son.  Interesting details include the infighting and poor planning of the “heroes” of the Alamo that contributed to their defeat, as well as a broader picture of the conflicts among the Mexicans and American settlers in Texas.

Rating: ***

World Cup Round of 16 Rooting Interests and Predictions


After an exciting round of group play, the knock-out rounds for the 2014 World Cup begin today.  Below I’ve listed the teams I’m rooting for and the teams I expect to win (not always the same) for each game.

28 June 2014

Brazil vs. Chile

This is a tough call.  I have a soft spot for Chile and they acquitted themselves well in group play, but I’ve always liked Brazil and it would be tragic if the host nation exited the tournament this early (especially after having to endure all the corporate, government, and FIFA corruption).  That being said, I expect Brazil will have no problem winning this game and probably advance at least to the semifinals.

Supporting: Brazil           Prediction: Brazil

Colombia vs. Uruguay

Colombia is one of the most exciting teams in the tournament with the most feverish fans.  Uruguay did well in group play, but aren’t going to go far without their bitey star Luis Suarez.  Colombia is an easy team to support and pick for the win.

Supporting: Colombia         Prediction: Colombia

It’s interesting that four of the five remaining South American teams are essentially playing for one semifinal spot.  I expect that Brazil will advance from this group of four, but the Brazil versus Colombia quarterfinal has the potential to be an exciting match.

29 June 2014

Netherlands vs. Mexico

Mexico is our biggest rival, but I’ve been swayed to their side this World Cup for several reasons:  CONCACAF regional pride, the performance of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the exburance of coach Miguel Herrera, and their exciting style of play in a tough group.  I adopted the Netherlands in 2010 as my team to support after the US elimination (mainly because I had just visited Amsterdam that year), but the karate chop performance of the final kind of took the bloom off that rose.  Still, the Netherlands look like a dominant side that may advance all the way to the final again, and will be hard for Mexico to beat.

Supporting: Mexico          Prediction: Netherlands

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Costa Rica’s team is the surprise of the tournament, giant-killers in what should’ve been the toughest group.  It’s hard not to like Los Ticos.  Greece are also surprise members of the final 16.  However, they haven’t shown a lot of skill in the group stage.  I expect another Costa Rica win.

Supporting: Costa Rica     Prediction: Costa Rica

An all CONCACAF quarterfinal would be a thrilling thing, but I expect that the Netherlands will progress to the semifinals from this group of four.

30 June 2014

France vs. Nigeria

I tend to root for the underdogs, so I have to favor Nigeria here, but France is looking like one of the top teams in the tournament, so I don’t have much hope for the African side.

Supporting: Nigeria         Prediction: France

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria is the other surviving African team who’ve drawn tough European competition in Germany.  I’ll root for Algeria, but expect Germany to make it at least to the semifinal.

Supporting: Algeria          Prediction: Germany

There’s an opportunity for an all-African quarterfinal coming out this group of four, but it’s more likely that European neighbors Germany and  France will meet to decide a spot in the final four.

1 July 2014

Argentina vs. Switzerland

I’ve not been impressed by Argentina who  won a weak group by basically holding out for a Lionel Messi wondergoal.  On the other hand, Argentina has enough talent that should be able to advance as far as the semifinal without breaking much of a sweat.  I haven’t got much of a sense of Switzerland, but I’ll be rooting for them just so that USA would have a more potentially beatable side in the quarterfinal, should it come to that.

Supporting: Switzerland       Prediction:  Argentina

Belgium vs. United States

Sure, Belgium is a dark horse to win the World Cup, and sure they won all three of their group matches.  Sure, the United States has struggled and only just made it out of group play.  But Belgium played in one of the weakest groups, while the United States faced down three challenging opponents without ever throwing in the towel.  I believe that we will win.

Supporting:  United States       Prediction: United States

While I think that the United States can make it to the quarterfinal, Argentina is the prohibitive favorite of this group of four.  Still, Iran held Argentina scoreless for 90 minutes, so maybe someone can pull of a miracle win.

Book Review: A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico by Amy S. Greenberg


AuthorAmy S. Greenberg
TitleA Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico
Publication Info: Knopf (2012)
ISBN: 9780307592699
Summary/Review:

Like many Americans, I know very little about the Mexican War, which is a shame since what I learned from this one-volume history, we Americans keep repeating the same mistakes our nation made in this war.  Greenberg writes a page-turning narrative starting with the drumbeat for war – ostensibly caused by the United States annexation of the Republic of Texas, but with many American leaders hoping to annex California and other Mexican lands as well.  The United States first war with another republic was one guided by a greed for land and featured many atrocities – pillaging, rape, massacres – by American soldiers against the Mexican populace.  The American troops were able to occupy Mexico City and hardliners desired to annex all the land of Mexico.  But if the Mexican War is overlooked in American history, even more so is the first American anti-war movement prompted by reports from returning soldiers and embedded reporters of the real horror of the war.  In the conclusion of this book, Greenburg documents how the Daughters of the American Revolution grew out of this war, an attempt to reclaim the virtue and glory of the founding war and overshadow the avarice and criminality of the war with Mexico.

A Wicked War is by no means a comprehensive history of the war with Mexico.  Greenburg focuses her narrative on five historical figures.  The first is President James Polk who Greenburg describes as an apprentice of Andrew Jackson, a hard worker determined to meet his goals, and unusual for his time considered his wife Sarah an equal partner in his political career.  While a hard worker, his aims seem less admirable as Polk is depicted as wanting to seize the Southwest by any means and with this expand the slaveholding territory of the United States.   Opposing Polk is anti-slavery and anti-war candidate Henry Clay in his third and last failed campaign for President.  Clay’s son Henry, Jr. would go on to fight and die in the war adding to the elder Clay’s agony at this time.  But he would rally for one more great speech that would inspire the nation’s response to the end and aftermath of the war.

Another featured figure is John J. Hardin, a popular Illinois congressman who went against his fellow Whigs to support the invasion of Mexico and volunteered to fight.  His death at the Battle of Buena Vista became an image of glory for the war supporters even at a time when support for the war was flagging.  Hardin’s death also opened the door for his friend-turned-political rival Abraham Lincoln who was elected to represent their district’s seat in Congress in 1846.  Inspired by Clay, Lincoln would speak out against President Polk and the War in Congress despite the unpopularity of his views among his constituents, who saw to it that he would serve only one term.  The final figure in this book is Nicholas Trist, a diplomat sent by Polk to negotiate the Mexican surrender.  Upon growing familiar with the reality of the war and the conditions of the Mexican people, Trist refused to follow Polk’s instructions and negotiated a fairer deal with Mexico that ceded a smaller amount of territory to the United States.  After negotiation the Treaty of Guadalupe, Trist wrote “My feeling of shame as an American was far stronger than the Mexicans’ could be.”

I found this historical work very compelling and a good introduction to a bad war.

Rating: ****

Soccer Spectating Report 7-26 June: Gold Cup Edition


The CONCACAF Gold Cup came and went with the US Men’s National Team’s uninspiring loss. The Boston Breakers are treading water and the New England Revolution are abysmal so things are pretty miserable in my soccer world. Luckily the Women’s World Cup is starting and hopefully that will lift my spirits.

Canada 0:2 United States (June 7)

The USMNT opened their Gold Cup campaign with a satisfying win against our neighbors to the north.  Clint Dempsey’s goal was especially pleasing.  Tim Howard made several dramatic saves in the second half to keep Canada from getting back in the game.

New York Red Bulls 2:1 New England Revolution (10 June)

The Revolution once again fought back late, showing that at times they do have some talent, but it was too little too late to get a point on the road against Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls.

Panama 2:1 United States (11 June)

Hopefully this game can be a wake-up call about underestimating one’s opponents.  Panama is better than expected but the US really shot themselves in the foot in their first ever loss in Gold Cup group play.

United States 1:0 Guadeloupe (14 June)

This was a “must-win” for the USMNT and the game was really not much in doubt, but the result is still startlingly close considering how often the US tested the Guadeloupe goal.

New England Revolution 1:1 Chicago Fire (18 June)

Once again the Revs were shaky in the first half and settled down to play in the second half.  Rajko Lekic got off the schneid with his 48th minute goal, but once again too little too late.  This game was marred also by Gillette Stadium security using excessive force to regulate profanity by supporters in The Fort.  This team and this season are just ugly, ugly, ugly.

United States 2:0 Jamaica (19 June)

After a shaky group stage the USMNT finally appeared to be coming into form with this quarterfinal victory over the Reggae Boyz.  Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored the goals.

Atlanta 0:0 Boston (19 June)

With the top players off to prepare for the Women’s World Cup and Georgia under some oppressive heat, the two sides endured a grueling if lethargic draw.  Hey, a point on the road, right?

United States 1:0 Panama (22 June)

The USMNT extracted a measure of revenge against the still competitive Panama side with this semifinal victory.  Clint Dempsey once again provided the goal scoring on an assist by Landon Donovan.  Freddy Adu was a surprise substitute and played impressively.

Mexico 2:0 Honduras (22 June)

I had good intentions of watching more than just the USMNT games in the Gold Cup but this semifinal is the only non-US game I caught.  Mexico was truly the class of the tournament but a scrappy Honduran side held them scoreless until extra time.  Then the wheels fell off and Mexico scored twice including a “crotch shot” by Chicharito.

United States 2:4 Mexico (25 June)

First the positives.  It was an exciting, dramatic game and it was great to see the USMNT get off to a hot start with two early games.  After that, it was awful.  The US could not defend to save their lives and Mexico scored four unanswered goals in front of an audience largely made up of Mexico supporters.  Mexico is obviously the better team right now but it didn’t need to be this ugly.  This is obviously a wake-up call for the USMNT if they hope to get the team deep into the 2014 World Cup.

Previous posts:

Book Review: The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel


Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Mexico

Author: Laura Esquivel
Title: The Law of Love
Publication Info: New York : Crown Publishers, c1996.
ISBN: 0517706814

By the same author: Like Water for Chocolate

Summary/Review:

This may be the first Around the World For a Good Book selection that is science fiction.  Esquivel’s novel is set in a future where reincarnations and karma are very real and central to society, and interplanetary travel and body-swapping are quite possible.  Then there are guardian angels and demons guiding the primary characters’ actions.  All of it comes off very strange and poorly written (or is it the translator’s fault?).  The book just never worked as fiction, it was more of a collection of fantastical ideas.  The first multimedia novel also comes with a CD with prompts to listen to at the appropriate part of the narrative as well as portions of the book in graphic novel to represent the characters’ visions.  It’s gimmicky and doesn’t really add much to the story.  Overall this was mildly entertaining, but not really all that great, especially compared with Like Water for Chocolate.

Rating: ** 1/2

This Week in Soccer


Here’s the report on my first week as a novice soccer fan.  See my previous post Forming an Association with Football for more details.

USA v. Brazil (10 Aug 2010) – A friendly match in the New Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey to thank the US fans for their World Cup support.  Supposedly the experienced US side fresh from the World Cup would have something to show to a young Brazilian team featuring many players appearing in their first international match.  Instead, it turned into an embarrassing rout with stylish Brazilian play exposing the weakness of the USA’s back line with attack after attack after attack.  Only great goalkeeping by Tim Howard and Brad Guzan prevented Brazil from running up the score.  More on this debacle from the Boston Globe.

At the very least seeing Brazilian players in the Meadowlands reminded me of the glory days of Pele and the New York Cosmos.

Mexico vs. Spain (11 Aug 2010) – I stopped in a pub in Boston for supper on Wednesday night and they had Spain’s first World Cup championship friendly at Mexico on the TV.  This game was Spain’s first defense of a lesser-known title, the Unofficial Football World Championship.  Basically the UFWC folks have created a basic title system akin to boxing championships tracing back to the earliest international football match in 1872.  When Spain defeated the Netherlands in the World Cup championship they ended the Dutch run of 21 title defenses and unified the UFWC with the official world championship.  Mexico had a good chance of snatching the title away from Spain with an early first half goal but David Silva of Spain equalized in stoppage time just before the end of the game (the UFWC champion retains the title in a tie).  The drama of the moment was lost on me because the Univision broadcast for some reason reset the clock at zero at the start of the second half so I had thought I was watching the first half until the players started shaking hands.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid (13 Aug 2010) –  Yet another friendly, this team matched two European club powers to contest the Beckenbauer Cup in tribute to the Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer.  It was fun to watch some of the best players in the world duke it out but the game ended as 0-0 tie with Real Madrid winning the cup in a penalty shootout.  Real Madrid’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas proved to be the hero of the match with several dramatic saves.

This leads me to a question which will probably betray my ignorance and American heritage:  How is it that with the goals in soccer being so enormous that there are so many scoreless games?  I mean if you ever stand by one of those nets it would seem impossible for a ball not to get in there no matter how good the keeper and the defense.


This weekend was too busy to watch soccer so I didn’t see any games of the teams I purportedly am following.  I did learn that as a supporter of Everton and the US national team I can be double embarrassed by Tim Howard’s fumble in the penalty area which allowed Blackburn to score the only goal of the game:

I’ve also I discovered a German team with the best name ever:  Wormatia Worms. Granted it’s funnier in English if you imagine annelids playing soccer, and ignore that Worms is the name of city in Germany.  Still, if the Wormatia Worms played higher than the fourth division in Germany I’d definitely start watching their games.