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The Beautiful Game.

And so it ends. After a US loss to Belgium that included a meme-making defense by Tim Howard, and a complete 7-1 evisceration of the host nation by the eventual winners in the Semis, Germany wins the World Cup 1-0 over Argentina, on a beautiful strike by Mario Gotze in extra time. “At some point we’ll stop celebrating, but we’ll still wake up with a smile.”

All in all, a really entertaining World Cup. And perhaps it’s because I reside in DC and spend time on Twitter, two of the most futbol-happy environments around stateside, but this felt like the year soccer might have finally broken through in America for real. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I should do a better job of supporting the MLS. Valar Futbolis!

Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.

“‘I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get Germany,’ U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. ‘Obviously it’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw, having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the United States. It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger.'”

The World Cup 2014 groups are announced, and — alongside Germany, Ghana, and Portugal in Group G — the US look to have a tough go of it. The silver lining: “There is actually some evidence that if the group of death doesn’t kill you, it can ultimately make you stronger.”

This Charming Man of Steel.

Recent immigrants, tyrants and serial killers have all had their turn. Now Brazilian artist Butcher Billy — the same fellow who did the Legion of Doom onesreconfigures the Justice League as post-punk/new-wave icons. Click through for Robert Smith, Siouxsie Sue, Johnny Rotten, and Billy Idol.

The Axes of Evil.

“This series is an experiment where a dictator, a psycho, a murderer (sometimes they are the whole package) or even a suspicious figure from real life is mashed with a comics bad guy – strangely related some way or the other with his counterpart.” Brazilian artist Butcher Billy’s Legion of Doom, by way of Normative.

The World they Made.

When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.

As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)

Close, But…

Sigh…From a 2-0 lead at halftime, the US falls to Brazil 3-2 in the Confederations Cup final. (And it really should’ve been 4-2 — The refs missed a Brazil goal in the 62nd minute.) Well, we had a good run, and we’ll always have the Spain win…onto 2010.

Kicked Out.

In a 4-0 rout, Brazil knocks the US out of the Women’s World Cup in the semifinals. Arg, that’s too bad. Despite the time zone issues, I caught several of the round 1 games (including US-Sweden and US-Nigeria, as well as a few random match-ups like Canada-Ghana and Denmark-NZ) and thought we looked pretty solid, give or take an occasionally lackluster offense. But it sounds like we ran into a brick wall here. At any rate, Brazil will face Germany, who beat Norway 3-0 on Wednesday in the Finals.

Dark City.

Bleak Week 2003 continued yesterday, when I finally got around to seeing the much-praised City of God. And while this fierce, hyperkinetic Brazilian film has some serious problems, it’s a much better night at the movies than Sunday’s foray into 21 Grams.

From its very first scenes, in which our young photographer-protagonist finds himself trapped in the midst of a Mexican (ok, Brazilian) standoff between a street gang and the corrupt cops, City of God makes no bones about its debts to Scorsese and Tarantino. In fact, for much of the film, I was reminded of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, which brought to London much of the same snappy, experimental camerawork, “funny” gunplay, and street gangster-chic that’s on display here in Rio. But that metaphor only goes so far — this increasingly dark film ultimately feels very different than the breezy Lock Stock. In fact, while Scorsese, Tarantino, and Ritchie gangsters all generally find themselves on the wrong side of the law as a calling, the Brazilian youths here are born into it — crime, violence, and murder are an inescapable part of the Cidade de Deus.

Or is it? I know this movie is based on a novel based on real events, but at a certain point, right after the strobelight-marked murder of one of the film’s most likable characters, City of God just gets lost in its own cycle of violence. When L’il Ze, the cruelest hoodlum we meet on our travels, brutally rapes the girlfriend of Knockout Ned (we never see her again — she’s a plot point, not a character), a gang war ensues that drastically escalates the already considerable levels of death and carnage the audience has to deal with. In this final third, the film derails…it’s just too much.(Ken Turan aptly summed it up as “overkill.”) One goes from avidly following the travails of individual characters to watching most or all of them go down in a hail of gunfire.

Like I said, I know that much of this tale is based on a real gang war, and that the ridiculously high body count at the end of the film may have a solid grounding in fact. But at times City of God wants to have it both ways. When innocent bystanders are mowed down or child gangsters are forced to make extremely grisly life-and-death choices, we’re shocked sullen by the events depicted here. But when L’il Ze blows away his stooge Tuba in a fit of frustration, it’s a sight gag.

In sum, with swooping camerawork, great performances across the board, and a well-crafted narrative, City of God bridges the gap between Tarantino-cool gangsterism and shocking acts of violence reasonably well for its first two-thirds. Alas, it falters in the final act, and I found myself spending the last thirty-five minutes of a movie I’d quite enjoyed up til then keeping my head down and waiting for the last reports of gunfire to die away. Well worth seeing if you’re a fan of the hyperkinetic gangster genre, but ultimately City of God just can’t quite close the deal.

The Complicated American.

What the World Thinks of America, from Gary Kamiya of Salon (premium). A fascinating read.

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