Rare earth elements, how they’re used and why China has a monopoly on them

Sunday, 28 November 2010, 19:31 | Category : Crumbs, Politics, Human Rights & Other Serious Stuff
Tags : , ,

The world depends on China in a multitude of ways (which I, personally, find a bit unsettling), but this angle is not often mentioned and it’s rather major.
If you own any sort of electronic device, the substances in it were probably mined in China. This is especially true for Japanese brands, apparently, as 100% of rare earth elements used in Japanese electronics come from China.

Essential Killing or why avoiding Skolimowski’s films might be a good idea…

I want to catch up with all the reviews I should have written since June, but in the meantime it’s probably better if I keep up with what I’m watching currently. I don’t think it matters to anyone if I don’t post film reviews in the order I watched them, so here goes…

{FILM DIARY}

Essential Killing (Poland/Norway/Hungary/Ireland, 2010)

Seen: Tuesday, 16th November 2010 (cinema)
Rating: -2 (Detested It)
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner
Plot: A Middle Eastern insurgent escapes from an American convoy in Eastern Europe. He must fight for his survival in an unknown place, in the middle of a severe winter.

Video

The next time Skolimowski makes a film on a topic I’m interested in, I will try to talk myself out of seeing it :] I get that this film was not trying to give a detailed account of the realities of the war on terror, but I totally don’t get what it was trying to do… Show some nice shots of Polish landscapes perhaps? Show that sometimes people kill other people to survive?
I’m probably looking at it from totally the wrong angle, but all I know is that it annoyed the hell out of me because it was so painfully unresearched and without detail. There is actually no way to tell whether “Mohammed” (whose name is not mentioned at any point in the film - it’s the credits that say that was his name) was caught in Afghanistan or in Iraq. All the summaries and reviews I’ve come across say Afghanistan, but one of the American pilots in the film mention that “Mohammed” is “the jack of clubs” or some other important card in the US military playing cards, which would suggest the man was caught in Iraq (that would also explain why the American interrogator tries to speak to “Mohammed” in Arabic, “Mohammed” for his part doesn’t speak in the film at all, so we have no idea what language he speaks). On the other hand, when “Mohammed” starts to have hallucinations from lack of food, cold, pain etc. he sees a woman covered in blue and I think they meant the blue cloth to be a burqa (that shade of blue is the standard colour of a burqa in Afghanistan, although what they used was most certainly not a burqa :]). In Iraq women were never required to wear burqas AFAIK.
Clearly, for Skolimowski, it is completely unimportant what this man’s nationality is or what his ideals are. Other than him having a beard and having been caught in a Muslim country (although I’m not entirely sure on that point ;-P), there are no signs that he is in fact Muslim. For one thing, we don’t see “Mohammed” praying even once - even when he’s at his most desperate and frustrated.
The realities on the American side of things don’t seem important to Skolimowski either. The US military is shown in a very stereotypical way. I found it laughable how “Mohammed” is subjected to water-boarding almost instantly after he’s captured. AFAIK, water-boarding hasn’t been used all that much in the war on terror. There are relatively few prisoners who have reported its usage. Sleep deprivation, stress positions and slapping prisoners around are way more common apparently.
And even if a van transporting prisoners had an accident (as portrayed in the film), the escape of a prisoner would be very unlikely and certainly not possible in the way the film portrays it. According to prisoner accounts, when terror suspects are transported by the US military, they are hooded, have ear plugs inserted and are chained in such a way that they can’t even stand up. If “Mohammed” were transported in accordance with protocol then he would not have been able to escape in the way the film shows it.
I suppose this is a crappy review cause it’s not really about the film, but just me complaining about how the details don’t add up :] It’s pretty clear the film was not meant to show accurate details, so I’m judging it on something it never aspired to be. The thing is, I just don’t get why somebody would want to make a “fairytale” (which is the word Skolimowski used to describe it in a Polish interview) on this particular topic. If you want to make a fairytale about a man trying to survive in the wilderness, in a place he knows nothing about, then why set it in the reality of the war on terror and then pay no attention to getting the details of that reality right? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

FILM SPOTTING: December 2010 in Polish cinemas

{FILM SPOTTING}

Basically, December sucks. There’s nothing that I really want to see and even the maybe list below is very short.
And I’ve changed my film spotting formatting yet again, but only very slightly ;)

Other Films for Consideration

  • You Again (USA, 2010)
    Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis seem like a really explosive comedic coupling (I like their chemistry even on the trailer). But on all other counts, whatever…
  • Mr. Nobody (Canada/Belgium/France/Germany, 2009)
    Sounds like a very mind-blowing plot. Jared Leto and Rhys Ifans are a nice bonus. But I think it might be one of those films that has a great idea behind it, but just doesn’t work that well on the whole.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (USA, 2010)
    I watched the old British Narnia series not long ago. It’s made me want to see the new version and compare. And then there’s Ben Barnes who I wouldn’t mind seeing in the franchise that made him famous. But the trailer is so horrible that I can’t quite convince myself this is a must-see :]

FILM DIARY: June 2010

From now on, most of my film reviews will be grouped into a monthly post. There are some films that I feel like writing more about and those I’m still going to dedicate whole posts to. But the rest is going to get shorter treatment - hopefully this will mean I won’t be quite so behind on my film diary! :)

{FILM DIARY}

Bright Star (UK/Australia/France, 2009)

Seen: Thursday, 11th June 2010 (cinema)
Rating: -0 (Ok)
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Fox, Thomas Sangster
Plot: Based on the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at age 25.

It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, so I don’t remember it that well *sigh* But basically, the way I remember it, it was a fairly standard Jane Campion costume drama. The one thing about it that really stood out was Abbie Cornish. I saw it for Ben Whishaw, but it was Abbie Cornish that really moved me (I specifically remember that she made me cry ;)).

Un prophète (France/Italy, 2009)

Seen: Tuesday, 15th June 2010 (cinema)
Rating: -0 (Ok)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Tahar Rahim
Plot: When Malik enters prison, he is an illiterate and scared boy. By the time he leaves, he is a powerful and respected mafia lord.

I get why this won so much acclaim. It’s a very clever story - very believable in how Malik makes his transformation. The character is very interesting in how positive and practical he is about life.
But for me, it’s one of those films which I totally get the greatness of and yet don’t react to emotionally much *sigh*

Slings and Arrows - more Paul Gross and Canadian TV

Discovered the first big drawback of TMDb - they don’t have TV serials implemented yet *sigh* I am therefore resorting to IMDb for this review - I had most of the links already in my drafts anyway.
My review structure has changed again, but it’s very simple now - I think this one will be much pleasanter to read.

{FILM DIARY}

"Slings and Arrows" (Canada, 2003-2006)

Seen: June 2010
Creators: Susan Coyne, Bob Martin, Mark McKinney
Writers: Susan Coyne, Tecca Crosby, Bob Martin, Mark McKinney, Sean Reycraft
Cast: Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Don McKellar, Mark McKinney, Oliver Dennis, Stephen Ouimette, Susan Coyne

Season One
Trailer: Promo for season one
Episodes: 6 (45′ each)
Rating: +0 (Liked It)
Story: The New Burbage theatre is already in decline and debt when the director in charge of their production of Hamlet suddenly dies. In the chaotic scramble that ensues, an actor, who has spent most of his recent years in a mental institution (the direct result of essaying the role of Hamlet), gets involved.

The best thing about this series is the writing. The way the whole situation and characters are constructed is beautiful. And it has some of my favourite lines ever *grin*
My top line was when, in the middle of an explanation of Oliver’s eccentric burial wish, Geoffrey states - I believe the state has no place in the nation’s bedrooms and by extension their graves. Another of my favourite pieces of dialogue happens in a rehearsal scene - the actress playing Ofelia, having no experience of madness, concludes that being stoned is probably a close approximation and Geoffrey (who has first-hand experience of insanity, having himself been in a mental institution for years) tries to explain to her that being stoned and having a mental breakdown are very different feelings ;)
The characters are very colourful and the casting is great. But it’s the way these very eccentric characters interact with each other that makes the whole thing come alive. There’s a huge amount of detail in the relationships. I particularly loved the chemistry between Paul Gross and Martha Burns (who are married in real life). It’s a love-hate kind of relationship and they work really well like that. It’s a lot of fun watching them together - often when I’ve seen married couples act opposite each other the spark hasn’t been there, but in this case it sure as hell is *grin*
But on the downside (and it’s why I didn’t enjoy it enough to rate it higher), this sort of plot has certain pitfalls and they fell into them :-/ The obvious problem is that when you’ve got so many levels on which action plays out (life, bad performances, good performances, rehearsals etc.), establishing conventions for all of these gets very tricky - especially when some of the characters are quite theatrical even in their day to day life. They didn’t find a good way to resolve this, so a lot of the acting is hammy and exaggerated.
Stylistically, I also found it very disappointing. It’s the kind of story that, IMO at least, really needs some quirky visual ideas. The reality is very layered. Apart from the already mentioned there’s Geoffrey’s lunacy to deal with too (he keeps seeing Oliver’s ghost and he has weird dreams). Yet they pretty much stay with a very standard, boring TV style.

Season Two
Trailer: Promo for season two
Episodes: 6 (45′ each)
Rating: +2 (Adored It)
Story: The New Burbage theatre is in trouble again, but this time it’s the production of Macbeth that’s causing all the problems.

In season two, the chemistry amongst the cast improves quite a bit and there’s generally more nuance in the acting. Geraint Wyn Davies does a very good job playing Henry Breedlove. Henry is, essentially, a good actor who is too set in his ways to do a good performance. Somehow that point gets put across quite believably which, I think, is a huge achievement :)
In every season, the relationship between Geoffrey and his lead actor plays an important part and I think the reason this season is by far my favourite is how satisfying I find the relationship between Geoffrey and Henry. You can see exactly why Geoffrey is having problems with his Macbeth, but also exactly why Henry might work if he was just a little bit more open-minded. And the rivalry and tension between them is just so satisfying *grin*
The relationship between Geoffrey and Ellen develops further also. On the one hand they’re sort of back to being a couple, but on the other whether they can stay as a couple is very questionable. There’s a particular moment between them that really does it for me - when he realizes that she’s told Henry about how unstable his sanity still is. Just the look on his face… It’s the worst way Ellen could have betrayed him.
The series still has a lot of the problems it had in its first season (standard TV style, a somewhat hammy feel etc.), but they did manage to find a somewhat better balance and it makes all the difference!

Season Three
Trailer: Promo for season three
Episodes: 6 (45′ each)
Rating: +1 (Loved It)
Story: The New Burbage theatre’s troubles seem to have finally been resolved… but then the rehearsals for King Lear start…

The problem with this season for me is that I never believed that Charles Kingman would make a good King Lear. Geoffrey is so certain of this that he banks everything he’s got on it, but I just never saw what he does… I knew what it was that he wanted to get out of Henry in Macbeth. I understood why he wasn’t giving up on Jack in Hamlet. But I never got why he believed so much in Charles Kingman. As this lies at the very heart of all the action, it makes it much more difficult to get involved.
There’s a lot of side plot that’s very satisfying though *grin* And as I love the cast and characters so much, it’s still a lot of fun to watch.
Geoffrey is very stressed in this, which results in him having sudden attacks of weeping in the middle of public speeches - a side plot I absolutely adore ;) There’s one scene I love in particular - when he cries on the first day of rehearsals for King Lear. Most of his crying scenes are rather hammy (which I suppose isn’t so bad, as it is comedy after all), but that one has something real about it, which makes it all the more hilarious ;)
I also love how Ellen reacts to Geoffrey’s problems. She’s not particularly worried that he’s been crying in front of thousands of people with no apparent reason. In fact, it seems to bother her much less than him talking to imaginary people (i.e. Oliver). Geoffrey’s stress levels only become a problem once they effect their sex life ;) Ever since season one, the point that sex is a very important part of life for Ellen, has been made abundantly clear (she is rarely without a steady or casual lover and her lovers have often been about 20 years younger than her). So this plays into that beautifully (and I also think it’s refreshing to have a female character like that!).
Geoffrey’s counselling sessions at the church are absolutely wonderful as well *grin* (and it’s nice to see a less stereotypical view of the church there!).
And a lot of the other characters have great side plots… Richard, who does the financial part of running the theatre, is going through his own crisis. This means that Anna, who is basically the one and only person that keeps the theatre miraculously running, has even more work to do. On top of that she’s trying to figure out what to do with a group of Bolivian musicians who can’t return home because of a coup in Bolivia. Nahum, the Nigerian security guard, has his usual refreshing perspective on things…
The final episode and the way everything gets tied in together is also very satisfying - a good end to the whole series :)

Why I love Take That: Part Three!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010, 17:04 | Category : Loaves, Uncategorized
Tags :

This post deals with a much more youthful Take That *grin* They had a more manufactured and cocky feel in those days, but even then they were most definitely insane ;)

Nobody Else Tour (1995)
Have you ever wondered what a boyband would look and sound like if they suddenly switched to playing hard rock in the middle of a concert? ;) Well, here’s your chance to find out. This is Take That at the height of their 90s career playing “It Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Incidentally, this used to be one of my most frustrating experiences of trying to catch Gary out on any sort of vocal imperfection ;) The worst I ever found was around the 2:55 mark when he’s on the steps and his voice kind of catches, which is not much of a mistake really ;) As a teenager I found this incredibly frustrating because it was one of the most demanding songs I’d heard Gary sing, plus he’s screaming his lungs out and prancing about. If I was to ever have my chance to catch him out then this was it! Furthermore, I’d never heard a live performance of this track by Nirvana that did not have somewhat screwed up vocals (I still haven’t actually - and I’m not saying Take That’s version is better or anything, I’m just saying Gary’s singing in tune and his lungs are holding out ;)).
Another part of this tour I really like is the outfit changing sequence. There’s a lot of changing clothes during Take That concerts and the challenge is always what to do with the audience while the band is putting on the next set of outfits. Changing in front of the audience is as good a solution as any ;)

Hometown (1995)
A mini version of Take That come on stage to sing “It Only Takes a Minute” and then the full-size Take That appear. The two Take Thats have to fight it out… One of their most ridiculous ideas IMO ;) (and also a very good way of keeping the audience involved while they’re changing clothes ;-P)

Berlin (1994)
In the middle of the concert, Take That decide they want to audition for a 1950s Rock’n Roll band - this is the result ;) Once again, they’re very clever about giving themselves time to change clothes and get appropriate props for every “audition” (in fact Gary gets shooed off the stage early from the previous number, which is why he’s on first).
A number I don’t love quite as much as some of the others, but wanted to mention anyway is “Whatever You Do To Me”. As I said, I’m a sucker for innovative microphone usage and that one takes the cake ;) Well that, and the moment when the saxophone player gets “shot” is particularly satisfying *grin*

Take That & Party Tour (1993)
This is a track called “Clap Your Hands“, which although composed by Take That, was never actually recorded on any of their albums. Both the tune and the routine is… well weird ;) If the term “art house boyband” existed then I think this is the sort of thing it would refer to ;)
Another performance from this tour which is worth a look is “Give Good Feeling” (part one & part two). In the middle of a conventional routine, Gary suddenly decides they should stop singing and get back to the discussion they had in the dressing room ;)

Kim Jong-un

News stories about North Korea are very rare, but there’s one which has been making the rounds for about a month now. Ever since Kim Jong-il’s stroke in 2008 (or at least it is thought he had one, but we are unlikely to ever get official confirmation on that), speculation about who his successor would be has been rife.
In September this year, the first ever official photo of Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, was published in North Korea. This was then followed by more public appearances, including one at a huge military parade to which international journalists were invited. Analysts have taken this as a clear sign that it is Kim Jong-un who is being groomed to succeed North Korea’s current dictator.
As murky as all this news is, I’ve been following it with a lot of interest. Here are three clips that particularly grabbed my attention:

Why I love Take That: Part Two *grin*

Sunday, 7 November 2010, 16:34 | Category : Loaves, Uncategorized
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After my previous declaration of undying love, I realized that was only my first post about Take That on this blog :-/ Clearly, this must be remedied *grin* So I thought I’d post lots of clips with their craziest concert ideas, which is what I love about them the most. And then I realized the post was getting so long that it would be better to split it up into a few posts ;) This one will cover clips from all their stadium tours since they re-united.
Also, I now have a second agenda, which I didn’t have when I started drafting this - they recently released the tour dates for their next album. And I’ve always wanted to see them live at least once, but I don’t really have anybody to go with and going alone wouldn’t be the same. So if anybody either is a fan or likes these clips enough to think that going to a Take That concert with me would be worth some effort and money then please let me know *grin*

The Circus Tour (2009)
What I find most interesting about their tours since they re-united is how they deal with their old songs… I mean the really old ones like their debut single - “Do What U Like“, which was released in 1991 and peaked at no. 82 in the UK chart ;) Their first album was dreadful (it took them a year to even get a record deal and despite their popularity with teenage girls, it wasn’t until 1993 and their second album that they had a no.1 single in the UK). Nowadays their music is very different and their really old stuff no longer suits them, but for purely sentimental reasons it would be weird not to include at least one or two of those tracks on tour. And so, some of their most original staging ideas are for those early songs - something has to be done to make those tracks more palatable! ;)
On this tour, they arranged some of those early songs into a medley and dressed up as clowns *grin* They actually kept the original (IMO slightly crappy) 1991-92 choreography for those songs, they just varied it a bit - made it more irregular and clownish. This worked extremely well.
And I actually have a theory that the sole reason to bring back the “Take That & Party” track (which I think they probably haven’t performed in concert since 1993) was to have a good reason to pull their trousers down ;) (the original choreo relied quite heavily on displaying Take That underwear in the finale *grin*).

The Beautiful World Tour (2007)
The already posted “We’re serious politicians, what we’re saying is amazing and you should totally vote for us” staging of “Reach Out comes from this tour. Definitely one of my favourites *grin*
But something else I really liked on this tour was how they dealt with what happened in the middle of it - Howard’s lung collapsed and he wasn’t able to perform for a couple of weeks. He had to spend time in a hospital in Vienna and it was some time afterwards before he could rejoin the tour (the other three guys continued without him, so as to not disappoint the fans). In the time when he was out of hospital, but not yet fit to perform, he would come out on stage just to say hello and sorry to the fans. This would be nothing out of the ordinary if not for the manner in which it was done *grin* I’ve seen two variations, not sure if there were more. Here’s the “straight out of hospital” version and this is the sexy nurse one *grin*
Finally, another part of this tour that I’m sort of addicted to is Give Good Feeling and Sure (the song that follows it). This is somewhat more conventional boyband stuff - the sort of choreography they were designed for really. But I think this is the most spectacular thing they’ve done in that style, it’s top notch. They’re really pushing themselves there (you’re looking at guys approaching their 40s! :)). And also, I have a sadistic sort of pleasure in seeing Gary screwing up the singing, even if it’s only a little ;-P I spent my teens watching Take That concerts and trying to find a moment in which his singing is slightly off tune or where he’s out of breath. He’s on lead vocals for most of their concerts and performing strenuous dancing routines and yet in all the 90s Take That live performances I’ve seen, I’ve never seen him screw up (and I used to be able to catch out even some pretty good pop singers who did not do much dancing during concerts). So to see him so out of breath that it significantly effects his singing (it’s in the second song, past the 5min. mark) is very pleasing to me ;) (yay, he’s human and they really are singing live! ;)).

The Ultimate Tour (2005)
If we’re talking crazy ways of adapting old Take That songs then the way they did It Only Takes A Minute on this tour takes the cake (it’s the same song they do around the 2:50 mark on the Clown Medley clip). In fact, it might be my favourite Take That live performance ever. They took the song and made it into a tango (which is sort of idiotic in itself - the two versions of the song have almost nothing in common apart from the lyrics lol). They even hired a real tango dancer from Argentina and then staged a big dramatic tango jealousy thing around her. The end result is something that looks nothing like a pop concert, but it’s amazing lol
On a side note, I absolutely love the way microphones get passed around in this. I mean I generally love how Take That use microphones in their choreo - they often have creative ideas on how to deal with holding them or not holding them or whatever, but this routine was particularly complicated on that count since you can’t really hold a microphone or even stand by one when you’re in a tango pose.
And the other part of this tour that is reaaaally worth a look is their “Manufacturing a Boyband” sequence. The joke is that they were asked to adhere to every one of those “fundamental rules” in the 90s. It’s a wonderful way of taking the mickey out of themselves - even Gary’s notorious reluctance to dance gets some attention lol

Drunk Monkeys

Sunday, 31 October 2010, 23:13 | Category : Crumbs, Curiosities
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This is a really weird, but very interesting clip on monkeys who like to drink alcohol…

FILM SPOTTING: November 2010 in Polish cinemas

{FILM SPOTTING}

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (USA, 2009)

Release Date (Poland): 5th November 2010
Release Date (worldwide): 16th January 2009
Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Plot: (from TMDb)

Set in Harlem in 1987, claireece “Precious” Jones is a 16-year-old African American girl born into a life no one would want. She’s pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother, an angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is chaotic and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and a secret..she can’t read.

Trailer

General Feelings
My feelings are a little bit mixed, but I’m curious. This has been getting rave reviews and Mo’Nique (one of the supporting actresses) won a string of awards for this, including an Oscar. The word that gets thrown around the film a lot is “authentic” and that’s a promising word IMO ;)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (USA/UK, 2010)

Release Date (Poland): 19th November 2010
Release Date (worldwide): 19th November 2010
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Matthew Lewis, Bill Nighy, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Rupert Grint, Bonnie Wright, Clémence Poésy, Jason Isaacs, John Hurt, Miranda Richardson, Warwick Davis, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Timothy Spall, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Fiona Shaw, Natalia Tena, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Richard Griffiths, Mark Williams, Harry Melling, Frances de la Tour
Plot: (from TMDb)

The end begins as Harry, Ron, and Hermione go back to Hogwarts to find and destroy Voldemorts final horcruxes, but when Voldemort finds out about their mission, the biggest battle begins and life as they know it will never be the same again.

Trailer

General Feelings
I originally spotted this here. But I may as well do it again in my new format ;-P
The first half of the 7th Potter book is my favourite part of the whole story. Besides that, it’s the cast that always gets me very excited about the Potter films - so many awesome British actors, both young and old, in one film will probably never happen again after Potter. And the performances of the young cast have been getting better with every film, which has been very exciting to watch.
I’m sure I’ll be disappointed with parts of it, I always am with every Potter film, but this is obviously unmissable ;)

Other Films for Consideration