Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Una

This 2016 film is based on a play by David Harrower called Blackbird and makes for pretty uncomfortable viewing in terms of subject matter, lifted to admiration by the performances of the three main leads and wonderful cinematography. Directed by Benedict Andrews, who up to now has mainly directed theatre pieces, we can see very clearly how this tight-knit story was indeed a play.

Some fifteen years ago, then aged 13, Una had a relationship for 3 months with her friend's dad next door. Clearly he was older than her and she, under the age of consent. She fell for him, loved him and couldn't control herself. He, however of course, should have done, following the rules society has set down in most of the civilised world. Ray, later Peter, was ultimately hauled in for his crime and served a difficult 4 years in prison paying society back for his deeds.

Peter, who has now changed his name and identity is remarried to a wife who knows the whole truth about his background. We join the story as he is tracked down by Una in her late 20's and most of the film is a dialogue between the two at his place of work as they find corners of a bleak warehouse to talk about what happened and their feelings surrounding the events. Much of this is littered with flashbacks as the viewer is welcomed into the head of the 13 year old Una. It is clear that older Una is emotionally scarred from the experience and has been unable to get past her feelings of love for the Ray/Peter.

The play/film is full of the glaring moral questions about whether or not Ray was a paedophile or whether it was true love which was acted upon inappropriately. There are clues scattered across the film as to what was in Ray's mind, which come out as we progress through to Peter and his current thinking. It's really a moral maze for the viewer to make up their own mind about, yes, because of the illegality and moral stance by society, but also as they try to understand what was in the heads of the pair of these characters back in the day.

The dialogue leads them both through the baggage they carry as they unpick the past and pick at the sores left behind. Peter is trying to protect his new life, at risk here of exposure and ruin, as Una grapples with her own emotion and stability. It's often harrowing, sad, emotional and angry as the leads play out the parts. Rooney Mara (Carol, Side Effects, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Ruby Stokes (most famous for stage work, notably Annie) are quite superb as the young and old Una. Mara portrays the older Una with convincing damage and emotion and Stokes, the younger, with innocence peppered with confusion and teenage angst - but also a maturity which could make some viewers start to question their own moral stance.

Australian Ben Mendelsohn (Girls, Rogue One) plays Ray/Peter behind a veil much of the time, ensuring that the audience works hard to see into his mind and work out his motives. To try to understand about him. Perhaps a monster, a victim, mentally ill. Maybe uncontrollably weak and human driven by love and urges which he should have known better than to explore. Tara Fitzgerald pops up once or twice as Una's mum, but she really didn't have much to do.

The clinical setting of the warehouse was used to great effect and impact by the cameras providing some visually interesting and often white, barren featureless views, maybe reflective of the cold and sterile approach which should have been adopted at the outset by Ray. It's an unsettling film and makes the viewer engage intellectually with what's going on, for which is gets top marks. It's full of dilemma and questions which need to be sorted out. The question is, what will happen with the pair of them when they meet after all this time. Will Una come to terms with her past? Will Peter be re-exposed as Ray to those who don't know? I'm making it sound like a thriller now, but it's really not. It is, however, highly recommended viewing.

Nokia 9 PureView with Android 10

The Nokia 9 PureView was given the review treatment back in June 2019 here and aside from the lousy optical fingerprint scanner under the glass I was reporting many good things about the HMD-produced Nokia flagship with wacko camera arrangements! I'm back here now in 2020 as, good as their promise, they dropped the Android 10 update for those who wanted it installed.

As a reminder, the specs of the phone are pretty good. It's an Android One device made from a glass/aluminium sandwich, IP67 rated with a bright 6" 1440p 18:9 P-OLED screen producing 538ppi and an always-on display option. It's powered by the SnapDragon 845 chipset with 6GB RAM and houses 128GB of storage, though there's no microSD option. The USB-C for data/charging is HDMI-Out compliant and USB-OTG works well. The battery is 3320mAh and QC3 is offered with an 18W brick along with fast 10W Qi wireless charging. The single mono speaker is very good but there's no 3.5mm audio-out, so dongles at the ready. When you get there, however, 24-bit audio is produced and it sounds great, wired or Bluetooth, supporting v5, LE and aptX. The phone is all about that camera though - or bunch of Zeiss cameras - a ring of 5x 12MP f1.8 shooters, 2 mono, 3 colour, a TOF 3D and OZO audio recording for good measure! Last but not least is the 20MP selfie, round front. There's Adobe Lightroom chucked in, RAW option and a special Depth Map mode which records 1200 levels of depth, in all good time, images from which can be focused to great effect after the event.

That's about the bones of it. It always felt a bit like an experiment, but good to their word, the company have pushed out the updates and seem to still have a commitment to the project. At least for now. There was talk of a 9.1, then 9.2 with improved specs and fixes for what couldn't be done in software, but there's nothing actually on the table for us to see just yet. So in the meantime, we have the Android 10 update. Much is good but some not quite so well!

The clean version of Android is still a joy for me to return to as I meander away from the path now and again reviewing other Android phones. It does enable me to understand the Apple fan's point of view about nestling inside the walled-garden, knowing what's what and getting what's promised, when! Everything as it should be, as designed by those creating the system. So we have Android 10 and November 2019 Google Security. We're hoping that a December 2019 or January 2020 update might also roll in some fixes for some of the following.

The Gestures approach to Navigation works beautifully, pretty much just like on a Pixel. Whole-side swiping for Back on both sides and one Moto-style 'long-pill' whenever you're away from the homescreen at the foot. Legacy Navigation can be selected if you prefer, 2 or 3 button. The Dark Theme gets the user dark pretty much everywhere that the Pixel can with odd exceptions, like Google Rewards and bizarrely, the Google App itself!

In terms of security, the optical under-glass fingerprint scanner remains the worse implementation I have used. It's not fit for purpose - just doesn't work without constant moistening of fingers, rejiggling position, getting the digit upright on the scanner, top of phone to bottom. My average attempt time is just like it was before which makes it clear to me that this problem can't be fixed in software and won't go away. Most people, like me I think are now simply turning it off so as not to get annoyed using an otherwise very capable phone. Fortunately, the face-scanning for unlock works pretty well. I even think that since this update it works a tad faster. It doesn't compare with the likes of Samsung's, but it's just fine in use. A look, a pause, you're in. It's the method I use the most along with my pattern/code when it's dark. This is no Pixel 4 Soli!

The battery testing demonstrates around the same kind of performance as before, over a number of days and mixed use. My 10% reading test is returning about an hour and a half, which is more than acceptable, and average day for me can return 22-26hrs between charges with 5-7hrs SoT, Adaptive battery and Brightness engaged. Some have been complaining about battery since Android 10 but I can't see a difference really. The camera looks like it's been untouched by this update and one complaint from Keith Bartlett is about the volume in the Maps Navigation which, when directions are being read out, reduces the volume to a level it shouldn't reflect. I can't seem to replicate that here - but then I'm not a big Maps user.

Immediately after the update I did experience some problems with USB-OTG in that the phone was crashing when I plugged in my 2TB SanDisk Extreme SSD, but I tested it again during the last few days and it seems to be fine now. Similarly, the reading of microSD Cards in the slot via adapter seemed very slow, but again, now fine. Whether something was fixed by Google during that time, I don't know. There have been no further updates from HMD, so maybe that one will remain a mystery.

There are some very broadly-reported problems with the Glance Screen. It's certainly working fine but there are rogue icons often. Notification icons when they shouldn't be there. Particularly persistent is the Voicemail one, which everyone seems to be getting randomly, sent via the phone/Carrier, presumably. Nobody seems to know. I often also get the 'download' icon, suggesting that something has finished downloading when it hasn't. Myself and others have tested the four Glance options available, Legacy x2 and Stylish x2, and it doesn't seem to matter which. So certainly something needs fixing there.

So that's my latest observations. It remains a great phone to use but it would be good to get that Glance thing sorted out. Generally, most else looks good. Everything being Dark Themed makes a huge difference to enabling the user feel like Nokia are with the programme, especially inside GMail. I shall keep prodding and poking but if anyone else has questions of observations, I'm sure that the handful of owners here will be pleased to feed back. Thanks Keith Bartlett and Lawrence Wills.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Joker

I eventually got round to watching Joker and the critical central performance of Joaquin Phoenix which all the fuss is about, particularly comparing it with Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Joker seems to divide opinion hugely. Another Marmite film which people either seem to love or hate with middle-ground less populated.

As comic book films go, this really doesn't comply in any way, shape or form to much that has gone before. Like daft Batman films with special-effects driven superheroes flying around intending to be taken seriously by the comic-followers, very hurt if it's not presented as near real-life as possible so they can escape into fantasy-land for a couple of hours! I'll exclude Tim Burton's Batman from this assault on the genre as it was very much staged as a dark comedy, all tongue-in-cheek.

So no, this film is nothing like anything that has gone before. The story is a dark thriller, based in Gotham City but references to Batman are few and far between. Frankly, the film could have just been made without them at all, spoiling the purity in some ways (though I guess that'll provide hooks into sequels). It's a character study of a man abused in his childhood, mentally ill, desperately sad and at odds with the world in which he lives. A man who is trying to find a light at the end of any tunnel, whilst rugs are pulled out from under him. Medication keeping him relatively on track taken away, he starts to descend into madness and behave irrationally, forming the Joker character. Arthur Fleck is his name and he's trying really hard to earn a crust as a street-clown and entertainer against the efforts of most people around him. He sees himself as a stand-up comic and when he gets fired, starts to pursue that dream.

There are comically-charged interludes with Robert De Niro hatching one of them beautifully as the TV talk-show host and the over-sized detectives at one point trying to keep up with the super-fit fleeing Joker, but this is mostly about the dark side of Joker's life. This can be viewed in isolation almost, as I suggested earlier, as the photography focuses in, with shallow depth on Phoenix most of the time, infiltrating his inner self and reflecting his rapidly-deteriorating world-view.

Phoenix plays Joker physically well also, as he twists and turns his body, leaping and dancing madly around the sets. Sets which are darkly lit with colours reflecting a depressing and dour world. He contorts his face and head, shoulders and arms to sinister effect and the fact that he's so boney-thin adds to the glum darkness of his situation.

Gotham City descends into unpoliceable chaos reflecting Joker's descent into uncontrolled behaviour as we head through the middle of the film. There are plot inconsistencies and some stages of the story where the viewer is not really sure what's real and what's in his head, but it has been fused with the tangible in order to keep everyone generally on track.

There are some other great performances around Phoenix, such as Zazie Beetz as the single-mum neighbour and Glenn Fleshler as a work colleague to name a couple. But this film is very much a one-man show. There is violence beyond the THWAK! POW! of the comic book which is sometimes disturbing and graphic. There are reflective poignant scenes as we peep into the head of our anti-hero and by the time we come to the end, we're really not sure who we're siding with - the man abused by society or those who have made him this way.

At the end of the day it is, of course, just a story - and a fantasy one at that. In comparing the film with what has gone before, yes, this is a new take. On comparing the performance of Phoenix and the character he has created with his body, I have seen none better. Ledger was far too together with himself and clear-thinking, not dark and sinister in the way Joker is presented here - and Jack Nicholson was the comic turn laughing his way through another!

I really enjoyed Joker. I thought it was a staggeringly good film. It has been produced flawlessly, directed and shot with style. The soundtrack is great fun and fits in perfectly with the growing madness of our character. I see that Joker 2 is in the pipes, so it'll be interesting to see what they do with that. I fear that we've now had the character-building insight film and we'll not get another. That would be sad. I just hope that it doesn't stray into comic-book-land but lets us spend at least one more film studying this man in isolation. Highly recommended viewing.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

PodHub UK Podcasts for December 2019

The PodHubUK Podcasts for December 2019
...a roundup of our month of podcasting. Links to the team, communities and podcast homes on the net at the foot, so scroll down!

Whatever Works
Episode 98 - The Santa Suppression!
Saturday 28th December 2019
Aidan Bell and I are back again for our last fortnightly delve this year into Whatever Works for us and in the lives of the community members. We say adios to you-know-who and suck humbugs! Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 531 - The Christmas Postbag!
Friday 27th December 2019
Steve Litchfield and I scoop up 'letters' from the members and add our thoughts too. In this last show of the year and (depending on how you define it) the decade, we both wish you all a Happy New Year and thank you for tuning in during 2019. Looking forward to 2020 with loads more. Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 530 - A Bluetooth Christmas
Sunday 22nd December 2019
Steve Litchfield and I welcome back Steve Nutt in our penultimate show of the year. We continue to unwrap bluetooth amongst all the other festive goodies! Thank you for your continued support for PSC throughout the last decade! Enjoy.

Projector Room
Episode 52 - Tops and Flops
Wednesday 18th December 2019
The whole PR team are together for this end of year/decade favourite picks show as we chat for an hour or so about all that's good (and bad) in film, cinema and TV. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.

The Phones Show
Episode 383 - Xiaomi Note 10, Top 5 Phones for Christmas
Monday 16th December 2019
Head over to Steve Litchfield's YouTube Channel via the link above to check out the latest show in which he takes a look at the amazingly priced Xiaomi Note 10 and selects his end-of-year Top 5 phones. Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 529 - Perfectly Synced
Sunday 15th December 2019
This week Steve Litchfield and I are back with Seasonal Whisky Reflections as a two-header show, available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. We cast the Light on Latency and await the Feature Drop! Enjoy.

Whatever Works
Episode 97 - The Alcoholic Boxer!
Saturday 14th December 2019
Why not escape present-wrapping this weekend and join Aidan Bell and I as we bring you an hour's worth of natter about Whatever Works for us and the Group Members here. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Oral irrigation, portable lavs and much more! Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 528 - ABP: Another Brilliant Podcast!
Saturday 7th December 2019
This week Steve Litchfield and I welcome long-time collaborator but first-time guest Malcolm Bryant as he talks about his path through the early days of creating EPOC freeware and now bang up-to-date apps for Android. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Don't miss it!

The Phones Show
Episode 382 - What Changed?
Friday 6th December 2019
Head over to Steve Litchfield's YouTube Channel via the link above to check out the latest show in which he poses this question and considers how Apple/iOS hardware and software have evolved against Pixel and others. He seems like he's sorted - for now! Enjoy.

Projector Room
Episode 51 - The Long Irishman
Thursday 5th December 2019
Gareth Myles and Allan Gildea join me as we chat for an hour or so about what we've been watching during the last fortnight. We focus on The Irishman but have plenty to say about much else, too. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.

Chewing Gum for the Ears
Episode 19 - Bjorn Again Miley!
Monday 2nd December 2019
As threatened(!) Steve Litchfield and I are back with a sideways swipe at what we've been up to in terms of music for the last two years since we went AWOL! Not quite sure where we go from here, but we'll be sure to take your feedback into account. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 527 - Cosmologically Cosmopolitan!
Sunday 1st December 2019
Steve Litchfield and I are joined this week by Aidan Bell who has, at last, got his hands on the Planet Computers' Cosmo and he leads us through initial impressions. Loads of other content as usual including Photo of the Month. Available now via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.


The Podcasts
PodHubUK - Phones Show Chat - The Phones Show - Whatever Works - Chewing Gum for the Ears - Projector Room

The MeWe Community Groups (follow the links to join up)
Phones Show Chat & The Phones Show - Whatever Works - Chewing Gum for the Ears - Projector Room

The Team
Ted Salmon - Steve Litchfield - Aidan Bell - David Rich - Gareth Myles - Allan Gildea

Monday, 30 December 2019

Greadio AM/FM Pocket Radio

This is a dinky little stocking-filler radio with retro dials and buttons and a 'wooden' look. Don't be fooled though - it's not actually wood, but wood-coloured plastic! This feels like a bit of a con given the description, but I got past it!

You can get this in this upright version or a landscape orientation for the same price from AmazonUK currently about £16. Yes, the build is a tad dubious being all plastic and knobs and dials could be firmer in use, but I've certainly twiddled with worse, even on big-brand radios - and they all do their job. The orange-backlit retro-dial for tuning on the front is cute and when it decides that it has enough of a channel-lock you get a green light on the front left confirming. Opposite that there's an orange light, always on, when power is on. The retro-dial on the front has wavelengths for FM/AM in concentric circles and underneath this, there's five slats for the speaker grille.

Top volume is really not bad and it doesn't seem to distort any when pushed there, depending on the quality of the lock on stations. I'm in North Wales and I had best results outside. Inside the house it was often much more strong for signal when held in the hand over relying on c.12" telescopic aerial which pulls out from the top. Incidentally, that aerial feels like the best-made component on offer here! It's not too tinny but don't expect much bass! Clearly this radio is designed to be used outdoors though.

The front 'wood' is just a 'cap' really as when viewed side-on it quickly changes to grey plastic. On the right side we have a volume dial and a three-stage slider-switch getting you from Off to FM and AM. Underneath that is a 3.5mm audio-out socket. There's clearly no stereo here on any level, by the sounds of it. I was expecting it to be there via earphones, but I really can't detect it. Having said that, the sound through earphones is just fine, obviously depending on the quality of the 'phones.

My love affair with AA/AA batteries continues into 2020 as we are using two AAs here. Hurrah! Available from any shop in any town or village, no long-charging to get going again with a built-in battery, no annoying microUSB to fumble with! Works with rechargeable Eneloops as well as ordinary batteries. The unit also stands unassisted fairly firmly for perching on that rock by a waterfall when you just have to listen to some tunes!

The radio is not as small as some, so certainly not front-jeans pocket, but good for a coat. There's also a factory-fitted lanyard from the back, so it could be hung from a ruck-sack or whatever. It's a cute little radio - yes, you could certainly get better quality for similar money, but to be fair it's fun, it's not a lot of cash and if I'd opened this on xmas morning when I was a nipper, I'd have been delighted!

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Django (1966)

The shame of never having seen Django, the inspiration for Tarantino's Django Unchained, laid heavily on my shoulders, so when I saw it included with Amazon Prime Video I projected myself in for a viewing! A Spaghetti Western from the mid-1960's, dubbed, in this case, was a delight to consume and only Clint Eastwood was the missing genre hook!

Director/writer Sergio Corbucci and friend/colleague of Sergio Leone was responsible for a glut of stories and films between the 1950's and 1990's, many of which will have been missed by mainstream audiences outside of Italy, but specialising in low-budget shot-in-Europe looking-like-USA Spaghetti Westerns, alongside forays into drama and comedy. I have a list of films to catch up on and much to learn, from Ringo and His Golden Pistol (1966), The Hellbenders (1967), Navajo Joe (1966), The Great Silence (1968) and many more. There were many shots at using the Django name over the years for sequels but none hugely successful. Corbucci and star Franco Nero here only once got involved, reprising his role in Django Strikes Again (1987).

In the meantime, back to this film and we have the mysterious drifter, bizarrely dragging a wooden coffin behind him, walking, not on horseback! The question on everyone's lips for a good portion of the film is about the coffin. What's in it and why is this loner dragging it! On the Mexico/USA border he stumbles on a prostitute being abused by a group of bandits, deals with them, then has to negotiate a band of power-hungry racist hoods led by ex-Confederate Major Jackson with similar intentions, whilst avoiding a pool of quicksand!

As I said, Franco Nero stars, playing our civil war veteran loner in question, Django, who incidentally was roped in for a cameo appearance by Tarantino for Django Unchained, along with 1001 other projects and films over the last 60 plus years - and he's still going - including resurrecting his character in the forthcoming Django Lives! The list is so long, you'll have seen him in numbers of films. More recently for example, Letters to Juliet, Die Hard 2, Force 10 From Navarone and John Wick: Chapter 2. I told you I had much watching and learning ahead! He does play the central role very much like I'd expect from Eastwood though, similar anti-hero style, selfish crook with principles! Much of the acting is about a look, a style, menace, mystique and not dialogue.

The rest of the film unfolds in a genre-like skin and style as the audience backs the man who ends up alone, against everyone else around him, particularly getting in the middle of two gangs in conflict. Think A Fistful of Dollars. Fighting for survival amongst clever manipulation, plot, sub-plot, twists and turns in the storyline! It's all great fun and is notable for a few violent acts which got it banned in some countries for a couple of decades, though I'm not surprised that it was lifted - as by today's standards of exposure to gore and blood, it's nothing much. Again, Tarantino nods to some of this in Reservoir Dogs. The power of the tale nowadays is more sinister. Anyway, I won't give any of the plot away but encourage you to take a look.

The cast are all convincing for the day, make-up or not! Each brings something to the show and injects additional menace, humour, style and class. José Bódalo plays Hugo Rodriguez the bandits' leader, Loredana Nusciak, Maria the prostitute, Ángel Álvarez, Nathaniel the comic Bartender (think Silvanito in A Fistful of Dollars) and Eduardo Fajardo as the nasty Major Jackson! There's a large body of bodies(!) involved too and if you dig around in IMDb and Wikipedia there's much trivia and interesting facts to be found about the film and production. It's not a long film at just an hour and a half and the soundtrack by Luis Bacalov is an interesting and appropriate one, adding atmosphere to the fun!

I'm sure that there's much I have missed in terms of hooks into the genre and other work by all these fine people so it will be good to chew it over on the next Projector Room podcast with Gareth Myles. This film serves as a great backdrop to those investigating the genre like me and gives depth and understanding to some of the more recent work which have taken this earlier outing as inspiration and even a baseline for much more going forward. A must see, particularly while it remains included on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Good People (2014)

This is a cute little low-budget thriller with a similar idea to A Simple Plan. Based on a novel by Marcus Sakey of the same name and pulled together by Danish director Henrik Ruben Genz this could easily be glossed over and/or missed in lieu of time spent with bigger titles. That would be your loss!

American husband and wife Tom and Anna are living in a town-house in London renting out their basement to (unknown to them) a crook who's a bit of a career-criminal nasty. We start by watching him being involved in a violent money-grab from a club and introduced very early on just how nasty he is! Leap forward a while and Tom and Anna find him dead in their basement - and back to A Simple Plan - a bag full of cash.

Tom, played by James Franco (127 Hours, Pineapple Express) and Anna, by Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, Deepwater Horizon) are struggling in life. Running out of money, he's invested heavily in a property to renovate and she's hard-working too as she also tried to get herself pregnant. So now, faced with the moral dilemma, having no idea still that their tenant was a crook, they start to piece it together and wonder if they could get away with it, in order to rescue their sorry situation - including paying for IVF treatment.

Franco and Hudson are doing alright throughout all this. No awards likely at the time I'd imagine, but ably portraying the angst of the dilemma as their characters decide what to do next. We then get a deeper glimpse into the London underworld as the tenant's gang seek their stolen loot by even nastier methods of information extraction! Various Brits pop up throughout including the evergreen Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty, The Happy Prince, Valkyrie) as the copper trying to deal with bent colleagues around him and even a couple of scenes for Anna Friel (Marcella, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Pushing Daisies) all dipping in to join the fun.

The story develops as the gang have themselves double-crossed a foreigner with investments in what's going on and things head towards a gruesome and violent climax for many involved! So it's a tight little thriller which doesn't disappoint and is just about on the safe side of being forgettable! I enjoyed it and it passed 90 minutes quickly. Give it a go!

Una

This 2016 film is based on a play by David Harrower called Blackbird and makes for pretty uncomfortable viewing in terms of subject matter...