Friday, 15 March 2019
I'm usually alright with slow and tranquil films as there is often something artistic to focus one's attention on, the acting, sets, drama, music or cinematography. To be fair, this has very good doses of all of these, so maybe I was just in the wrong mood! You might think that it's about books and the need for bookshops and love of books. Certainly, a part of this is that, but to some degree, even that aspect is underplayed.
The two main players are Emily Mortimer, noteworthy in a whole load of films and TV including the excellent Hugo - and Bill Nighy, who seems to have had his finger in the pie of most films that get made, everywhere! The two of them act their parts quite excellently, supported by an able cast including Patricia Clarkson (Whatever Works) as the rich local posh family head who tries to put a spanner in the works of our heroine's plans.
It's a very simple tale based on the novel of Penelope Fitzgerald of the same name, which focuses on the relationships between the local people and reaction to an incomer trying to do something interesting and different - and also social conduct and manners - in a kind of Remains of the Day type of way, in which Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson performed. It almost feels like a Merchant Ivory production, but even slower!
The sets are well done, the photography is very engaging indeed led by European director Isabel Coixet with not only long-shots of the lovely countryside and seaside town, but also interior sets where the angles and focus have been thought about and worked out well, to create atmosphere and style. The music is supplied by European Coixet collaborator Alfonso de Vilallonga and again, adds to the mood and reflective nature of the film.
It's really a very nice little Sunday afternoon film, in which the viewer needs to focus on the artistic merit rather than the slow pace of what's going on - if you do that, you'll nod off after your roast beef lunch! Certainly worth a look, but it won't blow your socks off!
Thursday, 14 March 2019
Gervais plays Tony, who's wife has died. Whilst she was in hospital, she made a series of videos for him to watch after she'd gone, as she clearly had cancer - and the time to do it. Lisa, played by Kerry Godliman (Our Girl, Save Me, Mock the Week), was the love of Tony's life and throughout the six episodes as he philosophises about the meaning of life, the universe and the futility of existence, he comes close to ending it all more than once. However, the things that Lisa says on video give him pause for consideration and musing.
Tony works for his brother, who is very liberal with Tony, giving him much more rope than he should have, in the office of a local free paper. He and three key colleagues banter around the office, getting into scrapes and mini-scenes are created by he, and they, going out to interview local people with bizarre stories to tell in order to make a local headline! And some of them are just off the wall. Watch out for the lady who has her own way of making rice pudding and bread - I fell off my chair laughing!
There's a new girl in the office learning the ropes played by Mandeep Dhillon (recently of Zapped, Some Girls and Fried - and developing into a very good actress) who is very funny in her role alongside the eating-for-England slob reporter played by Tony Way (again, of Zapped fame, Game of Thrones, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) with whom Tony does most of his out and about reporting. He's also very funny and brings yet another rich character to the team. Across the office is Kath played by Diane Morgan (better known as Philomena Cunk, David Brent: Life on the Road and the excellent Rovers) beautifully observed as the made-up dappy girl who just doesn't get it!
Then we turn to the old folks home where we find Tony's confused dad, played by David Bradley (Game of Thrones, Broadchurch, Harry Potter films) who's lines have been written excellently for Gervais to play from. The nurse attending to dad is Gervais' Extras co-star Ashley Jensen (The Lobster, Catastrophe, Ugly Betty) who very attractively fulfills the role of potential love-interest but concerned bystander observing how Tony is with his dad.
And that's where the meat of the show is - the funny side of Tony not really giving a care for anything, saying what he likes to people, how he likes, doing what he likes, not caring really if he lives or dies. There's much humour to be grabbed from the premise of the miserable lead, in a sad, depressed situation - executed much more reasonably than, say, Victor Meldrew - as there's a reason and substance to why Tony's feeling, acting and behaving like he does.
He bumps into Penelope Wilton, of Ever Decreasing Circles fame, who takes time to sit by the grave of her husband, as does Tony, his wife. As the story develops, she plays a timely role in their short chats on the park bench in trying to enable Tony to see things differently and challenge his values and approach, despite the passing of his soul-mate. This, in a way that his psychiatrist, in flowering comic style, fails to do miserably. Paul Kay (yet again, from Zapped, Game of Thrones, Humans) does this excellently and is clearly having great fun with the medic's role! There's loads of bit-parts and bigger parts played by all sorts of people that you'll no doubt recognise from all sorts of UK TV, if you're a Brit. Roisin Conaty as the 'sex worker' is a scream and Tim Plester plays a sad junkie.
It's a very funny show, which is also touching, sad and bizarre in equal measure throughout. It might well make you roll on the floor laughing or indeed shed a tear. It's been written and directed by Gervais throughout and it's certainly accessible for everyone, I think, unlike some of his work as I mentioned earlier. It's well worth watching and you'll certainly binge it, as, like a good book, it can't be put down. Available on Netflix just now, as it is indeed a Netflix production. Enjoy!
Monday, 11 March 2019
As is often the case with home-grown drama, on the face of it, it's a simple little tale of people doing ordinary things, muddling through life, until someone or something goes wrong, people make poor decisions and, in this case, turn very dark and sinister.
The story is told from the view of an older lady teacher played beautifully by Judi Dench (Iris, Mrs Brown, Chocolat, Bond's M) in a London school, who is a spinster and loves to keep a journal/diary of her everyday life. A record in hundreds of hard-backed books spread over the years. She befriends a new art teacher at the school, who's come to teaching later in life after bring up a child with Down's Syndrome. She is played by Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Lord of the Rings, Elizabeth) and again, envelopes the role of the confused artist.
The younger teacher is married to an older man who they've snagged Bill Nighy (Guest House Paradiso, Dad's Army, Love Actually) to perform which, as you'd expect, he does very capably (we love to see the calm exterior blow up into rage now and then!), even though his part is a smaller one. Laying aside the story, the film comes across as an acting masterclass as these three, along with other well know British actors turn the heat up, as things develop in their world, get complicated and challenge each of them. It's an excellent cast, not a poor performance to be seen. Sometimes it's certainly a case of who you don't know from somewhere in a scene!
I really don't want to give anything away, but I can highly recommend a viewing. At times it almost comes across as a low-budget made-for-TV film, which, with a short limited cinema release it may have been, but it's a pure delight to be able to watch these players perform so well. It is obvious that the director Richard Eyre is better known for stage productions, as the claustrophobic nature of the shoot blends with that experience. The sets are tight and I understand that it has also been performed in theatre. The music has been supplied by Philip Glass, composer of hundreds of wonderful film scores and soundtracks. They really seem to have had an open cheque book putting this together, gathering the best of the best.
It's a story that will surprise you as it rolls along, amuse at times, thrill here and there and when the darkness descends and you realise what's what, maybe even give you a little shudder. Judi Dench particularly draws the audience in with her expertise and holds the cast and story together. Seek it out!
Sunday, 10 March 2019
In the simple box came a charger, USB-A to USB-C cable, 3.5mm to USB-C audio adapter, pokey-tool and minimalist smoke-coloured TPU. The unit has a very attractive glass-sheet front and back with an aluminium frame between. It's of medium weight and the same height and width as my Moto Z3 Play, though a little fatter. The dual lens camera island is slightly proud of the back of the phone and nestles up in the top-left corner next to the LED flash, though with the supplied TPU in place, this all becomes flush with the glass back. Underneath this is a round fingerprint scanner, which is on the small size, but quick and easy to set up, faultless in use.
Around the edges, we have a hybrid dual (stand-by) SIM Card/microSD Card tray (and the card is happily playing with my 512GB Samsung version) with the choice of microSD or second SIM, various antenna-breaks and microphones - and on the bottom a single mono speaker. On the front we have an LCD panel with a visible screen which is slightly off-centre, top-to-bottom, making an odd space creating a chin. This, however, is offset when the user chooses to hide the notch at the forehead, which makes you think that it was an adjustment at design stage! USB-C charging/data port is next to the speaker at the bottom, in the usual way. Volume rocker and power button on the right appear well made and are firm in use.
Yes, there's a notch! It's quite big at the top there (though not relation to the Pixel 3XL) and appears to house the selfie camera, earpiece for audio calls and LED notification light. It really could have been smaller. The screen itself is a 1080p IPS LCD sized at 6.26" with a 19:9 ratio. It's another tall'un, if you leave the notch in place. It's also a good bright panel, though nothing like the Nokia 8's gold standard. It certainly challenges many an AMOLED though it does have a slightly warm cast. You can play with 'Contrast and colors' in Settings, so change to what pleases your eye.
I'll come to the Settings in a minute, but just to say that it took me half an hour, literally, to find the setting to swap the navigation buttons around, which are the wrong way round out of the box. The buttons are simple circle/box/triangle, so that's good. The notification area is pure blue and grey buttons on white, iPhone-style. This, remember, is on Oreo so it's not a Pie implementation - it's a clear iOS copy and we'll come back to that. Plenty of options up there for editing what is in the main tray, clearly laid out and accessible.
Homescreen elements can be moved around and arranged as you like, but I can't find a setting anywhere to change the layout and arrangement to have a standard App drawer - again, it's all done iPhone style with all the apps cascading off into screens right. I can't find any way to add the Assistant Cards to the left of the homescreen - this seems to be reserved for their own 'app vault' pane of shortcuts, notes and calendar events (as long as you use their calendar and not Google's). You can turn this pane off completely if you choose. I also can't find any way to adjust the screen's time-out, like you'd expect in Display settings. It just seems to do its own thing and appears to be somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute. There's a range of widgets available from Xiaomi along with the usual array from your apps.
The home screen experience is not a bad one. I've seen worse, even if there's no app drawer option. The user can, of course, make folders and name them in the usual way. The UI animates slickly and is cute and cartoon'y in many ways, as we've come to expect from toys from the east. There is a face-unlock option which registered my full-bearded face (after asking me to 'show my lips'?! - I pouted, and done!) and works flawlessly with every attempt.
Again, as we've come to expect from such firms, there's an array of apps included which double-up the Google ones and can be used by choice if people want to. Gallery organises photos taken with the phone, but not much else. Their browser seems functional if users want to go that way and it has a reader mode. Calculator is white and bright, but perfectly good enough. Clock is dark-themed and has the usual functions - along with a world map, Psion-style(!) - when you add a City, it plots it with a blue dot! Nice. Contacts is again white and bright. I wonder, if Pie does arrive on this, whether a lot of this white will go dark.
There's a Mi Drop app to share files with other users, scanner - which scans documents or barcodes, a handy screen-recorder for showing granny how to turn off notifications - and a voice recorder which seems to do the job. The only offensive pre-installed app I can find is Facebook, and the system let me uninstall that quickly and simply. There is a system optimiser app, Samsung-style, which I was going to say doesn't aggressively bug the user to employ, but on reflection it won't actually let you get 100% optimisation as it considers not being signed into a Mi Cloud account a security risk! There are loads of other ways to use the tool, however, which are functional and reassuring.
Calendar, apart from being white, is really well thought out and attractive, with good options. Plenty of apps, then, for those who wish to use them and do things the Xiaomi way, but not, like Samsung, intrusive - pushing the user into using them at every opportunity, serving up layers of prompts and reminders. The Mi Video app picked up my RIP'd DVDs on memory card as .mp4 files and played them with no problem at all, has an array of options to fiddle with to get the picture aspect right and the Mi Music efficiently plays stored music with no fuss. The built-in speaker is mono and bottom firing and for a small quiet room, it's perfectly adequate for listening to sounds. It's not tinny if not pushed and can, in the usual way, be adjusted when using an app with software equaliser options, embracing that usual sacrifice of volume for quality equation.
There's no equaliser options until headphones are plugged in, at which point the device produces, as far as I'm concerned, fabulous sound. Loads of options and rich immersive sound. Testing here with AKG K702 Reference Headphones and Razer Phone 3.5mm to USB-C DAC dongle. There's one in the box, which doesn't produce the same, but it ain't half bad either. Point is, you can get some great sounds out of this phone with decent supporting gear, including bluetooth options, reporting aptX.
The device is driven by a Snapdragon 660, so the same as the Nokia 7 Plus, and feels perfectly fast and adequate to run demanding tasks. This review unit is the 64GB Storage/4GB RAM version, which, again, swaps between running tasks perfectly well and I couldn't get it to fall over, in that respect. I'm sure some heavy games would see to it! There's also a 128GB/6GB version out there available for those who would be not convinced. However, the target market for this device at this price-point, I can't imagine being bothered.
The battery is obviously a sealed one, rated at 3350mAh. This has performed well in my initial testing, bombarding it in 48 hours with review demands. I charged it up with the supplied 18W QC3 charger and it seems to be holding up very well. There's also controls you can drill down into via the aforementioned 'Security' app, where you find that Optimisation stuff, to get all sorts of analysis and information about battery state and use. On my short testing, which I know is not the same as using a phone week-in-week-out, but based on having assessed many phones in a similar fashion, I conclude that the battery will be very good for well into a second day of my average use.
Settings are, in my view, unnecessarily complicated, white and centralised - iOS and Pie-style! Having said that, there's an awful lot going on here under the hood and controls for all that, have to have a place. I guess I'm too used to the Vanilla way and so when thrown into a system I don't understand makes for a learning curve which I don't have time for here - but people buying this phone for a two year period will get used to where stuff is. Added to which, as I said earlier, the target market for this phone at this price-point will probably only go to Settings when they can't do something very specific, not like we folk who consider Settings to be a Control Panel to be tinkered with in order to push boundaries!
I do say that some stuff is missing, like the screen timeout, but I also wouldn't be surprised if that's in there somewhere and I just can't find it! But then maybe that's another price-point thing. For those of us who need an App Drawer to feel at home there's always Nova Launcher (and others) to fix that and the Companion App to supply the missing Assistant Cards, right-swipe. But actually, I'm not sure if I would.
I came into this review thinking that I was going to hate this device but actually, I really like it! Maybe my recent months with a Samsung has taught me to not be so transfixed on what I know and that everything just has to be Vanilla flavoured to be right'n'proper. If I had to, I certainly could use this phone long-term, and I'm now wondering if some of the very small omissions above would be fixed for me by going up the range a bit. The Mi stuff, even when using MIUI feels much less intrusive than Samsung's - more like an LG level - and to me, that represents a middle-ground in which I could make camp. This phone is currently just over £200 and for that money, yes, it's a congested segment of the market for Android phones, you get an awful lot of capable phone that would be far more than adequate for pretty much anyone outside of our nerdy geek circles!
Wednesday, 6 March 2019
We follow the student, Angelique, played sumptuously by Audrey Tautou, in the first half of the film and the events surrounding her love for a local heart surgeon. The doctor is played by Samuel Le Bihan who provides a solid supporting role for our star. She tries to get him to leave his wife, who it turns out is pregnant, sets up opportunities for them to be together and situations for him to be away from his wife and plan a future with her instead.
Then, unceremoniously, in the middle of the film, we start again! But this time we follow the doctor instead - through the same timeframe - and get his eye view on the events and how this whole mish-mash is impacting his life, his marriage and his forthcoming child. This is where it gets interesting and turns distinctly dark. Anyone who thought they were in for a twee romcom at this point will realise that it's something different! There are comic moments interweaved, but the main thrust of proceedings are about something quite different. And there, I should belt up!
A relatively unknown actress/director Laetitia Colombani leads us along and pulls the threads of the puzzle together very nicely, revealing just enough at just the right times to keep people on their toes. Think The Sixth Sense and you'll know that you need to keep your eyes and ears open during the first half. The photography is typically european cinema for the time with very interesting angles sought out to make the visuals appealing and the use of long-shots and defocus adding to the atmosphere, to some degree created by itself in the streets of Paris.
So it's probably best if I stop there and encourage you to watch it when you get the chance! It'll keep you entertained for the duration, particularly if you can understand french or don't mind subtitles. Tautou is a cutesy little actress and in 2002 she was performing at her most attractive and best following her cracking performance in Amélie the year before. I think you'll be pleased you gave it a go.
Sunday, 3 March 2019
Three girls, best friends all their lives, get to mid-teens and it's time for college, so off to the big city. Minnie Driver (An Ideal husband, The Governess, Good Will Hunting) plays the far too cute Benny (Bernadette) and excellent actress that she is, makes this look like a walk in the park. Her friends Eve and Nan are played by Geraldine O'Rawe (Resurrection Man) and Saffron Burrows (Nan Troy, Frida, Enigma) respectively. They are all well cast and come across very convincingly as a gaggle of life-long chums from ordinary working families.
Benny meets Jack at college, played by Chris O'Donnell (Batman and Robin, Scent of a Woman, Vertical Limit) who's similarly breezing through this task, but remains interested to the end. They fall in love. Meanwhile, Nan is desperately trying to elevate her social standing by trying to snag the posh son of a local wealthy landowner played by, who else, Colin Firth (Bridget Jones films, Mamma Mia films, The King's Speech, The English Patient) and Eve, who's parents had died much earlier so was brought up by a bunch of nuns, generally remains the pragmatic level-headed one of the three.
Benny's family has a business, a gentlemen's outfitters shop, which comes with family retainer, apparent devoted slimy creepy employee, who Benny's dad thinks is going to be not only the man for Benny but also the one to continue the family business as he gets older. Sean the employee, played by Alan Cumming (The Good Wife, Spice World, GolderEye) has been made up to look so very nasty - he could have easily played Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's Childcatcher and is referred to throughout by the girls as the lizard! Benny can't stand him, is in love with another anyway, but can't make the family see past the practical.
As the story unfolds, it starts to get a bit more meaty with all sorts of questions being asked about loyalty between friends, the imposed oppressive grip of religion with resulting shame, guilt and fear, family expectation, traditional values, generation gaps, family responsibilities and the move towards a more modern, liberated and forward-looking society.
The sets are beautiful, costumes for the day, vehicles in streets (particularly the delightful bus), colours and buildings. The photography and camerawork is often tight and more TV-style really with much missed opportunity for landscape and broad shots of rolling Irish countryside, but the director holds it together nicely and there are some interesting surviving visuals.
This is no award-winning drama, but it is a very nice afternoon film, almost elevating itself to non-matinee status because of the central performance of Minnie Driver. She has proved since this outing what a very good actress she is and this early project lays down the groundwork for her. It's a charming little film which has been oft' overlooked and deserves a viewing.
Wednesday, 20 February 2019
A Psion, I guess, but more. A powerhouse device that sits in the pocket and can take photos, play music through speaker/s, manage files, show TV and film, hold a reading library, gather news, be a shopping portal, note-keeper, link to online documents, be able to play podcasts, hook up for online banking, be an updated and updatable calendar/diary, contact list, email client, offline reader, online reader, GPS and Mapping travel aid, photo storage device, clock/alarm, weather station, web browser, social media client, voice recorder, video recorder - and so on. All the things that we have now come to expect phones to be, but without the complication of phone contracts, cellular connectivity, PAYG and anxiety associated with being out of range and out of touch. And into the bargain, amazingly improved battery life without cellular connectivity draining it constantly. Remember the AA's of the Psion lasting 2 weeks to a month?
Then came along the iPod Touch and this seemed to be it. A shift in expectation, psychology and approach. Accepting that the very capable device in the pocket was almost every bit as capable as the phone in the other, but that you had to think about not being always connected. I don't remember it being a big difficulty, once you'd accepted the parameter. I got used to working from wifi zone to wifi zone - and that would be even easier in this day and age where it seems every cafe, library, airport, train, bus station and public building has a facility. But I didn't live in the Apple world, so it soon became disconnected from my data and I was doubling up on lots of stuff and having an Apple account that I really didn't need. No big deal for many, I know.
Then along came the Samsung Galaxy Player in 2011 and that seemed to be it for me! The very device I was looking for, but sadly, like a lot of Samsung ideas, it only lasted one generation and was soon dropped, not supported or updated as Google marched on and left it behind. It was also a Samsung and, at the time, that stuck in the throat because of the thick overlay and complications and bloat it came with. The more modern Samsung Phones, like the Note9 and S9/10 are far from that, have huge storage facilities for offline use as well as an amazing tick-box list combination of hardware attributes not available anywhere else - including of course with the Note, a stylus!
The need is simple, I think. The reason that it's not popular is that Big Brother wants us online as much as possible. Giving people the choice to run their digital life offline seems to be too much when we live in a world where revenue streams come from pushing adverts at people to get them to part with the money that they would previously have shelled out on hardware or software. As a business model, you can see what's going on - and if I were in business, I'd do the same.
I expect by now you're wondering where this drivel is leading, so I'll tell you! It's leading to two places. Firstly, I read that Apple are likely to very soon relaunch an iPod Touch (or similar) which will enable the above - and allow people to shift emphasis to managing their digital life offline much of the time. Kudos to them, I say. Secondly, it got me thinking about the Samsung Galaxy Note9 which I have here rockin' 512GB of storage with another 512GB on a microSD Card, connectivity by cable to TV's and Monitors via DeX or just HDMI-out - and how that could be thought of by the user not so much as a phone but rather a pocket-computer, as they rip out the SIM Card.
I have to admit that I have struggled to keep my SIM Card in the Note9 because I so love other phones and I'm a serial SIM swapper! I don't want my phone to be this big pocket computer. I want my phone to be a smaller phone-sized-phone, as we used to say. The Nokia 8 Sirocco is a good example, but so are many compact devices still available, with screens under 5" and not 6.4" and more. So, the idea is that one has the powerhouse pocket computer in the bag, glove-box, coat pocket, in the house on a Qi charger, wherever - with the battery being sipped with no SIM Card - for use, topping up, connecting and updating, sending/receiving as you come and go into WiFi zones. A pocket computer that can hold 1TB of stuff offline, no clouds here, that you can plug into keyboards, mice, displays when needed - but then use another device as a phone. Into the bargain, the phone is used less so its battery lasts longer too.
I know this isn't rocket science, and most people want to be connected all the time with everything they have, so wouldn't be able to resist putting in a data-SIM to keep that connected too. But the point of these thoughts were to think back to the older days when everything wasn't so connected and when hardware supported big storage. Look at the amount of phones and other devices now which only have 64GB storage or 128GB and no expansion. Even my laptop computer has a fixed 256GB SSD. We're encouraged not to store stuff outside of the cloud - but I say that there's still a place for it. Well done to Apple and Samsung for retaining that option and allowing some of us to think and behave differently. I wonder if Samsung will follow Apple again and try another Galaxy Player - and if so, will a generation of people re-emerge who are not addicted to being online and living in clouds.
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