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!

Saturday, 21 December 2019

The Nanny (1965)

The Nanny is an excellent gripping British thriller starring Bette Davis as the ageing titular nanny pandering to generations of a wealthy British family - and adopting a very convincing British accent for the outing! She's a faithful family retainer having been nanny to at least two generations, current children, their parents and mum's sister too. It's a dramatic story reflecting the stuffy attitudes and values of the day!

Nanny is considered very much a part of the family, though reflecting that stuffy era, refers to the family members formally - and they, her. The story is built around her decades of service to the family, though set in the present 1960's. Bette Davis (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, All About Eve) encapsulates the role beautifully, mixing lovely caring trustworthy nanny with glimpses of the sinister, to keep the audience guessing!

British audiences of my age will know Wendy Craig not as a film star, but a TV sitcom one. The very funny but troubled mum in Butterflies and before that, Not in Front of the Children. Here, she plays another troubled mum to the 10-year old brat Joey along with a talked-about but nowhere to be seen at the outset, daughter Suzy. Suzy is played in flashbacks by the clearly very talented child-actor Angharad Aubrey but seemed to drop out of show business after this film. William Dix, who also later starred as Rex Harrison's Dr Doolittle's side-kick, plays the pretentious spoilt brat to perfection at the ripe age of 10. Clearly very confident as he shares most of the camera time with Davis.

There has been an incident in the family, which I won't give away, which is the basis of the decision to send brat Joey off to 'special' school for close attention and therapy. He comes back for a holiday at the outset of the film and comes across as a naughty, attention-seeking boy. The question which builds with excellent pace throughout the film is what's been done, who's done it, if it was done - and who's the bad guy/gal here - if there is one! Is someone being wrongly accused or is the audience being led a merry dance en route! Mum can't cope with all this so Craig plays a broken woman, taking drugs half the time to cope with life, children, husband, played by the very stuffy James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only), being away on business half the time and relying on nanny to hold her household together.

Mum's sister Pen, played by Jill Bennett (For Your Eyes Only, Moulin Rouge[1952]), is also a monied wreck with something wrong with her heart - meaning that she could keel over any minute, if stressed, and snuff it on the spot - especially if she can't reach her rescue-pills! So you can see that all these elements are cooking up a boiling pot of opportunity for thrills and spills as we head towards a climax.

The film is directed by the largely unknown Seth Holt, clearly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock as it bears many hallmarks of the master's work. It only 'feels' dated because of people's dress, behaviours, language and mode of speech of the day. Other than those elements it survives very well and remains a watchable thriller. It's atmospherically shot in black and white but also in what was considered 'widescreen' of the day, so not TV-ratio, and is pretty short and punchy at just an hour and a half. Not too long for the audience perched on the edge of their seats! It's a good ride and even though modern hardened audiences might now guess the outcome, I can just imagine the faces on the thrilled cinema-going audience of the day if they could see the screen through the smoke)! Give it a go. It's very enjoyable.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

The Nightingale

This is a really engaging film which is set in Australia in 1825 amongst the British Army at war with the Tasmanian Aborigines (Palawa) as the badly-behaved Empire tries to turn the country into a prison, shipping so-called convicts off there from the northern hemisphere. I'm no historian, but I think that's the bones of the background.

The story follows Clare, an Irish convict shipped there who is trying hard to build up her good behaviour towards being afforded her freedom. She has earned it when we join the story, but it's being unfairly denied by a bunch of soldiers who are using her for their pleasure. They won't let her go whilst she is still useful to them.

Things quickly get out of control as the most senior soldier is denied a promotion on the grounds that he can't control his rabble troops in his small outpost and Clare's husband confronts him just at the wrong time about her freedom. The soldiers indulge in acts of violence and cruelty to her, her husband and child. (There are some subtitles here and there as people slip into their native languages, including Gaelic, but the vast majority of the film is in English.)

This is where the story turns into a quest for revenge as Clare engages the services of an Aboriginal 'tracker' who can help her navigate and negotiate the Tasmanian wilderness as they follow the soldiers to the town where he's seeking his denied promotion. We follow the two sets of travellers now across the terrain, full of challenges and bumping into groups of people on both sides of the war, all behaving badly towards both women and Aborigines. As the tracker keeps out of the way of white people for fear of being shot or taken as slave, Clare keeps out of the way of everyone, particularly as she has no papers to prove to anyone that she's anything other than a convict.

What's interesting to watch throughout is the aggressive racist attitudes of pretty much everyone involved. The Aborigines hate the whites, the whites hate the Aborigines, the white men with freedom or power (either will do) are all happy to use and abuse the women, black or white, particularly if they're convicts (or in Clare's case, can't prove that she has earned her freedom) but also the likes of Clare who expects her tracker to be a bad person and treats him like an inferior with verbal abuse and unreasonable expectation.

Aisling Franciosi (The Fall, Game of Thrones) is phenomenal in the lead role as Clare. She doesn't put a foot wrong and is harrowingly convincing throughout. She demonstrates her revengeful plight and vulnerability through excellent acting as she heads towards her goal of doling out slices of justice. The pretty much unknown Baykali Ganambarr similarly executes the role of Billy the tracker with convincing ease and I guess that he's one to look out for going forward. Sam Claflin (Peaky Blinders, The Drift) and Damon Herriman (Mindhunter, Justified) play the rotten soldiers with grizzly nastiness and the rest of the cast fit in around them, all playing their parts well.

It's a frighteningly eye-opening watch and (presuming some level of accuracy) an education relating to what went on in the southern hemisphere in the 19th century as the British Empire went about its business dehumanising people of other nations and continents, taking by force what was not theirs. The film seems to have been shot in 1.37:1 which is kind of like an old TV screen. I'm not sure if this was an artistic or financial decision but certainly with a wide-screen ratio, much more could have been made of the amazing landscapes. It's not an easy watch and in amongst all these prejudices the viewer ends up not being quite sure who to side with - but invariably comes down on Clare's side. Highly recommended viewing.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Soundcore Life Q10 Bluetooth Headphones

SoundCore, the offshoot brand/firm from Anker are making some great stuff these days. I previously reported positively on the Motion+ Speaker and now I was looking for a simple pair of headphones having got myself into a real pickle with aptX this, Low Latency that and noise-cancelling the other! These fit the bill - as long as you like bass!

The Soundcore Life Q10 headphones are very cheerful and bright being black with a smart red trim throughout. They are obviously over-ear as headphones and have a firm and clicky expanding headband with good travel. I have a huge head and it's very comfortable for me. I also have huge ears and mine just fit nicely into the cushions (but with not much to spare, unlike my AKG K701 mega-size unit in which they're lost)! I have used them for extended plays now watching films and they remain comfortable into hours. They fold up - in on themselves. Kind of. There's a limit to how foldable larger headphones can get I suppose.

Comfortable into hours is also a good thing because you won't often have to charge these 'phones. The Anker battery technology is clearly cross-pollinating here as this set has a staggering 60 hours of use time, far in excess of most others and certainly rubbish buds! I'm guessing that we're not going to get 60 hours on Bluetooth on full volume, but certainly on sensible volume levels and using the supplied 3.5mm cable to plug into your source, you're much more likely to do better and somewhere near what they claim. Testing to come. There is a payoff here too which makes them quite big - they certainly do stick out significantly more from the head than many others. Depends how much the extra battery is worth to the user as to whether this payoff is worth it.

Talking of charging, I was delighted to find this set which actually employed USB-C over microUSB. There's a huge number of headphones out there, bang up to date, all-singing-all-dancing, which are still using the old standard, so choice is certainly much slimmer for those of us who barely have a need for microUSB any longer. Here we go then, and in my test, I set up a phone on a Qi charger and started a music player rolling a random track loop, hooked it up to the 100% charged headphones by bluetooth and set them to medium volume. It was very hard to kill the battery as the level ticked over to 90% after 12 hours and then 80% after 24. On that basis, we're looking at 24hrs x 5 = 120hrs! Now, I'm sure physics will come into play if I were to just leave them running and every 20% portion of the battery would not behave so well, but even so - this is a staggering performance and leaves no doubt as the the 60 hours claim. I would expect even more if wired. Compare this to the dreadful 4-8hrs of the average earbuds and there's no competition if you're OK with size.

Fast USB-C Charging means that you can, with the right gear, get 5 hours of use for only 5 minutes of charging or a full charge from flat in 2 hours. I tested this too and it's as good as they say - how could I now doubt them! If you want to take advantage of all that fast stuff you'll need to grab your own fast-charger as there's not one supplied. One quirk that I wasn't expecting and hadn't really thought about was that it seems you can't charge the set when being used with bluetooth, but you can when being used with a cable. Seems a bit odd.

The headphones are made of plastics and faux leather for the cup-cushions but it feels sturdy enough, solid and hard. They don't look 'cheap' cheap, but certainly not premium. There's no IP-rating here either, so not good for Singing In The Rain! On the right cup there's the USB-C and 3.5mm audio-in port. There's a red LED to indicate when it's charging which turns blue when done. There's an 18" long USB-C to USB-A cable supplied in the box as well as a 3ft 3.5mm to 3.5mm cord. There's a BassUP button (which I'll come to) alongside volume up/down buttons and a multi-function Power button too. All controls are on the right side.

Bluetooth pairing is very quick and easy with the devices I have tried here, locking on quickly and holding the connection well. On my walking test, I have found the range to be more than adequate though I haven't been able to test that through flint walls! Running through the controls, I can report that music playback can be paused and restarted by a quick press of the power button, track forward/back via long-presses on the volume buttons, BassUP by pressing that button quickly (followed by a female announcement for on and off!), a quick double-tap on the power button to get an announcement as to battery state (high/medium/low), a medium-press on the power to invoke your phone's Assistant (good for Google as tested here - returning to what you were listening to after your enquiry - and apparently also for Siri) and quick-press the power button to answer/hang up phone calls. The microphone seems to handle voice calls perfectly well and my test conversation caused no problem either end.

The sound coming out of these to me, the layman, is excellent, very loud, good clear quality, but ludicrously bass-heavy. And this is without the BassUp engaged! I have had to use on-device music players with their own equaliser controls to tame that for what level of bass I think is low enough for me. I get the whole 'boom box' thing and maybe when I was younger I'd have been much more up for booming bass, but not now. This exceeds even the baseline settings which Marshall employ with their headphones, which is saying something! Forget about governors for volume in the EU, we need governors for bass! It's quite ludicrously set high.

Depends what you're listening to of course - so listening to rock it's off the scale with bass, but solo piano and it's OK. I've also been OK watching films (until there's some oil tanker explosion going on)! Like the Motion+ speaker, referred to above, what this needs is a controlling App for the phone. The App for the speaker works really well, but doesn't include this headset. I shall appeal to them. So, if you like bass, you'll love these. Then, if you haven't pounded your poor eardrums enough, you can tap the BassUP button which makes it even more ludicrous for bass. Very silly. BassUp technology analyzes your audio’s low frequencies in real-time and instantly increases the bass, apparently! Book yourself a hearing test for 6 months time!

Bluetooth 5.0 is present and one of the important things for me was to get round this lip-sync with video/film problem, latency, using bluetooth. As I said at the outset, all these fancy technologies just seem to complicate the whole issue and this month I've tried all sorts getting here. aptX, aptX HD, aptX-LL and most of them in my experience here provide a worse lip-sync than just making sure it's simple and BT5. Nothing fancier - as discussed with and advised by Steve Litchfield on Phones Show Chat. I still see a lag when watching video, but have found ways to minimise that now. Some apps and services are better than others in this respect, so Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouTube are much better than VLC, for example. The latter does have a manual 'delay' which can be set for each film/track/album (and then saved) however. Bluetooth remains very confusing to me with all these different standards flying around, but I think I have found a way forward which doesn't involve irritation!

The headset is also Hi-Res Audio Certified, which apparently means it supports "playback of music files that have a higher sampling frequency and/or bit depth than CD - 16bit/44.1kHz". It sounds great in that respect to me - but then maybe I couldn't tell the difference anyway! The unit is also equipped with 40mm dynamic drivers which apparently means (and again, I rely on the tech-heads here) that "headphones driver ranges from 20mm – 50mm in diameter and generally, a driver's size determines the loudness." So this is near the top! I'm sure there's more to it than that but I'm not here as a headphones/audio/sound engineer - rather reporting what I find and hear!

The 'newer and upgraded' version of these headphones from SoundCore is the Q20. Beware, as these are redesigned and offer noise cancellation but the payoff for that is half the battery life - and to add insult to injury, a return to microUSB for charging! Madness.

Anyone looking for a budget set of headphones which perform perfectly well (particularly if you like bass) could do much worse than these. They're about £45 but there seems to be a semi-permanent £10 voucher off at AmazonUK, so £35. The battery life is quite staggering (so you're much more likely to have a charge when you grab them) and the icing on the cake, USB-C. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Xiaomi MiJia Wiha Screwdriver Set

I wonder how many people reading this would not be thrilled to receive this screwdriver set! Xiaomi seem to be branching into so many different product areas now, and usually doing it really well, like here. Great materials, design and quality. Like the old days!

We've seen this done before of course with all sorts of screwdriver bits inside handles and interchangeable this and that, but to be honest, they're usually plastic and cheapo crapo! This is the opposite and although not as cheap as the aforementioned, you get the feeling that it's good for a lifetime's use instead of a decade (or until someone drops it and plastic splits on cheap ones)!

There's an outside metal 'sleeve' which slides up and covers the tray inside. The tray is plastic, but it's the only part that is - and it's solid and hard. The tray can only be placed inside the sleeve the right way (upright) and when it gets to the end, a firm press on the top of the tray 'clicks' it into a locking mechanism which only releases when pressed in again - when it pops out.

In the tray, you get a 'handle' in which the bits are placed and this has three flat sides to assist grip and a twirly-end to help which screwing-in to reposition hands. It's made of metal again and beautifully moulded. You can get different sizes of these kits with different arrays of bit-heads for different prices. This is the 24-piece set and has a range of Philips, Flat, Hex and Torq bits of different sizes. They're pretty small and the kit lends itself to precision jeweler, optician or clock-repair tasks, but of course, a thousand jobs around the house.

The icing on the cake is that the bits are all magnetic so not only do they stay firmly in the handle when in use but somehow 'snap' into the place-holders in the box too. How that works with a plastic tray, I don't know, but it does. I guess there must be a metal sub-tray in there. Each bit is etched with the size it is in the set and there's handy logos on the tray indicating the set of each row.

I'm really impressed and am now on the lookout for other Xiaomi stuff by default when looking for stuff I need/want, checking their gear first! This one is available from AmazonUK for about £20 (it seems to fluctuate) alongside the rest of their range. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Marriage Story

Marriage Story is going to be a bit of a Netflix Marmite film for many. There will be those who really don't want to spend a couple of hours watching a real-life conflict not only between two people who are really not sure if they want to be together and their son, but also lawyers on the battleground exhibiting their craft and others who will be able to, like me, focus on the fine performances.

Director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) created this film on the back of his real life experience amidst his divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Before I knew that, it felt like the backdrop of actors, hollywood, theatre directors and luvvies-all-round was just getting in the way of a clean story of a similar ilk, such as the beautifully produced Kramer vs. Kramer. However, this soon pales into insignificance as the meat of the story centres around the nuclear family breaking down and how people deal with each other, careers and the legal profession.

Adam Driver (Girls, The Report) is the up-and-coming star of a generation. He's talented and can seemingly turn his ability to any role he wishes to embrace. The military's loss is cinema's gain. In this role he embraces the position of workaholic theatre director, good dad and laid-back Mr Nice Guy alongside the new situation in which he finds himself. Having to fight for his marriage, shared custody of his child and the legal profession all at the same time. He does this with naive empathy, lost in a sea of new experiences, not quite understanding how this can be happening. Scarlett Johansson (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Scoop, Match Point) is equally convincing as the actress becoming famous and successful whilst keeping a lid on family responsibilities, dwindling love and being baffled by lawyers too.

The chemistry between the two is infectious. They, and the film, are engaging from the start. We jump in as there's a narration going on. First him, then her, talking about the good and bad aspects of each other and their marriage. We later find out that these are prepared lists created for the benefit of a marriage guidance process, but it's an excellent scene-setting technique as the audience quickly learns a huge amount about the family and their background. It is clear that they are deeply in love but that life is getting in the way, particularly their dedication to their careers, path dividing them as it trundles along.

There's one scene in the middle of the film where the pair try to sit down and talk with other but the attempt falls, sweeps between raw emotion, anger, frustration, bitterness, tears and transparent deep love. The scene is beautifully acted and is watched by all, eyes-wide! A super example of a scene within a film which almost doesn't need the context of the rest of the story. Check it out. The emotions expressed throughout the film are so convincingly expressed and performed that the viewer is sucked in, well and truly at every turn.

There's some comic moments in there too. At one point there's a woman appointented by the court to spend time with each of them in their normal habitat. Her performance is very funny as she doesn't quite know how to react to what's going on around her whilst Driver's character is trying far too hard to make it all look normal! There's Johansson's sister running around stressed as she's charged with the task of serving the divorce papers on him. She's played by Karen Duvall, who was excellent recently in the TV series Unbelievable. Then there's her mum, comically played by Julie Hagerty, who I still can't see outside of auto-pilot mode in Airplane! The family members are painted up as a real bunch of quirky people, as you can see. At this point, it really starts to feel like it's a Woody Allen comedy with all the usual hooks into funny New York characters and cast playing off against each other to great amusement with reflections of the absurdity of real life - often led by Allen favourite Wallace Shawn. There are also nods to Allen in terms of the shooting style as often we see cameras left shooting empty rooms whilst actors are out of them, not in shot.

The son (Azhy Robertson) looks very much like Doc in The Shining or, at a stretch even the kid in Kramer vs. Kramer. He plays his part very well. He's not just along for the ride but has some real dialogue and even at his young age has been chosen well with a budding ability to act. Then we come to the legal teams and actors again often plucked from Allen's casting book. Alan Alda plays an ageing family lawyer quite brilliantly. He's clearly had enough of hard-nosed legal wrangles and having tried to retire, really isn't up for the modern cut-throat world of Ally McBeals! It's great to see him again, thoughts of *M*A*S*H* of course! Laura Dern (Blue Velvet, Jurassic Park, Twin Peaks) pops up as one of the lawyers out to cut throats and embraces the role with gusto! Against her we have Ray Liotta (Hannibal, Goodfellas) in a smaller part, but one in which he exudes a similar gusto in each of his scenes! The pair of them up against each other in the near-informal courtroom is another scene-in-film to watch and enjoy more than once.

It's a film that, as I said at the outset, needs to be watched for the performances more than story, as they are, without exception, quite superb. The backdrop and sets, directorial style and production values are all very interesting and high. It's a film made for awards by Netflix and that's clearly where it is heading. If you really don't fancy the subject matter and think it looks like it is about couples bickering, then think again. You'll be delighted with, if nothing else, the exceptional two leads. Highly recommended.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Light Phone II - A Phone for Humans!

Tools, not Feeds they say at Light. This is a phone which pretty much does nothing of what we're used to doing these days with our pocket companions. They say that scrolling feeds is not good and that their basic tools are for getting things done. I wonder how many people reading this actually really want to disconnect with pretty much all of the network which they've built up around them. This really is not a phone review but the bones of a philosophical and social discussion.

Unlike KaiOS which is trying hard to integrate the likes of WhatsApp and FaceBook to a simple phone, LightOS says goodbye to social media, advertisements, news or email - like that's desirable in 2020. Maybe it is for some, but I hazard a guess that it's the very, very few who want to cut themselves off in this way. Designed to be used as little as possible, so humans can get back to interacting in the old-fashioned way. A phone that respects you! The price of your removal from the world? A staggering £265/$350! Available in Black or Light Grey.

The tools to which they refer are Telephone, SMS, a list of Contacts, an Alarm Clock, and maybe later Play Music, Voice Memos, Notes, Calendar, Weather app, Dictionary and some way to give the user Mapping Directions or call a Taxi (there is a GPS built-in). This was a crowd-source project and they really seem to have done well in terms of making it happen, both for the original Light Phone and now this second generation. I didn't ever see the first one, so I'm coming in cold to the second.

The thing that hits the user coming from a smartphone is that the device is tiny. It's got a 2.4" display with huge bezel-space around it - and the screen is black/white/gray e-ink. Think Kindle. The refresh-rate is as slow as an older generation Kindle's so every screen-tap means a wait before anything responds and that e-ink 'ghosting' remains when changing content. Screen-taps often don't register until the user realises that they have to press hard - this is no capacitive AMOLED! The screen-taps, apart from having lag, seem to want to be hit 'high' on the target. This is especially obvious when using the keyboard, which is very small indeed and only available in landscape. Not surprising really as in portrait it would be even smaller. Every time text input is needed, the screen auto-turns.

The phone is plastic and less than 4" in height, 2" across and about 1cm fat, taking into account the convex back - apparently done in order to pack in more battery over the flat original. It's 78g in weight and the whole package fits somewhere in the middle of my palm (see photo)! There's a earpiece speaker up the top where you'd expect, alongside a light sensor which enables auto-setting of the panel's light-up. Sadly, there's no USB-C here so we're back to microUSB for charging. They claim that the battery is good for 7 days on standby and 2 hours of talk-time. I am finding that those claims are about right as after using for about 3 days almost half of the charge is depleted. It's also IPX3 splash-resistant.

On the left is a NanoSIM Card Tray with the usual pokey-tool and a reasonably well made tray sliding in and out. The phone is capable of a 4G connection and it seems to do well with that. I have very successfully tethered other devices to it for a connection and it works beautifully. Quick to connect and maintains a good strong signal which is passes on to attached equipment. There's also a Hotspot option which I wasn't able to test but apparently works for up to 5 devices. Similarly, with making calls - the connection is strong, the person the other end can be heard well enough with the volume keys on the right adjusted to maximum and the person the other end hears the caller very clearly. The fact that the phone's microphone is well away from the mouth because of the size of the unit deters it not! (Though this is the same as many a bluetooth earpiece.) SMS works fine both ways, once you've been able to type it on the fiddly keyboard. There's no auto-correction to help, incidentally, so mistakes are rife.

Bluetooth 4.2 is present, though I'm not sure what it's for! Maybe it's for playing music, if and when the Music Player is added to the device - or perhaps there's a file-sharing facility coming too via a Manager. At the moment I can't seem to connect anything to the phone. There's also a 3.5mm audio-out socket up-top which again, will come in handy for listening to Music someday. There's no camera of course, as this would be too much of a distraction and make the user interact with the phone and world too much. The Alarm function works efficiently but the ring-tones for phone-calls and alarm are low in volume and buried in a pocket could easily be missed. In actual fact, without some sort of Music Player, it's hard to test the sound output.

On the top there's a 'wake' button which is also power on/off. Pressing that shows time, day, date, battery icon and percentage, wifi and cellular strength icons and a 'proceed' circle at the foot. Press this and you're launched into the Phone/SMS screen where you can select a dialing pad, SMS compose or Search for previously saved Contacts. Between the volume buttons on the right-side is a Menu button which takes the user to a Phone, Alarm or Settings.

In Settings, Phone takes you back to the main Phone screen mentioned above, alarm gives a numeric keypad to set a simple alarm and Settings launches a sub-menu including Airplane Mode toggle and Notifications which allows for Ringtone selection from a list of a few (all too quiet). Same for SMS and Alarm. There's also a privacy toggle to either show incoming messages on the Lock Screen or not. Moving onto Preferences allows for Time setting/display options, auto-capitalise on the Keyboard, a hearing-aid control option in Accessibility and another toggle for haptic-feedback when touching the screen - recommended to be left on to have some confirmation that your screen taps have worked as you wait during the delay! There's a simple numeric system passcode which can be set to get in and out of anything past the Lock Screen. Connectivity settings for WiFi, Bluetooth and Hotspot and options to open a Light Account, Reset the phone, check for LightOS Updates (which seem to come in almost daily) and so forth.

In order to do anything more at this stage, you need to head for the Light Website via a desktop browser and to the Light Dashboard. Here you sign in with your Light Account credentials and have access to a bunch of further much-easier-to-control and manage options. If the place where you hold your Contacts will let you Export them as a .vcf file (Google Contacts doesn't offer that) then they can be imported here and, as I understand it, when the phone is connected to WiFi will keep these in sync. It's not clear about how many the phone will hold or how many can be imported as I can't seem to execute this in any case. You can also also add Contacts manually but when I tried that, WiFi turned on, I waited and waited, and the one I added via the Dashboard didn't turn up on the phone. So, again, maybe features not yet finished. For me, an import from Google Contacts would make a huge difference, though clearly ongoingly, one would then need to keep doing that export/import to keep it up to date. Basic PIM functionality would make a big difference here. I get the no-social-media thing, but surely a properly syncing Calendar/Contacts/Email is a bare minimum, even for those dipping out from the world! Maybe significantly it talks to iCloud! Lastly, Device Info tells you all about the phone and records your IMEI number which could be handy if you lost it.

As I said at the outset, this is all about a philosophy and a becoming-trendy agenda to disconnect, or at least be able to choose to disconnect, from the deluge of media we're all bombarded with - and the evolved behaviour of humans to see the world through their phone-screens. To challenge people to ask themselves about how many human friends they have and how many virtual ones have replaced them. To question how humans now spend their time buried in technology instead of being out there paragliding, cycling or in the pub.

It's an ambitious project and an expensive one, to make this point. There's an option here for kids, I guess. Keep them off-grid from an early age, but still in touch. For my money, I think there's a much more desirable middle-road to be considered via the KaiOS option where a lot of the above is retained, but at least some of what we've got used to is also available. Maybe they're different philosophies at heart, but that's where my money would go - and quite a huge chunk less of it than this expensive luxury.

Many thanks to Lee Burnett for the loan for review.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Projector Room 51

Projector Room
Episode 51 - The Long Irishman


@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 https://stevelitchfield.com/projector/index.html or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy  @Steve Litchfield #podcast

Phones Show Chat 528

Phones Show Chat
Episode 528 - ABP: Another Brilliant Podcast!



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 https://stevelitchfield.com/sshow/chat.html or your podcatcher of choice. Don't miss it! 

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