Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Another Widget (Android)

Over the last couple of years, I have got fed up with Google's 'comfy slippers' At a Glance Homescreen widget not working properly with 21:9 screens. I love the Widget and it's the first thing I install on phones that don't have it installed and fixed as standard, like Pixels and Nokias for example. So while Google get their act together, what can be done?

Please note that Google have, during Android 12 Beta, renamed 'At a Glance' to 'Live Space' - so it could be that they're working on fixing it going forward. But in the meantime, I have found Another Widget to be the perfect answer. On some 21:9 screens anyway. Sony presents a greater problem whereas Motorola's One Vision doesn't seem to.

The Motorola Edge+ I am currently using is technically a 19.5:9 screen, so I guess it doesn't comply - although it is different in a sense, because of those 'waterfall' edges, making the 'front' of the phone's screen very much 21:9. And the 'At a Glance' Widget behaves just like it does on the 21:9 screens that I have tried - rendering the Widget 5x2 for icon-space rather than 5x1 - which takes up far too much space and just looks stupid!

Incidentally, this whole 5x2 vs 5x1 thing doesn't seem to make the slightest difference when phones' grids are changed, global font size altered or generic display zooms. I have tried on various devices and that doesn't change things. And even if it did, my other widgets' text would become illegible!

Anyway, Another Widget certainly fills the gap here and adds all sorts of functionality that Google's own widget doesn't, apart from the core issue here. The App is free to use, with no limitation on functionality that I could find, and an invitation to contribute to the developer, Tommaso Berlose. Worth £1.59 of anyone's money to support and encourage.

You can make the Widget behave in a whole range of ways, including to start off with, whether or not it's transparent to your wallpaper or not. I have black wallpaper so it's not an issue, but for those who have brighter colours or moving wallpaper, this is a useful addition. You may need to play with size, colour and style of font in that case, but this widget has that covered too!

Yes, you can adjust text size and colour for both available lines in the widget - as well as custom fonts, covering a huge list of options to make it read just how you want it to. You can drill down to the Date Format too, making the date how you like to see it. I go for Day-Date-Month myself, but the options are there to switch it round as you like.

Then there's layout where you can align the text how you want it to look, add a separator (even the style) and where what fits where! If you want to you can make the whole widget bigger by adding a clock - again, customisable in all sorts of ways. Or have two clocks if you like to include somewhere you might travel to regularly.

Unlike At a Glance, you can control Calendar events popping up in terms of how long they stay and which ones, even which calendars to show from your chosen calendar app as a filter. Then there's weather - a primary part of the At a Glance for me. As you drill down into the Weather options, which again are plentiful including even Icon packs, there is a choice to be made about which provider to use. Some are USA only, so you have to go off and open an account, get a token to use and so forth. I stick to the simple one which needs none of that mucking about and it seems to do as good a job as the Google one as I click through and it ends up at the very same place.

Underneath the date and weather you can have all sorts of other information popping up - all controllable, including next alarm set, battery status, any custom note you might want to add, notifications from apps and even what song is currently playing on your Music App of choice.

There's tons of stuff in here, most of it is customisable, it's a real breath of fresh air after to fairly locked-down Google version - and even if you don't have a 21:9 screen problem to work around, this works beautifully well on other phones with all sorts of screen sizes. Recommended very highly and first brought to my attention by Zac Kew-Denniss when he appeared on our podcast Phones Show Chat with Steve Litchfield.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

What a fabulous roller-coaster of a thriller this is! I watched it so long ago that I had actually forgotten the differences compared to the 2009 remake with John Travolta and Denzel Washington. I'd forgotten the outcomes, so was able to enjoy (almost) afresh!

The story, for those who don't know, is about a gang of four men who hatch a well-constructed plan to hijack a New York Subway train, holding those on-board hostage, threatening to kill them if the city don't cough up a million dollars - pronto! Time is critical and makes the edge-of-the-seat thrills even more suspenseful!

Thoughts of Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs which borrowed the idea of colourful characters - Mr Blue, Mr Green, Mr Grey and Mr Brown. (Though no Mr Pink to be argued about!) The main two leads, later taken by Washington and Travolta, are superbly executed here by Robert Shaw, ruthless ex-military Brit, and Walter Matthau, inexperienced negotiator and Subway cop.

There are loads of names in the cast - and faces that you'll recognise including Martin Balsam (All the President's Men, Murder on the Orient Express)Hector Elizondo (American Gigolo, The Fan) and Earl Hindman (The Equalizer, Silverado) as the other three gang members. Sadly, Elizondo is the only surviving actor of these leads. It is certainly a case of spot-the-star though - either present for then or future.

Matthau injects a level of fun and humour to his role as he tries to hold things together, leaping from wise-cracker to negotiator by the minute. The control room from where this happens is like a scene from Airplane! with people milling about, small asides and quips which can easily be missed - second viewing recommended! And the Mayor - he could have come straight from the set of Blazing Saddles!

There's also a splattering of characters being held as hostage in the train. Wise-cracking New Yorkers, token cowards, a drunk woman who sleeps through the whole thing, screaming brats and cocky dudes. In these respects, the film has more of a light tone than the aforementioned remake which seemed more serious in approach.

As the plot unfolds though and focuses on the gang, we get to see just how serious it all becomes as Shaw demonstrates that he's not to be messed with and through twists and turns in the storyline takes decisive action. Then there's the chase to get the money to the gang as the city comes to a halt and bank clerks pull all the stops out to get the money, then cops race to the location in cars, motorbikes and trucks! Stuff goes wrong, of course and the deadline looms! It's really quite thrilling stuff.

Then there's the finale, which I won't spoil for you as, like me, you may have forgotten, more twists and turns and a final scene which adds even more suspense and humour! It all adds up to a cracking thriller with fabulous performances from everyone. Beautifully directed to add to the tension by Joseph Sargent with supporting music moving between the thrill of the ride to mellow piano and much between.

I'm off to re-watch the 2009 remake now to see what I have forgotten about that too - and how it compares. In the meantime, track this 1974 original pearl down!

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

OnePlus 9

I have the OnePlus 9 here to review which has been available since the spring of this year around the world. Late to the party again, but sometimes that's a good thing as initial bugs can be fixed before phones get to me! I've not spent much time with OnePlus phones over they years but have always been pleased with their take on Android, remaining fairly neutral. Ahead of the departmental merger with Oppo, this could all be about to change of course. Hopefully not for the worse!

There is a variation on the model, the Pro, which is different in a few ways including having an aluminium frame, larger size all-round, updated brighter OLED screen with more ppi, a better array of camera options and faster wireless charging. But it's big! There's also variations of the 9 itself for different markets with little differences like no wireless charging in some and changed IP-rating. So look before you leap! The one I have here is the LE2113 with 8GB RAM and 128GB Storage. Many thanks go to Adrian Brain for the loan of the unit.

In the disproportionately tall box we have the usual array of papers, pokey-hole prodder for the SIM Card Tray, decent- enough looking clear TPU, a red USB A-to-C cable and the Warp Charger. Not sure why the box is so tall. Anyway, it has Hasselblad festooned all over it - the word in full and logo left, right and centre. They want you to know about this!

The phone is not as large as I thought it was going to be, for some reason. Probably because I had previously reviewed bigger OnePlus phones. I reviewed the OnePlus 6T in December 2018 and the OnePlus 7 Pro the following autumn. Two giant phones! It seems that here they are offering a slightly smaller experience and that's great in my book! It's still not a Pixel-small phone and at 160mm is just a tad shorter than my Motorola Edge+ and a tincture wider (but only because of the flat screen). I can just about meet my finger and thumb around the phone's waist with the TPU applied. Without? Easily!

I was delighted to see the Alert Slider on the side, but not sure if the right-side is the right side! We shall see. Like iPhones, this lets you silence the phone on-the-fly with a hardware slider and in this case, change it to vibrate-only too. The functions of the three positions are customisable. It sits just above the power button while the volume-rocker is the sole occupant of the left edge. Feels like it's all the wrong way round to me. The buttons all feel solid enough and blend in nicely with the Arctic Sky version we have here. The edge of the phone is plastic, but looks very much like metal. Some may think that at this price-point it should have been aluminium. I don't really care under a TPU. At 192g I'd say it's about the right weight in the hand and feels nicely balanced.

The same goes for the back. I'd have been OK with plastic and a lower price, but marketing is all about a 'premium' experience and that for most of us means glass and metal. The glass on the back is a shiny matt vision, not a shimmering one like many these days. I like that. It looks classy. It curves round subtly to meet the frame. There's a OnePlus logo in the middle and a camera island top-left in portrait with three lenses and an LED flash. It is a slight protrusion, but not noticeable with the TPU in place. Yes, it rocks slightly, but who cares. This version of the phone is not IP68-rated apparently - there seems some confusion over which exact model has which attributes, but I think this does not. There's certainly weather-protection inside the SIM Card Tray. Which, incidentally, takes a NanoSIM each side, both can be 5G-enabled if needed, I understand.

There's a factory-fitted plastic cover on the front glass, which I would waste no time ripping off, but can't as it's not my phone! Behave! Top-left there's a Selfie camera and in the middle, a front-facing earpiece speaker which doubles up in use for one of the two stereo outputs. The other is downward-firing on the phone's bottom-edge alongside a USB-C port, microphone and SIM Card Tray. Up the top there's just a microphone. No 3.5mm audio-out socket anywhere, sadly. Front and back are Gorilla Glass 5 so maybe that screen-protector should stay on after all. I have experience of GG5 micro-scratching in the past, so the usual payoff between better shatter-proofing and less scratch etc.

A further word on the factory-fitted screen-protector. I am finding the responsiveness of the screen with that in place, just dreadful. The way in which I am used to swiping and tapping the screen is at a level which often just 'misses' on this screen. I don't see the point in these things anyway, as it'll soon get scuffed up - and what do you do then? Take it off, of course! So you might as well have taken it off in the first place. I'm assuming that with it out of the way, the screen will be as responsive as what I am used to with all my devices. What you get used to, I guess. People getting used to harder swipes and taps will no doubt not think there's a problem!

The 'fluid' AMOLED display is lovely and bright, but not markedly different to my eyes than the Pixel 5 and Motorola Edge+ which I happen to have here and switched on. It is supposed to reach a high of 1100 nits in certain conditions, but I really don't see it. Maybe I would on the Pro version. But yes, nice and bright. Indoors and out. The screen goes right out to the edges almost with very, very small bezels left, right and top with a tad more at the foot. I like this. Good for Gesture Navigation. It has a hole-punch top-left (in portrait) for the Selfie camera and the option in Settings to shrink the viewable screen to drop below that (with rounded corners still) or include the whole panel for content.

On the Status Bar all the content starts to the right of the Selfie of course, but there are extensive controls in Settings to turn icons on/off, what to see in terms of clock, battery, percentage, or not at all. A good platter of options for the Status Bar indeed, which are often missing from Android phones. There are also switches to enhance the (already decent) colours and sliders for warm/cold temperature and vibrancy manually. 
The display is 1080p, 20:9 (with 402ppi) in ratio, 6.55" and can be set to either refresh at 120Hz or 60. I have tried both and can't tell the difference, as usual, but younger eyes and all that..!

There's an Always On Display with a few options to change if/when it comes on and how it looks with various notifications, data, icons and time/date. That's good, as OnePlus held out for a long time on this one, concerned about battery hit. I'm not convinced that it's not undercooked though as laying alongside other phones here the display is very dim in equal light conditions. It seems that they agreed to put it in, but were still very concerned about battery, so wound it down - with sadly no Samsung-style slider option for the user to choose the AoD brightness. There's also an Edge display for Notifications, like Samsung, but it's very basic with a choice of four colours. They call it Horizon Light.

The fingerprint scanner is an optical one under the screen and it is pretty low-down. These will be so much better when they routinely enable the bottom 25% of the screen as a touch-area instead of one circle/egg-shape which needs a direct hit. Having said that, it seems to work perfectly well. Never fails to read my finger, first time, every time and opens up instantly. You can turn it off of course and/or use in tandem with the face-unlock security which, again, works well in my tests, opening up the phone before it has a chance to even show you the scanner target almost! Lots of controls for all this in Settings, which they continue to make a good job of (if you see past the ever-present nag at the top to open a OnePlus account), not madly rearranged like some others have been.

OnePlus want you to use their 'Switch' app for setting up of course coming from your own phone, but I ignored this and did it the usual way from my Pixel which was executed very well, setting things up with very much of what was set up on the Pixel, making it across. Sometimes systems get caught out with this - little examples being Notification Settings inside Apps - but OnePlus did well. They also do well by making the Home Screens very much Vanilla with the option for right-swipe for the Google Feed, App Drawer and drag-down from anywhere for Notifications. You can assign the OnePlus 'Shelf' to this is you prefer, which is their own bunch of tools, hooked into some of their apps and services. It is editable and you can add Widgets directly to the Shelf. Some may like it, I don't! Apart from anything else, you do then need to swipe from right at the top of the screen to get the Notification Shade. It's an option, though.

The Notification Shade is pretty 'stock' as well, editable with various toggles and brightness control, clock, date and shortcut to main Settings. No surprises here. Long-press the Home Screen for plenty of settings, some of which are shortcuts in themselves to the same setting in Settings. There is a Hidden Space area you can use here (also by a right-swipe from the Apps drawer) where you can tuck away anything you don't want other over-the-shoulder peekers to see. You can imagine! You can password it, so once there's anything in there, the App is removed from the drawer and only lives in there.

You can change Icon Packs and adjust shapes of Home Screen icons, which users/creators have uploaded to the Play Store. They don't have a Theme/Icon Store of their own like Samsung, for example, that I can see - they all live in the Play Store. If you tap through, you can download/install/select which you fancy - and live with whatever the Developer has made their App to be constrained by, in terms of monetisation - In App Purchases/Adverts etc.

That whole Quick Gesture thing survives as well, so you can 'draw' various letters on the lock-screen to, for example, control music playback, launch the camera, or pretty much launch any app you fancy. Gesture Navigation is present of course but you can turn it off and take the more traditional 3 buttons if you prefer. Assuming you go with Gestures, you can turn on/off the bar at the bottom which is a placeholder visually but takes up a few millimetres in the process when on. There's so much to talk about with OnePlus add-ons, which is great for those who love those controls and making changes, tailoring the experience to how they like to use the phone, how it looks and functions. Check out my other OnePlus reviews linked to avove for a deeper dive on this. Good job, done well - which we hope isn't undone by the recent departmental merger with Oppo.

We're all fired up then, Home Screen laid out as we like, Widget-sizing working nicely, options for font (Roboto or OnePlus Sans), Google Feed in place, Status Bar and Navigation as we like it - so time for Apps! OnePlus have added a bunch of their own Apps which 
can't be uninstalled (but can be hidden in the aforementioned Hidden Area) and they are Clock, Calculator, File Manager, Game Space (which takes you to an online curation of downloadable games which feels like it's just a copy of the Play Store Games section) and Gallery (seems so unnecessary with Google Photos there). Not too bad, I guess, but just annoying that they are doubled-up often with the standard Google ones. At least they have left Google's Phone, Contacts, Calendar and GMail alone! I know people who disagree though. Each to their own. The Apps which can be uninstalled are Notes, Community, SwitchWeather and Recorder. Some might like to make use of any or all of these and I'm sure they have some merit. The Recorder looks capable enough for sound recording and Weather, well, not great compared to others.

Driving all the above is the SnapDragon 888 chipset - my first time looks at this. I really can't tell much difference in these top-end chipsets these days in terms of functionality and use. the phone flies in every department that I want to use, but then so do 7xx-series SnapDragons too. It does sometimes feel like change when it's not needed. Like the 8GB RAM too - I have phones here that work perfectly well keeping tasks open in the background with half of that and another with double that and it just seems to make no difference. My usual caveat being that I am not a big gamer, so beyond testing with car-racing games and checking for stutters and so on, I'm not saying heavy users won't see the difference.

This example has 128GB UFS 3.1 Storage too, with no microSD Card slot, so for those shooting lots of 4K video, they might want to check out the alternative 256GB model (with 12GB RAM). I have had no problems with copying data from a computer, nor a microSD via adapter, nor my 2TB SSD drive. It all flies and behaves as expected plugged into the USB-C port. Imagine my surprise to also discover that the phone supports HDMI-Out! Hurrah! Cabled up to the telly, any media or content you have on the phone is displayed right on the big screen. I really wasn't expecting that as so many manufacturers are taking it out or not bothering to include it, so a big plus point!

The phone is running Android 11 with OxygenOS 11.2.7.7. It has May 2021 Google Security as I write at the beginning of July, so that could be better I suppose. OnePlus do have a new commitment to timely updates and as this is, pretty much, their flagship range, you'd think they'd at least pay attention to it - even if the Nords lag behind. It looks like Oxygen 12 will be along when Android 12 arrives, but there doesn't seem to be a specific timescale. There is an Android 12 Beta available for the OnePlus 9/9 Pro but as it's not my phone, much as I wanted to, I did not dare! Anyway, again, we all hope that the Oppo merger doesn't mess with this kind of forward-thinking on the part of OnePlus. In the meantime, Oxygen 11 brings that Samsung-feel of dropping down some of the content to make one-handed use easier and there's much dark everywhere if wanted. They're all now copying each other - which is great if you like it, not so much if you don't! As long as the options remain!

The stereo speakers are good and loud, but quality is not great. The top earpiece speaker remains the left channel whichever way you turn the phone and bottom, right. I think it's another case of faux stereo where the bottom speaker is a tad richer than the top, but placed in front of the head, the balance is good and stereo separation via software does the trick. However, the sound highlights the high-end frequencies more than anything and renders output too tinny for my liking. Furthermore, there's what is supposed to be a system-wide Dolby Atmos setup but firstly, there's no quick way to get to the controls (like via the Quick Toggles up-top, for example) so you have to go to Settings>Sound every time to adjust it, secondly it's very basic and doesn't do much for the speakers' output - whichever of the three settings you use (Film, Music, Dynamic). No customisation options either - and thirdly it only offers a bit more control with headphones connected. So yes, sound is good and loud, but you'll want to turn it down to stop flinching!

There's no 3.5mm audio-out socket so headphones use is bluetooth or USB-C. I tested both here and you can certainly tell that there's 24-bit enhanced capability here. I used as-basic a dongle as I could and plugged in my reference headphones - immediately the sound was transformed to another level. You still have to navigate your way via Settings (or perhaps a shortcut Widget I set up on the Homescreen) to get to Dolby Atmos. Once there, you only get the addition of an 'Off' altogether option (so with speakers it is always-on) and another sub-menu called Style Preferences within which you get Balanced, Warm or Nuanced - none of which do much to the sound really. There's still no manual control with any sort of equaliser. You can, of course, switch to another Music App which gives control, but it's then hardly system-wide. There's the same setup for bluetooth as well, which sounds excellent, incidentally, as we'd expect. Shame really that the speakers and controls let the show down a bit on the sound front, but maybe OnePlus figure people don't use them beyond ringtones.

Connectivity seems sound enough with a good cellular reception for voice and data on testing. I can only test 4G here, I'm afraid. Wifi 6 is present and I experienced strong locks and good range, likewise the bluetooth (5.2) and GPS. No complaints at all and the NFC seems to do a good job connecting to other gear, though I was unable to test Google Pay at this time.

I was hoping Steve Litchfield of The Phones Show would take a look at this after me to appraise the camera, but I fear that he might fall asleep doing so! We have chatted about it on our weekly podcast Phones Show Chat, so that'll have to do apart from my basic summary following.

The main camera is a 
48MP f/1.8 unit with a 50MP f/2.2 (wide-angle) supported by an 'assisting' 2MP f/2.4 (monochrome) for the benefit of the main sensor. There's also a 16MP f2.4 Selfie. It seems that they were afraid to only put two cameras on this so bunged in a third! The headline here is the deal with Hasselblad who bring their Colour Calibration standards, apparently, to emulate what they do with their stand-alone cameras. Note that there's no optical zoom here, nor OIS in any of the lenses. The interface and software is a bit dull, with few unique features. I'm going to send you off to GSMArena's Appraisal of the Camera Performance at this point and if Steve does look at the phone, I'll update and add his thoughts later. Their highlights seem to suggest that the 50MP wide-angle camera is a great addition but overall the image quality is nothing special and there's little evidence of the Hasselblad influence. I wanted the close-focus to somewhere approach Macro at least, but it doesn't. Nowhere near, even with that big-pixel wide-angle lens. Listen - the photos grabbed from this phone are absolutely fine and dandy for 95% of people using the device. Pixel-peepers and nit-pickers will, of course, do just that, but it really does produce great shots for a phone.

Power and charging
is really quite impressive based on my tests here. There are actually two batteries in the phone which work together for a capacity of 4,500mAh. Why two batteries? Well, OnePlus reckon that if you use this powerful 65W charging (see below) with a single battery it'll get too hot, catch fire or explode! Seems a reasonable workaround, then.

My 10% Reading Test returns figures that I had to collect in multiple sessions (turning the phone off between) as it was so impressive and I couldn't sit there for long enough! It does have the highest ranking now of all tested phones here over the years, returning a staggering 3 hours and 30 minutes. As usual now, I tested this a number of times and took the data from the built-in meter, and tested at the top (100%-90%) and middle (50%-40%). I realise that these meters are not 100% trustworthy, but the playing-field is level here and it's not just one test, so I'm satisfied that this is not far off being a true return. As for all-day testing, similar praise to be lavished, really. No chance of killing it by bedtime, even with a long day and hammering the phone. In fact, with my average use, it'll do two days. So not quite the winner on the longevity test which belongs to the Moto G8 Power with a genuine 3 days, but still very, very good. No need to employ the optimisation tools supplied at all, except in dire emergencies!

The other headline here is the Warp Charging as mentioned above with the included 65W brick for those who want to ignore the included 15W Qi Wireless functionality for a quick charge. They reckon 0-100% in 29 minutes - and that's about right! Amazing. Not this performance from less powerful chargers of course, but most of us won't need to do this routinely - and some of us will be happy to plonk the phone on a bedstand Qi Charger at night and let it top up for the morning. All works nicely, as does the 5W Reverse Wireless. This means that you can throw a switch, place another Wireless device on the back and let the phone's power trickle across to it. Either way.

The phone is nice enough, but in a Pixel-type way I guess, just feels a bit boring and dull. For £629 for this model, there's significant competition and this one doesn't seem to do much to make it stand out. I guess the USP would be the 65W charging, which really is impressive, but you do have to have the right charger with you to make use of this, rending the Universality of USB-C a bit lame. It would have felt much more worth the money if it had OIS in the main sensor and a 3x optical zoom. Would have transformed my view, I think, even if I'm no cameras-in-phones fan. And why not a 3.5mm audio-out? Why not the microSD Card slot that the firm are now even putting into their low-end devices?

I could absolutely use this phone as my main, let's be clear. So could many, many people. But for this price, there are too many other options - not least from Google and Samsung, some of the latter's phones for less money than this coming with more boxes ticked on all the above. It's a hard sell for OnePlus. Maybe those who can't afford a Pro or don't want such a big phone would be alright with this, or maybe just people who don't know any better and wouldn't even know about what's missing, let alone miss any features. It's pretty enough for them! Anyway, those are my thoughts. Probably not for me, but I'm sure many folk would be happy.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

We all love a bank heist story/film and this has become a classic from 1975. Only 46 years later I've got round to watching it! It's based on the true story of John Wojtowicz who decided in 1972 to rob a bank with two of his friends. It could have been a simply told story but it has been lifted from the ordinary by the central performances.

The three of them are badly organised. They have little idea what they are doing, are flustered and nervous. One of the three turns tail at the door and leaves the other two to it! Al Pacino (The Godfather, The Irishman, Frankie and Johnny) and the late John Cazale (The Deerhunter, The Godfather) are the two, Pacino playing Sonny (John). Things start to go wrong.

Most of the money has been collected that very afternoon, so there's really not much left. Sonny tries to burn the evidence of their actions and presence there but the smoke gets out of control, a shop owner across the street see it and calls the police, despite being reassured by the manager at gunpoint. The police turn up alongside hoards of members of the public and the outside of the bank turns into a media circus as the press latch on too. The longer the film goes on, the more whipped up the media and the public gets, Sonny responding accordingly. He soon gets a mini-cult following.

The story then turns into a siege and hostage-holding drama. This is where the performances pick up and we get to know the characters. We come to know them more, know their back-stories and understand why they are doing this. Not only do the bank employees start to warm to them as people but the film's audience does too. It's almost as if the trust has grown between them all to such an extent that they are like a newly-formed family! Consideration given for toilet-breaks, help with moving furniture around as blockades and at one point even teaching one of the employees how to military-drill with a rifle!

The third main player is the lead employee, Sylvia played by Penelope Allen (The Thin Red Line, Bad Lieutenant). She gets alongside the two, rallies her colleagues, tries to keep morale high and negotiates with the robbers. It all gets very laid-back. They even start watching TV and ordering Pizzas. They see themselves on the TV and it feels like they are starting to consider this as a fun adventure rather than a life-threatening situation. They realise that these guys are amateurs and they can get alongside them.

Negotiations with the police continue throughout via an overweight detective outside trying his best, then latterly, an FBI agent. Sonny, who by this time is demonstrating that he's pretty street-wise and can see through any tricks they try, negotiates his way to the supply of a vehicle and aircraft and the story finishes in amongst the attempt to get out of the country. I won't say any more in case anyone reading this hasn't seen it apart from me!

Sidney Lumet (Deathtrap, Murder on the Orient Express, 12 Angry Men) is the director and plays beautifully with the situation, tension and characters, bringing the best out of the four or five main players. The set is mostly inside the bank and outside on the street, with flashes to Sonny's home now and again and that finale as they leave the scene.

There's a sub-plot going on regarding Sonny's sexuality, a wife, lover, informal secondary marriage and someone he knows who is looking for a gender reassignment. I won't say too much about that either to spoil the plot, but this has been handled sympathically as the USA comes out of the liberated 60's and into the 70's with prejudices and lingering conservative attitudes.

It's a great little film with so much more to enjoy than I have time to write about here. Almost every scene is a gem and repeated viewings will enable more insight and understanding. The strength here is in the powerful performances, especially from Pacino. He carries a story (which in places could go to sleep) into a moving but uplifting, always tense and riveting tale. Highly recommended.

The true story of this and Wojtowicz can be read at Wikipedia via this link.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

PodHub UK Podcasts for the Month of June 2021

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

Projector Room
Episode 89 - An Imperfect Stowaway
Wednesday 2nd June
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with another of our fortnightly round-ups of what we, and you, have been watching in film, cinema and TV. Plenty to get your teeth into as usual starting with a Great White, we can't aVoid The Void, are surprised when we find a Stowaway and even visit an Old School. Unthinkable!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 5th June
Steve and I are back again with our weekend roundup of thoughts on the wonderful world of mobile - and this time, how that might be extended with hard/software for leisure and productivity.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 6th June May
Gareth and I pop up again to bring you our thoughts on all things tech this week, ill-advised and badly researched as they may be ðŸĪŠ Lots of Chromebook chatter, whacking great big tablets, back in time to 1974 for LED watches and we test-flight the latest jet-packs!

The Phones Show
Monday 7th June
Join Steve over on his YouTube Channel for another trip to Yesteryear and more phones from the past, good and bad, pros and cons.

Whatever Works
Episode 139 - Aidan and I: The Musical!
Wednesday 9th June
Aidan and I are back again with another roundup of Whatever Works for your amusement, edification and pentinculence! No stone unturned this time as we tinkle in a Tent, consider a Canope, assess Air Frying and even freeze cheese!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 12th June
Steve and I are back this weekend with special guest Tim Evans with whom we natter about all things mobile phone, Chromebooks, MacBooks and crossover areas. Loads of fun and almost a scoop or two!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 13th June May
Gareth and I are here again to delve into this week's tech stuff, stumbled into and half understood! Explicit Harmony in Space as we watch Stretchable Apple Drag & Drop Sony Millions on Photocopying and we find a Real(Pad for)Me!

Projector Room
Episode 90 - Nobody's Virtuoso
Wednesday 16th June
Gareth, Allan and I are back again nattering for a while about all things film, cinema and TV. Loads of good stuff from us and you, too! The News of the World is that The Virtuoso is Nobody's Pigeon. It's About Endlessness when we start chatting and forget about Being a Human Person!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 644 - From Mist to Blue Sky
Saturday 19th June
Steve and I are joined this week by Jon Bentley of Channel 5's The Gadget Show for a natter about all things mobile phone, his work on the show and what gear he personally uses and prefers. What a nice chap he is too!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 20th June
Gareth and I are back this week with our usual roundup of some of the tech which has caught our eyes. We're flabbergasted over Fast Charging, I consider 1" camera-phone sensors whilst Gareth gets to the Edge of things. Razer lights us up with Quartz and Mercury and we hark back to the good ol' days of AOL! Apologies if you find the sound not up to our usual standard. Some blithering buffoon can't work their microphones properly. Tech addict indeed - pah!

Chewing Gum for the Ears
Episode 26 - Music Generation
Tuesday 22nd June
Steve and I are here with one of our now-and-then music podcasts where we natter about what we've been listening to. This time we welcome Tim Evans who fills us in on what he listens to and how he does it! A fascinating dip into some different stuff and fresh insights, for sure.

Whatever Works
Episode 140 - The Human Tent!
Wednesday 25th June
Aidan and I are back again with our fortnightly loopy roundup of the mad, bad, sad and Whatever Works for us and you! Loads of stuff as usual as we get to Grip with exercise, wonder what the 'K' is in our rings and count our ears which have plug-jewellery installed!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 26th June
Steve and I are here again this weekend - just the two of us, with a catch-up. We natter for an hour about the stuff we're using, previously used - and are going to use! Betas, Bluetooth and Batteries!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 27th June
Gareth and I, back once more with a bumper edition (get a flask of coffee!) of our weekly roundup of loads of tech tosh! TCL offers some TLC with cheap 5G, we find out what DES stands for, look at Lenovo's latest flood-therapy, sort out our Google TV from our Android TV and even Byte our bits!

Projector Room
Episode 91 - Two Lovers Awake
Wednesday 30th June
Gareth, Allan and I are back once more with a round-up of what we, and you good folk, have been watching in film, cinema and TV over the last fortnight. Loads of goodies as usual, so do tune in and enjoy.



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

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 - PSC Photos - PSC Classifieds - Tech Addicts

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

Thursday, 3 June 2021

The Killing of Two Lovers (2020)

What a visual delight this film is. Forget the storyline, look at the imagery - beautifully created and executed by director/writer/producer Robert Machoian. It really is a feast for the eyes and well worth grabbing when you get the chance (or pay Curzon Home Cinema) for this alone.

There is a story of course, and it's a very ordinary, everyday story about a family who are trying to stay together. David and Nikki got hitched up and pregnant right out of school and have not known much else. They have four kids, an older teenage girl and three younger boys, but mum and dad have made a terribly adult decision to try a break from each other (the story never tells us really why) and that during that break, they would be free to see other people.

David goes to live with his dad while Nikki looks after the kids in the family home. They seem hopeful about getting back together, though he apparently more so than her as she takes a lover. The opening scene is a powerful one as David stands over the bed of his sleeping wife and her lover, gun in hand, and we think instantly that this is The Killing of Two Lovers. But it's not. Though it does give us an instant insight into the mind of David and how he's coping with the new situation.

The director is not afraid to linger on close-ups, play with focus to good effect, stick a camera in one position and let the scene move for itself and generally make pretty much every frame of the film an image worthy of a wall framing. The style of Fargo or The Handmaid's Tale as every frame is carefully considered. Placing the camera on the driver's door of the car, fixed focus, while the scene plays out, driving is done, conversation engaged in, is a favourite trick which, again, works really well.

Most of the cast are relatively inexperienced in film, much TV work, but each of them perform their parts to perfection. Particularly Clayne Crawford as David, Sepideh Moafi as Nikki and a great performance by Avery Pizzuto as Jess, the teenage girl. She's old enough to understand what is going on but not old enough to get herself out of the situation. There's one scene in the car with dad where she excels, holds herself in prolonged pose whilst expressing by voice and face the stress and anxiety that her character is feeling.

David is doing well, holding it together, even going out on 'date night' with Nikki as agreed they would, until stresses boil over and there is a confrontation with Nikki's lover. Prior to this, there's a creepy scene as David follows the lover into a 'one stop' shop, the lover not knowing who David is, and they get uncomfortably close. There are numerous great scenes like this and although the story is a very simple one, they also help to carry the audience forward keeping interest high.

The cinematography is further enhanced by the outdoor setting of this small town America where there's loads of open space and a skyline littered with hills and mountains. Big open dusty roads and loads of room between houses and the few shops and facilities.

It's a great little film, superbly presented by a small team with a real 'indie' feel to it. It's engaging and enjoyable throughout mostly down to the fabulous camera work and director using that to get the best from the cast. I can't praise the visual delight highly enough here. As for the title, well you can make your own mind up as to what that actually is about when you come to the end. Super film, highly recommended.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

PodHubUK Podcasts for May 2021

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


Phones Show Chat
Saturday 1st May
Steve and I are back again this weekend with special guest Chris Kelly who joins the debate about cameras in phones vs proper cameras and lenses!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Part 2 - Classic Boxes
Sunday 2nd May
Sunday again so Gareth and I are back with a tech catch-up or two! This week we get our knickers in a twist about Chrome and Edge, try to unpick paid-for podcasting, hark back to interesting boxes/packaging and loads more.

Projector Room
Episode 87 - Minari Castaway!
Wednesday 6th May
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with another round of thoughts on all things film, cinema and TV. This time we tackle Tusk, muse on Minari, consider Cast Away and as always, get on Like a House on Fire!

The Phones Show
Thursday 7th May
Join Steve in the back seat of his car as he explains all about what he uses and how, when having to 'work mobile'. Some good tips and ideas for all Road Warriors!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 8th May
This weekend Steve and I welcome back Mike Warner who gives us another masterclass in all things off-piste, making Android and Lineage work hard for our enjoyment of mobile phones. Keep up at the back!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 9th May
Gareth and I are back again with our weekly catch-up of what's caught our eye in tech. Loads of stuff as usual, from crystal-ball gazing about future Samsungs, the fruit of Project Treble, Huawei Harmonising the East to top tips around the web - lots of tasty morsels! Oh, and we're back to one whole show instead of two parts! Consistently inconsistent, see!

Whatever Works
Episode 137 - Mow Them Down!
Friday 14th May
Aidan and I are back with our fortnightly splurge of Whatever Works for us and the Group Members. Thanks all for your input. Loads of stuff thrown around as usual from Gorillas to Yogurt and much between! Oh, and watch out for fruit-loop drivers if you're walking around Reading supermarket carparks!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 638 - Bulging at the Seams
Friday 14th May
Nice and early this week, Steve and I bring you our latest thoughts on all things mobile phone. My experiments with Ready For and Steve's Marshall Headphones and Bluetooth exploration amongst all the other usual goodies.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 16th May
Gareth and I are back again for another weekend roundup of all the tech stuff that's caught our eye in the last few days. Cheap smart watches, Royal Mail autonomous island-hopping drones, Zenfone 8, Ready For, plus bargains and a harkback to Mvix! All good fun.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 639 - Android 360
Wednesday 19th May
A bonus mid-week special, you lucky people 😂 Steve and I grab our microphones to bring you up-to-the-minute natter about all things mobile phone, specifically the Android 12 Beta 1 release and Sony's Reality Audio 360 and related paraphernalia!

Projector Room
Episode 88 - Jupiter's Oxygen!
Wednesday 19th May
Gareth, Allan and I are back again for another look at all things film, cinema and TV. Plenty to chew over again this time as we gasp for Oxygen, head for Jupiter, decide on The King of Monsters and engage with The Housemaid from Korea!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 22nd May
Steve and I are back in our usual weekend slot and this time we welcome first-timer Bart Busschots to join us and chat about Apple, Photography and Podcasting! Loads to get through and a good time was had by all.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 23rd May
It's Gareth and I, back again with a weekly roundup of what we've found interesting in tech. Plenty of goodies as usual including Gareth's fave - the new and exciting Evercade, thoughts of Google I/O, a punch-up about nine zero's, boxes of bargains, acres of Apps and a red Phone Box just 10cm from Brighton!

The Phones Show
Wednesday 26th May
Steve's most exciting year in smartphone history: July 2006 to August 2007. Join him to find out the what any why!

Whatever Works
Episode 138 - Duckboard Quartet!
Wednesday 26th May
Aidan and I are back again - and early this time, with a cheerful look at Whatever Works for us and you! This time we dabble with Duckboards, accord power to the Accordion, firk with Funnels, repel Rodents and even bathe Biscuits! What's not to like?! Do join us for an hour of madness!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 29th May
Steve and I welcome back Ed Hause this week to chat about all things mobile phone but specifically experiments between cameras in phones and add-on gear, like the DxO One, Moto Mod Hasselblad and Sony QX10/100. Plus all the usual news, comments and thoughts.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 30th May
Gareth and I are back again this weekend with a roundup of a load of tech stuff. Gaming is a big theme as everyone tries to find one I've heard of 😂 while Gareth enthuses with gusto! Nano II is here from Anker, more Gaming on the Surface Duo, a new USB-C standard in the pipes and a big Switch to Valve!


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

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 - PSC Photos - PSC Classifieds - Tech Addicts

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

Monday, 31 May 2021

Stowaway (2021)

This was an interesting idea and film created by Joe Penna (Arctic) which I watched with thoughts of the excellent 'The Martian' as we considered Mars! Unlike the latter, we never actually see Mars the planet in this outing but rather the drama is all collected within the five month journey trying to get there.

There's a crew of three heading for Mars, sometime in the future (clearly), are going about their business when suddenly a fourth person falls out of the ceiling, unconscious. When he comes round, he has no recollection of what happened and how he was there, but he was a part of the ground-crew working on the ship before take-off. During his fall, he not only breaks the arm of the Commander of the mission but also knackers one of the oxygen backup supplies.

We get to know the crew members - Marina, David and Zoe as they talk about a solution to the problem of Michael's appearance and the impact on their now depleted oxygen supply. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Knives Out, Unlocked), Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) share their space and resources for the time being with Shamier Anderson (Goliath) playing Michael. As you might imagine, it's all fairly claustrophobic and (relatively) low-budget as the whole film is shot in and around the craft.

This is the point at which they decide, having tried really hard to work out various solutions, that if they all four stay on the ship, they will all die before they get to Mars. They can't go back, either. So the big moral question is posed about what they're going to do. If there's three of them, they will survive. The tension begins to rise as the dilemma throws itself around between them which all four of the actors approach in a convincing manner.

There's more tension in store for the audience as there's a critical space-walk which needs to be executed with the stakes growing as a solar-storm approaches. It's all anxiety for the characters, stress for the audience and at one or two points I was on the edge of my seat!

It's a very well shot film, thoughtful and considered, whilst also taking in convincing views of space, the planets and the out/inside of their craft and associated equipment. Well worth a look and available now on Netflix UK.

How It Ends (2018)

I really enjoyed this film about some sort of apocalyptic event (which is never really explained). It gives an insight into what it might be like for ordinary people if something big was going on, but all channels of communication were pretty much down so actually, nobody knows or can be told what's going on. Directed by David M Rosenthal it's an interesting sideways view of how it could be.

Theo James plays Will who is the partner of Sam and they live in Seattle. Sam is pregnant and Sam's dad doesn't much like Will. There's a anxious opening when Will visits her parents while on a business trip to Chicago and this tension sets the scene for what's to come between the two main leads. Sam's dad Tom is played by Forest Whitaker. He's an ex-military man and clearly no man is going to be good enough for his daughter, particularly when he is instrumental in resettling her thousands of miles away from her parents.

Whilst in Chicago, the event happens. They soon lose communication with each other and so proud dad and loving partner head off by road to 'rescue' Sam, even though they can't know where she is by then, or even if she is alive. The film then turns into a road-trip with the two of them in the car trekking across distance and the focus of the film is survival of this trip (or not) and the mini-adventures they get into along the way.

There are lots of these adventures of course, each an incident of their own, as they come across situations and people who are equally lost and numb, others beginning to make provision and get organised but many just disorientated and often dead. As far as they all know this could be the end of the world - How It Ends, maybe. Much of the film though is about the changing relationship, learning and evolution of the relationship between the two men. How they start off with that anxiety I mentioned, then end up in a position of mutual reliance in order to survive and reach the girl they both love.

Interesting visually with harrowing landscapes sets which are convincing and they got the pacing of the story just right. The acting by the two leads is convincing, and indeed those around them. Anyway, it's on Netflix UK just now and I think it's well worth a look.

Spoiler alert: There isn't really a clean ending to the film. This has got considerable bad press from those expecting every film to have a neat Hollywood ending tied up with bows, but I think that this reflects the nature of what is going on and helps to place the audience into the shoes of the characters facing this thing, whatever it is. It also leaves it open for some bright spark to make a sequel, I guess! I dread to think how people these days would cope with films like Hitchcock's The Birds!

Saturday, 29 May 2021

An Imperfect Murder

I don't think I'm alone in not quite being able to work out what I think about this 2017 short film which leaps between arthouse, murder/mystery, psychological thriller and insightful character study. It's all of those and more - or less, if you go by general reception of this James Tobac offering.

James Tobac, the writer, actor, director, producer has been previously involved with works such as Bugsy, Fingers and even appearing in Woody Allen's Alice. Here, he tries something different it seems. A slightly removed reality centred around an actress who is approached by her ex-boyfriend and in a struggle, accidentally kills him. Concluding that there's no way for her except to cover it up, she disposes of the body and tries to move on.

The audience isn't really very sure about whether or not the above is true, however, as she meanders between reality and the self-indulgence surrounding a book that she is writing which seems, half the time to be about the topic of this film and story. It's a bit complicated in terms of what's what, so much better really to focus on other stuff on offer here.

The central performances of the key characters are beautifully executed, almost inside vignettes with a tad more glue than expected. Sienna Miller (Layer Cake) takes the lead as Vera as others come and go amidst various scenes which generally drill deeply into her life and situation. Alec Baldwin turns up as a policeman for a couple of scenes, trying to quiz her about the alleged incident. Tobac himself also throws himself into the mix for a spell before the most interesting scene arrives involving the late Charles Grodin.

Grodin plays her grandfather who is suffering from confusion, disorientation, forgetfulness and anxiety as an ageing man. Vera sits with him and her mother, his daughter, over a simple meal. The scene takes ten minutes out of the running time and is worth seeing in isolation, for those who can't be bothered with the arty-farty content of the rest of it. Grodin portrays the difficulties facing the old man in a quite frightening way and Miller supports with patience and understanding. It's a film within a film and certainly eye-opening.

The rest of it is slow, dialogue-based mainly but beautifully shot with well considered camerawork, angles, lighting and focus in pretty much a closed apartment set. It feels like it could have been written for the stage, in this respect, but Tobac has made the most of the interior keeping it visually interesting throughout.

The star of the show though seems to be the music as it sweeps through classical music, so powerfully delivered in all the right places, peppered also with choice modern cuts too. It is an attempt at an arty piece of work which, unlike most folk out there it seems, I think has been pulled off. It's interesting and different. As a fan of arthouse, I forgive the cries of pretentiousness from critics and prefer to be open-minded, trying to soak up the show looking for positive attributes. There's enough here for me in that regard, but you may not think so. It's only 70 minutes, so why not try!

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Being a Human Person (and About Endlessness)

The portrait of a very interesting man is presented here as a documentary but released as a film, shot during the making of his last film (though he has now started working on another)! It's an odd concept but I was keen to see it as I had previously followed the work of Swedish director, storyteller and filmmaker Roy Andersson and likened it to a cross between Terry Gilliam and Salvador Dali!

The 'final' film and work of Andersson is called About Endlessness and is his usual crossover between the bizarre, funny, sad and reflective but more importantly empathetic view of ordinary people facing ordinary problems and the absurdness of life and existence. It's highly stylised as it was in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, You, The Living and Songs from the Second Floor amongst many other works throughout his career.

Watch any one of these films and you'll get the style and art, attention to detail and approach straight away. You'll wonder what on earth is going on, what it's about, what it means and what the artist is trying to portray. It's a cranial journey which is fun and very interesting to pursue. The film is mainly a bunch of somewhat thematically related vignettes (as are many of the others) which the supporting documentary, Being a Human Person, here helps to explain via the medium of the mind of the man himself!

He clearly wanted to make a film about himself as he fully intended that this film would be his swan song (even if he changed his mind afterwards)! I would suggest watching the film About Endlessness first so you can reference the scenes and understand first-hand what is being spoken about when you see the documentary. I'm not usually one to go for documentaries - I'm really not. I would much rather watch the film than a 'making of' but this is different because it's, as I said at the outset, much more than just that - and much more a portrait of the 75 year old man who has spent his life creating.

Insights into how he has lived his life, how he lives full-time in his studio, how he spends a month with unknown actors (who often feel like they are living furniture) and his crew creating each of the sets needed in his film/s inside the studio (there is no reference anywhere to location sets) and how, on a personal level, he has struggled with alcohol use. This has had an impact on those around him, particularly the crew he employs who are clearly very loyal towards him and care about him as a person deeply. The documentary doesn't dwell on that but it's an interesting part of his life. It actually paints a picture of the man as jolly, cheerful, generous and friendly. The kind of person with a boozers' conk who you only have to look at, in order to smile. Think Tommy Cooper!

It's also interesting on a technical level to see how the team have cooked up studio trickery (often very manual) to execute shots in the films which you would really think were genuinely on location, in a surreal kind of way! This also explains why the camera in the sets is placed in position and left there mostly. It's an odd effect because the sets are not locational and via his methods, they look clinical with little buzz of ordinary life. Surreal. Every item and person is placed purposely. Like a painting. A drawing. It's hard to explain - have a look! We're taken on a tour of the studio and find out how that technique ensures that false streets and buildings can look as they do without digital or technical trickery. Old fashioned painted film sets. Really very interesting.

The work of Roy Andersson is clearly an acquired taste. It's very arty-farty but also funny and challenging for the audience. During the documentary when quizzed by him after a viewing, some people found the film to be funny and he expressed surprise, as he was going for something else. Interpretation is the key here and that is, of course, true of most art-forms. In that respect too, he has achieved.

I really enjoy all of these films and recommend them highly, as I do this documentary and insight into the man. They tend to come round on Film4 or late-night BBC2 - or you can of course buy the DVDs. Interesting, different and beautifully presented.

Another Widget (Android)

Over the last couple of years, I have got fed up with Google's 'comfy slippers' At a Glance Homescreen widget not working proper...