Monday, 19 September 2022

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 (a year late)!

I'm always keen to look at the latest technology, especially in the smartphone world, but more often than not these days, I'm priced out of the market and rely on PR firms loaning devices or even people lending me theirs to review.

Which is just what's happened here with last year's Samsung Flip model. Thanks to Mark McAneny for sending it over for me to look at. Thanks goes too Steve Litchfield and others for chipping in and to Ben Wood of the Mobile Phones Museum for having long-term loaned me an original generation Microsoft Surface Duo, these two making the only pair of folding phones I've ever had hands-on with. These two are very different devices, of course, aimed at very different users, but it does at least give me some sort of comparison point to consider the world of folding phones.

I used to have 'flip' phones back in the old 'dumbphone' days - the Motorola Razr for example - but also a few Symbian (smartphone) powered Nokia devices too (N76 comes to mind) - and even KaiOS ones now, going back to dumb! It's something that had, until recently, simply gone away in the smartphone market. Anything with moving parts, it seems, fell out of favour with OEMs trying to minimise production and repair costs, presumably. I still think people wanted them, however - as is now being proved. There's nothing quite like being able to flip your phone closed to cut off your caller at the end of a call.

We've now got so used to the 'candybar' form factor as we expect all our apps and services to fit that mould. The trick, then, was to get to the point where that exact 'candybar' design could be retained, but also folded in half - whether sideways or longways. We all know that various OEMs have been producing 'fold' devices which open 'longways' (so the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold series, for example) but here, we're talking about folding the other way. Sideways. Flip. But it has to be good. It has to be as good as any 'fixed candybar' phone when open, same as the 'fold'. The 'crease' in the screen can't get in the way of using the phone.

Folding or flipping phones are different from those in the past (and to the Surface Duo) in that they are now actually folding the screen (and not made up of two panels). We've had to wait for the technology around this key feature to become good enough to use - and will last the expected length of the life of the phone in use. This Flip3 is last year's model, as I say, but Samsung are confidently claiming to update it with software going forward for a long stretch. Of course, software support isn't the same as hardware - which here, has the usual warranty period for any other phone. Technology will eventually crack this and make it great! Point being, it's all very well to have updates for long periods into the future, but if the screen is knackered in 2 or 3 years time, you're on your own in stumping up for repairs.

First impressions out the box are a big WOW! It really is impressive to see the technology and hold it in one's hand. Unfolded it's a big phone with a 6.7" plastic panel with a factory-fitted screen protector on the front. It feels plasticky too. Normally, the first thing I do when I get a new phone is rip that off - but Samsung say not to. Unlike other phones which have glass underneath (to then take your chances with) there's just more plastic directly underneath this one. If you're going to scratch the screen, do it on the cover, not on what's underneath - which will be much more expensive and difficult to replace, is what they're saying. It seems to be a woolly area in terms of warranty as they are not saying categorically not to take it off, but that resulting damage won't be covered if you do. I think!

Anyway, it's nothing like glass. It's not as responsive, even with the setting thrown to make it more so. You can see the surface 'press in' when you touch it hard, much like 'resistive' screens from 15 years ago. It seems that, for now at least, you can't really 'fold' glass. So, folding the device in half leaves you with a 'crease' down the middle. When you run your finger over it, you can feel the 'lump'. Every time. If the screen is bright/white you can see it. All the time. If the screen is dark, not so much - but even then, depending on ambient light. Take the phone outside or use it under bright indoor light and you can see it all the time.

Maybe I'm being a bit hard on the screen (and not so much with a finger)! It is still very touch-responsive - it's just that ordinary glass is better and we have got used to how that works and how it is. It's not like you have to press hard to register a tap, nothing  like that, it just isn't the same as glass. That's all. People will have to try it for themselves to decide. So that's the payoff here anyway until technology moves forward - and the question is about how much that will annoy the user over the benefits of having a folding device.

The phone is very slim, 6.9mm when open but the user can't really enjoy that too much as it's all made of slippery, shiny metal - so in practice, you really need to case it. Cases tend to come in two halves, one for top, one for bottom, with some having a hinge-protecting 'ribbon' between. Skinning is an option and much thanks goes to XtremeSkins in the UK for sending over a number of sample skins. Some are more 'grippy' than others, some are more pretty than others, but the White Waveform option, I find to be the most 'grippy' and helpful for those who want to take the risk. The skins are about a tenner each.

As usual with phones which are gorgeous in the hand, it seems a bit of a shame to case them. The metal feels cold, premium and delightful. Perhaps some insurance, then! When folded up, it is slightly 'wedge' shaped - the two 'ends' come together, but the 'fold' can't get flat. Samsung have taken the decision to not keep the 'ends' apart from each other as it would let even more dust in than the way they've done it. (The advantage of the Microsoft Surface Duo is that it closes flat on itself, neatly tucked away.) It's a very slight gap, but it's there and ready for pocket-debris. Most of the cases I have tried get away from this and tend to 'close the gap'.

The hinge on the outside feels solid and as well made as the rest of the phone - it really is a delight to hold. You can stand the folded phone on its end (opposite end to the hinge) and it balances (just about) to face you. However, if you even slightly open the fold to try and sit it in front of you in 'tent' mode, the cover display extinguishes and the inside display activates. This is a shame as I'd use it in 'tent' mode a lot if it stayed on.

On the 'front' of the folded phone we have a 1.9" Gorilla Glass Victus protected Super AMOLED Cover Display, two circular camera lenses and an LED lamp/flash. There's a setting which can be thrown to force the LED lamp to shine on Notifications, which is just fabulous! I use that all the time (except during DND) and you don't miss a thing! The time, day, date and battery can be set to stay on all the time on the cover screen or when moved, lifted, tapped or whatever you want really. I have it on all the time and don't see any hit in my tests here on battery over it not being so. I guess there must be a hit of some sort, but it clearly isn't significant. I'll come to battery later though!

One UI 4.1.1. arrived this week with some enhancements to the options for the cover display. You can choose what it displays on the 'panels' as you swipe left and right. Swipe right to see notifications, some you can give 'canned' replies to but mostly it prompts you to open the phone to continue. Scroll up/down to see them all. Back on the 'home' cover screen, you can swipe down to get to some quick toggles - for WiFi, Sound, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, Torch and Brightness. Swiping left you can pick'n'mix what panels you want included from Weather, Music Playing controls, Month-to-view Calendar, Quick Dial for 3 Contacts, Timer, Alarms, Schedule and Galaxy Buds control. These can all be rearranged for position relative to each other.

The 260 x 512 cover screen is really very useful, you can also control the specific brightness independent of the inside screen. It's true that to do most useful things you need to open the phone, but you can also take on-the-fly decisions about whether or not you want to do so, or deal with stuff later if it's not urgent. You can control phone calls from the outside, too, making (via the quick-call) or answering via swipes and hanging up, the same. I'm sure that I've missed some of it too, but knowing Samsung they will continue to roll in more features going forward.

When closed, the volume-rocker (which is on the right-side of the half nearest you) switches the up/down around smartly, so whether the phone is open or closed, up is up and down, down. The capacitive long-pill fingerprint scanner/power button is above it (so below it when open) and works perfectly of course. First time, every time. What joy. On the other side there's a SIM Card Tray with pokey-hole and a tool in the box to open it. Incidentally, the box is minimalist. No power-brick and just a USB-C to USB-C cable.

Apart from various microphones around the edges, there's a USB-C port for data/power on the bottom, next to one of the two stereo speakers, the second being above the screen, front-facing when open - and inward-facing when closed. This doesn't seem to have any impact on the sound, however. It feels like the phone is heavy in the hand but it's clearly deceptive as it's only 183g in weight - which some would consider light. Open it up, and it suddenly doesn't feel so heavy. I guess that the weight is simply more concentrated in a smaller bulk when closed, so tricks the brain!

When the phone is open, it's a little bit taller, but a little less wide than the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE which I have here for comparison, but of course, significantly thinner. So yes, it's a big phone when open. The Armour Aluminium frame apparently is built with tough drop and scratch resistance, so maybe those taking the chance with no case would be OK after all! The phone has IPX8 water resistance, but significantly no guarantee against dust. They're not daft! Because dust may well get in, even though I can't actually see a 'gap' across the hinge mechanism (like you could on the first generation Motorola Razr) and certainly with a plastic screen it's likely to scratch up with pocket debris. By the nature of how the phone is, it is likely to be closed up a lot of the time, so only time will tell about the impact of this.

One handed use with any 'tall' phone is tricky but Samsung provide a very good one-handed mode, which shrinks the screen into either corner by a quick swipe down on the navigation gesture hint-bar. The panel can also be resized with no limitations - just drag the corner. Opening the flipped phone with one hand is tricky too, but with practice it can be done. Closing it down is easier of course, handy at the end of a phone call to cut the line. Those going without a case will find opening it with one hand even trickier, just because it's so slippery. I still find it harder work to try and open with one hand after 3 weeks, so just use two!

Laying aside the previous whine about the screen being plastic and not as responsive as glass, they have in many ways done wonders to make the screen a 1080p Dynamic AMOLED 2X with a 120Hz refresh rate returning a ppi of 426. It's bright and colourful to look at, sat next to the S20FE it actually looks brighter (on full manual brightness). Those deep blacks are still present and, of course, lots of tweaks available in Settings to adjust what is seen. The auto-controlled brightness is capable of 1200nits and testing here today in overcast UK conditions, I can use it perfectly well outside.

There are very small bezels around the panel - again, a marvel of engineering really. There's a central punch-hole selfie camera at the top of the screen, but as usual (with me at least) one doesn't see it after a while of using the phone. The Always on Display is brilliant, as usual with Samsung, and the Face Unlock works perfectly too, supporting the fingerprint scanner when needed.

I won't drill down into One UI too much as I've done it so many times before. It can't be denied that the Samsung skin, love it or hate it, is jam-packed full of options, tweaks, settings, adjustments, controls and personalisation opportunities like no other system. It's incredibly well thought out with oodles and oodles of fun and functionality improvements which can be made. And that's before you start with the likes of Good Lock, theming, third-party Samsung developers and more. It's a veritable playground.

One or two random examples are the control of the Status Bar, Navigation controls, keyboard, clock faces and the aforementioned control of the torch. There's sound assistant to control the audio, deep screenshots control, notification adjustments beyond the standard, Routines to tinker with and if you fancy delving into it, Bixby! It's great to see the Google Discover feed as an option on the left of the home screen, incidentally. This is the first Samsung I've had which has this and it's a great move by the firm.

Not all is good, however, as for some reason Samsung have excluded HDMI-Out support and provide no access to DeX. I've no idea why they might have left this out and it's not something that can be fixed in updates because of the USB-C port specification. Still, Smart View is present for hooking up to a TV to get content out to a bigger screen and there's always Microsoft's Phone Link for those of us who want to use a PC in conjunction (though not a patch on Dex).

Talking of USB-C ports, that's the way to copy data in and out without using the cloud of some sort as there's no microSD card slot here - and it seems to be the trend going forward. I used to kick and scream against this trend, but I'm beginning to see the logic. With cloud so readily available, storage going up as baseline and connectivity becoming better, I do find that when switching phones these days I often forget to put a card in, even if I can! The days of 64GB storage on devices as standard (or best) was when microSD was more useful for me, personally. And this phone does indeed have good storage. There are two - 128GB or 256GB, both with 8GB RAM (which seems plenty in tests here). I can live with 128GB if needed (and access to a PC and/or USB-C card-reader), so I'm OK with this 256GB. It also makes it arguably more straight-forward for OEMs to streamline timely and longer update periods.

The SnapDragon 888 (5nm) is driving the show here and I've experienced no slow-down even when testing with various games. My test games tend to be car-racing ones rather than 'serious' gamers' titles, so pushing it hard may give different results. This year's Z Flip4 got the 8+ Gen 1 (4nm) but given that I see no issues with the 888, I'm not sure it was needed. Talking of which, comparing the 3 with the 4, it looks very much like an evolutionary upgrade and the impression I get is that anyone who already has the 3 would be nuts to shell out another grand to 'upgrade'. But I haven't used one, so just going on specs.

The battery supplied with the Flip4 is bigger than the Flip3 by 400mAh. So an increase from 3,300 to 3,700. I'm not sure that this will make a huge difference, day-to-day. The battery performance is not great and I don't see that slight increase making a big difference. The saving grace is that the phones have Qi Wireless charging. Depending on a person's lifestyle, having Qi chargers dotted around the place may or may not work. For someone out and about sightseeing or attending business meetings, jumping on planes and trains, they would need some backup arrangements in place. Carry a powerbank or be sure that there is power where you go.

To make it worse, there's no fast charging either. We're used to seeing faster charging these days and this would have made a big difference here. 15W charging by cable is just poor. And slow. It's been upped to 25W for the Flip4, but it's still not enough. Now, I am fairly static in my lifestyle, so I can just have Qi chargers dotted around the place to top-up whenever I'm not moving around, but on tests here (not doing that) there's no way I'd get to bedtime in a 16 hour day if I used my phone within my usual pattern.

Of course, everyone uses a phone differently, but if I was considered a 'light' user (outside of phone reviews) then even a 'medium' user would struggle. let alone 'heavy'. I guess there's only so much Samsung could do to keep the phone slim enough to sensibly fold (and make it too much of a chunky brick). Reverse wireless is present, incidentally, should you dare to offer any of your precious charge to anyone/anything else! For the record, my 10% Reading Test returned 1 hour and 15 minutes, which is not great (much like the Samsung Galaxy S10) 

One of the specific features related to the phone's design is the Flex Screen mode. This is a feature which is available in 'Labs' on the phone, so kind of Beta I suppose, but seems to work well. You can select individual applications to automatically split their UI between the different halves of the screen when you fold the phone into 'laptop' mode - so 'L-shaped' sat facing you on a desk. Different apps put different UI elements on each half, but typically, you'd get controls or keyboard on the 'flat' with the content facing you. Works really well and I've not caught any app not playing ball with this, so I guess it'll soon be out of Labs. Some apps are built to just work with this, such as YouTube.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 arrived with Android 11 last year. Incidentally, it was just updated to 12L (though it can't really benefit hugely from the 'tablet' enhancements to that like the Duo will and Fold does) and is currently on September 2022 Google Security - so bang up to date. They have promised that this phone will indeed be a part of the new wave of Samsung support, being 4 OS updates, taking it to Android 15 in autumn 2024. This makes it 'good' for use with the latest software up to autumn 2025 (when Google roll out Android 16) and presumably then quarterly Security Updates to autumn 2026. Whether the screen fold lasts that long is another matter! They say it's been tested for 200,000 activations. Autumn 2021 to autumn 2025 is, let's say, c.1,300 days. That works out at 153 folds per day. In a 16 hour day then, that's c.10 fold per hour. Sounds good to me!

Talking of sound, the stereo speakers do seem to do a decent enough job. Unlike the majority of phones I test with a stereo setup including the earpiece speaker, the earpiece speaker seems to be the one pushing out more of the low-end frequencies. Usually it's the other way round. Anyway, there's clearly limited space here with such a thin chassis and the sound is not as good as I had hoped. It's OK and will be absolutely fine for most people, but on the test bench here against the Motorola Edge+ (2020), Sony Xperia 5ii and even S20FE it doesn't keep up. Dolby can be switched on (system-wide) to adjust and tweak in the usual way and can make a difference - but you can't defy physics! But reader beware - I'm nit-picking and it's decently loud and good enough quality for general use in a bedroom, office or lounge - just not for a party! Bluetooth 5.1 works extremely well for audio, as we'd expect. We have 32-bit audio tuned by AKG here and it's loud and good quality. There's no 3.5mm audio-out so you need to find a dongle, adapter or USB-C head/earphones to go the wired route.

The two camera lenses I mentioned earlier facing the front when the phone is closed, obviously face outwards from the rear-top when the phone is open, so in the usual kind of place for a candybar smartphone. There's two 12MP units, one f1.8 with OIS and the other, a wide-angle, f2.2. The Selfie (inside the phone - all very complicated) is a 10MP f2.4 unit (and is obviously out of action if the phone is closed! When the phone is closed, going back to the cover screen, the power button (by default) can be pressed twice to get the main camera looking at you. You can then swipe down (on the cover screen) to change it to the other lens, giving a wide view. Swipe left and right to switch between Photo, Portrait and Video and double-tap to switch between portrait and landscape orientation for your photos. Then you can press either of the volume buttons (or wave at it if you throw the switch in settings) to take a photo/shoot a video. Good use of the outside cover screen.

If you open the phone into Flex mode (laptop mode to me!) you can point the Selfie camera at yourself to shoot a selfie, video or indeed use Zoom or Meet for a FaceTime-type video chat/share. Tap the turnaround button to switch to the outside camera, sit the phone in laptop mode and you have a perfect 'tripod' to take photos or videos. Some of the benefits of the form-factor and smart Samsung software really do make the most of opportunities when using the camera which you simply couldn't do with a candybar phone. All good stuff.

There's nothing particularly standout to talk about otherwise with the camera. No exciting zooms, 200MP sensors or periscopes. The usual plethora of Samsung modes and software are present though to tweak and play with, which we've covered before mostly. If you want a drill-down with samples, verdict and test bench analysis, I suggest heading over to GSMArena via this direct link who do just this and give you the lowdown.

Connectivity is good on all counts with GPS locking quickly and hanging on, phone call quality is excellent in my tests over the last three weeks, bluetooth range seems good enough without any dropped connection, WiFi seems solid enough tested on a few routers and cellular data seems fine as well, which I use via a 4G Router all the time at home. NFC works fine, tested with other equipment to hook up and also at Tesco to use Google Pay. Yes, all seems good.

The summary is mostly about the form of the device of course. I get the feeling that it's likely to be a big love/hate thing for most people. A Marmite moment. People who will wow at the technology, people who remember and love the flip-phone from the old days, so for nostalgic reasons, people who just won't be able to live with the crease in the screen or, like me, just don't like the feel of it not being the smooth glass we've got used to. There will be those like me who like the 'closed down' capability, so as not to be disturbed at times, those who will like and hate the feel of the phone in their pocket and those who will see that all of this is just a big compromise on different levels.

These devices are not cheap (even second-hand, a year later) so people must be sure that they want this, being far from perfect. You can buy a non-folding Samsung with more functionality and less compromises (like no DeX, for example) for significantly less money and certainly speakers and cameras with many more features and capability. I've really enjoyed my time with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3. It's very different to the Microsoft Surface Duo, in that it can be taken seriously as a phone too. There's loads of good stuff in Samsung phones to tweak, optimise and focus one's experience and they've now got onboard with very long support and update windows. I am, for now, happy to go on using the phone as my primary, still enjoying the great fun-factor and UX.

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Katla (2021)

This is a TV Series which just arrived on Netflix, though created in 2021 by Sigurjón Kjartansson and Baltasar Kormákur, the team previously responsible for bringing us another Icelandic series, the thriller Trapped. This is a strange one, so be ready with brain in gear!

We join the community at the town Vik, at the foot of Katla, a volcano in Iceland which has erupted a year before. There is ash spewing all around the district and those who have permission from the government to stay there are generally supporting the effort to research and deal with the scientific fallout. They all have to wear masks outside, especially if the wind is blowing from the north.

We follow a handful of characters going about their lives, each with some sort of crisis going on, depression, unhappiness, divorce, conflict, grief - most of them having lost loved ones in the initial eruption, or in some cases, before and unrelated. Much healing is needed for almost all the characters, who reflect a damaged and battered community.

One day, a 20 year old girl walks out of the volcano area, naked, but covered in ash, stuck to her body. She has no memory of why she is there or what has gone immediately before, seemingly with much missing time in her consciousness. Turns out that she has the same name as a woman who lived in the town 20 years before and who is now living in Sweden. She thinks she works in the local hotel and that she was at work just the day before.

Then a little boy appears, similar story, being removed from time and reality, confused and naked. Then another young female, the same - and so on. People start appearing from the debris of the volcano and each has some sort of link with the people in Vik, who club together to try and work out what on earth is going on, who they are, what has happened, where they have come from and what to do with them.

But actually, they don't do a very good job and this is where some of the idea seems to fall apart a bit. There seems to be too much ready-acceptance from some of the characters and not enough shock and disbelief, as you'd expect, given the bizarre, off-the-wall situation. People seem to take it in their stride and although the viewer is afforded a ride along with the unfolding mystery, it's often not very credible. Not the core idea, but the characters' reactions, or lack thereof.

I won't say too much here to spoil any of the outcomes so that those who give it a go can enjoy the story evolving, but be prepared to shelve reality to some degree. As we float through the fairly drawn-out proceedings I felt that the pacing could have been a little faster as we spend too long on aspects of the story devoid of interest to the plot.

Questions remain at the end and the finale leaves the series open to a sequel. Having said that, it's clear to the viewer by the end what is going on as the reveals are staggered along the path, but there's not full satisfaction as much of it is open to interpretation. Make of it what you will. It could be argued that some of it feels supernatural, often it feels like they're all in a dream and other times that a scientific explanation is just around the corner.

The Icelandic players have differing levels of experience. Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð plays Gríma and maintains the position of the main character in the series, trying to make sense of it all - as one of the people reappearing is her sister Ása played by Íris Tanja Flygenring (Trapped). Ingvar Sigurdsson (The Northman, Killing Eve, Lamb) plays Þór and seems to be the most experienced of the cast, Aliette Opheim (Fortitude, Black Crab) as Gunhild, Þorsteinn Bachmann (Trapped, The Valhalla Murders, The Deep) as Gísli and Darri is played by Björn Thors (The Valhalla Murders, The Deep).

The landscape is fascinating and nicely shot as we see oodles of ice, snow, ash and water in this cold climate. The characters are obviously all wrapped up not only against the ash but also the chill and the sets are bleak, cold and unwelcoming.

It's an interesting series which is certainly worth a look, but you need to approach it with an open mind! I decided to turn on the dubbing instead of subtitles as I found that they had been crafted particularly well, using Icelandic voice actors rather than American or others. It added to the authenticity somehow, though I would usually go for subtitles. It runs for 8 episodes of the usual 42 minute length, so it's binge-watchable too. Give it a go and see what your interpretation might be!

Friday, 9 September 2022

Pinocchio (2022)

Just to avoid any confusion, this is the Robert Zemeckis version from Disney, this week released on the Disney+ Channel (at least, in the UK). I was a childhood fan of the original Pinocchio from Disney, the cartoon, and watched it over and over whenever I could drag my mum to the cinema! Then I got the LP record of the songs and soundtrack, which over time I wore out! Now, 55 years later, can the magic be recaptured, I wondered.

It seems to be all the rage recently to do a Pinocchio film and tell the story. I covered the Italian 2019 version with Robert Benigni a couple of years back, there's also the version that Benigni directed and we now have the forthcoming (to Netflix) Guillermo del Toro animated version which claims to tell the original, dark Italian story from the book by Carlo Collodi.

This one sticks very closely to the 1940 telling and variation of the story, with added bits and pieces here and there and whisks along at a faster pace. Some of the original songs are here and more besides - and it all works in together very nicely. The Blue Fairy makes less appearances in this version, in fact, only one - a great turn by Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, Widows). Geppetto is played by Tom Hanks (Finch, Bridge of Spies, Inferno) and actually, he's not really in very it much. For those who remember the story, he's significant in the first act and the last, but not much in between. Hanks, as you'd expect, plays it beautifully well, convincing and heart-warming to the core. Mr Family Entertainment Guy!

Just to explain, the film is part-animation, part real actors and lots of special effects which helps to sprinkle the magic-dust on the whole family outing. It plays with light and shadow excellently, creating real atmosphere and the animation stuff only slightly starts to fall away in the final 10 minutes, as we draw to a finale, which, incidentally, is not quite as expected.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Snowden, The Walk) voices Jiminy Cricket very well indeed and Luke Evans (Angel of Mine, High Rise) as The Coachman is worthy of mention. There's a new character introduced as an employee of Stromboli's Circus, who is a disabled puppeteer (at least, I don't remember her). She is played by newcomer Kyanne Lamaya very nicely as her ballerina puppet (playing the part in life for her since her disability stopped her), interacts warmly and positively with Pinocchio, helping him along the path of life choices.

The whole set of Pleasure Island has been embellished, extended much more this time, turning the scene into more of a Willy Wonka type experience, though the dark implications of those who enter is doled out in heaps. The Disney cartoon gave viewers a chill (and some thought maybe not suitably so for the target audience age) but this takes it a step further with the nasty, sinister outcomes.

Through all that though, it's a very similarly told tale about right and wrong, learning the lessons in life in order to attain and maintain moral fibre, making the decent family-orientated decisions about what and who is 'important' and who to trust and be wary of. I'm sure most reading this will know the bones of the way in which the 1940 cartoon was told.

That's about it really. It's a charming, delightfully presented slice of fantasy which families will lap up on Boxing Day afternoon for years to come. Hopefully they will also be shown the cartoon version, whilst we adults can look forward to the grizzly, nasty version coming on Netflix!

Psycho (1960) and Psycho (1998)

I watched both of these films this week. The 1998 remake for the first time, the 1960 original (probably) for the second or third, end-to-end. It's an interesting topic as I've always been interested in the work of Alfred Hitchcock, how he did what he did, and what others have done with his influence going forward. So does the remake stack up, I wondered.

Starting with the direction, Hitchcock made this a veritable thrill-ride by the use of all sorts of techniques and style. Noir in one, making the most of the black and white, very smart lighting, shadows and highlights bringing out enhanced impact of the terror and screwed-up Norman Bates. The Gus Van Sant remake has been shot very differently and although there are nods to the earlier work, the atmosphere and style is not recreated in anything like the same way. It's been traded in for bright colours and a style of it's own, even though the remake is supposedly near scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot (with some meanderings).

One of the missing elements is Anthony Perkins' deeply scarred and sinister 'look and feel' of the Norman Bates character by Vince Vaughan. Many have said that he was simply the wrong choice to be cast into the role and to some degree I think that's valid as he plays it quite differently. The director doesn't squeeze out anywhere near as much suspense and terror from the central character like in the first, rather introducing an element of sexual perversion instead. I'm not saying he did a bad job, it's just that Hitchcock would have got more from him in his earlier style.

Another way in which Hitchcock captivated the audience was via the music and sound. Watching the original again this week, it was clear that it played a very large part in the thrill. Especially in the famous shower scene, but also throughout with the wild screaming violins doing something for the soundtrack, blending with the action, that even the amazingly talented Danny Elfman couldn't match in the remake's arrangements.

The cast in the new one is actually very good and in some ways, Anne Heche does a better job than Janet Leigh. In fact, she's excellent. But, again, there's that one element missing, which Hitchcock just seemed to know how to draw out from his actors, blending together his vision with their ability. Julianne Moore, I thought was a more convincing character than Vera Miles as Marion's sister and again, the same for William H Macy playing the private eye over Martin Balsam. It was great to see the late Robert Forster pop up as the psychiatrist explaining what was going on at the end, again, certainly doing a better job than Simon Oakland.

Swinging back the other way, Viggo Mortensen was presented as almost a joke-character with his outrageous southern drawl (seemingly introduced for no reason). John Gavin playing Sam previously was much more convincing. Pop up performances by James Le Gros and James Remar were great in the remake and although perhaps missing some of the tone of the original, I was probably drawn more to their performances knowing them as actors.

The first Psycho was made before I was born, but the cast back then was also a strong one. I have enjoyed watching how Hitchcock drew out the best in his cast for decades now, even though many of his films were shot before my time. I wrote about Strangers on a Train, Spellbound, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dial M for Murder and a brief look at his work with James Stewart and Rear Window, reflecting my appreciation of the man and how he could thrill an audience. Psycho was no exception.

However, I did also think that the remake had many things going for it apart from what I have said above and I wouldn't slate it, as many have, as a complete write-off and waste of time. It's always going to be difficult to emulate the work of a master and most who will have seen the original work will have loved it, so a remake maybe didn't stand a chance with many.

I tried very hard to approach this with an open mind. I watched the new one first, then the old - and was happy to be swung either way on it. I have to say that I enjoyed the old one more. It felt more authentic, believable and realistic - convincing as a storyline pulled together by a genius director using expert tools for stunning impact. I enjoyed the remake also, very much, but it's just not the same! Why not give them both a go, afresh, like I did. Then there's Psycho II and Psycho III of course!

Friday, 2 September 2022

Attenberg (2010)

This might be the strangest film I've seen this year! It's pure arthouse, or at least, trying really hard to be so. It's a Greek film, produced, written and directed by 
Athina Rachel Tsangari. I'm sure other people will know her for producing many films and shorts but the only link I could find for my reference was as producer of Before Midnight, the last of the Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke trilogy of romance dramas from 2013.

Here, we have a story about a young woman, Marina, whose voyage of self-discovery is reflected in the often-watched David Attenborough nature documentaries throughout the film by the cast. There seems to be some sort of parallel being drawn here between Marina's often bizarre behaviour, outlook, drives and desires and that of the wild animals. The name of the film is taken from a comic mispronunciation of his name during the film.

Marina has a close female friend, Bella, who frequently joins her in her discovery as they explore each other's ideas, outlooks, desires and sometimes, bodies. Bella is more sexually experienced than Marina, who is still a virgin. It's not any kind of cheap porn flick though and where the sex or nudity appears, it's a reflection of how that might happen in the wild with animals.

In amongst all this, Marina's dad is dying so she's flitting between home, work and hospital looking after him in his last days. Her dad is similarly clinical in his outlook, fixated on his cremation, and really doesn't like other members of the human race very much. He is hanging onto the embers of the family ties with Marina and the values which the film, I think, is saying are now going away in society. The relationship with her father is stretched too, where she enquires about his sexuality, I take to reflect that in the animal kingdom who you 'mate' with does not reflect who may or may not be close family. Not that there is anything of that kind here between them, apart from Marina 'fixing' her dad up with a last screw - with Bella!

Marina then bumps into a guy, who she clearly lines up for sexual 'use' (like in the animal kingdom) and all we see of him is when they're negotiating the stages of initial contact, fumblings and eventually mating. There is nothing beyond that for the pair and any closeness or emotional connection is reserved for the Marina/Bella friendship - but there's still not much of it around.

The pair share their deepest feelings, thought experiments and bizarre stomping routines, again, animal like. The film cuts, numerous times to show the pair marching up and down a courtyard walking strangely, cavorting, like some long-legged birds might (or John Cleese)! Then we cut to the characters playing tennis in the rain, for no apparent significance or meaning. All very odd - I'm sure I'm missing the point!

And I think that's what it's about! It's bleakly shot with much grey and barren, urban landscape, interiors of clinical settings in hospital and even the home settings come across as simple, basic and not cared for. Perhaps like a jungle or desert might be for animals. Within that framework, it's been very nicely shot - with arthouse tendencies, artistic sets and lingering visuals.

Ariane Labed (Before Midnight, The Souvenir, The Lobster) plays Marina outstandingly well, putting across the precise message of all the above to the viewer. She's happy to experiment clearly with her character and appears to be having a lot of arthouse fun! Evangelia Randou plays her friend Bella and executes that cold, a lot of the time. Clinical as the character dictates. The pair of them do a great job I think, hopefully enabling the audience to understand a bit of what actually is going on!

It's a quite bizarre film, which I did enjoy watching and trying to understand. It's clearly about those animalistic tendencies, how humans are really only animals (as if in the wild) but tamed by societal norms and apparent civilisation. Emotion, love and caring cast aside, the characters are largely free to explore and behave how they like, maybe reflecting what we'd all like to do, if freed up.

It's worth watching if you get the chance - the kind of film that would pop up on Channel 4 or Mubi, but also now via streaming services to rent. Give it a go and see what you make of it!

Thursday, 1 September 2022

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of August 2022

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


Whatever Works
Episode 167 - Swarfega Sadmin!
Friday 5th August
Aidan and I return once more with another fortnightly roundup of Whatever Works for us and you! This time we hit Spaghetti Junction, tell some Rayban Stories, enjoy some Clearaudio, get scratchy with IZAL and much more! So join us, why not, for an hour of buffoonery!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 707 - Into a week of Samsung
Saturday 6th August
Steve and I are here again with another weekly roundup of all things mobile phone. This week we flip over to Samsung and fold in the thoughts of Zac Kew-Denniss.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 7th August
Gareth and I are back again this weekend with titillating tech tripe for a couple of hours! This time we lead our Master Anywhere, get some insects to choose our books, Palm a Trio, try to understand pinch-to-zoom - and Collections, too!

Projector Room
Episode 118 - Stalked Prey
Wednesday 10th August
Do join us once again for another look at what we've been watching in film, cinema and TV in the last fortnight. Gareth, Allan and I Keep Breathing as we fend off Prey, find A Perfect Getaway in Hawaii, Target 1883 and loads more!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 13th August
Steve and I welcome Dipen Karia to the show for the first time, so we find out about his mobile-path and get his view on all things phone. Steve and I have been playing with the Pixel 6a and form early verdicts - and we talk Samsung and Motorola after their flipping full week! Plenty more as always!

Whatever Works
Episode 168 - Wowstick Wonderland!
Friday 19th August
Aidan and I are here again to pummel your eardrums with piles of poppycock! Whatever works for us and you of course - from foot files and roll-ons to neckties and OCR. Something for everyone, animal, vegetable or mineral! So enjoy - or you will be punished!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 20th August
Steve and I are here again this weekend with new guest but long-time collaborator Jason Kneen. We mainly talk about his path from Psion to Apple. There is some other stuff too, though! We pick up again on the Pixel 6a post-Android 13, tweaks for the Duo and Android audio.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 21st August
Gareth and I are back with severed connections tethered ready to trail through the tech trash once more! Nokia, Nokia and more Nokia this time, with sprinklings of Moto, Anker, Pixie Retroid and even Adidas! Loads more as always, grab a large beer and join us!

Projector Room
Episode 119 - The Spanish Fugitive
Wednesday 24th August
Why not dive into this fortnight's roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. Gareth, Allan and I bring you thoughts and opinions on all sorts of Wild Tales from Spain, head back to 1929 for an artistic treat, Scream at Deadwood and witness The Fugitive's Trainwreck! Loads more as usual!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 710 - Live from Studio B!
Saturday 27th August
Just me and Steve this bank holiday weekend, but bringing you lots of opinion and chatter about all sorts, as usual. I look forward to the arrival of a Sammy Flip3 (yes, I'm a bit late!) and round up my Pixel 6a thoughts while Steve weighs up the pros and cons of his flagships.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 28th August
Even Starlink wouldn't have helped a powercut in North Wales mid-recording! Never fear though as Gareth has patched together something of a show from the crumbled digital fragments! So we delve into plenty of stuff as usual including Starlink dropping and spreading, Amazon on the prowl with their chequebook, Edge edging itself into strife and just about everyone wanting to get in on podcasting!

Monday, 29 August 2022

Pieces of Her (2022)

This Netflix 8-part mini-series is a crime story with elements of whodunit thrown in, thrills and spills! Based on the book by Karin Slaughter it has been produced here by writer Charlotte Stoudt - and an excellent job she has done.

We follow the life of Laura Oliver and her daughter Andy as initially our job is to try and unpick the complex relationship which exists between them, why Andy appears to be so bitter towards her mum yet devoted and loving too. As you would expect, there are reveals all along the way as the audience is doled out various snippets of information, via flashbacks and current events.

Laura is played by the always-excellent Toni Collette (Nightmare Alley, Unbelievable, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Stowaway) who shines here, steals the show and gives us a delightful, rich and full performance. She is terrifically convincing and pulls out all the stops when emotional expression is demanded. Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows, Relic) is not far behind with another excellent performance as Andy, mostly convincing with the material - and attractive to watch.

The third stand-out performance for me was by Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World, The Lobster, Hanna) who plays Laura as a younger woman via plenty of flashbacks, as the story is filled out and reveals lined up. I think she's also very impressive, the Brit actress who already has a huge body of work behind her, starting out in her early days on Coronation Street!

The first few episodes bombard the viewer with much confusion in an apparently complex plot which only starts to sort itself out from about halfway through the episodes. Rest assured though, hang on in there and the threads do come together with the reveals and surprises nicely paced to keep the viewer interested and alert. But you need to pay attention so as to not miss key elements!

It's quite hard to say what's going on without introducing spoilers, but at the outset, we're presented with Laura, who's been married to Gordon (who is not Andy's father but appears to have been present for much of Andy's life before his divorce with Laura) trying hard to connect with Andy who seems happy to float along through life with not much ambition. 

Although the show is indeed about relationships, that's not the main story here which is more about how they all got to where they are, Laura's upbringing by a controlling and abusive father - alongside a manipulative brother as she tries to escape the clutches of the powerful and monied family, how this now impacts Andy and how much she knows about the past which Laura seems reluctant to share fully.

Back in the day, the young version of Laura had a boyfriend called Nick who her father hugely disapproved of as he was not business-minded and money-orientated like him, but rather more of an activist against the capitalism rife in America, trying to make a stand for different values and unpick capitalism. Most of the coverage of Nick is executed via flashbacks during his time with the young Laura as he tries to draw her away from the family and into his world. I've said enough! Watch and enjoy the unfolding.

There are some 'unlikely' decisions made by some of the characters during the process, putting themselves into situations of silly danger (especially when Andy goes 'on the run' in one part of the show) which most people would not consider in real life, but I guess that's the nature of thrillers! It doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the show or from being on the edge of your seat now and again!

It's very nicely shot and produced, the supporting acting by most is very well done and the storyline is interesting and often thrilling. Karin Slaughter is one of those crime writers that I'm aware of, in the same bracket as Val McDermid, so you can expect a well-constructed/paced plot, gripping turns and outcomes. Very nicely done all round. Watch and enjoy the three main leads. Recommended.

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Men (2022)

I had been looking forward to seeing this, as I do anything with Jessie Buckley (I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Fargo) starring. I didn't know quite what to expect, however, apart from knowing that it's a bit of a spook-fest, horror-cum-thriller set in the UK with a mainly British cast.

I've come to the end of it and am still not quite too sure what to think of it! It's a project by Alex Garland who was previously responsible for the ideas making up Ex_Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) - so if you know those, you'll have got an idea of what might be in store. Or will you?

We follow Harper who has recently gone through a traumatic marriage situation, which she tried to get out of, but her husband James threatened to kill himself if she did and lavish guilt on Harper in the process. We see these angry and beautifully acted scenes between the two of them via flashback. The first thing to say is that whatever you think of the storyline, ideas and outcome of the film, the acting is top-notch from the leads. You'll need to know at this point that James does indeed die and Harper heads off to the English countryside and hires a Manor house for a couple of weeks with a view to recovering from the trauma and getting break from London.

She gets to the house and weird stuff starts to happen. It's going to be really difficult to not spill the beans here so I shall tread carefully, but we move through the film in three parts. The first part is her getting to know the surroundings, some of the locals, trying to rest up. The second part is where we start to see her up against some very odd behaviour from some of the local people and the third part is where the chaos happens and the viewer wonders what on earth is going on!

The significant locals in question are all played by Rory Kinnear (The Imitation Game, a few of the James Bond films, Peterloo) made up in various disguises and he pulls that off excellently well throughout - even when he's really too old to play one of the characters. The characters, one by one, make Harper's life even more miserable than it was with James - and herein lies the ambiguity and questions about what really happens as we go forward.

We've seen many films where we're left to guess half the time whether what we're seeing is what is really happening, or perhaps a jaded view of reality through the eyes of one of the characters, and we're left with that situation here. I guess it must be a spoiler alert to say that the audience is left to wonder even after the finale, to some degree. Sorry!

There are themes running through the film though. The main one being guilt - as Harper is wrapped up with herself over the death of James and it's all coming back to haunt her. There are apparent parallels going on with regards to rebirth, religion, the historic roles of women, the earth, evil behaviour of men (and other males) and new life. As we head towards the finale, the whole outing turns into sheer horror as we are exposed to something like Cronenberg might have churned out! Say no more.

The setting lends itself to spooky, isolated as she is in a big country house alone and Garland makes the most of that, exploiting every nook and cranny of the house, working nicely with cinematography, lighting and colours. It's beautifully shot with great visuals, outside and in with music helping to create the atmosphere nicely.

It's an odd film, now available via various streaming services which can be enjoyed for the central performances and direction. What will be taken away from it will be different for different people. To some degree you need to make your own mind up as to what's going on - and some might not be happy about that and want a more tangible outcome. But you can enjoy the ride. I did!

Saturday, 20 August 2022

Island (2011)

This is a quirky little film which I picked up on over at Mubi, about a woman from London who was abandoned by her mother at birth who seeks revenge and heads to an offshore Scottish island to get it!

Mother, Phyllis, went off to live there, you see, and the island is where we pick up on the story as Nikki arrives on the ferry. We follow her as she tries to find out from the inhospitable islanders about a place to get digs while she pretends to be on a geography research trip. It just so happens that her birth mother has a card in the local shop window offering a room!

She arrives at the house, in the middle of nowhere, bangs on the door, negotiates the room and moves in. The mother doesn't know who she is, neither does her son, so she gets settled and starts to get to know them, looking for opportunities to do the deed - kill her! The son, Calum, is clearly her half-brother but as yet, nobody knows. Calum comes across as a simple chap, harmless, but later we find out that their mother controls his every move. Won't let him work or barely leave the house.

It's all very quirky and odd. Phyllis is cold, unfriendly and uncommunicative much of the time. She has cancer and is taking medication - so perhaps Nikki doesn't need to kill her after all! Calum and Nikki start to hang out together, firstly sparring defensively, not comfortable with each other being around but then things warm up between them and they become close, a bit like sister and brother in fact, but he still doesn't know the secret.

That's about it really, without giving away any of the reveals. It's slow and bleak, reflected by the landscape, people's attitudes and weather. Some lovely scenery is on show as you'd imagine spoiled a little for me by plenty of hand-held camera work. It's a dark tale which is apparently based on the novel of the same name by Jane Rogers, which I have not read, and clearly very low-budget. One scene when the pair of them are on a row-boat is laughable in terms of any realism. But it's full of atmosphere in this misty, dour setting.

Natalie Press (Suffragette, My Summer of Love) plays Nikki very convincingly - a nasty, bitter and revengeful person. Colin Morgan (Belfast, Legend, Testament of Youth) is equally well cast as he portrays the troubled, confused and resentful Calum and Janet McTeer (Ozark, Jessica Jones) plays the apparently twisted, sad and lonely Phyllis to near perfection. A bunch of bitter, negative characters reflecting how life has been pretty terrible for them. It's in the hands of the relatively inexperienced Elizabeth Mitchell and Brek Taylor but they do a good job pulling it together.

It's certainly worth a watch if you get the chance. As I said, it is on Mubi but can also be accessed by a few other streaming services at time of writing.

Friday, 19 August 2022

Echo (2019)

This was a new one on me, discovered deep in the bowels of the Mubi catalogue, for which I currently have a subscription. It's a work of 56 vignettes eavesdropping, each one different, on a slice of life in Iceland for a few minutes at a time.

I didn't quite know what to expect from this 75 minute work (original title Bergmál) from Rúnar Rúnarsson but the first thing that struck me about the style was the work of Swedish director Roy Anderson. I have previously shared my thoughts about his works Being a Human Person, About EndlessnessA Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, You, The Living and Songs from the Second Floor. The young Icelandic Rúnarsson has had previous success with Sparrows (2015) and Volcano (2011).

The style to which I refer is the one where the camera in each scene is not moved. For Anderson, this was explained later as a technique to ensure visual continuity when locations were rejected in lieu of studio work alone. For Rúnarsson, I don't know! But the technique is an interesting one (also often used by Woody Allen) where the cast (or anything in the scene) does any of the required moving around, not the camera, and the angle of view is fixed. It works well with short-punchy scenes here.

The content of the 56 scenes are a potpourri of observations homing in on ordinary life with the only common theme being that it's based in Iceland around Christmas one year. Some are sad, some are funny, others poignant, bitter or angry - but each a fly-on-the-wall view of ordinary life. The order of the scenes wouldn't really have mattered as they all stand alone - there is no overall story, beginning or end.

The indoor scenes are colourful whilst the outdoor ones are generally cold and snowy as people go about their business preparing for Christmas, attending events, throwing parties and hurling fireworks. It dips into a reflective view of people having to be at work while others enjoy the season, as we focus on a couple of emergency services telephone operators and also the bin-men going about their duties amongst many others. The content of the numerous scenes and micro-stories is broad-ranging so I won't do a deep-dive here, rather encourage people to watch and enjoy.

The takeaways from the film are going to be different for every viewer - there's something for everyone. Some of the scenes will touch people emotionally, whilst the same scenes will be passed over by others depending on our life experiences. It's beautifully artistic in presentation and very nicely conceived throughout. It's supported by various pieces of music in some of the scenes, others are presented with impactful silence.

I'm not sure if all the people in all the scenes are actors, but many of them certainly come across as not being so - maybe if they are, then a sign of good acting! A very enjoyable short film it was. Something different and interesting with the hook-up to Roy Anderson for me, a big fan, an unexpected bonus. The Mubi service is highly recommended here for different, interesting and more artistic films - which often bypass the main streaming services.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 (a year late)!

I'm always keen to look at the latest technology, especially in the smartphone world, but more often than not these days, I'm priced...