Sunday 30 January 2022

Katie Says Goodbye (2016)

This little film is the story of Katie who lives in a dusty town in the outbacks of arid America who tries really hard to generate hope against the odds. It's written and directed by the pretty much unknown Wayne Roberts, who went on to make The Professor with Johnny Depp leading in 2018.

Katie has lived her whole life in the town alongside her broken-spirited mother as they make ends meet between them renting a shack from a local man, who seems to be willing to take payment however he can get it. Katie is 17 and working hard in a diner to earn money to keep her and her mother afloat, but it's not enough.

It's clear that her mother is abusing the good-natured Katie on all sorts of levels, in order to fuel her drinking lifestyle and entertaining men when she feels like it. Katie is strangely green in amongst all this, not the hardened, life-battered soul that we'd expect to see. She's pragmatic and knows how to earn money, doing sexual favours for people she can generally trust not to abuse her.

She has a few 'regulars' including Bear (played by James Belushi) who she can rely on to treat her well and provide a reasonable flow of income. Bear acts more like a father to her in many ways, which is a bit of an odd meander from the path. Anyway, along comes Bruno, played by Christopher Abbott of 'Girls' fame, fresh from prison, who is quiet but demonstrates caring towards Katie, which she warms to and is keen to establish him as her boyfriend. Her less-than-wholesome activities come out and Bruno is not best-pleased, so she promises to stop. In amongst all this, her mother has spent the rent on booze and the landlord is pressing the pair of them to settle up or else!

Olivia Cooke plays the sweet, almost naive Katie brilliantly well. The viewer gets onside with her, warms to her and sympathises with her - regardless of what she's doing to make money. She dreams of heading for San Francisco to train to be a hairdresser and is saving money for that too, justifying her means to herself as a dream for the future. She does want to get away from this small town but it gets complicated with Bruno's arrival and more so when some local yobs start to abuse her and she's wrongly accused of theft at work.

The drama rolls out with peaks and troughs, slow patches and more gripping phases, but through all this is (poor little) Katie in the middle, trying really hard to make something of herself. Trying to look after her mum, to save for a better future, to be kind-hearted (which she is) to those around her - and to some degree keep her head down in lieu of what's to come. Should she settle for what she has, work hard and expect little - or is it alright for her to have dreams, she wonders.

It's a film of hope through her eyes, of sadness in parts, of abuse and the human spirit rising up against the odds. It's a bit of a one-person show as Cooke is in pretty much every scene but the cast around her play their parts convincingly too. The audience can imagine what it must be like in one of these small outback towns in many places in the world for people trying to work out their place in society and their forward path.

It's a nice little drama with messages aplenty about all sorts of social dilemmas, as folk tackle life's difficulties. It's been captured here through the eyes of our leading girl who executes it very well indeed. Olivia Cooke has gone on the bigger things now, but I'd like to think that she looks back at this with a smile.

Friday 21 January 2022

Hotel Mumbai (2018)

This is the story, based on true events, of the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which a total of 175 people died and 300 were injured. It is a dramatised account of course and to some degree there's no way of knowing if some of the nitty-gritty details are actually true, but this should take nothing away from this film being a close-enough testament to the horror suffered by those caught up in the events.

The inexperienced Australian Director Anthony Maras takes the chair and does a fine job pulling together the strings of the story, depicting the terror and horror facing these people, keeping tension so high that this becomes a wide-eyed, edge-of-the-seat thriller in its own right, regardless of the truth. The only question remains is as to whether or not such films should be made as a testament to the people there and what they went through versus potential exploitation of their grief for a commercial, money-making film for the masses.

It certainly opened my eyes and I came away feeling like I had been educated regarding the historic event, which I do remember seeing unfold on the news from the safety the other side of the earth. I had no idea about the finer details and the culture which was present, the rich/poor issues of India's financial capital and how people behaved, pandering to wealthy westerners as they scraped together a living from long, hard shifts.

Whatever your world view of the rights and wrongs of terrorism and injustices - and what could and/or should be done about it - this can indeed be viewed as a thriller of a film. Looking at it with those eyes, it delivers. The focus is on a few key characters, building enough knowledge of their backgrounds - and attitudes to what is going on around them for the audience, works well. The viewer gets invested in the people at the hub of this. There's insight into the religious terrorists, too, how they appear to have been promised money for their families and glory in paradise on their death, though some of them start to question if this is really true, as events unfold.

We follow a waiter, employee of the hotel, from the start of his day. We see how he lives and how tight money is. He remains the central focus through much of the film and we learn much of the culture through his eyes and actions. Ordinary people become heroes. Ordinary people who are willing to sacrifice everything for their position in employment - where in this seriously posh hotel, the 'guest is god' and local people are second-rate humans. To some degree it's turned into a 'feel good' movie as these heroes emerge - or are sacrificed. The waiter is led by his boss, the head chef, who similarly demonstrates a brave and principled attitude to how he conducts himself and prioritises the guests over (almost) all else.

The lead is taken by Dev Patel who we know from The Green Knight, Lion, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Slumdog Millionaire and he lands it quite brilliantly. Armie Hammer is worthy of note too as one of the guests trying to find his wife, daughter and Nanny in the chaos and Anupam Kher as the head chef. The cast all do a terrific job and are very convincing. There are some underdeveloped characters who could have been explored more, but it generally hung together well.

There are also stories unfolding for the viewer amongst the guests - and how the terrorists are treating them and what they plan to do with them. It's all pretty harrowing as we witness first-hand the religious violence, blood and grizzly death doled out left, right and centre. It's shot in a tense, exacting way which gives us an insight into all sides of the story and the people in the mix.

The film hardly ever slows down, it's frantic pace reflecting (presumably) how the events happened, full of fast-moving terror. The effects are convincing and sets look authentic. It's not an easy watch, but it's gripping to the end, quite superbly acted by almost all and shot frantically like all good thrillers. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Agony (2020)

Original title The Executrix and it's an Italian chiller/thriller/horror/suspense film which I was struggling to make sense of! It's a bit surreal in places and puts you in mind of something arty-farty from Roman Polanski decades ago!

It's about this woman who thought her mother had dies 30 years ago only to be told by a lawyer that she had just died now and she's inherited a huge house and loads of land in Italy. She lives with husband in the USA so we start off in English then morph into Italian and subtitles as the family arrive in Tuscany.

This is when the weird starts as it turns out her mother was possessed by, well, something, which caused her inner demons and ended up with her hanging herself. She had kept her daughter away from the home and pretended to be dead so that the daughter could have a chance of an ordinary life away from the chaos.

They're all artist of course (what else?) so flounce around the place in flowing robes and hoods being frightfully creative! Anyway, this is where we start to enter the surreal and wonder if what we're seeing is what everyone else is seeing or just her and she waves in and out of visions of her mother and nasty-looking scenes from the past (or is it present)?!

Asia Argento is actually pretty engaging in the lead role and apart from all the annoying arty-farty stuff portrays a troubled and partly possessed woman coming from a relatively normal life into the mayhem. It's not very clear why the mother kept her away from all the devilish stuff in Italy but then left it all to her in her will presumably knowing she'd then go there are get sucked in!

The rest of the cast do a decent enough supporting job and the Italian countryside and sets in and around the house and grounds are lovely and well shot (when we're not seeing it through a surreal red filter)!

It's a good enough little film which comes across very much like an Indie outing which is shot in a style that you'll either suck or or hate. The outcome and ending are very predictable so you just have to hang in their and enjoy the art or shrug after half an hour and put something else on!

Monday 17 January 2022

Antlers (2021)

Based on the story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca, this horror/thriller/drama comes from actor/director Scott Cooper and produced by (amongst others) 
Guillermo del Toro. There are not many silly jump-scare moments but rather a brooding atmospheric tale keeping the viewers wondering what on earth's coming next.

Frank, played by Scott Haze (Old Henry), is running a Meth Lab in an old disused mine in rural Oregon when he's attacked by (what turns out to be) some Native American creature which devours humans and looks for a host body to dwell within whilst it does dastardly deeds! Frank is it's man this time!

Frank has two sons, and he makes them (before he gets totally devoured) lock him in the attic and keep the beast-within away from causing trouble (though I'm not sure how or why the best is constrained by a wooden-walled house)! The younger son gets sucked in eventually and the beast decides to keep him there. So we have 12-year old son now going about his business, going to school and catching animals to feed the pair in the attic with raw meat!

Enter new school teacher coming back to the town after 20 years away, re-joining her brother in the old family home, where certainly she - and maybe both of them - had been abused by their father, now dead. Jessie Plemons plays the local policeman brother and (Mickey Mouse Club girl) Keri Russell, the teacher/sister. The boy is in her class at school and she starts to get concerned about him as he's creating bizarre drawings and is socially withdrawn.

She starts to investigate, heads round to the house, gets even more concerned so reports the matter to her boss. Her boss goes to visit and, ahem, doesn't do too well. I shall leave that to your imagination. So policeman brother and teacher sister start to investigate together and this is the point at which all hell breaks loose and the creature starts to do his thing inside the body of Frank.

There's a big finale as you'd imagine where the beast is confronted, back in the mine, and you can imagine the outcome with the sister/brother team trying to sort out the mess and put an end to the whole pesky affair!

The young Jeremy T Thomas plays the 12-year old boy and does a decent job depicting the behaviour and emotions we'd expect with all this chaos going on around him! Keri Russell likewise does a decent enough job and Jessie Plemons seems to improve each time I see him, often playing the understated, ordinary bloke dealing with extraordinary situations, like in Breaking Bad and Fargo.

It's a decent enough film with enough lurking in terms of the unknown to keep the viewer interested, if not quite on the edge of their seat. It's slow in places, but having said that, the time flew while I was watching and there's plenty to chew on! There's not too much gore and horror, but what there is seems to be done pretty convincingly as it becomes a bit of a thrill-ride towards the end!

Recommended, it's doing the rounds on various streaming services now. Apparently it was shot in 2019 but only just making it out now, presumably because of pandemic-related issues. Worth a viewing.

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Fairphone 4 Review

The Fairphone 4 is a difficult one to review in any traditional way because I think you first have to get past the price issue. What you're paying for, apart from smartphone hardware. The phone (at time of writing) costs £499 (128GB) and £569 (256GB). On paper, you can do much better for specs elsewhere. But hold on!

This is an environmentally-friendly phone. A phone which Fairphone wants you to keep for 5+ years. A phone which is made of many recyclable materials. A phone which allows the user to 'upgrade' modular components so as to future-proof it. A phone company that thinks about the planet and not just the usual 2-year turnaround of hardware, much of it ending up in landfill or on ocean beds.

The buyer has to work this one out before considering those specs and thinking that they can do better elsewhere for significantly less money. This, of course, assumes that people have the ready-cash to spend and can afford to take a longer-term view - that £500 is at most £100 per year, so £8 a month. Try to take this into account before reading on - and in turn, I'll try not to compare specs throughout with cheaper phones with more/better specs!

In February 2020 I reviewed the Fairphone 3 and concluded that it needed more user-replaceable parts and a shift in mindset to appreciate the planetary benefits and pricing at £399. In October of the same year, I revisited the phone and was able to add some of the parts which were included in the Fairphone 3+ launch (but not all). The camera module was central to this 'upgrade' but the rest was much the same - apart from the only part I couldn't replace (which would have meant more to me), the speaker.

This was a great shame as the speaker had apparently been enhanced over the original but wasn't user-replaceable as it was too tightly integrated into other non-removable parts. Fairphone PR is supposed to be in the process of sending out a 3+ unit so I can, at last, make that comparison. Watch this space! In the meantime, I shall turn back to the new phone in-hand, the Fairphone 4.

One of the aforementioned great aspects of the concept here is the modularity. In The Phones Show 432, my Phones Show Chat Co-Host Steve Litchfield grabs his screwdriver, goes time-lapse, takes it all apart and reassembles it. It's great to watch and demonstrates all the user-replaceable parts and components. The Fairphone 3 and 3+ come with that little screwdriver to make it all happen, but with the 4 you'll need to find your own #00 Phillips. More planet-saving I guess, but probably not a given that all users will have one!

Something else trendily missing from the box is a charger, though ironically, much cardboard has been wasted in the box design, making it much taller than it needed to be with double-flaps and further covered with another card sleeve. Again, not needed - and for a firm who is claiming to do their bit to save the planet, seems like a mixed message - though to be fair, cardboard is trivial to recycle. Otherwise, the box is simple and no SIM Card Tool needed as you just pull the back off like it's 2009!

The back is made with 100% recycled plastic and looks suspiciously like an iPhone clone with a triangular corner-set camera cluster. That's OK - it's neat and tidy, looks stylish enough - and certainly a design triumph over previous Fairphone models. It feels like this is probably the first unit from the firm that doesn't look like a modular outdated unit. Steve said that he thought the back to be grippy and rubberised in his review, but I disagree as I find it as slippery as any other plastic, though not glass. I'd certainly want a TPU as soon as possible so it didn't plummet to the ground. There's a big FAIRPHONE logo towards the bottom, but it's alright - indented and not garishly coloured. The edges are made with aluminium from eco-friendly firms too and feel lovely and smooth, curving slightly towards the front and back all-round.

On the right there are two volume buttons, capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button and a couple of antenna cut-outs, the top, a microphone, left, some more cut-outs and another microphone, on the bottom there's a USB-C port, another microphone and the right speaker (of the stereo pair) bottom-firing. The bezels on the front around the screen are not insignificant and the chin, deeper than the forehead. Bezels are OK with me though, especially for those using gesture navigation. The right speaker of the stereo pair is doubled up as the earpiece one in the usual way these days and sits at the top of the screen, front-firing, above the tear-drop notch housing the selfie-cam.

The modularity is just great! Takes me back to another era. Carry a spare battery (or two), swap out microSD Card for another (this, with the SIM Card slot are under the battery, incidentally, so you have to power-off to do so), look out for updated camera units or even add an OLED screen (maybe, hopefully, somewhere down the line)! It's a different world from the all-sealed units these days. They've somehow made the phone IP54 dust/splash resistant and it even has a MIL-STD-810G compliance! They're very proud that it got a 100% iFixit Teardown rating on YouTube of course!

This is Fairphone's first 5G phone and is substantial in the hand. It's 225g heavy and comparable in size (height, width) to the Sony Xperia 1 Mk.III (though fatter). The back cover is really tough to peel away (presumably due to that IP54) but there is a hole for a nail (or whatever) for people to get the 'peel' going. It feels solid, sturdy and though not quite Nokia XR20 (hammer nails in with it) it does indeed feel like it will survive to see the promised extended support and warranty.

The front panel is an LCD. I mentioned OLED earlier - and it would be nice to see this as an option. I'm no engineer, and that might not be possible, but I'd personally leap at that - even though I guess the thinking was that an LCD will last longer with this extended support window. Fairphone have used Gorilla Glass 5 on the front, which I've had mixed experience with - seems to do well with shatter-resistance but not so well for micro-scratches, and it's 6.3" diagonally. That's a good size, but as with the Nokia XR20, it feels bigger because of the bezels and housing.

The screen is 1080p with a ratio of 19.5:9 returning 409ppi and a basic 60Hz refresh rate. It seems just about bright and colourful enough on manual and auto for use outdoors and balances the level well enough. Held against the Nokia XR20, it's certainly brighter and more colourful. This is no OLED though, so users shouldn't expect that level of saturation and deep blacks synonymous with the latter. In the settings there is a toggle for 'Visual Enhancement' which allegedly makes contrast, sharpness and dark details more pronounced, but I can't really tell the difference. You can also drill down into colour temperature, gamut with presets or adjust RGB yourself. I do find these kinds of settings a little miniscule in terms of effect - again, working better and with more impact on an OLED panel.

Talking of settings, this is a very clean, stock, Vanilla implementation of Android 11 here, with no bloatware at all and the only sign that it's not a Pixel (in terms of what's been added) is their camera software/app. There's not even a Fairphone support app and only a couple of questions following the Fairphone splash-screen at startup/setup about whether or not you want feedback etc. Good job Fairphone - everyone else look!

Yes, Android 11 out of the box and the promise of updates to Android 12 (autumn 2021) and 13 (autumn 2022) and the aim of 14 (autumn 2023) and 15 (autumn 2024) - depending on their development success and Qualcomm's support with the chipset. So, the 5 years spoken about is rather dependent on other factors going forward. They have been good on promises for previous devices with updates (if some, very late) so we'll have to see. Google Security is currently December 2021, so not far behind Pixels - and, at time of writing, ahead of the Pixel 6!

In many ways the implementation of Android is even more basic than a Nokia AndroidOne device (and certainly a Motorola one). There's no always on display, no Lift to Wake nor Double Tap to Wake even. You can set the screen to wake up with incoming Notifications, but that's about it. Thankfully the Always on AMOLED app comes to the rescue, filling in the gaps - at the expense of battery of course with this LCD. Otherwise, gesture control is here with this up-to-date version of Android, (removable) Google Feed to the left of Home, forced At a Glance and Google Search on the Home screen, system-wide Dark mode and so forth. It feels very much like an AndroidOne device, so not so far removed from a dumbed-down Pixel.

That Qualcomm chipset I referred to above is the SnapDragon 750G (8nm) which is pretty widely used in other phones (including some Samsung, OnePlus, Motorola and Xiaomi mid-rangers) and brings that 5G support for those who can get it. I am finding that the phone is fast enough executing anything I want to do, but I'm no gamer. People pushing the unit in terms of gaming have been pleasantly surprised but you'll need to scour the other reviews on YouTube to get the full low-down.

In this 128GB Storage review unit there's 6GB RAM, which again, seems perfectly adequate in terms of multi-tasking and keeping apps running in the background, but if you buy the 256GB unit, you will get 8GB. It would be nice to think that users could buy and fit RAM if they wanted to, like we have been all used to doing in desktop/laptop PCs since 1842! There is microSD card support, as I said, under the battery, which is playing nicely with my 512GB example and read/write times seem to be adequate, if not as fast as the aforementioned Sony and others. A lot of factors come into play here of course - even the fastest cards' performance is impacted by the other hardware available. Anyway, great that it's there for those who need it.

A quick mention for the side-mounted capacitive Fingerprint Scanner/Power Button which until the December Update arrived forced the user to press the button in to wake the screen, then in a second action 'touch' the scanner to get past the lockscreen. But they fixed it and there's now a setting in Security settings to throw a switch for touch-unlock without the first stage. That makes it much more usable and user-friendly. It's not the fastest capacity fingerprint scanner I've used (there is a very slight delay) but it's still better than any under-glass unit!

In the same position under the battery is a NanoSIM Card slot and although the blurb claims that the phone is "Dual SIM" it should be made clear that one of them is an e-SIM facility. I think that's a bit misleading still in 2021 where people would expect the term to mean two physical slots. But no doubt times are changing! Anyway, you can get 2 x 5G for voice and data.

Sadly for some, the 3.5mm Audio-Out socket has not made it from the Fairphone 3. We speak about this often on our podcast and rue the facility going away, but when it boils down to it, we also acknowledge that Bluetooth has become so amazing these days that we're mostly using it anyway. 3.5mm is a feature that it's nice to have for that odd occasion, but OK - perhaps we should give up now! The Bluetooth output is, as I say, very, very good - 5.1 supported here with various modern codecs.

What we do have for the first time in a Fairphone is stereo built-in speakers. I have found these to be pretty good really. They're not in the same class as my Motorola Edge+ or Steve's iPhone 12 Pro Max but they're more than usable, especially when teamed up with a Music app with some control over output. I use Poweramp and tweak the output via their plethora of settings, more bass can be achieved and less treble, albeit at the expense of some volume - the usual payoff. It's decently loud enough for personal use and certainly for podcasts and spoken word. The stereo separation isn't the best but if you place the phone in front of the head within about 18" you can enjoy the effect well enough. So, no - speakers are not winning any awards, but the sound output is going to be certainly good enough for most users.

Connectivity seems to be solid enough in my tests here. The 5G I can't test but on my 4G locally I can get good enough and stable enough speeds/connection. Similarly the bluetooth seems good with quick-pairing and decent enough range, depending, as always, on the quality of the connected gear. NFC seems to do a good job too, connecting me as it should with other enabled equipment, though I have still not been able to test Google Pay. Others report no issue. WiFi also seems stable enough with a good signal connected, though note that this is not WiFi6. Google Maps and other apps relying on a GPS fix seem to be doing well also - it seems that it's hard to find a phone these days where any connectivity is poor, and as we have found with the release of the Pixel 6, it seems to be a fault when bad, rather than poor components or 'normal' functionality.

I had to take a step back at this point when I read in the specs that DisplayPort is included. I didn't think for a minute that HDMI-Out would have been licensed and included so I cabled-up to my TV to test and yes - sure enough, it does indeed! That's a real boon (for some of us who make use of this facility) and significantly rare these days - so good for Fairphone! Well done indeed. Furthermore, the sound is routed out nicely and background-play seems to work so that the phone can be used at the same time. Armed with an HDMI-Out/USB-C-Out/USB-C-In adapter (or in my case, powered Hub), charging is also possible at the same time. Amazing!

The user-replaceable battery is just shy of 4,000mAh and on testing here it looks like it's good for a day and a half of my 'normal' use. My 10% Reading Test (on multiple tests at different points on the 'depleted' scale) returned about 1 hr and 30 mins which is not too bad, but far from best - just a bit better than the Samsung Galaxy S10 (which I often complain about)! A spare battery to buy changes the equation here enormously and you can pick one up from Fairphone for about £26 at time of reviewing. If this was mine, I'd certainly do that. The charging port offers 20W input and they claim that you can get a 50% charge in 30 minutes. That claim looks to be good on initial testing here, and about an hour and a half for a full charge. Shame there's no way to charge the battery outside of the phone. Accessory needed Fairphone! There is no wireless charging, which I guess would have been a step too far for the modular design but it would have been nice to see a replacement back, with it included. A third-party Qi Receiver is cheap enough but you can't get it connected without a case as the back fits so tightly and cases are few and far between (£33 from Fairphone).

Talking of replacement parts, at time of writing, the available parts from Fairphone are that case and a 30W Charger for £21, along with a bunch of dongles, screen protectors, screwdriver etc. No sign of replacement screens yet, nor camera modules or replacement speakers - or anything else really. I guess it's early days and they will build stocks over time to match the parts which the 3-series ended up getting.

As usual, I'm going to point you to Steve's thoughts on the camera performance in the above-linked edition of The Phones Show but the unit is equipped with a 48MP f/1.6 main shooter with OIS, a secondary 48MP f/2.2 wide-angle unit, a TOF 3D depth sensor and a 25MP f/2.2 Selfie. All specs upped from the previous generation and it takes decent enough shots for the vast majority of users. It feels pretty basic, much like the aforementioned implementations of AndroidOne devices with associated limitations on, for example, optical zoom and a decent night mode. I was able to port the Google Camera app to the phone which rendered better outcomes of course, but that’s a side-load APK which I’m not recommending to people.

I'm going to have to say it, you'll get more phone elsewhere for less money! But hold on, because, as I said at the outset, that's not the point. Consider the extra money a contribution to the planet and rationalise part of that extra as the long-term support and OS updates over 5 years (up there with Apple) and you will be free to think about this phone on it's own merits. I tried to review it as if it were £399 instead of £499 - and that puts it right in there with the Nokia XR20. The two phones are significantly robust and (to some degree) similar sizes.

The great thing about the Fairphone 4 is of course, the modularity which you don't get with any other phone on the planet (in anywhere near the same way). User-replaceable parts (when they become available) and at reasonable cost (going by the price of a replacement battery) armed with a simple screwdriver (for parts other than the battery). It's clean Android (which can be boosted by adding a Launcher if you prefer) as Fairphone have not added any bloat - or even their own software (outside of the camera app). The camera is perfectly adequate for most folk and Fairphone have, for the first time, brought a style, fit and finish to a phone that feels like it belongs in 2021 and not 2009.

Bottom line is that it's no flagship, but it is more than adequate in almost every way for almost all users - and if you can afford the outlay, it might be an option - thinking about the £499 over 5 years at £8 per month. In that time, you might well have spent that on two phones. I shall be very keen to see the rollout of replacement parts in the coming months and assess how far Fairphone are going to push the envelope. You can get this in Grey, Green or Speckled Green and for the eco-aware and/or Android purist, I'd recommend it - in some surprising ways, even over a Pixel.

Abigail (2024)

A bunch of lowly hoods are brought together in the typical nobody-knows-each-other style, not supposedly sharing anything about themselves, ...