Friday 12 April 2024

Perfect Days (2023)

This Wim Wenders (Paris, Taxas, The American Friend) film is a moving and beautifully created character study depicting the everyday life of a toilet cleaner in Tokyo! We follow his endlessly mundane daily routine, which he executes with very few words, injected with a small handful of encounters with other characters.

Our middle-aged janitor is Hirayama, played to perfection by Koji Yakusho (Babel, Memoirs of a Geisha), going about his work from morning routine in his house, where he lives alone, tending to his plants, preparing for his day in the same way each day, executing it in similar fashion, eating his same lunch on the same park bench, taking his laundry to the laundrette on his day off each week, waiting for it to finish whilst eating the same meal in the same bar - we are given to believe that he's a victim of OCD (almost) throughout, via his exacting, repetitive behaviours and simple life, forming the character study. But before you nod off, should you not be able to get alongside and appreciate the acting and see where it's going, there's more.

The film is an ode to Japanese culture, societal attitudes and beautiful Tokyo whilst drilling down to show us where and how the ordinary, working folk live. The mundane job which he has, he executes with more of the exacting standards. We stay with him as he cleans and cleans, taking pride in his role, until his face can be seen in the porcelain - and even as he whips out a mirror to clean the places eyes cannot routinely see.

He has a colleague, a youngster with a more modern outlook, lazy and care-free. He sits around most of the time and is more interested in hooking up with a young girl in the mix. He's Takashi, played by Tokio Emoto and she, Aya, played by Aoi Yamada, and their part in the film also brings some comic moments in contrast to the simple and contemplative Hirayama. He's taken in by the pair of them easily as they introduce much of the great music to proceedings, mostly 1970's songs, headed by Lou Reed's Perfect Day (fitting nicely in with the film's title and theme).

The music is super throughout and there's even time to reflect on traditional vs new as discussions are held about compact cassette tapes. They even visit a backstreet record shop at one point where it is clear that old music formats are coming back, regardless of the fact that the comic youngsters don't even know which way the tape goes into the player! Hang about for the credits, too as a reflective and poignant solo piano tinkers out Perfect Day again, beautifully.

Next up, amidst the ongoing routines, is his sister's teenage daughter who turns up on his doorstep and expects to stay with him, which she does for a few days, and asks to go to work with him. She's fallen out with mum and we get a little insight at this point as to the very different lives Hirayama and his sister have and suggestions that their father has abused him in the past. This is a passing reference, very moving whilst it lingers, but on we go to the next encounter. This, with the lady who runs the bar, her sick ex-husband and a reflective exchange on the riverside between them.

The tone of the film slides neatly into a reflective, considered one at this point as our central character reevaluates his life, the people around him and the impact that their similarly ordinary existences and problems have on his view of the world, life's meaning and value. It's a time where Yakusho is able to flex his talent too as he displays a range of emotions, glances and facial expressions which leave no place for words - there's no need.

The film is about change and modernisation, traditional values and cultural norms as they appear to drifting away, Hirayama symbolic of the latter and many younger members of the cast, who all do terrific jobs, bringing on the former. But it also speaks about the potential for bridge-building between the two and the characters from each side blend and warm to the other.

There's no doubt that Yakusho carries the film from start to finish and it can be enjoyed simply for his acting, or certainly that and the thoughtful and interesting cinematography throughout. Yes, subtitles as you'd expect with a Japanese film, but actually, there's not a huge amount of dialogue anyway. It's a wonderful piece of cinema which is highly recommended.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

X (2022) and Pearl (2022)

Two films in the same year from director/writer Ti West (and for the second, star of both, Mia Goth pen in hand). Two films which are actually very different and leap back in time to, for X, 1979 and then for Pearl (who is the old woman in X), 1918. Pearl is played in both films by a heavily made-up Goth (in X) between her scenes as twenty-something porn-star Maxine, and as-is for Pearl the teenager in Pearl! Keeping up?!

Back to 1979 then and a group of young filmmakers rent a pretty run-down building from an elderly couple (Pearl and her husband) who also live on the same Texas site, in a bigger house, across the way. The team are making porno-flicks and after convincing the elderly couple that they are about something different, they get on with shooting their films.

Pearl and her husband stumble into the truth about what they are filming, however, and this is the point at which things turn sinister and the film becomes an all-but teen-slasher flick, which in time-honoured fashion, leads the viewer through much gore, violence and nastiness as they get bumped off one by one in various different ways! And this is what makes the film stylish, fun and engaging really. The sex they are filming becomes a bit of a side-issue as the audience is encouraged to focus more on the dark deeds!

Pretty much all of the film is based in and around the isolated house and farmyard, where all the deeds take place. The actors (and director) are clearly have lots of fun with this, but we also get some insight into each of the characters, their leanings, prejudices, liberation - and how far they can pushed before they become very different people, often defying their traits! Jenna Ortega is a good example of this as the ‘sound’ person in amongst all this for the flicks, apparently prudish and reserved, until pushed and challenged.

There’s lots of good tension at certain times during the film as the audience is kept on their toes, wondering what on earth is coming around the next corner. The actors do well in depicting themselves as friendly, likeable characters, with a seedy task at hand, but we’re encouraged to warm to them from the start, whatever we think about what they’re doing there! It’s all shot very nicely, creating an almost retro slasher-flick feel to it (indeed from the 70’s) and is glorious fun throughout.

And then we come to Pearl, which is very different, and, as I say, depicts the young life in 1918 of the old woman in X. Pearl lives on (I think) the same farm with her mum, who goes out of her way to oppress and stamp on her ambitions, and disabled dad. She is married but her husband is away fighting in WWI, so she’s left to help run the farm and look after dad. Pearl moons about the place dreaming of becoming a performer on stage, without, realistically, much hope.

Played by Goth, she is depicted throughout this film as a complete fruit-loop, presumably paving the way for the nasty old sinister woman in X later on, but also a sadly troubled soul who really doesn’t have much grasp on reality and lives in a dreamworld. The whole film is centred around her and forms something of a character study, crossing the ‘t’s and dotting the ‘i’s for what’s to come later.

In many ways, it’s a bit of a slow-burner compared to X but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s bereft of the early inklings of Pearl’s violent leanings as we are served up some nasty deeds (between her cutesy talking to farm animals behaviour), just not in quite the same slasher-flick way as X.

Back to the plot and Pearl bumps into a chap who is working as a director who sees his opportunity for a bit of a wriggle in the sack in exchange for providing her with some door-opening opportunities to mould her dream in entertainment. She gets an audition to perform on the stage which he leads her to believe she’s going to do well with, but she flunks it, is destroyed by the outcome - especially when the chappie, having had his way with her, unceremoniously dumps her. This is the point at which Pearl is pushed over the edge and starts to develop behaviours more consistent with her part in X.

The cinematography is great, again, but this is certainly of a different ilk and during the first half of the film seems more like some kind of Wizard of Oz tale, very slow, as Pearl’s character’s background is built for us. Thrills await in the second half as it shifts up a gear! It’s certainly worth watching to enjoy Mia Goth’s performance (in both films) but also for much more besides. Part of me wishes I’d watched them the other way around, but they stand alone too. Great fun and very enjoyable. Recommended.

Initial Thoughts: Motorola Edge 40 Neo

This now arrived and won't update to Android 14, for love nor money(!) even though the Edge 30 Neo has already got it. Odd. It arrived on Android 13, so should get the two updates up to and including A15. (To the right is a photo of the phone, armed with a 3rd party Qi Charger coil which I've not had to use for some time!)

It also has the 50% bluetooth volume bug (thus disproving that for the Edge 30 Ultra it was to do with Android 14) which I guess will not be fixed anytime soon. It's that switch in developer settings which doesn't work - Disable absolute volume. Usually when the switch is thrown, you can actively hear the change. For this device (and the ME30U) it does nothing. The community's forums are up in arms of course, while the other 98% of users probably haven't even noticed! Update the Edge 30 Ultra seems to have self-fixed this now (but not with this phone yet), so hopefully all those disgruntled users are finding the same!

No Qi Charging is bugging me a bit (especially when the 30 Neo had it) but the (same) included 68W brick in the box (50% from flat in 15 minutes and 100% in about 45 minutes) goes some way to offset that. I suppose. The battery is an odd one, too. The newer model has had the battery capacity hiked to 5000mAh from 4020mAh but GSMArena were not impressed with its performance. One of our MeWe Group members thinks that there is certainly an issue with the 5G aerial hunting and has had better results with manually switching to 4G. In previous tests, the 30 Neo battery performs superby, so tests ongoing here.

The speakers are the same, great ones which are on the Edge 30 Neo. Loud, decent quality, Dolby Atmos to tinker with, no need for Wavelet here!

It has the styling of the Edge 30 Ultra, so curved edges, unlike the Edge 30 Neo which has a flat screen. I like both. Curves are classy, flat is practical. I didn’t choose the Peach Fuzz Pantone colour, but actually I really like it! Dare I say it’s a bit ‘teen girlie’ without being lynched, but I guess most reading this would go for the Black, Soothing Sea or Caneel Bay over it. And it’s got that Pantone ‘scent’ in the box, too! Like some kind of perfume. Not sure which demographic that’s going to appeal to.

There’s a rigid case in the box, too, colour-matched, which is apparently made of 100%-plant and the box is eco-friendly too. It does have IP6/8 water/dust, which is a step up from the nano-coating of internals fiddlesticks. So that's good.

The 1080p, 144Hz, pOLED screen (presumably made by LG still) is fabulous. The same one as most Moto phones. Super-bright (1300nits peak), colourful, great angles. No complaints and puts many flagships’ efforts to shame. I’d rather that it was the same 6.28” version on the 30 Neo, but with the curved edges, it defies to some degree it’s 6.55” hike.

The MediaTek Dimensity 7030, 6nm, is different from the 30 Neo’s SnapDragon 695, 6nm, but from what I preliminarily read, it’s more than comparable in tests and I notice no slow-down anywhere in the same kind of way. Well, maybe when under heavy load, updating 100+ apps or copying files over, but no different really from the 30 Neo. No gaming tried yet.

There’s no microSD, like the 30 Neo, but unlike the latter, the 40 Neo does have readily-available higher capacity/RAM models in the west. There was a 256GB version of the 30 Neo, but I never saw it on sale anywhere - even on Lenovorola’s websites. This one is 256GB/12GB which is oodles better than the 30 Neo’s 128GB/6GB of course.

The cameras are comparable and fine for the likes of me(!), retaining the very-close-up so-called Macro facility of the 30 Neo, even better than the other Moto phones in the range, closer, making use of that wide-angle lens. There’s a 50MP f/1.8, OIS (30 Neo had 64MP f1.8, OIS) main shooter and 13MP f/2.2, wide-angle (which was the same). Unlike the 30 Neo, it can shoot 4K video at 30fps. The best on the 30 Neo was 1080p@120fps. The 32MP f/2.4 selfie shooter is the same, but again it’s hiked up for 4K video.

Connectivity is good in my tests with a WiFi hike from 5 to 6e, for those who can take advantage, Bluetooth 5.4 from 5.1, GPS, NFC, the usual standards - but the USB-C port is dropped to v2 from v3.1 with the 30 Neo. Not that there was any HDMI-Out support for the older model anyway, so I guess the switch had not been thrown for that by Moto.

They both have the full Ready For suite (wireless, not cable, obviously) and it works like a charm with any device, Windows PC, Roku TV here, Android Tablets - whatever you want to hook up.

The same under-display optical fingerprint scanner is used for biometrics with both phones which works well, supported by a very efficient (if less secure) Face Unlock.

It’s a very nice phone for a very good price, for those who can live with the slightly curved screen, Moto’s lacklustre approach to updates and no wireless charging or HDMI-Out. For the price these are now (especially ‘second hand’ and a year on) it seems churlish to complain about anything really, but rather to focus on the envelope-pushing (for the price) and aggressive positioning that Lenovorola are chasing. If it only lasts a couple of years (before handing on to a family member, out of OS-update support) then one could argue that it’s a good financial strategy on the part of the user.

For me, armed with the previous year’s model, Qi Charging and all, even without some of the above-mentioned advantages of the 40 Neo over it, it’s a hard choice. I guess it being on Android 14 as final update might swing me towards the newer model.

Anyway, I shall do a proper review in time once I’ve had more time with it and hopefully Moto fix that really annoying, almost deal-breaking, bluetooth volume bug. But now, of course, I'm lusting over an Edge 50-series phone - it's relentless!

Edge 40 Neo vs Edge 30 Neo thanks to GSMArena
Edge 40 Neo (vs Edge 30 Neo) Specs
2023, September (October 22)
159.6 x 72 x 7.9mm (152.9 x 71.2 x 7.8mm)
170g (155g)
Gorilla Glass 3 front (glass unspecified)
Plastic frame (same)
Plastic back (same)
Nano-SIM, eSIM or Dual SIM (no eSIM)
IP68 (splash and dust)
P-OLED (same)
144Hz (120Hz)
HDR10+ (???)
1300nits, peak (???)
6.55" (6.28")
1080p (same)
20:9 (same)
402ppi (419ppi)
Android 13-15 (12-14)
MediaTek Dimensity 7030, 6nm (SD695 5G, 6nm)
No microSD (same)
128GB 8GB RAM (128GB 6GB)
256GB 8GB RAM (128GB 8GB)
256GB 12GB RAM (256GB 8GB)
50MP f/1.8, OIS (64MP f1.8, OIS)
13MP f/2.2, wide-angle (same)
4K@30fps, 1080p@240fps (no 4K, 1080p@120fps)
Selfie 32MP f/2.4, 4K@30fps, 1080p@30fps (same)
Stereo speakers (same)
No 3.5mm (same)
Wi-Fi 6e (5)
Bluetooth 5.4, A2DP, LE (Bluetooth 5.1, A2DP, LE, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive)
GPS (same)
NFC (same)
USB-C 2.0, OTG (3.1)
Under display, optical FPS (Same)
Wireless Ready For (same)
5000mAh (4020)
68W wired charging (same)
None (5W wireless)
Black, Soothing Sea, Caneel Bay, Peach Fuzz (Very Peri, Black Onyx, Ice Palace, Aqua Foam)

Monday 1 April 2024

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of March 2024

  ...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
Episode 791 - Insider
Saturday 2nd March
Joe Hickey joins Steve and I this week as we catch up with him on all sorts from Samsung, Sony, Pixel, Surface Duo and even Meta-Specs! Apps of the Week, Bygone Beauties and plenty more available now in the usual places.

Tech Addicts Podcast
A Wooden Satellite
Sunday 3rd March
Gareth and I are back once again with a weekend tipple of tech tinctures! Tips on decrypting Audible books with Libation, concerns about Voyager 1's failing communications, wooden satellites, mass-produced 1TB microSD cards, affordable smartphones, innovative wearables and oodles more! Now available in the usual places, so do join us.

Projector Room
Episode 158 - Deep Dune Fear
Wednesday 6th March
Allan, Gareth and 
are back again with our usual fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we treat on Sean Connery, experience a Deep Fear of crap shark films, flop around with Asteroids, play in the Dunes with Seven Sisters and think about The Evil That Men Do! Loads of chatter as always, remembering those passed and a selection of stuff Coming Soon.

Whatever Works
Episode 203 - Cheap Glasses for Mince Pies!
Saturday 9th March
Aidan and I are back
again to bring you a toe-warming glimpse of Whatever Works in our world and yours! As usual, much fun and merriment as we go about the task unravelling the goodies. Watch out for the 50p pee saved by TravelJohn, kneeling on the saddle, tinkling the ivories of a magic piano, popping corn and napkins - and oodles more!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 792 - OS Choice and Marriage
Saturday 9th March
Scott Brady joins Steve and I again this week to chat with us about all things phone. OnePlus gets a look-in amongst Garmin and Latercase. We're Robin Razer to pay Linda and even knit music creation apps into the mix too. All good stuff, so stop by and join us for an hour.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 793 - iPhone Landmark and Pixel Mystery
Saturday 16th March
Steve and I are joined once more by Mark Ellis this week as the pair of them bang on about Apple while I make the tea! We do get to Android too, with plenty of Samsung, Nothing Phone (2a), Lenovorola, Sony and Pixel. Plus, Normobs and PIM!

Tech Addicts Podcast
To be sure, to be sure...
Sunday 17th March
Gareth and I host a St Patrick's Day Pod and discuss Voyager 1's latest "poke" from NASA and its minimal computer capacity, LocalSend - a cross-platform file-sharing tool, a dive into Linux, Samsung's new phones, a potential TikTok ban, the latest in wearables, AI advancements and of course bargain tech deals! Make your Sunday whole again and join us!

Projector Room
Episode 159 - Damsel Desperation
Wednesday 20th March
Allan, Gareth and 
are here again with our thoughts on what we've been watching lately in film, cinema and TV. The Zone of Interest here is broad as we join The Deer Hunter in the House of Ninjas, witness The Gentlemen fighting fire-breathing dragons in the Bad Country with Alice and Jack - and loads more besides!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 794 - Envision's AI Provision
Saturday 23rd March
Steve Nutt joins Steve and I this week as we delve into Accessibility again and find out about the clever AI tools now available for people with sight impairments and beyond. Loads of other stuff as always including Steve's Top 5 phones, I'm hot on updates from Moto and Sony - as well a sound Marshall addition to the house!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 795 - Three Pixel Folds Walk Into a Bar...
Saturday 30th March
Mr Folding Phone himself, Shane Craig joins Steve and I this week to chat about Android (of course) folding phones! For 'tis his speciality! We mainly focus on the Pixel Fold but there's also some Samsung and OnePlus talk in the mix.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Yaw Wanna Hear This!
Sunday 31st March
Gareth and I are back with our fortnightly roundup of all things tech. We cane Google News, consider Windows' Image Viewers, dubiously dribble on our Mechanical Retro Keyboards whilst making room for a Copilot key, hope for a new Moto Ultra, take our seat for a wild spin, turn our old Kindle into a clock/weather station, lust over bargains and oodles more!

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

Sunday 24 March 2024

Cold Meat (2023)

This 2023 from French writer/director Sébastien Drouin starts out as we join David leaving home, getting on the road to go somewhere in his car. It's cold, snowy, icy, apparently in the Colorado Rockies. He stops off at a diner for some food and a drink and becomes witness to an incident between the diner's waitress, Ana, and her violent ex-husband, Vincent, who turns up drunk.

David, played by Allen Leech (The Imitation Game, Bohemian Rhapsody), uses a calm rationale appealing to Vincent, played by Yan Tual (Rifkin's Festival), to cease his violence towards Ana, played by Nina Bergman (Hell Hath No Fury). This seems to work. Vincent calms down enough to realise that he should leave, but actually wants revenge against David for interfering by now and lies in wait outside. When David leaves, Vincent pursues him in his truck.

David seems to lose him in the blizzard as they chase down country lanes, at breakneck speeds, risking both of their lives. David gives him the slip, but in doing so, crashes into a mound of snow and can't get his car out. The usual thing - no phone signal coverage, no drinks, running out of petrol/battery, doesn't know where he is by now - the set up for a bit of a survival situation.

To make matters worse, he trips over outside of the car, whilst trying to work out where his is and how he can get help, and breaks his tibia. With some twists and turns along the way, there's what appears to be a human hand grappling at the windscreen and something heavy on the car's roof. Is it a bear? Is it human? Is it Vincent? Or perhaps something supernatural? Well David can't move, trapped in more ways than one - and to tell you any more would really spoil the plot!

The film is fairly low-budget with a small cast, but it's a real cracker because of a twisty turn or two, the chilling environment, in more ways than one, claustrophobic camerawork, the excellent acting from the small cast and the often suspenseful situation inside the car. It's well scripted and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, as David is on his! In some ways it's quite a simple idea, but it's executed really well and certainly worth a look.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Chained (2012)

Time for a horrific thriller/chiller again and one I missed from some years back by director Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena), daughter of David. It's a brutal, nasty film which depicts the screwed up life of Bob the taxi driver, who, abused by his father in childhood, takes out his revenge on randomly selected women he picks up and traps in his taxi. Strap in!

He takes the women to his house, does unspeakable things to them, kills them and buries their bodies neatly in rows under the house. We join the tale as a woman, played by Julia Ormond (Smilla's Sense of Snow, Gold Digger), is the next victim but also has her son with her, thus making a departure from Bob's usual MO.

In a strange turn of events, having killed the boy's mother, Bob decides to lock up the 9 year-old boy (who he dubs Rabbit) as his slave in the house, doing all his housework, mopping up after his grizzly crimes and generally waiting on Bob hand and foot. Over time, Bob starts to warm to the boy, educates him, talks about his future positively - in and amongst Rabbit witnessing what Bob is doing to these females. We leap in time some years and Rabbit is an older teenager, Bob is slowing down, and it looks like he's grooming Rabbit to take over his 'work'.

It's deeply disturbing as an story idea. I couldn't quite work out why I was sticking with it really because at some stages it becomes slow and most odd, to say the least. Very Lynch family, I guess. Vincent D'Onofrio (Men in Black, Dying Young) plays Bob with apparent chilling ease and the older Rabbit played by Eamon Farren (The Dig, Winchester) matches him as the oddball victim.

It's not really a film to enjoy, rather stare open-mouthed at what's being depicted and what's going on between these screwed-up characters. Having said that, much of the violence is conducted behind closed doors away from the camera, making use of suspense and suggestion. I guess it is a horror film really but not in any traditional 'dracula' kind of way - more nasty, dark and sinister. It can't be denied that it's interesting though and for those fans of the Lynch family's work, compelling.

Damsel (2024)

Not quite sure why I watched this Disney-style dark fantasy, fire-breathing dragon, prince/princess kingdom type film - but I did! And I was willing to give it up as a daft kid's romp, but I really rather enjoyed it and surprised myself by sticking around until the end.

Millie Bobby Brown in the lead was most engaging, Ray Winstone was, well, Ray Winstone, and a great time was had by all as one kingdom's family is duped by another. One needing money for their crumbling empire, the other needing a bride to feed to the dragon who needed appeasing for some dubious prior debt. Though of course Kingdom 2 doesn't reveal that part of the deal until later!

It then becomes a survival adventure as the goodies try to escape the beast whilst teaching the baddies a lesson or two and Princess Elodie turns into Lara Croft!

Very nicely animated, often quite dark, elements of mystery, feel-good and revenge, but the main attraction is certainly the adventure. You might like it! The family certainly will.

The Zone of Interest (2023)

The Zone of Interest is a snapshot of the life and crimes during World War II of 
Rudolf Höss, who was in charge of the Auschwitz concentration camp within German-occupied Poland. He commanded the camp for the longest time and we join his reign during 1943 when Hitler and his seniors had considered him to be hugely successful in furthering the aims of the war by his actions there against the Jewish people.

The film focuses mostly, however, on Höss the family man, married to Hedwig, living with their 5 children just outside the walls of the camp. So well considered was he that the family wanted for nothing and lived a life of plenty, in a house specially built for them. The film is presented in near-documentary style with fly-on-the-wall cameras set around the house and gardens as we observe the apparently ordinary lifestyle of the family through daily routines.

We never go inside the camp, but are often subjected to the sounds of what's going on beyond the family's walls as Höss disappears into work each day to carry out his brutal activities slaughtering thousands of people. It is estimated that he was ultimately responsible for around 3 million deaths in the torture chambers - at then end of the film, we get to see some footage of Höss as he was captured, tried and hanged in 1947 and some facts about his horrific behaviour. Hedwig claimed that she knew nothing of the dreadful activities of her husband and was allowed to live.

The house was full of people serving the family, from the local Polish people and others from inside the camp. We are witness to the intolerant ways in which the various family members treat them when things go wrong here and there, on a domestic level. Hedwig loves her house, her family and only wants to make a perfect life for them. So much so that when Höss is promoted, with duties away from home, she insists on the family staying there and awaiting his return.

We mostly see Höss in his domestic situation, not always getting his own way as he clearly does at work, but a somewhat timid, at times, family man who, like his wife, will do anything to ensure that his family are catered for and who always come first. But can she really have had no idea about what goes on behind the walls, led by her husband? The constant smell of burning, smoke rising, sounds of abuse and torture, screaming and misery are clear for her to hear, though amongst that we observe her going about her privileged life, apparently ignoring them. Perhaps not hearing, though willing to benefit from the treasures confiscated from wealthy Jewish people in the camp.

This adaptation of Martin Amis' book is not an easy watch, in fact it's hugely disturbing and chilling, though its approached from a very different angle by director Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) than most of what has gone before depicting WWII - and one which will linger in the memory for longer. One reason for that is the chilling performances of the two leads, Christian Friedel (13 Minutes) and Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall) as Rudolf and Hedwig Höss. They both grasp the roles with convincing dedication, making this somewhat clinical style of adaptation and filming come to life. Watch it also for the use of the aforementioned sound, but also silence used in suspense as the audience wonders what horrors will be heard next.

Monday 11 March 2024

Sony Xperia 5 Mk.V

Sony evolve their design for Xperia smartphones, a little like others have begun to do these days, including Samsung. Exciting leaps and changes seem to be a thing of a decade ago, making way for a settled, consistent look/feel for manufacturers' hardware. This can be argued as a good thing of course, encouraging people not to change their device as soon, so eco-friendly, a result of much marketing research and feedback, but also, for people who review phones, less spills and thrills to highlight and focus on!

For those like me who prefer the smaller smartphone with true one-handed use available without fancy software screen-shrinking modes, the Xperia 5-series is certainly a contender - and for those who simply value the Sony brand and quality equipment, there's no choice. As we'll find out later, some of the advantages the 1-Series have now been implemented very effectively in the latest 5-Series too, so fewer compromises than last year, for sure.

I have my trusty Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV here to compare these two units, the Mk.V having been sent over by SonyUK PR for us to look at and assess here at PSC Towers. My colleague Steve Litchfield has already had a look in his YouTube Shorts coverage, which can be tracked down in his channel there. We're both big fans of what Sony are doing, that nobody else seems to be (at least in the flagship space) and are always happy to look at new releases, small changes as they might have.

The Sony Xperia 5 Mk.V was released in September 2023, a year after my Mk.IV, so it'll be interesting to see how far those (small) changes go. The box is pretty much the same as it was the previous year, small, eco-friendly and with nothing inside it apart from the phone and a few legal papers. Bring your own charger, cable, earphones, the lot - a far cry from the days of old. Fortunately I have all of those so can get up and running in no time!

The first thing that strikes me compared to my Mk.IV is that it's fatter. Thicker. Technically, it's only 0.4mm but it a remarkable change in the hand and holding my older phone, I really prefer the dimensions of the elder. The Mk.IV is sleeker, with the same battery, and feels much more friendly, somehow, in the hand. Don't get me wrong, the Mk.V is also very dinky and someone coming to it without a Mk.IV in the other hand would think nothing more than how cute and small it is, compared to the giants most are used to, as time goes on.

The extra thickness comes from a new level of 'ridge' on the edges, which is much more minimalist with the older unit. It's not really a problem, it's just slightly fatter. The other dimensions are very similar to the old. 
Laying that aside, the blue coloured unit I have here is equally as premium in look/feel/design as the older phone, just a bit different. I do much prefer the look of this blue colour over my black older one. The buttons are all in exactly the same places, including that unique camera shutter button and the Corning Gorilla Glass upgraded from Victus to Victus 2 for better scratch/smash protection, sandwiching the aluminium frame. Added to this we retain the IP65/IP68 water/dust rating, which is excellent.

The NFC logo has gone from the back glass and the camera island now houses two lenses instead of one, which we'll come to later, but otherwise this side is equally pleasing - if not more so. We continue with the fingernail-eject SIM Card/microSD Card tray on the bottom, along with the USB-C port and 3.5mm audio-out socket up top. Yay! Depending on your region, you can expect a Dual Sim set up and/or nanoSIM and eSIM. Dual physical SIMs will clearly mean that there's no space for the microSD Card, as it's on the flip-side.

The flat, front panel is the same OLED one, both phones displaying a super bright, colourful and vibrant output. They are 6.1" screens, 1080p, producing 449ppi, refreshing at up to 120Hz and that signature 21:9 cinemagraphic aspect ratio. Tall, yes, but in landscape for compliant media, unbeatable. No complaints about the screen, then, the same as last year's with all the Sony smarts thrown in as mentioned in my previous review such as Creator Mode, BT.2020 gamut and 10-bit HDR for great colours and brightness. Again, no complaints, but pretty much the same as before - chin and forehead which others try to eradicate, perfectly alright by me. Perhaps it's the same panel with the same software.

Sony remain tight-lipped about how long they will support their phones with OS updates and security. Now and then there's a leaked conversation I stumble on via some Sony Rep. or other at some show or other who says this or that about it, but like Motorola to some degree, they don't seem to have a hard and fast policy for people to hold them to. What appears to be happening is that the Xperia devices get 2 OS updates and 3 years of security, which is a really poor show when others are now offering 4 and 5, 5 and 7 and even 7 and 8. These are not cheap phones and Sony really should do better than this. But then I guess they figure they don't need to as they have a small but dedicated (and apparently wealthy) fanbase who will upgrade their hardware with Sony before it becomes an issue.

The Mk.IV arrived with Android 12, has now updated to 13 and 14, so I'm not expecting more. It is now in the 3rd year of getting security updates, which, so far, it is. Promptly. So the expectation for the Mk.V will be that as it arrived on Android 13, it will get 14 and 15, then security updates to autumn 2026. Fingers crossed, don't hold your breath for more.

What we do have here is the latest (at the time of release) SnapDragon chipset, 8 Gen 2, against the 8 Gen 1 of last year's model. The more recent processor as seen on other devices has a reputation for super battery efficiency over last year's and that does indeed come to fruition here with even longer run and standby times than the Mk.IV. The Mk.IV was excellent already, but this, even better. Unless you're watching YouTube videos all day, a videographer, musician or photographer, caning the device, there's very little chance of not getting to the end of a long day with it. In fact, for my middling use, it's a two-day phone, no question.

It has the same battery, too, making all this even more impressive. It's the same 5000mAh unit which they somehow stuff into the small frame alongside all the other hardware. I have got two and a half to three hours of screen-on time during my 10% Reading Test, which is pretty much up there with the best. Sony thankfully continue with Qi Wireless Charging (and reverse too, if you need it), slow as it may be, at least it's there - perfectly fine for overnight/bedstand, and also 30W wired charging, good to half-fill the battery in an half-hour. So not the fastest charging facilities in the world, but certainly good enough, particularly with that long-lasting battery to begin with.

There were many complaints about the phone/battery heating up during load with Xperia phones and to some degree that is true - when pushed with gaming, setup installation of over 100 apps or shooting video for extended times, it certainly can get warm, but like the previous models, I really don't think this is a huge issue. Some were seeing throttling during gaming, slowdown inefficiencies, but I can't say that I have. Maybe I don't play games that are demanding enough, in a very hot country, to make it happen, but it all feels within normal bounds for me.

The car racing games that I have tried here run beautifully smoothly, not a hitch, jutter or stutter. The Game Enhancer software from last year is present with swipe-in controls and information during play, Dynamic Vibration kicks in as needed and the whole experience is immersive and entertaining. The phone has 8GB RAM to support multiple tasks and does so very smoothly, again, nothing's changed with that - and sadly something else has not changed... The 128GB Storage onboard. I really thought they'd match the 1-Series and up that to 256GB this year, but no. There is, apparently, a 256GB version in the Japanese market, but I've never actually seen one for sale anywhere in the west.

Anyway, with a microSD Card (support up 512GB - and I've tried a quality-make 1TB one which it won't play ball with, even after much support/discussion/formatting etc.) the user can get plenty of additional storage - but there's nothing like fast, onboard storage in my opinion. Samsung, at time of writing, have announced a super-fast microSD Card coming soon, so maybe that will help. I constantly have a problem with microSD Cards during setup with Google Photos - it hunts and hunts to set up for days-on-end as it appears to be reading (very slowly) the whole card. I have now learnt to remove the SD Card during setup of the phone, get it all done, especially Google Photos, then put the card in after. It seems to work that way much better. I'm not saying this is Sony's fault - more likely Google's software.

Talking of software, again, there's between little and no difference between the two devices in this respect. Everything seems to work exactly the same, the two or three pre-installed, unremovable apps/services are baked in (thanks Sony!) and have to be Force Stopped/Disabled - I still fail to see why they have to do this at this price-point - the same suite of Sony's add-on applications - Photography Pro, Cinema Pro, Videography Pro and Music Pro, same launcher, front-end, UI and so on.

The same missing features that we have come to expect by now, like Face Unlock, Lift to Wake, Double Tap to Wake - why do Sony continue to miss out the basics that everyone else is including in order to make the Android experience more attractive to use, I wonder. To top it all, comparing with my Mk.IV, they've also now stripped out the LED Notification light from the top of the front display and re-worked the Always on Display so that it no longer shows AlbumArt - a distinctive and uniquely Sony feature all this time. This can't be blamed on Android 14 either, because it's still working (though in a diminished refreshing capacity) on my Mk.IV which is now also on Android 14. Shocking. Put it back as it was Sony!

Moving away from the negative bits, the version of Android is indeed very 'vanilla' just like Google's older implementation and somewhat akin to AndroidOne (where that survives now - mostly with Nokia phones), so that's a good thing. As I say, some of their own software has been added to support their hardware features, which is fair enough - nay, required - but it doesn't get in the way of what Google offers for the platform. There's no needless doubling-up of core applications - they're all Google's, and what you generally get is a clean experience without everything being bogged down with bloat or background activity.

Similarly, the ongoing inclusion of the hardware camera shutter button is great. Makes it much more like a camera-user's experience and I'm sure that's the idea, with lots of crossover to Alpha camera functionality making their imaging customers right at home. The side-mounted, capacitive fingerprint scanner is just about perfect. Right technology. Right place. Right size. It just works. First time, every time.

One thing that has changed since last year's model is the output from the speakers. Whether that's hardware of software I don't know but the speakers' output is now right up there with the 1-Series Xperia phones. Up until this 5th Generation, there was a difference - the 1-Series was always a step ahead - but now, not. They are just as good and give out the same excellent sound, volume and quality, as their bigger brother's. Same is true of the Dynamic Vibration which I mentioned earlier in relation to gaming. Right up there with the 1-Series, up to now, always coming in second-best in the Xperia line. The sound and DV was still very good on the 5-Series, don't get me wrong, but now, no longer slightly behind.

The audio experience is excellent all round and, along with the cameras, this is clearly what Sony are after in the Xperia line. Some other phones might be louder, but they don't have the fine-tuned quality that these Sony devices have (and certainly don't have DV). Put up against any test device I have here, Dolby Atmos engaged or not, 360 Reality Audio/Upmix tinkered with or not, DSEE/AI dabbled with or not, it comes out tops for all but those wanting a bit more volume. I'd trade volume for quality every time. Playing music or using the 21:9 for video, front-facing stereo speakers, DV engaged, wide stereo, makes for a much better watching/listening experience than any other phone on the planet!

Then there's Bluetooth v5.3 and Sony's excellent headphone/speaker support with LDAC and/or 3.5mm audio-out for a cabled-up set with 24-bit High-Res audio. Paired up (in both senses of the phrase) with my Sony WH-1000XM4 headset and the sound, functionality and overall experience is second-to-none. A deep-rooted voyage into the world of Sony audio and it's very impressive indeed. Same is true for peripheral speakers - you just seem to get the most out of all this if you use their own gear. Of course, it works with other hardware and Sony's supporting Headphones App is available for any smartphone, but it feels to me as though with their own combination of gear, it's just the best. But then I'm a long-time Sony fan, so would say that!

seems to be as good as the Mk.IV was with all aerials connecting efficiently and holding on when needed. GPS with mapping and other apps/services, WiFi (6e for those who can get it) is solid, NFC for connecting to other gear is spot on (especially other Sony gear) and executing payments at terminals and so forth - all good, strong and confidence-inducing. I was pleased to see that the USB-C 3.2 OTG continues to support HDMI-out to other screens. It maybe not be Samsung's DeX or Motorola's Ready For, but it allow the user to send media to bigger screens on other devices as well as hook into the Alpha system for use with other photographic gear.

Next, we come to photography and Sony's main emphasis, as mentioned earlier, appealing to the owners and fans of their Alpha line of 'proper' cameras. They will feel right at home here, as they did with last year's model, but this time they've taken away one of the cameras from the mix! Last year we had three 12MP sensors (normal, telephoto and wide-angle) and this time, two - a 48MP f1.9 main shooter with OIS and a 12MP f2.2 wide-angle. Sony claim that with their new sensor tech, the results are better, not worse, even though that 2.5x zoom has gone. Cropping in on the more powerful sensor produces even better results.

To prove all this I'm going to link out to my colleague's YouTube Shorts again as Steve trails through the ins and out of how that works and how impressed he is. Imaging Examples, Who Needs a Telephoto? and GSMArena for a deep-dive, charts, comparisons and data starting here and continuing through to those specialist apps and services, Photography Pro, Cinema Pro and Videography Pro. Otherwise not huge changes including the ongoing use of Zeiss optics with T* lens coating and a 12MP f2 Selfie. All who have reviewed agree that the Xperia line remains niche and special in the world of creating photos and video, also support for musicians with the Music Pro app, which I spoke about in my previous review and doesn't appear to have changed. The recording of multi-layered audio is still capped at 10 minutes per event. I was hoping that this would be extended/lifted this year so us podcasters could get in on the action.

The phone is available in black, blue or platinum silver, costs currently £799 - which is actually a £100 drop since the previous model. People are reflecting on the notion that Sony were trying hard to place the 5-series somewhere more like in the middle of the flagship 5-series and mid-range 10-series and that drop does pretty much that. So yes, a little bit more financially accessible for more people, though still 'premium' pricing.

It's a super little device which sits in a kind of niche place in the smartphone world. Dinky, small, one-handed use, pocketable - the number of devices in this range seems to reduce as we go forward - and that's a shame. So kudos to Sony and the other few who keep that alive. It continues to feel like a 'specialist' smartphone, designed very clearly for the creator crowd, Alpha hardware users (even maybe some professionals when they don't have their pro gear with them), musicians and photographers who are happy to spend more time treating their phone like a 'proper' camera in order to retain control and create images/video/music in a way no other smartphone seems to match.

It's all very impressive. It may not be a huge update from last year's model, and I don't feel the need personally to upgrade this year, but no doubt many will and I could well join the band when the Mk.VI arrives, presumably this autumn.

Very highly recommended for the right user, who appreciated good audio - but not the point-and-shoot AI-driven camera brigade - they will be better served elsewhere, but good luck finding all that in such a classy, small and beautifully made device.

Sunday 10 March 2024

Alice and Jack (2023)

Anyone seen this Channel 4 drama? I stumbled into it and got hooked pretty quickly as we accompany the two characters through 15 years of their up/down relationship during the 6 x 45-minute episodes.

Alice is a dreadful person at the outset, in lots of ways, damaged by her past, but out dating anyway (for sex). She has a successful job but few friends, as she's like she is. Keeping real life at a distance and treating those around her fairly abusively. Along comes Jack, via a dating app, and her chance to change all that is rotten about her.

Jack is a research scientist and deeply engaged with his work, trying to make the world a better place for those suffering with illness and disease. He's a man with a soft heart and prime candidate for Alice to destroy, break the heart of. But there's a chemistry going on from the start which will, or won't, overcome the usual Alice-style approach to life and commitment to anything outside of her bubble.

The series takes us through a long passage of time (in which, incidentally, they don't seem to really age much)! Alice disappears from his life at various points for lengths of time and we pick up the story again later. During one of these periods, Jack gives up on her, meets Lynn, gets married, has child (though not in that order)! This complicates the whole issue in relation to Alice when she pops up again.

The whole series sweeps the viewer between emotions, it's hugely moving in parts, particularly towards the end when events transpire to challenge the pair even more, those with whom they are involved (especially his daughter), the wealth and health issues which follow and eventual outcomes.

Domhnall Gleeson (Ex_Machina, The Revenant, Brooklyn) is excellent in the lead alongside Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, Shepherds and Butchers) as they both ensnare the viewer, well, this one, anyway, not letting go until the last frame of the last episode. The deep roots of their underlying strangely-enacted love and devotion for each other, often destroyed by life events both present and previous, are portrayed beautifully by them and it was also great to see Aisling Bea (Trollied, This Way Up, Love Wedding Repeat) pop up again as his wife, doing equally well with her lesser role.

It's a super little heavily-Irish casted drama which often tugs on the heartstrings, is smartly written and intelligent, never soppy but hugely engaging, the time flying through each episode. Watch it for excellent core performances (along with other Brit actors doing great jobs) but be in the mood for a moving, quirky but emotional tale. And detesting Alice for the first half of it!

Monday 4 March 2024

What Happened to Monday (2017)

Norwegian w
riter director Tommy Wirkola was in charge of this project following some violent fun previously with the likes of Dead Snow (and Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead), Violent Night and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, but if you don't like that genre, don't be put off of watching this outing, which is much more a Sci-Fi action film and well worth your time.

The star of the show is Noomi Rapace (Black Crab, You Won't Be Alone, Stockholm, The Secrets We Keep) who plays 7 roles in the film! That's right, and this forms the basis of the Sci-Fi bit as we join the story in two eras, 2043 and 2073. In the former, we're shown glimpses of a world where human overpopulation of earth is using up all the planet's resources far too quickly, so the authorities clamp down allowing only one child per couple/family. Woe betide anyone stepping outside of this regulation!

Those who do so, have their subsequent offspring taken away, the authorities setting up cryogenics chambers so that the kids can be brought back at a later date when things have settled back on earth to an equilibrium. These measures are enforced by military means as squads of professionals infiltrate the population with a green card to pretty much do what they like to enforce it and have set up digital check-points all over the place.

Anyway, back to Noomi's characters' tale and we witness 7 identical little girls being looked after in an apartment by their grandfather, played by Willem Dafoe (Inside, Poor Things, Tom & Viv, Nightmare Alley), teaching them the dangers of being caught and learning survival skills to use if and when they are exposed. By the way, the reason everyone is having multiple births like this is because the genetically modified food that scientists are creating to combat the population problem has that as a side-effect - all pregnancies produce big litters!

Grandfather disappears as we leap 30 years forward and now spend time with the Seven Sisters (which, incidentally, was the original title of this film) named after the days of the week. Out in public, at work, facing other people, they assume the name of their mother (Karen Settman) who, incidentally, died during the birthing of the kids. There's no mention of the father, I don't think. So each day, one of them goes out, dressed up to look the same, so each of them gets freedom from the apartment one day per week. They have to share their day with each other at the end of it so as to make sure the other 6 don't get caught out not knowing something from the days when it's not their turn. Keeping up at the back?!

One day, Monday goes out to work and doesn't come back. Then Tuesday goes to find her the next day and here begins the thriller bit with plenty of action as the authorities appear to have worked out what's going on. Throw in an officer who seems to have fallen in love with (at least) one of them, willing to bend the rules in his personal quest, a nasty politician, played menacingly by Glenn Close, seeking re-election by fair means or foul, a nasty bloke at the head of our hit-squad in focus and it turns somewhat into a bit of a thrill-ride!

This is very much the Noomi Show with her in the 7 roles in pretty much every scene. It's edge of the seat stuff often and she holds the film together in a fabulous performance. The special effects are pretty much seamless when time and again, we're in amongst the 7 sisters and they are all interacting together. Beautifully executed and shot. Close and Dafoe are really not in it very much at all, but what they do, as we'd expect, they do very well.

It's a great idea for a story which could easily have become a bit daft in the wrong hands, but production values are high and what we've ended up with is a real cracker of a thriller which nobody'll nod off in, during the 2 hour runtime. Yes, there are plot-holes for those looking for them, but for the rest of us it's great fun, totally absorbing and engaging. Highly recommended.

Perfect Days (2023)

This Wim Wenders (Paris, Taxas, The American Friend) film is a moving and beautifully created character study depicting the everyday life of...