the candler blog

More on Day One 2, Movies Watched and Cool New Stuff

Movies, Technology

It’s been a week since my last entry here on the candler blog, so I thought I’d give a brief update on the week that was.

Plugging Away At Day One 2

Given how much time I devoted to questioning some of the new features in Day One 2, one might get the impression I gave up on it. In fact I’m using the new app even more than I used the original. I’m putting it through its paces and getting more and more delighted each step of the way. I still haven’t purchased the Mac version, which is $19.99 until Wednesday (they extended the launch sale an extra week). I’m pretty sure I’ll break down and get it eventually.

I’m really enjoying experimenting with Workflow to get more interesting information into Day One. I started a journal called “Films Watched” just for tracking my movie intake. I’ve made myself a modified version of Phillip Gruneich’s excellent Movie Diary workflow(s) to log films. It’s fun to see a calendar view of how often I actually watch films.

I also went on a few runs this week, all logged in Day One. The new inline photos are still tripping me up, though. While on a run I took a photo of myself with the Austin skyline in the background. I wanted to quickly get this into Day One with my location and a note of my current distance. I somehow created a photo post, selected the right photo but then somehow canceled the photo add dialog instead of adding the photo. I quickly typed out “4.9,” the current distance, saved the entry and put my phone away. Then I filled in the blanks, including the photo, later.

There really isn’t a reason for me to create the entry in the moment since the photo has the time and location data embedded. But it’s nice to be able to get it in there so I know to create it later. The “4.9” entry is technically enough, but creating a photo entry used to be a bit easier. I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

As to whether or not I should even be futzing with my phone while running, all I can say is that I’m a good multitasker and I was on a trail, not running into traffic. It doesn’t really slow me down, and when I run I’m alone with my thoughts. I wish I could record more of them.

Films Watched

Here’s what I’ve seen in the past week:

  • Irrational Man (Blu-ray)
  • My Neighbor Totoro (DCP, original subtitles)
  • The Man Who Loved Women (DVD, this time the François Truffaut original)
  • Mistress America (Blu-ray)

Irrational Man is kind of silly and forgettable. If you watch enough Woody Allen films you learn that there are some films that suffer from his relentless schedule of one film a year. This is one of those. But it’s not without its charms, namely another wonderful performance from Parker Posey.

Late on Monday I saw my My Neighbor Totoro for the first time. In fact it’s now the first Hayao Miyazaki film I’ve ever seen. And I flat out loved it. It’s such a simple story but so beautiful, and it perfectly understands what it’s like to be a child. I need to see more.

I’m hoping to put together a piece on the differences between Blake Edwards’ and François Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women so I won’t say too much. The films are so different, and yet surprisingly similar in ways I wouldn’t have expected. I recommend both.

I wish I had seen Mistress America before I put together my best of 2015 list. I loved it. Greta Gerwig is a national treasure.

I’m up to fourteen films seen this year thus far and not one of them is a 2016 release. So I’m way behind that arbitrary goal I set for myself. But I’m confident I’ll catch up soon.

Two Things I Want

I want to play Firewatch, the new game from Campo Santo created in partnership with the Panic team. It looks so gorgeous. Unfortunately I have neither a PS4 nor a Mac that will run it that well. My iMac is getting long in the tooth and has trouble dealing with some more menial tasks. When I play Firewatch I want to make sure I can be immersed in it. Really wish it were available for iPad. Or that I had a PS4. Or a better Mac.

And I really, really want the Operator Mono, the new font from Hoefler & Co. $200 is a very fair price for five weights each in italics, but it’s a bit of an extravagance for me. I mean…this would just be for my own enjoyment while typing in Ulysses or TextMate.

Now, I did splurge on Pitch a few years back. While I still love it, I actually don’t use it in my text editors that much anymore. Lately I use Courier Prime Sans, and I just started playing around with Office Code Pro and M+2m.

Operator Mono looks like a great font to write with. If you’ve got any pics of it in use I’d love to see them.

What I’ve Been Watching (And How)

Movies, Technology

We’re thirty-six days into 2016 and I’m yet to see a single film released this year. That doesn’t bode too well for my plan to see more new releases than I saw in 2015. The good news is that I’ve been watching older films. Here’s how I’m doing so far:

  • The Hateful Eight (70mm)
  • Ivan’s Childhood
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • The Mirror
  • The Man Who Loved Women (35mm; Blake Edwards, not François Truffaut)
  • American Dreamz
  • A Man Escaped
  • Inglourious Basterds (DCP)
  • Stalker
  • Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (35mm)

I’m finally tackling a handful of Tarkovsky films, and A Man Escaped is actually the first Bresson film I’ve ever seen. The screening of The Man Who Loved Women was the first I’ve ever attended at the Austin Film Society’s Marchesa Hall. I regret not going earlier. There was a great crowd of cinephiles there; I need to keep going back.

I’ve been going to the Alamo Drafthouse’s “Terror Tuesday” programs on and off since November. A friend who has been going every week for years invited me along then, and I’ve been back a few times. While horror has never really been my thing, Terror Tuesdays (a) costs $3, (b) is always a 35mm print, (c) regularly sells out and (d) features films I’m usually seeing for the first time. So Jason Takes Manhattan may be silly fun, but it was a gorgeous, archival 35mm print and it’s always nice to sit with an enthusiastic audience. Now I’m just waiting for Invisible Man tickets to go on sale.

Tracking What I Watch

I’m trying to more diligently track everything I watch so it’s not a mad scramble come December to figure out what I’ve seen. I still haven’t settled on a single method, so right now when I watch a movie I:

It’s a mess, but I’m okay with that…for now.

Tracking my television watching doesn’t interest me. In fact it would probably depress me if I ever figured out just how much I watch. Most of the time I’d rather watch 5 films, regardless of quality, than a single season of TV.

An Arbitrary Ratio

If I can do it, I’d like to try and keep a ratio of at least 6:1 in terms of old vs. new films I watch this year. In other words, for every six films I watch I should see at least one 2016 release.

Uh…I better get on that…

Day One 2: A Big Update

Apps, Review, Technology

Day One has long been a favorite app of mine, even if it fell out of regular use for me. Over the years1 I’ve tried using it a few different ways. Sometimes it’s a real diary (as in I hope no one ever reads it), other times it’s a little notebook, storing half-baked fragments of ideas. I even tried to use it as a catch-all for my digital life thanks to Brett Terpstra’s Slogger project, which he just updated for version 2.

The most consistent use I’ve gotten out of Day One has been using it as a running diary, which I’ve written about here before. It’s still my favorite way to track the more personal aspects of my runs. Whereas Runkeeper and, to a lesser extent, Apple’s Workout app, track data about my runs, Day One stores how I feel, how I look, plus the weather and what I’m listening to.2

So when Day One 2 hit the app store last night, it was a no brainer to purchase it. I’ve used it for so long, I was only too happy to kick another $5 in the direction of Bloom Built, the app’s makers. That’s the current sale price for iOS. On the Mac the new version costs $20 for the first week, after which it will double. The truth is I haven’t used Day One on the Mac in a very long time, so that price gives me pause enough to hold off. Of course, if I ever want to use the aforementioned Slogger again, I’ll have to get the Mac version. And actually one of the marquee features of Day One 2 might make me want to reboot using Slogger. More on that in a bit. Let’s talk about some other apps I use briefly.

Writing on iOS in 2016

I’ve been messing around with text editing in various apps for years. I thought by now I’d have settled on a single, clear workflow. This…is not the case. I really wish I could pare it all down to two apps like Ben Brooks, but I’m not there yet.

Like Ben, I’m using the Ulysses beta on my iPhone, and it’s very, very close to being the end-all be-all writing app for me. All of my writing on a Mac is done in Ulysses, so having that synced library available to me on the go is an incredible resource.

However, Ulysses doesn’t quite feel fast enough for jotting things down quickly. Oddly, its most compelling feature, that it syncs my entire writing library to all my devices, works against it: I feel like I can only store “real” writing in it. This is more neuroses than it is the fault of The Soulmen, but it’s something.

The only app on my home screen for jotting notes down is Vesper. It’s bare bones and its future is uncertain, but for whatever reason it’s been one of the stickiest note-taking apps for me. I love the way the top line becomes a headline and how it handles photo attachments.

When I read paper books (which I’m wont to do lately) and come across a compelling passage, I fire up TextGrabber, quickly join line breaks together in TextTool, and then paste the quote with title and page number in Vesper. Sometimes I’ll attach the still of the book page, for context later. I’ve tried in vain to use other apps, but the way Vesper implements tags (and something like, say, Apple’s own Notes, doesn’t) has proven incredibly hard to give up.3

So Vesper gets the book quotes and some other jottings. Notes actually gets a few entries from me, but mostly because I’m trying to wean myself off of Q Branch’s seemingly abandoned app. I still use Drafts every once in awhile, but never to store anything. Whatever gets started there will land in Vesper, Ulysses or Notes later.

Basically at present my iOS writing workflow is a mess. (And I haven’t even brought up all the writing that goes into Field Notes, never to be heard from again.) Adding a new version of Day One into that mix probably isn’t the smartest thing I could do, but I still feel like, outside of the running diary, it can play an important role in organizing my thoughts.

Headlining New Features: Multiple Photos and Journals

The original Day One was itself a repository. The app was the journal. The new version allows for up to ten different different journals, which at first sounds to me like a crufty solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Day One has long supported tags, which allow me to quickly enter and then revisit entries on a specific topic. My running entries are tagged “Running,” as the obvious example. In the old version of the app I could simply go to that tag and I was looking at what was effectively my running diary.

These new journals work similarly, but just one layer above. I was pleasantly surprised to find they offer advantages beyond my old tagging system. The key thing that makes multiple journals exciting for me is that each is assigned a different color. That may sound trivial, but since color now plays a big role in Day One’s overall interface, it actually makes for some interesting visualizations of your diary.

I moved all of my posts tagged “Running” into a new journal called (obviously) Running. I set the color to red, leaving the default journal (called Journal) in the light blue that has always been a part of Day One. Now I can choose to look at either just the Journal or the Running entries, or I can look at “All Entries” throughout the app. What’s neat is that the journal color now corresponds to entries across the whole app.

Take the app’s calendar view. When “All Entries” is selected, days that have entries from a single journal will be highlighted in that journal’s color. So on days when all I did was run, I see a red square; on days where I only did a straight journal entry I see a blue square.

The new map view, which drops a waymarker on your entries that have a location, does the same thing. So I can see where my running posts were, and have them clearly visible since the waymarker will be red. It’s a really nice touch, and something that I can see making multiple journals extremely useful.

Multiple journals, by the way, is the feature that may get me back into Slogger. The main reason I stopped using it was that I found my journal became overrun with archival minutae. Putting that type of content in a separate journal may be a nice compromise.

The other major feature is the ability to add multiple photos to an entry. In the old version of the app, you could attach a single photo to an entry. I actually liked that simplicity. (See also: my enjoyment of Vesper, which has the same limitation.) Adding more photos always seemed like it would be a nice addition, but something I knew would likely not be a feature I would use.

While adding multiple journals is an expansion of the feature-set in Day One 2, the implementation of multiple photos per entry is a fundamental change to the way the app works, and, unfortunately, it’s a step backwards. Before I go any further, I want to point out that this app is an exemplar of great iOS design. It’s an incredibly well thought out piece of work, and something I intend to use heavily for years to come. But I also need to be honest.

The trouble is hinted at in the release notes:

Multiple Photos per entry (up to ten inline photos)

I blinked and missed it. All entry photos are now inline, as in they appear in the middle of your text. Previously, the single photo allowed for each entry was treated more like metadata: it appeared at the top of your entry, but was selected as a piece of information that ran alongside your words, just like the location, weather or current song playing. While the ability to add inline photos is a welcome change (you couldn’t before without using Markdown to point to an image hosted elsewhere), by making all photos inline it actually demotes them to the level of regular content. They used to be the raison d’être for a post.

This isn’t just ideological. Creating a photo entry is now much more confusing. You’re presented with a great looking photo picker, which allows you to choose up to ten images. For my running diary, I only need one image. After tapping the one I want and hitting “Done,” I’m presented with the entry and the inline image, with the cursor in place above it. Right away this is a jarring change since the old photo entries that were imported put the photo at the top with the text below it. So which is correct?

Setting that aside for a moment, the image has a glass overlay down the right side of it with three buttons, which, as far as I can tell represent the following functions: expand/shrink, delete and comment. If one were to save the entry at this point, the photo would fill the width of your device screen and have no annotation.

The first thing that confused me on the edit screen was what the “expand/shrink” button does. Basically, the image preview is, at first, a small crop of the full image. I suppose this makes editing text easier, especially on a bigger screen like the iPad, while still allowing you the ability to see the full image at the tap of a button, but I had to spend some time fiddling with it to figure out it has no effect on how the image looks in the final, saved entry.

The more confusing icon is that “comment” button. Tapping it will move your cursor below the photo, something you could do by simply tapping below the photo. When I first tapped this icon I was expecting the ability to add some kind of caption (as in something like <figcaption>), not just the ability to enter regular text below it.

The trash can icon works as advertised, but itself is even a little confusing in context next to the comment icon. Tapping the trash can brings up a dialog asking if you want to remove the photo. It removes the photo, but not the text below it which, had you tapped the comment icon and added a description, feels like it should with the photo. Basically the functions of both of these buttons can be achieved with the cursor, and it’s much clearer to me what the cursor is doing.

Back to the initial placement of the cursor on a new photo entry. One thing I love in Day One is the ability to make the first line of any entry bold, causing it function as a title. Since all of my old photo posts have the photo at the top with text below them, I feel inclined to keep that up for all future entries. However, the state the app launches in makes me think it’s the “right” way from here on out, and it places the cursor above the photo.

It’s an easy fix for me: just move the cursor below the photo and Bob’s your uncle. Yet this is exactly what I mean when I say photos have been demoted. They are now just content, which kind of makes me wonder why there are still two new entry buttons: one for photo posts, one for all other entries. They all seem the same to me now.

So Much Unmentioned

And there’s so, so much I’m not going to be able to get to in this article. Every last pixel has been refined in this new version. Tags are immensely better in Day One 2, thanks to a brand new interface both for adding and searching tags. Getting through your journal archive is much easier now, with buttons for quickly getting to posts with specific metadata. Want to see only posts with music attached? Or from when you were flying? They’re just a few taps away.

The map view, mentioned above, is brand new and a truly remarkable feature. While I’m actually a fan of checking in places with Swarm, sometimes I want to remember where I was without sharing it with the world. Day One is perfect for that, and the map view makes viewing at my escapades fun. I’m thinking of starting a journal just for food and drink. Months down the line I’d love to see Austin peppered with little pins of my memorable meals (and beers).

And only just yesterday I picked up Workflow and started messing around with ways to log movies in Day One. I’m not sure if that will be sticky for me, but it doesn’t matter much. That the app is so flexible that it can fulfill all of these needs for me makes me deeply appreciative it exists. Day One takes the powerful technology of a social network and personalizes it just for me. I love that.

I know I spent a lot of time nitpicking about photos, but it all comes from a really positive place. Day One’s developers are quite open about this update laying the groundwork for bigger updates down the line, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. This new app is a ground up rewrite, including a brand new sync backend. That means they put a ton of work into it, but it also means that it’s a new beginning. So change is expected, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

  1. My first entry is August 16, 2012, and says only, “This is a thing.” That’s basically my “Hello world” for new things.

  2. Runkeeper now tracks weather if you purchase a premium “Go” account, which offers a number of other perks, yet I’m still on the fence about upgrading to it.

  3. I’ve tried Quotebook many times, which is supposed to solve this exact problem I have, but it plainly isn’t designed to preserve quotes the way I think about them. For me, context is paramount, which means I want to know: the book, the page, the author and other bits of context important to me. If a quote I pull is spoken by a character, I want to know whom.

    Just the other day I pulled a quote from Agee on Film:

    Color is very nice for costume pieces and musical comedies, and has a great aesthetic future in films, but it still gets fatally in the way of any serious imitation of reality.

    On its own that’s an excellent quote. But when and if I revisit it, I’d like to know he penned it on July 24, 1943 in a review of Sam Wood’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Quotebook has no space for that kind of context.

Reading More Than One Book at Once (This is New to Me)

Movies, Reading

I’ve only ever been able to reliably read one book at a time. If ever I tried to read more than one, they had to be wildly different. One fiction and one non-fiction could work.

Lately I’ve started reading more than one book at the same time. There’s no special reason for this other than I’m still getting the hang of using library holds. Sometimes I go flipping through the Austin Library catalog and placing a hold on something I’d like to read someday, but that day often comes sooner than I’d expected. So I set out to juggle multiple books and I’ve found I actually like it.

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

They’re all non-fiction, and two are about the cinema. I thought they would start blending together in my head, which is why I usually refuse to read more than one thing at once, but that’s not happening. Instead I’m getting different things out of each, and it’s actually refreshing to put one down and skip to another.

The Agee book I read solely for the author’s prose style. The trouble with reading any film book is I’m often compelled to try to keep up with the movies discussed. But with something like Agee’s book, which is a collection of his film column in The Nation during the 1940s, it’s almost impossible to keep up. The author mentions too many films, some of which, I think, may have been lost or made extremely difficult to find over the decades.

Instead of sweating what movies Agee is talking about, I’m simply reading to see how he talks about them. That makes for an extremely enjoyable read. It’s useful to me since, you know, I’m supposed to write about movies on this site. Reading others, in an era far removed from my own, offers a nice perspective. I highly recommend Agee on Film to anyone with a critical eye who doesn’t want to necessarily write straightforward reviews to films.

I can’t quite recall why I sought out Sculpting in Time. Tarkovsky is a filmmaker whose work I always wanted to give a close look, though until recently I don’t think I’ve ever seen a complete film of his. This book contains some of the most beautiful writings on the cinema I’ve encountered. The way he speaks of the cinema is something I can easily get behind. And since I’m reading the book, I’m working my way through a selection of his films as well.1 It’s not necessary, but for me the timing was right.

Up in the Old Hotel is just an indulgence. It’s been on my list of books to read ever since John Gruber mentioned it on The Talk Show all the way back in December of 2013. It’s a collection of Joseph Mitchell’s New Yorker pieces from the 1940s, and it’s just plain incredible writing. He follows larger than life characters that may go unnoticed by most and paints an unforgettable picture of them. So far: saloon regulars, a Bowery movie theater owner, a down and out Harvard man, an old man who puts his oddities on display as a museum, and a fiery street preacher. Both journalistically and artistically, Mitchell’s work is something to behold, and perhaps even aspire to.

And so I bounce between these three books and I get something different from each. One inspires me to write about the cinema, one gives me a lot to think about on the nature of cinema, and one transports me to another place and time. If anything is going to get muddled in my head, it’s the Agee and Mitchell books, being that they’re from the same era. But they’re so different that no overlap has occurred yet.

Of course…a few other library holds have just come due. I think three is my limit, though. Maybe I’ll see if I can pack in a few more.

  1. To date I’ve watched: Ivan’s Childhood, The Mirror and Stalker. Long ago I saw his short take on The Killers, featured on Criterion’s excellent box set of the Robert Siodmak and Don Siegel* versions of the Hemingway short story.

    * Speaking of Don Siegel, I’ve had a copy of his A Siegel Film for years, but I’ve never read it because I feel I’d need to watch all of his films as I go. Maybe that can be my next reading project…

Books I Read in 2015

Writing

Now that I finally got around to sharing all the new films I watched last year, I thought I’d share all the books I read in 2015. This is somewhat influenced by Justin Blanton’s annual tradition of posting the books he’s read, though I don’t quite have the interest in ranking these books as he does. By the way, you should read Justin’s thoughts over at Anxious Robot; great to see him writing regularly again.

I’ve always been a reader, but never a very diligent one. I’m trying to change that, and I think I did a pretty good job last year. I read twenty-three books last year, which is way over the ten I read in 2014. Not bad.

Lately I prefer to read paper books over ebooks. For one, most of the film books I want to read aren’t available in electronic form, but also there is still something about holding a book in my hand that I prefer. I think it’s that I like flipping ahead to see where a good breaking point will be. Yes, ebooks can sort of do this by telling you how many “pages” remain in the chapter, but what if I don’t want to wait for the next chapter? What about when I’m looking for a paragraph break?

A number of the books I read last year were audiobooks, which I find I prefer most of all when an author reads his or her own memoir. In the case of John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise, the audio production is so integral to the experience, it feels like the audiobook is the canonical version of the work. I don’t think I’d want to “read” it any other way. If for nothing else, this book is amazing for its “Top Spots for Crabs” bit. It still cracks me up every time.

My most-read author last year was Philip Roth, including the incredible audiobook version of American Pastoral, read by the late Ron Silver. It is a shame that we lost Silver before he could have read the entirety of Roth’s library. His performance is pitch perfect; he will forever be the voice of Nathan Zuckerman in my mind. (Silver also read I Married a Communist, Roth’s follow-up also narrated by Zuckerman; maybe I’ll give it a listen later this year.)

I don’t think I could choose a favorite book from the last year. If I had to choose a least favorite, it would probably be, oddly enough, The Martian, which is the basis for my favorite film of the year. The film did away with everything I didn’t like and made something wonderful out of it.

Père Goriot is the first Balzac novel I’ve ever read. I’ve been meaning to read some ever since I fell in love with The 400 Blows, in which Antoine Doinel nearly burns down his home by building a shrine to the author. Long ago I started (but never finished) François Truffaut’s Correspondence, 1945-1984, and as a young man he would invoke Balzac’s name over and over again. So I’m glad I finally got around to it. I enjoyed the novel, which painted a vivid and enjoyable a picture of 19th century Paris.

What else can I say about these twenty-three books? I wrote a few words on some of them over on Goodreads, so you can follow me there to see more specific notes on any of these. All of the book links below are affiliate links to Amazon (except for Lillian Ross’s Truffaut interviews), so I thank you in advance if you go and buy any of them. So here it is: the books I read in 2015:

My Favorite Films of 2015

Movies

Who says you have to get your year-end list published in a timely fashion? We may be nearing February, but why not take a moment to look back on 2015.

Initially I resisted doing a year-end wrap up because I felt I hadn’t seen enough new films last year. For whatever reason I think I should see about sixty films a year. So when December 31st rolled around and my final tally was thirty-four thirty-five newly released films (based, as always, on Mike D’Angelo’s New York master release list) seen, I felt so off my game that I shouldn’t even put together a list. I’ve since seen two more 2015 films, bringing the total for our purposes here to thirty-six thirty-seven films; still too low for my tastes, but it’s enough.

Enough buildup. Here are my top ten films from the year, only loosely (and sort of arbitrarily) put in an order.

1. The Martian

No one is more surprised than me that The Martian even made it onto my year-end list. I found the book to be a little boring (a friend told me early on that if I don’t like the epistolary style then I’ll have a rough go of getting through it; he was right) and annoyingly flat. But it was clear as I was reading it that it was so broad that it could be made into a brilliant film, and that’s exactly what Ridley Scott, Rumpelstiltskin-like, spun out of it. The film shows off a gorgeous, other-worldly (obviously) yet home-like version of Mars. Matt Damon rose to the challenge of making a man who talks to himself seem watchable.

The film’s final action sequence is one of the most beautiful free-floating space spectacles to my memory. I think it may even be better than the more technically audacious Gravity, but I’d have to sit through both again to pass judgement. Nevertheless, Ridley Scott remains a director with a keen eye for action and horror. Thankfully here he had a script that was good enough (ahem, Prometheus) to match his skills.

2. Steve Jobs

Oh, Steve Jobs, the film that caused Mac and tech journalists alike to lose their heads. I regret not writing about this here when the film initially came out, but briefly: this film is a brilliant piece of cinema despite the fact that it plays fast and loose with both historical and emotional accuracy. Its cardinal flaw is that it assumes Steve Jobs was like the rest of us. He wasn’t, and so his emotional makeup wasn’t either.

Nevertheless, it is a brilliant fantasia about Steve Jobs and the times he lived in. I mention this because a common refrain is that writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle should have made a Citizen Kane-style film, that Jobs should have had a stand-in just as Charles Foster Kane was a (presumed, by the way) stand-in for William Randolph Hearst.1 But this is a film about what it means to live in extraordinary times, and what it means to be in the center of that.2 Sorkin and Boyle have done a brilliant job of compressing time and space, including some riveting flashback sequences that do some of the best work of cross-cutting in an emotionally truthful way that I can recall.

You know, Steve Jobs reminds me a lot of Robert Altman’s Secret Honor, the 1984 monologue film based on Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone’s play, which features Philip Baker Hall as Richard Nixon, rambling to himself alone at home. The words are a complete fiction, and the performance is neither an impersonation nor a burlesque, but an attempt at reaching an emotional truth. That film, about one of history’s giants talking to himself for ninety minutes, is exhilarating to behold. The same is true for Steve Jobs. I can’t remember another film like it. It’s Boyle and Sorkin stretching their talents to new limits, and in my opinion, succeeding.3

3. Trainwreck

Between March and July of this year, I had to consistently bite my tongue when wanting to talk about this movie. I was able to see Trainwreck at SXSW, where I instantly fell in love with it. Moreover I knew my girlfriend would love it too, but I’d have to wait months until I could share it with her. (When she finally saw it she said it was the funniest film she’d seen since Bridesmaids, which is the highest praise possible.)

This is a very special kind of film that shows off the chops of both Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer. It is raucously funny and wonderfully modern, yet affecting and romantic in sort of throwback ways. The film’s final sequence, a dance number, of all things, nearly had me in tears. It manages to be narratively propulsive, hilarious and yet, still a bit unkempt all at once.

If you’re above a certain age you might not be able to make it through this film (my parents almost walked out; an older woman in their theater called it a porno), but I laughed more than I have in a long time at it. Part of the reason, I would guess, is that Schumer’s character, the brash, promiscuous misfit, is so rarely written for a woman; and never, to my mind, as a sympathetic lead. She has opened up a whole can of worms, replete with new jokes and perspectives; and it’s a feast for us.

4. Creed

In a film environment littered with ill-considered reboots, rehashes and sequels, Creed is a refreshing take on a big screen mainstay. If 2006’s Rocky Balboa was all about redemption for a franchise that fell from grace hard, then Ryan Coogler’s film is all about a rebirth.

Creed is every bit as affecting and visually daring as Stallone and Avildsen’s original Rocky. Philadelphia looks stunning, and I must say reminds me of the city as it is, warts and all. If you missed it in the theater, I highly recommend going somewhere with an excellent sound system for the pivotal fight about halfway through the film. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears alike.

5. Losing Ground

Losing Ground was made in 1982, but never actually had a theatrical run until it was revived last year. This isn’t the first time I’ve put an older film in my top ten, and who makes these rules anyway? It is an incredible piece of work that played on TCM once this year (it will be coming out on DVD in April) and I was wise enough to set the DVR.

Kathleen Collins’ film is a poetic achievement. It’s a film about a professor and a painter trying to understand themselves and the world around them, but coming at their issues from opposite angles. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, and bears re-watching regularly. It bounces between jazzy flourishes, expressionist lighting and minimalist realism throughout. I don’t want to say too much about it, so I’ll let Richard Brody at The New Yorker do all the heavy lifting. Do yourself a favor and seek out Losing Ground.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road

To date, Fury Road is the only Mad Max film I’ve ever seen. I’m not quite as smitten with it as many critics were, but I can’t deny that it’s a technical achievement and unlike anything else out today. Our action cinema today is so much a mishmash of indecipherable blurry objects cut together in as disorienting a pace as possible, George Miller’s film is a reminder that things don’t have to be this way.

The action moves the story forward along a clear pathway. The viewer always knows where they are, and moreover always cares. This is something that has been lost, but finally restored. Here’s hoping the makers of other, brand name action films (for who else can afford to make them) take heed and learn a thing or two.

7. Manglehorn

I’ve become a sucker for David Gordon Green over time. Manglehorn is just an excellent, small, meditative picture. Al Pacino and Holly Hunter shine in it, though be warned much of their interactions will have you gritting your teeth from awkwardness. I think it’s the very small touch of magical realism in the film that sold me.

8. Iris

Iris will likely be the last documentary Albert Maysles completed before his death last March, though honestly the man worked so much who knows how many posthumous films are in the can. It is a delightful portrait of a woman with taste. I am so often loath to include documentaries among my favorites, since I find the form often repetitive and simplistic. Not so with Maysles, though. He finds the perfect moments of a life to bring to the screen. It is a delight to behold. He will be missed.

9. The Overnight

After Creep, I became something of an instant Patrick Brice fan. His follow-up is a similarly small film that leans more toward coming-of-age than it does toward horror, though there is absolutely an element of dread baked into the script. Two couples get drunk and open up. And nothing is off limits. I honestly can’t wait to see where Brice goes next.

10. The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight doesn’t really make it into my top Tarantino films, but it’s hard to keep it off this list. It’s just such a gorgeous picture, and not only because of the 70mm photography. Tarantino lets the story unfurl like a puzzle, which is fun to play along with. Unfortunately, as with so many mysteries, the payoff proves not that well worth it, but the fun is in the game.

I know it will never happen, but I really, really wish Tarantino dropped the whole “chapters” thing. The film loses me when a chapter change reveals an omniscient narrator that fills in blanks that would have been better served to reveal themselves in time. Still, it beat out the competition to this list, just barely.

Honorable Mentions:

  • I really liked Bob Byington’s 7 Chinese Brothers and hope to see more films from him.
  • Ex Machina didn’t really do it for me, but I did like it. Oscar Isaac in particular gives one out-there performance.
  • Dope would have made this list had it not been for the fact that it wraps itself up so tightly in indie/festival darling formula. It’s such a fun watch, and at times a daring film. It just feels like it’s been workshopped into something it’s not, which is a shame.
  • Jurassic World. What? I liked it.
  • Spectre is a great little Bond film. I’ve heard all the complaints against it and I just don’t follow. The film’s opening sequence is a technical wonder. I do hope that we’re past the gloomy questioning-of-the-surveillence-state era of Bond, though.
  • The Little Death is a fun little sex-comedy that straddles the line between raunch and cuteness. It’s imperfect but certainly an enjoyable watch. One sequence I dare not describe goes so dark and strange then wraps up with a happy ending; I have a lot of respect for the way that played.

And that’s the year. It was a pretty good one, movie-wise. Maybe I should try for fifty films in 2016.

For the curious, here are all the other films I saw this year, posted without comment:

  • American Ultra
  • Ant-Man
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Black Mass
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Chagall-Malevich
  • The Cobbler
  • Creep
  • The Final Girls
  • Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief
  • It Follows
  • Inside Out
  • Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
  • The Mend
  • Sicario
  • Something, Anything
  • Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
  • Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • That Guy Dick Miller
  • Tomorrowland

Update: It seems I forgot Sicario in my inital tally. Whoops. I wonder what other films I forgot…

  1. There is so much wrong with this logic from so many angles, but that’s for another time.

  2. Moreover, the film does get a lot right about Jobs’ life, it’s clear that making this film about someone else would have been even more dishonest than the film they made.

  3. One more thing. When current Apple CEO Tim Cook called this film “opportunistic” on a Late Show appearance in September, he gave the tech press the rallying cry against this film they needed. Here’s John Gruber, after having seen the film, getting down to brass tacks:

    …calling this movie “Steve Jobs”, and using real names of real people to tell a largely fictional story, is purely cynical. They’re selling a lot more tickets to a movie about “Steve Jobs” and “Apple Computer” than they would if were about, say, a Jobs-like character named Dave Gibbs (or whatever) who was the headstrong founder of Orange Computer.

    Incorrect. This film would never have existed without Steve Jobs. For this to be a cynical cash grab, Sorkin would have had to have had a script ready to go about a fictional executive, and then when Jobs passed and his biography and life rights were up for sale, found a way to wedge all the pieces together so it resembled Jobs enough to sell tickets. That’s nonsense thinking.

Write Anywhere But…

Publishing, Technology, Writing

Dave Winer makes a strong case against Medium in his brief and aptly titled post, “Anywhere but Medium.”

When you give in to the default, and just go ahead and post to Medium, you’re stifling the open web. Not giving it a chance to work its magic, which depends on diversity, not monoculture.

I’ve been harping on this awhile. I gave Medium the old college try last year, but once The Dissolve (z”l) linked to my piece and claimed I wrote for Medium, I was done.1

I don’t think Medium’s “reach” is any greater than that of the open web. I have 311 followers on Medium, but I can barely get the attention of any of them. My RSS subscribers (hi, everyone; thanks for reading!) here on the candler blog have proven far more generous with their attention than my Medium “followers.”

In the years2 since I started the candler blog, the web has gotten bigger and dumber. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for more websites. Consolidating all writing into Medium or Facebook or, soon, Twitter, is a terrible idea. There might be a short term, ephemeral gain, but if you’re in it for long haul of the web, put your writing somewhere that can last, preferably something you own.

One more salient point from Winer:

Which pieces get flow? Ones that are critical of Medium? I doubt it.

[…]

See there’s the other problem with ceding a whole content type to a single company. Since you’re counting on them not just to store your writing, but also build flow for it, the inclination is to praise them, to withhold criticism. To try to guess what they like, and parrot it.

I’ve posted a number of articles critical of Medium on Medium. I may as well have yelled them out my window. Meanwhile a seemingly positive piece (unless you had read it in the context of everything else I had been saying about Medium at the time) I wrote there with an admittedly leading title, “Is Medium What Comes After Blogs?,” got re-shared by Medium staffers, which seems to be the only way to get any traction on the site.

When Winer talks about a “monoculture,” he’s not just talking about all writing going into Medium; he’s talking about writing trying to ape the Medium style. For now that means publishing articles that match the tastes of the site’s core group of editors. This is why I roll my eyes if a link sent my way points to Medium. It’s also why John Gruber introduced “fist eggplant,” a trend that continues to this day.

Anyway, it’s 2016. My goal this year is to write more about anything else than about how much I don’t want to write on Medium.

  1. I’ve written a few random thoughts there since, and am now (like, starting today), experimenting with syndicating my posts there via RSS (since Winer suggests it in the above linked piece, actually).

  2. 7 years this March!

Introducing Film Twitter Slack

Movies, Technology

Film Twitter. They say if you’ve heard of it, you’re in it. And if you complain about it, well, boy howdy, you’re in deep.

For the uninitiated, Film Twitter refers to a kind of movable feast of Twitter users who discuss movies. Some would say it’s comprised of all film critics, others might contend it’s just those other critics over there. Or maybe it’s filmmakers. Or publicists. Or fans. Or all at the same. To paraphrase Potter Stewart: even if you don’t know what Film Twitter is, you know it when you see it.

I complain about Film Twitter a lot (on Twitter, naturally). It all started back with the release of Man of Steel, when I couldn’t check Twitter without being bombarded by conversations of the film before it came out. I’m not all that scared of spoilers. Any movie that gets wholly spoiled in a sentence probably doesn’t have much going for it.

What bugs me is the Socratic dissection of a film I’m not ready to delve into. I prefer to see movies fresh and form my own opinions. If I could time shift these Film Twitter tête-à-têtes and experience them after I’ve seen the film, that would be lovely. But there isn’t an elegant way to do that without reading the tweets in the first place (yet).

So what to do? Clearly those who see movies before the general public can aren’t going to stop the chatter. And I’m not going to unfollow a community that I love reading. So I put together a thing: Film Twitter Slack.

With the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens upon us, I can feel Film Twitter ready to explode with excitement. They’re going to have a lot to say about it. But I don’t want to hear it, not until I get a chance to see the film.

So let’s try to move the conversation somewhere else. Let’s see if Film Twitter, who simply must talk about these movies before their release, can move the conversation elsewhere. Let’s try something new.

Slack, for many people, is a place to get work done, but it’s also great for community chat rooms. Users can coalesce in channels around different ideas and talk to their heart’s content. It’s not public, but I’ve made it dead simple to allow lots of people to join the group. All you have to do is go to this landing page and enter your email address. You’ll receive you invite instantaneously. That’s it. You’re in.

From there, well, let the conversations begin. New channels can sprout up, films can be argued ad nauseam (while keeping it civil, of course), and the whole community can join the fun…when they’re ready.

Let’s see how this goes.

How to Join Film Twitter Slack

  1. Go to the Film Twitter Slack signup page
  2. Enter your email address
  3. Check your email and follow the instructions from there

I’m not collecting your email addresses or anything. I never see them from this form. Once you’re in the Slack group, your email address will be visible to other users, including me, so choose the address accordingly.

I Luv Video Closes Campus Location

Movies

Matthew Adams for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas at Austin’s campus newspaper, today:

I Luv Video, a movie rental store on Guadalupe Street, closed Monday as the area continues to see widespread business relocations and closings.

It’s telling that the student reporter doesn’t even quite know what to call I Luv. “A movie rental store…” Uh…sure.

All is not lost, though. I Luv has a second location in Austin that will absorb the inventory. Still, a bummer to hear that the only video store on a college campus has shuttered. When I was a film student, I was at TLA Video in Philadelphia all the time. A video store is an amazing resource for anyone studying cinema, one whose usefulness, sadly, has not been replaced. (Not even by streaming.)

Anyone outside of Austin probably thinks it’s nuts this is even notable, but we’re lucky that we have a decently thriving video store community here. There are two main outposts: I Luv Video and Vulcan Video, the latter of which still has two locations.

I’ve always felt I kind of screwed up in New York City by not supporting my local video stores. I would get discs from Netflix whose selection was extensive but by no means comprehensive. (I’m referring to their disc rentals; their streaming product, movie selection-wise, remains a joke.) Eventually the video stores closed and went away.

So I frequent the stores here in Austin. The I Luv on Guadalupe was one I’d only been to twice (sorry!), but it had all the hallmarks of an institution. My favorite touch that will be missed: if someone never returned a rental, the staff would put their full name on the box and display it above the other shelves, calling out the sticky fingered renters. That’s the kind of stuff you’re not going to get from any streaming service. But at least there are still other stores going strong here.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a town that has a video store, go support it. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Jen Yamato Interviews David O. Russell

Filmmakers, Interview, Movies

Jen Yamato interviewed David O. Russell for The Daily Beast and the whole thing is just wonderfully quotable. Let’s see if we can distill it down to just one, shall we?

What goes into the cocktail of your mind, and how does it present itself to you?

Or maybe two:

If you want to make a movie, it’s just like when you made your first movie. It never changes.

One more:

Talent doesn’t always pick a race or a sex or a class, it just is.

Oh and I almost totally glommed over this:

The first half-hour of Don’t Mess With The Zohan is kind of bordering on art filmmaking. So I appreciate that.

Russell’s strange path and meteoric resurgence has been great to watch over the years. I Heart Huckabees got me at an impressionable time, and The Fighter just completely knocked me on my back. It may well be his masterpiece, though I’d put money on his still having another one up his sleeve.

I’ve always liked his work, but this summer Quentin Tarantino said something I wasn’t expecting about Russell, that so many of today’s mid-budget independent films will be forgotten, but “…The Fighter or American Hustle — those will be watched in 30 years.” The more I think about it, the more that may turn out to be the case.

Can’t wait to see Joy, his latest.