the candler blog

SXSW Review: A Stray

Movies, Reviews, SXSW 2016

What defines you? Is it the language you speak? The religion you practice? The culture that reared you? These are the questions central to Musa Syeed’s excellent new film, A Stray, which had its world premiere here at SXSW.

The film follows Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman), a down on his luck Somali refugee trying to cut his own path in Minneapolis. Adan is pulled in every direction by the characters that occupy his life. There are his friends, forever smoking hookah and shooting the shit together in government housing. (It’s clear from the film’s opening scene: these are Adan’s people, yet he doesn’t fit in with them at all.) There’s the imam who takes him in but can only do so much to set him on the right path. There’s the restaurant owner who gives Adan a job, but has trouble trusting him. There’s the FBI agent trying to turn him into an informant. (Minneapolis’ Somali population is, in the real world, under heavy surveillance.)

And then there’s Laila, a stray dog he finds while running an errand for work. Because of his Muslim faith, Adan is uncomfortable taking the animal in, but when no one else will, the two become companions. The dog makes him a pariah with the other Muslims in his life, yet every time he tries to set Laila free, she comes back to him. And so, even if it means he doesn’t have a home anymore, Adan is stuck with the dog.

A Stray brings to light a world that doesn’t get a lot of time on screen, at least in the films this reviewer watches. It’s a coming of age film but on a scale much bigger than what that term generally means. Adan experiences the growing pains not only of adulthood, but of religiosity and national identity. He wants to be a good Muslim, and yet can’t cast Laila aside. When he’s hungry and living on the streets, he takes the food that’s given to him, but when he finds out it’s pork, it is a huge offense. He’d rather go without than question his faith on that level, even if he’s already questioning it on other levels.

Syeed’s direction is excellent. The streets of Minneapolis look gorgeous, photographed with a muted realism that is sometimes broken by dream-like soliloquies. Throughout, as he wanders the city, Adan is praying, but to whom is sometimes unclear. He could be asking God for help, or he could be asking the audience to see him, hear him. The onus is on us, then, to do so.

This is not the first film about a man living on the streets with an animal while trying to put his life together. (Vittoria De Sica’s Umberto D comes to mind, and it’s strange that, in film history, this is practically a genre.) Yet A Stray proves that there are millions more stories that need to be on the screen. We live in divisive times when people would deny someone like Adan a home in America. Understanding and empathy can begin with seeing a great story play out on screen. I don’t know anyone like Adan. But I do now, thanks to Musa Syeed’s film. I hope more will see it.

My Seventh SXSW

Movies, SXSW

This is my seventh SXSW. If I were a wizard I’d be studying for the N.E.W.T.s. So, as a fourth year senior around these parts, some thoughts:

  • SXSW is, at this point, the only film festival attend. Back when I lived in New York City, Tribeca and the New York Film Festival were the other biggies on the calendar. Someday maybe I’ll make it back to Deadcenter. There are so many other fests I should check out as well.
  • Without taking the time to count up the films, this year’s slate feels really documentary heavy to me. I don’t think there are any more or less than in year’s past. My guess is that documentary publicists have proven the more tenacious bunch, and so the emails I’m most likely to read are for docs.
  • The President is speaking at SXSW. That’s bonkers.
  • I maintain that, while SXSW is one massive unified fest, complaints of it being a shit show are…not about the film festival. As big and crazy as downtown Austin gets, SXSW Film still feels like, well, a film festival. A bunch of people gathering to appreciate and discover new work. I don’t understand what actually happens at Interactive, although I love checking out the trade show floor and appreciate all the free, like, candy bars and stuff companies give out. And Music…Music is crazy.
  • I feel like I should take Mayor Adler’s warnings to stay the hell away from downtown tomorrow more seriously.
  • This map takes too long to read so I’m sure it’ll all be fine.
  • Aaron Draplin, creator of Field Notes (which I’m nutso about), will be in town. Cool.
  • The first film I ever saw at SXSW was Kick-Ass.
  • The last film I saw at SXSW was, I think, The Boy.
  • I can’t believe I just watched the third episode of the fifth season of Girls. The premiere of Tiny Furniture still feels like yesterday. Also a funny footnote: it was touted as the first feature shot entirely on a DSLR at the time.
  • For some reason the only photo from SXSW 2010 on my Flickr page is a of the team behind Annie Goes Boating, a 3D indie short that I said “feels like a painting, one you could get up and walk around in.”
  • VR in 2016 reminds me of 3D in 2010.
  • They say this is the 30th year of the fest, which means I’m older than SXSW. Ugh.

Anyway, I’m excited to take this fest on once more. I’ll be writing about it here and elsewhere. Don’t worry I’ll remind you.

Ulysses Mobile is Here

Apps

I never thought the day would come, but it has: Ulysses is on your iPhone. Go buy it.

I’m not going to give a full review here. David Chartier at Macstories and Ben Brooks have you covered there. But let me offer a few thoughts on this huge release. I’ve had a beta for a few weeks and I absolutely love it.

Ulysses Mobile, as the app formerly known as Ulysses for iPad is now called, has been teased for at least five years. I can’t find it now, but I’m quite positive that The Soulmen posted a few videos of semantic markup in action on an iPhone back in 2010 or 2009. Their grand plan in those days was to bring Ulysses 2 to the iPhone. In fact, if you look back at their old homepage, they used to have a placeholder graphic for Ulysses Mobile, which was perpetually “on hold.”

In 2011, with the release of Daedalus Touch for the iPad, the plans for Ulysses changed radically. By 2013 they shipped a ground up rewrite of Ulysses on the Mac, which was influenced by what they had learned from Daedalus. And now the circle is complete, by which I mean feature complete.

Ulysses is now the same on your Mac, your iPhone and your iPad. This. Is. Huge.

No matter what device I’m on, no matter what I’m writing: I know where to put it. Better yet, I know where to find my writing. It’s in Ulysses.

Okay some stuff actually still goes into Vesper, despite my better judgement. But most things will go into Ulysses from here on out. Or that’s the plan.

A few bullet points:

  • The extended keyboard is the best designed iOS keyboard I’ve ever seen. It’s minimal but incredibly powerful, and wisely hides its power in palettes for selecting if you’d like to, say, make a heading or a link. This works so much better than scrolling along an extra row of keys.
  • I cannot emphasize enough that this is Ulysses on your iPhone. You get all the themes, all the features, all the documents that you have on your Mac. Save for a few minor items, it’s the same app. What you can do in one, you can do in the other.
  • You can still load custom fonts into Ulysses, just as you have been able to do for years in Daedalus. But I actually prefer using the System Font, which is Apple’s San Francisco. I’ve loaded Pitch and Courier Prime into Ulysses Mobile. If anyone wants to gift me Operator Mono I bet it looks great in there too. ;)
  • The app also has an amazing extension, allowing you to send links, text and other goodies in to Ulysses without even launching it. You can even send an image into it. While you can’t append to a document (as Apple’s own notes allows), you can choose which folder your document will go into.
  • Yes, Ulysses has been on iPad for awhile now, but my iPad 2 is so long in the tooth that I rarely use it for much of anything. At this point, my iPhone is basically the computer I use the most, which is why this is such an exciting release for me.

I made a quick little workflow for iOS, so if you have Workflow installed, you can enjoy it. I call it Ulysses Draft, and all it does is launch Ulysses and make a new blank document. You can install it and add it to your home screen.

While it’s not so hard to launch a new document in Ulysses, you do still need to launch it and create a new document: two taps. This workflow mimics launching something like Drafts. One tap and go.

If you use something other than Workflow to launch app URLs, here’s the simple URL that makes this work: ulysses://x-callback-url/new-sheet?text=. Easy.

Ulysses Mobile is $19.99 for a limited time. The price will go up to $24.99 in the near future. Ulysses for Mac is $44.99 and worth every penny. I should mention the Mac app got a shiny new update today too. Go get them and get back to writing.

Me on Agee

Movies, Writing

I’ve been reading a lot lately. “Books, Jerry.” One book I keep plugging away at is Agee on Film, the collection of James Agee’s film writings in The Nation and elsewhere. I checked it out of the library (in this case the Library of America binding which includes much more of his work than the original compendium of his columns) knowing that it was unlikely I would read it cover to cover. As I wrote a month ago: “Instead of sweating what movies Agee is talking about, I’m simply reading to see how he talks about them.”

Two things about Agee’s column stick out to my modern, critical eye:

  • He wrote about any film he preferred, whether or not it was new or available to the public
  • Limited by column inches, he was careful only to cover just as much as he could fit; if a film deserved more inches, he would tell the reader to come back next week

One example is his column on August 25th, 1945, is devoted to three films, each getting its own paragraph: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Over 21, and Bewitched. The final paragraph is an apology.

I must apologize for postponing even the attempt to review The Story of G.I. Joe; the secondary radiations of the atomic bomb render me still unfit to consider a piece of work I so deeply admire.

Three weeks later he makes up for it, devoting his next column entirely to The Story of G.I. Joe under the headline “A GREAT FILM.”

Now, film releases, publicity and publishing have changed a lot since the 1940s when Agee was writing. But it’s hard, as a modern writer, not to be a bit jealous of the way Agee wrote about cinema. Today we have unlimited space, so we can devote untold “inches” to each and every film. This is more a blessing than a curse, I would say, since we now have available so much amazing writing on each and every film. Yet as a writer it can fast become overwhelming. Unlimited space on the web doesn’t necessarily free up space in my mind.

It’s been a long time since I tried to keep up with reviewing weekly releases. Part of the reason I let myself drift away from it1 was because sitting down to review a movie stopped interesting me. I had a basic formula, and I had to push myself to work through the full piece. I’d go to edit them and realize I had gone through the motions and delivered X, Y or Z paragraphs, as I had for other films.

My mistake was thinking about movies atomically. Here’s a film I need to review, and so I will do so in a relative vacuum.2 Weekly reviews of single films is vital work, both in the moment and for posterity. Contemporaneous reviews of films are vital to our understanding of the state of the art.

And yet, there’s something so alluring about Agee’s method of sharing all that he’d seen. It’s closer to the sort of film writing I’d like to publish here. I’m not going to promise I’ll do it, since my archives are littered with promises never kept for turning this site into something more than it is. But I’d certainly like to try.

I’ve spent some time pondering: what would this sort of writing look like? Would it have a headline? Should I limit the length of the articles? Those are (somewhat) important considerations, but they’re pointless if I don’t just start publishing the writing. In the end it’s no one article that makes a film critic reliable, or have a style; it’s the body of work. People came to Agee’s column because they liked his writing. And maybe they encountered a film they’d like to see because of it.

So far this year I’ve seen (at last count) twenty-seven films, only one of which was actually released this year (Hail, Caesar!). That shouldn’t stop me from writing about what I’ve been watching, but it has. With SXSW upon us, it’s a perfect opportunity for me to crack my knuckles and stretch out the old writing muscles. Check back in the coming days to see if I follow through.

  1. There are many, many reasons, starting with this not being a job that pays the bills.

  2. To be clear, I’m talking about something that hampers me. There are so many critics who do amazing weekly writing that overcomes what I’m talking about here, whose voices and personalities come through given the weekly churn of releases.

Things That Are Not Movies

Movies

A quick rundown of things that are not movies, as there has been some confusion of late:

  • Trailers for movies are not movies
  • Posters for movies are not movies
  • Promotional materials are not movies
  • Exclusive clips are not movies
  • Featurettes are not movies
  • Tweets are not movies
  • Television spots are not movies
  • Television shows are not movies

Let us briefly recap what movies are:

  • Movies are movies

I like movies.

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: