Wednesday, August 26. 2015
Orange is the New Black season 3 nearly caused me to exercise a rule that a blog post elsewhere has caused me to formalise.
I won’t link to it because it’s not edifying - in the light of the news that Sense8 has been renewed a site I read had a flame war about how long you should give a show before you give up on it, if you’re doing to.
So my rule is now formalised as a one-four rule. That is, if I really can’t stand a show during the first episode, I’m prepared to just give up on it straight away. I can’t think of an immediate example of mine but someone I know, who reads this blog, simply can’t stand shows where the characters talk to camera - so no House of Cards, iZombie and I suspect no Mr. Robot either. It doesn’t make them bad shows it’s just a quirk and she hates that particular style of show and will not give it any time of day - even if the critics and others love it and there’s a good show in there. Assuming the show passes that hurdle, it has a rolling four episode QA hurdle. If there are four episodes in a row that I don’t like, or I can’t get around to watching in the normal run of my life, then it’s destined for the discard pile - even if I used to really enjoy it.
It doesn’t really matter what shows have hit this, but since I’ve previously outed myself as a former Castle fan who no longer watches, that would be one example.
And that brings us to the third season of OITNB. Gosh, that was a grind. It’s only 13 episodes, but it regularly got close to me giving up on it, hitting three episodes before pulling back. It’s almost like they were teasing me personally! But perhaps the four episode limit isn’t that uncommon: it’s long enough that it will let you get through a US-TV mini-arc you don’t like and then pick up the story again.
I tried to think about what was going on to cause this. I mean, the core elements were the same. Piper drifted through Litchfield. Alex was back. Most of the episodes centred around a backstory and as always they were interesting and usually affecting. Some of the most affecting for me were stories like Pennsatucky’s. I still don’t like her but jeez, I feel sorry for her. Although I like her revenge method, even though it puts someone else in danger and stops her driving the bus.
But various inmates left for various reasons - and while all were plausible within terms of a prison drama none of them were good ones in terms of strengthening the show. And to add to all that level of drama, the guards and management drama just dragged everything down for me. OITNB has usually had a strong political message, particularly about the stupidity of drug laws and their disproportionate impact on women just for being there and the like, and I get the message it’s trying to make about running jails for profit too. I agree with it as well. But in previous years it’s managed to make its point by mixing its dramatic moments, it’s powerful, frightening, tear-jerking, anger-inspiring and other moments with comedic moments. This season felt, for me, more often like a long, despairing, grind. The comedic moments that made the messages easier to bear and often, in my opinion at least, more striking and more powerful, were largely absent.
The season ends with flashes of hope: Norma and Red reconciling, the inmates in the lake, Black Cindy’s conversion and her genuine joy at her mikvah, but that is cross cut with the new bunks, loss of the minimal privacy of the low walls and the arrival of coach loads of new inmates. I’ll be waiting to see how Season 4 plays out but I’m more nervous than I was for Season 3.
Saturday, August 22. 2015
I guess the first thing to say is that The Man From UNCLE is not quite but pretty much the closing line of the movie: the film itself serves as a introduction to the set-up of UNCLE. It was obvious from the trailer that at least some of the film would take that turn but it turns out to be the whole film. I think that is actually a good thing: it means they don’t rush the team-building. They let the suspicion between the KGB agent and the CIA agent fester and flare up at odd times and that works well. Equally they let the 1960’s cold war background and the lingering plot token fantasies run riot and provide a sufficiently plausible joint threat for the two forces to join up. (I’ll avoid saying it’s a truly plausible threat but it’s not as crazy as some Bond movies for example. I also avoid saying what the plot actually is, because I haven’t seen it in the trailers, so it’s a spoiler!)
I’m old so, although my memories of it are somewhat hazy, I remember The Man From UNCLE, the TV show. At least the reruns. Broadly speaking I’d say this film captures that feeling. There were certainly stylistic elements that were lifted from the show, sometimes they worked well, sometimes they felt a little redundant. In particular, in a style that more recently we’ve seen in shows like Leverage and IIRC Hustle, the use of flashbacks to explain odd-seeming scenes. There were a few where they flashed back 20 minutes or more: no problem there, but within the same montage they flashed back 30 seconds at one point. While it felt like the team coming together and UNCLE really being formed and so it didn’t rankle too much it was perhaps a little overused.
I’m sure if you’re a true devotee of the show you’d point and say “That’s wrong, that’s wrong, that’s wrong” and there are a number of places where even my hazy memories of that are pointing out differences. Armie Hammer at 6’ 5 towers over Henry Cavill in a way David McCallum never did over Robert Vaughn for example. But overall I came away feeling it’s certainly close enough that it captures the feeling while adding the complexity we need for a 2015 movie compared to a 60’s TV show.
Equally, although they don’t give (or if they did I missed it) a precise year for the film they certainly captured that 60’s look and feel. I’m sure the history purists will be able to point of errors but it looked right.
One thing I feel I must say: in the UK this film gets a 12A. I would feel uncomfortable taking a child to see it. There are depictions of torture including someone being burnt to death. It’s not graphic, in fact that particular moment happens through a door and you have to put two and two together but still… In addition there are pictures of tortured people. It’s not extreme and I guess it’s worse if you’re older and can relate to what it means. But it’s still not something I’d feel comfortable showing a child. It’s not too disturbing to an adult but not something you really want to dwell on either.
Ultimately though, and much more importantly that all of that, I thought the story was well paced, entertaining and fun. This was a good movie for me, and the people I went with, to watch. We were excited at times, laughed at times, and all enjoyed it. We all hope there are more films to come in the potential franchise.
Bechdel Test: There are two named women Gabby and Victoria and they do exchange a few words on a few occasions. It’s borderline if they count as conversations but I’m going to say just. I think this is a technical pass for the sake of it. That said, both Gabby and Victoria are pretty strong female characters. I’m not sure you’d say Victoria is exactly a good role model mind but she’s certainly the brains of the operation for the bad guys.
Russo Test: There’s a scene that’s played for laughs that looks a lot like cottaging but no. If you do take your kiddies, you have to adult enough and dirty minded enough to understand what cottaging is (or whatever they call it in the US) to work out why its funny, it’s not something kids will laugh at but we did.
Monday, August 17. 2015
Inoreader is an online site that lets you set up your RSS feeds. In that sense it’s not dissimilar to the old Google Reader. As a site per se it’s frankly a bit of a disaster (in that sense it’s still not that dissimilar to the old gReader site) but it does offer one thing its rivals don’t: a free, as big as you want, RSS list. If you plan to ONLY use their website you might well be put off (although it’s better than some others I looked at) but they offer a free iPad, iPhone and Android apps and on the Mac Reeder also integrates with it. That changes the experience more than a little and markedly for the better. (There’s a pay-for iOS app too but I haven’t looked at that, I read my RSS feeds on my iMac most of the time and the free app is nice enough for the times I don’t.) So I essentially only used the website to set up my account and for importing my feeds and it works well enough for that.
The Inoreader app on the iPad, the only one I’ve tried, for the purposes I use it, gives you a two column layout: all unread or the folders you define and the unread items in them. You click on those and get a large display of the unread items to scroll through. It’s not dramatic, it doesn’t sing and dance but it does the job perfectly well. I use this purely as a back-up since i’m used to, and still mostly do, read on the iMac and I don’t have any problems with it. Because it’s an Inoreader app it’s tied very directly to your account and doesn’t offer options that your account doesn’t. If you want extra options (save to Instapaper for example) you probably need to consider subscribing at Inopaper but you may not.
So, on to Reeder. Probably the first thing to say is that reading this way, Inoreader adds a not too annoying add suggesting you upgrade to a paid account to about 1 in 10 of your articles. It’s not enough to bother me but it may bother you more.
Reeder offers what starts as a 5 column display! But actually you can collapse that to 3 columns with a bit of resizing if, like me, you don’t subscribe to lots of different feed sources. Since they’re all for RSS feeds I’m not sure why you wouldn’t consolidate them but you don’t have to… and if you don’t, the tools are there to let you run wild!
The (useful to me) columns are a bit complex. In my normal reading mode, I have Reeder display unread articles, so the first column shows my account, then the unread count and folders with unread articles. However, there are options to display starred articles and all articles (there are buttons for this over the middle column in the title bar or toolbar) and they affect what you see in this column. The middle column is an abbreviated article précis. You get the site’s badge or a thumbnail of the image, the title of the site and the post and a few words from the post. The third column displays the post, typically above the fold if relevant. You can click on the title to display the whole post.
At this point, the flexibility and power of being a full-blooded app comes into being. You can opt (the default) to have posts open in Reeder’s own browser. I generally use this and it works just fine for me. You can opt to have it open in your default browser instead. Reeder also offers an enormous number of optional services - I use copy link, open in browser, save to Instapaper and mail link, but there are choices like save to Pocket, tweet, send to Facebook etc. You have the option with these to leave them in a very familiar looking Share icon “services” menu (probably a good idea if you use them all), turn them off as you choose or do what I’ve done and put them all as separate icons on the toolbar. All my choices are only 1 click away and it’s not like I don’t have the space. Up there you also have buttons to star and mark as unread.
You can also, through the preferences panes, set colours (although only from their set choices), fonts and sizes, short cuts for all the buttons and actions and so on. I like most of their defaults (arrow keys for navigating through articles work just fine) but I set new shortcuts for the open in browser and copy link (Shift-B and Shift-L) because I had to use Shift-I for save to Instapaper and Shift-M for Mail Link and it’s easier to remember if they’re consistent, I then went and made it Shift-S for starred and Shift-U for unread (it’s actually toggle-read but I really only use it to set read articles unread so the shortcut works for me).
Reeder costs a little bit but so far it’s working really smoothly for me and letting me lay the load of maintaining my RSS feeds on someone other than my local hard drive (which recently blew up under the strain). My previous solution was ok but this will work tolerably well when I’m away from home too which is always good. The in-app browser option is also comfortable to use. They’re not always and the choice between reading directly, reading in the app-browser, opening in Safari or sending to Instapaper is now a genuine choice that I stop and consider seriously. I’m finding I read my web-comics and written articles I’m going to skim immediately in the in-app browser, stuff I’m going to read in the next 5 minutes and then but which is too long to read right now in Safari and other things go to Instapaper. If I send things to Safari and events conspire to make me want to keep them, I can still send them to Instapaper from Safari easily enough after all.
As you might tell, it’s still new enough I’m getting used to the nuts and bolts of it, but actually, I use my RSS reader a LOT. When my computer was away for 2 weeks it came back and I had over 2,000 articles to go through! Although I’m tweaking the fine details of it, I’ve used this a lot since Friday afternoon and I’m already sure it’s a keeper for me. I might, in future look at upgrading to a paid subscription to Inoreader but currently this setup is doing everything I need it to do. And if you want to home-bake your RSS feeds with Reeder, you can do that - one of the subscription services is to a Fever server.
Sunday, August 9. 2015
Inside Out is supposedly a film aimed at families, in typical Pixar fashion. The hook character, Riley, is an 11-year old girl, so there's you family audience starting point and you can rely on Pixar to write some smart stuff for mum and dad.
But, as the trailer makes clear, the main characters are actually Riley's core emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. They control her behaviour, moment to moment, taking turns to find appropriate responses to the situation. This lays down memories and some of these become what the film calls core memories, fuelling "personality islands" (you might think of them more like facets or behaviour clusters like family life, in Riley's life love of hockey, as well as friendship, she ends up with one for Twilight-style stories too). The vast majority of memories are cleared away at the end of the day and sent to long term storage (at the start of the film, age 11 Riley has five core memories). If you've studied some psychology this might seem familiar: it's a pretty current model of consciousness and personality. There is even a default emotional response and a sense of maturation as by the end of the film memories have more than one emotion attached. There is also an upgraded control room console for the emotions.
Although it's subtle, in the film we occasionally see inside others - Riley's parents in particular but several others too. They have recognisably the same emotions, although gender-swapped to the gender of the person (although Riley's anger and fear are male, her mother's weren't I think) and with different predominant emotions, certainly for Riley's dad, where anger rather than joy rules the roost. It's not at all in your face but there's enough of it to make it clear that although we're deeply exploring Riley's psyche, everyone else is like this.
Later in the film we have jokes about ear worms, the abstraction process, 2D shapes in a 3D world and more. They are all funny, well I laughed anyway, but they're grown up humour and they don't, to my mind, come packaged around child-friendly bits particularly.
There is a plot, outside and inside. Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and this causes emotional turmoil and Joy and Sadness exploring bits of her mind they don't normally see. You could argue (legitimately) that Riley has a nervous breakdown in fact. At one level this is a psychodrama about an eleven year old moving house and moving from the country to the big city. But on reflection I'd say this film is more a rather literal although charming and engaging exploration of the psyche.
Being a Pixar movie there is a happy ending but there are more dark moments than you might expect.
There's a hint at the end for Inside Out 2 with an upgraded control console and a puberty warning light. This film was great fun but if they do the sequel properly it could go from U to 18 rated!
Bechdel Test: yes. Several emotions are portrayed as female in Riley and they talk extensively and not about men. In addition Riley and her mum talk several times about this, that and the other. I'm normally not sure about characters like "Riley's Mum" as a named character, but in this movie I don't see you could sensibly name her other than that so I'll count her.
Russo test: no. Unsurprisingly sexuality isn't overtly mentioned. Mum and Dad are straight, the only other adult where there's a hint of it is Riley's female teacher and she's shown as straight and its played for laugh for the adults.
Sunday, July 26. 2015
Ant-Man is, in my opinion, quite a silly movie. Fortunately, to my mind, it uses that silliness to take liberties that the other Marvel titles usually don’t and be silly and lots of fun. My impression is that it doesn’t pack in the jokes to the point it’s attempting to be a comedy but it doesn’t ration them carefully, to lighten the tension at appropriate moments, and that makes it feel shorter than it’s just under two hour running time and fresher than some of the bloated Marvel fare we’ve had recently.
Like a lot of the genuinely super-hero movies (Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America etc.) Ant-Man relies on you ignoring a big chunk of what we know about science to make it work although, in fairness, once it sets its techno-babble handwavium up it mostly sticks to it. Hank Pym (more on him later) invents both a way to shrink the spaces between atoms while maintaining mass and a Pym Particle that protects living flesh from the shrinking process. Thus Ant-Man. There’s one exception for a cool special effect and one exception for an existential threat to Ant Man, but it’s not too bad.
The villain of the piece, actually both the villain we see throughout and the money men behind him, are tied into the bigger Marvel Universe but he was, I felt, dull. It wasn’t that he was poorly acted, it was very much a case of “Let’s have mad scientist with daddy issues and make him avaricious” which is a mad, bad scientist trope so old we’ve seen it a million times. it needed something to distinguish it from the villain in, for example Iron Man, the first one, and… no, he even got into the suit to fight the hero. Lazy writing. It might be true to the original (I don’t know but I’ve read a couple of reviews that suggest it is) but it’s still lazy, even if it was lazy back then rather than now.
Where this film was different, character-wise from the general run of Marvel movies is the two male leads. Hank Pym is the genius scientist. So far he could be a lot of other characters but they give him a backstory that is different enough and written and played well enough in his brilliant moments, his manipulative moments and his downright abominable relationship with his daughter that he becomes interesting and while I didn’t find him particularly sympathetic I found him believable and rounded and not just another cookie-cutter character. Scott Lang is drawn from fewer lines and shades - criminal with a heart of gold, divorced father estranged from his young daughter - but he gets most of the lines that build team rapport and the lines that get the laughs so he’s a departure from the Marvel norm too.
Where I think they fail, and fail dismally, is the character of Hope, Hank’s daughter. She’s in enough of the film that she could have had an interesting role. Every time I thought they might let her break out of the straight-jacket of being the overly-protected daughter or evil boss’ symbol of victory over his mentor they almost brutally shove her back into the box. She has a couple of moments where it looks like they had plans for her to do other things and she’s suddenly allowed to be unexpectedly dangerous (although it’s not out of the blue in terms of backstory of the film) but then they’ve had a script rewrite and boom, sudden change of direction to snarling, angry daughter or similar. I’m not sure what the script approval process is at Marvel, but it’s starting to seem like it’s even more atrocious with its ability to write women’s roles than the Hollywood norm.
While talking about the Marvel scripting process, there was a 10 minute or so scene where Ant-Man breaks into Avengers HQ and fights Falcon. They’d already had plenty of continuity comments about the Starks, the Avengers etc. and these little cross-over elements are almost de rigueur so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but for me it didn’t really add to the movie. There were other things (like making Hope’s part bigger) that could have done a lot more to make the film flow better I felt.
Despite those negative comments Ant-Man was fun. It certainly worked better than Avengers: Age of Ultron for me and it’s on such a different scale to Thor: The Dark World it’s hard for me to sensibly compare them. It’s way more cheerful and intimate than any of the X-Men movies too, so again comparisons are tricky.
Bechdel Test: There are certainly two (six in fact: Hope and her mother Janet, a blink and you’ll miss her Peggy Carter, a name-checked but voiced-over “Emilia” and the two below) named female characters. Cassie and Maggie (Scott’s daughter and ex-wife respectively) have a conversation, but it’s about him. So close, but no.
Russo Test: No. Surprisingly, despite being set in and around San Francisco they manage to avoid anyone identifying as LGBT.
Sunday, July 19. 2015
Terminator Genisys is one of those films where it’s going to be hard to review well without spoilers. Fortunately the trailers have provided enough to make it more or less workable.
It starts off with a roughly 15 minute long remake of The Terminator but from Reese’s point of view, set in 2026, fighting the machines, until the first terminator is sent back and then he is. I enjoyed this. If it had been Sarah it would have been boring - I won’t say ruined the surprise because they revealed that in the trailer - but I felt they worked those original scenes back in very nicely while grounding the movie and it’s setting. If it had carried on much longer I might have got worried it was all going to be scenes nicked from earlier movies (and there were a few more after this point too) but it came across, for me, just on the homage side of the line rather than the lazy remake “can’t be bothered to write a scene, I know, we’ll put that one in there” side of it.
Anyway, just as Reese is sent back he sees some one - a Terminator of some kind presumably - attack John Connor but then he’s whisked back to 1984. On the way he suddenly remembers some weird memories that make no sense and he didn’t live through before and he arrives in 1984 to a world that really makes no sense: Sarah is expecting him and is protected by an old T–800 terminator of the Arnie model, there are T–1000 terminators (the liquid metal ones) that he’s never seen before waiting for him and more.
The next chunk of the movie is, as far as the action scenes go, a compressed version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Arnie is protecting Reese and Sarah rather than teenaged John, but the T–1000 has all the same tricks and powers and they have to fight it. Quite a few of Sarah’s individual beats are more or less teen John’s rebellious beats from that movie as well. However, there is some character building between Sarah, Reese and “Pops” (as Sarah calls her terminator-protector) too as they start to find a dynamic and work out how to come together as a team - if the mission is “Save the World” that’s pretty important.
Then the movie jumps to 2017, and the next birth of Skynet in effect. Before it does so, there is a nice scene of the Sarah being empowered. Reese is sure she is about to make a terrible mistake and he acts to stop her making it (he nicks the widget to make it all go and apparently removes all agency. However, rather than saying “I’m right, you’re wrong, we’re doing it my way,” he asks her to trust him and gives her widget back, restoring her agency once again, enhancing it even by saying, once she’s heard him out, that he’ll go with her decision even if he thinks it wrong once she’s thought it through. Why do I mention that? In this post-Mad Max Fury Road world anything should be possible. But in Jurassic World we had a return to the norm. In way, way too many movies, Reese would have taken the widget and said you’re wrong, we’re doing it my way. By asking her to stop and think and trust him and then put the decision firmly, and literally, back in her hands he avoided acting like a typical movie man. This film might fail the Bechdel test (and it does) but it does quite a bit better than some films that pass it in terms of showing a woman with agency.
In 2017, as already shown in the trailers, we have John Connor as the baddie. He’s not quite as super-liquid metal as the T–1000 but can still do some pretty fantastic things and they obviously had some fun thinking of special effects and excuses to do fancy things with him. The heroes fight him back and forth, with the police and homeland security being entertaining roadblocks - little more than sleeping policemen on so many levels! There is a satisfying interplay of action scenes and some emotional bombshells as well.
It is no surprise that, despite John Connor’s villainous best efforts, the good guys win, Skynet (or Genisys as it is renamed) is destroyed and they drive off into the sunset to live happily ever after and no doubt, as Pops would put it, to mate.
Matt Smith had a role in the movie, big enough to get him on the opening credits. I won’t spoil it by saying what it is. But there was a moment when I saw him looking at Reese stepping naked into the time-travel machine and flipped out of the movie’s head space and thought “No, send him! The madman in the blue box!” But they sent Reese instead of course. I suppose it meant he actually landed in the right time and city.
While commenting on the actors, Arnie continues to be believable as a terminator, even at 67. I totally bought Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor. I thought she walked a good line between being prepared to be the mother of the saviour of the world and a fighter in her own right and yet wishing she didn’t have this inescapable destiny. She looked comfortable and confident with a gun and a rocket launcher too. She also played the beats of being confused about meeting the man she knows she is meant to fall in love with and have a baby with, who will then die saving her life nicely. I’m not a fan of Game of Thrones so this is really the first time I’ve seen her act, but I look forward to seeing more of her in future. For fans of The Sarah Connor Chronicles like me, it’s nice to see Game of Thrones stars bookend the role of Sarah. Jai Courtney I have seen before, but very much in supporting roles, and he’s looked quite one dimensional - but you can never tell with the roles he’s had if that’s been the script or him. The role of Reese is obviously much bigger and while I’m not going to go berserk and say he deserves an Oscar nod or anything I felt he hit all the emotional notes as well as the action notes that were required. Since that included hero-worship, betrayal, emotional hurt on a number of levels and more he may never be a great actor but he’s certainly OK. Clearly he’s been let down by his roles in the past.
I complained after Termination Salvation that I hoped they wouldn’t be back. My abiding memory is that, by the end of the movie, my sympathy for John Connor was so destroyed I wished the machine had lived and not Connor. Terminator Genisys is not an all-time classic but for its genre it’s certainly lots of fun. And by selling out John Connor, by making him Skynet’s main arms and legs, and, ironically by making him pack an emotional punch beyond the sheer implacable terror of the normal terminators at just how unstoppable they are - which was part of their original success - it did a lot to redeem the franchise to me. There’s a teaser at the end for another film to come. I don’t know what the box-office was like (not great I seem to remember) but if they get the money for another film, then I’d go to see it. I haven't really thought about my movie rankings for the year but I wouldn't be surprised if this fairly close to the top come December.
Bechdel Test: No. There are two named women - Sarah obviously and Detective Cheung. They’re even in the same room and interact. But you couldn’t describe their interaction as a conversation. They talk and technically they don’t talk about men, they talk about her not being in the system, but it’s not a conversation. It’s an interrogation.
Russo Test: Hell no. In fairness for most of the film there are only two humans, Reese and Sarah, and we already know he’s in love with her, and she’s got the potential to fall for him. But there’s not a sign of anyone being anything other straight.
Thursday, July 2. 2015
Mr Holmes is one of those movies that is hard to review without explaining the structure a little and explaining the structure requires revealing a little of the plot. As usual I will try to limit myself to details that can be seen in the film’s trailer.
The story is told across two, technically three, different times but one is just before the film’s start so although it’s told in flashback it’s only just happened. The “present” is 1947 and the bulk of the past is set a not-quite identified roughly 3 decades earlier just after the end of the war - it’s not clear if that’s 1919 or the early 20’s.
In 1947 Holmes is aged 92 and suffering from senility, specifically a massively failing memory as well as increasing physical frailty. Aged about 65 he is still relatively sprightly and fit, he is more of a modern 65 year old than perhaps was typical of the time. There is some make-up involved, but not that much thankfully (McKellen himself is 76, roughly half-way between these two ages which probably helps limit the amount of make up needed), the difference is sold by the acting of Ian McKellen who changes posture, the way he walks, the way he talks, the quality of voice and more from sounding and looking spry and on top of his game to sounding and looking frail and querulous and forgetful and back impeccably.
What ties these elements together is Holmes’ drive to remember the truth of his last case, the case that caused him to retire from London and his work as a detective to the countryside and the house where he now lives, more or less waiting to die while tending his bees. Alongside that he befriends his housekeeper’s son and switches from using royal jelly to using Japanese Prickly Ash as an attempted alternate remedy to stave off the ravages of old age. The film opens as he arrives home after his trip to Japan to collect the Prickly Ash, and follows his slow attempts to piece together that last case from the fragments of his memory and tell the true sequence of events.
There are a number of shout-outs to the Sherlock Holmes canon. We see plenty of references to Watson and the books, plus the films made of the books - Holmes goes to see one of them in fact. All the old staples like Mycroft and the Diogenes Club are mentioned too.
There are shout-outs to more modern takes on the character as well. This Holmes isn’t necessarily a sociopath as is Benedict Cumberbatch’s in Sherlock but he is closer to that unable to understand human emotions than any other portrayal I’ve seen on screen, large or small. His drive to find a cure for his memory loss could be likened to the Jonny Lee Miller portrayal of Holmes as an addict in Elementary without stretching the point as well.
There are, in addition, some nice twists of its own. This Sherlock is not above a little stagecraft to enhance his mystique although he eschews the pipe and deerstalker that Watson bestows upon him.
But, although this film has a central mystery with the inevitable death or deaths at the centre of it and we came away feeling it was engaging but quite a sweet film overall, I certainly felt this film was unflinching in its depiction of some of the effects of senility. There will be people saying “Oh, but my mother was much worse” or “My dad was way worse than that” and of course they’re right. The character of Holmes has to be functional enough to carry the film as the central character after all and many people in the end stages of their lives are able to function without full-time support. Mr Holmes is not there, although at times it is touch and go. But we see Holmes forgetting what he’s doing, forgetting names, doing daft things, and we see him using tricks to cover up his lapses of memory too. It seems odd to describe a film where senility plays such a big part as sweet but for me this film manages to pull it off.
Well worth your time although in fairness there’s nothing you have to see on the big screen here.
Bechdel test: No. There aren’t all that many characters full stop, male or female. There are two named female characters that we’re told met but we never see them actually meet, not in flashback, not even in the film Holmes goes to see, let alone have a conversation.
Russo test: No. If the Russo test extended its criteria from LGBT to the whole rainbow QUILTBAG then yes, Holmes pretty much identifies as Asexual, but no one identifies and LGB in the film and T wasn’t on the cards in 1947.
Saturday, June 27. 2015
Of course I’m happy America put on it’s big boy pants and joined most of the rest of the modern world in recognising gay marriage over the squeals of the homophobes.
But there’s another infographic that’s just as pertinent to the news:
The Center for American Progress reports, in light of today’s happy news, how far there still is to go. Only 21 states have passed laws banning discrimination against LGB people in employment, housing and public accommodation. Only 18 states have extended those bans to transgender people. You can read more here.
It is a great victory but America still lags horribly in so many ways.
Wednesday, June 24. 2015
I’ve been asked to clarify my position on how sexist I think Jurassic World is.
THIS IS PRETTY MUCH FULL OF SPOILERS
My acid test (I appreciate other people have other tests) is still to reverse the genders of the people involved and see how it plays out. So, let’s imagine Owen recast as Gina (according to a couple of baby name websites Gina is one of the feminine forms of Owen) and Claire recast as Sinclair.
In all the “problem” scenes I’ve seen mentioned, whether I discussed them or not - the one where the boys want to stay with Owen in particular - my general opinion is that if it was Gina instead they’d still stick with her as the character is the one that’s showed the skills to protect them so far. Claire’s character, if Sinclair, has so far stood them, forgotten how many years since they last met and generally been useless. A spreadsheet-focussed management type (male or female) should work and be just as useless to them comparatively. So I don’t think they choose Owen because he’s male, they choose Owen because he’s shown he’s better able to protect them in the circumstances and a women cast in that role should be the one they chose. The point generalises to most scenes and I’ll discuss the ones where I don’t think it does so clearly below.
There is a different question about why they put men and women in those roles. I’m not sure I’d believe Bryce Dallas Howard as Gina - there are a number of women who could have pulled off that role well though - but I’d have loved to see Chris Pratt as Sinclair. That doesn’t make this film particularly sexist, it’s the background level of sexism in Hollywood. It doesn’t deserve a free pass of course but neither does it deserve the level of hate it’s getting in my opinion.
The scene in the trailer doesn’t suggest Owen is a jerk to all women, he’s specifically being a jerk to a woman that treated him badly after a date that went badly wrong. It’s very unprofessional but it’s not clearly sexist. Does it work with Gina and Sinclair? Probably, yes. (I’ve seen an argument that it’s an angry man reacting to the woman that dumped him. I’m not sure about that, I’ve seen angry women reacting in very similar ways, but I’m not entirely unconvinced it’s not a reaction more commonly used by men than women so it might fly.) So not clearly sexist. If there was evidence he acted that way to all women I’d certainly amend that position.
Up to this point, while I appreciate other people might be more upset - and I’m not saying Owen’s behaviour is exemplary but the film is not obviously more sexist than the Hollywood norm - it’s not got me up in arms.
The only scene that wouldn’t work with Gina and Sinclair is the phone call with Karen. Sinclair couldn’t be family-shamed because men just aren’t. On that basis alone there is a clearly sexist element in this film. It’s also a scene that happens, that many career women are familiar with. This probably isn’t the right movie to have it in and that’s why it’s troubling for me. Such scenes do happen in reality of course and films should be able to depict things that happen, including things like this. However, because films are a short slice, each scene needs to have impact: it should be included for a reason. Owen being a jerk to Claire could have been written differently (maybe it should have been written differently) but it had a reason, it established their history. That part of that phone call scene seems to have no impact on the rest of the film except to make Claire feel guilty and inadequate. It shouldn’t be there, in my opinion, because it’s really not clear it contributes. (The only possibly argument for contribution is that it is what makes her check on her nephews, but please, she’s been called on the fact she’s not actually with them when she should be, she doesn’t need the extra guilt to check in.) That scene makes this film have more than the Hollywood norm of sexism
All that said, I think Jurassic World has received even more opprobrium than is perhaps its due. And that is, I still think down to the character of Owen. Owen is more bothered about his raptors than people (male or female) and is antagonistic and rude to the female lead. It makes his character an easy mark for claims of chauvinism and the film an easy target for claims of sexism on all fronts. Jurassic World certainly deserves criticism for at least one of its scenes and there are reasoned arguments about several others that I’m not convinced by although you may be. But the sheer amount of vitriol seems over the top to me.
Monday, June 22. 2015
I'm going to start with the science: the palaeontology of Jurassic World is rather poor - the best known is of course that velociraptors ought to be turkey-sized and covered in feathers, not stand human-tall and be reptile skinned. (Less well known, their forelimbs should sweep across, like you're clapping your hands together too rather than how they're articulated in the film.) The list goes on and on, especially the pterosaurs just shouldn't be that scary - they almost certainly wouldn't be particularly aerodynamic and if they swept down and tried to pick up a person, they'd just shudder to halt, break everything and hit the ground in a heap. BUT, as they explain without it sounding particularly like exposition several times, these are not your original species, they're spliced together hybrids where they put something in to replace missing sequences (or worse) to make cool looking dinosaur-like things for a theme park. And you know what? They still look cool, so what the heck. There's some way beyond Orphan Black stretching of scientific credibility in producing these things and making them viable and all the rest back when the first one was made (although not now apparently) so I'll let them go with the rest of it.
Anyway, on to the film proper.
Jurassic World had the potential to be horrible and, if they'd concentrated solely on the "we made a new, bigger dinosaur, it escapes, we have to hunt it down" story - which is essentially the story of Jurassic Park just made bigger, and with more risk because there's 22,000+ people there, I think it would have been. However, they rather smartly didn't do that. They showed also showed us a working Jurassic World theme park for a decent chunk of the movie and that was both lovely to see and made me (and most people I've talked to) really excited and think "Yes, I'd save up and go if it was real!"
Now, there's a belief that the real appeal of dinosaurs is all to little boys. So we have a little boy as a character, who is madly in dinosaurs. (Sound familiar?) He has an older sibling who is less impressed. (Sound familiar again?) They're related to someone important who works at the park... although this time it's a hard-headed, numbers before people business person. (Which actually mashes up two character elements from the first movie.) There's also the visionary owner who is more interested in making it fun and how the animals are and the animal wrangler and so on. Before you start thinking this film is a complete retread, there are also a number of new major characters: the dodgy sponsors and so on, as well as some bit part characters like the dopey college kid working over his vacation who has to look up what to do when the emergency is declared and so on. (If you think it's spoiler that there's an emergency declared you really haven't watched the trailers have you!) So there is enough difference there, plus they expand on the basic character types they've carried over in enough interesting ways that although it's easy for me to point out how they're very similar they have their own strengths and weaknesses and interactions and work together to advance the plot differently. For example, in the first movie I remember a big cheer when the T. Rex ate the accountant, in this movie there was more of a cheer when the numbers-person picks up a gun and shoots the pterosaur.
The various chases, fights and so on in this movie are satisfying and it's nice to see the Jurassic Park concept up and running as a successful park too. The human villains are mostly suitably competent although occasionally stupid, thinking they know best and not listening when they really should. While it perhaps doesn't have quite the impact for me that the original Jurassic Park did 22 years ago (is it really 22 years ago?!) this is a perfectly good movie and plenty of fun.
Bechdel test: I'm going to say no but this is a judgement call. There is a fragment of a conversation where Claire and Karen talk about Karen's word choice mimicking their mother's. On its own that should count. However, since this is a fragment of a conversation when Karen is guilt tripping Claire because she promised to spend the weekend with the boys and she's all tied up with work, the conversation overall is about men (or boys), and it ends up with Karen assuring Claire she'll want to settle down and have kids sometime which further pushes my judgement that the conversation fails the test. There is also a conversation between Claire and Zara (her assistant) about scheduling, but this is all about "No, you can't meet your nephews for tea then, you've got a meeting" so again it's about the boys. There ought to be a chance for a conversation between Claire and Vivian in the control room but it doesn't crop up.
Russo test: No, sexuality is rarely discussed or demonstrated but the only characters were you get any insight are definitely straight.
Because this bit contains spoilers, it's going to continue under the fold. Read at your own risk! Continue reading "Jurassic World"
Sunday, June 7. 2015
Sense8 is the latest work from the Wachowskis, this time in concert with J. Michael Straczynki of Babylon 5 fame and making a TV series on Netflix rather than a movie.
Like a lot of their work (except Bound) I think, they set out to explore the world through a particular lens and look at the questions that arise from that. The Matrix is essentially techno-Buddhism, The Matrix Reloaded is techno-kabbalah and so on. Jupiter Ascending perhaps avoids that, or perhaps it has that “What if those dreams of being a princess and important were came true?” vibe going through it rather than a more mystical/esoteric viewpoint. However, they often don’t bother to share exactly what the central question or theme is. Whether they trust their audience to work it out or think it makes a better film that way isn’t obvious but it’s definitely their style. The question, at least the overt lens, Sense8 sets out to look at the world through, is what would it be like if we were completely connected with each other, or a group of others. You may choose to read into the way I’ve phrased that statement that I’m not convinced that’s really the central point they’re addressing, but since they don’t explicitly state their questions I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself what you think it is. Anyway, my idea of what the question is would involve a lot of spoilers to explain.
It came to me, as I was watching one of the episodes of this series, that some of the things they were trying to put across would work much more smoothly in a book. And that is, I think, true of quite a few of their projects. Much though I enjoyed Cloud Atlas it is one of those books that had been described as unfilmable because of its themes and scope. Ultimately, of course, a lot of people didn’t like the film adaptation that the Wachowskis made but no one can really imagine anyone else even attempting it. That is not to say all of their ideas suffer from this - there are elements that work really well in film that would struggle to work half as well in any other medium. But that contrast is perhaps stronger here than in their films.
I won’t beat around the bush. More than most, this series won’t be for everyone. The characters probably won’t engage everyone and since they’re not given equal time if the ones you particularly like are less frequently present you’ll probably not be as engaged as if you like one of the more often shown characters. If you’re homophobic or transphobic you’ll probably want to stay well away. If you demand quick, clear answers to questions and a simple plot, or even clear questions, then this is definitely not for you. It’s harder for me to judge this, but if you like a heavily plot-driven piece, with the characters serving that driving plot, you might be disappointed too. Certainly if you insist on a big chunk of discourse explaining what it all is and how it works you’ll almost certainly be disappointed: the transition from the characters going “WTF is going on? Did you see that? Am I going mad?” to smoothly helping each other is gradual and subtle and basically experienced by them and us, the watchers. We don’t get told it, we get shown it and we don’t really realise we, and they, have learnt how to do it - or at least I didn’t in binge watch mode - until it’s all happening really smoothly for them.
Personally this all works for me My tastes run more to interesting characters and a plot that is good enough. Sense8 has a diverse array of characters and tries to follow them all, letting what in other shows would be driving plot points unfold only as they observe or uncover them. While I acknowledge there are times the story could, perhaps usefully, be told in other ways. In essence it’s first-person story-telling for what is almost a hive mind. They are clearly different but they share so much that the boundaries are well and truly blurred. Does that make them singular or plural? Having set up their lens, this is certainly one of the questions the series keeps coming back to.
Like any TV show, like any film really, there are scenes that are stronger, scenes that are weaker. Some of the weakest scenes I find really head-scratchingly “OMG, I can’t believe they let that get into the final release” bad. But there are so many scenes I find beautiful, intricate and interesting, occasionally downright laugh our loud funny too, that I’m prepared to let the dodgy as heck ones slide because, thankfully, they’re few and far enough between they’d don’t really affect my overall impression of the show. As you might guess, having name checked both Bound and The Matrix there are both some sex scenes and some beautifully choreographed fight scenes too. Then there’s a Bollywood dance scene and more thrown in for good measure in the visual sheer spectacle stakes.
I hope this does well enough for Netfilx to sign it up for as second season. I certainly enjoyed it. And in what is one of the ultimate compliments, like a few other shows I sat and watched it, properly watched it. No having it on and reading at the same time. Binge watched the series in a weekend (interrupted only for Orphan Black) and didn’t read, didn’t surf, paused it when I was on the computer and so on.
I had hoped to end with a scene from the show that demonstrates just how the moving between the members of the cluster works. There are many of them but obviously most of them are spoiler-laden. Thankfully a few, when they’re just having fun, do exist and someone else clipped the scene I hoped to use. It’s not only spoiler-free, it’s got all of the cluster (although Nomi’s appearance is incredibly brief) all singing along to 4 Non Blondes and What’s Up? with a bit of them swapping places and so on thrown in for good measure (You see Wolfgang and Kala swapping around between the karaoke bar in Berlin and her bedroom and a rooftop in Mumbai). There are others scenes that do this huge pile-on but they tend to be pretty spoiler-heavy and few other scenes of them having fun but they don’t have all the members of the cluster swapping around in as dynamic a manner as this one.
Friday, June 5. 2015
Saturday, May 23. 2015
Much like the last film I watched Mad Max: Fury Road ticks all the boxes it has to tick. Admittedly the boxes are rather different - Max is suitably mad, still a loner and a road warrior. The film pretty much opens with him driving off with his iconic car and supercharger in fact. On top of this there are lots and lots of car chases, car fights, explosions, fights on cars and an oil tanker this time and all the rest. There’s a big, nay huge, dessert landscape and water being hoarded forms a core part of the story. Add in a despotic warlord who hoards fertile women even more jealously than he hoards water and some rather roughly sketched out death cult that essentially worships him and obeys his every whim and there’s the makings of the latest society Max is unlucky enough to meet.
In this film, Max is probably shown as madder than in the earlier three films. He clearly suffers from PTSD, complete with flashbacks and for added fun he hears voices too! While I’m not sure it’s a good way to show even the forms of PTSD that have flashbacks it is certainly incredibly effective within the film and it’s pretty crippling at various points which is a novel, but nice, touch.
Much has also been made of the fact that this film, in contrast to so many others these days, largely uses practical effects rather than CGI. I have to say it is noticeable, the colour tone of this movie is brilliant and strong throughout, with a few moments (like the sandstorm that you see in the trailer) and a longish night chase where that’s not true. But it actually looked to me as if they shot at night and that works too. Having a trailer for Jurassic World and all its CGI effects before Mad Max started just highlighted the difference. And it was much more startling on the big screen than watching it on a website.
Much has also been made of Charlize Theron’s role as a bad-ass female action figure. While Tom Hardy is playing the title character, both names are on the same screen: it is impossible to tell who is being touted as the star. Max is much more of an anti-hero than in previous films and certainly much more of a bastard and undoubtedly more selfish than she is on a number of occasions. Furiosa, possibly the Fury of the road in the title (this film is really about her journey), is much less ambiguously a hero both throughout the film and in her final moments. There are some sad muppets out there who don’t like this element of the film but I think it’s all good. Theron plays the role she’s given brilliantly, Furiosa and Max play brilliantly alongside each other as foes and later as allies and it works wonderfully as far as I’m concerned.
The muppets in particular seem to focus on the scene when Max and Furiosa fight, complaining that a woman could never stand up to man in hand-to-hand combat like that. Given the society they live in and her role in it, Furiosa is clearly a trained warrior so it’s eminently possible he shouldn’t win. It’s still possible that Max at full strength ought to be able to beat her - at the moments it’s down to the two of them and sheer muscle he tends to do well. But did all the moaners and shouters miss the interference of the other people in the fight which certainly played a significant part? And the fact that Max had been donating blood for an undisclosed period before the fight and was therefore certainly not at his best? No, of course not, they just shouted and ranted.
Those who have worried and screamed about Charlize Theron as an action hero should be much more worried about something else I think. There were a LOT of female roles in this film, several of them in big, or at least long parts. I’m not sure what the last film I saw with this many chunky roles for women in it was. (It beats Pitch Perfect on numbers and leaves it standing on proportions and that probably comes closest.) One really interesting thing that did pop up, all of the big characters, male and female, had their moments of weakness in different ways. Max actually had many of them when his PTSD caused problems. But they all, in a crunch had their moments of absolutely critical strength too. Max and Furiosa had more than anyone else but it’s anyone’s guess, without keeping score, who did better out of the two of them. Yes, the gender of each of these characters was essential for the story. But past that the characters were written with a weakness and some strengths. It didn’t matter if they were male or female, they were all good at something or just coped with all the random shit going on around them spectacularly well and they all had moments when they went wibble and lost it. In other words they were all interesting in their own right and they all contributed at different times. Also, in the week when Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she’s too old to be the love interest of a 55 year old man (she’s 37) a number of the women in this film are in their 70’s! And they’re sitting there shooting and riding motorbikes and all the rest. It seems odd to say a Mad Max movie, petrolheads and explosions and fights and all should be held up as one of the least sexist and ageist pieces of movie writing I’ve ever seen but I honestly think it is. To my mind it’s not a feminist call to arms, or it shouldn’t be, but it appears to be simply because it’s lacking the amount of sexism we normally see in film.
All of that political stuff aside, there’s actually very little plot here. But there’s enough to tie together the chases and fights. There’s lots of cars and fights and bangs and effects. Many of them are truly spectacular, all of them are at least very good. Overall I found it to be a load of fun. It’s not a movie to watch again and again and tease out the nuances and so on. But, much like The Mummy it’s got enough entertainment value that it just doesn’t matter. You don’t need a particularly twisty plot and all the rest when it’s put together right and the elements mesh in such a fun way as this one. I can imagine in 10 years time quite happily half-watching this much as I half-watch The Mummy now while I’m doing other things. It’s fun enough to do that and simple enough it doesn’t matter if I’ve seen it 20 times and walk about for 10 minutes in the middle to do something more important right then.
While many of the stunts are spectacular and highly skilled and all the rest and there is something fun about high octane car chases, motorbike stunts and so on, for me there’s always something more special about seeing people doing crazy things. For that reason, although some of the other stunts might be bigger bangs and more spectacular for you, the chase and fight scenes with the pole-cats - men (I think they were all men) on the top of poles on speeding cars, swinging around to land on the tanker, snatch people up and so on is probably the most impressive single element of the whole film. You see a tiny clip of them in the trailer but in the film there’s much more and they’re much more impressive.
One final note, on the lighter side. If you’re going to have a Mad Max movie in all it’s high-speed fury I think you need a speed metal sound track. The main warlord of the bad guys agrees and part of his battle train is the band-wagon. That’s a wagon with a rack of drummers on the back, and a speaker stack on the front with a guitarist suspended in front of them. The guitarist isn’t completely defenceless though, get some good riffs going and his guitar spouts flames. Charge into battle with your own live music!
Bechdel test. Yes, absolutely. There are a shedload of named female characters (I think 15 but I didn’t count it on IMDB so I might have missed some). They talk about all kinds of things in small groups, big groups and so on. Perhaps the most affecting conversation is about killing people and then the treasure trove of seeds that she plants and hopes will take root.
Russo test. No. No one identifies as LGBT. The Clan of the Many Mothers is all female and if you really want to read L themes into their actions you probably could (there’s a lot of man hating and mutual support and touching) but it’s really not laid out in any clear way. It could be long friendship and support on the battlefield for a comrade in arms, nothing more.
Friday, May 22. 2015
In terms of the boxes it had to tick, Pitch Perfect ticks them all perfectly well. There is a lot of a cappella singing, and if that’s your thing you’ll be very happy. There are lots of styles of song chosen too so while you might not like some of the music the chances are you’ll like some of it. There is some serious choreography going on too at various points and that’s nicely worked into it.
It’s also a college-based movie so we have the inevitable growing-up, seeing things as an adult story line and it ticks that box too. There’s a young love story in there as well.
There’s plenty of PYTs whether your gaze skews male, female or you’re happy to take them both. We spend more time with the women, Anna Kendrick is the star for one thing and it’s her story and her time with the Barden Bellas we follow, but I suspect the marketers thought this would skew female in the audience so there’s a fair chunk of male eye-candy moments.
As this film was released 3 years ago, a quick synopsis is in order and not really breaking my no-spoiler rule. Fresher Beca wants to be a DJ and doesn’t want to be at college. She agrees to try and join something and give it a go for a year to appease her dad and is overheard singing in the shower by one of the a cappella women and is recruited. They compete and come second in the local contest to the much more dynamic boy group the Treblemakers from their own university but advance to the regionals (a semi-final in effect). Meanwhile Beca is working at the radio station and making friends with a cute boy from the boy group who would clearly like there to be more going on. There is, in true movie fashion, a failure at the semi-final stage a ‘magical’ reprieve and a fight for the ‘soul’ of the Bellas that leads to them doing something radical, new and ultimately winning (and beating the Troublemakers). This includes moving from a set where they basically sing three or four songs back to back to a set where they put together a much more modern mix, moving between songs and singers smoothly. It certainly helps that Beca (Kendrick) is an aspiring DJ and her mixes are good enough that she gets a break on the student radio station ages before anyone normally does. She also wins the fight for the soul of the Bellas and leads this new way.
The problem with Pitch Perfect is really deeply ironic. Initially the Bellas are, with the best will in the world, also rans. They do everything well, well enough to get to the regional finals but their performances are safe, predictable and don’t really connect with the audience while being technically very hard to fault. This film is rather like the Bellas before the fight for their soul. It does everything well but to my mind it was staid and predictable. Every emotional beat was nicely acted, don’t get me wrong, but I knew when it was coming and what it was going to be so there was no sense of drama. The writers, as I’ve already foreshadowed (a technique they missed out on) could have done with learning the lesson they made their characters learn.
In fairness, because they have to fit big chunks of singing, or singing and dancing into the film they were constrained in what they could do because it wasn’t a musical and so they couldn’t fit the big beats into the singing. Some of the stories clearly take time to develop: you can’t have the “You don’t have to rescue me, you’re not my boyfriend” fight scene if they haven’t spent enough time together to him think there might be some chance she might be interested. But one element that marched to a different rhythm, one part that didn’t run exactly as expected exactly when it was expected to, just like their final performance, that would have made the film itself as well as the singing and dancing much more enjoyable, at least for me. There are chances for this, Beca could have taken a chance on wild sex with Jesse, or at least with making him her boyfriend early. She didn’t have to grow up and understand her dad. Her dad could have understood her moment of youthful rebellion better. But no, technically hard to fault but lacking in soul, at least to my mind.
Bechdel Test: Yes. There’s an all-women singing group that is front and centre for most of the film. They are all named, they talk about singing a lot and boys surprisingly little.
Russo Test: Pitch Perfect passes step one, Cynthia is a lesbian. However, this is asserted early by another, confirmed late by Cynthia. Given how little is made of it, it clearly passes step 2. It’s hard to say if she’s there as the token lesbian for authenticity but since her outing as gay is “I’ve had a serious gambling problem for the last two years since my girlfriend left me” it’s hard to say she’s set up for just a punchline so I’ll say a borderline yes to step 3. So that’s a pass. My second of the year and, ironically enough BOTH films not released for the cinema this year!
Although not relevant for most of you, I had to crank the volume way up and still found it hard to hear the dialogue in most of this film, although the singing came through loud and clear.
Friday, May 15. 2015
Paste is a tool that, as you might guess from its name helps with pasting things. In fact it’s a clipboard manager for the Mac. There are a few of these around and I’ve looked at several over the years but they’ve always disrupted rather than helped my workflow and so they haven’t survived which is the acid test.
Paste just unobtrusively (or otherwise, by default there’s a sound effect that I found annoying but you can turn it off) copies things anything you copy to its list too. You can choose how long you want this stored list to be. I’m currently going for 50 items. If you want to cut and paste normally, you can, just like normal. If you want to invoke Paste though, you hit your chosen shortcut (or there’s a menubar icon) which can be just about anything as long as it doesn’t contain Cmd-V and your desktop recedes and blurs out and the snippets in the Paste memory appear along the bottom of the screen as a nicely presented visual list. You can scroll along them, find the one you want and double click it. This will put it to the left hand edge of the Paste queue and into your clipboard so you can just hit Cmd-V to paste it. You can also use the preferences to have it automatically paste it; I’ve only just started using that, I wanted to get used to the rest of it first, but as with everything else it works as smoothly as you would expect. Note, it doesn’t work the very first time because you have to give it permission to install a script somewhere and so there isn’t an active app for it to paste into when you come back from doing that. But that one little wtf moment aside, every time after that it works just fine.
Although most people probably won’t need it (I don’t), you can also right click the managed items to get extra options such as paste without styles or sharing via Messages and Mail, or to delete an item.
The menu bar icon offers the sorts of things you’d expect like quit and access to preferences with options to set apps which will not have their contents added to the history when copied (Keychain Access is there by default), to set the size of the history (number of items stored) and to clear the pasteboard history (only likely to need this if you set an unlimited Paste history). So far I’m happy with 50. It gives me a balance between the amount I’m likely to need in any working day and the amount it’s convenient to search. Yes, I’m likely to be able to use more than that in theory but there’s a point where it’s just as easy to retype or copy again as it is to scroll through dozens of items in the clipboard history. If I worked in a different job that number might be different: if I was pasting a load of images around a lot for example with a lot of repeated elements then I might want more, but for what I do 50 works nicely. You can have an unlimited clipboard history at which point the ability to clear it is almost certainly important.
As you would expect from a clipboard manager this works for all items, images, text etc. Paste also adds a “header” that shows you the app you copied it from and the nature of the contents (text, image, link etc.) and then a body that shows either a thumbnail of the image or the start of the text (about 10 lines although if you’re pasting from a word processor document you won’t see 10 full lines of that as you a number of thumbnails (I get nine but I assume it depends on your screen size and resolution and so on)). Images are nicely resized so you get a proper thumbnail, not a section of the image. I haven’t really tried copying and pasting audio and video clips because that isn’t something I have to do that often. So I tried a video and audio file just for completeness - you get “file” as the type of a video file and the still of the first frame. For audio files you get a similar thing and any image information associated with it - that might be album artwork if it’s an iTunes file or the normal audio file icon otherwise. (Having them show as “file” might be affected because I was picking them from Finder though.) But Paste will handle them just fine.
It’s rare that I’d say an app fits in so well that Apple should really just buy it and incorporate into their OS (I would add PopChar to that list, I’d honestly forgotten you could do something similar with Apple’s Keyboard Preferences but PopChar does it a lot better). But, to be honest, Paste is another one of those. It works beautifully and simply and doesn’t interfere with the normal way cutting and pasting works but adds extra functionality if you want it smoothly and simply.
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