Wednesday, July 16. 2014
PopClip is an app that is hard to sum up. Is it a one-trick pony or a one-million-trick pony, a bit of a Swiss Army Knife? The truth is perhaps it's both at the same time.
Essentially it's a menu-bar sitting app that actually works when you select some text. It always works when you highlight with your mouse and it mostly works if you highlight with simple keyboard operations (Cmd+A, or Cmd+L then Cmd+A, less so if you use things like Shift+Alt+Right Arrow say.) With your highlighted text it pops up a context dependent hover bar like the one in the picture below. You then click on one of the buttons it offers you. See, a one-trick pony.
The benefit of using the mouse for your selection is that your mouse is then very close to the bar to click on the option you want to use. And yes, if you own an iOS device you might well recognise the styling of the bar - there aren't choices to style it available but it works nicely.
Out of the box you get a choice to copy and paste and a few other things. You can open a URL in your default browser, search for the highlighted text, look a word up in the dictionary app, use an address (insert it into the To: field in your default email app) and so on.
However, although you're limited to, I think 12 extensions at once, there are over 100 extensions available. I've added options to add a URL to my Instapaper account (there are others for Pocket etc. if you have other preferences for where you save your URLs to read later), an option to drop text straight to Google Translate, an option to drop text straight to DuckDuckGo, an option to add text straight to a new note in nvAlt are the one's I've got installed. There's the often used Paste and Enter as well - if you're sending links to someone then you can copy them from somewhere and hit paste and enter. Whether that's to put them onto a new line or to send them one IM at a time depends on the context, it's still really useful. See, it's a Swiss-Army Knife!
I suspect this is a bit of a marmite app. If you like what it can do for you, you will love it and use it a lot (although I suspect not all the time, I still use Cmd+C, Cmd+V etc a lot too). If you hate it, you will wonder what all the fuss it about it. Although PopClip is a pay-for app ($4.99 or £2.49 (I think)) there's a free trial available from Pilot Moon - the developer's website. You get a pretty generous 165 free uses to make up your mind before you have to commit to buying the app or not.
In fact, while writing about it, I've come across a few extra extensions. There's one to run code in terminal/iTerm2. I often have to do this and either copy and paste or copy type it across. Gone are those days I guess!
Tuesday, July 15. 2014
Although I'm not part of the Westminster Village, rumours of a dossier of names of child abusers that had been handed to some home secretary or another (Leon Brittain as it turns out, and as he has confirmed) have come to my attention on and off over the years - they crop up on the news and so on.
It's always been something I haven't been sure about. I've certainly thought it was possible that such a dossier existed, more likely after the revelations about Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and so on. But, equally, with the greatest of respect to the MPs and others who have carried the story on, there's been so little support, so little other news I've equally wondered if it's been a case of a rightly concerned crusader who is closer to Don Quixote than Roland in this case.
But on Friday I was left flabbergasted by the Home Office. Keith Vaz, who is not my favourite MP but is chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee and thus very much the right person to do this, asked the civil servant in charge of the Home Office for a list of the names of the files in the dossier that had been handed to Leon Brittain when he had been Home Secretary. Those files that Leon Brittain had publicly confirmed he had received and had (rightly I think) handed over to the Home Office for further action.
[In case British political titles confuse you, the Home Secretary is the Minister in charge of the Home Office. It is one of the most powerful political offices in the UK, one of the 'Great Offices of State' along with the Foreign Office and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although it has now been reorganised and there is a separate Ministry of Justice, at the time, the Home Office was responsible for all aspects of law and order and the smooth functioning of the country within the borders and control of those borders. The Home Office still controls immigration, passports, drugs policy, crime policy, counter-terrorism, policing and the like. (The new MOJ covers courts and the prisons but that used to be the remit of the Home Office.) The Home Office also covers important, but odd seeming things like Equal Rights legislation and so forth. The idea of the Home Secretary handling a dossier like that would like you emailing the President with an idea and him (or her if Hilary gets elected) actually handling it personally. Even for a top party donor they might accept it personally but they'd hand it off to someone else to deal with.]
Now, a list of file names for 114 files shouldn't take long to compile. I understand when the head civil servant comes back and says some of the file names have to be redacted because they contain names and might prejudice ongoing police enquiries. But surely it doesn't take 6-8 weeks to do that? Something that goes: Here's a list of all the files that don't contain names. There are another n files that contain names where we are checking with the police that it will not prejudice their enquiry.
But to hear it's likely to take 6-8 weeks to get any file names? That's just crazy.
And then, although I don't read the papers, on Sunday my news aggregator was covered with articles about top politicians from that era and people saying who knew, who didn't know, who was there. One paper went further and got someone on record saying he fully expects to be a key witness at the enquiry because he was, as a young adult, used by older, powerful politicians, to go out and solicit underage boys for their parties. These accusations go right to the top too.
Then it turns out that the person appointed to head the new enquiry is the sister of one of the politicians likely to be investigated - indeed one of the politicians explicitly named over the weekend. When I first heard her qualifications for the job I thought she sounded ideal for the post. I'm sure the politicians that announced her thought so too. Retired judge, lead a well-respected public enquiry into child abuse in Cleveland, was one of the leading lights in setting up a cross-disciplinary service for families and children which is also well respected. This is the service that set up the guidelines and systems that tried (inevitably not always successfully but it is generally accepted more successfully than before) to make sure that the police, schools, social services, the health services and so on talk to each other about children that might be at risk of being abused.
It is common to say, when asked conspiracy or cock-up to say cock-up. Conspiracies are hard work and hard to maintain and someone, somewhere, somewhen will leak. To paraphrase a quote from elsewhere, secrets are only safe when only two people know them and one of those people is dead. Let me be clear, I'm not accusing any of the public faces here - I think they're the patsies in this case. (The politicians are often the evil-doers in their own spheres but I doubt it this time, it seems too long a run. The continuity is in the civil service, not the politicians, even politicians like Ken Clarke* haven't had the power and influence required for all of the time since the 80's.) But it is starting to look like something is going on, there seems to be some sort of deliberate go-slow and an ongoing series of actions where people aren't complying, aren't following the rules, aren't acting to the standards they are expected to maintain. Once or twice... well humans are somewhat sloppy and these things happen. But for it always to happen around these files and this issue - it starts to smack of a conspiracy. Who are these people protecting? It could all be coincidence, and of such coincidences conspiracy theories are born, but it is starting to reach the point where coincidence is starting to stretch credulity.
* I don't think Ken Clarke had anything to do with it, he's just all over the news because he's retired from the cabinet after 30+ years on the front benches, either in government or in opposition. He's just about the only politician who has been that close to the reins of power for that long. All his contemporaries from his early years have moved to the House of Lords or died.
Friday, June 27. 2014
About a month ago (although the original story is a bit older than that) a story crossed my news feeds that David Bowie had withdrawn his rights for Chris Hadfield's version of Space Oddity. If you didn't see it - too late! But Chris Hadfield was an astronaut on the International Space Station who recorded a version while in orbit. I don't know David Bowie personally (although a childhood friend of mine actually does) but from what I know of him it seemed a bit out of character although perfectly within his rights. I wasn't particularly disappointed, shocked or anything else.
However, it turns out the facts behind this story were wrong. As is quite common, David Bowie doesn't own the rights to the songs he wrote, rather the publishing company associated with his record label do. Despite him urging them to continue to allow this video to be hosted on YouTube they decided (as is also their right of course) not to.
But that isn't what I really want to say. The apology from the Ottawa Citizen really shows exactly how the media should go about doing the job properly.
In case you don't want to read the whole piece you can see the top of the article here. No beating around the bush. It's clear, obvious and states why, where and the facts that they screwed up. Well done.
Of course, in the week of the phone hacking trial convictions it's even clearer than usual that sometimes an apology just isn't enough. I'm not pretending it is. But for a mistake like this an apology seems about right and it has been offered fulsomely and while it might have been shamefacedly it doesn't read as if it's through gritted teeth. There are a lot of people in public life who should be reading this and thinking about when they have to apologise how they can adapt it as their model.
Sunday, June 1. 2014
There are going to be more spoilers here than normal because this is more or less the Sleeping Beauty story, told from a different perspective. If you really don't know the Sleeping Beauty story already... sorry!
Maleficent is, in essence the Wickedifcation of Sleeping Beauty. It's not quite the same as Wicked in that the story isn't told by the wicked witch, but it's certainly told with her as the central and most sympathetic character.
We learn how a young faerie called Maleficent meets a young boy called Stefan and falls in love. On her 16th birthday, they kiss, what Stefan tells her is true love's kiss. However, Stefan leaves her when his ambition drives him in other ways. Later, driven by ambition, he returns telling her that the king is sending men to kill her (true) and then betrays her trust by giving her sleeping potion and cutting off her wings. The king, who is childless, appoints Stefan his heir. His ambition is gloriously fulfilled.
Later still, Maleficent, in a scene we all remember from the original film, lays a terrible curse (she really should have thought more about the wording of the curse first) on Stefan's daughter at the christening. Reinforcing the other wishes, Aurora will be beautiful and beloved by all. However, on her 16th birthday she will fall into a magical sleep and can only be woken by true love's kiss. Oh the parallels to her and Stefan's history, and the twisting of the knife for poor Stefan who knows exactly what it all means.
The bulk of the film follows Aurora growing up, supposedly hidden away by Stefan, but actually watched over by Maleficent who she deduces is her fairy godmother. In what can't be really called a twist (Maleficent's curse detailed that all who knew Aurora would love her remember, it didn't specify she would be immune to it) Maleficent comes to love Aurora and tries to lift the curse (oops, she can't do that, she specified that too, only true love's kiss can) so she tries to sort that out too.
In one of the more sensible moments, a passing young prince who Aurora met briefly admits he was attracted to Aurora but isn't sure he loves her because "he only met her once" and in a somewhat disturbing scene the pixies force him to kiss the unconscious Aurora. She doesn't wake up. (It's a PG film but to adult eyes it looks horribly like he's being encouraged to indulge in date rape.)
In what is meant to be a twist but is so obvious that a 6 year in the row behind us spotted it coming, it is Maleficent's farewell kiss, after she declares her sorrow and that she will guard Aurora until she dies and how Aurora has stolen what remains of her heart, that awakens Sleeping Beauty.
It's not quite over - the original Disney cartoon has a fight between the transformed Maleficent as a dragon and the handsome prince. That scene is essentially there, but it's the big fight between Stefan and Maleficent. There are some twists and turns that make it distinct of course, but the unrelenting bad guy of this film - driven to do bad things through ambition and greed throughout - is Stefan and he finally gets his comeuppance.
Maleficent and Aurora run away and live happily every after. I kid you not. The people that wondered if Frozen might have a lesbian subtext - Maleficent and Aurora really do run away together and live happily every after. We already know what they have between them is true love. Subtext, not so much. In this film, although there are beards around, it's out and out canon. Prepare for the fundamentalist backlash.
There are other elements of interest to the adult eye too. Social comments about 'a place like where we live, where people have a king and are jealous of their neighbours' contrasted to 'a wonderful place where everyone lives in harmony' and so on. They slip by almost unnoticed but the abuses of power by Stefan are noticeable throughout. Although Maleficent comes to claim the throne of the Moorlands it's not every suggested she actually does anything with her rule - although that could be glossed over. Although she takes the throne by force and threatens the faeries, sixteen years later they're all still there and looking remarkably uninjured. It is also noticeable that all the recognisably gendered characters in the magical, harmonious place are female. (One of the border guards is described as 'classically handsome' so you would assume that's a male character but handsome is applied to women as well, albeit more rarely.) Apart from Aurora and a very brief appearance from her mother, almost everyone you see from what is Stefan's Kingdom for most of the film is male.
Finally it has to be said on top of this, the moors and the moorland faeries are just beautiful. The border guardians in particular are wonderful but many of the faerie creatures, once you get beyond the pixies are great. The pixies are limited because they have to look enough like the cartoon version to blend back and they work. Their main role is comic relief and they work nicely enough in that role too.
Bechdel test. Yes. There are more male characters than I've mentioned, particularly Diaval, Maleficent's minion, but there are any number of conversations between Maleficent and Aurora, and between Knotgrass, Thistletwit and Flittle (the three faeries who raise Aurora - 'no one will think it's odd, three women living together raising our orphan niece') where they never mention a man.
Monday, May 26. 2014
So UKIP have polled the most votes in the European elections, reportedly sending a shockwave around British politics - it's the first time in over 100 years that Labour or the Conservatives haven't won a national election for example.
But just how worried should the big parties be?
There I think it's much harder to tell.
Local elections and European elections have long had a tradition of protest votes and come the general election the voters return to their more normal voting patterns. The question is, will UKIP be able to maintain its share of the vote? And there I honestly don't know (and nor does anyone else of course). Some parties have, but others have not.
Even if UKIP do manage to hold up their level of voters, will their votes translate to seats? The European voting system lets them do well. But Westminster elections, as the Lib Dems know so well, will happily let a party with 27% of the votes return no or next to no MPs. In Labour strongholds they will place second to Labour, in Tory strongholds they will place second to the Tories. What they might do is change the voting enough in the marginal seats so that the outcome becomes too close to call and then it will become a case of working out which party's votes they will affect most. The evidence to date suggests they're taking the Conservative vote away most I think, although they're obviously taking votes from all the parties.
The other thing to bear in mind with these votes is that it is a European and local election. Turnout is always lower than for a general election. The people that vote tend to be the activists and those who will always vote. General elections get a bigger proportion of voters out because they're considered more important. My impression - and it might be unfair - is that UKIP is disproportionately popular amongst the older voters (I'm thinking those over retirement age and older) and (this time definitely not unfair, in fact well known although overlooked in all the reporting this time) older voters are much more likely to vote than just about any other group except party activists. This is, for example, at least part of the reason that benefit reforms haven't touched pensions at all. If my impression is right, come the general election the extra voters that come out to vote won't be UKIP supporters, or will be disproportionately lower in support of UKIP anyway than in this vote. Even if this is not just a protest and the bulk of those that voted UKIP this time vote UKIP next time the infamous back of the envelope suggests support could easily fall from about 27% to about 20% just by dilution of the core supporters if we assume (almost certainly unfairly) none of the extra voters will vote UKIP. But between a loss of protest votes and a dilution of the core support that I expect when the younger voters turn out, unless UKIP has a serious, workable manifesto, I'd be surprised if UKIP polls as high as 20% at the Westminster election next year.
Also worth bearing in mind, there is a sizeable group of people who often don't vote but just might be inspired to vote in the next Westminster elections in case UKIP get in. Unlike France, for example, in Britain, the cynical, liberal intelligentsia in the UK often don't bother to vote because "it won't change anything." But those cynical, liberal intellectuals will be, unanimously, opposed to UKIP and quite possibly motivated to vote (probably not unanimously but in larger numbers than in many years) purely to stop UKIP getting elected. How that intention to vote will transfer to ballots cast will be interesting to see - I'd expect to see relatively minority parties like the Greens doing well in some places, but Labour and possibly the Lib-Dems doing well too.
What I think we will see is not a four-party system, at least not for the bulk of the UK. We might see UKIP replace the Liberal Democrats as the third party for this election, South of Hadrian's Wall and on the mainland UK at least in terms of the popular vote. That's assuming that Scotland doesn't go its own way in October, which I don't know about - the Unite campaign seems to be falling apart and the Independence campaign is always gaining ground. Assuming Scotland is still part of the Union, I'd guess we'll see Labour and the SNP and... I don't know maybe just two significant parties although how the SNP will fare after a no vote will be interesting to see. Wales will stay basically Labour with a scatter of other MPs (Plaid Cymru, Conservative, maybe UKIP, Green Lib-Dem etc. but basically about 80% or more Labour). Northern Ireland will stay with its own parties as always.
It might well be true that the Lib-Dems have saved us from the worst of the excesses of Tory policies. There are policies that have doubtless benefited the typical person in the street that can be laid at the Lib-Dem's door such as the higher income tax threshold. But they are still going to be punished for being in government (as the Tories are) and they don't have the support and size to cope with it. They'll return some MPs I'm sure - some implying more than 1. I'm not sure I'd go as high as 10 though unless the liberal intellectual vote is more heavily for them than I expect. However, with the crazy system that we have for Westminster, this could still be more than UKIP. They have a number of fairly safe seats. Support for their local MPs would have to really collapse in all of those seats for none of those MPs to be returned. While some will suffer from this - Clegg himself seems like a likely victim - it just seems unlikely they'll all go.
If I was in the unfortunate position of advising any of the big parties what would I say? Well, I think the honest advice would be "Keep Calm and Carry On."
Changing leaders won't help the Lib Dems and might hurt them, even with the low expectations I have for them. They're in a position where only a miracle can help them but panicking can still hurt them and changing leaders now smacks of panic. Although Menzies-Campbell thinks a long period of introspection would hurt the Lib-Dems, I have to think it would hurt them less than panicking and swapping leaders. Their miracle might be the need, for a general election, for UKIP to have more face, spokespeople on defence, health, the economy, law and order, foreign affairs and the like. Nigel Farage has managed to ride above everything somehow, but when there are a cluster of faces, will UKIP remain quite as teflon-coated? And if they don't, will that benefit the Lib-Dems? It can't hurt them and will probably help them to some extent. Not enough to stop it being really bad but maybe enough to stop it being a disaster.
Both Labour and the Tories would be daft to change leaders. They will doubtless pore over the results and the voting patterns and demographics and tweak strategies but there's enough hope for the Tories that they might win so they won't change too much. Labour, despite the gains by UKIP, have gained votes and seats at the local elections. Yes, there are a few places where they didn't make gains that they hoped to, but there are many places that they did make gains, so while they shouldn't be complacent, they're doing OK. Again, they'll tweak but not change too much.
And while they haven't been saying it in public - it appears too churlish for one thing - I'm sure their analysts are saying the same things about the potential fragility of the UKIP vote or basically UKIP and the Lib-Dems swapping places but little effect on the overall pattern of MPs elected - as I have been. That's a disaster for the Lib-Dems of course, but Labour and the Conservatives can live with that.
Earthquake? No. In my lifetime we've had transitions and restructuring of the 'third party' of British politics. It used to be the Liberal Party. Then the SDP emerged spalling off from Labour. There was a kind of uneasy truce and then the Liberals and the SDP formally merged to form the Lib-Dems. UKIP is currently a 1-issue party that has won a protest vote that has splintered from the Conservative right. When it has to present a manifesto for a general election, we will see if that is maintained. Europe, and our relationship to Europe, is obviously a huge issue in the European elections. For some people it will be the biggest issue at the Westminster elections too but for the rest of the populace just how well will UKIP's policies on health, defence, the economy and all those other important issues stack up against the other parties'?
Saturday, May 24. 2014
X-Men: Days of Future Past is a movie that, from the trailers rather filled me with trepidation. I'm always cautious about superhero movies - as a genre I'm generally not keen, although this current reboot of the franchise avoids most of the pitfalls that I turn me off - AND I'm cautious about movies that involve time-travel because there's lots of ways they can that which just make me scream. Lets just say I didn't go in with high expectations although I did have some hopes.
Fortunately this film continues the trend from X-Men: First Class of avoiding the superheroes winding me up by and large and although one has to wonder how Kitty Pryde discovers her mutant ability to send someone's psyche back to an earlier part of their history and the side effects of it that mean Wolverine is the one that has to be sent back to the 70's it avoids a lot of the pitfalls of time travel pretty neatly. There's no real chance for paradoxes, no in depth discussion of theories and so on except a little 'maybe we just can't change history this much' moment that isn't out of place and serves more to ratchet up the tension than annoy - it's speculation from a character that ought to think of such things but it's dealt with as such.
There's a lot of eye candy, both in terms of scantily clad male and female flesh and in terms of very watchable actors sharing screen time. In no particular order Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Peter Dinklange, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and James McAvoy all capture the eye and yet share their screen time with the other luminaries graciously and effortlessly. I'm not always impressed by Hugh Jackman - I get the impression I might quite like him as a person but I don't always enjoy watching him act on screen - but he always looked comfortable, natural and at home in this movie as well. It would be churlish to suggest that the quality of those around him made him raise him game - and I think you could argue he was served by a better script than many Wolverine scripts gone by as well - but while I wouldn't say he was the best of those on show he certainly wasn't out of his league. Kudos must also go to big name actors in smaller roles, Halle Berry, Ellen Page and others didn't have big parts in the film but certainly didn't detract from the movie.
Speaking of the flesh on show, I'm not a fan of the male body nor the body builder physique, but even I was impressed by Wolverine and his pecs and his nude shot from behind. And considering Hugh Jackman's gaunt body in Les Miserables probably 18 months to two years ago when he was filming it the dedication to go from one to the other is pretty amazing.
There's also a decent enough plot. It's not overly complex in grand terms but it has a satisfying number of moving parts enough of whom have agency and agendas of their own (sorry, can't discuss details, it's too spoilerish). However, all of these characters having their own agendas means that the resolution is pretty complex and you're left unsure exactly how it's going to play out until the last minute. It's satisfying that although Wolverine does get to beat a few people up, his main role is trying to persuade people (and he's not incredibly good at it). It's particularly satisfying that we see Mystique given a big meaty chunk of story and ultimately although the stage is set for it to be yet another Professor X vs Magneto face-off, it is Mystique whose actions ultimately and fully consciously resolve the situation. Girl Power to the max, even if the girl in question is blue! It's great that the script is well enough written that until she acts you really aren't sure what she will do either, it feels that finely balanced.
There are, of course, a big chunk of special effects scattered through this movie. Happily they basically serve the story rather than having the story act as an excuse for another special effect. OK, it's a mutant movie, to some extent the whole movie is an excuse for another special effect, but basically the scenes are there to advance the story almost every time. There are a couple that are there just because they're cool but fundamentally they are actually cool and so I'll let them off a couple of scenes like that.
I'm sure the die-hard fans would have understood Blink's mutant power quickly enough but at some point the team sat down and carefully thought about how to make it clear enough for the casual viewer like me. I didn't know who she was, in fact although I was pretty sure her character was called Blink I checked on IMDb, in case she was called Link. Both names would have made sense given her power as well. But you get to see her use her power to create portals quickly enough where you can see both ends in shot and people go into one end and out of the other (in a fight in fact) that it's quite clear exactly what she's doing.
As you expect in these movies there are moments of humour and easter eggs for the deep fan, and moments of humour for the more casual fan - 70's Logan hasn't got his adamantium claws and endoskeleton yet and is surprised when his old bone claws slide out and later on when he can walk through a metal detector without setting it off for example. Although there are a lot of high-stakes dramatic moments the mix of these (I didn't get the easter eggs but I know some of them from the excited reactions of some of the people around me) were pretty well judged. They didn't spoil the tension but unlike the effects scenes that were there for being cool, the humour and easter eggs were in scenes that you felt were necessary for the story and were 5 second extra elements to shout out to the fans who were paying attention.
I enjoyed this movie. It's an unsullied joy in the sense that analysing the film afterwards for writing this I still enjoy it and it holds up, unlike Godzilla last week. The star power certainly helps there, but so does a better plot. It will be interesting to see where things stand come December but at this point, they're looking to be about equal in my personal rankings, top half of the list but not top quarter I'd guess.
Bechdel test: I think the answer is no. Kitty, Blink and Storm have opportunities to chat in the future but not exactly a lot of time to do so. They may but if they do I blinked and missed it. There are some potentially awkward challenges for the test in the past - does it count when Mystique in disguise as Dr. Trask (and so played by Peter Dinklage) talks to the (female) receptionist for example? How about when she's in her own body but only using his voice? Fortunately for my aching head the receptionist is not a named character so she doesn't meet that criterion. Similarly in the other scenes where Professor X possesses women to chat to Mystique, none of them are named characters. So I think no two named female characters have a conversation. Fail. Shame really.
There's a bit after the credits to set up the next film. Despite the fact the people I was with are more expert on the comics than me by far they didn't have clue. Fortunately for us, two guys had come down to the front. One of them teased his mate as he was explaining to us (we asked) about who this character and the henchmen on the skyline were, who (with a fairly minor role) from this film is going to be important in fighting against this new baddie and so on. So, I think it's going to be interesting.
Sunday, May 18. 2014
Godzilla is, it turns out, a hard film for me to review because, although I don't think anyone can review a film objectively, in this case my history makes it even harder than ever.
When I was in my 20's and struggling with bad knees and often literally housebound I spent far too long watching TV and films on this new-fangled VCR technoloogy courtesy of the boyfriend of a flatmate who worked in a video store. At one point this included just about every imported Japanese monster movie you could get. A lot of them were pretty bad I seem to recall, but when I couldn't get out of the house anything was better than nothing. And Japanese monster movies were a communal, fun (possibly semi-drunk) activity - never something I watched while bored and alone.
Godzilla, this version of Godzilla, ticks loads and loads of the boxes that, having watched far too many of those movies I expect to see:
In addition Godzilla looks pretty poor by modern standards, but is a pretty directly lift from one of the old movies too, when I think he was a sumo wrestler in a costume - he certainly looks a bit like that only less graceful.
So I came out with that sort of warm glow of all those boxes ticked and those happy memories.
But, actually, if I try to set those things aside, it's a pretty poor film. For example:
I admit it, I only liked this film because of the warm fuzzies it gave me. I really shouldn't have liked it. Even beyond the necessary levels of stupid for a mega-monster movie, there's a lot of stupid here.
Bechdel test: Maybe. There are 4 (at least) named female characters. Elle (the wife) and I think it was Joyce (this is Elle's friend...) although she's not credited as such, only as Head Nurse. While none of the others meet, I think these two have a scrap of conversation as background colour without it being about a man so it's a technical pass. Their only main conversations (two of them) are about men though.
The thing this movie did well - there was one thing apart from giving me the warm fuzzies - was the opening credits. It was shown as film from earlier attempts to kill Godzilla with lots of information on it. That information was then redacted and you were left with the information about the film showing. It's not quite right but an example might be a picture of Godzilla breathing cold bolts and there would be stuff like temperature -350F fire produced by Brian Rogers effective range 100' and then it would get censored down to just produced by Brian Rogers. It was nicely done and tied in to the rest of the film neatly. Whoever came up with that idea, congratulations.
Monday, May 5. 2014
Dayspring is a light-weight and Mac-only RSS reader. On the definite plus sides it most definitely feels very comfortable if you're used to Mac-native apps. In the default pane view it even looks a lot like Mail with folders, news items and individual items.
Personally I think the timeline view which presents a summary of each story is more useful for browsing RSS feeds in most circumstances but the option is there for you to choose between these views.
If you want to read all of the contents of a story clicking on the title will open the page in a new tab so you can read it all. The new tab so it doesn't interrupt the flow of your RSS reading, again giving you the choice to finish your feeds and jump over to go through the tabs or read that story now in detail which I like.
In addition to this, although you can't affect the background colours, font colours and the like (which is a shame) you can can your font choice and size completely for headings and bodies - which I find quite nice. If I have to read black on white, at least I can read a font I find comfortable.
There are options to star, mark as a favourite and open in your default browser. It would be nice if there was a default "add to..." button that would let me save to Instapaper (which is my default save and come back location) but opening in Safari, then saving to Instapaper is basically the same number of clicks as in my current RSS viewer, so it's not a big issue.
It is fast and easy to create folders and organise your feeds. I never bothered on NewsBlur - although it was offered as a service, it was awkward to do - here it's fast and easy enough I've already done it. There are, of course, issue about which category some of the feeds I've got belong in, but it's for my ease not for anyone else so I've made choices that make it easy for me not to justify them to a librarian!
The biggest downside of Dayspring? It's all run natively from your Mac and there's no syncing across devices and no option for an iPad. Now, I've been using NewsBlur for quite a while which does offer all of these options and... I hardly ever use them. I always ended up using NewsBlur on Safari on the Mac so it's not a killer for me.
There are new keyboard actions to learn but that's hardly a killer. Using the up and down arrows to navigate through the stories isn't a disaster and will rapidly become comfortable I'm sure.
Thursday, May 1. 2014
Locke is another film, like The Grand Budapest Hotel where you have to wonder just what the elevator pitch for the film was. There are ways in which you can see it being pitched as a modern road movie, in the mould of Easy Rider and Electragilde in Blue however, at the same time, it's an intense, character study that relies almost entirely on voice interaction that really wouldn't be out of place as Play for the Day on Radio 4 which you really can't see working as an elevator pitch for a movie in Hollywood - although fortunately this is a very British film throughout so it might have worked in a lift pitch if British film funding relies on such things as everyone in British acting and drama must be used to Play for the Day. Back to the filmic influences, there is even a soupçon of Buried as all the action takes place essentially on one set although it's not quite that claustrophobic. Yes this would seem to be, and in some ways is, the antithesis of the classic road movie where they're out of touch with their old lives and seeing lots of new things and that's part of the film - this is all about Ivan Locke being in touch but only in his car throughout but it's still clearly a road movie. But, however they sold Locke, it clearly worked and it resulted in a film well worth watching as long as you don't demand stunts, special effects and the like.
Locke follows Ivan Locke as he drives from an undisclosed location somewhere in the North-West about 90 minutes drive away from London (which according to my maps app isn't possible, but it's a film so I guess film geography applies) and his goes through what it's made clear to us if almost certainly the most chaotic 90 minutes of his adult life. He's been happily married for 15 years, he's a highly respected site foreman for a huge construction firm on the eve of a massive step in a big building project and he's throwing all his plans aside to drive to London.
Over the course of the film, and the journey, and many, many conversations, we find out exactly why, both in the immediate and in terms of psychological development of the man we see from his childhood, and we get some inkling of how this decision will impact his life. The film is quite carefully crafted - it would be easy to set Ivan up in a position where he appears to be a shiftless, good-for-nothing man - not a waster to have this job but still feckless in other ways - but he actually comes across as a serious, honest, dedicated man; a man who made a mistake and is trying to juggle everything to make it all work out for the best regardless of the personal cost to him. In many ways he ends up looking like a hero, flawed, but heroic. And it's not just him. Everyone else has roles that you understand and can sympathise with. There are characters in the film I hope I never become but for each of them I understand whence they're coming.
This film is also interesting because I think it's the first film I can remember because it's critically dependent on modern technology throughout. Without a mobile phone and a bluetooth syncing to your car it just wouldn't work. There are other films that use this sort of thing occasionally but this film uses it constantly. The whole film, visually, is Ivan driving, talking and crying, swearing and the like. All the 'action' is him talking to these disembodied voices. But it works completely because we understand what's going on - and, of course, this is why it would work so well as a radio play.
As a road movie, as Ivan approaches his destination the tension inevitably builds. Road movies only have one ending. How will Ivan die? Or will road movies for the 21st Century break the mould? And that would be a spoiler of course!
Bechdel test? Fail. Katrina and Bethan are both named but everyone almost only ever talks to Ivan. This is one of those movies where you could have rewritten it to pass (Locke's children and wife have shouted interactions when he phones home a couple of times although I think it would still have failed "Mum, dad's on the phone" "Tell him, I'll be right there" is a conversation about a man after all) but actually the central conceit of the movie wouldn't have worked with a gender swap, and none of the characters feel short changed so it's a film that I feel deserves a NA.
The random joke that will only work in the UK? When Stefan, the Polish builder gets Donal the Irish builder to tell Ivan the Welsh builder he's the best man in England. Oh the stereotypes!
For fans of Sherlock you get to hear Andrew Scott, aka Moriaty, as Donal. Whether that's his native Irish accent I don't know but it's very different to his mad Moriaty.
Wednesday, April 23. 2014
We all expect, certainly these days, our politicians to be hypocrites but every now and again the bare-faced effrontery of their hypocrisy can still take me by surprise. I guess we'll see more in the build-up to the European elections.
So here are the latest two examples:
Come on guys - get a clue. Just how stupid do you think we really are?
Monday, April 21. 2014
It probably doesn't surprise anyone that reads my blog that I'm not a fan of The Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday. I dislike their politics and their shoddy journalism.
As a prime example of both we have this piece:
(image from tompride.wordpress.com, original in Mail On Sunday, yesterday).
The MOS hates food banks and the fact they're being used more heavily and saying it's due to the government's crackdown on benefits. While I think there is a case to be made that not all of the increase is necessarily due to the changes to the benefit system, it's a pretty hard sell that as benefits have got harder to get and are more delayed in their startup time and that well-known radical organisation the Church of England is campaigning against the Government for their policies that are increasing poverty and the need for food banks, that a big chunk of the increase is not down to the government. But the Mail hates "benefit scroungers" and anyone that gets benefits so it's their fault regardless. However, when the headline says "No questions asked" and the piece details a series of questions the reporter had to answer to get the food - well that's just shoddy journalism. If it really was no questions asked, that's cause for concern, but a food bank handing out food to someone saying they have a family with two children and no income - that's not cause for concern, that's a charity doing exactly what it's set up to do to people who appear to be in dire need.
Fortunately, I came across this story in the best possible way. According to this Buzzfeed article the piece they ran have caused donations to the charity to rise by over 1000%!
Saturday, April 19. 2014
Beamer is an interesting app for those of you, like me, with an AppleTV. Let's be honest, if you have an AppleTV that probably means you have a Mac too and run the latest OS, so the requirement of running Mavericks isn't going to be an issue.
You can download a trial version of Beamer from their website and purchase the full version from the app for a whole $12 which won't break the bank.
What does Beamer do? Simply put it acts as a nice bridge to get video files on your Mac to your AppleTV without a lot messing around. You drag and drop video files in a wide range of formats (mkv files and more work like native, that's the most awkward I've personally tried it with) and they play to your AppleTV. You can set up playlists so you can easily skip through a long evening in front of the television watching whatever you want. You can also stop, quit Beamer, go away and come back and it remembers where you were and come back and pick it up from where you stopped. Very nicely, your AppleTV remote works to control the playback as you'd expect. An unexpectedly nice little touch - one of the options for Beamer is to automatically start playing files you drop on it. If you choose this option, it automatically turns your AppleTV on so it really does start playing with less fiddling with remotes.
The only time you'll have to get up is if you drop out into something like Netflix and then need to get the control back into Beamer - you'll have to hit play on the desktop to start it streaming again.
Of course you can (try) to do most of this anyway, although the play lists and remote control integration aren't as nicely integrated. There was the not nice option of converting my desktop of AppleTV dimensions and playing videos using QuickTime/VLC/whatever fullscreen and then reseting and reorganising my desktop. This was mostly OK but my streaming audio was patchy this way (YMMV). Alternatively I could just play the video full screen and have the image slightly distorted and still patchy audio but less of a mess of the desktop. I didn't like either of these as you might tell.
My more common solution, involved AirPlay and an iPad. This worked OK by and large but if I wanted to do anything heavy on the iPad as well something would usually struggle - often it was the video stream - and I'd have to come out of whatever I was doing and restart the video stream. It also played hell with the iPad's battery. The iPad solution does have the benefit, of course, that if you have to get up and move around you can easily swap between AppleTV and iPad viewing without missing a beat. Beamer doesn't offer that option, it's a tool purely to stream to your AppleTV.
Most weeks I watch a few hours worth of video files that are stored on my Mac and very little of it I actually watch on my Mac. It splits at the moment about 50-50 between my iPad and my AppleTV although as I'm reading more on the iPad that split is shifting more to the AppleTV. Beamer is a tool that makes that simpler for me to do, certainly for something I'm likely to watch through in one sitting without moving around too much. It is definitely an app that only suits a small niche of users but if that niche includes you, it's well worth a look.
Friday, April 18. 2014
When Noah was suggested as a movie to see, my reaction was "Yeah, sure" and, having seen it, I think it should have been more strongly positive.
Floating (sorry, couldn't resist) through the film, very identifiably, is the story I remember from RE classes at school. The dream, the flood, the arc, the animals two by two, the raven and the dove and so on. God wiping away mankind and the damage man has inflicted on the Earth. If you know your apocraphya and the like there's a lot of other elements in Noah that you will be familiar with as well - the angels that were cast down to Earth for standing by during Lucifer's rebellion and helped man and so on.
However, the actual story in the bible is short - it's only a short story in modern terms. This leaves, inevitably, a fair amount of space, for the director to write (personally in this case) a chunk of new stuff to make a film's worth of story. Some of this is to fill in the blanks. For example, Noah, in the bible, at the end of the story gets so drunk he dances around naked but there's no explanation of why. Fortunately we're spared Russell Crowe dancing naked although we do see him getting roaring drunk and then passed out apparently naked. But in the film we see why he does this. Getting that drunk isn't the only answer of course, but given the choices he made it's answer many of us will understand.
Noah also poses questions that we see and hear today, certainly coming out of the US and reaching us over here. Does being created last and being given dominion over the beasts mean we can do what we want to the Earth? Or does it imply stewardship and a need to tend and care for the planet? Can we just take what we want? It also puts many of the answers - but it puts some of the answers that the anti-environmentalist fundamentalist lobby most like in the mouths of the Sons of Cain rather than the Sons of Seth. You know, Cain as in Cain and Abel, which as you might imagine is not a good thing.
Noah also tells his children, while they're in the arc, his version of the creation myth. It is quite clear as this story within the story unfolds that the days are allegorical and evolution is going on. This is the liberal, non-literal version of Christianity I came across in RE lessons. Although it's not what I believe, it's a pretty comfortable version of Christianity for me to see. The Short Earth Creationists of course will not like it at all.
Noah doesn't really have conversations with God. He is sent a vision that he doesn't clearly interpret without help and then comes to conclusions thereafter, even though he doesn't like them. This produces a chunk of the drama that goes on. (There is another chunk of drama that constitutes major spoilers so I'll pass on telling you more about it.) It is hard for me to interpret this in any way other than a cautionary tale about how easy it is for us to misjudge God's will if we assume that is what we are hearing. How careful we should be if we are listening to someone who is telling us what God's will is. Of course I'm a Godless cynic so I would say that! But it's hard to see it any other way.
It's a good film, a surprisingly good film. Appreciably better than I expected it to be. This is helped by a number of scene-stealing moments from Emma Watson and a pretty good range of Russell Crowe. He does bombast, patriarch, disgusted at the fleshpots, but also tortured, broken and the like. I'm not sure if he has faith, but he does a very good man questioning God at a number of times when he is faced with horrible decisions that he thinks is him acting according to God's will. Jennifer Connelly has a number of scenes where I was wondering why she was there - frankly I could have done the job because they're so standard and undemanding - but some scenes where I was thinking "Ah, that's why she agreed to take the part" because there's some cracking scenes that I'm sure leapt off the page when she was reading them and made the very ordinary scenes worth putting up with.
Bechdel test: Yes. Ila (Shem's wife) and Naameh (Noah's wife) are named and have a few conversations that aren't about the menfolk. Not many, but a few. According to some interpretations of the Book of Enoch, some of the Watchers should be female but I think they're all voiced by male actors if credited in this film.
Saturday, April 12. 2014
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that defies simple categorisation, in fact it seems to almost wilfully defy it and revel in defying it. Given my occasional comments about Hollywood's overindulgence in quick elevator pitches and lazy comparisons I'm quite happy with this complexity although I imagine it caused some headaches actually IN Hollywood. You could try and claim it's an art-house tribute to Hollywood's forgotten movies - there are elements of Harold Lloyd, Keystone Cops, any number of spy and war movies set on trains, bedroom farce (although it's light on the running between bedrooms that normally accompanies that label), comedy of manners and more, with elements that are Pythonesque stirred into the pot. There's a touch of stories like Prisoner of Zenda with invented Eastern European republics and the like as well, and a strong twist of the narrative adventurer. And all that said, a movie directed by Wes Anderson and starring Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Kietel, Jude Law, Edward Norton and Saoirse Ronan with cameos from Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and more can hardly be described a typical art-house movie cast so even the art-house movie tag is hard to maintain.
So, having said how hard it is to categorise this movie in traditional terms, what is this movie? Well it's fun. Laugh out loud fun at several points but always a bounce along, smile on the face kind of movie.
Without getting into real spoilers, the movie starts as oddly as it means to go on. In what looks like a very oppressive, probably still Communist-regime country, a good party member goes into a graveyard and approaches a grave marker. If you think Karl Marx, or more accurately Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and the like you wouldn't be far off. Hanging from the marker are hotel keys. She adds a key, sits down and opens a book - the titular The Grand Budapest Hotel and starts to read. This unwraps the first layer of the metaphorical onion as it takes us to a talking head documentary of the author about 30 years ago telling us about the inspiration for this story, and then starting to tell the story. The next layer of the onion unwraps as the story is one that was related to the author as a younger man some twenty years earlier by the somewhat famous Zero Moustafa, owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel whilst the young author was staying there in a now sadly declining (but party approved, egalitarian) hotel. This unwraps the final layer of the onion as he, in turn, relates the story of some forty years earlier, the arrival of the lobby boy Zero, the best concierge the Grand Budapest (in it's full Art Deco glory) ever had M. Gustave, the rise of fascism, love, murder, the priceless Renaissance artwork
From this set up, the plot is allowed to develop in the best farce mode. At almost every step you think that's a reasonable decision (not always the best, but rarely a completely daft one). Then something happens and it skews to the crazy or at least the unexpected or exaggerated. The comedy arises from the sudden shifts, which is what gives it that Python flavour, but also from the way really quite ordinary actions and people suddenly find themselves trying to apply their old standards to these new situations.
Not all of the situations ought to be funny. Being stopped when travelling because you have a different skin colour is not funny but quickly works for comments about the rise of fascism. Thanks to the fact the film is character and situational humour rather than quick gags these situations are allowed to develop and be nasty and brutish and misunderstood but played for their comedic value by the characters. "Oh hello chaps, you're the first of the new death squads we've met, do come in…" and the like.
Overall The Grand Budapest Hotel makes for a very satisfying experience. Unlike comedies that play for the easy laugh and then leave you groping to remember the punchline to tell your friends the next day, this film has left me feeling like it was a good night out with friends. There isn't really a punchline to reach for (OK, there are one or two, like any good night out with friends) but there's a general sense of bonhomie. You can't really describe it because "Oh, you just had to be there" but this time you can be there in a sense, because you can go and see it.
Bechdel test: Questionable. The evil daughters are all named. I'm not sure they ever really have a conversation though, although they do appear to talk to each other. There are a number of other named female characters but they don't meet.
Thursday, April 10. 2014
Divergent is a movie I went into with high hopes: I'm a fan of the book, and the series overall, but particularly the first two books and so it could have failed to live up to my fangrrl hopes. Unlike The Hunger Games (at least the first one) I knew this book before I went in, so it had the burden of my anticipation. Add to that the potential for a bad adaptation - and we've all seen those too - so there was a definite mixture of high hopes and nerves.
How did it do? I'm happy to say very well. It was very reassuring when the author's name appeared as a co-producing in the establishing shots - if she was happy to have her name tied to it, that was likely to be a good thing.
Like any movie must, Divergent has to establish what's going on, in this case it has some world-building to do. It establishes the factions, which are central to its social world, clearly (but not quite as well as it should if you don't know it transpires, I had to explain the Factionless a bit), the war and how the society is meant to function. There are graudal revelations about the fence, the meaning of being Divergent and the potential impact of that and so on. It also makes it pretty clear not all is well in paradise and leaves you in a good sense of not quite knowing who is telling the truth because Tris, our heroine, is just too young to know everything that's going on.
Although some of the details are different to the book (in particular the Dauntless pit has had a serious visit from the Health and Safety people and has handrails, boo! And the chasm isn't over a river) plus, being a film, it's full of action and dialog rather than introspection and plotting it's a good solid adaptation with just about every big scene there and pretty faithfully translated to the new medium. I've thought of one scene that is missing, although the important information from it is moved to another place and works well there. It crams a lot of emotion together into a short part of the film but the pacing is different enough to the book that it works well for me this way in the film.
I need to say at this point, although rereading the books is on my todo list, I haven't done it yet. But there are various speeches in the film (I won't say by whom) that, bearing in mind what I know from later books I see in a completely different light. That was interesting to say the least. Although it doesn't change the impression of who the goodies and baddies are it does rather change my impressions of the motives on both sides in interesting ways.
Comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable, and to a large extent justifiable. (I've also seen comparisons to Twilight which make me think WTF?) Young Adult Dystopias with strong female protagonists and all that after all. Even if you leave off the female part there's a chunk of similarities that would make the comparisons fair enough but in movie world add in the women as well and it's practically inevitable. In the books, Katniss is always easier to relate to than Tris. In the movies I don't know that's the case - they make Tris less of an introvert and more sure of her choice to be Dauntless and she is more open and sympathetic, at least so far. To that extent it's not as clear a choice as you might think. Shailene Woodley is an emerging potential star while Jennifer Lawrence is a star already and we've known Katniss for three films so she's an old friend by now, but I like this Tris too.
However to my mind, The Hunger Games has a lot more spectacle throughout and perhaps a clearer message in book and film one than Divergent and so is perhaps a more generally accessible movie. Where The Hunger Games is about power politics and media on a grand scale, Divergent is much more about politics and power plays on a smaller, human scale. They don't discuss the population of Chicago directly but it's clearly on a smaller scale. There's 32 new Dauntless recruits so a quick Fermi estimate suggests there are only about 10,000 people in the factions in Chicago. That said, there are strong themes of human nature, the desire for power, the tensions between the demands of human nature and habit and what their culture expects and the like. While The Hunger Games might offer more spectacle, Divergent offers a more relatable insight into the power politics we might see at work or similar and a message of hope that new ways of thinking are a threat to them yes, but can defeat and co-opt them too.
It's probably fair to say if you weren't sure about The Hunger Games you probably won't like Divergent unless you liked the book. If you were more positive about The Hunger Games then it's well worth giving DIvergent a go.
Bechdel test: Yes, easily. There are multiple named female characters. They sometimes talk about men but often don't. For example, Tris and Tori (the wonderful Maggie Q) have 3 scenes together. In one of them they briefly talk about Tori's brother but talk about other things (what tattoo to have and so on), and in their other scenes there's nothing about men at all. Tris and her mum (Natalie) have several conversations, about her choosing, about her mum being a Dauntless by birth, about Tris being Divergent and so on. Although not part of the Bechdel test, many of the conversations about men could equally be about women (Tori's brother could be her sister, it just happens to be her brother for example) and in this movie there are a number of women in positions of power. It does feel very much that Veronica Roth pretty much flipped a coin for most of the characters as to their gender to get an even balance and the film was true to her balance. It gives a lot of named women - and then you suddenly get crowd scenes where AD's get a lot of men and although it's not odd for film it did look somewhat odd in this film to diverge from the gender balance that you see most of the time.
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