Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Review: The Sandman

So, on Netflix, The Sandman, a ten episode series based on the comic series written by Neil Gaiman, now published in twelve volumes. I have read the first of them, which may not be the best sampling as I have seen more than once the judgment that the first volume is just a prelude that is not as good as the following eleven. I have volume 2, but have not read it yet.

The story is about Morpheus, or Dream, ruler of the realm of dreams, one of the Endless; in the series played by Tom Sturridge, who does a commendable job playing a character that must somehow appear ever otherworldly, ever of the realm of Dreams, and ever of the tenor of the character in the books. I will admit there are moments where I could not help but think, "You nailed that line." Though, there are also moments of "Who picked that camera angle?" caused by a sudden banality. The first volume of the comic covers his eighty-year-long imprisonment (over a century in the tv series) by a magus and his son, then his escape, and finally the recovery of his three items of power.

The first five-and-a-half episodes of the series follows volume 1, greatly re-written, as would need be. Certain plot lines are wholly changed, and more than one major character added — particularly one that serves as an enemy of Dream. His presence, though, seems rather superfluous. I am sure his being written in was to give some connection between that five-and-a-half episode prelude and what follows. Indeed, as is warned about the comics, after that prelude it is as though the story resets. What came before can wholly be ignored. The show offers some star power: Jenna Coleman plays Joanna Constantine, a female edition of the comic character, and holds her episode well (if an episode that might show a little of the problems of translation from comic to screen). Moreso, David Thewlis shows up as a character given much more screen time than book time. He carries the episode centered on him, but would you expect otherwise?

Friday, August 5, 2022

Critique: Malick's The Tree of Life

I finally got around to watching The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. It has been sitting on my tv cabinet for a number of years now. In a great part it had slipped from my mind, and when it did come back to my attention every so now and then I was never in the mood for it. I generally will not watch a film for the first time if I fear my mood will get in the way. And knowing the way of Malick films, I was all the more wary. (And, to be honest, I was often put off by the idea of a Malick film centered on an abusive father.)

Now, I consider The Thin Red Line one of the greatest movies I have seen. It is for me an achievement of cinema as art. So I have a high estimation of what Malick can do, and an appreciation of his methods. Though, I was put off by To the Wonder, if simply in that the infidelity seems to occur for no reason whatsoever: it is an ungrounded moment in the film and yet the film hinges on it, so it hinges on an emptiness. At that moment the film loses its structural integrity. In truth, I was rather pissed off at it. I also have The New World, though I will have to watch it again. It has been a while.

But The Tree of Life. It is about the overtly stated question of living either in the spirit of nature (in essence, that of competition) or the spirit of grace (that of love). Its frame is a family in the 1950s, the O'Briens: father and mother (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) and their three sons. It seems clear the father, who is an abusive disciplinarian who believes success only comes by conquering and strives to train his sons to that belief, stands for the spirit of nature, while the more loving mother, within whose presence the three boys are the most joyous, for the spirit of grace. And that theme of two opposites does run through the main body of the film. But the issues are more structural than thematic.

The film opens on Chastain and jumps quickly to what are presumably brief moments of her childhood on a farm. Though, if they are meant to establish a character they are too brief and shots of petting a cow does not character establish. Indeed, I thought at the fore there was a daughter in the film. It speaks that perhaps Malick was letting his impressionistic technique take the best of him. Within the first minute there is created a confusion. Then come some moments of Chastain with the boys at play – prelude to the joy of the spirit of grace. Then a scene of Chastain receiving a telegram, telling her one of her sons is dead. The time of that is some ten-odd years in the future. Though, there is nothing to cue that. On second viewing you will notice that the house is different than the house with the boys as seen in those moments of the film, but in the first viewing it is unestablished. For me it was not until the Sean Penn voiceover, he playing the character of the eldest son as an adult, where he says his brother died at the age of nineteen, that it became clear. Though, it took longer yet for me to figure out which son was dead and which son Penn was playing. Yes, on second viewing the cues are there, and I cannot say that a film has to be wholly understandable on the first viewing. The Thin Red Line has a flaw in that the two main characters have voices very close to each other. It took me the second viewing to fully distinguish them. (The error may have been in my not realizing it was two voices to begin with.) And, as has been said by more than one, literature can only be re-read. And, push comes to shove, The Thin Red Line is not an easy reader text.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Critique: Scorcese's Silence

Look back a few posts and you will find on this blog a review of Shusaku Endo's Silence, a book I enjoyed very much and which, on its philosophical presentation, I have thought about many times since reading it. I am always reticent to comment on the literary qualities of a book in translation because of how easy it is to destroy those qualities within even an adequate translation. As is said, poetry is that which is lost in translation. (Though, perhaps Pound would say only if you do not know what you are doing.) Which is not to mean I am saying all translations are non-literary. We need only point to Moncrieff's translations of Proust, and, in the Japanese, Seidensticker's translation of Kawabata's The Master of Go, which is a wonderful read. Much of that is because of the structure of The Master of Go, and Silence can be thought of in the same way: the literary qualities are demonstrated simply in that the book pulls off the complex arguments-in-a-story it is trying to present.

I have now been able to watch Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of the book. (It is at the time of this writing on Prime. Also, to note, this is criticism, not a review. I will discuss the events in the film.) I am a fan of Scorsese, and own many of his films on disc; though, I do make a half hearted argument that his films are best the more they are willing to break away from realism. And it might be said that Silence is at its aesthetic best when it permits the setting of the shots to participate in the story – often in what feels unreal ways (however natural the scene). Mist and fog make their appearance, always to striking effect. (It is hard not to say he is taking from Kurosawa, there, but, then it is hard not to say any such use of mist and fog is taking from Kurosawa, he did atmosphere so well.) And the geography is well used. There are striking scenes. Silence can be quite the beautiful movie when it so desires. Even a shot of three, empty chairs in a courtyard. Though, for me it also had its moments where the aesthetic qualities were pushed aside for the storytelling. Perhaps unavoidably.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Twisty Look at Ensoulment

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matt 7:13-14 (NIV)

So, ensoulment, when a person gains a soul, though that idea is tied in also with (if not confused with) when a person becomes a "person" (not at all necessarily the same thing). The Wikipedia article on the matter gives a quick little journey through the traditions, though not all the possibilities. Still, looking about the web: conception, fourty days, ninety days, one hundred and twenty days, birth, a week after, two weeks after, as found in the wikipedia article, "The first amen."[FN]

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[FN]To note, that Wikipedia article is rather tainted by its emphasis on the question of abortion, and its seeming desire to to take every opportunity to speak against it.
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Lots of choices, and that's not nearly all of them. But, through them all there is a truth: at some point somebody simply decided on an answer. Even when it seems that answer is Biblically based – or by the Quran, or what other religious text or philosophical train of thought – the arguments always follow the conclusion. If it were not so there would not be debate. They are all, in the end, merely traditions. Arbitrarily chosen dates given substance by philosophical and dogmatic accretion.

And if you want to know what I think about the validity of religious – particularly (for geography) Christian – traditions, keep in mind that the Inquisition (to choose one example from many) was Biblically based, despite the on-its-face obviousness of that Jesus would openly and vehemently condemn it. Not easy to find torture in the Beatitudes. And don't you think that because you are Protestant you escape that condemnation. Just take a look at your own history of abuses. Find out about the atrocities of early U.S. Christianity. Read The Scarlet Letter already.[FN]