The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), or Passion Plays And Silent Screams (Part 2)

6 05 2009

A little history lesson for you folks. Joan of Arc isn’t just any sexy short-haired strumpet. Way back during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), while English chevauchèe and a plague-stunted population made life very hard in lower-class France, one girl rose from her station in life and became a soldier for God and for her country. She was Joan of Arc, and she was way ahead of her time. She dressed in armor unbecoming of a woman during that time, cut her hair very short, and fought and won a number of battles for France. She was a revolutionary, in that sense, and I respect her resolve to go against social and religious taboos for her cause. She also heard voices, however, from God and from the angels, who told her that she needed to free France from English domination by His decree. And, because of her devotion to God’s word and His everlasting mercy, she was captured by the English, tried by a court of ecclesiastics, and burned at the stake for her refusal to wear women’s clothing. And England beat France in the War anyway.

Ouch. And if that’s a feel-good thought to you, then today’s subject, The Passion of Joan of Arc, gives us a look into those depressing final days and her subsequent execution. It was a silent film made in 1928, created using the actual transcribed testimonies of the heresy trial and conjecture at the hands of famed silent movie director Carl Dreyer. Many people consider this to be one of the greatest silent films, and I am tempted to side with them here.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is something very special. It doesn’t look like many other silent movies I’ve ever seen. There’s something very visceral and base in its nature that I thnk perhaps most other silent films eschewed for a softer, less intense experience. It’s unrelenting in its drive for a naturalism that borders on discomfort. For a camera that can only shoot so many frames before having to stop, the shots are extremely long for the period, and most of the time the camera is pointed squarely at the visage of the saint herself, played by Renèe Falconetti. Her performance is truly legendary.

Stay tuned for more on this timeless film, including more on Renèe Falconetti as Joan of Arc and why this might unwittingly be one of the first movies with an anti-religious message. Stay tuned tomorrow for part three!!!

Pretty Woman (1990), or This Is EXCRUCIATING!

6 05 2009

Rom-coms rub me the wrong way sometimes. They all seem to insist on a very banal but very validated romance that I don’t believe in. It’s a very uninspired yet very intimidated form of passion that’s based on the physical and the material rather than the emotional or the intellectual, the immature teenage attraction instead of the underappreciated appeal of a lasting relationship. They seep the idea of love in something that’s not to my liking, and then they twist the knife by implying that it must be everyone’s fantasy to fall in love with someone classically “beautiful” and “postured”, as if life would not be unfathomably shallow and disgusting if the Barbie and Ken ideal became a reality. I do not enjoy the concept, so I had some hesitation when I decided to watch today’s feature, Pretty Woman, which might just be the most well-known romantic comedy of the past twenty years. Within the first ten minutes, I found myself completely validated by its asinine concept, its implausible wish-fulfillment plot, and its ham-handed performances turned in by actors who were obviously hired for their names rather than their chops.

Listen to how much this resembles a sappy romance novel. Richard Gere is Edward, the suave corporate playboy. One day he’s driving around in Hollywood when he suddenly realizes he’s lost. Being a corporate bon vivant, he usually never needs help, but he’s more sensitive than most businessmen, so he asks for directions from the last person he’d normally be caught dead with; a mouthy prostitute named Vivian. Offering to give him directions herself, they find their way back to his posh hotel, where one thing leads to another and he ends up hiring her for a night. In the morning, when they both wake up after a night of wealthy passion and soul-searching inquiry, Edward asks her to be his personal date for the week, the lady on his arm, if you will, offering to pay her $3,000 for her services. She takes him up on the offer, liking the idea of being treated to luxuries and upper-crust living for a little while. But while they both have their reasons for being around one another, it soon becomes apparent that Edward and Vivian are falling for each other. But will years of living the cold-hearted life of a corporate “raider” prevent him from expressing himself, thus sundering them apart? Or can he pull it together at the end and get the hooker with the heart of gold as his woman? What do you think?

This movie gave me a headache. I cannot believe it’s so popular. I might offend a number of sensibilities by saying this, but I truly believe that this is a subpar film that does not deserve the huge place in pop culture it has carved out for itself. And before anyone decries my status as a male for immediate disqualification in this arena, let me quelch your stereotypical worldview. Believe it or not, I’m just as sensitive, if not more, than you ladies are. I believe my main squeeze, who just happens to be a woman, has more than once referred to me as a “big baby”. So when I say that Pretty Woman sucked the emotion out of me and spit it in my face like I was an indentured servant, you can trust me.

It all comes down to one huge factor; relatability. In a typical wish-fulfillment fantasy setting, there’s your average guy/girl and the unattainable HIM/HER. Now, every one of us has some sort of low self-esteem issue, honestly, so on a certain level, whether or not we choose to admit it, I think we all put ourselves in the shoes of the average guy/girl, and our potential partners always feel like the unattainable HIM/HER. The problem here is that this concept is way too messed up to have anyone want to be in the shoes of either character. You either have the cold-fish businessman with daddy issues or the hooker who has an attitude and most likely a past that would horrify the average person on the street. Wow, I get to imagine myself being either a rich asshole or a loud-mouthed nightmare in leather boots and a wig? Gee whiz!!! That’s…really not so great…

It doesn’t help that director Garry Marshall decided to cast Richard Gere and Julia Roberts as the leads. I have nothing good to say about these two here. They don’t act for one second. They speak the lines with the right inflections, but they’re not inhabiting a character in the slightest. They’re Richard Gere and Julia Roberts calling each other different names on-screen. Is the only prerequisite for being cast in a romantic comedy physical attractiveness? If so, I propose a remake with a cast made up entirely of Sears mannequins, because that’s how much I was affected by their acting skills. I know it’s all entertainment, and it’s just supposed to be a feel-good movie, but if I’m not connected in any way to anyone in the whole movie, how am I supposed to feel good?

I would call Pretty Woman a waste of my time. I have seen romantic comedies I have enjoyed (The Holiday), to be sure, and I have seen some that weren’t very bad (Serendipity). But this one crept under my skin like a rash and I am ready to go find some ointment. If I had one good thing to say about the film, I would say that the cinematographyby Charles Minsky is impressive at times, and I would certainly hire him if I were ever to make a film myself. Other than that, though, I have nothing to add to this disappointing endeavor. I give Pretty Woman 2 1/2 loud-mouthed nightmares out of 10. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to enjoy a real, fleshed-out romance with a real human being.

Tomorrow is a surprise film! Check in periodically during the day, and I’ll poke my head in with a mystery review, just for you!!!

Hey! Welcome To The Site!

6 05 2009

Well, for all the regulars, my review of (ugh…) Pretty Woman and my second installment of my week-long The Passion of Joan of Arc review will all be coming up later tonight. But, as I have seen a huge surge of new viewers coming to the site, I just wanted to thank everyone for stopping by and let everyone know just what I’m doing here at Cinematronica.

First of all, hi. My name’s Eric. As you can see, I have been watching a movie, then writing a review for said movie every day for the past four months now, since New Year’s Day 2009. I plan to go non-stop until December 31st of this year catching a flick every day or die trying. I wanted to broaden my horizons and sharpen my writing skills, and I think I’ve done that to great effect, but, as you see, there are still over 200 days to go, so if you hang in there with me and check my site as often as you please, you might find a strong body of work here by the end of it, and it might just open up your eyes to a whole new world of cinema that you never even knew about. Or just come to watch me string together curse words and spew vugarities at shameful performances. Either way, stick with me.

I hope to some day soon add some video reviews and some audio reviews for your downloading pleasure, as well as recording some commentary for films, adding my own personal take on some of the movies I see. For now, it’s just the printed word, and I hope that this will suffice until I can move into the 21st century and make the site more interactive. Please don’t despise me and my naivete with this new-fangled technology.

So if you like my style, stick around, because THIS SITE IS UPDATED DAILY!!! Roger Ebert may be good, but I update that cat back to the Stone Age! So stay tuned later tonight for more reviews and feel free to peruse back all the way to January 1st if you’re curious. You’ll find all my reviews top-notch and without spelling errors (or at least I thinck so). Until then, I leave you with a picture of me, moments before an intense workout:

I didn't know what to do with my arms! Oh no!

I didn't know what to do with my arms! Oh no!