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Films I Neglected To Review: He Who Smelt It. . .
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Cyrano, My Love," "The Lighthouse" and "Western Stars."

Right from the title, it is more than a little obvious that the new pseudo-historical comedy "Cyrano, My Love" wants to do for Edmond Rostand's classic romantic drama--arguably the most famous French play of all time--what "Shakespeare in Love" did for "Romeo & Juliet." Blending fact and fiction (and leaning heavily on the latter half of the equation), the film opens with Rostand (Thomas Soliveres) reeling from the failure of his latest play, a drama starring no less of an actress than Sarah Bernhardt herself, and trying to figure out where to go from there. One night, he goes to the Moulin Rouge with good friend Leonidas (Tom Leebs) and both fall in love with costume designer Jeanne (Lucie Boujenah). Since Rostand is married, he decides to sublimate his feelings and helps his friend woo her by feeding him romantic lines to use. When Rostand is approached by famous actor Constant Coquelin (Olivier Gourmet) to write him a juicy part, he uses this as inspiration and before long, "Cyrano de Bergerac" is careening towards its inevitably chaotic opening night.

Like I said, the similarities between this film and "Shakespeare in Love" are crashingly obvious but while that earlier film managed to find just the right balance between the romance, the comedy, the backstage drama and the crackpot take on history, director Alexis Michalik never quite pulls it off. One key problem is that Rostand is positioned here as a bit of a dweeb for whom it is difficult to work up much interest. Likewise, we never get a sense of there being any real emotional stakes. The romantic tension is nebulous at best and the farcical elements play like a lesser take on "Noises Off" that offers a couple of minor laughs but little else. There is a large supporting cast as well but most of them are thinly conceived and executed--the least inspiring of the bunch being a prostitute (Mathilde Seigner) who ends up being cast as Roxanne and a black cafe owner (Jean-Michel Martial) whose moments of alleged inspiration aimed at the cast and crew of "Cyrano" are deeply embarrassing. There is some entertainment to be had from Gourmet's cheerfully flamboyant turn as Coquelin but even with his effort, "Cyrano, My Love" misses the mark by a hell of a lot more than a nose.

Ever since the release of his debut film, "The Witch," horror fans have been eagerly awaiting to see what Robert Eggers would come up with for his follow-up effort. He has finally returned with "The Lighthouse" but it is highly unlikely that anyone who saw that previous project could have possibly imagined something like this would follow. Set towards the end of the 19th century in an especially inhospitable area of New England, it opens as two men--Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson)--arrive at a remote lighthouse for the next four weeks of duty. At first blush, the two could not be more different--the former is a veteran lighthouse keeper who ignores all rules of protocol and who is said to have driven his last assistant insane while the latter is a by-the-book type on his first assignment who refuses to join his superior for a drink or anything else that might impede on the rules--and it doesn't take too long for tensions to escalate between them to the point where each seems to be going out of their way to drive the other around the bend. Oh yeah, there is also the possibility that something strange and decidedly not-human is residing at the top of the lighthouse, an area that Wake forbids Winslow from entering with such ferocity that it all but confirms that there is something--but what?--up there.

As the two characters slowly go bonkers together in a fog of farting and ritual masturbation, it becomes quickly obvious that "The Lighthouse" is not a horror film in any traditional sense (although there is some nastiness involving Winslow and a creepy seagull that may put some sensitive viewers off their popcorn). Frankly, it is more reminiscent of the works of the reliably oddball Canadian auteur Guy Maddin, thanks to the combination of mordant humor, bizarre sexuality, stark black-and-white cinematography, a rare aspect ratio even boxier than the traditional academy ratio and the strange sight of well-known actors fully embracing the weirdness surrounding them. Of course, while I love Maddin's films, they are not exactly the thing I would recommend to someone who wasn't fully aware of what they were getting into and my guess is that those just looking to painlessly pass a couple of hours at the multiplex--even those who dug "The Witch"--are not going to respond especially well to this one. (Those CinemaScore ratings are going to be brutal.) And yet, those who do have a certain willingness to embrace the outre may find much to be had of interest here--the look is always striking, it is certainly a lot funnier than one might expect (albeit in the most mordant manner possible) and the two leads play very well off of each other, especially in the later scenes when they find themselves going through a sort of role reversal. (It is once again fascinating to note that for all the criticism that Pattinson and Kristen Stewart received for the atrocious "Twilight" films, they have parlayed their vast success with those movies to almost single-handedly help keep moderately-budgeted auteurist cinema alive by electing to appear in such films instead of simply hopping from blockbuster to blockbuster.) Obviously, anyone going to "The Lighthouse" expecting "The Witch Deux" is going to be profoundly disappointed and vaguely annoyed but those looking for something really different may get a morbidly weird kick out of it.

If nothing else, 2019 has proven to be a surprisingly strong year for fans of music-related documentaries thanks to films covering such top artists as Beyonce, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt and Johnny Cash. Now, having already been the partial subject of one fictional film this year ("Blinded by the Light"), Bruce Springsteen joins the ranks with "Western Stars," a film that he co-directed with longtime video collaborator Thom Zinny. The film, of course, shares the same title with his most recent album, a collection of songs inspired by the 1970s-era country-tinged music of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell that combined intimate lyrical narratives with lush orchestrations, and in lieu of mounting a traditional concert tour, Springsteen elected to instead film himself playing the entire album from start to finish (with the addition of an end credits cover of Campbell's classic "Rhinestone Cowboy") from a massive 100-year-old cathedral-like barn on his property backed by the musicians who appeared on the album, featuring a number of studio veterans (including wife/bandmate Patti Scialfa) and a 30-piece orchestra. In between the 14 tunes are brief asides in which Springsteen discusses the influences that went into the creation of each one, much as he did with some of his best-known works in his recent "Springsteen on Broadway" stage show.

Movies like these tend to be primarily made for the fans and while Springsteen loyalists will no doubt flock to it in droves, those not quite as fanatically devoted to his cause will find much of "Western Stars" to be worthwhile. For starters, the songs are some of the strongest that he has recorded in a while--the deeply felt lyrics about love, loss and the continued struggle to find one’s place in the world contesting nicely with the lovely orchestrations (with "Stones" benefitting mightily from a new arrangement that transforms it from a strictly solo effort to a collaboration between Springsteen and Scialfa that works so well that one might ungenerously ask why it wasn't done like that in the first place)--and the performances are as strong and committed as one could possibly hope for despite their fairly intimate nature. The interludes are also effective in the way that they help to restate and expand on the themes of the songs without ever feeling as if they are being over-explained. Maybe there are one or two too many shots of Springsteen staring out into the vast western expanse while silently pondering the vastness of it all but even this is done with such disarming sincerity that it is easy to let it pass. Like the album it chronicles, "Western Stars" is a quietly effective keeper and while it may lack the go-for-broke bombast that made Springsteen a rock legend in the first place, it has a quiet but undeniable power to it that cannot be denied and it more than deserves a place among the key components of Springsteen’s extended artistic canon.


link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4197
originally posted: 10/25/19 11:49:19
last updated: 10/26/19 00:14:19
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