More from Andrew Sarris

von Sternberg

Josef von Sternberg

“Visual style is never an end in itself, and it cannot be ultimately defended except as it relates to a director’s taste and sensibility. Any visual style can be mechanically reproduced, but without the linkage to a directorial personality, the effect is indeed mechanical.”


“Everyday life, as such, seldom appears in Sternberg’s cinema. His characters generally make their entrance at a moment in their lives when there is no tomorrow. Knowingly or unknowingly, they have reached the end or the bottom, but they will struggle a short time longer, about ninety minutes of screen time, to discover the truth about themselves and those they love.”

Andrew Sarris,  The American Cinema

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“The Lobster” (2016)

lobsterThe Lobster 

Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s):  Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Ashley Jensen

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely liked “The Lobster”.

Love the notion of an alt-reality where being single is a crime against society and I think director Lanthimos and his co-scenarist have presented us with an original and entertaining motion picture. What can you say about a movie that opens with a woman emerging from her vehicle, stalking into a field and shooting a grazing donkey dead? The gesture seems vicious, insane…until about twenty minutes later when you begin to get an inkling of the depth of her pain and misery.

The film is courageously underplayed—Colin Farrell is restrained, almost monotonic—plot bends and twists introduced matter-of-factly, routinely. The single people residing at the Hotel have forty-five days to find a compatible life partner or else…well, no spoilers, let’s just say the consequences are pretty dire. But there is a third option, escaping into the surrounding woods, joining up with a band of renegades whose numbers are constantly being thinned by the relentless “hunters” (Hotel guests, armed with potent tranquilizer guns).

There’s something wonderfully absurd and, frankly, a bit unnatural about the whole thing. I mean, the escapees in the forest look awfully clean and well turned out, and even after weeks on the run, living rough, Colin Farrell doesn’t lose any of his belly flab. About halfway through the film the hunt just stops, no explanation, and the forest dwellers are free to wander about without concern or dance to the electropop thumping from their ear buds.

Yes, but it’s satire, isn’t it, dark comedy. It must be: I laughed and certainly the audience around me giggled and tittered at various points. This isn’t supposed to be 1984 (although Farrell is housed in “room 101”) and Lanthimos is not ladling on the morality and significance. To me, the director is less interested in world-building than he is exploring the notion of enduring love, a passion and fidelity that can survive time and temptation, the anxieties and stresses of modern life.

Is true love conceivable or possible for everyone? Do all of us require companionship, is that a prerequisite for happiness? Who says so?  Yorgos Lanthimos shows us that even in an autocratic dystopia, some rebel souls will always insist on their right to be alone. I suppose it’s meant to be a reassuring message, a paean to individuality but, as with most satire, any revelations are costly and even if you think you’ve escaped unscathed, always make certain you check for blood. Funny how the smallest cuts bleed the most…

ΩΩΩΩ (out of 5)

“The Lobster” is currently playing at the Roxy Theatre, Saskatoon. Check their website for dates and times.

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Alain Marchant, a feature look at the controversial Canadian director

DriverThe on-line site Hollywood North, a virtual magazine devoted to all things relating to Canadian movie-making, has just posted (in two parts) my feature essay on controversial Quebecois director, Alain Marchant.

You’ll find the article here, with a link to Part II at the bottom.

Make sure you seek out the films of this eccentric, maverick director, our own homegrown version of Lars von Trier.

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Andrew Sarris quote

Sarris“In cinema, as in all art, only those who risk the ridiculous have a real shot at the sublime.”

(Andrew Sarris,  The American Cinema)

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Words of wisdom from Werner

Quote & photo from “Brain Pickings”

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A pearl of wisdom from Pauline Kael

“It’s the emotionlessness of so many violent movies that I’m becoming anxious about, not the rare violent movies (“Bonnie & Clyde”, “The Godfather”, “Mean Streets”) that make us care about the characters and what happens to them. A violent movie that intensifies our experience of violence is very different from a movie in which acts of violence are perfunctory. I’m only guessing, and maybe this emotionlessness means little, but, if I can trust my instincts at all, there’s something deeply wrong about anyone’s taking for granted the disassociation that this carnage without emotion represents…”

Pauline Kael, from her review of “Magnum Force” (January 14, 1974)


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“A Million Little Pieces” (prose)

A Million Little Pieces*

There’s no such thing as a “true” story. We—every one of us–fictionalize our lives. Everything is recorded through our senses and, as a result, our perceptions are highly subjective. My recollection of an event will differ sharply from that of other observers. The studies they’ve done on memory. False memories. Altered memories. Missing memory. Nothing we see is factual, everything is processed and interpreted by minds riddled with biases and preconceptions and false conjectures. Memories aren’t tactile but they are elastic. They’re comforting—or terrifying. Or sexy. But each one has been altered in a fundamental way. Edited by time, emotions and physiology. Like film, memory flickers, flutters, grows brittle and, eventually, breaks. Then the burning light.


  • This tale appears in Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011) by Cliff Burns; Black Dog Press; 2012
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