Category Archives: Essays

Examining Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy (Part 1)

elephantgus

Gus Van Sant is one of those filmmakers people call ‘interesting’. On the one hand, the man’s capable of all sorts of good semi-mainstream films, from Good Will Hunting to My Own Private Idaho. But on the other, he’s responsible for slightly-too-arthouse-for-arthouse films like Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, the almost-shot-for-shot Psycho remake, and what has come to be known as his ‘Death Trilogy’—Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days.

The entire death trilogy sits in the high-fifties, high-sixties part of Rotten Tomatoes that seemingly means ‘slightly above average’, but in practice has come to mean ‘people either think it’s truly fantastic or total pretentious garbage’.  (And given that this is the man who remade Psycho, maybe there’s some truth to that latter view.) But each of the death films gave me some thoughts about cinema and philosophy, so I thought I’d write a piece on each of them and try and get those thoughts straightened out.

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Superhero Flicks Are Not Our New Westerns

supermanwestern

Recently, WB announced their slate of superhero movies through 2019, perpetuating this ridiculous genre for another endless cycle. A lot of very smart people have been persistent in drawing an analogy about this, saying that for its longevity and frivolity, the superhero genre is the new western. As a lover of westerns and a hater of superhero movies, I gotta step in here.

I get the facile rationale—both are ‘low’ genres that occupy a disproportionately large space in the cinematic marketplace; both are marketed at American adolescent boys; both are concerned with matters of good and evil solved through third act duels. But in the words of Matt Zoller Seitz: “Where’s Ford and Leone?

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I Ain’t Been Watching Movies Much Lately, But Movie-Length Mysteries Are Pretty Dope

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It’s no secret that there hasn’t been much activity here at Smug Film as of late. Posts became sporadic during the six months of hell the first half of this year was for me, and then after my mom’s passing, the scarcity became only more so. Some of this is because many of our critics are just plain busy with other things—Greg DeLiso started a full-fledged LLC doing videography, was recently married, and is doing quite well for himself; John D’Amico is about to start production directing his crime film set in the Bronx; Alex Hiatt is busy looking at various rocks under various microscopes as always; I’m in a band with my friend Lauren called To Be Young, writing delightful acoustic pop songs and enjoying myself immensely, with recordings expected before the end of the year. But, those wonderful developments aside, the reason, mostly, for the sparsity around here comes down to the fact that I, your dear steward, just can’t stomach watching movies as of late.

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Is Neo-Noir The Worst Genre?

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In his review of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Armond White opens by declaring that “Neo-noir must be the worst movie genre. It’s an excuse for juvenile filmmakers to pretend cynicism while their imbecile audiences pretend sophistication.”

I can certainly see where he’s coming from. I haven’t seen A Dame to Kill For yet, but I have seen more than enough attempts at neo-noirs that think all there is to the genre is a femme fatale and an anti-hero in a trenchcoat. I’m talking about mediocre, flailing films like Max Payne—or worse, the attempts to bring noir to hip, younger settings like Assassination of a High School President and Lucky Number Slevin. They’re movies that look at the classics of the genre, fall in love with the aesthetic, but have no idea why or how that aesthetic works as it does. As Armond so aptly points out, Sin City and its ilk are all “pretending that it still means something to call a sexy woman ‘dame.’”

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R.I.P. Robin Williams (1951-2014)

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My parents had a special chance encounter with Robin Williams. This must have been during the 80’s, although I’m not sure exactly when. Maybe my sister remembers. It was at a museum here in NYC, the last day of an exhibit by an artist that had designed all sorts of chairs or something. It was late in the day, and the place just so happened to be empty except for my parents and Robin Williams and his wife at the time.

The exhibit was pretty dour and uninteresting. Both couples were quiet and respectful of the art though—that is, until they realized that all four of them thought the art was ridiculous.

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