The Out of Towners, Arthur Hiller (1970)

Not a great movie to watch a couple days before you’re scheduled to fly to New York. Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, decent Ohioans, experience every travel-to-big-city debacle known to humankind. I think Neil Simon wrote this expressly to keep Midwesterners from coming east. It’s working; I’m straining to keep from canceling my trip.


Traitor, Jeffrey Nachmanoff (2008)

Tricky one, both on its own bizarre terms and in terms of evaluation. This ain’t no Bruckheimer job; it’s got ambitions to be important. Pretty much anything I say will be a spoiler, so I won’t say more than this: The intent here is to use the trope of the double-agent to demonstrate that pretty much any situation in which such shenanigans are possible is also one in which finally both sides are culpable. A very good example of how to coat a straight-up good-for-you seitan polemic with action movie frosting and sell it as a cupcake. Reminds me of the Spire Christian Comics I used to read as a kid.

The Return of Frank James, Fritz Lang (1940)

What a disaster! I chalk it up to this being Lang’s first western, and his first film in color. A genius of Lang’s intensity was probably obsessed with the nuances and possibilities of each of these new toys; as such it may not be a complete surprise that he was too overly preoccupied to take much interest in actually making a watchable movie. It doesn’t help that Henry Fonda is about as exciting as a piece of whole wheat toast, Gene Tierney seems to think sitting stock still and being beautiful qualifies as acting, and Ernest Whitman’s character is a racist stereotype so banal it’s hard to even to get angry about it. The only bright — well, actually, brightly dark — spot is John Carradine as Bob Ford; you may remember him as the Confederate swashbuckler aboard John Ford’s Stagecoach.

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One), Guillaume Canet (2006)

Un peu de Chinatown, un peu de Spoorloos, un peu de Endless Love. Something for everyone!

Wow, I loved typing “Spoorloos” up there.

Everybody whines about cultural homogenization, but ya know what? This here’s a thriller in which a serial killer’s signature move is to bury his gorgeous female victims in gorgeous forest glades alongside gorgeous eviscerated dogs; it is acknowledged that children have erotic lives; doctors smoke; and the hero arrives at the climactic scene in a Volvo station wagon, walks through a meadow dripping in honeyed sunlight, finds the tree in which he and his childhood girlfriend carved their names, drops to his knees, and cries.

There will always be a France.

Nothing spectacular here, but a perfectly respectable night at the movies.

Fury, Fritz Lang (1936)

A perfect accompaniment to the news this week regarding the smugly self-justified crimes of my government. Spencer Tracy, an innocent man, is mistaken for a criminal and lynched by a small town mob. Almost immediately, the townspeople start professing to each other their regrets about the incident, but they’re not at all interested in getting to the bottom of it and holding the organizers accountable. Such a reckoning would be too destabilizing, they say. Best to just forget it and keep walking.

No accident that this was the first movie Lang made upon safe arrival in Hollywood. The intensity of his need to believe in the possibility of justice burns every frame. I’m glad he’s not here to see that justice remains so difficult to come by.

There are things I don’t want to give away as spoilers, but let me just note: Film itself is in some crucial ways the hero of this movie.

This just in: Spencer Tracy’s dog is played by Terry!

Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green (2008)

As far as end-of-innocence trips go, this makes Caddyshack look like Wild Strawberries. Lazy, hackneyed, aggressively stupid. David Gordon Green made an enchanting film called George Washington in 2000, and was at one point working on bringing A Confederacy of Dunces to the screen. Don’t go over to the forces of Hollywood darkness, David Gordon Green!

The Keep, Jennifer Egan (2006)

“Danny had waited two hours in a gloomy little valley town for a bus to this castle that never frigging came before he looked up and saw its black shape against the sky.”

That’s the first sentence of the third paragraph of this novel, and the last one I read. Life’s too short to read crap prose.