October 16, 2005

Recently read and briefly noted 1

Roughing It by Mark Twain

In 1861, Mark Twain's brother was appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory, and Twain went along as his secretary. Out there, the silver rush was in full swing with all the attendant folly that vast, sudden (and almost totally baseless) wealth brings.

"Think of a city with not one solitary poor man in it! One would suppose that when month after month went by and still not a wild cat mine [by wild cat I mean, in general terms, any claim not located on the mother vein, i.e., the "Comstock") yielded a ton of rock worth crushing, the people would begin to wonder if they were not putting too much faith in their prospective riches; but there was not a thought of such a thing. They burrowed away, bought and sold, and were happy."

And there's more. Stagecoaches, Mormons, buffalos, outlaws, Lake Mono, silver mining, wild and woolly territorial journalism, catastrophes, legal tomfoolery, poetry, gunfighting, and then Twain gets bored of all that and goes to California and then on to Hawaii. This is the definition of a rollicking good book.

October 15, 2005

Recently seen and briefly noted 3

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

I can see why this is considered a revisionist take on film noir, but that seems incorrect. Film noir was not a particularly sunny genre and thus did not need to be "revised." (Also, and this may be splitting hairs, I think the prewar setting is significant.) What this really is a projection of the 70s paranoia film (like the same year's The Parallax View) backward in time. Even nostalgia for past Hollywood was not going to be a way out. Finally, yes, this is one perfect movie.

Wedding Crashers (David Dobkin, 2005)
***1/4 to ***1/2

I disagree with those who think that Owen Wilson's comeuppance and maturation in the second half of the movie does violence to the sex comedy of the first half of the movie. (The scene in which Owen is asked whether he is full of shit or just half-full is key.) I laughed my ass off all the way through, and I was not thrown off, but rather pleasantly astonished, by the funeral scene. (I don't know why, but the thought that has stuck with me is that in 70 years time, if classic movie conventions like Cinecon and Cinevent still exist, this would be a big hit there. "You know, that was the first real pairing of
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.")