Film Review – APPALOOSA (2008)

Appaloosa - Great Western MoviesAPPALOOSA (USA, 2008) ***
      Distributor: New Line Cinema; Production Company: Axon Films / Groundswell Productions; Release Date: 12 September 2008; Filming Dates: 1 October 2007 – 24 November 2007; Running Time: 116m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS; Film Format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383); Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Ed Harris; Writer: Robert Knott, Ed Harris (based on the novel by Robert B. Parker); Executive Producer: Sam Brown, Caldecot Chubb, Toby Emmerich, Michael London; Producer: Robert Knott, Ed Harris; Associate Producer: Kathryn Himoff, Candy Trabuco, Janice Williams; Director of Photography: Dean Semler; Music Composer: Jeff Beal; Film Editor: Kathryn Himoff; Casting Director: Nicole Abellera, Jeanne McCarthy; Production Designer: Waldemar Kalinowski; Art Director: Steve Arnold; Set Decorator: Linda Lee Sutton; Costumes: David C. Robinson; Make-up: Julie Callihan, Geordie Sheffer; Sound: Curt Schulkey; Special Effects: Geoffrey C. Martin; Visual Effects: Ladd Lanford, Mark Freund.
      Cast: Viggo Mortensen (Everett Hitch), Ed Harris (Virgil Cole), Renée Zellweger (Allison French), Jeremy Irons (Randall Bragg), Timothy Spall (Phil Olson), Lance Henriksen (Ring Shelton), Adam Nelson (Mackie Shelton), Ariadna Gil (Katie), James Gammon (Earl May), Tom Bower (Abner Raines), Rex Linn (Clyde Stringer), Corby Griesenbeck (Charlie Tewksbury), Timothy V. Murphy (Vince), Bob L. Harris (Judge Callison (as Bob Harris)), Daniel Parker (Mueller (as Daniel T. Parker)), Gabriel Marantz (Joe Whittfield), Cerris Morgan-Moyer (Tilda), Robert Jauregui (Marshall Jack Bell (as Bobby Jauregui)), Luce Rains (Dean), James Tarwater (Chalk (as Jim Tarwater)).
      Synopsis: Two friends hired to police a small town that is suffering under the rule of a rancher find their job complicated by the arrival of a young widow.
      Comment: Harris stars in and directs this slow-burning Western. He and Mortensen are peace-keepers for hire and when the residents of Appaloosa appoint Harris as marshal they hope he can loosen the grip that educated rancher Irons has on their town. Irons has murdered the previous town marshal and Harris and Mortensen go about their business of seeing justice done. Zellweger enters the story as the gold-digging new girl in town who seeks the companionship of the top dog, flitting between Harris, Mortensen and Irons. When Irons is arrested and put on trial, but subsequently escapes captivity the hunt is on. The character-driven script is injected with personality through its strong lead cast. The action is sporadic, but violent and deadly once it takes place. Whilst the plot is resolved, the main character stories are left in the air leading to a sense of unfinished business and a film that whilst engaging and well-mounted feels to be hesitant in coming to a conclusion. Tighter editing may also have helped to create a greater sense of urgency to the drama.

Book Review – ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) by Lawrence Osborne

ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) ***
by Lawrence Osborne
Hardback published by Hogarth, 2018. 250pp.
ISBN: 978-1-7810-9057-2

Image result for Only to Sleep: A Philip Marlowe NovelBlurb: The year is 1988. The place, Baja California. Private Investigator Philip Marlowe – now in his seventy-second year – has been living out his retirement in the terrace bar of the La Fonda hotel. Sipping margaritas, playing cards, his silver-tipped cane at the ready. When in saunter two men dressed like undertakers. With a case that has his name written all over it.  At last Marlowe is back where he belongs. His mission is to investigate Donald Zinn – supposedly drowned off his yacht, leaving a much younger and now very rich wife. Marlowe’s speciality. But is Zinn actually alive? Are the pair living off the spoils? 

This is the fourth attempt to continue Raymond Chandler’s legacy of private investigator Philip Marlowe. None of these works has come anywhere near to replicating the best of Chandler’s work. First, there were two books by Robert B. Parker – Poodle Springs (1989) and Perchance to Dream (1991) – the former completing an unfinished Chandler manuscript, the latter a disappointing sequel to Chandler’s first Marlowe novel,  The Big Sleep (1939). Then in 2014, John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) produced The Black-Eyed Blonde, which was a pretty good sequel to Chandler’s masterpiece The Long Goodbye (1953). Now we have Lawrence Osborne’s take on Marlowe with Only to Sleep. Osborne has taken the brave decision to write about an ageing Marlowe, 72-years old here. This gives him the opportunity to introduce even more world-weariness into the character. A physically spent force, Marlowe now needs a cane to help him get around. Coaxed out of retirement to investigate a suspicious insurance claim, Marlowe goes to Mexico to find the truth. The book has a slow, deliberate pace which allows Osborne to share Marlowe’s anachronistic view of the world. However, his observations are merely those of a tired old man and lack the bite of his younger self. That may have been Osborne’s intention, to show how age has dulled Marlowe’s caustic cynicism. But much of the charm of Chandler’s creation is lost in the process. So whilst, as per convention, the story is written in the first person from Marlowe’s point of view, it doesn’t feel like this is the same man that inhabited Chandler’s novels  – or even those of Parker and Black. There is little of the biting wit we expect. The mystery itself is less a mystery and more a manhunt. There is also nothing in the unravelling of the plot elements that will surprise the reader. Osborne does, however, capture the hot, sleazy atmosphere of Mexico in the 1980s, drawing on his own experiences. Taken as a detective story, the writing is good and mercifully the page count is traditionally light and we are left with a competent detective novel, for which the only real distinction is its use of an iconic name to sell it.