Showing posts from 2013

In Fear (UK, 2013); Dir. Jeremy Lovering

Horror, perhaps more than any other, is a genre of simple pleasures. The same tried and tested formulas can be repurposed ad infinitum  with a reasonable chance of decent renumeration, even in cases where a franchise should have long since succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. For the discerning fan of horror cinema the devil is in the detail; how skilfully does a film plunder those too-familiar old tropes and, if not give the appearance of being fresh, at least demonstrate enough command of the material that the viewer doesn't think about it too much? So to point out the influences on Jeremy Lovering's debut feature film would both spoil the plot and be somewhat glib, because there's no question that In Fear is as smartly directed piece of work that deserves an audience. Tom (Iain De Castecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert), a young couple only a fortnight into their relationship, travel to rural Ireland for a music festival. En route to a nearby hotel they sto

In Search of Vanessa Howard

About eight years ago I picked up a copy of a film called ‘MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY AND GIRLY’ (1970), a curious horror comedy about a dysfunctional family with a penchant for macabre games. Although she didn’t receive top billing it was the pretty, vivacious young actress playing the eponymous Girly who really made the piece. Her name was Vanessa Howard and she had the aura of a star. Howard was born in Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, on 10th October 1948. Originally named Vanessa Tolhurst she was orphaned by the age of three and she and her older sister were raised by adoptive parents . Both girls were keen performers and for a time Vanessa attended the Phildene Stage School in London. According to later press sources this led her screen debut in Judy Garland's last picture, I COULD GO ON SINGING (1963), although I've never been able to conclusively identify her in the released version. Leaving school at fifteen she declined the opportunity to join her sister at the Guildhall

A Hijacking [Kapringen] (Denmark, 2012); Dir. Tobias Lindholm)

Commercial shipping is for most people an unknown behemoth, out of sight and out of mind, despite its intrinsic role in global trade. It’s due in no small part to the maritime industry’s exceptionally high safety standards; as with aviation major incidents are relatively few and far between.  For another industry, one geared towards more vicarious pleasures, such benign subject matter usually doesn’t hold much appeal.   That was until 2009 when an American ship, the Maersk Alabama , was hijacked off the coast of Somalia, bringing the issue of modern-day piracy into public consciousness. The story of that incident is due to be recounted in Paul Greengrass’s forthcoming Captain Phillips later this year, with Tom Hanks in the eponymous role.  Before that there's Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking , a modest yet thoughtful Danish production  which largely eschews action for a claustrophobic psychological drama. If you’re drawn into imagining scenes of trapped, desperate men u

The White Sheik [Lo sceicco bianco] (Italy, 1952); Dir. Federico Fellini

Had it been made later in his career one surmises that Fellini's The White Sheik might have more closely resembled the picture it partially inspired: Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo (1984). Both films share a common theme of an unassuming woman being fleetingly transported into a fantasy world of romance and adventure before an inevitable withdrawal back to reality. As it is this is a fairly restrained directorial debut from the Maestro, albeit with plenty of hints of what was to come. The story centres around newlywed couple Wanda (Brunella Bovo) and Ivan Cavalli ( Leopoldo Trieste ), who have arrived at a hotel in Rome for their honeymoon. Whilst the punctilious, petit-bourgois Ivan enthuses about their packed itinerary and meeting with his relatives, Wanda is more concerned with the opportunity to meet try and the star of her favourite Arabian Nights -inspired fumetti* - the eponymous 'White Sheik' - and promptly absconds in pursuit of her idol. No sooner

Mr Deeds Goes to Town (US, 1936, Dir. Frank Capra)

Most people with a passing awareness of film history will have at least heard of Frank Capra, but perhaps not all will appreciate just what an exalted status the director had in 1930's Hollywood. Before the likes of Welles, Hitchcock or Sturges had truly emerged, and long before film writers began scrutinising the output of Howard Hawks and John Ford, Capra enjoyed a standing unseen since the heyday of DW Griffith. This was due in no small part to the enormous success of his seminal screwball comedy It Happened One Night , the top grossing film of 1934 and the first to ever pick up all five major Oscars. It swelled Capra's pockets and his ego, allowing him unprecedented leverage with his studio Columbia (hereafter his name would appear above the title), but with the expectation he could deliver more of the same. For their follow-up Capra and his regular collaborator Robert Riskin eventually settled on a serialised story called Opera Hat, by the prolific author  Cl