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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

The Talented Mr Rebhorn

I was sorry to read over the weekend that veteran character actor James Rebhorn had passed away.

You may not recognise the name but you'll know the face - particularly his hawk-like profile. During his career, Rebhorn appeared in many films and TV series - most recently, playing the concerned father to CIA operations officer Claire Danes in HOMELAND. Amongst his many big screen credits were such notable successes as SCENT OF A WOMAN, INDEPENDENCE DAY, MEET THE PARENTS and THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY.

Probably my favourite Rebhorn performance was as the glib CRS employee in David Fincher's THE GAME. Rebhorn manages the mental and physical tests on Michael Douglas, as Douglas is being inducted into the bizarre game of the title. It's not a huge role but Rebhorn's few scenes are key to the plot; there's an enjoyable one late in the film where Douglas ambushes Rebhorn's character during a family trip to the zoo and forces him to reveal the truth behind the ominous CRS corporation.

It's always a joy to be watching a film and have a character actor like James Rebhorn appear. He was one of those reliable artists who could be depended on to deliver just the right performance for the project he was working on. Even if the film itself ended up being a disappointment, Rebhorn was never less than a delight. He will be missed.

The One That Got Away

Yesterday, I put up my predictions for this year's Oscars in eleven key categories. So, how did I do?

Ten out of eleven correctly predicted.

Pretty good, if I say so myself; actually, one of my better years. Just one small problem. I didn't get The Big One right - Best Picture. I said it would go to Gravity, the Academy went for 12 Years A Slave

But you know what? I don't mind at all.

Gravity did exceptionally well, cleaning up in the technical categories and nabbing the Best Director award for Alfonso Cuarón. The fact that it fell at the final fence to 12 Years is no disgrace at all. I mean, look at American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Wolf Of Wall Street and Philomena. Not one statuette between them.

It's encouraging that the Academy chose to reward an exceptional film this year. The last few Best Picture winners - ArgoThe ArtistThe King's Speech - all of them had merit, all were very good. But I don't think "very good" is enough. The film crowned Best Picture should be cinema at its finest - an engrossing storyline, a cast of vibrant characters and a mix of intelligence and emotional punch. 

12 Years A Slave delivers on all these fronts. It's a terrific film - in fact, in years to come, I think it will come to be regarded as something of a classic. I did think that its occasionally graphic nature - the hanging scene, the flogging - would turn off Academy voters. Fortunately, this seems not to have been the case. 

 

 

"And [I think] the Academy Award goes to..."

It's that time again. As the celebrities (and rainclouds) gather over in Los Angeles, I'm having my annual shot at predicting the Oscar winners.

A quick explanation is in order. This isn't who I think should win. This is who I think will win, bearing in mind the track record of the Academy and the type of film they go for. For example - I'm not expecting 12 Years A Slave to do as well as it did at last night's Spirit Awards. Don't get me wrong; it's a great film (for me, right up there tied with Wolf Of Wall Street and Captain Phillips as the year's best) but I really can't see it being embraced by the Academy voters. 

More often than not, they play it safe. They chose Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas. Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction. Argo over Zero Dark Thirty. I'm expecting the tradition to continue tonight. Gravity is a spectacular film - tense, exciting, wonderfully constructed - but I don't think it ranks as the best film of last year. No matter - I still think the Academy will give it the main prize.

Anyway - to business. Here are my predictions in the key categories:

Best Picture

Gravity

Best Director

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave

Original Screenplay

Her

Adapted Screenplay

12 Years a Slave

Best Cinematography

Gravity

Best Score

Gravity

Best Visual Effects

Gravity

I'll check back in tomorrow and let you know how I got on...

Sky Fall

"There is no sound in space." 

Just a simple line, shown onscreen at the beginning of GRAVITY. However, the effect is immediate - you sit up, you pay attention. These filmmakers aren't conveniently forgetting that space is a vacuum and sound waves can't travel. For a change, here's a film that's going to take its science seriously.

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 Fortunately, this is also no dry exercise in astrophysics.  Quite the contrary - GRAVITY is a white-knuckle experience from start to finish, rivalling the best of the summer blockbusters for spectacle and thrills. It's also a relief that there's no slow build up to the action. Within minutes, a freak accident has hurled astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into space, far away from the shattered remains of their shuttle. With air supplies running dangerously low, they have to find a way back to earth fast.  

With its lean 90 minute running time, smart script and stunning visuals, GRAVITY packs one hell of a punch. Co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón,  it's an intelligent thrill ride that doesn't underestimate or shortchange its audience. The science is, in general, accurate - where it isn't, it's due to the demands of dramatic licence. After you see the film - certainly after, not before, as it's spoiler-heavy -  I'd recommend a trip over to AICN and reading Andy Howell's thorough examination of the film's scientific rights and wrongs.

Here's another recommendation - think carefully about where you're going to see this movie. Quite frankly, GRAVITY is going to be best appreciated on the biggest screen you can get yourself to - full-blown IMAX if possible. The use of 3D is more subtle than I expected it to be, preferring to emphasise spatial (no pun intended) relationships over the cheap thrill of putting Sandra Bullock in your lap.

The film has been a huge hit in the US -  $200 million at the box-office already and rising - plus there's early talk of Oscars. Hopefully GRAVITY's legacy will be to show that there really is a market out there for intelligent SF movies...and the scientific fact that in space, no one can hear you scream. 

GRAVITY opens in the UK on November 8th. 

Silver Screen & The Sun Set

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I recently had the opportunity to do a couple of things I haven't done in a long time - see a silent movie on the big screen and go to an end-of-the-pier show; both on the same night. As part of the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival, the Dodge Brothers were in town. And the Brothers - Mike, Mark, Alex and Aly - weren't leaving until they had educated us good people in the fine art of classic Americana skiffle blues.

Lesson one came with their live musical accompaniment of silent film classic Beggars Of Life, with honorary Dodge Brother (and film music documentarian) Neil Brand on piano. The last silent movie I'd been to (not including The Artist) was a screening of Abel Gance's 1927 masterpiece Napoleon nearly thirty years ago. Although not as epic (or as long - Napoleon clocks in at five and a half hours, plus intermissions), Beggars Of Life proved to be equally engrossing. Whilst images flickered up on the Pier Theatre's silver screen, the band played along. As Mike had explained in his introduction, they had a basic idea of what music they were going to play but were also free to improvise - reacting to the emotional flow of the film and changing their performance accordingly, just as the musicians back in the 1920s . In recent years, Beggars Of Life has gained a critical acclaim it didn't get during its original release back in 1928. Its story of a girl and a vagabond trying to escape the American heartland is perfect for the Dodge Brothers' music and there was thunderous applause at the end to prove it.

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After a break for a traditional seaside fish 'n' chip supper, the School For Skiffle was back in session. And then some. In the Key West Restaurant at the end of Bournemouth Pier, the Brothers played a raucous set to an enthusiastic audience. There's a couple of covers in the setlist but the Brothers mainly play their own material - or as they call it, "new songs that sound old". ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco And Firearms) Blues had the audience hollering out the chorus and raising the roof.  

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After a couple of encores and a flurry of autographs, the Dodge Brothers were gone - off into the wild, spooky Dorset night, destination unknown (but probably Hampshire). If you weren't there - shame on you; you missed a treat.  Atone for your sin by seeking out their latest album. The Sun Set was recorded in the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis. Ten tracks, all self-penned by the band and all terrific.