Of course 21 isn’t just about blackjack. It’s more about Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) a shy but brilliant M.I.T. student who--needing to pay Harvard medical school tuition--finds the answers in the cards so to speak. After dazzling his unorthodox math professor and stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) with some mathematical prowess Ben is quickly indoctrinated into Rosa’s group of “gifted” students who head to Las Vegas every weekend with the know-how to count cards and beat the casino at the blackjack tables. And win big they do. Ben is soon seduced by the allure of this luxurious lifestyle including his sexy teammate Jill (Kate Bosworth) but begins rebelling against the well-oiled machine Rosa has built. Apparently you don’t want to cross this particular math professor--nor the old-school casino security consultant (Laurence Fishburne) who has set his sights on Ben as a master card counter. It’s not illegal to do that but the casinos don’t much like it when they catch you doing it. Hey what happens in Vegas…oh you know the rest. The most well-rounded performance comes from the British Sturgess best known for singing Beatles’ songs in Across the Universe. His Ben starts out as a naive math whiz/nerd whose biggest thrill is designing the perfect science project for an M.I.T. contest but then becomes the smooth Vegas dude with the nice clothes and hot girlfriend and finally turns into the guy who eventually loses it all. It’s not hard to see just how much Ben is going to change once he gets involved in the moneymaking scheme but Sturgess handles the transition with aplomb. The stiff Bosworth isn’t nearly as effective as his love interest but she has her moments. Also good for comic relief is Aaron Yoo (Disturbia) as one of the blackjack players who oddly enough is also a kleptomaniac. The performance drawbacks in 21 come from the more veteran players. Spacey and Fishburne seem to be going through the motions utilizing techniques they’ve used many times before. Spacey can whither whoever it is with that look of his while Fishburne postures as he always does. It’s too bad they couldn’t have put in more effort. As with any movie in which the action is inherently stagnant (i.e. sitting at a blackjack table) the question is how to keep things visually stimulating. That’s where director Robert Luketic--who up to this point has only done broad comedies such as Legally Blonde and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton--comes in. Luketic does a fine job maneuvering the camera around the tables creating slo-mo close-ups of the cards and incorporating a cool soundtrack. A good montage or four usually can also work well in a situation like this and Luketic fully utilizes that technique--from the kids winning to them spending their money in gloriously obscene ways. Based on the book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions 21 has the extra advantage of being a somewhat true story as well. But the script from Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb basically copies from other sources and never really distinguishes itself.
Misery loves the Savages--always has. Ever since they were kids Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have been plagued by the blasé blues. Even though they went their separate ways the siblings have remained somewhat close geographically--she lives in Manhattan he in Buffalo--and in their discontentment. But what made them this way in the first place their father (Philip Bosco) is about to reunite them. After losing his mind to dementia and his longtime girlfriend (Rosemary Murphy) to well death the old man officially needs to be looked after and that’s where Jon and Wendy reluctantly come in. Despite having not seen their estranged father in ages they fly out to his Arizona senior-citizen-friendly community immediately upon word of his downfall. What they didn’t plan on however is staying more than a couple days. Ultimately they take him back to Buffalo and place him in a nursing home about which Wendy constantly feels guilty. Now forced to live together and look in the metaphorical mirror the siblings Savage learn about self-discovery mortality each other and how to revive a decades-old rivalry as though it had never gone away. Given the way Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman constantly one-up each other in The Savages you’d think there was a real sibling rivalry at play. Of course it’s merely two of today’s very best actors giving par-for-the-course flawless performances. In so doing they create something beyond chemistry: a relationship so fractured and imperfectly perfect that it could only exist between an aging brother and sister. Whether the scene calls for fireworks or subtlety solo or together Linney and Hoffman are always up to the task. Linney is especially wide-ranging as Wendy still fights her midlife crisis. The veteran actress is often heartbreaking because Wendy is often heartbroken even when she tries to convince herself otherwise but Linney still manages to leave the window of hope cracked open--for us and her character. She truly encompasses everything in this her best performance to date. Hoffman is slightly more of a supporting player here but no less impactful. The Oscar winner is apathetic through much of the film but his terse outbursts of anger and/or sadness are stark reminders of his awe-inspiring range as an actor. Perhaps the most savage Savage is the patriarch played with grace by longtime actor Bosco. But instead of vilifying Lenny or making him worthy of all your pity Bosco makes him a rollercoaster of emotion as per Lenny's dementia. It’s been nine years since writer-director Tamara Jenkins’ last--and only other--feature-length film the twisted coming-of-age tale Slums of Beverly Hills which has given her plenty of time to think grow older and think about growing older. She philosophizes aloud in The Savages a movie that addresses everything you don’t want to but with a sardonic edge to it; in fact maybe this is as much a coping mechanism for her as it is an artistic endeavor. While the movie is primarily about the title siblings it essentially explores the human condition under their guise. But Jenkins does so in a way that is never preachy never obnoxious never sappy and always astutely observed. It’s her naturalistic approach to moviemaking that will turn what is ultimately a sharp dramedy into too much of a downer to please casual moviegoers looking for lighthearted fare in wintertime--this is NOT Little Miss Sunshine--but those who go in looking for a drama will be moved occasionally to laughter. Because The Savages is that rare deep movie: heavy on symbolism and meaning light on pretense and contrivance.
So much for TV's same old, same old.
The nominations for the 54th Annual Primetime Emmys signaled a significant shift in the landscape of television's most honored series and performers, with perennial favorites like ER, The Practice, The X-Files and NYPD Blue (the latter ineligible due to a lack of new episodes) losing steam among Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters in favor of up-and-coming shows like Six Feet Under, Alias, 24 and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Nobody better signified the Emmy voters' changing tastes than Will & Grace star and this morning's nomination announcer Eric McCormack. After ER actress Laura Innes read off a list of names in the lead actor in a comedy category that did not include his own, he executed a perfectly timed, Jack Benny-esque slow look over his shoulder to assure he had heard correctly.
"It's just as well," the Emmy winner--and impending father-to-be--sighed. "You know how hard it is to get a sitter." The nonplussed star nevertheless beamed when his show and co-stars Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally each received nominations.
McCormack played his shut-out for laughs, but a dramatic shift in preferences marked this year's nominations. Still, despite having no new episodes of The Sopranos to submit, HBO again emerged as the network with the most nominations, an astounding 93 nods. Six Feet Under delivered the most of any series this year with 23, and the pay cable net also scored nods for its enduring Sex and the City (ten), newcomer Curb Your Enthusiasm, miniseries Band of Brothers and several of its pay cable movies.
The new crop of freshman faves include Alias (nine noms, including acting accolades for Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber), 24 (ten, including nods for best drama and lead actor Kiefer Sutherland) and comedian Bernie Mac, who got his first nomination in the lead actor in a comedy series for the initial season of his eponymous Fox sitcom. Michael Chiklis, star of the scathing new F/X crime drama The Shield, also earned his first kudo as lead actor in drama.
But in spite of near shut-outs in major categories for former Emmy shoo-ins like ER, The Practice, Ally McBeal and Law & Order, at least one principal network had plenty of reasons to be as proud as a peacock. NBC nabbed 89 nominations, bolstered by the still-powerhouse The West Wing (21 nods), Will & Grace (13) and a resurgently popular Friends (11). Indeed, this year marked the strongest showing yet by the latter show's cast members, who for the first time decided to submit themselves in the comedy lead categories rather than the supporting slots.
The gambit paid off: buoyed by this season's Rachel-Joey-Ross triangle, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc scored nods, though David Schwimmer was edged out by Matthew Perry. Aniston's real-life hubby Brad Pitt even earned a nomination for his guest appearance on the series.
The network's graying show Frasier still snared a very respectable nine nominations, including acting nods for lead Kelsey Grammer and supporting actor David Hyde Pierce, along with guest actors Brian Cox, Adam Arkin and Anthony LaPaglia. The series is only two Emmy wins away from tying the all-time win mark set by The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
It seems that actors looking to make a bid for the winged trophies need only get their agents to wrangle them a role on The West Wing. Not only did previous Emmy winners Martin Sheen and Allison Janney (bumped up this year to the lead actress category) score approval, the Oval Office drama earned supporting nominations for regular cast members Dule Hill, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney, Stockard Channing and Mary-Louise Parker, as well as for guest actors Ron Silver, Tim Matheson and Mark Harmon.
Whitford and Jane Kaczmarek continue to be the favorite real-life husband-and-wife choice among Emmy voters, with Kaczmarek getting a lead comedy actress nod for her role on Fox's , while her TV hubby Bryan Cranston got his first-ever lead comedy actor nod for the series.
CBS must love Everybody Loves Raymond for turning out one of its strongest performances yet with 11 nominations, and each of the sitcom's lead actors earned a berth in their respective categories, as did guest actress Katherine Helmond. The eye net's sophomore series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, one of the most-watched shows on TV, garnered six nods, including one for outstanding drama series, yet none of the show's actors were singled out.
"Singled out" sounds like a term the Sex and the City gals would never want to hear, but while Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and even veteran character actress Frances Sternhagen (who plays Charlotte's blue-blood mother-in-law Bunny) woke up to Emmy nominations, Kristin Davis somehow slipped through the cracks again despite an emotionally weighty season.
Finally, it apparently helps you get an Emmy nomination if you already have an Academy Award, or at least a nomination, on your mantel. Among the performers previously tapped for film's Golden Guy who earned Emmy nods in various categories this year: Albert Finney, Angela Bassett, Sissy Spacek, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Laura Linney, Kenneth Branagh, Joan Allen, Michael Douglas, Anjelica Huston, Glenn Close and Cloris Leachman. Even Tom Hanks and directors Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott got acknowledged in the producer categories.
ATAS will hand out the Emmy trophies on Sunday, Sept. 22, at a black-tie ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Highlights of the 2001-2002 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations:
Outstanding Drama Series
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)
Law & Order (NBC)
Six Feet Under (HBO)
The West Wing (NBC)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Michael Chiklis, The Shield
Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under
Peter Krause, Six Feet Under
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Martin Sheen, The West Wing
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Amy Brenneman, Judging Amy
Rachel Griffiths, Six Feet Under
Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under
Allison Janney, The West Wing
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Victor Garber, Alias
Freddy Rodriguez, Six Feet Under
Dulé Hill, The West Wing
John Spencer, The West Wing
Bradley Whitford, The West Wing
Richard Schiff, The West Wing
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Tyne Daly, Judging Amy
Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under
Mary-Louise Parker, The West Wing
Stockard Channing, The West Wing
Janel Moloney, The West Wing
Outstanding Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS)
Sex and the City (HBO)
Will & Grace (NBC)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Bernie Mac, The Bernie Mac Show
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Kelsey Grammer, Frasier
Matt LeBlanc, Friends
Matthew Perry, Friends
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Jennifer Aniston, Friends
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond
Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond
David Hyde Pierce, Frasier
Bryan Cranston, Malcolm in the Middle
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond
Wendie Malick, Just Shoot Me
Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City
Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
MINISERIES AND MOVIES
Band of Brothers (HBO)
The Mists of Avalon (TNT)
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Dinner With Friends (HBO)
The Gathering Storm (HBO)
James Dean (TNT)
The Laramie Project (HBO)
Path To War (HBO)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Albert Finney, The Gathering Storm
James Franco, James Dean
Sir Michael Gambon, Path To War
Kenneth Branagh, Shackleton
Beau Bridges, We Were the Mulvaneys
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Vanessa Redgrave, The Gathering Storm
Angela Bassett, The Rosa Parks Story
Blythe Danner, We Were the Mulvaneys
Laura Linney, Wild Iris
Gena Rowlands, Wild Iris
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Jim Broadbent, The Gathering Storm
Michael Moriarty, James Dean
Alec Baldwin, Path To War
Don Cheadle, Things Behind the Sun
Jon Voight, Uprising
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Sissy Spacek, Last Call
Stockard Channing, The Matthew Shepard Story
Joan Allen, The Mists of Avalon
Anjelica Huston, The Mists of Avalon
Dame Diana Rigg, Victoria and Albert
Outstanding Guest Actor in aDrama Series
John Larroquette, The Practice
Charles S. Dutton, The Practice
Ron Silver, The West Wing
Tim Matheson, The West Wing
Mark Harmon, The West Wing
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Mary McDonnell, ER
Martha Plimpton, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Patricia Clarkson, Six Feet Under
Lili Taylor, Six Feet Under
Illeana Douglas, Six Feet Under
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Adam Arkin, Frasier
Anthony LaPaglia, Frasier
Brian Cox, Frasier
Brad Pitt, Friends
Michael Douglas, Will & Grace
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Katherine Helmond, Everybody Loves Raymond
Susan Sarandon, Malcolm in the Middle
Cloris Leachman, Malcolm in the Middle
Frances Sternhagen, Sex and the City
Glenn Close, Will & Grace