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.
Pretty people just don’t understand—you’re not safe anywhere and all the sadists are after YOU! As the two geniuses in The Hitcher Grace (Sophia Bush) and her boyfriend Jim (Zachary Knighton) learn real quickly a cross-country trek to New Mexico in a beat-up car is especially risky. During their first night out on the open road it’s raining cats and dogs when they almost run over a man (Sean Bean) who’s standing aimlessly in the middle of the street his car apparently broken down. The young couple decides against lending him a helping hand with it pouring down rain and all. Bad move. When they stop for gas later Jim and Grace cross paths with the man who goes by the name of John Ryder. He asks the couple if he might hitch a short ride with them to a local motel. This time they oblige. Bad move. One aspect the studio must’ve loved about The Hitcher: Being shot primarily in a car the cast cannot feasibly be more than three deep—four tops. That also means that said cast must wear the tension well if the camera is to be on them throughout. Bush (TV’s One Tree Hill) the movie’s biggest asset as far as its target audience is concerned shrieks well and most importantly is smokin'. And when it comes time to fight back she doesn’t look so bad doing it even if there’s scant giggling in the theater at the now clichéd image of a weapon-wielding hot chick. As the hugely sadistic villain Bean (GoldenEye the LOTR movies et al) is more than adequately creepy. There’s something to be said with most of The Hitcher’s viewers’ inability to recognize him because an A-list movie star just wouldn’t work in this role. Obscurity aside Bean his face lurking around every corner will simply creep the crap out of the young audience. As for Knighton he seems and looks like the garden-variety up-and-comer and try as I might there’s nothing wrong with his biggest role to date—except a scene of um tug-of-war that is tough to watch or look away from. Veteran actor Neal McDonough also pops in with a brief role as a sheriff caught in the proverbial crosshairs. These days it’s tough to come up with anything new in a horror film—so directors just don’t bother. Save for neo-horror maestro Eli Roth there’s no originality to be seen especially when seemingly 99 percent of horror movies are remakes and when they’re not remakes they’re Primeval or Turistas. The Hitcher is much better than those two but director Dave Meyers truly eliminates most of the psychological aspect of the original 1986 Hitcher in exchange for a polished contemporary feel. Of course Meyers is one the most renowned music video directors of the past several years so it's no surprise when he mistakes volume for thrills; in fact the decibels will be the chief reason for almost all of the audience’s screaming. Not that there aren’t scary moments however. The writers Jake Wade Wall (When a Stranger Calls) and Eric Bernt (Romeo Must Die) actually get the film off to a brisk smooth start but they ultimately turn John Ryder into more of a Terminator-like character and ask for too many leaps of faith and suspensions of disbelief—again not that their intended audience won’t indulge them. At least the studio had the guts to retain the intended 'R' rating!
Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel) has a really bad rep and with good reason: Five years ago convicted killer Riddick escaped the galaxy's law enforcement during a botched interplanetary prison transfer and has been on the lam ever since. As The Chronicles of Riddick picks up our antagonist finds his relative freedom has been compromised when mercenaries out for the $1 million bounty on his head discover his location and hunt him down. Riddick escapes their clutches steals their ship and sets off for Planet Helion to find Imam (Keith David) the Muslim cleric he rescued in Pitch Black and the only person who could have squealed his location to authorities. But while Riddick's hunch about Imam are correct the cleric has a reason for luring the mammoth murderer out of hiding: Helion is falling to unholy armies of Necromongers--warriors who conquer by force in the vein of Star Trek's Borg. Of course Riddick doesn't give a damn about the Helions or their plight--until he gets wind that the Necromogers want to kill him because of an old prophecy that foresees their end at Riddick's hands. Like it or not Riddick is left with no other choice but to battle the Necromongers.
The character of Riddick is unquestionably what made Pitch Black one of the most sequel-worthy sci-fi films in years. And Riddick would not have been one of sci-fi's most intoxicating characters if it weren't for Diesel. Like his Dominic Toretto in the 2001 actioner The Fast and the Furious Riddick is a villain of few words but when he speaks his carefully chosen words have impact--even if the dialogue is at times overly theatrical. Riddick is the perfect antihero; a cold-blooded and indifferent being who somehow evokes more compassion than the film's so-called good guys. Joining Riddick are some recurring characters including David as Imam but Riddick benefits the most from the addition of some new characters particularly Colm Feore as Lord Marshal the Necromonger leader whose goal is to rid the universe of all human life. Feore channeling nuggets of Julius Caesar into his role makes for one of Riddick's most thrilling foes. Another prominent addition to the cast is Judi Dench who has a surprisingly small role as Aereon an Elemental captured by the Necromongers and used for her special powers including ESP.
Writer/director David Twohy took his horror pic Pitch Black which gained a cult following since it was released four years ago and managed to successfully turn it into an sci-fi actioner of epic proportions. Everything is grander here which is almost a given considering Twohy shot Pitch Black on a dime in Australia using colored filters. In Riddick the director distinguishes the film's different environments--the Necros' mothership Crematoria's cavernous prison and Helion--using warm to cool tones that are dazzling yet more subtle than its predecessor. The CGI effects get a little gamey at times but production designer Holger Gross' gargantuan sets are impressive and help craft Twohy's otherworldly vision into a plausible one. And although Twohy jumps genres from Pitch Black to its sequel his storyline evolves logically from the original premise. But while moviegoers unfamiliar with Pitch Black will be able to follow the story easily enough they may have a difficult time grasping what makes Riddick such a big deal; the film explains the legend but never fully captures its quintessence. This could hurt Riddick's chances to broaden its Pitch Black fan base.
October 20, 2003 11:53am EST
Top Story: David Blaine Emerges From Box
Illusionist David Blaine emerged Sunday from the transparent box hanging over London's River Thames in which he spent 44 days for a starvation stunt and was taken to the hospital after making a brief statement, Reuters reports. Looking disheveled and visibly thinner, Blaine, who says he consumed only water during his ordeal, broke down in tears in front of a crowd of thousands. "I learned how important it is to have a sense of humor and to laugh at everything because nothing makes any sense," he said. Medical teams checked the 30-year-old New Yorker on the scene before he was carried on a stretcher into an ambulance and taken to the London Independent Hospital. Doctors said Blaine faced disorientation, muscle loss and may have damaged his appetite, which could put him at a longer-term risk of eating disorders. Blaine sold the television rights to broadcasters Sky TV and Channel 4 in deals reportedly worth at least $1 million.
Prosecution Says Enough Evidence for Blake Trial
Prosecutors say there is "more than sufficient" evidence to try actor Robert Blake for killing his wife. According to The Associated Press, prosecutors, responding to the defense motion to dismiss murder charges against the actor, said testimony at a preliminary hearing showed that Blake discussed killing his wife "in a manner strikingly similar to the manner in which she actually was killed." The prosecution added that Blake was in the area when she was killed and had gunshot residue on his hands and clothing. Blake, 69, is accused of shooting Bonny Lee Bakley to death on May 4, 2001, while she waited in his car as he allegedly went to retrieve a gun he had accidentally dropped under a table in a Studio City restaurant where they had just dined. But in September, the defense motion claimed there was no forensic evidence linking Blake to the shooting or the murder weapon and asked that murder charges against the Baretta star be dismissed. A hearing on the dismissal motion is scheduled for Oct. 31 with the trial set for Feb. 9.
Schwarzenegger Mural Gets Terminated
Los Angeles officials want a building owner to take down a giant mural of California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger that went up a week after the Terminator star won the state's Oct. 7 recall election, Reuters reports. The city attorney charged owner Robert Lusk Davis Thursday with failing to get a permit for the ad promoting the DVD release of Terminator 3 but Davis, who is no relation to outgoing Gov. Gray Davis, said he would take the case to court before taking it down. The mural, on Cahuenga Blvd. in Studio City, is about 40 feet high and about 100 feet wide. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn told Reuters the apparent political implications of the case were coincidental.
Woody Allen Bio Doubtful
Woody Allen's publicist said Friday that, contrary to published reports, the filmmaker was not close to a book deal. "Many times over the past two to three years, they've asked him to write his memoirs and he said he wasn't interested," Leslee Dart told the AP Friday. "They then told him they could get a phenomenal amount of money for it, and he said that for a phenomenal amount of money he could see if he could get interested." The New York Times reported last week that Allen was near agreement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin, for a deal worth around $3 million. Dart said Allen had turned down Riverhead and that no other offers were being considered, but added that he had not given up.
Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Eminem
A judge on Friday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a former schoolmate of rapper Eminem. DeAngelo Bailey, 32, claimed that Eminem slandered him in the song "Brain Damage" on his 1999 album The Slim Shady LP. He was seeking $1 million. But Mount Clemes, Mich., Judge Deborah Servitto sided with the rapper, saying Eminem's lyrics are "stories no one would take as fact, they're an exaggeration of a childish act."
Ozzy Osbourne a New Man
In an in-depth interview with MTV, Ozzy Osbourne revealed he is a brand new man. Osbourne announced last week that he was postponing his upcoming European tour because of the effects of medication he's taking to treat tremors. After seeking out Dr. Allan H. Ropper, who had treated famous Parkinson's sufferer Michael J. Fox, Osbourne said he is feeling better than he has in years. "It turns out that it's a hereditary thing that I have from my mother's side of the family," an animated Ozzy told MTV. "This guy in Boston fixed me great. He's taken me off all the medication that I was on. I'm taking one medication now for this tremor." So don't expect to see Osbourne shuffling around his house on The Ousbournes anytime soon. The singer said that was simply a consequence of the constant pain he was in.
Afghan Film Wins Canadian Prize
Afghan director Siddiq Barmak's film Osama, which won the top prize Sunday at Montreal's New Movie and New Media Festival, has become one of the first features produced in Afghanistan and nominated since the fall of the Taliban, Reuters reports. The film, named after Osama bin Laden who at the time was established in Afghanistan, tells the story of the social situation and women's lack of status in society after the Taliban came to power in 1996.
Web Piracy Could Cost Hollywood Millions
A new survey by Britain's Informa Media Group found Monday that selling films across the Internet could be an industry worth more than $800 million a year by 2010, but would be worth more than $1.3 billion if it were not for illegal downloads, Reuters reports. The survey found that Internet users with broadband connections download an estimated 144,000 films illegally every day worldwide. If 50 percent of those downloads is considered a lost sale worth an average $3.50, it means that this year alone Hollywood misses out on about $92 million in revenues, Informa added. The report also estimated that sales of hard copies of DVDs and video will remain by far the largest category of film sales: $2.62 billion in 2010, up from this year's $804 million.
Role Call: Duvall and Farrell Play Ball, Warner Options Pearl Memoire
Robert Duvall, who starred as the coach of a
With its twisty-turning plot and military setting Basic could be the love child of an illicit affair between The Usual Suspects and The General's Daughter; it even borrows the star of the latter. In Basic John Travolta plays Tom Hardy a former Army Ranger and interrogator extraordinaire who's now a DEA agent in Panama suspended from duty on suspicion of bribery. He's hitting the rebellious law enforcement officer's requisite bottle of Jack Daniels heavily--until an old friend on the local army base Col. Bill Styles (Tim Daly) calls him in to investigate the disappearances and probable deaths of an elite group of trainees and their commander Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L Jackson) during a training session in the Panamanian jungle. Staff investigator Lt. Julia Osbourne (Connie Nielsen) a plucky Southern gal who's none too pleased with Hardy's invasion of her turf is assigned to help Hardy question the unit's surviving members Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). As their stories unfold over a series of flashbacks the interrogators discover a military underworld of drugs murder and coercion--and the mysterious existence of a rogue Ranger unit called "Section 8." Now for an interrogation of our own. Is the plot convoluted? Sir yes sir! Is it too tricky for its own good? Sir yes sir! Thank you soldier. You may stand down.
The trigger-finger pointing winking cluck-clucking "gotcha" persona Travolta (Swordfish Domestic Disturbance) creates in Hardy is as appropriate to the story as it can possibly be; the way he manipulates his subjects under interrogation is much the same way the story manipulates its audience. He leads them--and the observant Lt. Osbourne--to believe one thing then pulls the rug out from under them to prove the old cliché of military movies: that nothing is as it seems. In Nielsen's (The Hunted One Hour Photo) Osbourne we're given a character who could lead us through the jungle of the plot (she discovers the "facts" at the same time as the audience so her reaction is meant I suppose to be ours) but since Hardy spends much of his time making her look and feel like an idiot she comes off as one and frankly so do we. The talented Jackson (Changing Lanes) mostly does the bellowing drill sergeant bit while Ribisi (Heaven) as the homosexual son of a high-ranking general talks like he has cotton wool in his mouth and moves and twitches like he's mildly brain-impaired. (His character's not supposed to be; he only got shot in the leg.) One bright spot in this movie is the featured role for hunky Van Holt (Windtalkers Black Hawk Down) whose chiseled good looks and heroic demeanor make him a shoo-in should anyone ever make a live-action Johnny Bravo movie.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences some heavy-duty action in Die Hard Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October but he's also the director who brought us such gems as Rollerball and Last Action Hero so it's not surprising that in Basic we get some action and intrigue paired with the out-there story stylings and narrative confusion of some of his less successful work. Here each flashback brings new information that conflicts with what we've been told before and the story never really resolves those conflicts in any satisfying way. The "big twist" at the end instead of bringing it all together creates gaping holes in the plot or at least creates so much doubt in the story we've just spent an hour and a half watching that it's easy to get fed up with trying to figure it out. Naturally no one likes to be spoon-fed plot resolutions but in order for twists to work they have to give the audience something to focus its doubt on--they can't just call the whole kit and caboodle into question. We have to be able eventually to figure it out. But hey maybe we aren't supposed to work out the details; after all this movie with its catchy one-word title and colorful cast of characters is just begging for a sequel: Basic 2: Explaining the First Movie.