Saturday, August 19, 2006

"The Illusionist" Movie To Open Nationwide

Heralds a Season of Magic-Themed Films
Review by Eric Henning

The folks behind the new Ed Norton film "The Illusionist" have been very busy. I got a call about six weeks ago and they were contacting all the magicians in the Baltimore/Washington DC area with free passes for a sneak preview on August 10. Betsy and I went, saw lots of magic friends and a good movie.

"The Illusionist" is set in early 1900's Vienna (although filmed in Berlin, Prague andVienna), and revolves around a deadly love triangle between a beautiful Hungarian countess (Jessica Biel) and the two men who love her: her brutal, boorish fiancé, the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary (Rufus Sewell); and her childhood friend, a poor woodworker-turned-magician (Ed Norton). Adding to the fun is a great turn by Paul Giamatti (Sideways) as the dyspeptic local Chief Inspector caught between a desire for justice and his royal patron's bidding.

The murder-mystery plot is a bit thin, but the characters are robustly played by the excellent cast, with Oscar-caliber costumes and art direction. The magic is both sleight of hand and computer-generated (where needed, never gratuitous) and treated with great respect. There is even a moment when a major trick is "revealed" but not revealed. A common parlor trick is taught to one of the characters (and hence, the audience). I am told that Ed Norton really got into the sleight of hand, and he does bust some very nice moves with a billiard ball.

If you like period romances, you will love this movie. If you like thrillers, you will find it so-so. If you are looking for mostly magic, you will be disappointed, as the magic serves the plot and is not the star. I think this is as it should be, but some may feel otherwise. All in all, well worth seeing on the big screen, especially if you can get to a discount matinée. "The Illusionist" has been playing for two weeks in seleceted cities (including the Baltimore/Washington market), and opens nationwide Friday, September 1. Here's the trailer:

Coming October 20 is the big-budget thriller,
"The Prestige," based on the award-winning Christopher Priest novel about two rival magicians in turn-of-the-century England. Another magic-themed film with a star-studded cast, it should do well. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins), and starring Christian Bale (Batman Begins), Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and Michael Caine (every English-language film of the past forty years).

Here's the trailer for "The Prestige":

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