Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Illusionist (2006)

The IllusionistThis is an excellent gothic thriller based on the short story by Steven Millhauser, Eisenheim The Illusionist, set in late 19th century Vienna about the son of a young cabinetmaker who falls in love with a young Viennese aristocrat and is banned from seeing her as he is a basic commoner. As the legend goes about the young lad, he meets a travelling magician on the road who shows him the secrets of illusion, where he sets off to exotic lands to learn the mysteries of life. He returns to Vienna after his travels and opens a show in the great city to astonish not only Vienna's common public with his quasi supernatural illusions, but also Crown Prince Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz Josef who then reigned over the Austrian Hungarian Empire.

Originally the short story was written as a political criticism of the Monarchy, based on the scandalous incident, where the bodies of Rudolf and his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera were found shot in a Royal hunting lodge, apparently a murder suicide which the Royal family kept from the public for many years.

Edward Norton as Eisenheim is understated and brilliant, as the many sleight of hand tricks in the film were actually done by the gifted actor. Norton must have practiced for months to reveal such confidence and skill needed for these types of trick. However, Norton's character portrayed a perfect man of mystery, begging the question, are these mere illusions or does Eisenheim possess supernatural power, controlling matter, energy, space and time itself.

The special effects in this film are well done. My favourite illusion in the film, (and they're many) is the Excalibur Sword illusion where Eisenheim borrows Rudolf's sword, somehow magnetizes it to the stage standing straight up, asking the various aristocrats' in the audience to release it from its position. Of course none can release the sword, as they, like the Arthur legend, are not meant to be king. When Prince Rudolf attempts to pull the sword from its stationary stance, he finally does so with great effort; by causing the ruthless Prince some embarrassment, Eisenheim is now a targeted enemy of the Crown.

Paul Giamatti as the corrupt Inspector Uhl really shows what a versatile and gifted actor he really is, able to do comedy, tragedy, fantasy...a very impressive performance.

The overall look of the film had the atmosphere as if we are viewing a primary historical source, the director using 80 year old editing techniques etc., this was unusual but effective for such a mixed genre film fantasy, thriller, supernatural thriller and fairy tale romance.

When first seeing this film I was spellbound and the ending, a perfect twist, making The Illusionist a perfect example of skilful storytelling.

This is an excellent film.

Set in Vienna, filmed in Prague,and just about as lovely as anything I've seen on the large screen, "The Illusionist" stars Edward Norton as a charismatic magician, and Jessica Biel as his high-born love interest. In keeping with its magic and later, occult, theme, the film unwinds through shadow and darkness, like a carriage being horsedrawn through fin-de-siecle Europe's narrow streets. Philip Glass's minimalist score, rather than acting as an anachronism as one might expect, enhances the ethereal, other-worldly quality. Edward Norton brings to Eisenheim, the central character (the book is based on the short story "Eisenheim, the Illusionist", by Steven Millhauser)an understated quality that adds to the sense that he always knows more than we do...and more than the characters in the film, including the two that most want to undo his works of magic, Inspector Uhl and Crown Prince Leopold. Unfortunately, the latter is engaged to Dutchess Sophie van Teschen, Biel's character. Leopold's intent is not only to prevent his lower class rival's success, but to control Sophie completely. Uhl, on the other hand, continues to respect Eisenheim, even as he is carrying out the Crown Prince's orders to shut the magician's show down.

As the tale unwinds (and it does ever more quickly as it moves toward the end), we do learn more and more about what lies behind Eisenheim's sad eyes. When Sophie's body turns up in the river after an argument with Leopold, Eisenheim's shows take on a dark change and he becomes kind of a "John Edwards" of the 19th century...but this John Edwards can summon holographic ghosts onto the stage, much to the delight of his audience. Is he becoming more and more obsessed and perhaps insane as Sophie begins to appear in these seances? In a twinkling, we find out as much about Eisenheim as we have during the entire film, and the lines in the Sophie-Leopold-Eisenheim triangle between the innocent and the devious aren't so clear.

A film to be savored.

Buy The Illusionist (2006) Now

The Illusionist is one of my favorite films. A unique magic/mystery/love story that is wonderfully written, perfectly cast and excellently directed and acted. The blu-ray is a solid improvement over the dvd, however, because the film was shot in a bit of a soft-focus way, it may not come across as razor-sharp as the newer blu-rays. Still, its well worth an upgrade from the dvd for such an excellent movie.

My only criticism is with the rest of the blu-ray treatment. While the picture and sound are excellent, everything else is an embarrassment. There is no main menu, no chapter selection or bookmarks, and no special features on the blu-ray disc. Just a garish intro page telling the viewer that they can access the specifications by pressing the top-menu button. That gives you access only to the audio setting. And there are no subtitle options either. Madness! Subtitles actually would help occasionally on this particular film as sometimes the actors are speaking quietly and are difficult to hear, and what they are saying is important to the mystery of the film.

This set includes the original dvd disc which DOES have a main menu with all the expected options, so the buyer gets a bizarre combination of a blu-ray disc with nothing but a hi-def picture, and a vastly inferior standard-def disc that treats the film with at least a little of the respect that it richly deserves.

In the end, I'm glad to finally have a hi-def version of The Illusionist, but I'm baffled and frustrated that Fox treated it with such contempt.

Read Best Reviews of The Illusionist (2006) Here

I was taken by surprise when I saw this film I had read Steven Millhauser's short story, on which it is based, but had missed the film when it came out. The film takes the bare bones of the short story and imposes upon them the intense childhood attachment between Eisenheim and his aristocratic neighbor, and the ensuing romance touching the core of the Hapsburg dynasty shortly before it and its empire go down to ruin. Neither the childhood romance nor the rivalry with the Hapsburg heir appears in the short story. I am usually outraged when original literary works receive such treatment by Hollywood. However, in this case, I was rewarded with a lovely, romantic jewel of a film that works quite well on its own terms. The script begs one or two narrative questions, but this is one of the rare cases in which these don't matter much, overall. Contrary to the opinion expressed by a reviewer below, in my opinion the film is defined by the sense of hidden strength and longing with which Edward Norton imbues Eisenheim. The broken childhood attachment that convinces him to follow his calling as a magician, and the later reunification with his lost love that this choice brings about, make for a very satisfying journey, indeed. It is precisely Eisenheim's ability to hide his thoughts, his canny self-control, and his relationship to his magic (which is to say, his broader view of what is possible and what is not), and their ultimate triumph over blunt authority and the social order, that make the film so appealing.

The rest of the cast is very good, as well, particularly Paul Giammati as the police inspector and Rufus Sewell as the unstable and vicious Crown Prince Leopold. Jessica Biel is the weakest leak in this chain as Eisenham's (adult) love: her "Viennese" accent slips the most often, and she is not as charismatic as Norton, but she does well enough and doesn't spoil the movie. The film is set in Vienna in 1910, and the American actors, as well as the British Sewell, were coached to produce a "Viennese" accent, but it isn't, quite, and the result among the Americans is an inconsistent sound that is neither British nor Viennese, and which Biel, in particular, had trouble maintaining. There are a few narrative weakness. One is the Duchess not recognizing Eisenham, the love of her youth, 15 years later as she stares into his eyes on stage he was already an extraordinary young magician when she first knew him and already possessed of an adult voice. Then there is the little matter of the Duchess's exit, apparently with no questions from the noble family who presumably would have wished to bury her! But these quibbles, somehow, are easily set aside in the somewhat fairy-tale-like atmosphere of the film, which was imaginatively shot in sepia tones that enhanced this. This eerie atmosphere is also greatly enhanced by Philip Glass's delicate, mysterious score. Romantics, rebels, and dreamers everywhere will appreciate the themes of this film as expressed through the relationships among the characters. The magical effects, of course, are enhanced by the wonders of computer technology. One is aware of this while watching, but doesn't care.

A charming and romantic film with a truly unique feel to it, highly recommended.

Want The Illusionist (2006) Discount?

A good story, great acting, beautful sets, great costumes, special effects.. this movie has it all!

It's a clever story. You sort of know how it will end, but it moves so quickly its always two steps ahead of your ideas on how it all ties up.

This movie didn't shake up the box office. The Oscars will pass it by. The neglect is not deserved.

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