August 30th 2006 
 Independent Filmmakers Alliance Newsletter
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The IFA presents a film review of The Illusionist.

 The Illusionist Works Cinematic Magic
 By Lisa Johnson

Film Review by Lisa Johnson

The dark, haunting beauty of early 19th century Vienna, the regal lushness of royalty and the mysterious wonder of magic combine to make The Illusionist feel like a jewel in an ancient treasure box. It s not a flawless stone, but one with great value none-the-less.

The Illusionist tells the story of a quick-witted peasant boy who enjoys a poignant relationship with a young baroness. Their innocent trysts are discovered and they are forcefully separated, but their heartfelt emotions are not forgotten. The boy travels the world and returns to Vienna as Eisenheim the Illusionist, (Edward Norton), and is reunited with his true love, Sophie Von Teschen, (Jessica Biel) on stage, when her fianc e, the supercilious Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), volunteers her to participate in one of Eisenheim s illusions.

So intriguing, mystical and believable are Eisenheim s illusions that Leopold begins to fear Eisenheim s influence over the public, and over Sophie as well. He sends his chief police inspector Uhl, (Paul Giamatti), to expose Eisenheim and shut him down. But Uhl s admiration for the Illusionist, combined with his own thirst for power and a strong sense of morality, create an intriguing conflict that will inevitably destroy either the Prince or the Illusionist.

Norton plays his role with an eerie detachment ideally suited to his character and proves once again that he is one of the most gifted actors of our time. Playing off Norton, Giamatti, in an a-typical period role, is equally entrancing. Sewell provides an appropriately despicable villain that stops short of the melodramatic. Their balance is perfect for a film of this nature, but unfortunately, Biel upsets that balance. While her luminous, untraditional beauty is a refreshing and welcome diversion, her vacant line delivery reveals that she is in over her head with these far more accomplished actors.

And then there s the Phillip Glass score, which is also very much a character in the film. While he composed some beautiful and original music for the opening scenes, his trademark serial minimalism creeps in and overwhelms the viewer with a feeling of audio d j vu, to the detriment of what is actually happening on screen. Glass s redundant department of music composition department has tapped the same well one too many times, and the lack of originality is an injustice to this otherwise well- crafted film.

The hastily thrown together and choppily edited big reveal at the end is also a bit of a disappointment. Up to that point, The Illusionist takes its luscious, languorous time in unfolding. The plot gently and firmly entices and intrigues, until the last few minutes, when it feels as if it s been thrown in a blender and hastily pureed. Details flash by so quickly that the viewer feels the immediate necessity of viewing the film again, either by buying another ticket, or renting the DVD, which is perhaps what was intended.

The richness of the lighting and set design, and the overall quality of The Illusionist betray the fact that this is a relatively low-budget, independent film. It s welcome proof that superstars, astronomical special effects and massive marketing budgets are not essential ingredients in a stellar cinematic effort. The fact that a film like Beerfest opens in 2,964 theaters, while The Illusionist opens in a paltry 51, is a painful commentary on either the big studio system or the perceived taste of the American public, or both. But those who do have the opportunity to see the film will be well-rewarded, enriched and will perhaps feel as if they ve been gifted with their own, intimate treasure, somewhat off the radar of the beer-guzzling masses.

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 Ask The Producer

Ask Producer Hi everyone! I just got back from Hollywood where I spent the last 10 days working the red carpet, and schmoozing at Emmy parties for a behind the scenes look at the Emmy's for powerhouse media company TV.COM (CNET). It was a great experience and I met a lot of stars. You can check out our journey by going to TV.COM and watching all of the videos. Here's the link: TV.COM

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