Friday, August 11, 2006


Filmmaker Neil Burger makes them like they used to: ‘The Illusionist’

Re-watched “The Illusionist” last night, my reunion with the film since catching it at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival more than six months ago. I must confess that I had to exit the film early at Sundance due to the typical whirlwind, festival schedule. Finally, viewed in its entirety, writer/director Neil Burger’s period romance is lovelier than ever. I can’t think of another recent film that recreates classic movie making technique as beautifully as “The Illusionist.”
Set in 1900 Vienna, Edward Norton plays Eisenheim, a popular magician who butts head with Austria’s Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell). Jessica Biel plays the prince’s fiancée, who also happens to be the love of Eisenheim’s life. Paul Giamatti is at his bumbling best as the Chief Inspector who watches Eisenheim’s every move.
But praise for “The Illusionist” begins with Burger, who cut his feature filmmaking teeth on the enjoyable faux documentary “Interview with the Assassin.” Every remarkable scene, from moments of stage magic to a passionate, secretive kiss, looks as if they were touched by the hands of German expressionist FW Murnau, Frenchman Georges Melies and every other pioneer filmmaker Burge honors. Newfound distributor The Yari Group plans to release “The Illusionist” at summer’s end; so there’s plenty of time to comment further on this welcome alternative to Hollywood’s summertime offerings.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Reel Stories: Ticket Seller shames man from seeing ‘The Devil Wears Prada’

Proof that there is no guarantee to predicting box office is this funny tale (unless you work at Fox) about why people end up buying tickets to certain movies.
Grandparents babysitting their young child allowed a Greater Cincinnati husband and wife to spend the evening at the movies watching something other than “Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties.”
The husband was leaning towards “The Devil Wears Prada” and it’s easy to figure out why. There’s enough sass, style and spite in director David Frankel’s (“Sex in the City” and “Entourage”) adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s best-selling novel to please both genders.
Attractive women, Anne Hathaway, as the overworked assistant Andy, Emily Blunt, as Andy’s sarcastic mentor, and Meryl Streep – single-handedly turning white hair into a stylish option – as Andy’s devilish boss, fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly, all look beautiful in their fantastic clothes.
But the older woman at the ticket counter questioned the man’s choice.
“It’s really girly,” she told him, recommending he seek out a different movie.
The husband defended his initial choice by explaining his love for romantic comedies but the ticket woman stood her ground.
“Too girly,” she said with a snicker.
So the couple ended up watching the horror film “The Descent,” which although it features a group of attractive young women trapped deep inside a cave, is anything but girly.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Ordinary Gays are the highlight of ‘The Night Listener’

I laughed upon hearing the complaint from a middle-aged woman exiting an advance showing of filmmaker Patrick Stettner’s suspense drama “The Night Listener.”
“They could have told us sooner that Robin Williams was gay !” she complained to everyone within earshot.
In the movie, Williams pushes his funnyman antics aside to play Gabriel, a New York-based author and late-night radio host who’s unhappy in life and facing a creative block. Everything changes for Gabriel when a troubled young writer (Rory Culkin) shares his manuscript with him. The boy’s autobiographical story is one of sexual abuse and life-threatening danger. Gabriel is intrigued, perhaps slightly obsessed, and travels to Wisconsin to meet the teenage writer.
The problem, as pointed out by Gabriel’s former partner (Bobby Cannavale) and friend (Sandra Oh) is that the boy may not exist. He may be a JT Leroy-inspired hoax concocted by his guardian (Toni Collette). To the end of his journey, Gabriel remains unconvinced of the lie.
What bothered the woman in the next aisle is what I liked best about “The Night Listener,” a glossy trinket of a movie with little substance beneath its visual shine.
Based on the novel by Armistead Maupin (“Tales of the City”), Gabriel’s sexual orientation is portrayed with matter-of-factness. He’s one of many ordinary gays in the film. It’s a trait, no different from Williams’ boyish brown hair and bulging Buddha belly. It’s no big deal and that’s a wonderful thing, to think that American independent film has reached a point where homosexuality is no longer a source of high drama or campy laughs. In “The Night Listener,” Gabriel's sexual life is just part of the background.
Everything else about Stettner’s sophomore feature, his follow up to the enjoyable “The Business of Strangers,” is a little less than ordinary. Williams is steady but subdued to the point of transparency. One never understands Gabriel’s true thoughts about the boy. Is it love, or envy over the manuscript? There’s not enough substance in Williams’ performance to provide an answer. Stettner worked with Maupin and Terry Anderson on adapting the novel; so he holds the majority of blame for the lack of spark and accomplishment by the end of the film.
I know I praised Stettner for treating Gabriel’s homosexuality with complete nonchalance. But that doesn’t mean I wanted him to be blasé throughout the film.

Grade: D

“The Night Listener” premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Miramax Films released it in theaters across the U.S. August 4.

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