‘The Illusionist’ 2006

In 1900s Vienna, mesmeric entertainer Eisenheim’s magical abilities are wowing the crowds, with an act that ranges from mere tricks to an apparent capacity to raise the dead. However, he has also long been in love with Duchess Sophie von Teschen, which puts him in dangerous competition with the violent, scheming Crown Prince Leopold, who jumps at the opportunity to have the magician arrested grounds of necromancy.

The Illusionist is a 2006 American romantic mystery film written and directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel. It is based loosely on Steven Millhauser’s short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The film tells the story of Eisenheim, a magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna, who reunites with his childhood love, a woman far above his social standing. The film also depicts a fictionalized version of the Mayerling incident.

The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and opened the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival; it was distributed in limited release to theaters on August 18, 2006, and expanded nationwide on September 1. The film was a commercial and critical success.

Critical Reception

As of June 29, 2008 the film had earned worldwide box office receipts of $87,892,388, including $39,868,642 in the United States, exceeding its reported $16.5 million budget. In the first five months after it was released on DVD in January 2007, the film earned $35.99 million in rental revenue.

The Illusionist received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval score of 74% based on 194 reviews, with an average rating of 6.94/10. The consensus reads, “The Illusionist is an engrossing, well-crafted story of mystery, magic and intrigue that is certain to enchant, if not hypnotize, audiences.” On Metacritic, the film has a score of 68 out of 100 based on 37 reviews, indicating “generally favorable reviews.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review in The Chicago Reader praised Paul Giamatti’s performance of “a character who feels sympathy for the magician but owes allegiance to Leopold and is therefore divided and compromised … Giamatti’s performance is subtle, expressive, and richly nuanced.” Stephen Holden, in his review for The New York Times, praised Edward Norton’s role, which, according to him, “perfectly fits his disturbing inscrutability”. Variety wrote that Jessica Biel “is entirely stunning enough to fight to the death over”. Roger Ebert rated 3.5/4 and wrote that, “The movie sets up a fascinating parable about art, religion and politics, and the misty boundaries between them”.

Director of Photography Dick Pope earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, losing at the 79th Academy Awards to Guillermo Navarro, cinematographer for Pan’s Labyrinth

‘Moonrise Kingdom’ 2012

The year is 1965, and the residents of New Penzance, an island off the coast of New England, inhabit a community that seems untouched by some of the bad things going on in the rest of the world. Twelve-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) have fallen in love and decide to run away. But a violent storm is approaching the island, forcing a group of quirky adults (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray) to mobilize a search party and find the youths before calamity strikes.

 

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ 2014

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” recounts the adventures of Gustave H., a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” uses a not dissimilar narrative stratagem, a nesting-doll contrivance conveyed in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-a-crucial-part-of-it opening. A young lady visits a park and gazes at a bust of a beloved “Author,” who is then made flesh in the person of Tom Wilkinson, who then recalls his younger self in the person of Jude Law, who then recounts his meeting with Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the title hotel. Said hotel is a legendary edifice falling into obsolescence, and Law’s “Author” is curious as to why the immensely wealthy Moustafa chooses to bunk in a practically closet-size room on his yearly visits to the place. Over dinner. Moustafa deigns to satisfy the writer’s curiosity, telling him of his apprenticeship under the hotel’s one-time concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).

All of this material is conveyed not just in the standard Wes Anderson style, e.g., meticulously composed and designed shots with precise and very constricted camera movements. In “Hotel” Anderson’s refinement of his particular moviemaking mode is so distinct that his debut feature, the hardly unstylized “Bottle Rocket,” looks like a Cassavetes picture by comparison. So, to answer some folks who claim to enjoy Anderson’s movies while also grousing that they wish he would apply his cinematic talents in a “different” mode: no, this isn’t the movie in which he does what you think you want, whatever that is. – Roger Ebert