Friday, February 4, 2011

Movie Review: The Illusionist

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It was another poor week for releases. My regular theater was only showing Sanctum with the extra upcharges so once again I was forced to look at the competitor to see if they had something else. It's a good thing that I like art house type films! The competitor was showing The Illusionist which has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Animated Feature Film category.

The film comes with a little bit of pedigree. It is directed by Sylvain Chomet who's 2003 Triplets of Belleville was also nominated for Animated Feature Film but lost that year against Disney Pixar's Finding Nemo. The Illusionist is up against Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon and the boffo box office giant that is Disney Pixar's Toy Story 3. After viewing the film, it justly deserves to be nominated. Do I think it will win, no. Not because it's not good. It has a different visual style than most animation people are familiar with in addition to not being wholly computer generated.

It's the story of an older gentleman who's occupation is given by the movie title. He does illusions. He starts in France then moves on to England and eventually up into Scotland. Times are changing and he's drawing smaller crowds including coming up against Rock-n-Roll for stage time. In Scotland he meets a girl, Alice. She believes that his magic is real. When he leaves the moors of Scotland to head into Edinburgh she follows him and he takes her in.

The different components of the movie worked together very well. While there was some dialogue, most of the time I couldn't understand it. It was in french or maybe even garbled. There was very little English and no subtitles. What English there was wasn't really necessary as it became clear what was going on. The majority of the dialogue was relegated to the background. The dialogue didn't move the movie forward. It didn't have to. The visuals told the story. Through gestures, glances and interactions between people it was very clear as to what was happening. Whether the Illusionist was trying to secure a job, being released from a position or showing wonderment or confusion or worry, the images got the point across.

The visuals themselves were stunning. There was an aspect of detail, but a high amount of abstraction at the same time. There was detail that made me go wow. As he was being taken by boat across a Scottish loch, there were low hanging clouds obscuring a building on a hill. The clouds moved away, the lighting changed and the building was revealed. At another point there was rain. Roads were wet and the interaction of the street lights and vehicle lights on the wet surfaces caught my attention. Actually, the use of lights and their sources: street lights, light bulbs, spot lights, theater and marquee lighting and their corresponding darkness as cast onto varied textures had me watching the detail throughout.

The one aspect of the movie that I couldn't figure out was the motivation of Tatischeff in relation to Alice the girl. She was clearly enthralled by his magic and the pet rabbit (what good magician doesn't have an overweight nipping rabbit that has a mind of his own? Professor Hinkle in Frosty the Snowman and Presto DiGiotagione and his rabbit Alec Azam in Disney Pixar's short Presto had theirs. OK, maybe they weren't overweight and nipping, but they definitely had minds of their own!) He splurges and buys things for her that seems to really bend his wallet. They share a flat in Edinburgh. They sleep in separate rooms. He doesn't come across as a dirty old man. So why does he allow her to stay with him? If you could see me at the moment I have question marks hanging over my head in wonderment. But even with that unanswered question, it was an enjoyable watch and listen to.

The soundtrack varied with sections of opera, rock-n-roll, blues, bag pipes, jazz, piano solos, middle eastern, and circus music all used to punctuate scenes and moods of the movie. Of course since the movie starts in France there is a song sung in French to get you settled into the adventure you're about to explore.

There are an additional assortment of odd characters that add a bit of whimsy and a bit of sadness to the overall tone of the movie. The movie is rated PG for thematic elements and smoking. Lots of smoking. A couple of times wondering if something was going to catch on fire due to all the smoking kinds of smoking. The 80 minutes passes quickly and if you wait until after the credits there is an added scene for you to enjoy!

The Movie Monkey

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