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Set in Austria, The Illusionist stars Edward Norton as Eisenheim, an enigmatic stage magician so skilled at his profession that the locals suspect he might actually possess otherworldly powers. One of the few skeptics is Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a cruel ruler who sets out to prove that Eisenheim is a fake. He enlists the aid of the corrupt Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), yet matters become more tangled when it’s revealed that Leopold’s fiancee (Jessica Biel) was once Eisenheim’s childhood sweetheart. For a good while, The Illusionist is topflight entertainment, with its lush period setting, its assemblage of captivating magic tricks, and a delightful relationship between Eisenheim and Uhl, two men sharing a wary respect for each other (both Norton and Giamatti are excellent). But then the film makes the fatal mistake of morphing into a mystery, the type that’s agonizingly easy to figure out even before its gears can really be placed in motion. Viewers who can’t figure out the big twist should dig out those old Encyclopedia Brown paperbacks and begin rebuilding their sleuthing skills from there. ƒç

In the rocker “We’re a Happy Family,” The Ramones present a dysfunctional family in which “Daddy’s telling lies, Baby’s eating flies, Mommy’s on pills, Baby’s got the chills.” The clan at the center of the Sundance hit Little Miss Sunshine isn’t much better off. Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) has developed a motivational program (“Refuse To Lose”) featuring the nine steps to success; unfortunately, no one is motivated to invest in it. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) has supported his endeavors but is running out of strength and patience when it comes to keeping everyone in line. Her gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) has just attempted suicide after being jilted by his lover, fired from his teaching post and losing a genius grant. Richard’s sex-fiend father (Alan Arkin) has just been kicked out of a posh nursing home for snorting coke and, presumably, getting too randy with the female senior citizens. And Richard and Sheryl’s teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano), a Nietzsche fanatic, hates his family and hasn’t spoken a word in six months. And then there’s little Olive (Abigail Breslin), a perpetually gushing fountain of optimism who seems oblivious to the misery of those around her. When circumstances lead to her being selected to compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” contest in California, the family members, not wanting to let her down, all pile into their rusty yellow van and head West. In other words, Little Miss Sunshine is yet another road picture about bickering family members, and if that sounds a bit too prefab (or at least a bit too RV), screenwriter Michael Arndt, his dialogue backed by an excellent ensemble cast, manages to adroitly mix up the expected comic schtick with moments of great clarity and insight. ƒç 

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Connect Today 03.29.2017

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