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“The Illusionist,” Reviewed

“The Illusionist,” Reviewed (photo)

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There’s one fundamental question that always has to be asked when the subject turns to great filmmakers’ “lost” scripts: why was the script lost? In the case of “The Illusionist,” a script written (but never filmed) by the great French director Jacques Tati, press notes tell us that the material “was far too serious a subject for his persona and he chose to make the classic ‘Playtime’ instead.” That’s another reason why you should never doubt the instincts of a master: “Playtime” is one of the greatest movie comedies ever made, while the new film of “The Illusionist,” adapted animated by the talented French cartoonist Sylvain Chomet, is a beautiful looking mess.

If that quote — which is actually from Chomet himself — in the press notes is true, then Tati sensed that his Monsieur Hulot character, the genial bumbler he played in his films, was all wrong for “The Illusionist.” And another quote from Chomet states that “because the character of The Illusionist is definitely not another Monsieur Hulot, Sophie Tatischeff [Tati’s daughter and executor of his estate] didn’t want to see any of that character’s familiar trademarks dramatized by another actor.” So instead Chomet’s “Illusionist” casts an animated version of Hulot — or at least Tati — in the lead role of Tatischeff, a touring magician eking out a meager living as the show business landscape changes all around him.

From a technical perspective, Chomet’s work is uncanny: he has created an utterly believable cartoon Tati. HIs movements, gestures, and posture are so perfect, you might think that Chomet had managed to motion capture Tati before he’d passed away. But Chomet only captures the form of Tati without much of the function. I have to agree with Tati’s initial assessment of his own work: Hulot doesn’t really belong in this story, and his presence in “The Illusionist” makes it feel like a weak movie by Tati instead of a solid one by Chomet.

The primary relationship in the film is between Tatischeff and a naive young girl named Alice, who works as a barmaid in a tiny Scottish village. Increasingly out of place in music halls, where rock and roll bands are all the rage and sleight-of-hand gags are totally passé, the Illusionist embarks on a tour in search of more appreciative audiences. Alice is certainly that; she actually believes Tatischeff’s illusions are genuine magic. Enchanted, she follows him to his next gig in Edinburgh where she learns about the world while Tatischeff tries to satisfy her desires by “magically” giving her all of her heart’s desires (while secretly working many jobs to afford her appetites).

The best scenes in the film are the early ones, where the Illusionist watches helplessly as rock and roll destroys his livelihood. In these scenes Tatischeff doesn’t represent Tati; he represents Chomet, the 2D cel animator in a world increasingly overrun by 3D and computer generated imagery. And just as he did in the enchanting “Triplets of Belleville,” Chomet makes a compelling case for classical cel animation as an artform that’s still capable of producing uniquely gorgeous imagery. But he loses me when Tatischeff finds Alice. Their relationship is intended to play as bittersweet and whimsical, but mostly he seems sad and she seems dumb, and even a little cruel.

Tati was no stranger to comedies with tragic dimensions. But his comedies were still funny, sometimes hysterically so. “The Illusionist” is more cute than hilarious, and watching Tati in it I kept waiting for him stop simply resembling the director I love and start delighting me as he does in his own films. Maybe that was an unreasonable expectation. But I have to think if Tati saw “The Illusionist,” he’d wonder the same thing.

“The Illusionst” opens in limited release on December 25.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

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It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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