- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Illusionist retrieves a recently neglected setting and period: Vienna toward the end of the Hapsburg dynasty. Derived from a short story by Steven Millhauser, the movie also invents a fanciful cause for the demise of the dynasty: a clandestine love affair between an aristocrat named Sophie (Jessica Biel) and a brilliant magician named Eisenheim (Edward Norton), whose passion undermines her engagement to a fuming crown prince called Leopold (Rufus Sewell). There?s also a functionary in the middle: Paul Giamatti as a police official called Uhl, ordered to keep tabs on the lovers. Writer-director Neil Burger, using locations in and around Prague, reveals an agreeable romantic flair while taking liberties with Austrian history. He also proves clever at story construction, exploiting Mr. Giamatti?s character as narrator, go-between, double agent and ultimately wish-fulfiller.

— Gary Arnold

The Museum of African Art’s African Gold from the Glassell Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston lights up an entire gallery with the dazzling work of Akan artists living in Ghana, once known as Africa’s Gold Coast. While these are shimmering bracelets, chiefs’ armlets, a “Necklace with Nuggets” of gold and coral, crowns and sandals dating to the 19th and 20th centuries, their prototypes date to as early as 1500. An outstanding work is the “Chief’s Ring with Bird with Cannons,” a symbol of the chief’s military might. At the Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave. SW, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through Nov. 26. Free. 202/633-4600.

— Joanna Shaw-Eagle

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