Everything you need to know about connecting all the digital data in your home.

Remember the time when a home network consisted of two computers sharing the same Internet access? That’s old news now. Yet this was the cutting edge a few short years ago! Granted, many people still have a home network consisting solely of two computers sharing an Internet connection. But home networking today is so much more.

Share a printer, you say? That’s possible, but it’s also old news. How about sharing a media server that stores all your music, digital pics and more on hard drives for instant access. Maybe you’d like to download a movie from the Internet and watch it on your TV. Or perhaps you’d like to hook a system up to your electrical service to monitor the amount of energy you’re using. That’s all possible with today’s networking. Next up? The wireless transmission of HD signals around the house.

No matter what you use a home network for, you’ll likely either choose between a hardwired network that sends signals over high-speed data cable like Category 5, 5e and 6 or a wireless network that transfers data, music and whatever over radio frequencies.

Wired Networks
There are several ways of getting information from one place to another. If you’re building a new home, high-speed cabling, including plenty of Category 5 (or higher) Ethernet wiring, is a fantastic medium for doing everything from distributing data between computers to pumping audio and video from a central rack of equipment to multiple speakers and TVs.

Many builders offer structured wiring systems as standard amenities in their new home packages. Included are cabling, wall outlets and a hub. The cabling is usually made up of Category 5 (or 5e) or Category 6 Ethernet wiring and RG-6 cables for distributing video from security cameras and other devices throughout the home. More recently, Cat 5 cabling is being used to distribute video sources.

To set up a wired network, you may need a network switch or hub. The computers are connected the switch, which is connected to a computer server that is connected to the Internet. It’s important to get switches and network adapters that not only work together, but have enough ports to accommodate your networking needs for today and in the future.

Wireless Networks
Wireless networks using Wi-Fi techbology have become much more popular and reliable. The standards now are moving from Wireless-G (also known as 802.11g) to Wireless-N (802.11n), that offers 300 megabits per second speeds, compared with 54 Mbps for Wireless-G. In between, there’s Wireless-G Enhanced with 108 Mbps, and MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) at 240 Mbps and a wider coverage area than Wireless-G.

You’ll also get better coverage with Wireless-N products, so that you’ll be able to roam around with your laptop and still get a solid connection. To enjoy the speed and coverage of Wireless-N, you’ll need to upgrade to a router and computer with Wireless-N built in or buy a network card or USB adapter for each of your computers.

Wireless-N is also turning up on audio and video products that allow you to stream content stored on your PC or a stand-alone server to TVs and speakers throughout the house. Without running a single bit of wire, you can zip digital photos to the big-screen TV in the family room or downloaded music to a pair of speakers in the master bedroom.

Mesh Networks
Radio frequency (RF)–based communication has dramatically improved how we interact with certain household devices. But as with any technology, there is always room for improvement. Traditional RF communication is one-way, so if you use an RF remote or keypad to turn on a light in a different room, the system is unable to tell you if the light has actually turned on.

Another issue with traditional forms of RF signal transmission is signal interference. These limitations are becoming problems of the past, thanks to new forms of communication technology that are being adopted by a number of home electronics manufacturers.

Z-Wave, ZigBee and Insteon are three of the most promising wireless control technologies to date. Although each differs in its makeup, all employ a new type of networking infrastructure, called mesh networking, that strengthens the transmission and reception of wireless signals throughout a home. Products designed to work on a mesh network send their signals over multiple communications paths, unlike traditional RF products that use a single communications path. The more products on a mesh network, the more communications paths are formed, which gives signals several travel options and ultimately enables commands to reach their destinations quickly and reliably.

Once the operation is complete, a confirmation is sent back to the remote. With traditional, one-way RF, the remote would receive no notification of whether a signal was received. Mesh networking is getting the biggest support from manufacturers of lighting control systems. A number of handheld remotes are employing ZigBee, Z-Wave and Insteon, too.

Finally, mesh networking offers the opportunity to build a home control system with products from a variety of manufacturers instead of products from a single maker. In addition to lighting controls and remotes, some of the product categories on the horizon include sprinkler controls, motorized blinds, home control software and thermostats.

Green Networking?
Yes, even home networking can be energy efficient. D-Link, for one, has introduced “green” network switches that automatically turn off ports when it detects that a computer connected to the port has shut down. Normally, the switch “pings” the computer to try to re-establish communications. And Linksys is using more efficient Energy Star-rated power adapters with many of its Wireless-N and Wireless-G routers, including greener, less bulky packaging.

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We've all had those moments - you know, where you try to plug in two electronic appliances next to each other, but they all use weird shaped plugs designed by idiot designers to make your life all the more difficult than it already is? Don't tell me you don't damn the manufacturers to hell for eternity when you get home after picking up a new electronic toy and you go to plug it in only to find out that the giant power adapter/plug that comes with it takes up more than its share of outlet space? Most electrical and electronic products come with giant plugs these days.

There is a perfectly fine extra outlet for your other equipments, but you can't use it since the damn giant plug is smack in the way. To top it off, there is a good chance that the wall outlet is the only one in the room that you can use.

A 360 Solution
It seems that 360electrical has been in this very situation and designed an outlet to take care of it. With 18 distinct positions, all you have to do is plug in your bulky plug and turn until it clicks into a position that provides enough space for the other socket.

360 outlets are actually very easy to install even if you’re a novice do-it-yourself-er. But double check you know what you're doing, you don't want to electrocute yourself, do you? Make sure you turn the power off at your breaker box or fuse box before attempting any installation. Check out 360electrical's installation instructions for a detailed step-by-step tutorial. We like the idea, it sure does promise to take care of the oversized plug situation.

Be sure to read the FAQ on the 360electrical website though.

The extremely functional, and wonderfully clever, outlet is available for a mere $10. It even comes in 3 colors; beige, white, and black!

360electrical currently has only the duplex outlet in production, but they are soon coming out with plug-in adapters and power strips.

You can buy 360 Electrical outlets online, at hardware stores that sell electrical products, and if you're a contractor or a builder, you can find 360 Electrical outlets through one of these great electrical distributors online or at a distributor near you.

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Stephen Hopkins shows you don’t need a big budget to get a drool-worthy dream home theater.

It’s one thing to hire an installer to create the ultimate home theater dream room. It’s an entirely different story (and a fun one) to create that room all by yourself—for less than five grand. While many home theater creations flaunt wealth in our faces, Stephen Hopkins was all about making us jealous for what he didn’t spend.

Stephen designated a third-floor bonus room for the spot that would
soon house a screen, projector, and other A/V equipment.

“Budget was a definite concern,” Stephen says. “Since we were building the house (our first) there was very little budget available for the theater itself.”

However, this doesn’t mean that Stephen did not have his eye on his home theater prize. He designated a third-floor bonus room for the spot that would soon house a screen, projector, and other A/V equipment. To prep for that magical day, Stephen pre-wired the entire room, which included in-wall wiring for speakers and a subwoofer, as well as HDMI and power for the projector.

You don't always need the latest and the costliest
Sure, there was plenty of equipment—items that he had built up over time, mostly while Stephen was in college. So he added theater seats, as well as a screen, which he purchased from a custom installer on craigslist. This wasn’t a “pssst…. buddy” type of business; the installer was trying to unload a crop of “scratch-and-dent screens from Tiger Direct.” His trash was Stephen’s treasure.

From there, Stephen filled in the blanks using his hands, as well as refurbished, “B-stock,” and/or open box equipment deals, which helped him keep costs down. For instance, Stephen says he scored a Samsung BD-UP5000 Blu-Ray/HD-DVD combo player for half of the $450 purchase price at Circuit City. He also got his Onkyo SR805 for $500. “That, more than anything else, has kept my costs down significantly.” he says. “There are risks [with refurbished], but usually not that much more than a new piece of equipment—as long as it’s purchased from an authorized dealer.”

The only downside was that each product was missing its respective remote. It didn’t matter; he uses a Harmony 520 to control everything, as well as wow friends and family. The unit is programmed full of activities, which means that the touch of one button can fire up equipment, drop the screen and dim the lights.

Always a bargain hunter, Stephen also saved by purchasing all of his cables at Monoprice.com . He took advantage of many of the discounts this e-tailer offers—and saved a bundle, especially on HDMI cables.

Another cost-cutting measure was Stephen’s homemade subwoofer. Consisting of a 12-inch Ascendant Avalanche XBL2 driver, a 350-watt BASH Digital Switching amplifier and a custom 6.5-foot enclosure, the total cost was about $300. “It performs at levels similar to an SVS Ultra, flat below 20Hz in-room at over 110db,” Stephen says proudly.

Despite what some may think is a hodge-podge of equipment, Stephen’s room has a clean, simple look. “I’ve always been somewhat OCD about clutter and especially about wiring,” he says. “In apartments you can’t do much to the walls and you can’t really hide wiring all that well. Now that I had a blank canvas that belonged to me, I wanted every wire hidden.

Stephen's Under $5000 DIY Home Theater

Part of the room’s clean appearance also lies in Stephen’s projector installation. The mount was another Stephen special, made from a single 20-pound ball-joint speaker wall mount and a 1/4-inch piece of birch plywood. The mount meets the wall directly on a joist in the ceiling, which is perfectly lined up with the center of the screen. “The mounting plate was cut/drilled to match the bolt pattern on the projector, the edges were rounded with a router, and it was painted to match the ceiling,” Stephen says. “The mounting plate was mounted to the speaker side of the speaker mount using the supplied hardware and then mounted to the projector using bolts and acrylic spacers purchased from Lowe’s. The projector assembly was then mounted to the wall side of the mount. Aiming was also very easy. I simply aimed the picture until there was no keystoning at the top/bottom, adjusted the side keystoning on the projector, aligned the top of the image with the top of the screen using the optical lens shift, and zoomed to fill the screen.”

Since the theater was first installed, the projector and receiver have each gotten an upgrade—thanks to a power surge and Stephen’s homeowners’ insurance. However, Stephen didn’t go for the gusto; he says his original units, a Pioneer Elite 82TXS receiver and Panasonic’s AE700U projector, “were of similar quality and price.”

Stephen may add a new A/V stand and possibly update the end tables in the future, but otherwise he’s happy with the current setup. “There’s no part of my system that would see any noticeable increase in performance without spending two to five times as much money,” he says. “For me, I’ve really hit the point of diminishing returns.”

Quick Hits:
Location: Douglasville, GA
Year Completed: 2007
Room Size: 15 x 25 feet
Length of Project: About 18 months
Total Cost: $4,800 (equipment)

Equipment List
Ascendant Avalanche Subwoofer Driver
BASH 350-watt Digital Switching Subwoofer Amplifier
Bush 30-inch Steel Speaker Stands
Coaster Matinee Chairs
Logitech Harmony 520 Remote
Onkyo TX-SR805 Receiver
Panasonic PT-AX100U Projector
Samsung BD-UP5000 Blu-ray Player
Swans 2.1 Surround Speakers
Swans 6.1 Front Speakers
Swans C3 Center-Channel Speaker
Ultra 100-inch Electric Screen

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In-Wall speakers are nice, yeah, but you're really not a fan of butchering up your walls just to get some audio from up there. but, what can you do?

Hold it right there!
You can now experience fantastic audio in your home with a rather brilliantly designed set of speakers from SpeakerCraft. Whats more, these do not stick out sorely in your lovingly modelled interiors. Sounds pretty wonderful, uhu?

SpeakerCraft, one of the largest selling custom installed audio/video product brands, have introduced their radical new loudspeakers, dubbed the Sound Pillows.

Yeah, they are 'pillows' all right. In a radical departure from your run-of-the-mill standard in-wall speakers, the SpeakerCraft Sound Pillows are "softly sculpted" surface mount speakers that can be mounted on any solid surface. They only require a small cutout for wire terminations. This gives you the advantage of installing them in discrete places without the necessity of ripping up your building walls and plaster.

Speaker Installation in a snap
Dave Donald, SpeakerCraft VP of marketing says,"Making things easy for the installers is one of our prime concerns". The speakers are available in round and square versions with identical driver configuration.

The SpeakerCraft Sound Pillows can be mounted onto your surface of choice in two ways, depending on the surface in question:

1. One has flip-out dogs that sandwich the drywall to create a "dog frame" that a mounting plate can be attached to. The plate contains all the speaker wire connections. Then the speaker needs just two push-in tabs to hook the speaker to the plate and wire connections.

2. The plate can also mount directly onto a wall surface or junction box, also with the simple push-in of the mounting tabs connecting the speaker to the wires.

Sound Pillows Specifications:
Round or Square versions
5.25 inch Kevlar woofer
1 inch coaxially mounted pivoting silk-dome tweeter
Efficiency of 87dB 1W/1m
Impedance of 8 ohms
Power Handling of 50 Watts
Frequency response of 70Hz - 20kHz

Round : 11 1/2" Diameter x 3 3/16" Depth
Square : 11 1/2" H x 11 1/2" W x 3 3/16" Depth

There are always certain situations where the use of in-wall or in-ceiling speakers are simply not feasible. The Multiple Dwelling Unit or MDU is a perfect example. These are great speakers for MDU applications where cutting into the wall is either not allowed or not preferred. The SpeakerCraft Sound Pillows allow for great sound reproduction in these situations with an elegant and functional solution.

Since the speakers technically reside in the room instead of in the wall there are also no sound transmission concerns that are often a problem in luxury apartments or condominiums. The speakers can also be easily removed and taken to another location when the owner moves.

Far better than the standard flush mounted speakers, the Sound Pillows will fill any room in a condo, town home, or apartment with an incredible musical experience. No word on how much these beauties will cost, but you can check with a SpeakerCraft dealer for pricing and availability, and get ready to show off your new 'Pillows' on your next Gladiator movie night.

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If only Japan's Kuchofuku recognize their potential, they could make a killing here in India. In a country where the temperature gets so hot, that some people save on cooking fuel by cooking their food right out in the sun - this Japanese company would have a huge, I mean HUGE demand for their products.

Kuchofuku is famous for products like their Air-conditioned Bed and clothing. And now, they've come up with an air-conditioned cushion to keep your butt cool. Seriously. I'm told its the latest rage in personal cooling.

Called the Suzukaze (which means "cool breeze"), the cushion keeps you elevated from the chair so cold air could come in directly from underneath. No more fretting uncomfortably with wet pants and wet chairs during summer. Using new materials and energy-saving fans, Suzukaze cools you in your seat without consuming much-needed power and emits almost no noise at all.

In regions with perennial summer, like most of India, discomfort during hot weather occurs with accumulating moisture on the seat, and Suzukaze helps dissipate this moisture and keep the seat fresh. Best of all, it really takes very little energy. One month of use, for eight hours a day, according to the company. will cost only five cents. You can't get cooling for any lower than that. The makers of this product hope that it will help lessen the usage of air-conditioners, thus saving energy and money.

A Super material
To promote free airflow, the Suzukaze uses a Super Spacer material that is soft and flexible, which transfers the comfy-ness of the seat you’re sitting on through the cushion to your...uhh...body. The built-in fan inside the cushion pumps over 170 liters of air per minute through the cushion, causing the dissipation of the heat and moisture around your buttocks that cause discomfort and sweating.

Three models to keep the butt cool
The company has three versions of the Suzukaze on the market.

1. The Standard version is the basic model, battery-powered with the Super Spacer material inside.

2. The High Grade version uses a more durable dual-layer Super Spacer and takes the power saving to...well...another level with just a flip of a touch sensitive switch that turns the fan on/off depending on whether you’re sitting there or not.

3. Finally, for those on the road, they have a model made purely for use in the car seat. It connects to the car’s power adapter. With gas prices fluctuating the way they are, the power savings of less A/C use will pay for this device in no time.

Models: Standard (S)/ High Grade (HG)

• ***High Grade model incorporates seat-sensitive on/off switch, plus dual-layer material for durability.***
• Super Spacer material
• Size: 41 x 56cm (16 x 22”)
• Belt length: 45cm (17.7”)
• Cushion weight: 272g (S) / 356g (HG)
• Battery pack weight: 44g
• Air flow: 108~198 (S) / 108~192 (HG) ltr/min
• Battery pack (AA x 4)
• Power consumption: 18 hours continuous use on “high”

Car Seat Model:

• Size: 41 x 61cm (16 x 24”)
• Belt Length: 60cm (24”)
• Weight: 310g
• Includes car power adapter
• Standard version material
• Air flow: 174 ltr/min

Most important of all, the Suzukaze butt cooler is Eco-Friendly. Even if you use it every day for 8 hours (on rechargeable Eneloop batteries), your monthly electricity use will be a mere 5 cents! Can you imagine that! You can save money on fuel as well by utilizing the Car Seat model instead of cranking up the A/C. Using the High Grade model for it’s seat-sensitive on/of switch saves even more power.

The unit can be powered via an AC adapter, car adapter or rechargeable batteries, and the built-in fan moves over 170 liters of air per minute in order to "dissipate heat and moisture around the buttocks that causes discomfort and sweating." Well, when you put it like that, $91 seems like a real bargain. If you still have doubts, watch the clip.

When you see the big picture, it is more economical and energy-friendly to always deal with climate matters on a personal level anyway. You know this is only the beginning, but don't you think you would prefer to control your own comfort level with your clothing or furniture, economically, rather than have one centralized source or everyone in the room, that gobbles up a humongous amount of power ?

Product Page :
You can buy the Suzukaze Air Conditioned seat cushion from the Japan Trend Shop.

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Genre : Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Director : Neil Burger
Music : Philip Glass
Cast : Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell
Release Date : September 1, 2006
Run Time : 110 min

A young boy in Vienna who is obsessed with learning the art of magic falls in love with a girl who belongs to Austrian royalty. Although the parents forbid them to see each other, they cannot be split apart. Until one day they were found together and separated, causing the boy to leave. He travels the world to learn all that he can of the magic arts. The boy comes back to Vienna, 15 years later, and becomes famous as Eisenhiem the Illusionist. During one of his shows, he meets up with Sophie, his childhood love, who is now the Duchess Sophie, engaged to the Crown prince of Austria, Leopold. When Sophie tells him that her engagement to the prince is not of her choice, and that she still loves him, Eisenheim plots to be with her, also undermining the power of the Crown Prince in the process.

Watch the Trailer

The Point is:
A wonderfully acted, nicely polished piece of entertainment, but not made with the passion and drama it deserves. It's hard to say exactly whats missing - the performances are very good, especially Edward Norton is amazing as well as Giamatti, it is entertaining in an old-fashioned, mystery type of way, and it's beautifully shot. But therein lies part of the problem - it's too beautiful...too old-fashioned...much like a movie that tries too hard to impress us with its image and cinematography, and not engage us enough with a strong story.

This film will not make cinematic history, win an academy award or even be lauded by the critics, but when compared to the majority of films out there right now, it stands out as good solid entertainment. It does what Hollywood does best, taking you away from all the tiresome simplifications of complex everyday worldly issues and letting you escape, enjoy yourself for an hour and fifty minutes.

It is a story of lovers, their struggle to be together - a story that has been told a million times (and counting...) and yet it never wears out. The acting is restrained, the lovers have good chemistry, the villain is sufficiently believable and evil, the hero is capable and the plot is refreshingly interesting. Burger has managed to make a remarkable film. There is a very consistent tone to the visuals, a foreboding dreariness that perfectly depicts the subject and the period. The illusions are captivating and almost believable, the orange tree trick was in my view, the highlight of the movie. The love story is understated, yet touching. And Eisenheim is a compelling, sympathetic hero, blessed with such unconventional talents that the entire movie feels fresh and alive. This is storytelling at its best. So forget about everything and just enjoy yourself. Go to the movies - at least this movie and walk out with that hard-to-suppress smile on your face. It's positively therapeutic.

Continue reading the full review of 'The Illusionist' after the turn.

Review: The Illusionist
I saw this wonderful film when I was bored out of my mind last Sunday, I just picked the DVD at random. And I'm glad I did. The entire film is beautifully shot and realized and while it doesn't promise to keep you thinking hard, you will be surprised towards the end. It was thoroughly entertaining and innovative. This movie has it all: romance, suspense, star crossed lovers, magic and supernatural illusions.

"The Illusionist" is a very unique film that combines three genres that have been used in a million movies : the lush period piece, the feel-good romance and the ever-at-crosses "AHA!" mystery thriller (a genre which M. Night Shyamalan has single-handedly destroyed recently). Yet, the final product is surprisingly fresh and entertaining. Captained by a first time director Neil Burger, this is a very liberal adaptation of a Steven Millhauser story about a magician in Victorian era in Vienna, Shot entirely in the Czech Republic at gorgeously befitting locations, this is a beautifully made period piece, complete with genuine turn-of-the-century illusions, a wonderful soundtrack, lovely cinematography and an intriguing story. "The Illusionist" was perfectly set-up to be a monumental disaster, but with a graceful slight-of-hand and much appreciated restraint, it ends up being quite an experience.

As with any period movie worth its salt, there's lavish attention to the very authentic set designs and costumes, representing the late nineteenth century Vienna. Even the horses are big, as were the breeds used back then. Director Burger puts a wonderful spin on the visuals with an acute attention to lighting (especially in the dreamily over-exposed flashbacks) and old fashioned camera techniques (witness the circular camera's eye closing to transition from scenes) to give the film the feel of being a fond memory of a classic movie from a bygone era. The entire movie actually flickers, like the lighting used in the film, lending a much enjoyed nostalgic feel.

The central romance plot where Edward Norton's Eisenheim the Illusionist and Jessica Biel's Duchess Sophie are star-crossed lovers separated by class and society, had all the makings of a snore-inducing cotton candy fluff. Crafted in an understated style that complements the greater plot, the movie ends up being anything but routine.

Edward Norton's performance was mesmerizing, as always. He has a soft, hypnotic voice that makes you want to listen to him. I bet if he makes a career shift to professional hypnotism, he'll make a killing. This man is in danger of being trapped by his own brilliance, as the audience will come to expect a masterful performance in every one of his films, which he unerringly delivers. He is perfectly cast as Eisenheim The Illusionist. His accent flows seamlessly and he simply disappears into the role, both in the scenes where he performs his magic for his audience and especially in the second half of the film when he turns into a man of very few words.

Jessica Biel
, a former teen idol and TV star, at first seemed a horrific choice for this role, but she pulls of the trick. She looks quite breathtaking as the Duchess Sophie. Her performance as the woman trapped by social norms of the era, yet one who loves the Illusionist enough to risk it all is very convincing. She doesn't get to speak much, and she is there for only a few scenes, but Ms.Biel definitely puts in a very restrained performance.

Even better are Rufus Sewell as the tyrannical crown-prince Leopold and Paul Giamatti as the chief inspector Uhl. Using a short story as source material, characterizations always have the potential to be paper-thin, but these seasoned pros add terror, humor, and gravitas through their great skills where lesser actors would've been wooden and cold. The real revelation to me was none other than Paul Giamatti. Paul's richly accented role was very refreshing and his scenes with Norton, where he is full of respect and begrudging admiration for the Illusionist's skills, are very enjoyable to watch. The supporting cast also worked together very well utilizing their odd, vaguely European and aristocratic accent. Though it seemed to me that the actors, at times, lose their accents, it really didn't matter after awhile.

The most interesting part of the film, which made me a believer, right from the start, was that magic seemed possible. It seemed real. It rooted itself in the supernatural, but then, it failed to grow. It planted the seed of the magical orange tree in your mind and then forgot to water it. All this might be even more compelling if the actual romantic plot felt stronger. But despite the impeccable skills of Norton, who makes this rather bland character interesting, and the so-so presence of Biel, their characters aren't as interesting as the tricks and magical wonders that Eisenheim creates on the stage.

If anything, the film felt stronger and with better purpose and strength when Giamatti is on screen, trying to figure things out. By the end his own revelation is probably the biggest trick of all, almost Shyamalan-sized, yet I find his performance is what sticks with me as opposed to the twists and surprises thrown to the audience. It's almost as if the iron-clad conventions of the plot and the intensity, passion and creativity of what goes on in Eisenheim's total control battle it out for dominance. Also, the way Eisenheim brings down the Crown Prince seemed too easy, one might think that challenging the monarchy, especially in those times, would be a harder and more dangerous task.

A more over-eager director would have completely sabotaged the fantastic ending to "The Illusionist" and ruined the movie. Burger handles it all very deftly, the grande finale where "everything is revealed" is a wholly satisfying conclusion that rewards the patient viewer and fulfills the lofty promises of the themes presented throughout the work. "The Illusionist" boasts an excellent music score from minimalist composer Phillip Glass that easily rivals some of his greatest works. Norton and Giamatti indulge in some of the best "staring" scenes since the days of the silent movie. The look on Giamatti's face and the positioning of his eyebrows as he watches Norton perform his illusions, coupled with Norton's eyes as he pulls off his tricks are priceless.

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