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Good Afternoon

Faces of the fantastical in magic movies

Hugh Jackman stars in 2006's "The Prestige."

Hugh Jackman stars in 2006's "The Prestige." Credit: VNU

Not every movie about "magic" turns out to be "magical," and not all the movies that exist in the realm of the wondrous have anything to do with the world of "Burt Wonderstone" -- sleight-of-hand, cards tricks, illusion, disappearing tigers, the stuff of both Las Vegas and carny shows. The following films ("Magic Mike" not included) aren't supernatural. Quite the opposite. At their best, they put a human face on the fantastical.

HOUDINI (1953) -- There's no shortage of astounding fiction in this classical Hollywood treatment of the legendary Harry Houdini, played by heartthrob Tony Curtis (with real-life wife Janet Leigh playing Mrs. Houdini). Highly entertaining, sentimental and melodramatic, this film by veteran director George Marshall is still the best of the Houdini bunch -- which includes the TV movie "The Great Houdini" (1976), starring Paul Michael Glaser and Sally Struthers, and its small-screen cousin, "Houdini" (1998), with Johnathon Schaech.

THE PRESTIGE (2006) -- This underappreciated gem from Christopher ("Dark Knight") Nolan stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as dueling magicians in 19th century London, where their rivalry attains lethal proportions. Much of the fascination of the film lies in the way it pulls away the curtain on the mechanics of magic.

MAKE BELIEVE (2011) -- Olivia Wilde says she based her "Burt Wonderstone" character on Krystyn Lambert, one of the stars of this highly entertaining and warmly engaging documentary by J. Clay Tweet. As six young competitors vie for magic's Teen World Championship, we share their journeys, dreams and routines -- which include some extraordinary techniques but ultimately lead to the conclusion that character has far more to do with success in magic than the ability to palm a card.

THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) -- A Romeo-and-Juliet story, essentially, that benefited from the technical advice of the great Ricky Jay and Michael Weber. Film stars Edward Norton, features Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti and revels in the lushly decadent surroundings of 19th century Vienna.

MAGIC (1978) -- Anthony Hopkins had not yet attained Olympian status when he played the unfortunately named Corky Withers, magician-turned-ventriloquist, who is thwarted by his possessed dummy, "Fats," an evil appliance that gets in the way of Corky's romance with Ann-Margret. A wood chipper would have come in handy.

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