Biel holds her own in pair of roles | AspenTimes.com

Biel holds her own in pair of roles

Stewart Oksenhorn

Jessica Biel appears, with Edward Norton, in "The Illusionist," showing Friday in Aspen Film's Academy Screenings series. Biel also appears in "Home of the Brave," showing tonight in the series. Both films are at Harris Concert Hall. (Contributed photo)

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN A member of The Aspen Times editorial staff, who really insists on anonymity, was well-acquainted with actress Jessica Biel as a kid. The two shared their teen years in Boulder and went on exactly one date (the high school Winter Ball). Our boy has favorable things to say about Biel, but as for her acting career, let’s say her lips has impressed him more than her filmography.

Biel, who is probably best-known for her TV work playing the troublesome Mary Camden on the long-running show “7th Heaven,” began her big screen career on a high note, debuting in the 1997 drama “Ulee’s Gold.” Since then, it has been mostly schlock (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) and stinkers (“Elizabethtown”).Biel steps into the spotlight in Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings. She has featured roles in “Home of the Brave,” which screens tonight (Harris Hall at 8:15 p.m.), and “The Illusionist” (5:30 p.m. Friday).Critics have savaged “Home of the Brave,” director Irwin Winkler’s (“At First Sight,” “De-Lovely”) look at four American soldiers returning from Iraq. Brett Buckalew of Filmstew.com takes particular aim at the cast, commenting that “the idea of a Very Important Drama featuring rapper Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson and vapid TV starlet Jessica Biel … seems more like a gag straight out of ‘Get Shorty.'” The few kinder reviews give the film credit simply for being the first to tackle issues of the Americans coming back from Iraq.

But the 24-year-old Biel’s cinematic fortunes took a serious upturn in “The Illusionist,” which enjoyed a surprisingly strong run upon its September release. Set in 1900 Vienna, the film stars Edward Norton as a masterful magician who butts heads with the crown prince of Austria (Rufus Sewell) over the affections of the Duchess Sophie (Biel). Biel is in fine company here. Director Neil Burger’s direction makes a substantial story about romance and illusion into thrilling entertainment; despite being made on an indie budget, the cinematography is exceptional. Norton brings his usual intensity and complexity to a character who is driven, brilliant and devil-may-care; Paul Giamatti, as a police inspector, continues to expand his range here.Biel holds her own. That she looks great is a given, and here is revealed an epic kind of beauty. Her performance is also at the center of the film’s theme of challenging social position. Her passion for Norton’s magician and distaste for the prince are palpable, helping drive the romance angle here.Great lips? No doubt. And now, Biel has at least one notch on her belt for being an accomplished actress.

Biel has two movies in the pipe: “Next,” a sci-fi thriller based on the Philip K. Dick story “The Golden Man,” due in the summer; and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James as two men pretending to be a gay couple.Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series continues with daily screenings (except Sunday, Dec. 24) through Jan. 1. For complete program details, go to http://www.aspentimes.com/film.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com