Magic in the movies: Desperate Acts of Magic

2013 was a good year for movies about magicians, with the fairly high-profile releases of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Now You See Me. On the indie front, there’s Joe Tyler Gold and Tammy Caplan’s Desperate Acts of Magic.

I first came across this movie in 2010, when the team was raising funds for production. I was excited about it then, and now that it’s been released Joe was kind enough to send me a DVD for review.

What sets Desperate Acts of Magic apart from other magic movies is that it was made by and with magicians. Joe, who also stars in the film, is a magician himself and draws on his own performing experiences for some of the scenes. For me, part of the fun of watching was seeing familiar magicians and effects brought to the screen. Cuts are intentionally kept to a minimum, so the presentations are very close to what one would see in real life. I’ve attended a lot of magic conventions over the years and the movie gives a pretty accurate feel of what it’s like to be at one. (No surprise there — a few scenes were shot at an actual magic convention.)

Along with an obvious affection for magic and the (mostly) men who practice it, the film hits on the downsides of the art: the cliched costumes and presentations, the indignities of working gigs, and the casual sexism that so often relegates women to mere lovely assistants. The trailer’s declaration that magicians are “the third most-mocked profession” isn’t too far off the mark; the lead character’s decision to persist in magic anyway reflects the desire to rise above all that.

There’s obviously a lot here for magicians, but how about for people who don’t have entire drawers full of playing cards, half-dollars, and rubber appendages? I watched it with a non-magician friend who also enjoyed it, saying the movie exceeded her expectations. It’s a fun, light-hearted comedy, the tone of which accurately comes through in the trailer.

If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for the magician in your life, Desperate Acts of Magic definitely fits the bill. The product is available here and the movie also streams on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.


Who will watch the Watchmen smoke?

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is acclaimed for its stunning attention to detail in script, art, and characterization. Zack Snyder’s film adaptation is reported to pay “insane attention” to the original comic, so we can expect to see many of those details translated to the screen. One of them won’t be appearing, however. Laurie Juspeczyk, the Silk Spectre, won’t be smoking her signature pipes. From an interview:

Where were Laurie’s smokes, Zack?

“Yeah, Alan hates smoking. Alan Horn – the head of the studio – that’s his biggest, biggest thing. The Comedian can smoke, because he might be a bad guy, he’s the bad guy, but that’s it. That was the line that he drew.”

But aren’t those kind of a small plot device for the character to watch her go on and off the wagon?

“I was sad, but it was either that or…the movie wouldn’t have been made, literally.”

Alan Horn’s prohibition is absurdly fanatical, but at least he had a choice in the matter. Indian filmmakers labored under an on-screen smoking ban until a court overturned the law last month on free expression grounds.

[Thanks, Jason!]

Update 2/2/09: To whet your appetite for the film, here’s BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin talking with Zack Snyder and visual effects supervisor Des Jardin about the adaptation and showing a few clips.


Would a just God let this happen?

Newsarama reports that Rob Liefeld is launching a new series of graphic novels illustrating biblical prophecies. He describes the books as “Dan Brown in tone.” To his credit the apparent protagonist is wearing only six visible pouches, so there’s hope that these books aren’t actually the first sign of the apocalypse.

For more on Liefeld, check out Progressive Boink’s rundown of the 40 worst Rob Liefeld drawings.


Magical Macbeth

I passed on the all-nude Macbeth that played in Arlington last year, but I won’t be missing Teller’s production. Teller, the usually silent half of Penn and Teller, is bringing gory illusion to the play:

Years of close reading, of seeing productions and screen versions that he’s sometimes tolerated but mostly loathed — “Hate is one of the best fuels for artistic endeavor” — have led Teller to an epiphany or two. An example: “Macbeth” is a supernatural horror thriller. “I’ve begun to think that one of its themes is a lack of understanding about where reality leaves off and your own internal perceptions begin,” he said. “The play is full of allusions to hallucinations. Macbeth has hallucinations. Mrs. Macbeth has hallucinations.

“I thought it might be a very interesting idea to do a production in which all the magic stuff fooled audiences so that they’d be in the exact same position as Macbeth. I know it’s a pretty cerebral idea, the idea that we’re trying to see what it’s like to be Macbeth. But,” he added with palpable delight, “where it leads you is some very weird places.”

“Macbeth,” as envisioned by Teller, is not, as in many versions, a downer with a glum title character. “I just think that pushes things in the wrong direction,” he said. The right direction? “It’s a thrill ride,” he said. “The play was written essentially to make James I happy, and he was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed in witchcraft. So ‘Macbeth’ is a wonderful paranoid schizophrenic fantasy and everyone is having a jolly good fiendish time. If there’s one thing we’ll try not to miss is how much fun this play is.”

After opening in New Jersey, the play will come to DC’s Folger theater starting in February.


Free comics, unfree superheroes

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, a day when comic retailers all over the country give away free comic books. If you’re in the DC area, stop in for a freebie at my friend Matt Klokel’s Fantom Comics in Tenleytown. He’ll have food and raffles, too.

It’s a big week for comic releases, as DC wraps up its Infinite Crisis storyline and Marvel launches Civil War. The latter could be interesting for non-comic book readers as it ties into current political questions. In short, a tragic event involving superheroes and innocent civilians leads to government passing a Super-Human Registration Act. Some heroes support becoming registered with and subservient to the U.S. government, while others see it as dangerous infringement on their civil liberties. It is speculated that Marvel versions of Guantamo Bay, enemy combatants, and embedded reporters will emerge. I’m not a Marvel fan, but this sounds like it might just be interesting enough to pick up.

Firefox extension and comic book blogging in the same day. When did I become such a nerd?