Posts tagged review
Future Stars of Magic Week @ The Magic Castle

This week is “Future Stars of Magic” week at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. First of all, amazing branding. Can’t wait for the day I become a star myself. They guaranteed that as part of the performance agreement back when I was doing those shows. Second of all, holy crap. The talent that’s here this week is actually incredible. I say this with complete sincerity, but honestly every single performance I’ve seen this week has been at the level or beyond (mostly beyond) what I’d find at legitimate magic performances, performed by adults who have been doing it for years -- yet all these kids are under 21.

Highlighting a few specific instances of performances I myself enjoyed (keeping in mind I still need to see more this weekend) --

Rabby Yang

First off, can I just say that RABBY YANG has a fucking GOD TIER manipulation act (various objects changing and appearing at his fingertips)!!???!? Where the hell has this kid been all this time? First time I’ve heard of him, but you bet your ass I’m following his ascent into some ridiculously absurd magic championships in the future. He has one of the most elegant, refined, visually astonishing, and technically skilled stage acts I’ve seen. Congrats Rabby, you killed us all.

Anna DeGuzman

Anna DeGuzman is, notably, a friend of the site (read her blog post on cardistry here) so you may say we’re biased, but there’s a REASON why she’s a friend of the site in the first place (because all of us are awesome), her routine is polished, and her unique closer is a killer. Also, seeing middle-aged folks react to Anna’s cardistry was an extremely special moment. And I’ll say it now for all the magicians who shit on cardistry: PEOPLE FUCKING LOVE IT. When they saw Anna’s cardistry, it’s like they were watching magic happen right in front of them. The audience doesn’t see a difference. And because it’s so extremely visually compelling, it always gets genuine positive reactions. Now, can an entire act be based around “cardistry” without involving any “magic”? I’m not sure. As of now, with the current state of things, I don’t think that’s possible yet. However, is it kick ass as its own separate segment within a larger routine? Hell yes, and Anna owns it. Look out for more "Big Moves" from her in the future. 

Aaron O'Brien

Aaron O’Brien, you sly bastard. Somehow, Aaron managed to perform in all four showrooms before he was under 21, which means that he started doing this when he was a tween, reading YA novels and crying during Twilight. The time he’s put into magic, and especially, performance, really comes through in his set, and in his AP Chem Problem-Sets. Aaron is one of the two magicians this week working the “Parlour” magic stage (a medium-sized room between close-up and stage seating capacity, usually resulting in magic right between those two styles as well) and in my opinion, it’s the best room to work in the Castle, and the most difficult one as well, yet Aaron takes the challenge on with ease. There are usually more instances of the crowd getting out of hand in this setting than any other, and true to form, before the show began, one man ordered 20 shots for random audience members (thank you, Tequila Rob), and then literally half the audience took shots, thereafter Aaron began the show. His magic was solid, yes, but Aaron shines with his experience as a well-polished performer, simultaneously delighting the crowd and keeping the stray (read: drunk) audience members engaged and on board with sly humor and charming wit — He'll go far with these skills.

Everyone I saw was an exemplary performer for magic, and I’ll still see more, but these are some of the highlights so far for me. If you’re in LA, I highly recommend checking out this week’s lineup, or at least keeping track of some of these names. Congrats to all of you performing this week.

-- J.R.


Gifts & Sacrifice​​​​​​​: A Review of David Blaine Live

This is about my first time seeing David Blaine live.

I saw Blaine’s first live show in Arizona with J.R. We drove overnight and endured blistering heat and monsoon downpours to get to Fox Theatre in Tucson. And I have to say, it was definitely worth it.

To my bewilderment, that event was was the most emotional I’ve ever been in a magic show – ever. Not like that’s hard for me, I can get emotional about toast but still, this was different. 

If he didn’t already make sense to me on T.V. – he finally made so much more sense in person. Since that show, I haven’t seen him or magic the same way since. Here’s what prompted the thought.

I remember a friend of mine talking about being offended by the physical stunts he was pulling off in Real or Magic and his new special Beyond Magic.

From our conversation, what I gathered was: it seems selfish, to some people, to have the world watch a man put himself in impossible situations where he should’ve surely died or gotten hurt very badly. “How could he put people through that and call it magic?”, she asked in palpable distress waving here wine glass at the screen. “How could he put people, and himself, through so much pain. What is he trying to prove?”

I didn’t really know what to say to her, or how I could explain it in a way that doesn't sound nuts and so clearly biased. I new I got what he was doing in a deep unspoken sense, but I didn’t understand it well enough to explain it back to her. The only thing I could get out of me was that, “I don’t think it’s that simple”.

Fundamentally, I couldn’t deny that this is a common reaction to Blaine’s magic that can’t be ignored. People are captivated, yet also very polarized by his performances and I think his best answer to them was in his first tour.

It's clear when you first see his show that he, indeed, is inexplicably doing everything he is claiming to do. Which is the best and worst part for some people looking to debunk what his magic is about.

Is that magic though?

I don’t know that answer for everyone, but from what I did experience live: yes, wholeheartedly to me, it was.

“This is not a ‘Trick’”

What do you have to hold on to if you know it’s not a trick?

He demonstrated that magic doesn’t exist just in clever sleights but believing for a moment that something impossible – that everything in life has proven to you should not happen without severe consequence – is happening right in front of you. He shows you exactly how he’s doing it but not in a magician-y way, he’s showing the actual way he did it.

And it doesn’t always go right, some of it is very unscripted. People can tell the difference between things going as planned and improv and that’s the thing that makes it real. He shows it go wrong too, even slightly, even if it is embarrassing, to show you that it’s happening and he commits to it.

Being physically present to see this show without editing, you feel what he goes through, you see him adapt and improvise to make it work. You empathize.

It forces you to ask the question what does it mean to me if it is real?

In his own way, his sacrifice and commitment is his gift to show children, adults and any human that he will put himself through these tests of the human condition so his audience can experience something impossible and show you that magic can be in the reality that you embody.

He shows that the distinction between magic and reality doesn’t even matter in the first place.

It’s our choice to deny reality or magic that comes into our life, but when that needle is definitely coming through his arm and when you see him definitely put his plain self into a water tank and you try to hold your breath with him as long as you can... you feel the commitment, the work, the sacrifice all for this rare and beautiful moment you’re never going to see again – not quite like this.

It all hits you as you sit at the edge of your velvet seat, you want to scream,

“I believe in your sacrifice, I believe your art. The will of people is magic in itself. Please come out. Please.

I believe you.”

– H.A.


A Discussion Piece: Javi Benitez, Jeff McBride, Shin Lim

We were having a discussion regarding ______ ______ and its presence within the following acts of these three performers: Javi Benitez, Jeff McBride, and Shin Lim.

So we ask you, dear reader, magician or not, some of the questions we were asking each other (which will be discussed in a later post) -- What are some of the similarities you find within these three acts (whether it be in theme, presentation, etc.)? Is one type of framing/presentation more effective or engaging than the other? Do the specificity of the props change the end result (effect/story) of the performance for you? Could you imagine the magicians interchangeably performing the other’s magic equally, or do the performers themselves fit/belong to one type of prop, or magic, more than the other?

-- J.R. 

Review: Xeno by Marc Kerstein
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     I almost feel sad sharing this secret, but let it be known that Marc Kerstein is changing/has changed the game of app magic. The reason why? IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE APP MAGIC. We all (some of us in reality, but “all” sounds better, and makes you search it if you didn’t know it already) remember the days of having that little folded playing card, or silver dollar bouncing on our home screen, to shake it out and have a physical version land on our hand. Xeno is probably the opposite of this type of an app. It’s pretty much invisible with the correct implementation.

     You can look up the official description of the app on his site, but if I were to describe my use of the app to someone, I’d describe it this way: You’re chilling at a bar/cafe with your friends. They have their phones out (2017, folks, the future is here), you ask to borrow their phone after they open their web browser and navigate away from porn (future, again). You ask them if they’re a big movie person, and then you type in a movie ratings site. You ask them to scroll to their favorite movie and then familiarize themselves with the plot, director, year of release, etc. They put their phone away. Then you have them place their hands on yours, look into your eyes, and while you make out with them, you divine the movie they were thinking of (secret of tongues).

     Isn’t that crazy? Yes. With Xeno, you can too make out with complete strangers (don’t do this). Seriously though, huge fan of this effect. Good on you Marc. You’re crushin’ it. Xeno is simple, direct, and if you hang out with the smartphone crowd, you’re looking for a clever addition into your mentalism repertoire, want an effect that can be performed in a multitude of situations (dope-ass pre-show, anyone?) all for less than $20? Purchase this effect. 

-- J.R.

The Master of the Script: Derren Brown’s “Secret” Show Review NYC 2017

     This summer, Z.Y. and I were delighted to get to see “Secret”, sitting next to some well-known NYC players such as Dan White and Steve Cohen (hope you’re enjoying your amethyst surprise btw, Steve), which generated a fantastic energy between the audience and Derren. While we could talk about many of the fantastic elements in the show, we’re going to explore perhaps one of the most overlooked, yet important, elements of magic which Derren (and his team) executes perfectly: Scripting.
    Being familiar with his work, this surprised me; but Derren Brown scripted pretty much every single moment of this show. From the opening monologue to his hypnotic inductions even to his seemingly impromptu jokes and ‘responses’ to audience member reactions, it’s all pre-planned and rehearsed. While sticking with this approach allows for less immediate response the night of the performance, it does allow for Derren to dive deeper into the nuance of his language throughout the show, layering numerous presentational ideas and through-lines within the performance, as well as carefully covering several subtle method-moments, and the result is absolutely mind-blowing.
    Knowing the methods for the effects makes it even more fantastic, because his whole performance is steeped in this lovely mixture of sincere charisma and careful attention. He is a living masterclass in all the details that make something go from 90% to 100%, and this is why he is undoubtedly a star of magic. In this show, he doesn’t employ any overwhelmingly mechanically unique or “new” effects (although the effects are very well-crafted and consistent in conception and methodology, and his take on ESPacology is devastating) and remain powerful on their own, yes. However, when these straightforward effects are combined with his excellent showmanship and language, they are taken into a completely separate realm — one of awe.
    Everyone practicing magic has something to learn from Derren; he’s established himself as a critical thinker of magical presentation with his early books such as Absolute Magic and Pure Effect, and the level of skill, commitment, and attention to detail exhibited through the script of “Secret” is something that everyone can draw inspiration from.

— J.R.