Fun. Inventive. This is a comedy set against a backdrop of the world of competing stage magicians. Combination writer/producer/director/star Joe Tyler Gold tells an engaging story of magicians in international competition. Gold plays Jason, who loses his job and devotes himself to becoming a stage magician.
His life is complicated by the attentions of a beautiful street magician who cannot be trusted. What makes this film impressive is an unending parade of magic tricks performed by experts and filmed without editing tricks or special effects. The subculture of the magic community, based on Gold’s experiences, has a very real feel.
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Jason (Joe Tyler Gold) dreams of being a professional magician and seems to have what it would take. When his magic gets in the way of his job he is fired or as his boss puts it is given a “firetunity.” His life is almost immediately complicated by repeatedly running into a beautiful woman, Stacy (Valerie Dillman) who is part grifter and part street magician. She gets involved in Jason’s plans to compete in professional magic competitions starting in San Diego. Jason’s best friend is Steve (Jonathan Levit), and with a new friend Ellen (Sascha Alexander) the four–in varying pairings–go off to become famous.
The film GETTYSBURG was made with real historical re-enactors who among them knew just about everything there was to know about the battle. It had a lot of weekend soldiers who worked cheaply because they believed in the film. The result was an excellent and accurate historical film with a lot of people contributing. There are not a lot of fields where you can get a bunch of true believers to contribute to a film because they believe in the film being made. One other field that has such people is stage magic. Desperate Acts Of Magic seems to be the net result of the work of a lot of stage magicians. The film is really something of a non-stop magic show with a story going on in the background. What you will see here is not real magic, of course, but it is real stage magic performed by professionals. All the nonstop parade of tricks are performed in front of camera that is doing no more than revealing what it sees. There are no special effects to make the magic work. What makes this a particularly brave production for its contributors is that on DVD, the legerdemain can be observed in slow motion over and over. That is one reason why some magicians will not appear on television where their acts can be recorded and studied. But the magic show itself is worth the price of admission, and the story is almost a bonus.
Joe Tyler Gold is a professional magician who performed in fifty children’s parties before competing professionally. He based DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC on his experiences. Beyond writing the film he co-directed it, co-produced it, co-edited it and played the main character. Where he cooperated in these tasks it was with Tammy Caplan who also plays in the film. I would say the production has not quite the polish of a studio film, but Gold and Caplan manage to pull off turning a just OK plot into a film that is a lot of fun.
It has been noted that stand-up comics frequently make good actors. There is something about getting up in front of live audiences that trains comics to hold the viewer’s attention. There is nothing tentative in their acting. The same principle probably works for stage magicians also. In DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC much of the cast is played by real stage magicians who have experience in front of live audiences. They know what to do in front of a camera and give a professional polish to this festival of newcomers. The one really veteran actor is the competition master of ceremonies Don (John Getz). He is a veteran of films going back to BLOOD SIMPLE, Cronenberg’s THE FLY, and more recently THE SOCIAL NETWORK.
For Gold and Caplan’s first film, this is a solidly entertaining production. While the story itself is not monumental, the film has more than enough inventive charm to hold the viewer. I rate DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC a labor of love and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. (Somebody should have cut the “Jumping Ring” though. That one is a little too obvious.) Desperate Acts Of Magic opens in New York City on May 3 and in Los Angeles on May 10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2013 – Mark R. Leeper