Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Requiem for a Toy Story

The excellent Shining trailer launched a mini-wave of satiric trailer mashups, including the lame Brokeback to the Future and others. But here's a really sharp one, Toy Story 2 reimagined as a tripped out cautionary drug tale via Darren Aranofsky's extraordinary Requiem for a Dream. It's cut to mimic Aranofsky's jittery rhythms; who would have thought that Woody would work so well as a junkie burnout?

This came from the always fantastic BoingBoing, which has a number of mirrors in various formats, just in case the link above doesn't work.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Here, care of Salon.com's Video Dog, is a very funny faux commercial. This understated gem took top honors in Salon's Video iPod Giveaway. Enjoy!

Note: If you're not a subscriber to Salon, you will need to click on the ad for a free, one-day pass. No big deal; they don't collect personal info and they won't bombard you with pop-ups.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Check out this touching new anthem about our sharpshooting Veep.

Well, okay, it's actually a rather malicious -- but very funny -- reworking of Aerosmith's dark classic Janie's Got a Gun.

Sample lyric:

Dick Cheney's got a gun.
Cindy Sheehan had better run.
Better cover her liberal bum...


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Magic, Magic, Everywhere

Here's a terrific article about magic in film and television from USA Today. I've posted it in full because it's worth a read:

Magic does the trick in upcoming thrillers

By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY
Wed Feb 15, 7:24 AM ET

Hollywood is focused on hocus-pocus.

Maybe the sight of wizards young and old as they summon CGI wonders in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fantasies has left audiences yearning for an older brand of magic.

If they are, several moviemakers have a few projects up their sleeves that may do the trick this year.

Prestidigitation performed on camera, not on a computer screen, is front and center in two thrillers set during the abracadabra heyday at the turn of the last century:

The Prestige, in production in Los Angeles and out in November, pits Hugh Jackman against Christian Bale as dueling British magicians.

"I play one of the greatest magicians of the time period," says Jackman, who also co-stars with Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie in the film directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins). "It's an incredibly original story, a mind bender with twists and turns. The entire script is a magic trick."

In The Illusionist, Edward Norton is a Viennese master of marvels whose seemingly supernatural skills threaten a dogged chief inspector (Paul Giamatti) and an ambitious royal (Rufus Sewell).

"I'm no more into magic than the next guy," writer/director Neil Burger says. "But I am interested in that uncanny sense that nothing is what it seems. All the illusions are based on existing illusions from the time. We just pushed them another 10%-25% and made them more fantastical."

For more contemporary magic, Jeremy Piven (Entourage) plays Las Vegas magician Buddy "Aces" Israel, whose fraternizing with the Mob lands him in trouble in Smokin' Aces, directed and written by Joe Carnahan (Narc).

Piven, who learned a few trade secrets from his teacher, Scottish magician R. Paul Wilson, loved the rush he felt from amazing a crowd. "The turning point for me was when I got up at the Magic Castle and pulled a trick off in front of an audience. It was completely intoxicating." He was so hooked that while on the set, "I would use my cards like worry beads."

Woody Allen, a longtime lover of legerdemain, plays a second-rate vaudevillian stand-up and magician in his next film, Scoop.

"Yes, I do magic tricks and a lot of jokes," he says. "I did them onstage when I was 15 or 16. I can still do them because I practiced so rigorously when I was a teenager and it just stays with me."

Even American Idol crankster Simon Cowell is getting into the act. He just announced plans to hold a TV talent search for Vegas entertainers, especially magicians, this summer on NBC. "Personally, I hope to find the next Siegfried and Roy," he says.

Michael Weber, a smoke-and-mirrors pro who runs a magic consulting company, Deceptive Practices, with card specialist Ricky Jay, advised on both The Prestige (the term for the residue left after a trick) and The Illusionist. "We all share a collective unconscious about some uncle pulling a coin out of his ear," says Weber, who is about to help design the con games in Ocean's Thirteen. "We concentrate on that magical common experience. Our job is to have it make sense in a movie context."

Most actors he trains tend to be naturals, he says. "As the father of modern magic, Robert-Houdin, said, 'A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.' "

Still, not every actor gets to be a magician off-screen, as Jackman learned.

"I said to the guys, 'Is there any chance you could just tell me a card trick?' " he says. "Not for the film but for parties. They said no. Their motto is, 'Arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis.' I didn't need to know. I could have really saved money on my children's party entertainment, though."


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Criss Angel and Cyril - UPDATED

I posted a while back about magician Criss Angel, star of Mindfreak on A&E. The magic blogosphere remains a hotbed of virulent anti-Angel criticism, most of it quite reactionary and unsupported. I think part of the problem stems from the complete inability of most magicians to put themselves into laymen's shoes.

I just caught two more episodes of Mindfreak, one in which Angel lights himself on fire before vanishing and reappearing as one of the "fire extinguisher guys," and the other an episode where Angel, suspended on fleshhooks in his back, is helicoptered over the landscape. The latter does not qualify as magic, of course, since (I assume) he actually did the suspension exactly as shown.

Angel did a couple of pretty strong tricks during the first episode. In one, standing on the sidewalk and surrounded on all sides, he vanished from beneath a big garbage can and reappeared on a balcony above. In another, he demonstrated a voodoo doll on unsuspecting passers-by; when he jabbed the doll in the leg, for instance, the spectator felt a sharp pain in her leg. He then offered the doll to the spectator, who jabbed it into various body parts. Angel gave a gasp and started bleeding from the selected body part (leaving the spectator feeling vaguely guilty -- a nice twist).

One of the best things about Angel is the familial aspect of his projects. He's New York Italian Greek all the way, and two of his brothers are part of "Team Angel." So we get plenty of, "This is the most dangerous thing my bruddah has ever done"-type talk, along with a lot of "I love my bruddah and I'm worried that he could get seriously hurt." For the "Criss on Fire" episode, his mother comes to Vegas for her seventieth birthday and is rewarded by seeing her son running around on fire (a sight which seems to her genuinely, and unsurprisingly, traumatic). But all ends well, with "I love you, Ma" and hugs all around.

The "Hanging by Fleshhooks" episode was more a piece of performance art than magic, but it was a pretty stunning thing to see on television. Reviewing back to the time he had spent six hours suspended horizontally (in "Airplane" position") on fleshhooks in New York City, Angel then discusses with his team the greater difficulty and pain involved in hanging vertically from a single line of hooks. Luckily, they had a "master piercer" on hand to insert the hooks.


We've come a long way. I remember, about fifteen years ago, when I first read ReSearch Publications seminal book Modern Primitives and learned about (among other things) body suspensions. At that time, the notion of hanging from fleshhooks, which has its origins in a Native American ceremony, was extremely underground; Fakir Musafar, who coined the term "modern primitives," had to worry about being arrested when he performed the ceremony for the extraordinary film Dances Sacred and Profane (which is now, after twenty years, available on DVD).

How amazing to see a body suspension on TV! As part of a mainstream magic show! Although the world has changed and become more tolerant, it's also safe to say that Criss Angel has positioned himself on the cusp of that change. He doesn't come across as particularly weird or fringe at all; he's a nice, somewhat Goth, mama's boy. Who hangs from fleshhooks and sets fire to himself.

I don't know where he's going with this, but I'll definitely be watching.


Which brings me back to Cyril Takayama, the talented L.A. kid who moved to Japan and became a star. Cyril is something of a "magician's magician." He takes what are in many cases standard effects and turns them into things of beauty, often fooling knowledgeable magicians in the process. Best of all, Cyril is an enormously appealing performer -- gracious, clever without being a smartass, handsome but not macho, graceful, courteous, and very smart.

Regular readers will know that I'm a big fan of Cyril's magic. His stuff is all over the Web these days, and here are a few more stunners:

Cyril does the Signed Card through Window -- on a glass-bottomed boat!

Cyril boils a Cup-a-Noodles -- in his bare hands on the street!

Cyril performs a beautifully layered, deliriously deceptive old classic. I'm especially fond of this one, since it shows how a great performer can use timing and pacing to increase his impact tenfold. Watch how Cyril sells this effect. Beautiful.

And, just in case you haven't gotten your fix of Cyril, here are some more.


Thanks to my old buddy FK for the latest round of Cyril links, which he sent me a week or so ago. I went two weeks without a post, a lifetime in the blogosphere, but I'll try to keep up a more regular schedule from now on. Stay tuned for more magic-related posts, among others.

UPDATE: I almost forgot. While I was sitting on my ass and not posting these Cyril links, Pagliacci posted a few others here, including a most-excellent -- and extremely deceptive -- mashup of the classic coin effects Matrix and Miser's Dream. Well worth checking out.

UPDATE #2: Oops! In my original post above, I inadvertantly misidentified Cyril's hometown. He is from Los Angeles and the post has been corrected.

Neill Blomkamp

Neill Blomkamp is a young South African filmmaker and visual effects specialist recently name-checked on BoingBoing. Check out his crazy Show Reel first; Webheads might have seen his Citroen "Transformers" commercial, which was all over the Web a few years ago.

But most impressive are a couple of short films he directed. TempBot is a mysterious, deep satire on the depersonalization of modern office life. This is an extraordinary piece of work, beautifully cut; the rhythms have the scattershot tension of classic Nicolas Roeg films like The Man Who Fell To Earth and Bad Timing. The soundtrack -- synth, alien, and jarringly mechanical -- is no throwaway, either.

I'm not sure what "Wonder Woman" Lynda Carter is doing in there, but she still looks great playing the lonely, middle-aged neighbor of the title, er, character.

Another superb short is the pseudo-documentary Alive in Joburg, a newsreel style report on how a race of aliens has landed in Johannesburg and the effect they are having on the local population. Alive in Joburg blends RoboTemp's cinema verite feel into a subtle commentary on race and class; this is satire buried so deep as to be almost invisible. Very impressive work.

In case the above link doesn't work, Alive in Joburg is also available here.