Title: A Series of Unfortunate Effects
Artist: Chris Mayhew, Ben Train, Glenn West, Chris Westfall, Jeff Hinchliffe, Lee Asher
Producers: Blue Crown
Where to Purchase: Buy at your favorite Murphy’s Magic dealer
Retail Price: $39.95
Learning Difficulty: Medium to Difficult
Length of DVD: 1 Hour 28 Minutes
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A full feature length movie that involves good magicians, good magic tricks, and teaches the same tricks along the way. What could possibly go wrong? More like a Series of Painfully Acted Scenes.
If only I could give out good scores for effort then this product would certainly have received high marks. The desire to blend a full feature length movie together with a tutorial on card magic was obvious from the start but the end results were just nothing like what I would have wanted for this project. So in the interest of being fair I’m going to review “A Series of Unfortunate Effects” as both a movie and as a magicians tutorial DVD. Then I’ll combine all the scores up between the two sections and average them to produce the final overall score.
ASOUE(A Series of Unfortunate Effects) is just a solid good example that while magicians can write scripts for their individual routines this does not make them good at writing scripts for movies. The entire plot of the movie is reminiscent of a “go fetch” quest which is a popular plot device found in many role playing games. Go fetch quests are tedious at best in these games but at least you have the satisfaction of a better overall story to enjoy after you’ve completed them. In ASOUE you never get to that better story. The plot just drags on and on scene after scene as the story’s protagonists attempt to learn how to perform an effect shown to them by magician Lee Asher. However each step of the way takes them to another magician that will require them to show them some other trick performed by someone else, rinse and repeat et nauseam. There is no way a layman would sit through an hour and half of this tripe. As a magician the only reason why I sat through it was because I have to write this review. I would have checked out at the thirty minute mark otherwise. They should have fired director Johann Tebrake and hired M Knight Shyamalan. At least that way the story may have actually been salvageable.
The acting in this movie sucks. That is to say that you are watching magicians who are talented performers in their own right try to tackle a skill set that is foreign to them. The dialog is forced, and the acting is wooden. Each of the actor’s performances does get stronger when they are either presenting or teaching their magic trick though. Then again they are in their element at that point in time so I could understand why this is the only portion of the movie that’s actually entertaining. The movie has no action, no plot hooks, and no other way to keep the viewer interested in what is going on other than “hey let’s go learn another magic trick”. Overall I would never have taken a friend to see the movie if this was in a theater. I would have demanded my money back. This has a look and feel of a student film project not a professionally produced product.
Since I don’t review regular movies usually I’m going to adjust my usual four points that I grade on to reflect just the movie aspect of this product. I’ll use my normal grading points to address the magic portion of this product in the next half. When I give my product scores below I am measuring them on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 Being absolute the worst score possible, and 10 being the absolute best, making a score of five average. The four points that I grade on is Script & Directing Quality, Acting Quality, Sound & Video Quality and Overall Quality.
Script & Directing Quality: 2
This isn’t as bad as a M. Knight Shyamalan movie but it is close. The plot drags on with nothing really to drive it forward other than forced dialog and a lousy “go fetch” quest gimmick. The writing is forced and direct.
Acting Quality: 2
These are magicians not actors, and that’s painfully apparent through the entire movie. The acting is wooden. The best part of the actors individual performances were when they were actually doing the magic tricks.
Video & Sound Quality: 9
Sound and video are probably the best part of this product. There were few issues here.
Overall Quality: 2
This felt more like a student film project than an actual professionally produced movie. I don’t recommend it.
The magic in this movie is thankfully a lot better than the movie itself. There is some cleaver card work here and I enjoyed a couple of the tricks taught. There is some skill that will be required to do some of these tricks. Not everyone can cut and perform perfect faro shuffles, and that is just an example of some of the more advanced skills you’ll need to do all of the material in this product. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite effects taught in this movie.
The Color Changing Deck: The back of the spectators selected card changes colors, and then back again. But that’s not enough! The entire deck visually, and instantly changes colors with the exception of the spectators card.
Wide Open Travelers: The classic traveling four ace “invisible” palm trick but now done a lot cleaner, more visual, and with a little angle problems.
Harmony: A triumph of card magic, or more specifically a triumph over triumph. A selected card is deduced by the performer through simply shuffling the deck together in a mixed up, mix matched order. However that isn’t enough. In order to achieve perfect harmony the mixed up deck is turned over to reveal that the only card facing the opposite direction was the spectators selected card, every other card in the deck is now in new deck order with the selected card in its rightful position among the rest of the pack.
Oil and Water: A beautiful revisit to the classic card plot. A small packet of red cards and black cards are mixed together only to separate into their colors. The process is repeated with the same results. Then the process is repeated with the entire deck, and still they separate into their two colors.
As I’ve already said above the presentation and explanation of the magic tricks are probably the best part of the entire movie. The dialog, and performances are more organic and they flow better. However this isn’t a tutorial DVD as much as it is just showing you how something is done. That is to say there is a stark difference between showing you how to do a trick, and teaching you how to do a trick. A lot of the focus and care that goes into addressing concerns like hand positioning, angles, misdirection, etc are not present in this DVD. It feels very much like how the dialog would progress between two magicians having a jam session together and throwing tricks around as they went.
Overall this is a unique product. All the magicians attached to this project are highly skilled and absolutely amazing performers. They are all very creative in their own rights and certainly deserve the respect they get among their peers. Having said that they are live performers, which doesn’t make them film actors. Acting for film is a different skill set, and one it was apparent they didn’t possess. The magic is some of the most beautiful and visual card effects I’ve seen in a while, and the revisits to some older plots were well performed. I think Harmony still remains one of my absolute favorite effects from this product. It’s given me reason to go back and master my faro’s! A Series of Unfortunate Effects also has some other features that I didn’t really touch on a lot during this review. The second disk has a laymens cut that you can watch with your non magic friends so they won’t learn how you do the tricks seen in the movie, and an interview with Tom and Judy Dawson authors of the “The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards.” The interview was pretty interesting regarding the origins of playing cards and how they’ve evolved over time. The two disk DVD set comes with an insert booklet as well that introduces the talent and cast, as well as gives you some further instructions on a couple effects seen in the film.
I’m going to grade the magic portion below. Remember that when I give my product scores I am measuring them on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 Being absolute the worst score possible, and 10 being the absolute best, making a score of five average. The four points that I grade on is Product Quality, Teaching Quality, Sound & Video Quality and Overall Quality. Unique to this review the Overall Quality score will include all scores given throughout this review.
Product Quality: 9
The magic was stunning. Very visual card magic, and I would have gladly paid the price of the DVD just for those explanations. The DVD product itself is a lovely boxed set, with a classy printed insert introducing the artists, and explaining a couple tricks seen in the film.
Teaching Quality: 4
The tricks aren’t really taught as they are just explained.
Video & Sound Quality: 9
Few issues here.
Overall Quality: 5
A horrible movie but the powerful magic was enough to save this from being an absolute failure. Would I recommend this to a friend? Probably, but I’d certainly make sure they knew what they were getting into.
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