It’s pretty easy to make jokes about Steve Buscemi and Steve Carell clad in spandex and sparkles, donning self-tanner and oversized wigs, presenting big budget illusions on a Las Vegas stage with the help of a busty blonde. But what about the part where you remember that while The Incredible Burt Wonderstone may make you giggle, it’s poking fun at a very real profession? What about the part where you realize most career magicians don’t have the protection of a huge stage or large television production and are actually working hard, day by day to make their chosen profession a lucrative one? Is it still funny, or does it cross the line? We spoke to a few well-known magicians to find out.
Magician Jeff Grow from New York has performed his act for events at Lincoln Center in Manhattan and he’s won numerous awards to boot, and he says he’s planning on seeing the Carell comedy this weekend. “I would say that [the movie is] sort of accurate in the sense of you know there’s a lot of competition amongst magicians as far as staying relevant in the public eye,” he says about the film, which pits Burt Wonderstone (Carell) against Tommy Lee-esque rock star illusionist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) as they vie for the biggest magic show on the Vegas strip.
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And while the particular magicians in this comedy are the spandex-loving set, they don’t represent everyone in the community of professional magicians. “It seems to me at the outset that it’s not exactly parodying magicians but it’s parodying their personality types,” says Grow.
It’s something Mario Marchese (also known as Mario the Magician) is picking up on as well. “If you think of chefs or drummers, they’re all kind of weird and that’s kind of like magicians. There’s this weird eclectic kind of thing and I guess the movie is just exploding those things,” he says.
Mario Marchese, a.k.a. Mario the Magician
Whereas we’re inclined to remember TV and showy magicians of Burt Wonderstone’s ilk as the face of the profession, it’s important to remember there are performers of all sorts in the field of magic, like Marchese, who repurposes items to “Build Magic” as a part of his act for children. Then there’s Grow, whose bread and butter is illusions with a side of entertainment. Neither of these guys ever feels the need to paint their faces with translucent glitter and ditch their button up shirts for velour suits.
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Adding to the diversity is the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s magician in residence Steve Cohen, whose cocktail-attire only show includes illusions as well as the practice of mind-reading. And even Cohen has a sense of humor about Burt Wonderstone’s take on the world of professional magic. “Burt Wonderstone pokes good-natured fun at magicians in the same way that [This is] Spinal Tap teases rock music,” he says.
Cohen brings up a good point. Countless “fringe” professions have endured the scathing jokes of a pointed parody movie, from ice skating in Will Ferrell’s polarizing Blades of Glory to NASCAR drivers in Will Ferrell’s also polarizing Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Ferrell apparently likes to test the very specific waters on the regular). Both films featured cameos from professionals in the fields Ferrell was poking fun at including NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and former Olympic ice skaters Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano. In a similar vein, David Copperfield not only posed for pictures with Burt Wonderstone’s Carell for publicity (above), he has a cameo in the film and acted as a consultant during production.
But what about depictions like G.O.B. (Will Arnett) on Arrested Development? His character is one of the little guys, someone trying to make it as a magician in his daily life and failing spectacularly (although that one time he accidentally cut off Buster’s prosthetic hand, things worked out alright), and his character seems to be built from similar cloth to that of Mr. Wonderstone.
“[Arnett] was making fun of someone, but it wasn’t a parody, per se. They weren’t saying that all magicians were like that it,but this one particular guy was, it was his character,” says Grow, who is asked about his opinions on the clumsy character almost daily. It’s a distinction that almost applies to Carrell and Carrey too: They are taking on the world of professional magic in this movie, but as two very singular people in the realm, not as flag-waving representations of an industry as diverse as any other entertainment profession, including Spinal Tap's beloved rock scene.
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The world of magic as a profession is something that will likely never be totally understood on a mainstream level, but it doesn’t seem to worry Marchese, who’s less concerned about people confusing his job with Carell’s outlandish parody and more concerned with the benefits of the small, yet diverse profession he’s chose. “It’s definitely a sub thing, it’s kind of like one of those underground things you fall in love with and you never blow up and you’re sort of just happy inside,” he says. While Burt Wonderstone may poke fun at the magicians we’ve seen time and again on television (think Copperfield, David Blaine, and even Criss Angel), the movie doesn’t speak for the whole community and in that way, makes it more likely to elicit a chuckle from even the most serious and sensitive magic man (or woman).
From Ferrell’s endless B-comedies to Christopher Guest’s line of parodies including This is Spinal Tap and its folk music equivalent A Mighty Wind, comedy has a long tradition of sticking it to the world’s most entertaining professions. Thankfully, as we approach yet another movie in that vein, we can all watch and giggle without guilt. For the most part, even the folks on the receiving end of Burt Wonderstone’s ruthless parody can find the lightheartedness of it all.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures; Twitter]
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The best way to go into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is to think of it as the first film in a brand new franchise; a franchise in which mermaids love men zombies won’t eat you and a Fountain of Youth exists but all laws of logic reasoning and competent storytelling don’t. Although screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were smart enough to sever the narrative ties to the first two sequels in their franchise’s fourth outing the latest swashbuckling adventure in the series shares most of the same faults its predecessors faced.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) steps in for Gore Verbinski in On Stranger Tides but you’ll be hard-pressed to find his contributions to the already-flashy film that finds our hero Capt. Jack Sparrow (the inimitable Johnny Depp) on the hunt for the fore mentioned fountain. Of course he’s not the only one looking for eternal life: also in tow are nameless stereotypical Spaniards the English crown headed by a reformed Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard a ruthless pirate who looks and sounds a lot like Ian McShane. Their paths cross on numerous occasions as the story scrambles across the map culminating in a splashy battle in a magical meadow where Ponce de Leon’s greatest discovery lies.
Less a cohesive story and more a collection of individual set pieces linked together by nonsensical dialogue and supernatural occurrences the film isn’t all that hard to follow if you don’t strain yourself doing so. The sequence of events collide so conveniently for the characters you can’t help but call the screenplay anything but the result of complacency while the film itself sails so swiftly from point to point it’s actually a waste of time to dwell on plot holes and motives. Disrupting its momentum (which is one of the few things the film has going for it) is an unwatchable romance between Sam Claflin’s missionary Philip and Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) one of a handful of murderous mermaids who do battle with Blackbeard’s crew. Their bland courtship will have you begging for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to return to the high seas and that’s saying something.
The all-female fish people are one of a few additions to the Pirates world but their effect on the film is negligible outside of being the impetus for the coolest action sequence in the picture and perhaps the most unnerving of the series. The others include Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s busty daughter Angelica and Stephen Graham as shipmate Scrum. The former feels out of place among the cartoony happenings but provides much needed sass while the latter fills in for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for much of the film and is a pleasure to watch for some hammy comedic moments.
As always however this is Depp’s show and he continues to put a smile on my face with his charisma and theatrical presence. Even though he’s operating on autopilot throughout you can’t help but marvel at his energy and enthusiastic output as he literally fuels the fun in the film. The same can be said of Rush who’s given a meatier and more significant arc this time around. He trades quips with Depp as if they were a golden-age comedy duo and they remain the most appealing attraction in the franchise. Though he brings an undeniable sense of danger to the picture I was sadly underwhelmed by McShane’s Blackbeard a character with such a domineering reputation and imposing look he should’ve been stealing scenes left and right. Instead I felt he phoned his performance in though that could’ve been the result of Marshall’s indirection.
No better than the genre-bending original but a slight improvement over Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End On Stranger Tides suffers centrally from lack of a commanding captain. Marshall’s role is relegated to merely on-set facilitator or perhaps liaison between legions of talented craftspeople that make the movie look so good. Whatever vision he had for this venture if he had a unique take at all is chewed up and spit out by the engines of the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster factory rendering the film as mechanical as the ride from which it is based.