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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So you've got a new love brewing... and this might be, dare you say, the one. They're sweet, thoughtful, they totally get you. Your personalities mesh well, your interests align, your parents approve. There's only hurdle you haven't yet overcome: your friends. Those horribly judgmental, scathingly abrasive, disconcertingly alienating monsters. The very same ones you love dearly and have spent every waking minute with since your mid teens. You know that no matter how perfect your latest romantic partner might be, the ganglion of derision that you call your social circle will undoubtedly disapprove.
But is that for certain? Is there any chance that you an successfully meld both fields of your life to result in a dynamic smorgasbord of self-efficacy? Or will something always be... off?
Tuesday night's Happy Endings braved the question when Penny (Casey Wilson) and her Season 3 boyfriend Pete (Nick Zano) got engaged. The turn of events came as a surprise to fans aplenty, largely because Happy Endings isn't ordinarily too heavy on the overarching plot. More than this, the show has thrived on its main characters existing as a self-contained, impermeable mass of codependency and affectionate self-destruction. Where might the newbie, nice guy Pete, fit in with this lifelong band of pals?
And along with the question as an in-universe quandary do we wonder how Zano might fit in on the show. It's true, Zano's career is not yet too busy for him to make weekly supporting player appearances on Happy Endings. But very rarely do cast members of this nature on shows like Happy Endings advance to permanence.
Thinking back to Happy Endings' spiritual predecessor Friends, we recall Mike: a Paul Rudd of middling fame who was introduced in the penultimate season as a love interest for Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow). Rudd would maintain a presence throughout the run of the series, appearing right up until Friends' finale, but never truly evolved to a platform of equal stature among the central gang. In fact, the occasional joke surrounding Mike was that he was largely an outsider looking in at the Central Perk madness. One episode even invested an entire storyline in Ross' (David Schwimmer) inability to find anything to talk about with Mike.
Predating Friends in this endeavor, and somewhat more successfully, was Cheers. Over the course of its 12-year run, the Boston-set sitcom introduced not one but two characters as significant others, eventually granting each opening titles billing. Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) was introduced in the Season 3 premiere of Cheers as a love interest for leading lady Diane (Shelley Long). Although initially penned as a temporary character, the writers and fans loved Frasier enough to keep him around for 8 years (not to mention an 11-season spin-off). And from Frasier came Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), his fellow psychiatrist and love interest introduced in Cheers' fourth season in a similar circumstance. Although only planned as a one-off character, Lilith returned in Season 5, and stuck around through the final year (marrying, divorcing, and remarrying Frasier during her tour on the series).
Many a series has made it happen: Will & Grace kept both Bobby Cannavale and Harry Connick, Jr. around; 30 Rock introduced James Marsden as a boyfriend for Tina Fey's Liz Lemon last season — now, with the series finale set for this Thursday, the two are happily married and new parents to a pair of adopted nincompoops.
But so many a series, those mentioned included, have brought in romantic guest stars just to ship them off into oblivion again when the time comes. So what will be the case with Happy Endings and Zano? If the ABC series is planning to keep him around, how the hell is that going to work?
As was the case with Rudd on Friends, there is room for comedy in the "odd man out" phenomenon. As the only sane one in this bunch of kooks, Zano can supply a new brand of deadpan humor in reaction to the psychologically alarming, ethically barren antics of Penny and company. Of course, Rudd also exhibited another phenomenon: the endless supply of errands. Oftentimes, Mike was nowhere to be found while Phoebe was hanging around with her West Village harem. He'd be off at work or running an errand or starring in Anchorman. Perhaps Happy Endings will go the same route with Zano, bringing him around for pertinent plots but shafting him to the background for scenes consisting only of the traditional sextet.
And of course, there is always the chance that Zano will go the way of so many sitcom beaus... perhaps even leaving Penny at the altar (or vice versa), a la the Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) and Dave (Zachary Knighton) debacle that sparked the whole series.
More than any other sitcom does Happy Endings have its comedy down pat. It understands what makes itself funny and devotes itself to that with vigor. As such, no matter what path the show takes with Zano, we can look forward to terrific comedy. As far as real life goes, though... keep your significant others far away from your friends. It never works.
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee a law-student-turned-bike-messenger who lives for the thrills of a speedy ride. During one run-of-the-mill pick-up at Columbia University Wilee finds himself in the crosshairs of corrupt cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). Inside the envelope Wilee's been hired to delver to Chinatown is something Detective Monday needs and he's willing to do anything to get it. No skin off Wilee's nose — he has an address and a delivery time and like a good messenger he's equally driven to make the drop.
Premium Rush quickly kicks off its extended action set piece and never lets up Koepp only occasionally stepping back in time to unravel backstory and up the stakes. Wilee's girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) also a bike messenger is the roommate of Nima (Jamie Chung) a Chinese student who is shipping the sealed MacGuffin downtown. For her it's life or death and Koepp wisely underplays the motivations both to downplay its over-the-top nature and keep the stunts in focus. Monday has his own issues to contend with and it gives Shannon the perfect material to chew up. Before chasing Wilee Monday suffers from a gambling and violence problem and while it drives the character to pursue the package it's really just a great excuse for Shannon to go absolutely bonkers. Somewhere beyond Nic Cage and Al Pacino exists Shannon's turn and it's a hoot.
Gordon-Levitt balances him out as an engaging presence even while zipping through gridlocks and shifting his eyes for "Bike-O-Vision" (Wilee's accident-avoiding stylized Spidey sense). He spends most of his time interchanged with professional bike riders who make the two-wheeled maneuvers work but it's seamless. After an hour and a half of bikes pop-a-wheeling over taxis skidding under semi-trailer trucks and pulling off cycle parkour in a multileveled NYPD impound the action tends to get a bit repetitive — how much can you do on a bike? — but Koepp's kinetic directing keeps the movie zippy and the tone loose. Wilee's entire adventure feels like one big trick. Thankfully it avoids the crash and burn.