Monthly archives for February, 2010

Velocity by Scott Alexander

Hello again, loyal readers!

Before today’s review, a few quick notes…

You’ve probably noticed that this is my second review this week. I’m going to try to review at least two products each week. Because I pride myself on being so thorough, my reviews tend to be rather lengthy, so I can’t promise more than one review per week, but I will try my best.

Also, my contest is still ongoing – come up with a catchy title you’d like for a magic ezine and send your suggestions to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. The prize will be a copy of my forthcoming book as well as a “special magic surprise…”

OK, forget the surprise! It’s going to be the Infinity Deck by Jon Allen. It normally retails for $22.95, but you can get my copy, never used, FREE if you win the contest!

On to this week’s second review: It’s Velocity, by Scott Alexander. It retails for $795 and is available at Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=5269

THE PLOT: This is an extremely SAFE version of the classic bullet catch! Instead of a signed bullet, the magician catches a signed-by-the-spectator paintball in his teeth, fired by the spectator!

WHAT YOU GET: You receive the specially gimmicked paintball gun or “marker” as it’s called by paintball fans. You also receive a generous supply of paintballs, a ‘target ring,’ replacement paper for the target ring (the paintball bursts through the paper each performance), a strong, high quality canvas-type carrying case, replacement/maintenence parts, an instructional DVD and safety goggles.

DURABILITY: I’ve been performing this for a few years now and this will hold up if you take care of it. The gun is not a toy, but a tool designed to be used by adults playing paintball, so it will last if taken care of. I’ve flown all over the country with it and it’s held up perfectly.

ANGLES: The angles are very forgiving with this effect. Scott provides several different handling options that will enable users to choose the one that suits him/her the best. Happily, all of the angles in all of the handlings are workable in nearly all situations. This is not a close-up effect (it’s a gun trick, after all) so it’s not like people will be right up next to you looking over your shoulder…although I do need to pat myself on the back and point out that I actually performed this in a living room once for a high-dollar private party!

MARKET: If you even think about performing this for small children, you’re an idiot. Sorry to be so crass, but I know of magicians who have done razor blade magic and other inappropriate things for young children’s birthday parties.

This effect plays fantastically well for adult (corporate or otherwise) events as well as colleges. I admit that while it would go over great for a high school event, I have NOT done so as I can’t imagine a high school administration being too thrilled with you doing a “gun trick” in the wake of Colombine.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: I admit it – I’m a huge Bob Kohler fan. I have a great deal of his stuff and I love it all. His stuff is made for working pros and priced accordingly – this is a bit pricey for hobbyists, but really, as long as you don’t perform it for inappropriate audiences, I think this is really cool.

Let’s face it: how many magicians have been dying to do a bullet catch, especially after seeing the Penn & Teller version? I admit it: I was captivated and was delighted with Scott Alexander’s product release through Bob Kohler.

First of all, this method is safe. By the time you hand the gun to the spectator, the gun is completely safe – there is no way at all you can get hit by a projectile shot from the gun. Totally safe.

Now, just because it’s the safest bullet catch-type effect I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t mean it’s self-working. It’s not: you will have to practice. Let me repeat: you will have to practice.

This is one of those effects where once you learn the secret, you’ll say to yourself, “Oh, this is a snap. I can have this ready to show my family tomorrow night.” No way.

While the handling is quite simple on the technical level, this is once of those effects where you truly need to put in the rehearsal so that the technical moves blow right past the spectators. While many moves in magic are done because they look cool, it doesn’t mean they’re the most natural. Consider the back palm – even if done perfectly, no normal human holds their hand in that position, so that in and of itself would call attention to it.

With all that in mind, this routine needs practice so it simply appears as though you are doing nothing: You ask a spectator to sign a paintball, then THEY drop it in the gun, then THEY hold the gun and fire it at you then you catch the paintball in your teeth and freely and openly show that the paintball you caught was the same one signed. If done properly, that’s all the audience should perceive.

Additionally, there is no switch of the paintball, so that’s good news. It’s easy from a technical end but it requires practice to look natural.

Scott’s instruction is incredible. After watching this DVD, you’ll not only be armed with several handling options, but you’ll also have detailed knowledge of exactly how the paintball gun (even a non-gimmicked one) functions. Scott teaches you how to take apart the gun for cleaning, maintenance or trouble-shooting and he offers several routine options to get the most bang for your buck. (Pun definitely intended.)

Now a few words about Scott’s routine. First of all, you get to see a live performance of Scott performing this on a cruise ship in front of several hundred people. The routine, as Scott presents it, plays about six minutes in length and is loaded with (in my opinion) great comedy lines. I sat down and counted the different jokes in Scott’s routine and there were plenty.

I also liked Scott’s routine because he didn’t try to overly stress the danger aspect of the trick – high drama is not what most of my own corporate holiday party gigs are looking for. They want to laugh, and if you want to try Scott’s routine, rest assured it is very funny. That’s not to say you couldn’t play it dramatically. The effect is so pure and easily understood that it’s easy to say this effect is like a blank canvas: writing your own routine is a way to make a classic of magic like this unique to your own character.

THE CO2 CANISTERS: A quick note on the CO2 canisters necessary for the effect. Due to shipping regulations, you do not receive any with your kit, but as Scott reveals, you can pick these up from any Wal-Mart. I typically pickup a large box of 20 or so canisters for use during gigs I can drive myself to, but if I’m flying to a gig, once I get off the plane and get my rental car, I set my Garmin GPS to find the nearest Wal-Mart…and since Wal-Marts are popping up like friggin’ locusts, you’ll have no problem finding CO2 cartridges for your gun. Happily, the CO2 cartridges come in different packages and the little 5-packs are just five bucks, so if you’re flying to a gig, for an extra $5 expense, you can do this classic of magic anywhere where there’s a friggin’ Wal-Mart. (Sorry, I hate Wal-Mart.LOL)

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: I’ve gone on record as saying that I feel that Bob Kohler produces the very best in instructional magic DVDs and this release proudly holds up that tradition. The camera angles, lighting, editing and menu selection make this a joy to watch.

The instruction, as I’ve alluded to earlier, in intense: I believe this DVD runs in excess of two hours. Simply phenomenol. It’s like taking a college course on one effect!

CUSTOMER SERVICE: After I had been performing this effect for a while (maybe 20 performances) I decided to take the gun apart for some maintenance. When I put it back together, the trigger on the gun “stuck” and was quite unreliable. I called Bob Kohler on the phone and expected to wait a few days to hear back. I was surprised when he called me back in 20 minutes! After speaking to him on the phone, he explained to me how to fix this very minor issue with the gun. There was actually no malfunction, but merely an odd little idiosyncrasy about the gun (even in its ungimmicked state) that I, a paintball “virgin,” was unaware of.

In short, GREAT customer service.

OVERALL REVIEW: A perfect 10 out of 10. Great reactions, plus it’s safe and packs small and plays HUGE. I know this effect has been out a while, but it was simply next on my randomly generated list of goodies I own from Hocus Pocus.

On a personal note, this is so good that it’s one of the effects that I thought, “Gee, do I REALLY want to tell anyone how good this is?” :)

As always, I welcome all comments, questions and feedback. Send any thoughts to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Until next time…

Cris

Fate? by Rick Maue

Howdy loyal readers!

I love technology – right now I’m typing this blog on my laptop in Austin, TX…and I live in New York. I remember the days before email, faxes, cell phones and all that. Man do I feel old!!

Housekeeping: My contest to name my upcoming magic ezine is still going on. Send name suggestions for the ezine to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. The winner will receive a FREE copy of my soon-to-be released book of routines for stage, close-up and more.

On to this week’s review.

This effect is called Fate? by Rick Maue. It’s available at Hocus Pocus for $34.95. Here’s a link to the product description: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=6547

EFFECT DESCRIPTION: Imagine this: Five audience members are brought forward–one joins the performer at the center of the performing area, and the other four position themselves in the four corners of the stage (where there are four laminated targets to mark the spots).

Six small squares of aluminum foil are introduced-wrapped inside each one is either a blue poker chip or a red poker chip. From the corners, the four audience members each select a foil packet, which are opened to reveal the color of the poker chip chosen by each person. The two remaining packets are also opened to see what two chips have been left behind.

At this point, the performer poses a question to everyone about whether they believe that the decisions that they make every day actually affect their lives-or is everything that happens predetermined? In other words, is everything simply in the hands of FATE?

The performer then asks the audience member at the center of the stage to pick up a small stack of cardboard signs that has been sitting facedown on the table. As she displays them, one at a time, each sign details exactly what has just occurred-step-by-step-as if all of the choices made by the four different audience members were indeed predetermined.

But after the last sign is revealed, there is still one more surprise revelation that brings the routine to an amazing conclusion.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE:

15 Step-By-Step Message Signs
3 sets of five cards so that you can change the outcome for repeat shows
6 Laminated Target Cards (once again, extra laminated Targets are included so that you can change the final revelation for repeat shows)
12 Poker Chips
Complete Scripting
Complete Instructions
2 Pages of Detailed Photographs

ANGLES: This is angle-proof, so you can do it surrounded in a living room, yet the cards’ predictions are large enough to be seen by a large audience. Thus far, the largest audience I’ve performed this for is 500 people and it plays well.

INSTRUCTION: Rick is an extremely clear writer, meaning that you will have no problem whatsover understanding this effect. The physical handling is very, very easy from a technical end, meaning you’ll have no fancy moves to worry about. This is one you devote all of your efforts into the presentation. There are some simple foil gimmicks to construct, but I had mine finished (all six gimmicks) in about 30 minutes and so far, with care, they have held up over about 20 performances.

DURABILITY: Since the gimmicks you must construct are made of aluminum foil, they are delicate in nature, but again, with care they will last. If you’re rough on props, make a few extra sets for those days you’re doing three back to back shows, both to minimize re-set and also enable you to relax in that frenzied “gotta get the next show set” time period between gigs.

The prediction signs are standard card stock, so I recommend carrying the signs in a thick envelope, like a padded mailer or a FedEx envelope for protection. The “target” signs, since people stand on them, see the most wear-n-tear. Fortunately, Rick went to the trouble of laminating those signs.

MARKET: This is not suited for children’s shows, but I have performed this many times for both teen groups and adult groups of all sizes.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Like I said, this plays well, as the plot is easy to follow and by involving 5 people on stage, you’re filling the stage nicely. I have to say, though, that while this gets a good response for me, it doesn’t get a great response. This is a fine effect for a “middle” act in your show, but I wouldn’t close with it. That’s not a ‘knock’ on the effect – the worst thing you could do when structuring a show is stack closer upon closer. So it’s a good effect.

I have a personal theory (or preference) as to how I choose most of my mentalism effects. In constructing mentalism shows, I feel the strongest parts of the show are the parts where it seems as though you say to an audience member, “think of any word,” then you show you knew what word they were thinking or an even more personal choice: “think of your six grade best friend,” and you reveal that name.

In other words, for me (JUST my preference) often the strongest effects are those involving seemingly infinite choices and even better, personal information that could not be accessed.

The prediction of which colored poker chips will be selected is not a broad enough selection nor is it personal. Of course, purists will be screaming at me about 1-out-of-5 choices (equivoque) or card effects, etc. that play fantastic.

Again, I’m not saying this or any similar effect is not a good effect, only that I don’t feel it’s as strong as a personal choice…there’s no emotional connection to a poker chip. It’s simply a comparison. Obviously, you could change this with scripting, but Rick’s supplied script is very tight and clear.

Overall, I certainly would not close with this effect, for my personal tastes, but if you’re looking for a clear, easily understood effect with no angle problems that gets a nice, solid response, I can highly recommend it.

Since I base most of my reviews on audience response, I’ll give this a 7 out of 10. It’s a well-put together product, but in my own experience, this is not going to be the effect that people gush about after your show. When I ask audiences afterwards what they thought, they’d say, “Oh, that was nice,” and then they’d go on and on about what truly captivated them.

Good solid effect and a good solid value that’s very reasonably priced.

Thanks for reading and as always, I welcome feedback. Please send any comments to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Mental Frisbee

OK, I just posted this week’s review of the Shakespeare experiment – be sure to check it out below…

But since I can’t sleep, (tomorrow’s my birthday) I figured I’d add in a “bonus” review, so here we go!

This review is Mental Frisbee, by Nathan Kranzo. It’s available for $174.99 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=9227

It’s described as the perfect opener for mentalists – essentially it’s a 1 out of 5 prediction with some comedy readings thrown in for those people who catch the colored frisbees as they’re thrown to audience members.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: You receive five different colored frisbees, carrying pouches for each, and an instruction booklet that details the workings of the routine, variation ideas, and the complete script.

DURABILITY: The frisbees are made out of parachute material and fold up into little packets that fit into their own individual pouces. In the pouches, they transport well.

REVIEW: The method of this effect is something I’m going to tap dance around, but I’ll say that it’s nothing new but based on a classic principle in mentalism. It’s good solid stuff, but if you’re after a “brand new shiny something,” this is definitely not for you.

The main value of this is the script. As the piece is introduced, you have the delightful and unexpected action-packed opening of flinging frisbees into your audience! Obviously some audiences will be more receptive to this than others, but the idea is fun.

The five people who catch the frisbees are invited up to the front of the performing area where comedy readings are given. After that, one audience member is asked to name any color and you prove in advance you knew what color would be selected.

There’s a lot to like about this routine as it’s angle-proof and can be done anywhere, even outdoors. (If it’s windy, just hand the frisbees to people and have them pass them around til they wind up in the hands of people you want on stage. Easy.)

Also, the routine gets people involved in your show right away. I mean, if you use this as an opener, in about 10 seconds into your show, you’ll have people involved and up on stage in your show. That’s a very attention-getting way to open your show.

I recently saw a mentalist perform at my wife’s college and his opening piece was a nailwriter bit…three times. It was just him blathering. A routine like Mental Frisbee gets people involved right away and I like that.

Another reason I like this is if you’re going for believability in mentalism, one popular way of structuring your show is to start with the most believable feats first and work your way up to the really far out stuff. Well, this frisbee routine is a 1 out of 5 prediction. It’s not exactly like predicting the lotto numbers, so it’s a nice way to start your show if you want to “build” from piece to piece.

Finally, I like this routine because of the blocking – it’s a nice lesson in managing multiple volunteers and once you get everyone up there, Nathan provides a quick visual gag involving the volunteers en masse that is very funny.

Back to the script. For $175 the main value of this is the script as the methodology is simple and hardly original. I knew this buying the routine, so I was more interested n the script.

When I read the script, I really liked it. A lot. Nathan’s jokes and especially the comedy color readings appealed to me on my sense of humor and I could see this playing very well for corporate audiences. It usually takes me anywhere from 20 performances to 100 performances (depending on the effect) to really fine-tune anything I’ve written, so I was looking forward to working this out and cutting down the learning curve.

After trying the script out, I found that for me at least, about 50% of the jokes played well and the other 50% fell flat – just nothing. I tweaked those that didn’t play, changing vocal tonality, blocking, etc. but still nothing. Finally, I used those jokes as springboards to ad-lib some material of my own and after running this routine for a year, it’s more “me” now and plays very well.

Is $175 a fair price for a script? Will this play well for you? These are questions I can’t answer for you. For me, this has been a fine routine and knowing how long it takes to tighten up a routine, for me as a working full-time pro, I found it to be a worthwhile investment. The final revelation of the prediction plays well and it’s a comedy mentalism piece without resorting to cheap gags – nice, as in my opinion so MANY mentalists are self-indulgent braggarts on stage.

OVERALL RATING: In the end, while this was a good purchase for me and one I do not regret, I’m only giving Mental Frisbee a 6 out of 10. Good effect, hardly earth-shattering in method, with a script that I personally liked very much, but the less-than-perfect score reflects the fact that my audiences did not like many of the jokes. It could have been me and my persona, and that’s where the problem with this kind of product lies.

Rating a performer’s personal script is tough and utilizing a performer’s script is even tougher, as so many things influence the success or failure of the routine, including the way you walk, talk, dress, look, sound and so on.

While I can recommend this product for working pros, be forwarned that when buying another performer’s word-for-word script, realize that rarely are scripts “one size fits all” and some work will still be involved.

OK, now I’m going to bed.:) Tune in again next week and don’t forget to send your contest entries (including name suggestions for my magic ezine) to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Best,

Cris Johnson

The Shakespeare Experiment

Howdy loyal readers!

Cris Johnson here, back with a new product review, but first, a little housekeeping…

First – the contest to name my soon-to-start online ezine is still going on. Send your suggestions to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net and win a FREE copy of my soon-to-be-completed book on performance, real-world routines, magic philosophy and more. The contest will most likely be extended to March, as I’ve been having trouble finishing the book – so busy performing!

Here in the U.S., many people are whining about the economy. Me, I’m not seeing it. I’m SLAMMED by gigs and it’s great.:)

On to this week’s review…

This week it’s The Shakespeare Experiment, a fantastic book test available for $300 from Hocus Pocus. You can read the details here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=10855

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: A beautiful, thick hardcover book that’s labeled as the complete works of Shakespeare. You also receive a CD with written instructions, routine ideas and more.

QUALITY: This book is absolutely gorgeous. So many book tests are cheaply made, but this one would look wonderful on a collector’s book case. I’m not a magic collector, but if I was, this would go on a shelf. The CD instructions are very complete and very well written, but the one complaint I have is that it’s white text against a black background. I don’t care for reading on a computer – tough on the eyes – so unless you want to kill an ink cartridge, you’ve got to read this on a computer. That REALLY bugged me, and since it’s in PDF, you can’t cut-n-paste and change the text.

ANGLES: This book test can be done surrounded, as there are no peeks involved.

EFFECTS: This book allows users to do one word revelations, phrase and full sentence revelations, picture revelations (also drawing duplications) and so much more. What’s really neat about this is the fact that you can simply hand the book to someone, ask him/her to open the book and start mind reading. No page numbers needed. It’s that simple – they open the book and you start reading minds.

NICE.

Additionally, the multi-sentence type revelations REALLY blow people’s minds away. I’ve used this test in front of 500 high school kids and in my opinion, there is not a tougher age group out there. Guess what?

They LOVE it. (Of course, this all depends on your character and performance.)

I also really like the fact that the multi-sentence revelations are actual Shakespearian text. I know this because I was performing this for a small group of 30 teens and several recognized the text being revealed. This is a great benefit that cannot be overstated.

Another benefit of this product is the fact that you can do so many styles of revelations. It’s not just a single word. Brad Henderson once wrote that the big problem with book tests is the fact that the subject matter of the book is overlooked. By using Shakespeare, you can really make the subject matter come to the forefront of your presentation. I myself innocently announce, at one point in my corp show, “This is where I try to inject a bit of culture into the show.”

FORCING: Many book tests rely on guiding (gently or otherwise) spectators to certain sections of the book. Shakespeare is no different, but the guiding/forcing is very natural – there’s no adding of page numbers, no counting down lines, or anything like that. The guiding feels open and fair, again with the right presentation. Also, as long as your instructions are clear, you’ll “hit” every time you reveal something, as opposed to the Mother of All Book Tests, where spectators can follow your instructions precisely yet still pick a “wrong” word. This, for me, is a huge advantage. Also, you’re not just guiding people to “the first word on the page.” That’s a factor here, but other revelations also let spectators go to different page sections.

Just to reinforce what I wrote earlier, I LOVE the fact that page numbers are not needed to start revealing stuff. AWESOME.

RELIABILITY: You can let spectators look at the book somewhat freely for a few moments but it will not stand up to close scrutiny. Therefore, if you’re new to mentalism or performing at all, you’ll need to work on your audience management skills. It’s not a really big deal, but you’ll have to pace your performance to ‘hurry along’ the quick flip-through of the book without acting as though you’re trying to hide anything. It’s one of those delicate aspects of performance that’s difficult to explain – the harder you try to do it, the less likely it is to work. Weird.

COMPARISON TO THE MOAB: OK, I’ve used the Mother of All Book Tests and I know comparisons between the two are going to be at the forefront of potential buyers’ minds. In my opinion, and this is JUST my opinion, but I feel the Shakespeare Experiment is superior for several reasons. First of all, unless you’re going to repeat the effect, MOAB is the same effect – just a one word revelation. Sure, you can dress it up and reveal things in different ways, but it’s still a one word reveal.

The Shakespeare Experiment allows you to reveal one word, full passages and much more. It’s a great deal more versatile.

Second, the Shakespeare book is a recognizable book. In other words, people will accept it as legit because nearly everyone over a certain age has at least heard of Shakespeare. This also helps in the revelations, as I mentioned before, because actual Shakespeare text and passages are used in the effects.

Purists may argue that you can slap a book jacket to a recognizable book over MOAT and while that helps, the recognizable Shakespeare text is more convincing.

Again, it’s just my opinion, but I prefer the Shakespeare book, even though both are spectacular.

MEMORY: Many book tests require memorization in some fashion and Shakespeare is no different. You’ll need to remember certain passages and a few words. Two innocent-looking cribs are provided, making this REALLY easy if you do not want to use your memory, although I should mention that the instructions provide you with several mnemonics to help memorize certain things. (Mnemonics, in case you didn’t know, are essentially memory hooks using exagerated or outrageous imagery to ‘stick’ in your mind easier. It’s a skill that’s beneficial above and beyond performing.)

DURABILITY: It’s a book, so don’t spill coffee on it. I actually sewed up a fleece bag with a drawstring to protect it from getting scuffed up during transport to gigs.

MARKETS: I use it for high school, college and corp gigs of all sizes. Don’t do this at your daycare shows.:) I do want to point out that some of the one-word revelations are rather risque and/or dirty and not suitable for all markets, but the unique flexibility of this product allows you to completely avoid these and play it straight.

OVERALL: This plays GREAT for me at paid gigs of all shapes and sizes. I’ll give this a 9.5 out of 10. This gets a GREAT reaction when performed well, but I’m taking off .5 because of the instructions. I REALLY like this a LOT and feel it’s one of the best book tests out there.

I also want to stress that while I feel this is awesome, it’s not a “take it out of the box and perform it” kind of effect. It’s best if you have experience performing mindreading type of effects with a comfortable grasp of audience management skills.

Until next week…

Best,

Cris Johnson

Pro Viper III

Howdy, everyone!

Cris Johnson here, back with another review at Hocus Pocus. This week I take on…Pro Viper III!

Before this week’s review, a few quick tidbits…

First of all, I performed Alive for the very first time a few days ago. Alive is a fantastic prediction effect where the animal chosen by your spectator from a deck of 52 different animal cards becomes real. The link is here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=12140

The only reason I bring it up is because at the time that I reviewed it in December, I had yet to perform it and I gave it a 10 out of 10. That’s a gutsy thing to do, but I stand by it because when you’ve been a working pro for several years, you get a good sense of how certain effects will play and then it’s a question of prop durability and reliability.

The result of my first “live” performance of Alive? It KILLED! It’s a live animal effect, so I knew it would rock. I happen to love rats, so I really enjoyed this. GREAT effect, built to last and I can’t praise it enough.

Other news…

I’m having a NEW contest! Email me your idea for the name of my as-yet-untitled monthly newsletter for magicians. The contest winner will receive a FREE copy of my as-yet-unreleased new book of magic routines and essays.

A few things I’m most proud of in the upcoming book:

- a Rising Card effect where the card box is thoroughly examined, the deck is examined and shuffled, a card is selected and signed, and yet the selected card rises out of the deck! Oh, and it can be done with a borrowed deck and surrounded. The “gimmick” is CHEAP, too. No electronics! No deck alterations! Plus a way to use this as ADVERTISEMENT for your shows…

- the FUNNIEST Arm Chopper Routine EVER! Honestly, this routine has evolved over the last 10 years and it ROCKS! The funniest bits of business happen before the prop is ever introduced.

- Fully developed routines for the old Blister effect, Okita Voodoo Doll, Pro Viper and many more.

To enter the contest, send your name ideas for the newsletter to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

OK, on to the review…

The Pro Viper has been around a while, but it’s featured again on Hocus Pocus, so that means they’re available again.

THE EFFECT: A card is selected and lost in the deck. The deck is sat near a wicker basket which contains a snake. Despite the fact that the magician never puts his hands into the basket, after some by-play, the snake jumps out of the basket, causing the volunteer to jump. Amazingly, the fake snake has the selected card in its mouth!

PRICE: $525 The link to Hocus Pocus and this great effect is here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=299

WHAT YOU GET: A wicker basket and lid, the 36″ long spring snake (specially gimmicked to get that card in his mouth without you going anywhere near the inside of the basket), the special electronic gimmick which is sturdy. Don’t abuse it, but in normal traveling conditions, it should be fine. You also receive a sturdy cloth bag with a rope drawstring for transport, a transmitter and DVD instructions

ANGLES: If you’re on a raised platform above your audience, you could in theory do this surrounded. If not, you need to mind your angles just a tad to hide the method of getting the card into the snake’s mouth. I will say in complete honesty that I have had people look right at the method without any thought and even after the effect is over, they never connected the two. I’m NOT saying to be careless, only that angles are not bad at all for this.

OK, first of all, full disclosure: I’ve been using this baby for the last year and I LOVE it. I’d been waiting for it to come out again for years, as they were unavailable for quite some time. A well-known magician friend of mine has like 4 of the older Pro Viper II models, as he never wanted to go without!!

Once I finally received mine, it went into my show rather quickly. This plays for 10 people or 1000! Why? The surprise is so strong. When that snake jumps, it gets an incredible reaction.

In my opinion, this is one of the few effects in magic where if you know exactly what will happen, it doesn’t spoil the surprise. Let’s consider the Seven Keys to Baldpate effect, for example. Once that lock is locked, you need to have a KILLER presentation for this or else the audience is going to be bored because they know the conclusion – the lock will be unlocked. Good effect, but you need superior presentational skills.

The Pro Viper is more like an Alfred Hitchcock movie – Hitchcock used to say that his psychology of suspense was that if you tell the audience what is going to happen, they will whip themselves into a lather anticipating it.

That’s the idea with the Pro Viper – In most presentations (mine included) you tell them the snake will jump out. It’s the suspence, the tension, followed by the release, the snake finally jumping out, that makes this pay off so well.

So right away, you can tell I’m a fan of this effect. There are a few snags, however.

After doing it about 60 times, my unit stopped functioning. Wasn’t the batteries, nothing. I sent it back to Hocus Pocus and within like 4 days, I had the unit back – better than new, literally, as it was quieter and even better.

What I’m saying is this: the Pro Viper II got a reputation for being unreliable. Paul assured me that the Pro Viper III is better, with better electronics. In fact, he assured me that mine was the only one they’ve had any kind of trouble with.

With that in mind, why tell you, the reader, about my unit’s issue? Two things: one, total honesty in my review and two, the INCREDIBLE customer service with Hocus Pocus. It wasn’t like I had my unit for two days and it died – it was like 6 months later and Paul STILL took care of me…and this was MONTHS before either of us had thought of doing this review column.

So, I bring all of this up because if you’ve hesitated about buying one of these because of its past reputation, DO NOT HESITATE – buy from Paul and you’re covered.

On to the review…

The transmitter is very tiny and is easily palmed. I just drop mine in my pants pocket and casually reach in during the routine because if you build up the suspense in the basket the audience is watching the volunteer as she/he approaches the basket and not you!

Also, when I perform, I always use a wireless head set microphone. I also have a Virtual Soundman controlled with a wireless transmitter.

Even with those other transmitters in play, I have never had any issue with the function of Pro Viper. I’m told the original model had some issues in this area, but technology has made this a moot point.

The snake is very well made, and the method is getting the card into the snake’s mouth is clever indeed.

I will say this: Although Terry competently teaches the effect on the DVD, his live night club presentation I thought was lacking. Oh sure, it got a good response, but he burned through this effect – start to -finish – in like 2 and 1/2 minutes. I was very surprised, as this prop is so good, it warrants a better build up.

Nevertheless, the DVD instructions are fine.

Incidentally, Terry’s handling involves tearing a corner out of the card to use as “proof” later, verifying it was not just a duplicate card. terry’s corner method works fine, but if you wanted to use a signature on the selected card, you can do that too.

Terry doesn’t provide any handling suggestions for a signed card effect, but if you can control a selected card to the top of the deck and add in a false shuffle, you’re covered. If not, I include my own card handling for this effect in my upcoming book (cheap plug).

The ice thing about this effect is the fact that the motor/electronic housing can be taken out of the basket, so if you wanted your snake to appear from a different place, you can do it. When I fly, I just use a paper lunch sack. Packs flat, yet allows me to do this effect when I fly without using the bulky basket.

OVERALL RATING: I’ll give this a 9 out of 10. It’s a GREAT effect, with a GREAT response. Mine has been rock-solid since I had it repaired. I only take off a point because with any electronic effect, you do have to be careful when packing it, especially when flying.

Comparison of Different Jeff McBride DVD Sets

Hello loyal readers!

I’m happy to say that our free GUM DVD contest was a big success. Congrats to Rod on his big win.

In other news, I’m having a new contest for the month of February. The prize is a new copy of my soon to be released book, “No Hype, Just Real-World Magic.” It will have essays on performing, full original scripting, tweaks tips and touches for effects such as Bowl-A-Rama, Silk to Egg, Pro Viper, hand chopper, Rising Cards and much more. Details on the book will come soon. I’m about half way finished and I’m really proud of it.

The way you enter the contest is simple: Send an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. However, in addition to an email, you must send me your suggestion of a name for my new monthly newsletter that I’m planning. It’s going to have performance tips, magic essays, Q&A and contributions from other magicians. It’s in the planning stages and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

I’ve really enjoyed this blog, so the newsletter is going to be a way to reach out and satisfy my “magic addiction.” I travel all over the country (US) and I STILL can’t get enough magic.:)

On to this week’s reviews…

I’m a huge Jeff McBride fan. With that in mind, I’ve decided to tackle and compare three of his DVD sets – World Class Manipulation 3 Volume Set, Magic at the Edge 3 Volume set and finally, Magic on stage 3 Volume set. All three sets retail for about $90-$100 per set.

All three are L & L releases and as such, the camera angles and lighting is terrific.

Oh, and if you think that just because I’m a McBride fan that he’s getting perfect scores, keep reading…

First, Magic on Stage. The whole set is available at Hocus Pocus. Here’s a link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=4316

In this set, clips alternate between Jeff in his home studio speaking to the camera and performing in front of a live audience of magicians, discussing aspects of working from the stage. It feels fresh and organic, and while L&L has great production values, I wish they’d change their format up a tad.

I have to be honest. This was the first set of DVDs (actually videos!) I bought. This was back in the late 90′s and I was just starting out doing some paid gigs, maybe 40 or so gigs a year…not a lot since I wanted to be a pro.

This set of videos was a revelation! I’ll break each volume down.

First, The Commando Act, first volume. The whole point or thrust of this DVD is the idea of performing in the real world, dealing with bad angles, tough performing situations and just getting the idea of how to do magic in the real world.

Some of the magic taught includes a vanishing cane into silk streamers, a cut and restored rope routine, a ring on rope routine, a linking ring routine and finally a mouthcoil routine.

Until this video, I had never seen a mouthcoil, so I was able to experience it as a layperson. I was totally hooked!

The second volume is Exotic mysteries, which tackles effects like Egg on Fan and Snowstorm in China…effects with an eastern flair. For my money, McBride’s Snowstorm handling is the cleanest, simplest yet most deceptive way to do Snowstorm with a fan ever. It’s brilliant and if you’re careful, you can get away with it surrounded.

Volume 3 deals with Classical Magic, like Zombie, Dancing Cane, 20th Century Silks and more.
Intersestingly, at the end of Volume 3, you can see clips of McBride’s live shows. It’s all great stuff.

While all the magic is extremely well taught, the most valuable parts of all three videos deals with the art of performing. There’s advice on routining, that is, stringing and connecting routines together. This is particularly apparent in the Commando Act.

There’s advice on maintaining interest, especially for big crowds. There’s tips on recording dreams and developing routines, setting up rehearsal space, evaluating your progress as a magician, mindset as it pertains to competition, setting and acheiving goals, costuming and so much more.

Please don’t misinterpret the label of “Stage” magic as only pertaining to hundreds or thousands of people in an audience. Stage magic, as I define it, (and it’s blog, so my rules!) is performing magic in a formal situation, as in your audience is seated or standing and watching you.

I have no interest in splitting hairs between parlor or stage. To me that’s only dealing with the size of your effects and whether you need a microphone. Whether you’re performing for 10 people in a living room or 1000 people in an auditorium, you still need to engage the audience. You may need to “dial up” your movements and energy for a bigger audience, but the principles remain the same – eye contact, blocking, movement through space, angles and so much more.

When I started studying these tapes back in the late 90′s, I basically broke my act down and began rebuilding it from the ground up with the information McBride presents. It’s been the single biggest influence on my career, with Eugene Burger’s books being a very close second.

In my opinion, these DVDs are what I would consider foundational and critical. If you’re considering becoming a full-time pro, or if you simply want improve, or if you’re a pro and you want new ‘wrinkles’ on classics of stage magic, you MUST own these DVDs. Other than a couple of references to video tapes, the information here is as relevant and needed as ever.

This gets a huge 10 out of 10.

Now let’s move to McBride’s World Class Manipulation DVDS. You can buy the set at Hocus Pocus and the link is here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=4312

I’ll run through these DVDs rather quickly, as it’s easier than going through each and every sleight or move. If you wanted to learn stage coin manipulation, thimble magic or billiard balls, these DVDs are for you.

Volume 1 teaches the basics of each of the three categories, while Volume 2 teaches intermediate stuff and Volume 3 teaches the hardest material from a knuckle-busting standpoint.

While there are video “essays” throughout this DVD, it’s not nearly as in depth as McBride’s Magic on Stage DVDs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great info if you’re into the technical stuff. Using this information, I created a very nice and fairly complex billiard balls routine that I’ve been using for the last couple of years.

I’m not as enthusiastic about these DVDs as his Magic on Stage collection, mostly because the manipulation taught is rather disembodied. Issues of character is not discussed, nor is blocking (other than sheilding angles.)

Again, it’s good material, but part of the problem with a release like this is the fact that it helps encourage the notion that technical skill is the most important consideration to improving as a magician.

I’m certainly not knocking technical skill and it can certainly enhance your career, but it’s not the end all to being a superb performer. What about character? What about plot? What about motivation?

Again, the DVDs are marketed as manipulation and the teaching certainly is incredible. The camera angles, over the shoulder shots and lighting are all superb.

Maybe it’s because I saw Magic on Stage first that I’ll forever be spoiled. I guess I can look at it this way: you can take a basic writing class to learn the rules of grammar, puntuation, proper sentence structure and so on, but it takes a true master to convey what is needed to become a gifted author or poet, or even a journalist.

These DVDs teach you the nuts and bolts, and they teach very well, flawlessly. But if you really want to get to that next level, I feel Magic on Stage is the better purchase, with the caveat that you can manipulation to your act later.

Again, great teaching and great info, but I wouldn’t call it must-have to become a pro. If you’re into manipulation, these will teach you great moves.

I’ll give these a 7 out of 10.

Now we move to one of McBride’s most recent releases, the Magic at the Edge 3 volume set, available here at Hocus Pocus: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=4312

These three DVDs really left me confused. I really wasn’t totally sure what the point of them were. On one hand, the manipulation DVDs did just that – taught viewers the nuts and bolts of comples stage sleight of hand. the Magic on Stage DVDs taught very detailed nuances of stage work, in addition to some great magic and routining.

These DVDs were all over the place. On one hand, they reinforced Jeff’s belief that one can be a magician 24/7. He talks a lot about using magic to brighten someone’s day, giving a gift to someone who needed it, and using the arrival of visitors to your house to spring some magic on them to help work in new material.

I can see value here.

(PERSONAL NOTE: Recently I was rehearsing the Magellan Levitation in my hotel room in preparation for the next day’s show. It’s still fairly “new” to me, so I rehearse as often as I can. Anyway, the delivery guy for my Chinese take-out knocks at my hotel door. If I could have reached the door, I would have opened it while floating. I wonder what the reaction would have been?)

Jeff talks about springing magic on the Pizza guy and any visitor.

Much of the DVD set is shot in the dessert, where it seems Jeff is exploring this strange (to my eyes – all subjective) subculture of people who gather in the dessert to live life at the edge. It’s a harsh lifestyle, and yet the people are very kind and spiritual. There’s a lot of talk by McBride and the characters he encounters about the spirit of giving and sprituality, and this entire mindset that we’re all inter-connected and on and on.

On one hand, it’s beautiful, touching and paints a romantic, hopeful picture of what humankind can become if we embraced many of these ideals.

Maybe it’s because I view magic first and foremost as a business and therefore I tend to be a tad colder to the idea of giving things away that I found a lot of this talking with desert people (for lack of a more PC label) simply uninteresting to me.

With that in mind, much of this info may be of value to you – this is one of those products where a review is really tough: I simply couldn’t relate to a lot of it.

McBride talks a lot about giving magic freely to whoever you meet each day. In my experience, this is tough, as when I introduce myself as a magician (other days I choose Hypnotist, Speaker, etc) very often I am greeted with those stupid jokes like, “Oh, can you make my INSERT NAME disappear?”

I know it’s all in good fun, but because of that kind of behavior I tend to be more guarded with my profession. “Sure, I’d love to show you some magic. Since you sell furniture, why don’t we trade – I’ll give you three coin routine demonstrations for that recliner?”

Is my way better than Jeff’s? No way – McBride is a kind, compassionate human being. I am more cynical – I wish I were more like him.

That’s my commentary on the overal ‘theme’ of the DVDs. The magic itself is OK. Again, it doesn’t compare to his other DVDs, which were much more focused.

There is closeup magic, stage magic, parlor magic and even stuff you can do “on the fly,” to make tipping your waiter more memorable, for example. Again, good happy thoughts, but not my thing.

I was most disappointed with Abbie McBride’s presentation of the straight jacket escape. I was expecting something unique and original, as the focus on the segment was on the presentation, not the secret.

Everyone else I’ve ever seen has presented it the EXACT same way: “Harry Houdini used the straight jacket escape as a way to generate publicity…” blah blah blah and then the person says he/she will recreate it tonight, etc.

Abbie used the same old presentation.

Boring!

I’ve considered adding a straight jacket to my high school act, but I’m stuck on making it engaging, so this DVD set really disappointed me as I was hoping NOT to get something I could rip off, but simply inspiration, a way to become inspired with a classic.

Other aspects of ‘real world’ performing are touched on, such as traveling with luggage, weight limits on airplanes and such, but these “video essays” end just when they start to get interesting.

So, with a heavy heart, I am only going to give Magic at the Edge a 5 out of 10, which equates to an “eh.” It’s not bad, but not great. Bear in mind that since I view magic from the eyes of a full time pro who is somewhat jaded, my review on this particular product may not apply to you. It’s a tough call.

Most of the reason why I give this a low score is simply because I have no interest in seeing magicians mingle with dehydrated people in the desert as everyone exchanges beads and talks about friendship.

It’s very kind-hearted stuff, but I look at stuff for how it will play in the real world, and much of that desert stuff came off as filler.

Again, McBride is a wonderful human being (as are Burger and Jeff’s wife Abbie, both of whom are prominent on these DVDs). I’ve met Jeff and admire him a great deal. I also love magic deeply, as evidenced by this weekly blog – it’s fun and helps satisfy my magic fix.

McBride is more giving with his magic then most people, and maybe that’s why he’s so successful. It may also be why you may get more value of these DVDs then I did.

So, as I end this rather strange column, next week I’ll be back with more reviews. Don’t forget about the “name the newsletter” contest for the month of February!

Best,

Cris