Monthly archives for December, 2010

My "Best Of" List for 2010

Hey everybody,

Cris Johnson here with a ‘best of’ list for 2010. Before I get to that, a big THANK YOU for all the new sign ups for my “Cause & Effects” free ezine! I’ve got a GREAT article coming out in a few days! Sign up for free by sending me an email at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

On to this week’s blog entry…

I debated for a while as to my criteria for my ‘best of’ column. First of all, realize that the following list of certainly NOT comprehensive in terms of all of the best new magic of 2010, primarily because I do not get all of the new magic releases. 98% of the stuff I review is stuff I buy with the idea of putting it into my own programs.

What I decided to do is include anything and everything I’ve reviewed since I started this blog and BOUGHT (or received) since I started this blog. Under that criteria, I would not include the Mind Reading Goose,for example, which I bought early in 2009, before I started the blog. I’m only doing this to make things a little more interesting.:)

I’ll also go from what I feel was the BEST thing down to #5.

OK, here we go….

#1 – Sound Control by Jim Kleefeld

This is not a ‘trick’ per se, but for me, this is incredible. If you want to control your music and don’t have a huge budget, this is wonderful. I have used a Virtual Soundman in the past and while I like it a lot, I feel Sound Control is easier to control and offers more options, including volume control and more.

The only downside? They’re getting harder to come by. Jim told me he has a few left in stock, so if you want an affordable way to control your music (if you’re a one person act) THIS IS IT!

#2 – Incredible Suit Jacket Escape by Anthony Lindan

I’ll be honest….my favorite effect of 2010 was a tough call. I was torn between this and #3 (ALIVE by Bobby Motta). I settled on this simply because this can be done literally anywhere under nearly any condition. (More on #3 later.) I’ve wanted to add a funny escape to my act for something different for years and struggled to write something myself but just couldn’t come up with anything. This release was truly a godsend and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how this plays. After 30 or so performances, I’m sure I will feel the same way 10 years from now. Simply an awesome routine in every way that plays equally well for adults or family shows. You can also do this surrounded, from any angle.

#3 – ALIVE by Bobby Motta

In many ways, I feel this is actually the BEST thing I’ve picked up in 2010, but it gets bumped down to #3 only because I’ve found some audiences do not like rats. While other animals will fit in the box, rats are the best from a temperment standpoint. Nevertheless, this routine gets an unbelievable reaction and in most cases, I have a hard time following it. Unreal. Plus, the box itself is built incredibly well. Once the box is loaded, you can do this from any angle.

#4 – Magellan Levitation by Jimmy Fingers

I love this for so many reasons – it’s practical, it’s portable, the angles are very good and it’s well-built. About the only negative with this is that you can’t do it surrounded. That’s a very mild negative and honestly I can’t recall ANY levitation that looks this good with perfect angles. If you want to actually rise in the air in front of your audiences, this is awesome.

#5 – Spirit Table by Tim Wisseman

WOW is this cool!!! I bought this earlier in the year with the intent of only using it in a specific teen program that I wouldn’t even start performing until summer 2011. I managed a way to work it into my corporate holiday programs and performed it 5 times in December and the reactions are incredible! The only reason this is not higher is because I’ve only currently used it 5 times and the prop only “fits” into two of my shows, but man, is this terrific! You can do it surrounded, close-up, parlor, whatever. Well-built and reliable, this is a dream come true for someone into the Bizarre stuff.

Well, that’s my list. Again, I have a LOT of stuff I reviewed and LOVED but as far as what I bought in 2010, this is my personal top picks for this year.

As far as coming attractions, I’ll soon be reviewing the following…

- Get Nyman DVD set
- Dresscode DVD
- T3 by Christopher Taylor
- Further Education DVD set by John Archer

My next blog will be a day or two after I return from vacation, on January 11. Happy New Year!!

Best,

Cris Johnson

Celebrity Smart-Ass By Bill Abbott – Another Winner

Let’s get right to the review…

Celebrity Smart Ass by Bill Abbott is available for $59.95. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/product_detail.cfm?item=14563

EFFECT: The topic of celebrities and our endless fascination with them is introduced. You proceed to conduct a test of the audience’s celebrity knowledge by using cards with first names on them. Going through the dozens of cards you call out each celebrity first name and the audience calls out the celebrity’s last name. For example you say, “Paris!” the audience says, “Hilton!”, you say “Tiger!” they say, “Woods!”, you say “Britney”, they say, “Spears!” etc.

To take the test to the next level you ask for the help of a celebrity expert from the audience. Someone with almost intuitive or psychic ability in their mastery of celebrity identification. A volunteer is invited on stage, shown a large envelope, is offered a chair and asked to sit down on the envelope. Now using the volunteer’s “celebrity intuition” with the help of their “psychic derriere” they will attempt to deduce the mystery celebrity whose photo resides in the envelope they are now sitting on.

The spectator is handed the pack of celebrity names and is instructed to take about half in each hand. They are asked to toss one half away and keep the other. After they do this they cut the remaining names into two piles, holding one in each hand and they once again toss one pile away and keep the other. Down to the last few names, the participant chooses one, having the opportunity to change their mind as many times as they like. Their final choice is revealed and it’s “Tom” for Tom Cruise. The spectator stands and hands you the envelope. Unbelievably they have found the needle in the haystack, as you pull out a photo of Tom Cruise…at the age of six months! A photo of a cute baby is revealed and the volunteer goes back to their seat to some polite applause and a lot of laughter! You unfold the photo explaining that the you hope that no one is easily offended as Tom Cruise is naked in this photo, and the baby is in fact, in the buff, when the photo is opened! You then ask the audience if they think that Mr. Cruise looks cuter as a baby, then he does now as an adult? Suddenly you turn the large tabloid-size photo over to reveal a very large (grown up) head shot of…Tom Cruise!

WHAT YOU GET: You receive the smart-ass deck (blank….you’ll need to write the names.) You receive an instructional DVD with two live performances, a sturdy envelope to protect the prediction, a large color photo prediction with the baby gag on one side and the celebrity on the other (either Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts….or both if you selected the combo-pack.)

QUALITY OF PROPS: If you’re familiar with the Smart-Ass concept, you know what you’re receiving. It’s good stuff, designed to last. Like any deck of cards, over time it will wear out, but I’ve been using my standard (deck of regular playing cards) Smart-Ass deck for at least a year and the deck takes a beating and holds up well. The prediction itself is nicely printed in high-quality full-color and the envelope is extremely sturdy. If you keep the prediction in the envelope at all times, it will last for years.

QUALITY OF EFFECT: I’ve been using Smart Ass in one form or another for quite a while and it always plays so strong because it’s so fair and clean. I use the standard Smart Ass deck in two of my motivational programs – one for teens and one for teachers. I also use Bobby Motta’s Alive, which uses the Smart Ass concept to force the animal I have in the box. I actually have two different Alive Smart Ass decks for two different presentations. Therefore, with four different presentations, I get a LOT of mileage out of Bill’s creation.

I believe Celebrity Smart-Ass is going to play even better than the standard deck version because the celebrity concept is so topical. It will ALWAYS be topical because people are so fascinated with famous people. Therefore, for commercial effects that working pros will use, it doesn’t get any better. Bill’s taken an awesome creation and ramped up the entertainment factor with some great gags, bits, comedy lines and more.

I’m not a huge fan of card effects and out of the hundreds or thousands out there, I have only come across maybe 25 or so that I really like. In terms of commercial card effects for stage, it doesn’t get any better than this.

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: Once again, Bill Abbot has taken a simple concept and given it the 5-star treatment. When I first heard of this, I thought, “Man, do I really need another Smart Ass? I finally gave in simply because the plot is so terrific. Bill then goes into great detail explaining the psychology, why certain names are chosen, why others are left out, ways to maximize laughter and finally, a funny bit with your OWN name.

There are other bits of business and psychology presented in such detail that I get the impression that Bill has already performed this at least 500 times before releasing this. There’s a lot more going on here in terms of laugh lines and details other than just the smart ass concept with Tom Cruise’s picture.

Bill is someone who deeply cares about his craft and I can’t imagine not buying his next release.

FINAL RATING: A 10 out of 10. In terms of instruction and props, this is flawless for what it is and from experience Smart Ass with a regular deck kills and Celebrity Smart Ass is even better. Since it’s flawless, it gets the perfect score.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS AND RATING “RE-SET”: For new readers, I base my ratings partially on the quality of the props, quality of instruction and most importantly, how the audience responds. If a prop is coated in 24ct gold but doesn’t get a good response, it’s going to get a lower review.

The biggest thing, though, just to stress, is the effect on the audience. I’ve been criticized for giving out so many 10′s in my reviews, but as a guy out there using this stuff, if it plays well for me and is reliable in the venues I perform, I see nothing wrong with a perfect score.

Additionally, unlike a lot of reviewers, I get very little sent to me. With one or two exceptions, the stuff I review is stuff I buy for my own performances. I’m careful with my choices and thus do not get ‘burned’ by bad products very often.

I’m going to be taking some time off from the blog until after Christmas. I’ll do my ‘year in review’ next week – I’ll cover some of my favorite purchases of 2010….not necessarily released in 2010, just stuff I myself picked up. After that column (next week) I’m off to Austin, TX for vacation with my wife and will return to Niagara Falls, NY (where I live)on January 10th, so the first column of 2011 will be after Jan. 10th. As I type this, I’m in NYC for some of my final shows of the year. I’m beyond exhausted and am looking forward to a break.

Best,

Cris Johnson

Mad Scientist by Peter Loughran

Hey everybody, Cris Johnson here with more magic & fun!

A few housekkeeping notes…folks continue to sign up for my “Cause & Effects” monthly newsletter. Next month’s issue will be a good one as I debunk the narrow-minded belief that many “old school” people have that the “only” way to learn magic is by reading books. I have no problem with reading books, but as soon as a group of people arrogantly say that the only way to do something, well, it bugs me, so the next issue of the ezine will use scientific fact to explain why there is no perfect way for all people to learn. It’s going to be great! Sign ups are free by emailing me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Also, someone who purchased my Clear-View Airborne emailed to let me know that he was able to get it on his carry-on luggage when he flew to a gig. I’ve never tried it myself as I assumed the good folks at TSA would frown upon the little hook that most Airbornes use. This was indeed good news to me so if you’ve always wanted to take Airborne on a flight, you can. You can check out my Clear-View Airborne right here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/product_detail.cfm?item=13716

On to this week’s review: It’s the Mad Scientist by Peter Loughran. It’s available for $350 at Hocus Pocus. Here’s the ad copy: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/product_detail.cfm?item=12960

EFFECT: The performer brings out a thin and sleek carrying tray with a large test tube resting on it on one side and a second test tube on the other side but elevated off the tray on its own mini stand. The performer introduces a handkerchief or silk and places it inside one of the test tubes, and explains that he has the ability to change and manipulate the molecules and properties of certain objects and can make them teleport short distances. He will demonstrate his Mad Scientist powers for all to see.

The performer places a large playing card in front of both test tubes and explains that the silk will teleport on his queue from one test tube to the other one that is elevated off the tray with a clear view underneath the thin mini stand. The performer makes a magical gesture and says that the silk has indeed teleported and he will prove it by checking the tubes himself. He looks down and says “Yep it has indeed teleported to the other test tube. But the hard part is to make them go back.” He makes a magical gesture and this time removes the cards to show that the silk is back in its original place. The audience screams to see it again but this time they want him to remove the card.

The performer does just this, he throws away one of the cards, and places the other one in front of the test tube containing the silk and then says he will make the silk teleport once again. He then picks up the card but also secretly picks up the silk so it is hidden behind the playing card, and places it in front of the other test tube that is resting on the mini stand. He secretly places the silk into this test tube and immediately removes the card. They audience screams that they know how he did it. This time they want to see done with no cover at all.

The performer obliges but tells his audience that they better not blink or they will miss it. He makes a magical gesture and sure enough this time, the silk VISIBLY vanishes from one tube and INSTANTLY re-appears in the other tube which is isolated off the tray on its own stand. STUNNING VISUAL MAGIC, and a great sucker effect. This illusion is perfect for kids and adults alike. A guaranteed hit at your next show!

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: The thin carrying tray that gimmicked up the wa-zoo, two clear tubes, a separate little stand so one tube is elevated, making the teleportation more mystifying, written instructions and 2 identical silks.

QUALITY OF PROPS: The gimmicked tray looks like it’s a pain in the rear to put together but happily, it’s put together WELL. Peter puts out quality material and this is no different. The plastic tubes are thick and strong and look like you could throw them off a roof. That being said, I wrap mine in cloth to prevent scratches. Great props.

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: The written instructions, several pages long, are well-written so the effect is easy to understand. There are some grammatical errors, but I’m sure not the person to pick on Peter for that as my books have their fair share of screw ups! :) My only beef with the instructions is the fact that the size of the text looks to me to be around 9 or maybe 10 pt in size. It’s a little tough on my eyes, so that irritated me. That being said, the information and workings is well done overall.

ANGLES: This can be done surrounded, providing no one is looking straight down onto the tray. This is not a close-up trick, but it would work very well for a parlor performance providing the audience is not right o top of you. I did it for 200 kids and it’s very visible. My prop came with two purple silks which really isn’t as visible as I would like as I wear dark clothes and I’m standing behind the prop. The color of silk varies from set to set, so if you wind up with dark colors, simply swap them out for brighter colors. The silks are not gimmicked, so that’s not an issue.

MARKET: To me this is primarily a kids’ effect, for young kids up to maybe 8 or 9 years old. It might play great for older kids, but I feel comfortable reserving it for the little ones.

DIFFICULTY OF PERFORMANCE: Although this is close to a “push button” prop, you’ll still need to put in some serious rehearsal time. The technical needs of the effect is not great but timing is a bit of an issue as you’ll be doing one thing with your right hand and something else with your left and the timing of each must be very smooth for the effect to look as magical as Peter makes it look on his demo video. I’d say the technical needs are basically a 1, but to really make it look magical, I spent about an hour a day for 10 days really smoothing this out.

EFFECT ON AUDIENCE: This really is a stunner. The first time I did it for a group of 200 or so kids, they just sat there, baffled. For the second performance, I altered my script and built up the effect so the kids were expecting it as it happens so fast. After the second show, a repeat client, who had seen my show about two weeks prior, noticed the addition of this effect and specifically sought out to tell me how impossible it was. In short, it got a great response.

MORE THOUGHTS: Peter has great customer service! During rehearsals, I was having trouble with the prop and a few minutes after emailing him, he emailed back with a solution. (Turns out I wasn’t setting it up quite right.) I LOVE great customer service!

FINAL VERDICT: What can I say? This plays well for small or large groups, can be done surrounded and is well-made. It’s not a show-closer, but I don’t think it’s meant to be. I’ll give this a rock-solid 9.

NEXT WEEK: Bill Abbott’s Celebrity Smart Ass! Stay tuned!

Best,

Cris Johnson