Monthly archives for September, 2011

A Great Peter Loughran Prop and REVIEW: The Magic Square by Luis de Matos DVD

Howdy!

Cris Johnson here. Before I get to this week’s a review, a few notes.

First, the next issue of “Cause & Effects” will be going out in a day or so. I’m trying to get it written early as next week’s schedule is CRAZY busy. It’s going to be about an “insurance policy” that no professional magician should be without. If you’ve not signed up yet, shoot me an email: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Secondly, I’ve been rehearsing my Salt Pour routine all summer in preparation for the fall. Like Paul Romhany, I feel that the salt gimmick provided with Scott Alexander’s Sugar Rush is the BEST on the market.

As much as I like the gimmick and routine, I wanted to add some punch to the routine, so I invested in Peter Loughran’s Superior Salt Pour Platform. In a nutshell, it ROCKS! The entire audience LOVED it. If you haven’t read up on it and you want your salt pour routine to end with a kick, check it out. I LOVE it.

On to this week’s review…The Magic Square by Luis de Matos DVD. It’s available for $35.00 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/product_detail.cfm?item=18603

AD COPY: A professional Magic Square routine from the repertoire of Luis de Matos. Members of the audience call out numbers at random. Unbelievably, from these the performer is able to construct a perfect magic square. All the columns, rows, diagonals and corners add up to the same number. Not only that but this number was chosen by a spectator just a few moments earlier. No formulas. No memory work. An incredible mind boggling routine for the professional worker.

Instructional DVD includes performance footage. Bonus Feature: Luis de Matos’ handling of the Instant Magic Square for impromptu work.

WHAT YOU GET: You receive the DVD as well as pdf files for the artwork necessary for the routine. You also receive a couple of little gimmicks for the impromptu version.

REVIEW OF THE AD COPY: The wording of the ad copy is very precise in that de Matos walks the line carefully without revealing too much and without (too much) building up the hopes of the performer. The claim of the number being the same as the number chosen by the spectator is accurate. The spectator is allowed to choose a number from a very large field, so while they can’t name ANY number, it’s also not a choice of two numbers, equivoque or anything like that.

Also, the line about “constructing the square from numbers called out by the audience” is accurate to a point…it is POSSIBLE to do that, but if certain numbers are not called out, well, it then turns into a bit of a bluff.

DVD QUALITY: This is outstanding in terms of production quality. de Matos did not shortcut the production as this looks very Hollywood-y.:)

My only quibble is that after each segment it goes back to the main menu. I couldn’t find a ‘play all’ feature. Not a big deal, but a preference of mine.

As far as the DVD quality of teaching, de Matos does a superior job of teaching. My only experience of watching him was his performance on “The World’s Greatest Magic” specials many years ago. (He did a linking rubber bands effect and two mirror effects.) I take that back – I also spotted a youtube video of his rendition of “Sands of Egypt,” which was very nice.

After watching the DVD, I had zero questions and had no doubt I could put this into my show – a good sign of a good teacher.

DIFFICULTY: Here’s where this routine really shines. It’s dead-ass easy. If you can see, speak and hold a pen, you can do this routine. There are ZERO calculations. If you’re truly looking for an easy version to use, this is it. There’s a teeny bit of spectator management, but nothing major whatsoever. In terms of ease of presentation, I believe this is the new gold standard.

MY THOUGHTS: I experimented with a couple of different methods for doing a magic square 5 or so years ago. I used John Archer’s basic presentation (which focused on speed) but found his actual method a bit lacking as there were a couple of calculations (more accurately comparisons!) one had to do in order to determine which square to use. This was John’s way of handling the “Why are four of the numbers so frickin’ BIG” problem that so many easy magic square methods have.

The actual method I used was Chuck Hickook’s, out of his first “Mentalism, Inc.” book. The calculations were extremely easy, but you had “Big F’in Four Number” syndrome.

I eventually put away the magic square, as it did not fit into my preferred corporate show, “Murder By Magic.”

With de Matos’ method and presentational possibilities, I am considering putting this into a high school or middle school show as the entire process is very interactive. I like how the spectator chooses a number which will ultimately be THE number. de Matos’ “Lucky Number” presentation is pretty good, although in my mind it ‘springboarded’ an idea of my own!

Finally, the business of having spectators call out numbers, while not entirely true, still does a grand job of keeping the magic square interactive, and at a quicker pace, as many square presentations were just too slow for my tastes. (Keep in mind that I like the overall effect and have used it several times.)

The true beauty of de Matos’ method is the fact that (to emphasize once again) there are ZERO calculations and that he’s solved the “Big F’in Four Numbers” problem.

As a sidebar, the method of hiding the square formula for the impromptu handling is very cute, too.:)

Overall, I feel this is very strong. About the only quibbles I have is the fact that the aspect of having the spectators call out the numbers is not as pure as I’d like and you do have to bring some additional materials with you. In other words, this is not a “Bring the board and you’re ready to go” presentation – there are a few more props to consider. It’s not a huge drawback to me – I’m a prop hound – but I’m betting that many ‘minimalist’ mentalists will be slightly turned off. I hope I’m wrong, because de Matos has made a very manageable Magic Square method, allowing you to concentrate on presentation.

I’m further willing to bet there will be mentalists out there who scoff at the notion that not doing ANY mental calculations means you’re not a mentalist. Kind of like those guys who feel that without ‘risk,’ the possibility that something could go wrong, you’re not really a mentalist.

To them I say, hogwash – I’m paid to succeed!

RATING: Very strong – 9 out of 10.

Until next time…email questions, concerns, etc to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Congradulations to Paul & Natalie & REVIEW: Freefal DVD by Andrew Mayne

Wow! Those are some CUTE pics! If you haven’t done so already, check out the new pictures of Paul & Natalie Romhany’s new baby on Paul’s blog.

I can’t express how happy I am for Paul & Natalie, as having a child is certainly something they’ve wanted for some time. I’m so happy for them!

Of course, me being the sadistic bugger that I am, I gleefully told Paul to expect a lot of sleepless nights.:)

Important Note: Next month’s “Cause & Effects” newsletter will feature an important article on how I avoid disaster TWICE at a recent show! It’s going to be an important read! If you’ve not signed up, send me an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

One feature I plan on doing from time to time is updating readers on how new effects that I’ve reviewed are faring in my actual shows. As much as possible I try to review items backed by real world experience, so if I have not really performed the item yet when I review it, I will touch upon my success/lack of success with the item once it finally sees the light of day in terms of performance. I mention all of this because as many of you know, I am not a magic collector. I have nothing against those who are, but I make my living with this stuff, so that’s my perspective when I do a review – will it ‘fly’ in the real world?

With that in mind, here are a few updates….

I’ve had the opportunity to perform “Shoe Business” and the reactions have been great. This is still the front runner to be my pick for the best release of 2011 (bearing in mind my review column is hardly all-inclusive of new effects)

I also recently performed “Slingshot” and I’m pleased to say the reactions were also good.
In October, at a public show, I’ll be debuting Bobby Motta’s “Lethal,” and Bobby & his wife Alana are coming to the show!! Can you say PRESSURE, LOL?

On to this week’s review….it’s “Freefall,” by Andrew Mayne. It’s available for $14.95 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/product_detail.cfm?item=12830

EFFECT: Make bricks, bowling balls, fish bowls even a hot cup of coffee appear from nowhere!

Here’s the AD COPY: Make bricks, bowling balls, fish bowls even a hot cup of coffee appear from nowhere!

Andrew Mayne presents his innovative technique for making impossible and unwieldy objects appear from impossible places.

Bowling Ball – An updated handling on Andrew’s Bowling Ball from Shopping Bag effect that makes a great show opener or closer. Includes Andrew’s new handling and technique that makes this a portable, practical illusion you’ll want to make a part of your show.

Brick – Make a heavy brick appear from an empty lunch bag and drop it literally at your audience’s feet. This never-seen-before effect allows you to create a huge impact up close or onstage when you produce a real brick under the most challenging conditions.

Fish Bowl – Make a fish bowl appear complete with real fish! Use it as part of an Aerial Fishing routine or use the bowl to produce giveaway items or anything else you want.

Home Brew – This is Andrew’s almost impromptu method for making a hot cup of coffee appear. It makes a great ice break or fun effect to do at the coffee house.

Freefall is an easy to perform effect that’s almost impromptu in its simplicity. You can use it onstage with a bowling ball or up close with a brick you can leave as a souvenir. It’s got multiple applications including one that’s right for your show.

WHAT YOU GET: A nicely produced 20 minute DVD.

QUALITY OF DVD: The DVD is well produced, as are most of Andrew’s DVDs. It’s not a hollywood production, but then it doesn’t need to be. The picture and angles are just fine for what Andrew explains.

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: Andrew is a good teacher and despite my misgivings about many of his effects, I’ll be the first to say he teaches his material well. I had zero questions after watching this.

ANGLES: The angles for this are pretty good. If you’ve got audience members are your sides, you’ll need to ‘pull back’ in terms of where you perform this. I think of the angles are very similar to Kevin James’ bowl-A-Rama or a classic Zombie routine with many of the fancier moves.

DIFFICULTY: Freefall is not difficult to perform, but the biggest challenge is your acting ability, acting as though the bag you are picking up is light as a feather. Some of it is in the physical handling while a lot of it is also in your attitude.

MY THOUGHTS: I bought this DVD primarily for my teen shows. For years, my standard opener to most of my teen shows has been the afore-mentioned Bowl-A-Rama and I’ve been looking for a suitable effect to use for repeat audiences, without much success. (Performers experienced with teen audiences know how discerning this age group can be.)

I prefer to open with a bang, something fast with little or no talking, to quickly establish I am worth paying attention to.

Bowl-A-Rama works great, so I reasoned that Freefall could be the answer I was looking for. With that in mind, I like this DVD but I don’t love it. The main reason is because you cannot show the bag empty before the appearance. To me, this is a problem, but I will freely admit I have not yet had the opportunity to actually perform this yet. There’s a good chance that it could simply be a matter of my “magician’s guilt” or something ike that.

This effect is practical and in particular I really like the fishbowl production and I feel that if any of the effects on the DVD can overcome the one flaw I pointed out, it’s that effect, because manipulating water is so magical.

I’ll give this a solid 7.5 out of 10. I’ve been pretty harsh in my distain for a lot of the stuff Mayne has put out, but I feel this has real possibilities. I’ll keep you updated.

Until next week, send all questions to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net

Google Struggles and REVIEW: Winning Numbers by Paul Romhany

Hi Everyone,

This week’s blog will be shorter than most…I’m in the middle of the busiest part of my year, the beginning of school here in the U.S.! Add to that that I’m in the middle of getting certified for a specialized form of clinical hypnosis and I am just crushed!

Well, my new blog, Professional Magic Tips, is gone already. Long story short, I got into a dispute with Google and anytime anyone gets into a dispute with Google…they lose.:) Grrrrr, Hulk frustrated! (Okay, my nerd-ness is showing!!)

I do want to take this opportunity to clear something up, too – I will be continuing my “Cause & Effects” monthly free ezine. My regular readers love it as each month I write one long form article on performing philosophy, the business side of magic and other topics. I also reveal true ‘road stories’ to give readers a glimpse of my life as a full time pro. Sign up for free at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

On to this week’s review: Winning Numbers by Paul Romhany. It’s available for just $20.00 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the ad copy: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/product_detail.cfm?item=18310

EFFECT: The idea of predicting raffle ticket numbers, chosen at random by audience members, can be found in 13 Steps to Mentalism. However, the original method required an offstage assistant. For the past twenty years, Paul has been developing, and performing his version of this amazing effect, without the need for an offstage assistant.

This one person routine is easy to perform, and like all of Paul’s work, is taken from real-world working situations. The method is highly practical, and so easy to perform, you can put this to your act straight away.

Paul explains THREE different versions of this routine that he has been performing on cruise ships, private functions and trade shows. Additional tips are included by Wayne Rogers and TC Tahoe, both of whom have now added Winning Numbers to their own repertoire.

Effect One: A prediction is handed out to an audience member at the beginning of the show. At anytime during the performance, a bowl of two hundred tickets are handed out, with three spectators each choosing their own ticket. The prediction is then read out, and the winning numbers match the ticket numbers chosen by the spectators.

Effect Two: A prediction with three raffle tickets inside is given to an audience member to hold. A bowl of raffle tickets is handed out and three different audience members each take one ticket. The three prediction tickets match the numbers of the three random tickets chosen by the spectators.

Effect Three: A large envelope is hanging on stage. A bowl or raffle tickets is passed through the audience with five people each taking one out, and looking at the numbers on their tickets. The envelope is opened by an audience member, and a large piece of paper with raffle ticket numbers is read out, they match the ticket numbers chosen by the five spectators.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: One Softcover, Perfect bound book with Black and White photos

INSTRUCTION: As usual with Paul, he teaches the effects in the book very well. One of the reasons I sometimes give the effect I’m reviewing a less than perfect score is because of the way the effect is or is not properly taught. Let’s face it, not everyone is a great writer. Paul explains his effects very clearly.

DIFFICULTY: None of the effects are difficult from a sleight of hand perspective. That’s often the case with mentalism, which often relies on psychology and subtly rather than physical technique. The handling here is well within everyone’s reach.

The second version of the basic effect requires a bit more set up than the first version, so when I perform this, I’ll be using the first version. You may feel differently.

ANGLES: Like many mentalism effects, the angles are good. The second version probably has more angle challenges than the other two, but again, this is a stage effect and as long as no one is behind you for version one and two, you will be able to hide what you need to hide. Version three is something you can do surrounded.

MY THOUGHTS: I have been criticized on that magic forum about handing out too many 10 scores. Just off the top of my head, here are products that did not receive a 10:

Real Ghost
Slingshot
Cellular Mitosis
CM2 by Docc Hilford
Russian Roulette by Larry Becker
Mad Scientist by Peter Loughran
Thread DVD
Multiplying Bottles DVD
Stretching the TruthDead Rap
Spirit Bell by Tim Wisseman
Bewildering Blocks by Jay leslie

There’s many more but that’s just off the top of my head. I’m being defensive about this because I’m giving this product a 10. Here’s why…

1. The product’s ad description is accurate. No hyperbole. I believe that the idea of using raffle tickets in the show as motivation is a nice hook because we all like to win prizes. So the theme is strong.

2. Methodology is strong. Paul gives credit where due, as the methods are not 100% original with him. The methods are sound and the third version in particular is drastically different from the first two in terms of how it’s done.

3. Theatrical – The way the prediction itself is introduced and finally revealed is not only fun but attention-getting for versions one and two. I’m not going to get into specifics, but this is something i WILL use, which is a big deal as it takes a GREAT routine to crack my own starting lineup in any set list I have.

If you’re looking for something amazingly original, this may not be for you. So many of us, myself included, fall prey to the allure of the next cool thing. I’m not one of those guys who feels everything old is all you need – I think alot of the old stuff in Tarbell and Corrinda (for example) is great BUT it needs to be drastically updated. Many working pros don’t have the time or desire – that’s me. I’ll buy the method and work out the scripting myself.

If you want three versions of a highly entertaining prediction routine that are theatrical and practical, this book is for you. 10 out of 10.

Questions? Comments? Email me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net

That Magic Forum, a NEW Blog and REVIEW: Fish In A Bottle

Hi-yo,

Before I get to this week’s review, I want to quickly echo my friend Paul Romhany’s words last week regarding the negativity in magic. There’s a certain magic forum out there which is a cancer to the art form. Avoid it if you really want to grow as a magical artist and performer.

As a sidebar on this topic, I got “thumped” by a few people regarding the perfect 10 scores I give out. With that in mind, here’s a quick review of how I score tricks, books etc….

1. I judge it on the quality. Will it fall apart? Is it well-made?

2. Instructions – is the product explained well? Is it easy to understand how to perform it?

3. Does it do what it claims in the ad?

4. Is it workable in the real world? I’m a real world pro and an effect for “special occasions” does not hold much interest to me.

5. Angles – an effect that has nasty angles will often get a lower score as it relates to #4.

Let’s take Paul Romhany’s Briefcase Illusion last week. I gave it a 10 because it’s practical for the real world. Also, it fooled the hell out of me when I watched the video. The instructions to construct the prop are crystal clear. The book is well-produced so the quality is extremely high. I’ve seen it in action, so I know the ad copy is accurate.

Does this mean it’s the perfect effect? No, as ‘the perfect effect’ will differ from performer to performer. What rocks my world may not rock yours…for instance, as a stage guy, I could not care less if something is “examinable” in most cases. Why? A stage guy usually does not have time to allow things to be examined as it slows the pace of the show.

In the example of the Briefcase Illusion, for a stage illusion, the angles are perfect (depending on how you use it) and since Paul teaches you how to construct it so it packs flat, it’s extremely practical for the real world.

With that being said, it’s a big effect so a birthday performer will not have use for it.

Still, for the realm in which it was created, the Briefcase Illusion IS a 10 out of 10 based on my parameters.

I’m also very fussy what I buy, so since I’ve researched something before I perform it, chances are I know it will fit my needs.

The other thing I want to announce is my NEW blog, www.ProfessionalMagicTips.com! This blog is a FREE blog that covers magic, mentalism, performing philosophy and much more. It’s an off-shoot of my Cause & Effects newsletter but this blog will be updated at LEAST once a week, usually more than that. Be sure to check it out for marketing tips, guest articles, road stories, sound system tips, equipment tips, travel tips and much more!

With that out of the way, here’s this week’s review: Fish In A Bottle by Dick Barry. It’s available for $75.00 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the ad link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/product_detail.cfm?item=15927

AD: Fish in a Bottle by Dick Barry, its another Hocus Pocus exclusive!

A plastic water bottle is shown to contain only clear water. The cap on the bottle is secured tightly so nothing can enter the bottle.

You state the bottle contains an “INVISIBLE FISH”. The bottle is handed to a spectator to hold. The spectator is asked to confirm that he/she can only see clear water in the bottle.
You drape a black silk over the bottle, STILL HELD by the SPECTATOR. Tell the spectator if they say, “I believe in magic” the fish will APPEAR. Once that is said, you slowly pull the silk from the bottle. What was once a bottle containing only water now has a BEAUTIFUL LIVE GOLDFISH swimming around inside the bottle. (What makes this such a wonderful effect is that the magic happens close-up in the spectator’s hand.)

NO MAGNETS OR MIRROR TYPE GIMMICKS ARE USED.

The bottle can be seen up-close BEFORE and EVEN EXAMINED after the performance.

No sleight-of-hand involved.

No harm to the fish!

Learn in minutes!

Comes with the bottle, black silk, special gimmicks and completed instruction, including color photographs.

Furnish your own fish. A truly memorable magic effect your audience will always remember.

WHAT YOU GET: Full-color illustrated instructions, the bottle, extra gimmicks, a black silk.

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: The instruction is rock-solid and there are even care instructions for the fish, in particular the Siamese Fighting Fish, which Barry claims would be a good choice for the effect. Having owned several of these fish in my lifetime, I can attest to the fact that they are very beautiful and quite hardy as well.

The effect is simple to perform and looks EXACTLY as the demo video claims. There is no deception so that’s nice.

ANGLES: This is the rare effect that can be done surrounded, as long as the spectators are a couple of feet away from you. An extemely observant spectator might spot “something” in the handling, but only if they literally had their head resting on your shoulder! Realistically, you’ve gotten nothing to worry about here.

MARKETS: It’s the production of a live fish, so I’m going to go out on a limb and claim this could be done for ANY age group. I myself used to produce a fish using a different method years ago and I can tell you that causing a live fish to appear magically is very arresting for any audience.

QUALITY OF PROPS: This prop is supplied in a protective cardboard mailing tube, similar to how I transport my Clearview Airborne. Good decision, as any plastic water bottle needs protecting if it will last. The rest of the supplied props are good quality. No complaints here.

MY THOUGHTS: This almost a perfect effect as the use of the bottle and the workings of the effect allow you to use a larger fish than traditional methods of producing the fish. Since the fish can be bigger, the effect can play to a bigger audience. This is happy news.:)

I say this is “almost” a perfect effect but the fact is, before the fish makes his appearance, the little guy is OUT of water til the magic moment. Barry assures users that the fish will be fine for a few minutes and while he’s technically correct, it does mean the fish is NOT happy. Since I’m a big proponent of protecting the living critters we use in a show and seeing to their comfort, I must take a little off of the score.

This feature also limits the effect to an opening effect only. I love the effect, the video looks great, and it can be performed surrounded….but the fish being out of water til the big moment does in fact make me hesitate in giving this effect a perfect score. 8 out of 10….so close!

Until next week, be sure to bookmark www.ProfessionalMagicTips.com and visit it early and often!