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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

MAKE BELIEVE -- DVD review by porfle

Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by magicians.  When they're good, it's amazing.  When they're bad, it's funny--and you can see how the tricks are done when they fumble them.  The documentary MAKE BELIEVE (2010) doesn't fumble, and neither do the magicians it introduces us to, because the emphasis here is excellence.  Or rather, the beginning of excellence, since the subjects here are teens still aspiring to win their first major magic competition.

Each of these fiercely ambitious kids has a dream of performing magic for a living and have dedicated their lives to this.  Before we've even gotten a look at their stage acts, we see them doing close-up sleight-of-hand that is near flawless, particularly the stuff Hiroki Hara does with playing cards.  A humble and sensitive boy from the Japanese countryside, Hiroki is such a master of the two-handed circle fan and other difficult tricks that other magicians look on in awe.

Blonde California girl Krystyn Lambert, the quintessential Malibu Barbie type, is a control freak who excels in school while aspiring to be the Britney Spears of magic.  Not quite as driven but equally talented, 14-year-old Derek McKee works in a magic shop in Colorado where his mentors tutor him and try to hone his will to succeed along with some of the weaker points in his presentation.

South African friends Siphiwe Fangase and Nkumbozo Nkonyana incorporate their love of soccer into their comedic two-man act along with their endearingly boyish personalities.  And Chicago's Bill Koch, at 19 making his last try for the title of teen champ, is a husky, energetic go-getter who charges toward this goal with the giddy physicality of an athlete.  During the course of the film, we also get to see the effect of all this on the subjects' families and how, in most cases, an interest in magic has proven to be a decidedly positive influence in a number of ways.

Much of MAKE BELIEVE follows these six teens as they go about their daily lives, which for them includes hour after hour of intense training and practice.  Each credits magic with granting them easy entry into social situations--their almost impeccable sleight-of-hand skills make them instantly popular--yet much of their time is filled with solitary pursuits that isolate them from their peers.  Only when they get together with other young magicians do they feel like they really belong and are truly happy.  

When they and many other young hopefuls congregate in Las Vegas for master magician Lance Burton's World Magic Seminar and vie for the crown, they seem practically blissful in the presence of like company and starstruck at having Burton and other master magicians in their midst.  (This is especially true during a side trip to the Hollywood Hills' fabled Magic Castle.)  When the competition begins, we finally get to see them fully in their element--onstage, performing their long-practiced moves for an appreciative audience and going for the glory.  Most of them do well, some exceed even their own expectations, but one falters at a key moment during a relatively easy trick and faces crushing defeat.

The suspense is gripping but director J. Clay Tweel and writer Cleven S. Loham don't try to manipulate us in the way that a reality TV show would by manufacturing dramatic situations and pitting contestants against each other.  We simply watch events unfold in a realistic way that generates its own subtle drama and is inspirational without being cloying or overly sentimental.  Each of the film's six subjects is allowed to be him/herself and we feel as though we're getting a genuine look at who they are as we root for them to succeed.  And when the winner is announced, it's an engagingly heartfelt moment. 

The DVD From Firefly: Theater & Films and Level 22 is 16x9 with English 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Over an hour's worth of extras includes profiles of the six teen magicians, a "Masters of Magic" short featuring Lance Burton, Neil Patrick Harris, and other magicians, and an entertaining tutorial that teaches viewers how to perform ten magic tricks of varying difficulty. 

MAKE BELIEVE does a good job of helping us understand what's so magical about magic to those who practice it, while amazing us with some dazzling examples of the art by those who aspire to be tomorrow's stars.  Even when we know exactly how a trick is done, the inventiveness, skill, and audacity with which it's performed make it no less impressive.  And in this low-key, insightful, uplifting documentary, we get an idea of what drives certain people to dedicate their lives to creating illusions. 


wendoxia said...

i saw Make Believe at the LA FILM FESTIVAL, where it won best doc and for good reason!
This movie is a quiet little work of art.

Porfle Popnecker said...

Nice, I'll bet it was fun seeing it with an audience.

Anonymous said...

The writer of this review did an excellent job of critiquing the film. One of the best reviews I've read! Make Believe is a fantastic film and everyone should watch it!

Porfle Popnecker said...

Thanks, glad you enjoyed the review!