Desperate Acts of Magic (2013) – By Duane L. Martin

Back in 2007, I reviewed a film from Joe Tyler Gold called Never Say Macbeth, which I absolutely loved. I really wanted to see more from him and his incredibly talented cohorts, but alas, in all the time between now and then, there’s been nothing. That is, until now. I was recently contacted and asked to review Joe’s latest film, Desperate Acts of Magic, and of course, I jumped at the chance.

Jason (Joe Gold) has a crappy job that he never really wanted working with databases. He even told his boss straight up when he got hired for the job that his real dream was to become a professional magician someday. Well, after an embarrassing incident during a meeting in which Jason was rolling a coint around his fingers and accidentally ended up flipping it into the cleavage of a co-worker, his boss finally lets him go and encourages him to go after his dream since that’s where his head is really at anyway.

After packing up his desk, he’s on his way out to his car when he comes across a guy running a shell game with a blond girl supposedly being duped. When Jason interferes and exposes the gag, he not only gets his money ripped off, but the girl steals his wallet as well. As if his day couldn’t get any worse.

Jason’s best friend Steve (Jonathan Levit), a serious womanizer who’s made it big in magic, passes a party job he doesn’t want to Jason to get him back into the magic game, while at the same time, the blond who stole his wallet calls him and asks him out to dinner. Her name is Stacy (Valerie Dillman), and as it turns out, the two of them were at magic camp together back in the day, and she had at one time made it big in magic thanks her to relationship with another big time magician who produced and supported her shows. That is, until they broke up, and then her fame disappeared and he left her along the wayside.

Now, with a magic competition coming up, Jason is encouraged to enter. He wants Stacy to be his assistant / partner, but she’s incensed by the lack of respect women get in magic and especially the assistants and refuses, and even though Jason re-writes the act to give the assistant the funny lines and the upper hand, she refuses to even look at it. That leaves Jason with only one other option. His buddy Steve met this really annoying, clingy girl at one of his shows when he asked her on stage during one of his tricks. She tracked him down as he and Jason were leaving a magic store, and claims she’s an actress (and a stalker apparently), so Jason ends up asking her to be his assistant. Stacy however, also enters the competition with her own solo act. So what happens? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out, because there’s no point in reading a film. Films are for watching.

I was really excited about reviewing this one. I loved Never Say Macbeth so much several years ago when I reviewed it that I just knew this one was going to be great as well…and I was right.

Joe Gold, when you watch him in a film, seems like just sort of an everyman sort of a guy. He has dreams but is unsure about whether he should pursue them or not. He comes off as the sort of a guy that is just infinitely likeable and someone you’d want to have as a friend. This makes whatever film he’s in more enjoyable, just for a start. Now throw in a bunch of other really likeable people, a few that aren’t so likeable that you can’t help but like anyway, a great script and an incredible amount of talent, and you have an amazingly enjoyable film that will make you wonder why there aren’t more films like this out there.

One of the things that makes this film extra special is the fact that Joe Gold, in addition to being a writer, actor, director, etc…, is also an actual magician in real life who has worked over five hundred children’s parties as well as participating in numerous magic competitions. So you can see why he would want to write a film that included these aspects of his life. However, it’s about a whole lot more than just him. There are a LOT of very talented magicians doing real magic in this film. By real magic, I mean real magicians doing their thing as opposed to resorting to CGI fakery.

As for the story, it feels as though it were written for the characters, rather than the having the characters written for the story, if that makes sense. What does that mean? Well it means that it feels like you could take these characters and write other stories around them, using them as the foundation, whereas if you took this particular story and filled it with similar but different characters, it just wouldn’t work, or at least not as well.

The performances in the film ranged from great to stellar. The relationships were believable and especially with the unpredictable character of Stacy, you never really knew what she was going to end up doing. Valerie Dillman really made the character feel as unpredictable as it was supposed to be. You never knew if the next thing that was said to her was going to piss her off or make her happy, and she has a penchant for doing things without telling others, which made the character even more unpredictable.

I do think Sascha Alexander as the stalkerish fan turned magic assistant turned scorned girlfriend Stella did just an incredible job with her character and was probably the most fun character in the film. Maybe not the silliest character, which I would have to give to Stephen Wastell playing a gothy, Chriss Angel type of a magician who called himself The Raven, but definitely the most fun. Sasha, with her character, managed to be just super cute, funny, annoying, irritating and likeable all at the same time. She felt like the kind of crazy girlfriend your buddies all seem to have had at one time or another, and yet, you really kinda want to have her for your own girlfriend in a strange sort of a way, even though you know she’d be a complete pain to live with. Sascha took a character that was written to be that way, and brought it to life in a way that few could have. You just can’t help but smile as you watch her on the screen.

The cast also has some other very recognizable faces from film and television. John Getz plays Don Tarzia, the guy who’s running the magic competition and is generally more concerned with appearance than he is with selecting the best people for the show. He’s also secretly frustrated and sort of trapped by how resistant to change the magic society has become, which has caused him to become somewhat cynical. Another face you may find very recognizable from the wide variety of cop shows he’s appeared in on television is Jordi Caballero, who plays Arnie, the shell game guy. He’s got that slick, Miami sleeze sort of a feel to him that’s just perfect for this sort of a role. I suggest that in addition to seeing the film, you head on over to the website and check out their cast page. There’s a lot more people on there you might recognize from their various film and television roles. Joe Gold may not make feature films often, but when he does, he really knows how to select a cast.

I could go on and on about how great this film is, but you get the idea. If you love independent film, and you want to see one of the best examples of how great it can be, pick yourself up a copy of Desperate Acts of Magic, which can be purchased through the website and will be released on September 10, 2013. The DVD comes with audio commentary, a deleted scene, a behind the scenes slideshow and the film’s trailer. There’s also a poster available, and for anyone who sells films retail, you can purchase a 10 pack of the film at a wholesale price.

The key point here is that this is what independent film looks like when it’s done right, and Joe Gold, along with Tammy Caplan, who also had a small part in the film and who served as his co-director, co-producer and co-editor, have put together something that can be held up as an example to other independent film makers. Great job you guys. Now, let’s just not go so long in between this film and the next.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s website at http://www.desperateactsofmagic.com. You can find out all about the film, see the trailer, and grab a copy for yourself while you’re there.