Sunday, June 23, 2013

Movie Review: Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

So at some point in the last year a geeky/nerdy "themed" cafe opened up in my current hometown and having gone there a few times now makes me extra sad that what can only be called "the nerd boom" (with how being nerdy has become a lot more mainstream than it ever has before, your milage may vary whether this is a good thing or not) only happened once I had gone off to college since I would have loved to have hung out and met people at this cafe when I was in high school. Of course this isn't going to stop me from hanging out at it for the next couple of months and while a friend and I were casting about for something to do she remembered that they also show indie films there and the one they were showing this week seemed kind of interesting so why not see an indie documentary about a famous magician?

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

Summary: Ricky Jay is a fantastic magician whose been preforming for years and along the way he's gotten a lot of help, and stories, from earlier pros.

The Good: This may sound a bit odd but my favorite part of this whole documentary was a rather short bit with a British journalist who had come to interview Ricky Jay as he was working with someone on a film (a different one than this I believe) and she summed up his personality rather well, the good and the bad of it. I was a bit surprised they had even included that part, usually when you see a documentary about a living person they don't outright state their flaws, but since this was a story about both Ricky Jay and about all the magicians he met it makes more sense and I plan on trying to find her article to read later on. What really makes this documentary work however is that it's clear that Ricky Jay is a fantastic magician, I've never heard of him so the documentary had to convince me on it's own but it did a great job and Ricky Jay also did a great job at showing why all his various mentors were so inspiring to him through all his various stories. He choose good stories, they were all the right length, the film didn't seem like it had too many or too few, this just felt like a well-thought out and produced documentary all around. 

The Bad: Even though this film was barely an hour and a half long it still felt a little long to me and I would have liked it to have been a little shorter. I'm not sure what I would have cut out since nothing felt superfluous, but it did seem to drag a little at times and I would have liked it if the pacing was a bit snappier. Other than that, since I'm not a stage magic aficionado I felt like some things, such as references and stories about quite a few magicians from the 20th century, went over my head. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but this isn't a film with a wide audience and while I do think it was good and people should see it if interested but if the initial summary or this review hasn't made you interested in it skip it and watch something that does have your attention instead.   

Production Values: Thankfully, unlike the last documentary I talked about, this one was competently done! There were two hiccups where the screen looked a bit weird during the film but, since these were at points when the film was showing some very very old footage I don't know if they were problems with the footage (which they decided to use anyway), a problem with the specific DVD used for this showing, or an encoding problem that affects all of the DVDs. In any case, while annoying both of those moments were short enough that it didn't draw me out of the film long. There were a couple of scenes which I would have filmed differently (tip, if you've been focusing on the same, unmoving subject for so long that you have to zoom both in and out to keep it interesting you probably need another camera angle to intersperse) but as I've said before, I'm fine if documentaries aren't super visually interesting and as it was this one worked just fine.

I'm giving this 3 out of 5 stars for being well done and worth seeing if it sounds interesting, and I'll probably remember it for a while since I've never seen a documentary about this before, but in the end it just wasn't for me and I found it a bit dull.