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A&E Home Video presents
"It's All Hallows' Eve. Seventy-nine years ago today, at 1:26 PM, Houdini died at the age of 52. I dedicate this episode to him, and in his memory I'm going to attempt an escape no human has ever tried. If I fail, I'll be cut into a million pieces."
DVD ReviewI have to say at the outset that I have always been into magic and magicians. As a kid, I went through a phase where I wanted to be a magician (ok, I still want to), and I spent a lot of time at Riley's Trick Shop, trading my allowance for a set of gimmicked cards or Chinese linking rings. And while that admission likely would have earned me a swirly from the schoolyard thugs, I kept it to myself, practicing store-bought tricks at home and performing for my polite but certainly bored parents.
Long gone are the days of the dashing, tuxedo-clad showmen, and in the past few decades we've had tweaks to the traditional precepts of magic from the likes of big names such as Doug Henning, David Copperfield, David Blaine and of course Penn and Teller. There have been a number of other, less successful re-inventors of the magical arts, and Criss Angel (aka Christopher Sarantakos) is the latest to have taken that leap into the realm of mainstream success, with his carefully calculated image of rock star/goth lord street magician. Angel's packaging of himself almost supercedes his talents (which by all appearances are impressive), and for his Mindfreak television series he has a spiffy metal theme song that he not so modestly sings/screams himself ("I am a mindfreak...") played over an opening montage that plays up his crafted persona.
So it regularly bums me that the opening of Angel's series is typically the best part of the show, and that what follows is just so much jittery editing and camera angles that seem to force the thought of more camera trickery than actual magic. I want to hope that's not really the case, but this Halloween special is no different, and while his closing handcuffed-in-a-coffin-about-be-fed-into-a-woodchipper escape is well done illusion with all of the expected Mindfreak twists, the rest of the material suffers from Angel's apparent addiction to a music video visual style that makes me want to shout "stop moving the f***ing camera so much!"
Over the course of 43 minutes, Angel—in between touting The Magic Castle and his brother's music store—visits with Korn's Jonathan Davis in a jive plug for their new album, which also includes a snippet of the single playing over the performance of a bit of closeup, and that whole sequence is just awkwardly staged and suspicious from the get go. An appearance by ex-Brady Bunch-er Christopher Knight and Adrianne (My Fair Brady) Curry being wowed by an ash-heavy card trick seems equally weird, because where Angel seems to be at his best is during his stuff in front of supposedly awed average joes. There's a lot of that here, but even a few of those just seem off somehow, as if the amazed reactions were done after the fact, though a mentalism bit in a store crowded with fans seems the most genuine.
Magic fans will appreciate seeing a class act like Johnny Thompson as one of Angel's "consultants", though his overwrought emoting during the woodchipper finale is nothing short of hilarious. Franz Harary is limited to introducing Angel prior to a version of the thread-the-swallowed-needles bit, and Joaquin Ayala takes part in an old school black-arts-style illusion that wouldn't necessarily fool a newborn, but it happens pretty quickly and is executed exceptionally well. Angel tosses in a how-to for the audience on a nice toothpick vanish, but then feels inclined to include a lamely staged visit to Houdini's gravesite, complete with more overdone dramatics and a corny levitating black rose.
Sure, he sometimes seems a little full of himself, but I like Criss Angel the performer. I just have trouble enduring Mindfreak, and this Halloween-themed episode is more of the same old same old herky jerkiness.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: Mindfreak: Halloween has been issued in 1.33:1, and the presentation is good-looking, certainly stronger than a typical standard cable signal. Overall it's kind of a hodgepodge, wit the sequences shot inside The Magic Castle carrying the warmest array of colors and deep blacks, while some of the on-location bits lack that same intensity. No apparent print defects or debris to be found, so aside from some occasionally soft edges, this one would rate a step or two above broadcast quality.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo mix that provides clear voice quality, but nothing especially overdone. The show's metal-esque theme song is about the only element that sounds large and beefy, with the rest of the content (most of it being a man-on-the-street approach) delivered in suitable, but very average ways.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Extras Review: The backcover—in addition to counting "interactive menus" as a feature—mentions the runtime as 96 minutes, but the main feature runs just 43, and it's the extra features where those additional phantom minutes come from. I suppose that's fitting for a magician, eh?
The two bonus episodes are entitled Uncut (21m:18s) and Up Close (21m:19s), and according to Angel's intro to each, they both promise "the craziest, most insane moments" from the Mindfreak series, along with some never-aired footage. If you already own the first season of Mindfreak, there isn't really much here that will be new, and this seems like nothing more than a couple of long commercials for the DVD set, if you look at it through cynical eyeballs.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsI have no problem buying into Angel's sometimes overblown goth/rock/whatever image, and I really do enjoy his approach to magic. My real problem is in the way the Mindfreak series—including this special—is constructed (in part Angel's fault, as he is listed as director). It's a dizzying pastiche of questionable camera angles and edits that try to be "edgy", but just constantly make me think I'm being bamboozled by post-production and stooges, and not magic.
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