Friday, May 13, 2011

The magic of J. Clay Tweel's MAKE BELIEVE comes from its talented and youthful stars

TrustMovies didn’t even think he liked magic acts – until he saw the sweet little documentary MAKE BELIEVE, in which half a dozen young contestants – supposedly among the best teen-age magicians in the world (you’ll believe this when you see them perform) -- vie for first place in the magic industry’s annual Teen World Competition. From the film’s first scene, as a young man on a bus does a card trick involving the bus window, we’re pretty much hooked. Divided roughly into quarters, the film first introduces us to the six contestants; we spend time watching them train, and then are present at the big-deal championship in Las Vegas; finally, we view a kind of "where-are-they-now?" postscript.

The documentary is relatively artless: just here-they-are, and here’s-their-act. But within this framework, the film’s director J. Clay Tweel (shown at right) and writer Cleven S. Loham introduce us to some really interesting kids from around the world whom we greatly enjoy. This is due partly, I think, to the fact that they are so unlike most teens we see today. Solely focused on their joy – magic – that they practice to the exclusion of nearly every-thing else, they’re the ultimate outsiders, it would seem, almost by choice.

Beautiful blond from Malibu, Krystyn Lambert (above, she’s 17), seems to be a bit of control freak – but a polite one, at least. She’s gorgeous, smart and focused – yet a little odd, just as are all our magicians. Derek McKee (below, from Littleton, Colorado) is, at 14, the youngest of the bunch, and also the sweetest. A cute, wide-eyed “other” who lives and breathes magic, he is mentored by a couple of smart former magicians.

We travel to Japan to meet Hiroki Hara (below, he's 18), the only one of the bunch not to have a mentor. Completely self-taught (with the help of some books), he lives in a gorgeous mountain area with his parents, cut off from most society. Not surprisingly, he uses nature as a big part of his act.

In Chicago we meet Bill Koch (pronounced ‘cook’). Shown below, at 19, he is both the oldest and the most professional of the bunch. If he occasionally seems a little slick, there’s no denying how good he and his act really are. Koch comes from a family of strivers, and it shows.

Last is a pair from Cape Town, South Africa: Siphiwe Fangase (below, right) and Nkumbzo Nkouyama (left,) both 18 and full of life and spirit, who have studied at a South African academy of magic. Watching these two entertain the village children and hearing them speak of magic as a way around the usual S.A. teen-age drugs-and-crime thing, is both heartening and sad.

As the kids prepare, we even get a little insight in to how a trick or two is accomplished. (Not completely, though – that’s against the magician’s code of honor, right?) As they train for Vegas, problems appear, and we wonder how each contestant will surmount his/hers. The actual competition includes a couple of acts/contenders we haven’t yet seen but we wish we had.

Interestingly, the winners turn out pretty along the lines that yours-truly had expected. See if you can judge as well. For once, what you see seems remarkably close to what you get --- which is not always true of sporting events (to which this magic competition seems quite similar). In the final quarter we learn the “afterward” of the lives of each. All in all, this one’s a homemade but very charming/caring documentary that had me thinking better of magicians in generals – especially when they’re still kids who have guts and gumption to spare. Make Believe opens today at the Cinema Village in New York City. Click here to see theaters and dates for further screenings in Chicago and Los Angeles.

No comments: