★★☆☆☆ (As many of you will know, I don’t typically include stars, but the director of this film requested them, so, here they are!)
Anson’s Magic is a film that the director, writer, producer, star and sometimes even the cinematographer of the film, Anson D’Costa, sent to me a few weeks ago. D’Costa explained to me how his film focused on magic and that it had been directed quite recently within his home, and that it was about a magic competition. He also explained that he had been learning magic to prepare for the film, which I found interesting, and that it was a family effort as his mother had stepped in as cinematographer during scenes that Anson himself was unable to shoot, due to being in the shot.
And, as much as it pains me to say it, I just didn’t get along with this film much at all. Some elements of it are admittedly charming – there is something to the low budget antics that occur in Anson’s Magic that made me smile quite a lot throughout, and there is no doubt that his intentions, told just before the credits, to try to inspire people (particularly teenagers) to follow their dreams are noble… but as a film, it just falls apart.
The first thing that confused me when I sat down to watch the film was the odd autotune placed on Anson’s narration over the visuals. I’m still not sure why this was added – whether it was to serve as a way to make him feel more like a presenter as opposed to a mere mortal, or if perhaps he was inspired by Kanye West’s use of autotune in his music as a way to experiment with sound and make it more interesting. I really couldn’t tell you – it remained confusing every time the narration occurred, and a clear reason is never really given.
I have also spoken endlessly of my love for modern digital cinematography, particularly phone cinematography since seeing how its use in more mainstream films such as Sean Baker’s Tangerine and more recently Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane and High Flying Bird has also come in to influence personal friends of mine and millions of filmmakers to make their own films shot on their phones to follow. But… the thing with phone cinematography is that you need to be careful with how you light it, and so here some shots are blurred or information isn’t visible to the audience, such as the poster in the early sequences – the camera lingers on this poster for almost two entire minutes and I still couldn’t make out a word as the brightness was too high on the second phone, so from the very beginning of the film I was missing what I have to assume were key plot elements.
The editing also lets the film down somewhat. Some of the ‘magic tricks’ are really quite poorly hidden edits, which is a shame seeing as the film really hinges on the magic being slick and the process for each trick remaining hidden to the audience. Some of them work better than others, but for the most part you can see exactly how the trick has been executed – often, something is placed in front of the camera, Anson places his hand over the object and then jump-cuts to a blank shot, having moved the object and then cut that out in post. Considering that this is a film about how good of a magician the main character is, I was never really impressed by any of the tricks at all, being able to spot exactly how they had been done without even thinking much on it. And there is so much excess footage that could be cut to make the film more seamless.
What hurts the film even more is the character of Anson. I’m sure that, in reality, Anson is a wonderful guy, and he struck me as wholesome in our conversations together, but his character here is given very little material to make him interesting to the audience. His narration tends to focus on the magic or on the competition, and thus, his only character trait is his interest in magic and his desire to win the competition – he is given very little else, as often we only see his hands as he goes his magic tricks, sometimes going for more than five minutes without seeing him at all.
The film just feels so thrown together. And I know that it was made by only two people in lockdown, but so were great films like Mike Thorn’s and Sophy Romvari’s Some Kind of Connection from last year, so there is no reason really to excuse this film for being sloppy with most of its formal elements. This film just feels… thrown together, for lack of a better term. Even the royalty free music that is used (no problem with royalty free music – I’ve used it before some years ago for projects, but finding the right song is important!) is used so repetitively that by the end I grew tired of hearing the same instrumental looped over the magic tricks even faster than I grew tired of the actual magic. The songs themselves aren’t bad or anything, but their repeated use soon makes them grating.
Also, it’s just too long. The story is introduced instantly, and seeing as there is little to be known about Anson as a character, and no other characters are seen at any point, it soon becomes less interesting. Again, the lockdown restrictions certainly don’t help, but the premise could easily be changed. Anson seems to be one hugely ambitious individual, prepared to try anything, and this film may prove to be a case whereby his ambitious attitude has made him stumble slightly. I hope he is able to take some of what I have said here and put it into his next project. As filmmakers, we all make mistakes – it is all about what we learn from them and what we apply to our future projects that prove our talent. I’ve certainly seen worse, as this is consistently amusing and charming, but there are so many issues with the form here that they can’t be ignored.