In 10 Words or Less
The goth magician takes his act to TV
Loves: Criss Angel's live show, magic
Hates: Reality TV
For a birthday gift one year, my wife got us tickets to see Criss Angel's stage show, Mindfreak, at the World Theater in New York City. We had seen the poster in the windows plenty of times, and we commented on it, but I was surprised when she gave me the tickets. When we actually saw the show, we were even more surprised, as it was an outstanding experience that made us into instant fans of the performer and his ability to add drama and style to the world of magic.
This series takes Angel off his highly stylized stage and puts him on the street, not unlike the specials that made David Blaine famous. Cold readings and card tricks are just the beginning though, as Angel takes street magic to another level, performing the more impressive parts of his shows on a more intimate level, surrounded by witnesses. When he levitates a woman on a sidewalk or disappears from a garbage can held by onlookers, it's hard to figure out just how he pulled off the trick.
The up-close magic is often just foreplay for this series though, as Angel puts together bigger "demonstrations" like being buried alive, lifting cars and being set on fire. Not everything is about magic, as seen when he was hung from four hooks attached to a helicopter, an example of Angel's interest in the concept of mind over body. It may not always be magical, but there's always something unusual, built around a theme established in the overly dramatic opening scene.
That style is prevelent throughout the show, including the odd interstitials involving an unusual family in the desert. At times, Angel gets a bit too over the top, especially during the more death-defying stunts. Putting on the aren't-I-so-mysterious dead stare worked for Blaine, but Angel is a rock-n-roll magician. Thankfully, most of the time, he's rather down-to-earth and even funny.
One of the less interesting aspects of the show is the reality-TV style look at Angel's family, many of whom work as a part of his act. Apparently, this was an attempt to capture some of what worked for shows like "Family Business" and "Family Plot," which melded work and family. Thankfully, this side of the show, which is heavily apparent in the first few episodes, gets lighter with time, with just a few members of his posse shown regularly, including the ever-emotional brother J.D. and Angel's "girl" JoAnn. The show is called "Mindfreak" not "Mindfreak and Friends."
Of the first 15 episodes' stunts and tricks, there are quite a few that are impress and go beyond the usual misdirection, like when Angel lifts a taxicab off the ground or when he was buried alive. The show is at its best when focusing on the magic, and at its worst when guest appearances become the focus, including spots by Mandy Moore, Rob Zombie and Lance Burton. The episode with Moore, in which Angel drives her car blindfolded, is perhaps the weakest of the run, mainly because her reactions are not the most believable, and the stunt itself is just OK.
On the other hand, a guest appearance by The Amazing Johnathan, a comic magician who's friends with Angel, makes for a fun episode that lets the series lighten up a bit, despite a pretty cool stunt involving Johnathan hitting Angel with a car, and some smaller tricks that are better than the average.
According to the box, this is the complete first season, but there are three episodes that aired during the first season that aren't found in this collection, including the Halloween special and the two clip shows, which featured never-before-seen footage. That's a real disappointment, since those episodes included some of Angel's cooler tricks.
Packaged in a standard-width keepcase, the 15 episodes included here are spread over two discs (eight on one disc, seven on the other) and are presented in production order, not the order they were aired in. The discs have full-frame animated main menus, with options to view all the episodes, select indivdual shows and check out the extras, while the episode-selection menus have still previews and titles for each show.
Shot on video, this full-frame series looks very good, with a clean, clear image, and no obvious digital artifacts. Skin tones are solid, as are the rest of the colors, though in harsher daylight, the show gets a bit washed-out. Though it's a basic cable show, the video is better than one might expect. The show also features a good amount of visual special effects during the bumpers, and they look excellent as well.
The sound is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, which does a nice job of reproducing the show's active soundtrack. The sound design is well done, and though the mix isn't dynamic, it is relatively aggressive, especially during the show's rock music beds. Dialogue is consistently clear, which is impressive for a reality show.
The first disc has two episode-length audio commentary tracks with Criss Angel, found on "Burned Alive" and "Body Suspension." Most of the tracks are Angel talking about the production effort and behind-the-scenes stories about the subjects of his street act and the bigger stunts. Expectedly, he never reveals how he does his tricks, but he does discuss the preparation, which is good, considering the extreme nature of the episodes' main demonstrations, especially the suspension. Though Angel speaks in something like a monotone, he's pretty good at maintaining his flow, preventing the commentaries from becoming boring.
Disc Two hold the rest of the extras, starting with three interactive demonstrations of Angel's ability to read your mind. I was pretty disappointed with this one, as only one of the three tricks worked, and I could figure that one out rather easily. Just to be sure, my wife tried the three as well, and two worked for her, so your mileage may vary. Naturally, these only work once, since you can change your mind and the DVD can't.
"Inside the Mind of Criss Angel" is a mix of several interviews with the magician. Among the topics covered in the 12-minute featurette are Houdini's influence, L.A.'s The Magic Castle, Angel's feelings about magic, his background and the series' production, including some info about the "Surreal Family" seen in the show. Anyone interested in his act might find this an informative piece, though it doesn't go too in-depth. There is a text biography included as well though to fill in some of the blanks.
Approximately 20 photos are included in a user-controlled photo gallery, while instructions for three "mindfreaks," or tricks, from Angel's book are included as PDFs, accessible through your DVD-ROM drive.
The Bottom Line
Though the series can get hokey at times, and Angel's act can wear thin outside of his stage show's atmosphere, the tricks are often amazing and impossible to figure out, rising above the more traditional bits of sleight-of-hand magic. For fans of magic, there are few performers who are making magic so unique and entertaining. This DVD set lets you either enjoy the series again, with some interesting added material, or experience Cris Angel for the first time. Both audiences should enjoy this release, though the series' fans will probably be disappointed that it is not truly complete.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.