Ellis in Wonderland – A Review

The 1960?s star of To Sir with Love,  Lulu, gave words to describe how we feel about Tim Ellis and Sue-Anne Webster?s DVD Ellis in Wonderland:

“Those schoolgirl days of telling tales and biting nails are gone

But in my mind I know they will still live on and on

But how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?

It isn’t easy, but I’ll try.” 

Okay, the lyrics don?t fit this scenario literally.  We haven?t been schoolgirls since that one night in Tijuana and even that was just to entertain our Navy enlisted before they shipped out.  And really we never got into perfume or biting nails ? at least not our own. 

 

The point Lulu was trying to make, however, is applicable to this review: how do you thank someone who helps you make a quantum leap in understanding. 

 

Actually, forget the whole Sidney Portier ? Lulu image.  Who knows where that came from.  We?d change the first paragraph if it wasn?t already published.

 

Ellis in Wonderland has the same high production values seen in their spectacular Living Next Door to Ellis.  The presentation and method sections are shot with multiple camera angles and the editing makes sense.  Is there anything more frustrating than watching an one-camera video lecture?  Yeah, how about a multiple angle video where each cut takes the viewer on a time-warped…

The 1960?s star of To Sir with Love,  Lulu, gave words to describe how we feel about Tim Ellis and Sue-Anne Webster?s DVD Ellis in Wonderland:

“Those schoolgirl days of telling tales and biting nails are gone

But in my mind I know they will still live on and on

But how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?

It isn’t easy, but I’ll try.” 

Okay, the lyrics don?t fit this scenario literally.  We haven?t been schoolgirls since that one night in Tijuana and even that was just to entertain our Navy enlisted before they shipped out.  And really we never got into perfume or biting nails ? at least not our own. 

 

The point Lulu was trying to make, however, is applicable to this review: how do you thank someone who helps you make a quantum leap in understanding. 

 

Actually, forget the whole Sidney Portier ? Lulu image.  Who knows where that came from.  We?d change the first paragraph if it wasn?t already published.

 

Ellis in Wonderland has the same high production values seen in their spectacular Living Next Door to Ellis.  The presentation and method sections are shot with multiple camera angles and the editing makes sense.  Is there anything more frustrating than watching an one-camera video lecture?  Yeah, how about a multiple angle video where each cut takes the viewer on a time-warped trip through some worm hole so that the next scene is from a moment before, after or during the segment they just viewed. 

 

Ellis in Wonderland is edited as if the couple really wanted to convey the lessons and not just get some merchandise on the market before Christmas.  In fact, if we hadn?t just seen Living Next Door to Ellis, we?d swear they gave away too many great tricks.  Having seen the other DVD, we know they have plenty of great tricks and they do not seem to care if other magicians learn how to perform them.  Great for us.

 

The DVD opens with Mr. Ellis performing The Ultimate Razor Blades.  Not to sound like Lloyd Benson but, ?We know the Razor Blade trick; We?ve performed the Razor Blade trick in front of real audiences; The Razor Blade trick was a closer of ours; And Mr. Ellis, that?s no Razor Blade trick.? 

 

What Mr. Ellis demonstrates seems to be more of a circus freak-show stunt. It appears there is no trick to the trick.  It looks like he is actually swallowing sharp razor blades.  That?s not how we do it. 

 

He demonstrates the sharpness of each blade before placing it on his tongue and swallowing.  Watch the DVD carefully, very carefully.  Each razor blade Mr. Ellis places on his tongue actually slices a jumbo playing card.  No switches! We backed-up the DVD, zoomed in, and even ran it through a sophisticated video analysis tool on loan (sort of) from the Bahamian equivalent of our CIA.  No switches.  As Tarzan might say, ?blade sharp, cut card in half, get eaten but man with funny accent no bleed.  Man scare Tarzan.? 

 

How does he do it?  Because we know everything there is to know about anything, we were pretty sure we had it figured out.  The secret is different than anything we expected and suddenly makes what could be a very dangerous trick very safe. 

 

If you have performed the Needles or Razor Blade trick, you know one of the crucial moments comes when you need to go south with the goods. (This is magician slang so only magicians know what we?re saying ? clever, no?) Like the first time we used a straw to eat chicken noodle soup, this can be a messy and awkward moment.  Mr. Ellis had designed a routine that not only allows you to perform the trick safely but leaves you totally clean at the end.

 

This effect, because it is one that we do and have done, is worth the price of the DVD alone. 

 

But wait, there?s more.  In fact, there is a lot more.  There are two DVDs with 12 tricks and tons of special features.  We clocked it at over three hours of magic. 

 

Phil Goldstein recently published a method to allow a spectator to select a card or other object, place a call to the magician?s psychic friend and listen as the psychic correctly identifies the selection.  While we like his method very much, we think Mr. Ellis has a cleaner way.

 

In Cellular Thinking, Mr. Ellis teaches how to accost anyone with a cell phone, ask them to identify any discrete thing such as the identity of a card, a favorite sports team, best method for attaching theatrical facial hair, or any number from one to infinity.  

 

Absent any intervention or comment by the magician, the volunteer places a call to a psychic who correctly identifies the caller by name and then identifies the selection.  The magician does not speak with the psychic at any time and the psychic?s name and phone number can be handed to the volunteer before the selection is made.

 

Mr. Ellis had a version of this effect in part of his lecture notes a few years back but his presentation on Ellis in Wonderland is much more robust.  He and Sue-Anne Webster provide the history of the effect, the potential problems the magician can face, and practical advice on presentation.

 

We really enjoyed Mr. Ellis? presentation of Deck Vanish.  It fooled us badly.  We don?t want to tip the gaff but suffice to say, it is such a great effect we are thinking about breaking down and using the gimmick that makes this trick seem magical. 

 

The magician shows a full deck of cards and with a squishing motion the deck vanishes completely but for two cards.  (The squishing move is used appropriately here.  It is no longer debated in magic circles whether squishing should be used when one is vanishing cards.  One squishes cards.  On the other hand, a squashing motion is used in effects featuring artificially colored liquid and a glass too small to be used for anything other than orange juice at Denny?s).   Even as Mr. demonstrated the method, we were fooled again.  You will like this long time.

 

Ms. Webster performs Cash to Credit Card so cleanly we thought it might be a camera trick.  The transformation can go from credit card to cash or cash to credit card.  The secret is deceptively simple and does not require a thumb tip.  Ms. Webster held the cash in her hands, folded it and when she next displayed her hands, she was holding an American Express card.  (The scene used to feature the trick is very entertaining.  After being told she does not have sufficient cash to buy a trick in the magic store, she turns the cash to the American Express card only to be told the store does not accept that particular credit card.) 

 

What about the special features?  Unless you are Lance Burton, you may have struggled to use the Fantasio Appearing/Disappearing Candle in a believable manner.  Ms. Webster and Mr. Ellis have some great tips to make the production more magical and the lighting more dependable.  Mr. Ellis even demonstrates a method of using the candle as part of a comedy bit where it doubles as a gigantic match.

 

We particularly enjoyed Ms. Webster?s Black Art presentation.  She demonstrates how to use black art in a school auditorium without the expensive border of lights and special set design.  Ms. Webster assembles the impromptu stage and explains the method as she goes.  Even though she showed us how the magic would be accomplished, the black art effects were still amazing. 

 

There are so many other great features of this two DVD set.  We could write for hours describing each effect and each special segment.  If you are a fan of great photography or Ms. Webster, you will enjoy the collection of art photographs depicting her as a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.   Mr. Ellis shows us how to effectively work as a strolling magician ? how do you get the guests? attention? 

 

We really liked Mr. Ellis? Deckstress and the variations he suggests.  Imagine the impact of a spectator selecting any card from a deck, turning it over and finding a handwritten note, ?I knew you would select this card, David.?  (Assuming the spectator?s name is David).  Mr. Ellis teaches the method to this effect that leaves the spectator with a souvenir and you with a likely referral. 

 

The DVDs are worth their price.  You will likely find effects that tickle your fancy more than the ones we?ve selected here but that?s the benefit of having a great selection from which to choose.  Mr. Ellis and Ms. Webster set forth a Vegas-like buffet of great magic and bid us to pull up a chair, stick our head under the glass sneeze-guard and start munching as if the salad bar was our personal trough. 

 

In keeping with the opening reference to Lulu?s rendition of the 1960?s hit, To Sir with Love, we did find some similarities between that movie and this DVD set.  Mr. Ellis and Ms. Webster really do treat the viewer as an equal rather than condescend. 

 

The couple offer their effects as if we were all sitting around the coffee table talking magic.  Their attitude implies that they think we can improve our station in magic.  We can move up to a more professional level.  Just as Lulu was not suddenly on the same level as Sidney Portier in the movie, we won?t rise the world-class status of Mr. Ellis and Ms. Webster, but we will rise.

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