IN & OF ITSELF – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Frank Oz
Writer: Derek DelGaudio
Cast: Derek DelGaudio
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/13/21
Opens: January 22, 2021


There are two kinds of audiences for live shows in New York. One is represented by the tourist, perhaps not fluent in English, who would go to a Broadway musical: “Chicago,” “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” presentations that are a lot of fun. Others are a more intellectual set that would patronize off-Broadway, even off-Broadway; likely to be in a serious vein, knowledge of English indispensable. There is third type of live presentation; the kind that would challenge people who think they know everything and like to brag about going to esoterica. What they see is likely to be a mix of entertainment and a delving into our minds and souls. Such a show played at the Daryl Roth Theatre, off-Broadway in New York in 2017, called “In & Of Itself,” considered to be a one-man exhibition but depending upon enough people in the audience to volunteer to stand up, even to come up on stage.

“In and Of Itself” as presented by Hulu and executive produced by the likes of my favorite TV comic Stephen Colbert, is a filmed play and then some; meaning that the presentation puts together a collage of audiences and evenings, melding some of the stunning 552 displays that ran before an audience of one hundred diverse souls. As directed by Frank Oz (both the stage show and the movie) with generous filming of a diverse audience including African-Americans and Asian-Americans, young, middle-aged and elderly, “In & Of Itself” may require multiple viewings to allow DelGaudio’s message to sink in: that we are not necessarily what we do for a living, even what goes on within our families. Each of us is a multiple, some of our character easily comprehended by others, while the rest of is below the surface, even hidden from ourselves.

In the opening scene, he asks members of the audience to come up before a large board filled with cards, each bearing the title of an occupation: nurse, ophthalmologist, dentist, and the like. Each is an “I am.” Some of the audience members will be called up to the stage, and as we watch the unfolding drama, we may wonder whether some of the folks are shills for the company who make sure that enough volunteers are called up each time. As a whole, nobody seems shy in the audience(s) that we see.

DelGaudio is a gifted man who knows his lines cold, a fellow of medium height, a close haircut, a trace of a beard. He wears a tie but that’s soon to come off to put across his eyes for one of his tricks. He is a master storyteller, segueing from a tale about a man who plays Russian roulette—the image of the person on one of the six diaramas on the wall. The deal is that he has 5 chances out of 6 to win, to save his life, and if he comes out ahead, he is rich. His troubles are over. But then again, as DelGaudio notes, if he loses, his troubles are also over (which brings the first laugh from the audience). This guy raises the ante, putting two bullets into the gun the next night, three the following, until he points the gun with six bullets at his head. How he manages to come out ahead? Find out by seeing the film.

The most dazzling part finds DelGaudio doing card tricks that are absolutely amazing. Ricky Jay is probably envious. If you see how he manipulates the deck to do everything he wants it to do, setting out the spades in order like a super royal flush, you might consider that he is a sorcerer. In the Middle Ages, the peasants would know what to do with him, and it’s not pretty.

Later he will present volunteers from the audience with letters allegedly written by members of their families, letters that bring some of them to tears. What these letters contain are writings that could easily have come from the participants’ mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. That’s how well DelGaudio seems to know his audience.

Then just as you wonder whether these audience members are the sorcerer’s apprentices, he dazzles by getting half of the hundred to stand up in the every-seat-taken theater, looking at the folks, telling each what he or she is: an introvert, a vegan, an optimist, a lover. The audience at no point looks at a cell phone, a watch, his navel, but all eyes are concentrating on the majordomo.

What does it all mean? Paradoxically, we are all many things, and we are all alike. Forget about Superman, Batman, even Wonder Woman. This showman can see into our souls, as you can believe as you watch the audience members, one by one, feeling the magic.

Yep: he is an enchanter.

90 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – A-


DEALT – movie review


    IFC Films
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Luke Korem,
    Written by: Bradley Jackson, Luke Korem
    Cast:  Richard Turner, Kim Turner, Asa Spades Turner
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/17/17
    Opens: October 20, 2017
    Dealt Movie Poster
    You probably won’t be terribly surprised to hear that some people look at their iPhones while making love.  You can’t blame them; after all, it’s more exciting to communicate with dozens of people than with just one.  But do you know anyone who shuffles card when having sex?  That appears uniquely a trait of Richard Turner, who makes his living with the decks, has thousands of card packs in his home, and shows us in the movie audience some of his best work.  For example, he can tell the people at his table in a blackjack game what cards they have when still face down, which is even more remarkable when you know that he totally blind.  This is a guy who would be an awesome prestidigitator even with 20/20 vision.

    In directing the film, Luke Korem, whose only other feature, a biopic of the controversial aristocrat Lord Montagu, sticks to the biographical genre by capturing perhaps the world’s greatest card mechanic (as he prefers to be called, rather than “magician” since “Magicians can’t do what I can do”).  He performs in the midst of large, rapt theater audiences.  The Austin-based director and co-writer Bradley Jackson’s  major aim, though, is to show not what Turner can do despite his handicap, but the master’s stubbornness in refusing to acknowledge his weakness.  He refuses to use a cane, lean on a dog, or learn Braille. The filmmakers treat that as a weakness, not a strength.  When his son Asa Spades Turner (get it?) went to college at age 18 and Turner could no longer count on him as traveling companion, he finally learned how to use a computer and seemed not entirely opposed to using a seeing-eye dog as does his blind sister.

    The commentary from various people in the family and industry does not take the form of deadening interviews which destroys many biopics.  Instead the subjects extol their fascination with the man. Some who watch the movie will be encouraged to learn more about card tricks, but remember that Turner has been practicing his skill 16 hours a day (and as noted, even when he is making love).  It might take anyone else years of practice simply to shuffle the deck in the eye-catching way that Turner can, easily creating domino-like bridges and sliding his hand across to watch the entire deck collapse, one card by one.

    At one point he gets over his empty-net depression by teaching grade-school kids of the need for self-acceptance.  The sixty-three year old Turner is watched over by his wife Kim who married him before he lost all of his sight.  People who have watched his live theater performances do not cough or pull out their iPhones, thus confirming the man’s charisma. Turner had been selected among five nominees to win the award for best card sharp by Magic Castle.  The movie won the SXSW Film Festival’s documentary audience award.

    Unrated.  85 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

    Grade – B+