The redoubtable Agnes Moorhead, who was delightful as the crotchety Endora, died of lung cancer. Paul Lynde, who was equally delightful as the sarcastic Uncle Arthur, died under mysterious circumstances in 1982 at age 55, after having drowned in his backyard swimming pool allegedly under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or after suffering a heart attack, He had been in ill-health for over a year with cancer or some other illness that was never fully revealed to the public before or after his death. By the way, the show also had to have two different actresses play Gladys Kravitz and two different actresses play Louise Tate, wife of Darrins boss Larry.
Are you getting the idea that the show has some sort of witchs curse hovering over it?
That said, it seems rather brave of motion picture people to attempt to give a new spin to the television series. But try as hard as they surely did, the new gloss is more like a cheap coat of pant. The movie Bewitched is hopeless in almost every regard. And the worst thing about it is that its not even like the TV series. Let alone not being very bewitching. Seems whoever is ultimately responsible for this mess decided to get all Pirandellian. How, they must have asked themselves, do we modernize the concept? How do we get the teens in to see the movie, teens supposedly being box office gold? Picture six characters in search of a solution. Final credit for this Bewitched goes to Nora Ephron as director. She and her sister Delia Ephron get screenplay credit. The producers are Ms. Nora, again, the usually reliable Penny Marshall, and Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher.
Heres what they came up with. A fading movie star (played by Will Ferrell), life on the skids, but not too old to be put out to pasture, decides to remake the TV series Bewitched to rejuvenate his fading, lackluster career. He discovers a pleasant woman, Nicole Kidman, whos content to live in suburban bliss with her nice husband and charming picket fence. The actor figures shed be perfect in the role of Samantha the good witch because her nose matches the re-life Montgomerys nose and she wont overshadow his ego. Follow? Well, it turns out that Kidmans character is, now brace yourself, no, really, brace yourself well, shes really a retired witch. The rest, as they say, is decidedly not movie history. And thats the premise, conceit, concept, whatever you want to call it.
The movie meanders on from there, utterly unfunny and utterly without charm. Oh, theres both romantic silliness and sit-com silliness as the TV-show-within-the-movie gets made, but nothing jells or blends or mixes well. Am I hitting this ball too hard? Bewitched has none of the spunkiness of the original TV series and virtually no wit. Kidman and Ferrell have zero chemistry between them. The only good bits in the film come from Shirley MacLaine as Endora the TV character and Michael Caine as Kidmans warlock father, and thats because of their natural-born talent, not because of anything the Ephrons give them. Also left standing around with little to do are Kristin Chenoweth as Kidmans horny, man-crazy next-door neighbor and Jason Schwartzman as Ferrells toady manager. Theres also no comic relief from Carole Shelley as Marion Lornes fidgety Aunt Clara or from the overrated Steve Carell as Lyndes Arthur.
After seeing this movie, I wasnt bewitched, just bothered and bewildered.
Now on to Batman. Okay, I am not a comic book geek. My favorites were Blackhawk (about a squadron of jet fighter pilots), Little Lulu (dont ask, I cant explain it), Huey, Duey, and Louie and Uncle Scrooge (but not Donald Duck), Tom And Jerry, Bugs Bunny and friends, and Archie and his pals Jughead, Veronica, and Betty. I also read Classics Illustrated, but I was never swept up by the Batman or Superman craze. Of course, the rule of thumb is this: if a movie is good, you dont have to be familiar with the source or know the back-story. A well-made film will fill you in and take you on a solid ride.
So why the heck was I so confused by the first hour of Batman Begins? The movie basically opens with the same material as Tim Burtons much better 1989 Batman. Little Bruce Wayne sees his parents gunned-down. He goes on to become a crime-fighting figure dressed in a bat outfit. The new film supposedly fills in the holes between little Bruce and his later appearance as a full-fledged adult bat aficionado. Weve still got Alfred the butler and a bat-mobile and a bat searchlight and bat hooks and the bat costume and other accoutrements of bat fame. Its a virtual rehash without the zip of Burtons energetic adventure.
The key difference here is that Bruce is seen for a while as a young man in a mountainous region learning some sort of Asian martial arts mysticism. Liam Neeson, fast becoming the laziest actor on the planet (although hes in a race with Samuel L. Jackson for the title), is some sort of mentor. Did I miss a key line of dialogue? Why is Wayne there? Is it really this simple - that hes a mentally unstrung guy trying to find himself? Come on, young adult angst? Thats why hes gonna become Batman? If thats the case, then millions of young adults backpacking around Europe promise a slew of crimefighters. Then an Asian fellow shows up. Who is Ken Watanabe playing and why does he have these ninjas around him? And why does he go after Wayne? Is Bruce learning skills that will help him in his future career as a good guy harassing bad guys in Gotham City? Not really, because he still needs all that bat gear to carry out his mission. He still has to become a secretive good guy. Why the secrecy? Not explained. I did like it when a young Bruce Wayne fell into a well and thousands of bats flew around him, but it was only a brief moment in a very long movie.
Batman Begins has a seeming villain in Rutger Hauer as the CEO of Wayne Industries, where Morgan Freeman labors inventing cool gadgets. But why does Wayne Industries have a guy inventing cool gadgets? What does it manufacture? Only cool gadgets? But Hauer is less a villain than Tom Wilkinson, who plays a chap named Carmine Falcone. Hunh, the mob? Italian cliches? But the real villain is Cillian Murphy who tosses a burlap sack over his head that allows billions of critters to jet out of his face. Do these guys all know each other?
Anyway, Wayne returns to his hometown only to have Alfred his butler (Michael Caine) get all philosophical on him. You are born to remember and assuage the sadness and harm the evil thats within your head and our city. Something like that mumbo jumbo. Hey, I wanted to scream, IVE ALREADY SEEN THIS MOVIE. So Bruce becomes Batman with the help of Freemans cool gadgets. The movies lone featured girl, with whom Wayne more or may not be smitten, is played by Katie Holmes, who is a tall drink of water. This means she keeps slouching and bending her head down and never makes eye contact. Too young an actress, shes supposedly an assistant district attorney. No political infighting for her. Shes never seen a hard knock in her life, all scrubbed and lavender is she. Holmes is terrible in the movie. She brings television techniques to the big screen and she remains small and uninteresting. I guess shes there to make sure no one thinks Bruce Wayne is gay.
Okay, so Batman begins to fight crime and thats the movie as visualized by director Christopher Nolan and written by David S. Goyer. Policeman Jim Gordon is around to be grateful to Batmans prowess. Christian Bale, a superior actor to many of todays callow youth, whispers his way through the part. Hes fine as Batman, but the part is more ghostly than substantial. A dark-clad figure appearing at the just the right moment to knock down the baddies. Bale has little to do except show up. When Gordon hands Batman a card with the joker on it at the end of the pointless film, you know theres going to be a Batman Begins II. Or Batman Redux. Or Batman Anew. Whatever theyre gonna call it. I say: who needs it? Talk about recycling. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
Two promising movies beginning with the letter B. Two disappointing bad turns. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters? Oh well, weve got Bewitched and Batman Begins with which to contend.
Supposedly the new feature Bewitched, very loosely based on the popular television sit-com starring Elizabeth Montgomery and two Dicks, Sargent and York, but of course, not Sergeant York, went through a chaotic birthing process, with lots of rewrites, concepts, and personnel floating in an out like so many witches on broomsticks. At various times, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Silverstone, and Jennifer Aniston were attached to the project as lead actress. The role of suburban witch Samantha Stephens turned Montgomery into a beloved icon. She died of colorectal cancer at too young an age, 62.