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Byline: Rob Lowman Entertainment Editor

'Bewitched' movie has just enough magic

Nora Ephron offers up a charming update of ``Bewitched,'' the beloved sitcom of the 1960s that starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the witch with the twitch. The big-screen version has a modern-day witch named Isabel - played by a luminous Nicole Kidman - who is hired to play the role of Samantha on a remake of ``Bewitched.'' Her Darrin is Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a onetime film action star hoping to revive his career, who falls for the witchy Isabel, who like Samantha wants to have a normal life, where her charms aren't simply magical.

Like the original, the problems of a witch and her mortal man offer up amusing situations, which are compounded by the joke of a real witch playing Samantha. Kidman and Ferrell mesh nicely, and there's a smartly assembled supporting cast, including Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine.

The film loses some inspiration toward the finale, as if no one thought about an ending, but Steve Carell (``The 40-Year-Old Virgin,'' ``The Office'') is inspired enough, playing Uncle Arthur to a Paul Lynde ``T.''

Lindsay Lohan's screen presence gives a bit of a spark to ``Herbie: Fully Loaded,'' but the family film is strictly formula rather than Formula One. She plays Maggie, part of a racing family - headed by her dad (Michael Keaton) - that's on a losing streak. She rescues the thinking car with a personality, Herbie, which was destined for the scrap heap, and the pair end up in a NASCAR race, facing off against a top driver played by Matt Dillon. By now, you know where this is going - round and round - but as I said, this is for the family (and those paparazzi who have been issued restraining orders against harassing Lohan).

Woody Allen's ``Melinda and Melinda'' has a clever premise: Two playwrights - one known for comedies, one for dramas - are told a story. They then argue over whether it would make a better tragedy or comedy. Radha Mitchell plays both Melindas in the stories that both deal with adultery. As usual, Allen has put together a strong ensemble cast - Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, Chloe Sevigny, Wallace Shawn and Jonny Lee Miller - in what is his best film in years, showing us the thin line between laughter and tears.

And the Australian actress Mitchell - who had a haunting presence in ``Neverland'' - more than meets the challenge of emotional range for the two roles. Allen carries a lot of baggage when it comes to having to live up to his former films and because of the scandals in his personal life, but ``Melinda and Melinda'' is a smart, mature film worth a look.

Perhaps the only high point of ``House of Wax,'' the loose remake of the 1953 horror film starring Vincent Price, is watching Paris Hilton's character in peril. For those of us who've grown tired of seeing the celebrity's face, it is amusing watching her sweat (probably from trying to remember her lines). Otherwise, ``House of Wax'' parades out some hot-blooded teens (``24'' alum Elisha Cuthbert among them) to get picked off in a fairly formulaic fashion.

Gus Van Sant takes a minimalist approach to ``Last Days,'' which cites Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana who committed suicide more than a decade ago, as a vague basis. Vant Sant's camera follows a similar soul, Blake (Michael Pitt), a druggie rock 'n' roller who can't find a way out of his addiction as he wanders around his rural home situated in lush woodlands on his way to his own demise. An odd person here and there shows up to break the monotony, but for the most part it's a portrait of the slow self-destruction of an artist.

While it may be commendable in not glamorizing the situation and trying to show how the beauty of art can co-exist along with misery, there is something hollow about the exercise. Perhaps it's my feeling that calling someone a ``genius'' - as many do Cobain - is romanticizing an ugly situation. He was a drug addict who was more clever than most drug addicts. But the death of most drug addicts is in some ways as much a tragedy as it is a failure (blame the usual suspects), and his death was not special.

Paul Schrader's ``Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist'' had one of the strangest release strategies in film history. Originally, the screenwriter of ``Taxi Driver'' was directing this prequel to ``The Exorcist,'' when dissatisfied studio execs replaced him with Renny Harlin, who shot additional material, creating a more action-based film. It was released as ``Exorcist: The Beginning.'' Then Schrader was allowed to reconstruct his film for ``Dominion.'' While neither was bad, neither was very successful - either at the box office or artistically - but Schrader's more somber version does throw out a few interesting ideas.

``Rize,'' fashion photographer David LaChapelle's documentary of clowning or krumping, a kinetic form of dancing found in some African-American neighborhoods around Los Angeles, is simply fun to watch. The dancers' free-form movements and speed will leave many wondering if the action was tricked up. The filmmaker assures us it wasn't.

``Bewitched'' (Sony; $28.95)

``Melinda & Melinda'' (Fox; $27.98)

``Herbie: Fully Loaded'' (Disney; $29.99)

``House of Wax'' (Warner; $28.98)

``Gus Van Sant's Last Days'' (HBO; $27.95)

``Dominion - Prequel to the Exorcist'' (Warner; $24.98)

``Rize'' (Lions Gate; $27.98)

'The Wages of Fear,' 'Le Samourai,' 'Detective Story,' 'Darling Lili'

Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 dark existential film ``The Wages of Fear'' stars Yves Montand as one of four men hired to drive trucks loaded with highly volatile nitroglycerin across potholed rural South American roads. As the four traverse the treacherous roads, tension builds, tempers flare, and the tough guys find out how tough they are. It is a classic, and the newly restored version from Criterion should be part of any film fan's collection.

Also from Criterion is Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 French crime noir ``Le Samourai,'' about a hit man, played by Alain Delon, who uncharacteristically lets a witness - a young female jazz pianist - live while doing a job. He then becomes a target, and an inventive cat-and-mouse game ensues that probes the underside of the hit man's cool exterior.

Two other older films to keep in mind: William Wyler's 1951 `` Detective Story,'' starring Kirk Douglas in a story of the drama inside a police precinct with some excellent acting; and 1970's ``Darling Lili,'' with Julie Andrews as a spy - posing as a singer - in Blake Edwards' World War I drama that is better than its poor box-office reputation.

``The Wages of Fear'' (Criterion; $39.99) (Restored Edition)

``Le Samourai'' (Criterion; $29.95)

``Detective Story'' (Paramount; $14.99)

``Darling Lili'' (Paramount; $14.99)

'Titanic,' 'The Wizard of Oz' and more box sets

It's time to start buying for the holidays. There are a number of box sets and special editions to keep in mind, starting with James Cameron's 1997 ``Titanic - Special Collector's Edition'' and the 1939 classic ``The Wizard of Oz,'' which comes in two different collectors' editions.

The ``Titanic'' discs include commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes features, an alternate ending with an optional commentary by Cameron, 45 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Cameron, the music video of Celine Dion's ``My Heart Will Go On,'' a documentary about the real Titanic disaster and more.

The two-disc ``Oz'' set has a new digital transfer of the original film, four documentaries, outtakes, deleted scenes, featurettes and more than six hours of audio-only material. The three-disc version has a new documentary about ``Oz'' author L. Frank Baum and a newly restored transfer of the 1925 silent version of ``Wizard of Oz,'' starring Oliver Hardy and Larry Semon, with a new score by Robert Israel plus a number ``Oz'' film features and shorts originally produced between 1910 and 1933.

Other box sets of note are listed below.

``Titanic - Special Collector's Edition'' (Paramount; $29.99)

``The Wizard of Oz'' (Warner; $26.99 for two-disc special edition and $39.92 for the three-disc collector's edition)

``Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition'' (A&E; $79.95)

``Ken Burns: American Lives'' (Paramount; $139.99)

``Masterpiece Theatre Collection - Romance'' (WGBH; $79.95) includes ``Anna Karenina,'' ``Wuthering Heights'' and ``Reckless.''

``WW II 60th Anniversary Collection (Columbia; $39.95) includes ``The Guns of Navarone,'' ``From Here to Eternity,'' ``The Bridge on the River Kwai,'' and has a collectible scrapbook.

``WW II 60th Anniversary Collection (Columbia; $39.95) includes ``Das Boot,'' ``Anzio,'' ``The Caine Mutiny,'' ``Dead Men's Secrets,'' and has a collectible scrapbook.

``Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Three'' (Warner; $64.92)

'The L Word,' 'Alias,' 'The Kids in the Hall,' 'In Living Color,' 'Bewitched,' 'The Woman in White,' 'P.D. James,' 'Hamish Macbeth' and more TV

There are a lot of interesting choices among discs coming from the small screen. There's Showtime's smart soap ``The L Word,'' which goes beyond being a lesbian drama, and the zippy, loopy espionage fun of last season's ``Alias,'' although I have to say it's weird watching a pregnant Jennifer Garner running around this year. ``The Kids in the Hall'' and ``In Living Color'' are always funny, and there is, of course, the charm of the second season of the original ``Bewitched.'' Not to be overlooked are the 1996 version of Wilkie Collins'' gothic tale ``The Woman in White,'' the BBC's adaptation of ``P.D. James - The Murder Room'' and ``Hamish Macbeth,'' which stars Robert Carlyle as a constable of a Scottish town in this gentle but entertaining mystery.

Other notable sets are listed below.

``The L Word - The Complete Second Season'' (Showtime; $69.99)

``Alias - The Complete Fourth Season'' (Buena Vista; $59.99)

``Kids in the Hall - Complete Season 3'' (A&E; $59.95)

``In Living Color'- Season 4'' (Fox; $39.98)

``Bewitched - The Complete Second Season'' (B&W) (Columbia; $38.95)

``The Woman in White'' (WGBH; $19.95)

``P.D. James - The Murder Room'' (Warner; $19.98)

``Hamish Macbeth - Series One'' (Warner; $34.98)

``Hart to Hart - The Complete First Season'' (Columbia; $49.95)

``Little House on the Prairie - The Complete Season 9'' (Goldhil; $49.98)

``American Gothic - Complete Series'' (Universal; $49.98)

``3rd Rock From the Sun - Season 2'' (Anchor Bay; $39.98)

``The Munsters - Complete Second Season'' (Universal; $49.98)

Rob Lowman, (818) 713-3687



3 photos


(1) NICOLE KIDMAN and WILL FERRELL in ``Bewitched''

(2) JUDY GARLAND in ``The Wizard of Oz''

(3) FRED GWYNNE in ``The Munsters''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 25, 2005

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