By now, it should come as no surprise that a thin TV series like Bewitched would be made into a feature film with a handful of Academy Award winners and bankable box-office stars. Hollywood has mined all kinds of sources, including (but not limited to) Car 54, Where Are You?, Sergeant Bilko, Starsky and Hutch, and maybe 11 bad Saturday Night Live skits. There's an I Dream of Jeannie coming up, not to mention The Dukes of Hazzard and Miami Vice. I can't imagine that it will be long before The Facts of Life, Manimal, and Diff'rent Strokes get silver-screen treatment. It's easy to understand that, in 1996, Steve Martin was slumming when he made Bilko or why Lorne Michaels would desperately seek a minor hit out of an SNL franchise. We all need money. We all want a hit. But what on earth would motivate two superstars at the height of their game (Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell) or two classy legends (Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine) to an overlong sitcom mess like Bewitched? Is there no art?
The premise of the TV show was that an ordinary, handsome advertising agent meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman, and once they're married, she reveals that she's a witch. To make the marriage work, she tries to keep her sorcery to a minimum, but this is the source of wacky marital conflicts between Darrin and Samantha not to mention Samantha's wacky relatives: colorful mother Endora, flamboyant Uncle Arthur, etc. Samantha was played by the stately beauty Elizabeth Montgomery, and over the show's eight-year run, two actors played Darrin (Dick York and Dick Sargent). Endora was stage and screen grand dame Agnes Moorehead and Uncle Arthur was the incomparably "festive" Paul Lynde.
In the film, Kidman plays Isabel, a naive witch deciding arbitrarily that she wants to be normal. Michael Caine is her scamp of a father, Nigel, who insists that her conversion will be temporary, since she's not very good at mundane and frustrating tasks. Across town (Hollywood, that is), has-been actor Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) is offered the historically thankless role of Darrin in a TV Bewitched remake. To preserve his celebrity, he insists on an unknown to play Samantha. When he stumbles upon Isabel at a bookstore, he can't help but be wowed. She looks like Elizabeth Montgomery, and most importantly, she's got Montgomery's trademark magical nose-twitch.
Brief summary of subsequent plodding (I mean plotting):
Jack is a jerk, but Isabel falls for him anyway. She turns out to be a pretty good Samantha, even as Jack tanks with test audiences. A colorful stage actress, Iris Smythson (MacLaine) is cast as Endora (MacLaine as Endora inspired or obvious? I dunno, but it's perfect). Nigel falls for her and suspects she might be a witch too. Jack and Isabel clash over her talent and his manners, etc., while Isabel's real magic causes all kinds of zany hijinks. I think there's some influence from hot screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in that his films specialize in inverted introspection and clever reexaminations of reality vs. fantasy. Alas, there is no wit here. This Nora and Delia Ephron-penned effort is like a Paul Rudnick (In and Out, The Stepford Wives) rough draft all cheap one-liners, no sustained comic momentum. When Jack announces early on (sans magical influence) that he wants three trailers, a leopard, and a two-story cake every Wednesday (aka "Cake Day"), we know that only silliness will abound. When the best thing about the movie is the scant-seen Nigel/Iris romance, we know that not a lot of thought went into the writing of the script, no matter how clever the idea. At least the premise was interesting. Instead of doing a flat remake of the sitcom, it's a movie about remaking the sitcom.
But Ferrell is allowed free comic range (not good with the unsubtle comic), and Kidman doesn't seem to know whether she's in an homage or a spoof or a drama or what. The film's climax is the inevitable appearance of Uncle Arthur, badly caricatured by Steve Carell. Pish.
Both Kidman and Ferrell seem determined to squander the interest of film audiences everywhere by too many movies and too few of them good. (Combined, they've six films so far this year.) Bewitched could have been a good step for both, but instead it leaves the audience merely bothered and bewildered. Bo List
David LaChapelle's new film, Rize, is a documentary that tries to be more than just an exposé on the newest outlet for the frustrations of the poor. The subject of the film is krumping, a dance form that began as humble hip-hop entertainment and has slowly transcended its origins. To capture the art, LaChapelle takes us through the evolution of krumping, including the life stories that feed this dance and straying into questionable musings on the nature of the African-American experience.
Krumping began as clowning. The film follows a Los Angeles performer named Tommy Johnson who performs as Tommy the Hip-Hop Clown. Tommy used dancing as a part of his routine while entertaining at birthday parties in poor L.A. neighborhoods. Slowly, as his business expanded, Tommy began to hire kids to perform with him. They took Tommy's dancing, a mixture of various hip-hop forms, and expanded it.
But some of Tommy's older dancers grew tired of using dance just to entertain. They made it clear in the film what they think of Tommy. He may have given them the idea, but Tommy only invented clowning; they created krumping. Krumping is far more serious and aggressive than clowning, accentuating the wild, almost ecstatic quality of the movements.
For the dancers, krumping has many functions. Krumping, according to the film, is one of the few positive outlets available to these kids. It provides them with a chance to safely release their anger; it creates a community of dancers who become family; and it helps young people avoid getting involved in gangs. In the neighborhoods where they grew up, the dancers explain, you're either a gangster or a clown.
Rize is at its most moving when LaChapelle intertwines the story of krumping with the realities of the dancers' lives. They struggle with broken families, drugs, and gang violence, finding expression for these struggles in their dance. It's the age-old story of African-American art, from the blues to hip-hop.
LaChapelle goes even deeper when he intersplices scenes from L.A. riots, tribal dances in Africa, and spiritual ecstasies in black Baptist churches with the footage of krumping. But the association is hard to swallow. The dancers wear face makeup because they started as clowns, not tribesman.
As a filmmaker, LaChapelle, a well-known fashion photographer and music-video director, still has a few things to learn. The film cannot find a comfortable way to end, and the mixture of hand-held low-quality footage with glossy MTV-style shoots is awkward. The strength of the movie is its source material, the undeniable appeal of seeing people who have next to nothing create works of power and originality. �