Reviewed by Bob Banka
February 17, 1999
Widescreen, 2.35 : 1, Anamorphic
Dolby Digital, 5.1
Rated PG-13 1998
PRACTICAL MAGIC is a whimsical bit of fluff from director Griffin Dunne (ADDICTED TO LOVE). This film of Barbie doll witches and their hocus pocus, set in a squeaky clean New England town was served up as Hollywood Halloween fare last fall. Is it a trick or a treat? Well, it's more of the former and less of the latter. The trick is figuring out just WHO this flic was made for. Younger audiences will be confused, perhaps even frightened by its uglier scenes, and older audiences will be bored silly by it's lighter scenes. It's a bit of THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK dumped in a cauldron, with a dash of CASPER. A strange brew.
NICOLE KIDMAN and SANDRA BULLOCK in GRIFFIN DUNNE'S
Perky Sandra Bullock and vampy Nicole Kidman costar as sisters who happen to be cursed witches. Any man they fall in love with will end up six feet under. The curse has been in the family since the days of the Puritans, when an ancestor used her craft to keep her neck from being stretched in the town square. The two sisters live with a pair of aunts - played marvelously by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest. The film slogs along through about 40 minutes of intro fluff before settling into its real story - an ugly one involving a murder and its cover up.
There are some serious elements in the script which have a bit to say about the bond between sisters, and the need for women to stick together in times of need. However, Dunne doesn't seem to have a real feel for the material. He handles it too prettily, too lightly. There's no real teeth or conviction - not enough to be taken very seriously anyway.
Sprinkled in with the heavier issues are the more cutesy, sillier scenes, and some attempts at romantic comedy. The romance portion of the tale works better, but these sequences provide an odd, uncomfortable contrast to the rest of the flic. I'm just not certain that the sandwiching in of kidnapping, boozing, an attempted murder, and eventually, a murder scene, belongs in a romantic comedy, or a Halloween flic about perky little witches.
Bullock and Kidman are both adequate as the home body sister who denies the craft, and the life-loving sister who plows through men the way Fred Flintstone devours bronto burgers. Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing are delightful as the two aunts anxious to pass on their talents to the next generation. Unfortunately, they disappear for large portions of the film. Too bad. If you don't expect too much when popping this disc into you player, you won't be setting yourself up for disappointment.
The ladies of the Owens' lineage are cursed. Any man falling in love with them is doomed to push up daisies before reaching a ripe old age. The chirp of the death watch beetle signals death's arrival, and then the men go belly up. In a way the ladies are also cursed because they're witches - having the ability to cast spells isn't all it's cracked up to be. Those who used to watch 'Bewitched' are hip to this fact.
After their mother dies of a broken heart, due to the death of her husband, Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) move in with their eccentric darling aunts, Jet and Frances (Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing) in a small town in what looks like New England. Everyone on the street knows these women - these witches, and they try to steer clear. Lovely Sally and Gillian are brought up learning to mix potions and cast spells - to love and respect their 'gift.'
Sally, wishing to avoid the infamous curse, casts a spell for herself making it impossible for her to fall in love with anyone who doesn't meet her unusual specifications. The man must ride ponies backwards, being able to flip pancakes skillfully, like stars, and most importantly, he must have one green eye and one blue eye. Since no such person could possibly exist, she'll never fall in love with a man and cause his death. I know, I know - I saw it coming too.
When the girls reach eligible ages, Gillian runs off to Florida and dates one fella after another, but falls in love with none. But then she finds a 'Transylvanian-cowboy' beau, Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic), who could possibly be the one to tame her. When he begins to abuse her, the sisters join forces and accidentally punch his clock. After performing a ritual to re-animate him, they kill him again! Eventually, his mortal remains are buried in the front yard, but his spirit lurks within their quaint Victorian house.
When detective Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn) shows up from Tucson to investigate the disappearance of the cowboy, things get dicey for the girls, particularly for Sally, who notices that the cop has - you guessed it, one green eye and one blue eye (surprise!). Meanwhile, Gillian's body has been possessed by Jimmy Angelov's vengeful spirit and all the girls and a few friends from town, joint forces to expel him.
For the most part, this is a fine transfer from Warner Bros., but there are one or two small problems to note. A couple of the exterior shots in the small town seem a bit too bright, with slightly paled colors. Also, on a few occasions, flesh tones are a bit orange. If you can overlook these very small, and infrequent blemishes, you'll be extremely pleased with the presentation.
All interior sequences are superb, with rich, natural looking colors, and a sharp and detailed image. Contrast and brightness levels are very good as well as consistent. Shadow delineation is excellent.
Lower key-lit scenes have rich colors, with no sign of bleeding into darker surrounding fields. Blacks are deep and true. I observed no instances of 'grain' or image break up during the feature. There are no cases of 'shimmer' or 'ringing' from digital over-enhancement. Warner Bros.' print is very clean, with no distracting nics, scars, or scratches.
Save for the two small blemishes noted above, this is a very good, solid presentation from the folks at WB. Keep those anamorphic transfers coming!
GORAN VISNJIC and NICOLE KIDMAN in GRIFFIN DUNNE'S
This is an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, with a wide open, and fairly deep forward stage. The split surrounds are used primarily for subtle ambiance during the film's exterior sequences, but there are a handful of occasions where more aggressive signals are received - for example, during the exorcism of Angelov's spirit from Gillian.
There's actually very little in the way of panning effects or sounds pinpointed to the left and right of center stage, but this is the nature of the film - not a shortcoming of the transfer. Alan Silvestri's pleasant, whimsical score is very nicely recorded and expansive - rising up from all positions in the surroundfield. There is also a heapin' helpin' of pop/rock tunes on the track - perhaps too many (early in the flic, you may get the feeling that you're watching MTV), and these too sound terrific, having better than average clarity and bass response. Dialogue is also well recorded - sounding natural and clear, never distorted or compressed.
The most powerful signals in the mix occur in the last reel - first when Angelov's spirit rises out of Gillian to confront detective Hallet, and then again during the exorcism when the ladies join forces to expel him from Gillian once and for all. Here, the surroundstage is filled with eerie sounds and chants which whirl around the room and bounce from position to position. There are also a number of deep, powerful punches from the .1 FX channel and the four corners. This is a good, solid mix from the folks at WB.
SANDRA BULLOCK and AIDAN QUINN in GRIFFIN DUNNE'S
Scene access menu with links to 31 chapters in the film
Audio commentary by director Griffin Dunne, Sandra Bullock, Producer Denise Di Novi, and composer Alan Silvestri
Interactive 'Cauldron Game'
A documentary - 'Making Magic'
A second documentary - 'Casting the Spell'
11 Theatrical trailers
3 TV spots
Alternate French language track (DD 5.1)
English and French subtitles
English closed captions
Write to Bob