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The Independent Culture
Practical Magic (12) The title is, to say the least, an understatement. Witchcraft has rarely looked more prosaic and less sexy than it does in Griffin Dunne's adaptation of Alice Hoffman's novel. Virtually anti-camp and laughably toothless compared to recent, more youthful witch fantasies such as The Craft, the movie does occasionally make a show of invoking some form of Girl Power - specifically, the mild, Lilith Fair version. Still, its half-hearted feminism further muted by an unmistakable whiff of New Age, Practical Magic is basically a cross-generational female-bonding cliche- fest in supernatural drag, with a discordant emphasis on upbeat romantic resolution. An age-old spell dictates that any man who dares to love an Owens woman will die young, and the task of lifting the ancestral curse falls to two sisters. While Sally (Sandra Bullock), the saintly one, suppresses her witchy powers in the interests of suburban normality, Gillian (Nicole Kidman), the slutty one, escapes to some Gomorrah or other, where she hangs out poolside with lots of men. A few years on, reunited and suddenly faced with the dead-body predicament that leads people in movies to behave in a particularly stupid fashion, the sisters turn to their trusty spell book. Poised and light-footed, Kidman emerges relatively unscathed, as do Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as the flaky aunts. But the most glaring problem here is that the implicitly boring good witch is played by the explicitly boring Sandra Bullock; her inevitable coupling with Aidan Quinn's correspondingly insipid cop ranks as one of the most waterlogged screen romances in memory.

The Siege (15)

Despite its chilling, complex, and highly contemporary subject matter, Edward Zwick's film - which depicts New York City under siege by Arab terrorists - plays mostly like a standard-issue thriller. Denzel Washington stars as an FBI special agent, Annette Bening as a scheming CIA operative who may or may not be helping him. (The less said about Bruce Willis, who plays a rabidly gung-ho general, the better.) The film attempts to criticise racism but it's a little too muddle-headed to make much of an impact.

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