Joseph Viles/Fox 21
Witches of East End premiered to respectable ratings. A show about witchcraft on Lifetime makes you think of The Client List with spells instead of handies or a sorority of feelings, like Army Wives, with the occult. Instead, it’s looking a little too much like the popular series Charmed. Do the producers hope lightning strikes twice?
Charmed had notable B-list actresses fighting demons and being sisters in a red Victorian house in San Francisco. It lasted 198 episodes and became the longest running television series with all-female leads, until Desperate Housewives. Almost 15 years later to the day, Witches of East End premiered with Julia Ormond, Mrs. Channing Tatum and spritely Rachel Boston fighting evil magic in a red Victorian on Long Island.
The image of a creepily similar house keeps the ghost of Charmed alive. The similarities are staggering. People trapped in paintings, people that turn into cats, and witches in the dark about their birthright were all popular plot points in Season 1 of Charmed. Jason George as a sexy police detective echoes Dorian Gregory as a sexy cop. Hell, even the addition of former Buffy cast member Tom Lenk is similar. Quite a few actors from Buffy appeared on Charmed.
Even the four character archetypes mirror the '90s WB series. Ormond as family matriarch seems a lot like Shannen Doherty’s type-A character, Prue. Tatum’s ne’er-do-well, bed-hopping character of Freya is not unlike Phoebe (Alyssa Milano). Boston’s high-strung but well meaning Ingrid could be a carbon-copy of Piper (Holly Marie Combs). Finally, Mädchen Amick’s snarky, sarcastic sister channels Rose McGowan’s Paige Matthews.
Similarities aside, Witches of East End doesn’t need to make allusions to Charmed. The dialogue is funny, the cast chemistry is palatable and in the realm of magic anything is possible. Hopefully later episodes find a new take on the realm of magic. If not, they should just include a character with a voice like Butters from South Park that screams, "Charmed did it!" each episode.
In this film based on the Newbery Award-winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) is a lonely 10-year-old girl who has moved to a sluggish small town in Florida with her preacher father (Jeff Daniels). She has a tough time getting through to her dad: when he is not preaching the gospel he walks around in a haze haunted by the departure of Opal's mother many years before. But when Opal adopts Winn-Dixie named after the supermarket where she found the mutt things start to brighten up for the little girl. With her special companion by her side Opal ends up meeting some pretty interesting people in the town. They include Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint) the local spinster librarian who spins great stories; Otis (Dave Matthews) the shy drifter working at Gertrude's Pet Shop; and Gloria (Cicely Tyson) an old blind lady living with ghosts from her past. Through Opal's sunny disposition and Winn-Dixie doggone tenaciousness they help the town find their joy and their sorrow. And at the same time they mend Opal's troubled relationship with her father. Collectively now awwww!
All the players fit snugly in this warmhearted movie especially the talented young Robb who makes her feature film debut in Winn-Dixie. It's imperative to cast an adorable child and Robb doesn't disappoint keeping things genuinely fresh with the big eyes infectious smile and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm charm. Daniels too doesn't overplay it as the wounded preacher--aptly described by Opal as a turtle--who rarely sticks his head out of his shell. Veterans Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson do what they can with their stereotypical parts as the kindly spinster storyteller and kindly old wise woman respectively. But it's singer-turned-actor Dave Matthews who stands out as the drifter with a troubled past but can "sing most anything " even charming the animals in the pet shop á la the Pied Piper. His poignant performance is up there in the sentiment department.
Here we go with the children and the animals again. Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan The Joy Luck Club) is the latest director to take a stab at guiding those most unpredictable of actors. As he explains "Sometimes the going is slow. But then suddenly something magical happens that you couldn't possibly have planned or anticipated." It's true. There are definite moments of inspired sweetness especially between Opal and Winn-Dixie played by a Picardy Shepherd a rare breed of dog from France that has the look of a big old lovable mutt. And of course you can't go too wrong using heart-tugging material based on a beloved children's novel on par with Where the Red Fern Grows and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. That's also Because of Winn-Dixie main problem. Fans of the book will certainly love the film but overall it doesn't really offer anything new in this genre. It's the same general premise about the kid and a dog--or a horse a deer whichever animal works best--who can change the lives of those around them just from being pure of heart. Maybe it's the curmudgeon in me but Winn-Dixie just doesn't stand out among the plethora of films similar to it.