Bats and aliens and witches, oh my! It's time for a Ticket Stub update around here --

* Batman Begins: The best summer movie since Pirates of the Caribbean, and maybe my favorite of 2005 to date (though that's faint praise). Christian Bale is low key, earnest, and most of all hot, hottie, McHott as the caped crusader -- throw in a decent script, excellent f/x, and Gary Oldman (aka Dracula!) as a nascent Commissioner Gordon and I can't wait for the next installment. It's moody, but not pretentious, a fine line in today's Hollywood. Katie Holmes was disappointingly dull (where was her usual charm?) but this kid is like the next Willem Dafoe, he'll be playing creepy villains for decades. Extra points for gracefully aging badasses Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine! (B+)

* War of the Worlds: Well, it's no Saving Private Ryan, and it even has a hard time meeting the B-movie standards of The Day The Earth Stood Still. It's a genre piece (i.e. lower your expectations), and yet Spielberg only has fun with about half the genre conventions: big bad monsters, check; sketchy back story, check; crowds fleeing in terror, check. But aside from Dakota Fanning, there's nobody to care about even in a cursory way -- Tim Robbins and Miranda Otto embarass themselves in cardboard supporting roles, and the angry teenage son was so generic I didn't even catch his name. Tom Cruise has ceased to be believable as an "everyman," just like Jack Nicholson -- he should stick to playing himself onscreen, that is, a narcissistic sociopath and/or robot. Despite these glaring flaws, it can be a fun flick if you pry off the big serious post-9/11 filter many critics have slapped on it -- we saw it at a drive-in, highly recommended! It's just a monster movie, take it or leave it. Points off for folksy Morgan Freeman voiceover. (C)

* Bewitched: If you like Will Ferrell's shtick, and you either do or you don't, you'll enjoy this -- he's the highlight. Nicole Kidman is cute, but needs something darker to bring out her comic side (Stepford Wives wasn't quite it either). It's a fairy tale set on a sitcom soundstage, and Nora Ephron lards on the industry jokes, hitting the mark only about 33% of the time. It drags in places, but the wacky comedy set pieces (featuring a potpourri of SNL and Comedy Central regulars) make up for it. Michael Caine's flannel pants alone make his bit part worthwhile, while Shirley MacLaine may in fact not be acting at all, and that's spooky. Extra points for a soundtrack that must have cost a fortune: Sinatra, Ella, Talking Heads! (C+)

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