Last week's Film Forum covered reviews of this week's box office champion, Batman Begins—including Todd Hertz's glowing review for Christianity Today Movies.

More Christian reviewers have lined up to praise it, making director Christopher Nolan's film one of the most highly praised films of 2005 so far.

Frequent Christianity Today Movies contributor Peter T. Chattaway (Canadian Christianity) says, "Batman Begins is easily the best of the summer blockbusters so far, and quite possibly the best movie ever made about the Dark Knight. … [It] brilliantly affirms the truth that justice is something more than mere vengeance, and that good and evil tug for control of the hearts of every person. This is the first Batman movie that just might encourage some genuine moral reflection. Let's hope the inevitable sequels can keep up the good work."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Some viewers may feel that the movie's overall tenor is too bleak. But portraying Batman as a tormented and tragic figure is true to the tone of creator Bob Kane's original vision. … What separates Batman from other superheroes—and what the movie conveys—is that his mystique taps into our fears and sense of helplessness. [Batman's] enduring appeal is that of a noble idea: that one man can make a difference and be a force for good in the world."

Josh Hurst (Reveal) is thrilled. "Nolan's first time in the Bat-chair is a movie so artfully crafted, a story so masterfully told that it's easy to forget that it's a comic book movie. Ten minutes into the film, one can't help but feel sorry for all those involved in the Burton and Schumacher films. … This is the work of a skilled, confident filmmaker who truly understands the Batman story. This is Batman."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) raves, "By taking us back to the origins of the 'Bat,' Nolan not only breaths life back into the comic book world of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego, he has given us one of the best super-hero films ever made."

Daniel Revill (Relevant) writes that the movie "should have no trouble laying claim to the title of best superhero film (and one of the year's best)."

Kevin Miller (The Joy of Movies) echoes the enthusiasm, saying it's "the first truly great superhero film. While most superhero films tend to emphasize spectacle over story, Batman Begins is more like a character study masquerading as an action movie."

At Hollywood Jesus, others blog away about the film. Maurice Broaddus says Nolan "emphasizes character and story over special effects and nipples on the bat-suit, creating an adult drama from what my grandmother used to refer to as 'funny books.' And I couldn't be happier." Mike Furches says, "It has the best car, the best story, the best Alfred, the best villains, the best story, the best effects, and the best Batman." And Johann Snyder finds it "a surprisingly insightful film."

Article continues below

"Batman Begins blew me away from start to finish," says Jonathan Rodriguez (Christian Spotlight), "and kept me glued to my seat for its almost two-and-a-half hour running time."

Reconditioned Herbie gets lukewarm welcome

It's a season of "car-driven" remakes at the Cineplex. Batman Begins boasts a way-cool Batmobile, The Dukes of Hazzard rev their engines on the silver screen in a few weeks, and now, Walt Disney's beloved Volkswagen "Herbie" is returning to theaters. Can Knight Rider's Trans Am and The A-Team's battle-armored van be far behind?

Disney is clearly hoping that the Herbie series, which once starred Dean Jones, will now serve as a blockbuster "vehicle" for a very different celebrity—teen superstar Lindsay Lohan. Hey … re-working Disney's Freaky Friday and The Parent Trap worked just fine for Lohan, so why not the Bug?

According to Christian press critics, it could have been worse. But is it any good?

Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) says "it is tempting to regard Herbie: Fully Loaded, the Love Bug's first spin through theatres in a quarter-century, as a sign that things have become rather dire at the Disney studio once again. (And after the collapse of the studio's traditional hand-drawn animation division, the possible end of its relationship with Pixar, and the series of expensive flops it churned out last year, things might be very dire indeed.)

"Alas, this film will not do much to restore Disney's fortunes. Hardcore Herbie fans—and there must be some out there—might appreciate the way the film's five credited writers have incorporated elements from the earlier films into this one; but for the rest of us, it comes across as one trip to the well too many." Chattaway also says Lohan "pretty much sleepwalks through this film."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) takes a more positive spin. "Never taking itself too seriously, Herbie: Fully Loaded imparts a lighthearted underdog message about friendship, loyalty, honesty and the bonds of family."

Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says the movie "is fast moving and adorable with its campy, sometimes slapstick humor. It appeals to very young children with its silly antics, to teens with the stars being Lindsay Lohan and Justin Long, and to adults, who will likely remember '80s heartthrob, Matt Dillon, and who will enjoy seeing Michael Keaton again. … The movie speaks a message of hope to the hearts of those with big, unfulfilled dreams—especially girls."

Article continues below

Mainstream critics aren't pulling this little car over, but they're not calling it the Car of the Year either.

The Perfect Man: Hilary, Heather hardly hilarious

Critics are raising their voices in protest of Hilary Duff's latest comedy, The Perfect Man, in which she plays a teenager who conspires to find an ideal match for her mother (Heather Locklear).

The story is driven by a familiar premise, one that has shown up in two other recent films: one of the central characters tries to encourage a family member by inventing a fictional pen pal and composing letters from that imaginary character. Eventually, when the recipient gets too curious, the writer scrambles to conceal the truth, sometimes finding an "actor" to impersonate the writer. In Dear Frankie, a wonderfully endearing comedy, the letters come from a young boy's mother who is trying to cover up for the fact that the boy's real father is a monster. In the critically acclaimed Since Otar Left, a young woman mourning the death of her uncle is persuaded by her mother to impersonate the dead man through letters to her grandmother, trying to protect the old woman from the heartbreak of her son's untimely death.

In The Perfect Man, Holly pens letters to her mother that are supposedly from a secret admirer, and ends up having to find someone to "play the part" of the mysterious correspondent (Chris Noth). This time, the reviewers are not so impressed.

Carolyn Arends (Christianity Today Movies) comments that "underneath all the banal predictability is a premise that is entirely too twisted and tangled. … The Perfect Man also left me with a queasy feeling in my stomach—because, despite some half-hearted attempts to deliver a Good Message at the end, it seems likely that the average impressionable young girl will take away the notion that (a) life is not worth living without a mate, and (b) once you find that mate, you can expect all other problems to neatly resolve in a manner consistent with the last 5 minutes of your favorite sit-com."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "In the hands of a more accomplished writer and director, The Perfect Man could have been a much more textured—and entertaining—mother-daughter movie. But as it is, the film's anemic, cliché -riddled script has only Duff's buoyant charm to keep it afloat."

Article continues below

Lacy Mical Callahan (Christian Spotlight) calls the film "flatly forgettable. It will play well with Hilary Duff's 'tween fan base, and makes for a mildly entertaining 'girls night out' show … if nothing else is playing."

Greg Wright (Hollywood Jesus) says, "It's just too bad that the characters … aside from Holly, never seem to feel (or think about) anything very deeply. In the Perfect Movie, the lesson might have been more convincing."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) calls it an "insipid by-the-numbers story," and concludes, "If the tracks are laid improperly, it doesn't matter how fast you drive the engine. There's no avoiding the train wreck."

Did anybody like this movie? Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) seems impressed, saying director Mark Rosman "hits all the right emotional notes to draw daughters and moms into the relationships between the characters. The strength of those relationships and the movie's relative wholesomeness helps to distract from weaknesses in the plot and the fact that so much of the film involves watching people type e-mails to each other. It's the eventual honesty and growth between mom and daughter that's most encouraging."

Michael Smith (Hollywood Jesus) blogs that it's "a fun frolic of a movie. … No pressure to discover a sinister or complicated plot. Just a couple of knockout beautiful women figuring life out through self- and other-inflicted hard knocks."

Mainstream critics, meanwhile, are rating this as one of the year's worst films.

More recent reviews

Howl's Moving Castle: I've posted my full review of Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated masterpiece at Looking Closer.

Darrell Manson (Hollywood Jesus) writes that Miyazaki's films "always have a spiritual aspect to them. They may not have a Christian worldview, but they still allow us to consider life that is to be lived in harmony with spiritual reality. … Whenever we are invited in to Miyazaki's beautiful world, we find great beauty and spiritual food."

Mr. and Mrs. Smith: Andrew Coffin (World) says it's "firmly tongue in cheek, with nothing grounded in reality, save, perhaps, the explosively exaggerated trials of married life. In that regard, the film does come around to a certain amount of sweetness, but one has to turn off nearly every other moral concern in order to appreciate this tiny kernel of good. While Mr. and Mrs. Smith does contain a few provocative scenes, the film isn't as sexual as its trailers suggest."

Article continues below

Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) say, "In a day when domestic violence is an increasing problem, it is not helpful to present a film which takes spousal violence to a professional level. Though billed as a comedy, implying that it is all a joke and we have no sense of humor if we get concerned, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is not funny. It is destructive."

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D: Andrew Coffin (World) says the movie "isn't nearly as well-conceived or constructed as Mr. Rodriguez' Spy Kids trilogy. The story is somewhat haphazard, the characters not as fully developed, and the 3D technology more of a frustration than an enticement. That said, there are rewards." He credits the film as imaginative, and notes, "Parents will also appreciate the film's final message of forgiveness."