This year, movie screens are rife with references to The Wizard of Oz. We've already seen a tin man (Star Wars, Episode III), and in the months to come, we'll see stories of a meddling and reclusive wonderland genius (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, July 15) and a not-so-cowardly lion (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, December 9).

But this week belongs to the scarecrows.

The first scarecrow is a fearsome villain wielding dangerous hallucinogens in Christopher Nolan's brilliant new Batman Begins, in which Nolan wrests the decrepit Batman franchise from the influence of lousy storytellers and establishes his reign as the finest Batman director of all.

The second is a pogo-jumping broomstick with a turnip head and top hat in Hayao Miyazaki's fantastic animated feature Howl's Moving Castle.

First … to the Bat Cave.

Batman Begins blows away its predecessors

When Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns brought the Dark Knight to the big screen, he'd transformed the comic book hero and his various enemies into an entertaining freakshow. Burton didn't seem terribly interested in plot; he was preoccupied with creating excuses for the Bat, the Cat, the Joker, and the Penguin to flaunt outrageous costumes and even more outrageous egos. But that wasn't so bad compared to the embarrassing and kitschy Joel Schumaker-helmed editions, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

All the while, comic book fans dreamed of a more serious Batman film, one along the lines of the favorite comic book narrative by Frank Miller known as Batman: Year One.

In Christopher Nolan's hard-hitting, all-business, fast-paced Batman Begins, bat-fans get their wish. It's a terrific movie featuring excellent performances from first-rate cast—Liam Neeson (better ...

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