My Week in Movies: Aug. 19-25

The Hunger Games (2012) Earlier this week, I thought it would be nifty to scribble down some random thoughts on one of the year’s biggest hits. Turned out a bit more random than I would’ve liked, but whatever.

ParaNorman (2012) Hot diggity. I may need another viewing or two to be certain, but I do believe ParaNorman can safely be called the best movie of the year so far. Better than that, though, is just how ballsy it is – not only is it gloriously subversive (on both a political and storytelling level), it plows ahead with the horror-comedy mix in a way that doesn’t care how scary it gets, because it knows kids can take it. Never mind the parents (the ones in the crowd seemed antsy here and there, especially in the opening scene which brilliantly recreates a grindhouse horror flick); the kids know when it’s OK to be scared (one of the movie’s themes, actually), and I can see these kids, decades from now, waxing nostalgic about how demented the movie is, and how much they loved it for it.

Game Change (2012) You know it better as “that TV movie where Julianne Moore plays Sarah Palin,” because there’s not much more to it than that. It’s as shallow as the previous HBO/Jay Roach/Danny Strong effort, Recount, with the same approach of “cover the familiar basics, paint with broad strokes,” but even more basic and more broad. There’s a great story to be told here, but it’s about John McCain selling out his principles, and the filmmakers would rather focus on Palin, who’s played here as an opportunistic, possibly mentally unstable dimwit, which would be fine had the script allowed Moore to delve deeper into the character. As it stands, the movie is more interested in shaking its head and mumbling “boy, that Sarah Palin was some piece of work” over and over as it shows her, say, needing to be taught which nations were involved in World War II, haw haw. Great performances abound (Moore, yes, but also Woody Harrelson, who steals every scene), but that’s just not enough.

Justice League: Doom (2012) I’ve complained plenty about the DC Universe line of direct-to-video animated features, so it was quite the welcome surprise to discover Justice League: Doom is pretty darn solid. Perhaps it’s because the filmmakers keep things simple, so they don’t have to cram two hours’ worth of story into a 75 minute package; here, the plot fits the restricted run time quite nicely, with no filler and nothing rushed or clumsily left out. Everything clicks, especially the action – it’s essentially three major action set pieces with a quick story to tie them together – and the character work – for all the brawling, we get some decent quiet moments, too, including a heartbreaker involving Hal Jordan’s emotional collapse. Best part? As a Gen-Xer raised on Super Friends, it was a blast to see the old Legion of Doom HQ revamped but still all swampy and domey.

Walk, Don’t Run (1966) Mainly remembered these days as Cary Grant’s final role, this loose remake of The More the Merrier finally moves an aging Grant from the role of love interest to that of wise mentor, scheming to pair Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton during the Tokyo Olympics. The run time approaches two hours, which is about a half hour too much for a romcom this breezy and episodic (it’s less about plot and more about character interaction), but even when things get stretched thin, we’re too won over by the charms on display to mind. The climax, in which Grant interrupts an Olympic event (I won’t say more), is just wonderful. (And George Takei’s in it, too. Oh myyyyy!)

He Walked by Night (1948) Here’s one that’s more interesting for what it spawned than on its own terms. He Walked by Night is considered a major forerunner to the “ripped from the headlines” police procedural genre, but while you can see shades of The Naked City and Dragnet (Jack Webb even pops up in a minor role), it lacks the bite of those later efforts. As the baddie, Richard Basehart doesn’t quite draw us in, and there’s little tension to his multiple crimes or impending capture. As a detective yarn, it’s serviceable but not quite memorable.

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