“The Hunger Games” and “21 Jump Street”

The Hunger Games (2012)

Suzanne Collins’s dystopian trilogy is written in the first person, from the perspective of a resourceful, sarcastic, unforgettable girl. For unfair reasons — similar pop cultural timing — I compare Katniss Everdeen to Harry Potter and Bella Swan, and Katniss comes out on top. She’s a wonderful bullshit-caller. She’s realistic and guarded about boys. She’s a fount of witty observations about the insane society she was born into, where twelve tattered Districts provide for a decadent Capitol. (My friend and colleague Matthew Yglesias explains how this works.)

The film adaptation of the first novel gives the Katniss role to Jennifer Lawrence, an approachably gorgeous actress who slummed in TV, then broke big in the fine 2010 sleeper Winter’s Bone, then appeared in The Beaver for some reason. She’s a star now, even though her Katniss is less than I hoped for. The film is, well, a film. There’s no first-person musing. We know that Katniss is smart and wry because she stars cold through the parade of idiots making her life harder — and eventually trying to kill her.

I’m leading with my only complaint. This is just a terrific blockbuster, disorienting and absorbing. The art direction is by Tom Stern, who honed his craft on a lot of crap (the horribly failed J. Edgar), beautifully frames the gingham poverty of District 12 and the Caprica-esque sleaze of the Capitol. Director Gary Ross — who previously directed two lame period pieces — puts his camera sickeningly close to the action. Look at thee start of the Games, when tributes are permitted to run toward a stash of weapons. It’s a perfect chance for them to kill each other. We see them do it with quick shots of bloody weapons raised after striking, knives flying too fast to track.

21 Jump Street (2012)

Surprisingly great slackjaw comedy.

“Chronicle” and “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie”

Chronicle (2012)

“I remember you,” says Steve (Michael B. Jordan) to Andrew (Dante DeHaan), as the two of them walk to check out a hole in the ground. “You wore that hoody every day to homeroom.”

Subtle, isn’t it? In the first 15 minutes, Josh Trank and Max Landis’s “Chronicle” has shown us that Andrew has a screaming, abusive father, a dying mother, a gallery of exciting bullies, a cool cousin (a different kind of problem there) — and now, a habit of dressing like the kid who shoots up the school. Another title for this movie might be “X-Columbine.” But I don’t want to get too snarky, because the creators are both several years younger than me, and they’re there while I’m here.

“Chronicle” is a good-looking, diverting movie, but derivative as all hell. Non-nerds might not notice this. Nerds, the sort of people who’ve dreamed about the situation Andrew, Steve, and cousin Matt get into, will notice. The most evocative images call back “Superman” (you’ll believe a sociopath can fly!) or, more often, “Akira” (when Andrew levitates and some pebbles come with him; when he goes on a rampage wearing tattered hospital garb).

And is it good? It’s fine.

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (2012)

Let us give thanks that producers keep giving money to Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. They don’t even try to hide that they’re in the business of avante garde, audience-limiting weirdness. So they made a movie about it: Tommy Schlaang (Frank Langella!) gives two idiots a billion dollars to adapt a poem about a guy who wears a suit made of diamonds. They spend the money on real diamonds and a Johnny Depp impersonator. (He does look like Johnny Depp.)