Dog days of summer 

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Welcome to "Notes from the Back Row" #520. That's 10 years of weekly movie insight sandwiched between inflammatory comments and (hopefully) some decent chuckles.

This column is easily the longest relationship I've had in my life but it was also very instrumental in landing the second-longest—with my lovely wife/girlfriend who once had to write this column for me after I tripped on an invisible step at Tommy Africa's one Tuesday night and gave myself a concussion. Thanks baby.

I wish there were some better flicks dropping this weekend to celebrate with with but alas, it seems the cream of the crop is a stop-motion adventure called ParaNorman, which opens Friday and is the children's movie of the summer.

Norman is a regular kid living in a weird, one-note tourist town that cherishes its witch-trial history. He also has the ability to talk to the dead, ghosts mostly, which ostracizes him from his family and peers.

Only his "crazy" uncle (who shares a similar gift) understands, but when said uncle suddenly kicks the bucket, it's Norman's responsibility to save his town from a legion of tired zombies led by a witch who's mostly just bitter at the fact she was banished for no good reason.

With the "bad guy" lines already a bit blurry, the zombies aren't particularly evil but the townsfolk turn on them anyhow and, while chock full of good in-jokes and incredible looking animation, ParaNorman (made by the studio that produced Coraline) also has decent social commentary on preconceptions, forgiveness and our inclinations to fear "the other."

The hand-made feel of the stop motion really elevates ParaNorman and this is one of those late-summer surprises that's worth checking out.

Also opening Friday, The Expendables 2 is an aging-action-star vehicle written by Sylvester Stallone and directed by the guy who made Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The good news is that this Expendables is better than the first one. The bad news is Chuck Norris is in it for a brief five minutes. The rest of the flick — which stars near-geriatric action icons like Stallone, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme — is loud, obnoxious and kind of fun. Explosions and one-liners — what more do really want? No one is too old to have fun.

On the opposite, puke-in-my-mouth end of the spectrum, lies a new Disney flick called The Odd Life of Timothy Green. It's a schmaltzy heap of rank bile about a 10-year-old "miracle" kid who literally rises from the earth/garden of two poor saps who are unable to have children but desperately want one.

After that, dumb cute crap happens until you want to smash yourself in the face with a pot of scalding water and then run a belt sander over the wound. In amongst all the manufactured sentiment is a Christian allegory in which the miracle child absolves the adults of their sins. Yippee, I'd rather watch a dog take a crap.

Speaking of, as the dog days of summer roll on we can start getting excited about the looming release of a few good horror films and it looks like still-hot-after-all-these-years Elizabeth Shue is taking a run at becoming the new scream queen.

After absolutely killing it in Piranha 3D, she's at it again in House at the End of the Street. Check the trailer online. It stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), drops in late September and looks like the perfect date movie.

Here's to another 10 years.

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