a) I Am Chris Farley
In the last few months there have been new documentaries about Kurt Cobain (which I watched and had mixed feelings about), Amy Winehouse (which I haven't seen), and Chris Farley, and I wonder how many more docs about tragic show business figures who died young are in production right now. This one was produced in part by Farley's family and is more of a warm remembrance than anything else, but that's really what you want, he was just a sweet, talented guy whose vices got the best of him and I think they mixed the good and bad in appropriate measures (Bob Odenkirk's interviews in particular give a good sense of the overwhelming sadness and frustration that his friends must feel about the whole thing, the Spades and Sandlers tell good stories but don't really open up all that much).
I lived in Delaware, around the area where the du Pont family was a big deal, back in the '90s when John du Pont killed that guy in Pennsylvania, and it just seemed like such a big, weird news story at the time. But this movie really manages to draw it all out and make the entire affair seem as dull and pointless as it probably really was. Carell's prosthetic nose was the most famous misstep of the movie (although I still say he should hold onto it for a live action Despicable Me movie). But I really thought Channing Tatum was just totally out of his depth and just clenched his jaw in this weird way like he wanted to seem mad or mentally challenged or something, it was a strange unfortunate performance after he'd had a really good run of roles where he'd shown a little more range.
c) Inherent Vice
Early in his career I thought Joaquin Phoenix gave a lot of strong performances in flawed movies (8mm, Gladiator, The Village), but for some reason now I just dread seeing the guy in anything. Ever since I read that Robert Downey, Jr. was almost the lead in Inherent Vice, I had a hard time not distracting myself imagining how much more engaging the movie would be with him instead of Phoenix, who just seemed too bored and stoned even for a role that kind of was supposed to come off that way. I liked the dry, subdued humor of the movie and I feel like it could grow on me with additional viewings, but it didn't totally click with me. There were times when it felt like I was just watching an artier The Big Lebowski.
d) Horrible Bosses 2
I barely remember watching the first one and I'll barely remember this one either. Not terrible movies -- if anything they affirm what a strong screen presence Jason Sudeikis is even when he's bouncing off of bigger stars -- but pretty forgettable.
e) Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
For all the awards and rave reviews this got, a lot of people I know or whose opinions I respect really seemed to hate Birdman, so I was curious to check it out and figure out what side of the debate I would take. And I gotta say, I am mostly if not entirely pro-Birdman. I liked the long takes, I liked the stagey nature of the performances, I liked the nervous energy of the all-percussion score, I even liked some of the over-the-top touches that kind of took it out of the realm of realism towards the end. As much as I love Michael Keaton, though, I don't really feel like he carried the movie or this was a once-in-a-lifetime performance or anything, it felt to me like an ensemble effort. I'm glad it gave him a big comeback and hopefully more prominent roles, though.
f) John Wick
This is a classic "they messed with the wrong guy"-style action movie, way better than Taken. I love the pace of how the movie starts and how quickly the plot is set up and then they're just off to the races. It's also the rare action movie in which an absurd number of people get shot but there's something shocking and visceral about how the camera lingers on the victims and makes you process their death, I respect that.
g) The Book Of Life
The weird stylized look of the animation in this movie took some getting used to, but it grew on me. Interesting to see Guillermo del Toro produce a Dia de los Muertos-themed animated feature film that was still really light-hearted and silly and entertaining in the way other big budget cartoons are, really refreshing stuff. My son laughed a lot in the first half hour and then got bored and wanted to watch something else, so my wife and I watched the rest after he went to bed.
I got very irritated by the standard issue soundtrack this movie had that included The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind" and David Bowie's "Heroes," but the movie itself was pretty original. The plot and the tone were a little all over the place, but it was good.
This is basically a gender-flipped Expendables, with a bunch of women who've been in big action movies (Kristanna Loken, Zoe Bell, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica Fox, etc.). It's kind of a shame that it's only a direct-to-DVD mockbuster with really low budget effects, though, it'd be cool to see this movie done with a lot of money and some bigger stars.
A lot of incompetent actors are out there thriving, but have people ever politely looked the other way more than they do with Scarlett Johansson? Granted, she's been in a fair number of good movies where her limitations somehow suited the character or her role was small enough that she didn't hurt the movie. But now and again she's put at the center of a movie like this, where you're really following one character through a whole journey, and it's just staggering how ill-equipped she is to carry a movie. I feel like this would've instantly been 10 times better with any number of other actresses in the role.
k) The Bling Ring
This came out around the same time as Spring Breakers and ended up kind of being its unofficial rival with vaguely similar subject matter. As much as I didn't care for Spring Breakers, though, its vivid style-over-substance is missed in something as flat as The Bling Ring, which felt very true to the real events it was based on but didn't do much to make it entertaining and filmic. Sugar & Spice remains easily the greatest teenage girl crime spree movie.
l) Movie 43
Everyone kinda knows this movie was an infamous bomb but it really does fascinate me how a bunch of huge stars got together, shot some sketches that would've been passable on Funny Or Die, and expected it to do well as a theatrical feature? With a completely unabashed "who cares" title? The recurring sketches that kind of strung the movie into a vague narrative might've actually been the worst thing about it, they shouldn't have bothered with that.
m) Adventure In Baltimore
I found myself watching this because of the title, but there's nothing at all specific to Baltimore about it, it's just a title, really. But it was interesting to see a movie made in 1949 that depicts a young woman campaigning for women's rights in 1905, to kind of get this weird perspective on feminism from before anyone was using the word, looking at an era even further back. Shirley Temple was 21 when she made this movie, and it feels weird to say this about one of the world's most famous child stars, but man, she was hot when she made this movie. It was one of the flops that led her to retire from films at 22, which is a shame because she was really turning into a babe.