jess kroll

live and write and nothing else matters.


Cloud Atlas

Posted by jesskroll on April 21, 2013 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Cloud Atlas, 2012

4 / 5

At first Cloud Atlas feels like a lumbering, disjointed choir, but gradually the lines weave together (at times in insultingly obvious ways) into a grand, ambitious, flawed spectacle. While the ties are seen within thirty minutes, watching where the narratives lead and which are used in concert makes for a surprisingly enjoyable experience, the low stakes retirement house escape story being the greatest let down. The vast majority of the film is gorgeous, making the small percentage that is not standout in sharp contrast. The cross-racial make-up, which causes some weird and on occasion offensive looking people, is particularly detrimental. However this is redeemed by the nicely varied dialogue each actor gets to speak. Although the themes and symbols are abundantly clear, and then repeated throughout, it’s understandable that such a complex undertaking does require some watering down. For a film as ambitious as this, the individual parts are just drops in the ocean.

150 Reviews


Killing Them Softly

Posted by jesskroll on April 21, 2013 at 4:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Killing Them Softly, 2012

2.5 / 5

Killing Them Softly wears its allegory as openly as its characters wear leather jackets, at times wrapping itself in it so tightly that there’s no room for anything else. As a metaphor it works nicely, juxtaposing the promises of a better future with a grim reality that has endured through decades of presidents.Unfortunately the wrapping falls apart at the story, the reality which opposes the politics. Everything clicks on a technical level – scenes are beautifully shot, dialogue is brief and sharp, the cast is effective, the music is good and even the brutality spans from stark and grim to artsy and gorgeous – but nothing works on a personal one. There is no reason to care about this story or these characters. Their dialog seems meaningful to them, but so what? People do wrong, they get dead, it’s business, blah blah, life goes on. As Mickey says, “None of this sh*t means anything anyway.”

150 Reviews


Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Posted by jesskroll on April 15, 2013 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, 2011

4 / 5

As much of a celebration as it is of A Tribe Called Quest’s time as one of hip-hop’s first truly great groups, it’s hard not to notice the tinge of loss in the way each member speaks of past glories. The friendship between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, from beginning to end to (seeming) reconciliation, is documented in a way that presents not only two but four sides of the story. Rapaport presents Tribe's journey as a history of hip-hop’s growing acceptance as art with an visual style perfectly in tune with their early 90’s aesthetic and, of course, plenty of Tribe songs. Unlike most modern documentarians, Rapaport stays almost entirely behind the camera, leaving the members of the group, and those associated with them, to speak without inserting his own commentary.  As with Tribe’s music, the film audience is undoubtedly limited, but those who listen will be enlightened while those who aren’t, miss out.

150 Reviews



Posted by jesskroll on April 7, 2013 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Lincoln, 2012

3 / 5

True to its name the film Lincoln is admirable and considerate but distant. Focusing on the political maneuvering around the 13th Amendment makes for an interesting subject, and perhaps would have fit into a more focused movie, but the early scenes of shifting votes and legislative headcounts removed from the title character cause the first half of Lincoln drag to the point that it becomes dull and forgettable. It’s once the pieces are in place that Lincoln, the film and the president, come to life. The contemplation is rewarded with insight and emotion while scenes within the legislature far more dramatic than anything on CSPAN. Daniel Day Lewis once again shows that he is the greatest actor of his generation, far outshining an absolutely stellar cast. It’s his inclusion in fact that makes the film worth watching. Without his portrayal, Lincoln would feel as dull and cold as a stone face on a mountain.

150 Reviews


Zero Dark Thirty

Posted by jesskroll on March 30, 2013 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Zero Dark Thirty, 2012

3 / 5

While it is questionable whether the torture depicted in Zero Dark Thirty lead to any progress in the real search for Osama bin Laden, fact is this dramatization would have gone nowhere without it. The aforementioned manhunt lasted 8 years, and the film feels almost that long. Despite its various bombing sequences, which although spectacularly staged typically occur too suddenly to establish tension, much like real terrorist attacks, going to some place to talk to some guy who might know some place where some other guy is doesn’t entirely make for compelling drama. It’s in the hunt’s latter years – when there is actual intelligence – where the film bursts forth into action.The final sequence in particular, while clearly predictable, is a tense and immaculately executed work of military drama without any chest-thumping or triumphalism, just a sigh and reflection on the long, dirty, dubious road taken to reach this end.

150 Reviews


The Impossible

Posted by jesskroll on February 3, 2013 at 3:15 AM Comments comments (0)

The Impossible, 2012

4 / 5

The Impossible is a painful film to watch. The characters, story and dialog are so poor the film would be better without any of them (and the score is so overblown that it should also be completely removed). Furthermore, the lack of actual Thai characters, or the fact that the only victims we see are tourists whose vacations have been ruined and not the tens of thousands of Thais whose lives and homes were lost but still sought to help these same foreign tourists, smacks of marketing bias at best and blatant racism at worst. On the other hand, the staging of the tsunami, the raw brutality of it, the nervous, panicking, horrific imagery and Naomi Watts’s performance are all so powerful that they make the film painful to watch in the best way. The entire tsunami sequence is beyond comprehension, seemingly so authentic to an event that has happened and could, we fear, happen again. Personally, I became extremely physical uncomfortable (damn near passed out) from the unrelenting onslaught of danger and misery and the sheer torture of witnessing these characters struggle to recover in the aftermath of nature at its most sadistic. While all of the artifice of film, from characters to dialog, are supremely lacking, the experiential aspects of filmmaking, imagery and visual storytelling, are astonishing, powerful, brutal and amazing examples of just how painful, in both good and bad ways, film can be.

(Note: yes, this is longer 150 words for a movie that isn't either 4.5 or 5, but this is a special case which merited a more considered response. Plus it's my site, so I'll do what I want. And no one reads this anyway.)

150 Reviews


Seven Psychopaths

Posted by jesskroll on January 20, 2013 at 7:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Seven Psychopaths, 2012

2 / 5

On page Seven Psychopaths seems loaded with interesting ideas. On screen its nothing but a pointlessly meta mess of grizzly violence and self-indulgence. The film’s focus spreads so thin among its many characters that not one develops. They’re hollow husks waiting for the slaughter. When the bodies fall, nobody cares. The story develops like the unwanted offspring of Adaptation and every quirky-talking crime movie made since the mid-90’s (perhaps the worst result of Tarantino’s influence, other than his movies). Saddest thing; there are flashes of brilliance in the film: genuinely clever exchanges, hilarious moments, Hollywood satire, surprising heart, a tremendous performance by Sam Rockwell and a cast stacked with talent. All of this is wasted, especially the cast (the script mentions its misuse of female characters, which just shows that McDonagh knew his characters were a waste of time). In fact, that’s what summarizes Seven Psychopaths best - Waste.

150 Reviews


Silver Linings Playbook

Posted by jesskroll on January 18, 2013 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Silver Linings Playbook, 2012

4.5 / 5

Too often the romantic comedy formula is fetishized into cloying, unwatchable dreck where pretty, successful people with severe, undiagnosed psychological disorders endure fabricated obstacles before an unearned happy ending. Silver Linings Playbook is an exquisitely rare film – a watchable romantic comedy where its leads’ psychoses are defined (including extreme sports obsession). Granted its treatment of mental illness, beginning with serious and surprisingly intense outbursts, glosses with forgiveness and dance, yet the central story of unbalanced individuals finding each other to lean on is one of the oldest and most difficult to successfully accomplish. The film works only through a restrained and naturalistic David O. Russell and a stellar cast from top (Jennifer Lawrence, best actress of her generation), to middle (Robert DeNiro, finally acting again) to bottom (Chris Tucker, limited but great) capturing every emotion and forming painful, redemptive relationships. Of course the film bottles into a neat little ending, prophesized by Cooper in a much needed tirade against literature’s most overrated writer, but after the authentic hurt the lead and his manic-depressive dream girl have suffered and caused; anything else would be cruel. At their best romantic comedies remind us that no matter who we are or what we’ve done, we can be happy with someone who not only accepts us but inspires us to be better, even if only for them. None of that Hemingway or Heigl crap.

150 Reviews


The Hobbit

Posted by jesskroll on January 1, 2013 at 5:55 AM Comments comments (0)

The Hobbit, 2012

4 / 5

A greater technical achievement than its predecessors (or successors really), but nowhere near matching their depth of story. The visuals are often so detailed and sharp that they take on a distinctly unreal quality, which may be the point, like the best looking video game ever made. The rock giant battle is easily one of the most spectacular scenes in computer effects history, and even the Great Goblin’s jowls are quite nice, in an entirely horrible way.  Yet the strong visuals also lead to the film’s greatest weakness: length. There is easily an hour of musical numbers, slow motion and New Zealand glamour shots that could be cut. As well, even with three hours, few of the characters are established beyond those we already know. Jackson clearly stretched to make The Hobbit last this long, let’s hope it isn’t pulled so thin that the next two films become transparent.

150 Reviews



Posted by jesskroll on December 7, 2012 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Argo, 2012

4 /5

With three films, ranging from excellent to decent, Affleck has truly found his place as a reliable, workman-like director. His third effort, Argo, is very good in almost every respect, without being particularly great in any of them. The result is an immensely enjoyable, fast-paced, suspenseful yet amusing thriller that is highly entertaining to watch but doesn’t linger in memory - precisely the type of film Oscar voters love, complete with the lonely hero missing his son and plenty of self-important Hollywood insider material.While the opening and closing sequences, and a few between, are excellently built, tense but never in question, the movie crew angle adds a welcome balance of fun, particularly through Arkin and Goodman’s supporting performances. In fact the only questionable choice is Affleck as star. Nonetheless Argo is such a success that it makes a compelling argument for Affleck to remain behind the camera rather than in front of it.

150 Reviews