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The appearance of a movie in this review journal does not mean that the movie is endorsed by Kim.  He writes reviews of movies that he saw that he recommends people avoid as well as movies that he considers worth seeing.  Aside from just critical approval regarding the film, some movies may not be suitable for you or your family.  You must make that kind of determination on your own, and stay true to your own convictions on what is appropriate to see.  Some movies are well made, but have offensive or difficult subject matter that is questionable to many viewers. Again, the reviews listed here should not be your only filter for whether or not a film is appropriate for you and and your family.

Additionally, Kim has his own view on what movies are and why he thinks they are a worthwhile aspect of current culture to be investigated.  You certainly don't have to agree with Kim on his viewpoints of movies, and he would be surprised if you did.

Kim's thoughts on movies -

Movies are the modern art "experience" of our culture. They are transmitted in many forms, on screens in theatres, DVDs, television and even computers. They are the merge of classical theatrical acting and modern day technical set and experience creation (effects). The reason I enjoy and watch lots of movies is that they not only entertain, they communicate the nuances of our society. Of course, some have nothing to do with culture, its just greedy corporations trying to produce profits. I am a guy, and as such am not the ideal audience for romantic comedies or 'chick fliks'. However I am also a husband, and domestic bliss (as well as common sense) compels me to at least review them...occasionally.  For the most part, you will find I like (and therefor review a lot of ) action, drama, science fiction, suspense and similarly themed movies.

Unconditional (2012)

Inspired. Well acted. Thoughtful.

Overall Grade: B
Story: B+
Acting: A
Direction: B-
Visuals: B-


Summary: Heroic lives can sometimes turn into schmaltzy stories when Hollywood gets a hold of them. This is the fear I have whenever I see a movie that says it is a "true story" or "inspired by real events". "Unconditional" is a movie whose preview warns you it is based on a real life. But rather than retreat into a script of stereotyped plot mechanisms and clichéd character lines, this movie soars. It is a film about life and love that doesn't rely on chapters with romanticised epigraphs of why life really matters.

Full Review:  Samantha Crawford and Joe Bradford (played by Lynn Collins and Michael Ealy respectively) are two adults whose lives have re-intersected after having been apart since childhood. The stories of their intervening years were markedly different. Joe's life was a redemptive story of "meeting God in prison" that led him to a life of serving at-risk children. Sam's life was of the childhood artist whose idyllic adult marriage and young adult experience turns terribly tragic with the death of her saintly husband.  The two main characters had grown up as best friends in grade school, but after drifting apart beyond childhood, are reunited by a seemingly random event in which their paths cross again.

Once reunited, Sam and Joe learn about each other's lives and it is in this context that the movie unfolds. The story told is both for their learning and ours. Because this is a film of tragedy turned to redemption, it can be easy to expect, and in turn dismiss, the impact of its virtues as tediously moralistic (or worse, religious).  Yet, "Unconditional" doesn't run aground of trite "pop spirituality" as a plot device to rescue our characters from otherwise missing important themes.  Collins and Ealy play their parts with finesse that provides their characters with personal warmth contrasted by broken humanity. You enjoy the story as it unfolds. You grasp the tension of their narratives. You are brought into the plot and find yourself engrossed in the idea that hope may actually win the day.

As a Christian, I have always been interested in seeing quality art and media that reflected personal glimpses into real faith. But I, conversely, have seen so much half-hearted, poorly-produced modern media (done in the name of Christian values) that the potential of a strong story is lost in a schmaltzy presentation done by sub par participants. Let me be clear, "Unconditional" is the first film I have seen that has modern film chops while exploring hopeful, spiritual possibilities. It's not a hackneyed "Christian film". And thank God.

Parent-rating wise, the film has some scenes and concepts which are disruptive for kids below 10 years old, though it's almost certain nothing here would be shocking to kids who have watched any prime time TV. The MPAA rating for the film is PG-13, primarily for some brief violent scenes and themes. I won't go against that rating. It seems apt, if not conservative.

Are there momentary pauses of heroism and sentimentalism to bask in? Yes, but none are too long or unbelievable and all fit the story. In short, the story and acting are so intriguing and delightful they center the gravity of the film to its characters, keeping it well grounded. The direction and visuals are given both well done. Poor cinematography and effects are the points in which other films with low-budget or weak leadership often bleed out on a film- you see none of that in "Unconditional".  This is the first time, in a long time, that I've been emotionally engaged in a movie and not felt guilty for it- this story has the ability to grip you.

I strongly encourage you to consider seeing this movie. It may be warmly emotional, but it forecasts the movie style and expectations well in both the previews and the promo copy script. I highly recommend "Unconditional!" Go see it!


Movie link:


Review by Kim Gentes

The Avengers (2012)

Super action. Mindless destruction. Hilarious slapstick stupidity.

Overall Grade: A
Story: A-
Acting: A
Direction: A
Visuals: A+


Summary: Combine great action, mindless explosions, galatic super-invasion and rampant super-heros with a Larry-Moe-and-Curly script line? This is the unnerving thought behind the newest Marvel melee "The Avengers". And not only does it work- it works better than any other movie done of any Marvel characters to date! A huge, monster, funny hit!

Full Review: It is rare that an overloaded genre can carve out the word "great" from a much expected, over-budgeted block-buster movie. But such is the case with Marvel Comics movie adapation of "The Avengers". Confession time, I grew up a comic "geek". Ya, you know the kind- reads all the credits, knows the names of pencil artists, inkers, colorists and writers. Knows which alternate universe a story line belongs in. The geeky kind. I grew up, unlike many, enjoying a plethora of story from both the Marvel and DC comic book worlds. I never discriminated on brands, but looked just for great story and art and bought the issues I thought held those in ample store.  DC (think Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman) was the world of superhumans that operated on galactic scale, but occasionally were humbled by their core humanity. Marvel (think Spiderman, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Iron Man) was the world of humans who dealt trepedatiously with the super powers they all seemed to unwillingly stumble upon.

I always loved the sketch of weakness that formed the core of creator Stan Lee's characters in the Marvel world. It is that core that made his "heros" endear themselves to the millions of readers across the world. And it is that foundational characteristic that is the basis of the new movie "The Avengers". Yes, there are epic battles. Yes, there are demi-god enemies. Yes, there are unstoppable weapons. But the blockbuster "The Avengers" wins not for all that. It wins for its human slight of hand- humor. Forget the plot, forget the fight scenes and destruction. Just give me Tom Hiddleston (evil arch-enemy of Thor, Loki) making a gaudy remark about being god-like, only to have a half-whitted Hulk fling him about like a rag doll. Give me Robert Downey Jr. making wisecracks that are actually funny.

When one goes to see "The Avengers", one expects all the massive overproduction that this Hollywood escape-show delivers. But one doesn't expect the punchy, over-obvious lines to be actually - funny! But they are. The movie rambles well through catacalysm and enjoys such snapshot characatures of its characters that there is plenty of room for superheros to elbow and punch one another through walls.

You won't be dissappointed in any part of this expected escapism, and you will be laughing and smiling through 70% of the film.  If you haven't seen "Avengers", see it now. See it in BluRay on a giant screen, with plenty of pizza, popcorn and drinks. A fun, mindless, funny, action romp.

For parents, the only real question is-  is your child old enough to see big action violence. The PG-13 rating seems overdone but there is a mild drug reference. 


Amazon DVD Link:


Review by Kim Gentes

The Grey (2012)

Hunting the hunter.

Overall Grade: B+
Story: B
Acting: A
Direction: B
Visuals: B+


Summary: In the Alaskan arctic north, where only oil companies would venture, work a group of men whose jobs are not only extracting resources from the bleak land, but protecting themselves from the elements and from the native killers- wolves. This film is about losing your defenses, and having to face the dangers not only of the outside wilderness but of the internal world of fear that some men leave unchallenged until they must fight for their lives.

Full Review:  John Ottway (played by Liam Neeson) is a hired sharpshooter and big game hunter who is supposed to kill wolves that threaten the work camp of the Alaskan oil-workers he is employed with. Ottway's internal dialogue provides the narration for the film and it introduces you to a troubled middle-aged man who is heartbroken over the loss of his wife. We aren't immediately told if she simply left him or died, but his grief is the prominent catalyst for his narrative.

Very quickly, Ottway and a group of other employees at the outpost are boarding a plane for a trip out of the north. The story begins full force when the plane crashes and most of the travelers are killed. The plot quickly establishes Ottway with a half dozen men trying to find their way back to civilization amidst the bone-chilling snow and the bone-crushing pack of wolves that pursue the cadre as prey.

Neeson's character gains strength by reciting advice and poetry handed to him from the memory of his father. As the seemingly obvious showdown with the wolves draws nigh, Ottway is challenged with the question of whether his courage will be enough to live up to the lines of the poem he recites:

Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live or die on this day.
Live or die on this day.

The journey for the men facing the winter and the wolves, while contrived, is still frightening, and even ghoulish, as limbs, wounds and wolves combine with enough blood to churn lighter stomachs. There are parts of the movie that even look a touch cheesy- for example, the "eyes in the dark" scene strangely reminds us of scenes from the animated 1994 Disney epic, Lion King.  And while the those directorial weaknesses remind you this isn't epic film-making, Neeson's unstoppable screen presence lifts the film on his shoulders and carries it home.

Again, it is Ottway's internal world that frames the best part of the intellegent conversation of this film.  His wife, his father, his self-evaluations- these are what give the movie its boyancy and life. The end-game is important enough that I won't give it away here. It's not a great film, but certainly well worth watching and is a solid B rating from this reviewer.

For parents, I recommend no one under 16 see this film. The violence, gore and language are too strong, vivid and constant. 


Amazon DVD Link:


Review by Kim Gentes

The Tree Of Life (2011)

Life. Death. Joy. Pain.

Overall Grade: A-
Story: B
Acting: A+
Direction: A+
Visuals: A+


Summary: Most films have a specific plot. They develop tension through the story, hoping to surprise you a bit with the conclusion and warm or thrill you along the way. Very few films try to approach a topic as broad as "the meaning of life" or as grand as "what happens when we die". The film "The Tree of Life" climbs into the ring with the epic Stanley Kubrick film "2001: A Space Odyssey" and tries to give us answers to what our universe is about. It is to be heralded for its attempt, though it will feel like its wash of ubiquitous meanderings may well leave viewers so unsure of what they just saw, they won't feel inspired to believe its premise. Some will get it, others simply won't stay interested long enough to wait out the proposals that the film makes.

Full Review: First, let me say that if my summary seems languishing and uncertain, you have just felt what most people will feel seeing the film. This creation of art is a truly breath-taking journey from no less than the beginnings of the universe until the virtual end of time (at least for our central family on which the story will finally rest).  If you are considering watching "The Tree of Life", you need to know that this film is not meant to give you a sharp, well defined 90 minutes of story. Rather, the movie is meant to draw a visual understanding of the entire history of the universe, how we fit into that, where it might all be going and how an individual families story might make sense in that continuum.

If you think that goal is lofty, you apparently haven't met Terrence Malick, the writer and director of this movie.  His vision of reality is certainly enthralling, though ultimately unsurprising. From a philosophical standpoint there is nothing new with his presentation. He is not breaking any new genres in origins theory or developing new ideas about life after death. What Malick does, though, is merge a good many of those ideas into a visual timeline that threads the viewer into a world that transgresses barriers of reality- from the ephemeral , physical here and now, to the eternal, other-worldly cosmic hereafter. 

The problem with the film is that you can lose site of what he is doing, primarily because he does nothing to prime the audience where he is starting, where he is going and where you might be stopping along the way. One has to construct that by watching. For example, there is one segment in which he travels to the origins of time and takes literally 15 or more minutes without a word being spoken. You travel in and out of earth "space" and only hear fleeting words from the narrator, who ends up being a boy who is found on both sides of the alive and eternal spectrum. 

What you eventually find out is that this boy has a story, and this film lands, finally, on his life and that of his family. The story arc progresses nicely then, with brief detours into cosmically other realities. The goal is for you to begin to see how everything is knit together, and yet how grand and important each person's life can be, if but for one proposition.

I won't give the point of the movie away, but it is certainly an insightful one. Not original, but certainly in agreement with many who have spoken on this topic of our grand purpose.

While the movie does have this vast self interest, it nonetheless does bring you poignantly into the world of a 50's reality in which a man and his family struggle with real life issues. Eventually, you come to the point of a death of one of the children. All this is beginning to make sense and gives context as you are occasionally flashed forward into a future time as well.  Actors Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain become the fully embodied examples of humanity, life, joy, struggle and pain that we can see both on the screen and in ourselves.  Pitt and Chastain are the best, and more prominent. Penn is cast as a brooding, lost man, still broken from some past event. He does well but remains too undeveloped to engage the audience other than perhaps feel as unsettled as his character does.

People who want a quick movie for a romantic date should avoid this film. People who want a heartwarming story with endearing clichés will also want to pass here. Creationists and evolutionists will each be enthralled and ultimately disappointed at a film that leaves room for literally a thousand interpretations. And that, I think, is the point. Malick attempts to draw such a grand vision that he leaves us asking far more questions just about his film than we had before we went into the theatre. I felt like this was good, and an inspiring journey along the way. There is a strong moral lesson at the end and I also think it is good (that helps when one agrees with it).

But there is something about the film that I also felt was contrived, especially where he looks to include symbols and metaphors from literally dozens of schools of thought from religion to science to philosophy to psychology. At times, it seems too much for a single film and loses potency with the over-reaching.

That said, it was one of the best films I have seen this year. I would recommend it to anyone wishing to see an engaging spectacle of thoughtful film with grand aspirations.  You may not agree with Malick's perspective, but that may actually be the point of the film.


Amazon DVD Link:


Review by Kim Gentes.

Margin Call (2011)

Money for nothing and your kicks for free... fall.

Overall Grade: B+
Story: A
Acting: A
Direction: B-
Visuals: B+


Summary: Imagine a world in which people are trading with so much money that tiny slices of a single percentage of a sale was millions of dollars. Imagine that same world run completely by decisions based a supremely complicated formula inside of a computer. You've gone from the world of The Wealth of Nations to The Wealth of Equations. Now imagine that formula is wrong. What kind of world is that? It's the world described in "Margin Call". But it isn't just an imaginary world, its scathing criticism that borders on political bashing of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. If all this sounds too technical to you, then you may not like "Margin Call". However, don't give yourself an easy out and ignore this movie, because it is actually the humanizing acting of its star-packed cast that brings the world of brokering mortgages backed derivatives down to a simple equation- are you greedy enough to do this? While this film could easily have been a political swing to demonize derivatives traders as a kind of Gordon Gecko meets Charles Keating meets LTCM company/persona (and I am not saying it isn't), the film has such great performances and personal stories that it engages the viewer and holds you captive throughout. Parental warning- excessive language in this film. Read full review before considering this for your children.

Full Review: I'll admit, if I hadn't been studying finance and economics for the last year I might not have found this film to be of interest as I pursued through the Netflix catalog. As I clicked "play" I was fully ready to stop and jump to some action film or brain teaser.  But right from the start, the intensity of this film was electric. Stanley Tucci's character, Eric Dale, is gripped with losing his job as a risk management manager at a trading company and you genuinely feel compelled by his loss and his sense of injustice. But as the story trails through its complicated introduction, each actor steps up with a believable (and sometimes powerful) character. Kevin Spacy is brilliant as director Sam Rogers, Jeremy Irons is commanding as the corporate CEO and Zachary Quinto plays his role as the brilliant young mathemetician perfectly. But it is actually Paul Bettany's work as the selfish, calculating and venomous Will Emerson (trading manager) that steals the show. His self-indicting script exposes what director/writer JC Chandor hopes will be a vilification of the greed of Wall Street.

The movie works well simply on the script and acting. No one dies (though you wish people would), no one is commiting espionage (though you think that might be where the film is going early on) and no actual crimes are being committed (though it seems hard to believe). Yet there is more tension and suspense in this movie than most action films I have seen. It is very well paced.

The weak parts of the movie are limited to a couple of peformances by Simon Baker (who seems like he is in way over his head) and Demi Moore (who can't act with any intensity in any scenario). Neither of them ruin their parts, but the comparitive weakness of their portrayals is obvious against the blistering performances of their counterparts.

Parent Warning/Rating considerations- This film is rated R. Because of the language, this is not a film I would let anyone under 13 watch, and anyone 13-17 should see it with parental supervision. I realize I am being more constrictive on my age recommendations than many people would be on such things, but this film says the F-word well over 50 times, and I wasn't counting. For adults who understand that films about the "real world" may have such language, this film will not seem any different than any other R film you've seen. I should note that there is no nudity in this movie, though there are references.

As a film, this is not a date-movie, guy-movie or chick-flick. It's most likely going to be one that is going to be passed on because it doesn't have content or themes appealing to "escapism in film". It's dreary, painful and even frightful in all the same ways that life can be- people losing jobs, people lieing to others, people doing things just close enough to be within the "law" but really avoiding moral guidelines. Not a popcorn-happy boost for an evening. But I hope that all that doesn't stop you from seeing this film.

If you give it a chance, I think it will end up being one of the best films you have seen in the last year.


Amazon DVD Link:


Review by Kim Gentes.