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Firestarter (1984)
An Awkward Adaptation
26 October 2004
The main problem with "Firestarter" is it tries to adapt the story of the book faithfully, at the expense of character development. It is impossible to cram a five hundred page book into one two hour movie and make it work favourably. For much of the picture, the pacing feels awkward and rushed, more interested in moving the plot along than developing the characters.

Brian De Palma's "Carrie" followed the story of the book just as closely. But seeing as "Carrie" is less than half the length of "Firestarter", it made for a much more comfortable adaptation.

Stanley Kubrick had the right idea with "the Shining". The book was about the same length as "Firestarter", and as a result the plot was butchered heavily to make it work for the screen. Stephen King (and much of his loyal fanbase) have misgivings about Kubrick's adaptation, a lot of people who love film (and recognise it as the different medium that it is) regard it as a masterpiece.

Mark Lester's "Firestarter" isn't all bad however. George C. Scott's John Rainbird is inspired casting, and probably the best thing this film has going for it. The scene at the Manders' farm, and the conclusion at the Shop's headquarters make for enjoyable viewing and are handled capably.

It's a shame, that as a whole, the film doesn't work too well. I'd definitely like to see this re-adapted into another film or a mini-series. The book isn't exactly King's best, but it has a lot of potential for another screen outing. 5/10
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"Love Actually" my arse...
30 September 2004
With the recent uprise of awful sitcoms here in the UK, it's nice to see that good British comedy isn't truly dead (arf!). Even better to see a good British comedy film that responds so well to our friends across the Atlantic (and one that credits neither Richard Curtis or Hugh Grant).

Having never watched the (apparently excellent) series "Spaced", and not being a massive fan of zombie movies, I wasn't really sure how I was going to respond to this.

Thankfully, I loved it. It may be a zombie film, but it's the hilarious dialogue and brilliant chemistry between the characters that warms the core of this movie. Crucially, the film maintains a suitable balance between drama and comedy at the right moments, and fortunately (unlike a lot of films in this genre) never plunges to ridiculousness.

The Wayans brothers could've learned a thing or two from this, had it come before the awful "Scary Movie" series. I'll be checking out "Spaced" very soon. 8/10
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Essential Viewing (but not for the right reasons)
13 September 2004
I saw this for three quid on a web site once and couldn't resist. I'm not a fan of "bad movies", but I'd seen clips of this on television and it looked like an interesting debut for Arnie.

The clips I'd seen were dubbed by some American actor, which looks ridiculous now that Arnie has become so established. However the DVD only had the original Schwarzenegger soundtrack, which proved to be just as ridiculous. People complain about Arnold's accent now? It was so thick in this film, backed up with terrible acting (made his performance in "Commando" look Oscar-worthy), it's no wonder he was dubbed. You can barely understand a thing he says. As terrible as this is though, it's one of the main reasons to see this.

The concept of the film is ridiculous, it perhaps could've worked if it didn't take itself so seriously (ironically, it wouldn't have been as funny though). The thing that really disturbs me is that human beings conjured up this film, adult human beings. They wrote it, it was approved, people agreed to have a part in it, it was directed, it was shot, it was acted, it was edited, it was released, and people actually watched it.

I only watched it once in its entirety, and that took a few sittings (despite its short length). It is mostly a very tedious experience. Thankfully there are some stand-out scenes that are absolutely (and unintentionally) hilarious. The bear wrestling scene for instance, it was like something from a Monty Python sketch. I found scenes like this were actually worth re-visiting, and the only reason anyone would want to keep this in their collection. I later sold it though, it just had no place on my shelf.

Of course this film would be so much easier to dismiss (probably less ridiculous, and even more tedious), if it weren't for Arnie. It is the fact that he has since been cemented as one of the biggest movie stars of all time, and this is where he started. Although he'd already established himself as a body builder at this point, he continued to win more contests, became a huge international movie star, is now the governor of California, and might even be President one day, all with a thick Austrian accent. Looking at "Hercules in New York" is a reminder, there's hope for us yet. 2/10
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Scarface (1983)
Exceed to Excess
12 September 2004
Every great gangster movie has under-currents of human drama. Don't expect an emotional story of guilt, retribution and despair from "Scarface". This is a tale of ferocious greed, corruption, and power. The darker side of the fabled "American Dream".

Anybody complaining about the "cheesiness" of this film is missing the point. The superficial characters, cheesy music, and dated fashions further fuel the criticism of this life of diabolical excess. Nothing in the lives of these characters really matter, not on any human level at least. In fact the film practically borderlines satire, ironic considering all the gangsta rappers that were positively inspired by the lifestyle of Tony Montana.

This isn't Brian DePalma's strongest directorial effort, it is occasionally excellent and well-handled (particularly the memorable finale), but frequently sinks to sloppy and misled. Thankfully, it is supported by a very strong script by Oliver Stone (probably good therapy for him, considering the coke habit he was tackling at the time). The themes are consistent, with the focus primarily on the life of Tony Montana, and the evolution of his character as he is consumed by greed and power. The dialogue is also excellent, see-sawing comfortably between humour and drama. There are many stand-out lines, which have since wormed their way into popular culture in one form or another.

The cast help make it what it is as well, but this is really Pacino's film. One of his earlier less subtle performances (something much more common from him nowadays), this is a world entirely separate from Michael Corleone and Frank Serpico. Yet he is as watchable here as ever, in very entertaining (and intentionally over-the-top) form. It is hard to imagine another Tony Montana after seeing this film, in possibly one of the most mimicked performances ever. Pfeiffer stood out as dull and uncomfortable on first viewing, but I've come to realize how she plays out the part of the bored little wife. Not an exceptional effort, but unfairly misjudged. The supporting players are very good too, particularly Paul Shenar as the suave Alejandro Sosa.

Powerful, occasionally humorous, sometimes shocking, and continually controversial. "Scarface" is one of the films of the eighties (whatever that might mean to you). An essential and accessible gangster flick, and a pop-culture landmark. 9/10
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Bloody Satisfaction
11 August 2004
As a movie fan, I wouldn't like to say I "dislike" Asian cinema, I simply haven't seen enough to comfortably pass judgment. I am certainly not a fan, and imagine it to be a genre that would be quite difficult for me to get into. The excuse that I've seen thrown around, that "Kill Bill: Volume One" is almost solely for Asian film fanatics, is ludicrous. I don't believe that this film will necessarily make an Asian film fan out of anyone, and I should know because I bloody loved it (but maybe that's because I was a Tarantino fan before).

So the plot at this point isn't particularly deep and the characters aren't very well explored, but all this can be forgiven due to the equally excellent "Volume Two", which fleshes everything out nicely. The cast do a good job this time around, but it isn't until "Volume Two" that the extent of their work can truly be appreciated. It isn't even until then that Tarantino's smart dialogue really comes into play. "Volume One" is solely about style, and I hope the Wachowskis are watching, because there really is much they could learn here.

It is so refreshing to watch an action sequence that for once, feels so real. The over-abundance of CGI elements in the "Matrix" films (amongst others) rose the action to absurdity. It was also nice to see the sequences in "Kill Bill" play out solely in real time, none of that slow-motion crap, which is a real thrill killer. Of course all this would mean nothing without the great control Tarantino shows during these scenes. A fine balance was retained which makes you root for the bride, but at the same time not take things too seriously. Tarantino WANTS his audience to have a good time, there's not nearly enough directors who hold that value to the same extent. I find it laughably ironic that this movie is seen as homage to many previous works, but delivers some of the freshest action sequences in recent years. I must also say it pays to see the "House of Blue Leaves" sequence in smashing full-colour goodness, if you can get hold of the Japanese version.

The anime sequence really opened my eyes and showed there's more to Japanimation than "Pokémon". When I first heard about it I questioned it's value, but it's executed brilliantly, and is phased in seamlessly. Of course there is no reason for it, other than to contribute to the film's style, and as I said that's what "Volume One" is all about.

The soundtrack is Tarantino's most diverse yet. This isn't an ordinary film, so an ordinary soundtrack won't do. The pieces that Tarantino has gathered do an admirable job, with a few original pieces (a first for Tarantino) from the RZA to fill the gaps.

I won't deny that without the presence of "Volume Two", it's easy to dismiss this first installment as shallow, but it delivers a level of sheer entertainment with eye bleeding visuals that shame most blockbusters. 9/10
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Donnie Brasco (1997)
Mob Movie with Human Drama
11 August 2004
As a fan of this film I recently read the book, I was surprised out how inaccurate the movie adaptation was, but it didn't bother me as I felt (and still feel) that this was one of the best mob movies the 90s had to offer.

Mob movie it may be, but at the root of it is real human drama. The sacrifices made by Joe Pistone, his dedication to his job and his courage, in light of what it was doing to his family, what it could do to him. But it is the relationship between Joe (alias Donnie Brasco) and his Mafia counterpart, Lefty that really drive the story. It certainly does help that they are played by two of the greatest actors of their respective generations.

Al Pacino delivers one of his best performances in years, as the likable, quirky gangster Lefty. A character as ruthless as some of his other gangster parts (Tony Montana, Michael Corleone), but surrounded with real warmth and a slight air of tragedy (not too dissimilar from Carlito Brigante).

Depp is also on top form. He subsequently delivered very accurate performances of real-lifers Hunter S. Thompson / Raoul Duke and George Jung, right down to their most subtle mannerisms. I can only assume the same level of authenticity, bearing in mind the amount of time he spent with the real Pistone. Either way it's a solid performance, and he delivers the difficult part of a double-life convincingly.

The supporting cast all do their job well with Bruno "Young Clemenza" Kirby as the Joe Pesci-alike (in name, too) Nicky Santora, and Anne Heche turning in a solid performance as the troubled housewife. Michael Madsen in a tailor-made likable tough guy role: an offer you can't refuse. Unfortunately these characters aren't developed nearly as well as they are in the book, with more emphasis on the Donnie and Lefty relationship. However with its slick pace, I find this a minor critique.

There are parts from the book that would've worked really well in the movie, but I am very happy with what we've got. A well-executed, entertaining, interesting and heart-felt adaptation which, executes the principles of the true story excellently, even without the chronology. 9/10
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True Romance (1993)
Tarantino's Fairy Tale
23 June 2004
I recently read Tarantino's original screenplay to "True Romance". Apart from the change in narrative structure (non-chronological), it hints to a bleaker, grittier urban drama, with a tragedy ending. It would be very interesting to see the final film in Tarantino's vision.

Tony Scott's sugar-coated adaptation works wonders though. It was made very clear in the script that the relationship between the two leads was very strong. Scott took this unison and gave the film a fairy-tale tone. The villains in the film are very colourful, contributing to the feel that Scott has established. Hans Zimmer's score does nothing better, than to enforce this vision.

The cast is one of the most impressive line-ups I've ever seen. Much of the film rests on the shoulders of Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, both characters come off very likable with clear, clean, simple motives. These are career performances. Dennis Hopper gives good in his limited screen-time as Christian's ex-cop, ex-alcoholic father. It is in his time shared with Christopher Walken (being a one-scene wonder, like in "Pulp Fiction"), that he comes off at his best. The Sicilian scene is Walken's most intense since "Deer Hunter". Gary Oldman also gives another deliciously evil and memorable performance, the man is a chameleon, he is yet to unimpress me.

But one of my favourite things about the cast is seeing then-relative-unknowns Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini in small, but memorable roles. A real shame that Jackson's performance was cut down heavily from the script, some of the dialogue in his one scene was very amusing, if maybe a little offensive to some.

"True Romance" is a brilliant crime drama, and a perfect (if phased) introduction to Tarantino's work, it is probably the most accessible film he's penned. People will always ponder over whether or not Tarantino's directorial version would have been better, but they can always rest-assure that Scott has given a wonderful adaptation, supported by a very strong cast. It could have been much, much worse. 9/10
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The world that we live in...
22 June 2004
I hate the celebrity culture. I hate the fact that people become famous, just for the sake of being famous. I hate the fact that just because a celebrity gets married or has a child, that's front page news. I hate reality TV. I hate shows like "Pop Idol" (or "American Idol"), where normal people seem to think they are destined for A-list status. The fact that this film (The King of Comedy) is as old as I am, is either an all too worrying statement on society, or proves that it was way ahead of its time. Maybe that's why I love it so much.

De Niro has always amazed me, but the fact that he seems to understand this character so well is a little overwhelming. Whether he is delivering cringeworthy gags to a cardboard audience, or embarrassing himself, obliviously, in front of Jerry Lewis, his consistency is amazing. His motives are understandable to anyone who's ever had a dream. Perhaps it's De Niro's early ambition as an actor, that fuelled this shamefully overlooked performance.

Jerry Lewis is perfect as the disgruntled TV host. A man who lives a double-life of hilarious TV personality, with a bitter persona off-screen. You can certainly relate to this man's motivations, his love for his work, but his resistance to allow it run his personal life.

The only character I can't totally emphasize with is Sandra Bernhard's Masha (her actions aren't justified as well as De Niro's Rupert). But maybe that just goes with my aforementioned hatred for celebrity culture. The scary thing is, I know that people like this exist, and I didn't for a second, question the feasibility of her performance.

As usual, Scorsese shows brilliant control, despite this being one of his most modest works.

"The King of Comedy" should be looked upon, now more than ever, as a very important film, that has a lot to say about the world we live in and the obsessions that we consume. 9/10
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Pulp Fiction (1994)
Royale with Cheese...
26 July 2003
I went to Paris recently. Whilst walking down the famous Champs Elysees, I decided to check out the local MacDonald's just to see exactly what they do call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. To my disappointment, it wasn't "Royale with Cheese" (or should that read "avec fromage"?) but something slightly different.. I forget what it was exactly, but that's not important...

To call a movie like Pulp Fiction special is like... well.. it's special. A special movie. Masterpiece, even. Tarantino's script must rank among the sharpest and wittiest ever written. A lot of the dialogue is completely unnecessary as far as narrative goes, it does very little to forward the plot. Yet it is the dialogue that makes the movie so compelling and holds the interest of the audience just as well as any brilliantly told story could. This isn't to say that the movie has no decent narrative flow or substance to the story. Far from it. Tarantino's less than chronological way of telling this story makes it all the more intriguing. On first viewing, this may baffle viewers throughout most of the presentation. However, such a feeling just makes the final diner scene (where everything ties together) all the more satisfying. The three stories that are chronicled in this film are all unique, yet filled with the same brilliant drama and dark humour that wowed audiences of Tarantino's two previously penned films, Reservoir Dogs and True Romance.

The characters in this movie are unforgettable and brilliantly written. Each and every event in the movie contributes greatly to the personality of each of them. By the end of it, we feel greatly acquainted with those that have the most limited screentime. They are backed up by a superbly talented all star cast. My two personal favourite performances being those of the fantastic Samuel L. Jackson (in a brilliant break-through role) as the wise-cracking hitman Jules Winnfield, and the legendary Harvey Keitel as the wonderfully odd fix-it man Winston Wolfe. Honourable mention should also go to the always outstanding Christopher Walken in his small but intriguing part as Captain Koons. Needless to say, the rest of the cast do Tarantino proud and all give some of the best of their career.

At less than ten years old, Pulp Fiction is regarded as one of the finest of offerings in over a hundred years of cinema. It is one of the most important films of the twentieth century. Watch it, if you don't like it, keep watching it until you do. 9/10 (because I never give tens).
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Hannibal (2001)
Breaking the Silence, not Imitating It!
23 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
The Silence of the Lambs was a masterpiece. I was delighted to hear that the sequel was going to be put into the capable hands of Ridley Scott, one of the greatest directors of the late 20th century. It was also a joy to hear that Hopkins would reprise his role as Hannibal, but it was a great disappointment learning that Jodie Foster won't return.

Comparing Hannibal to Silence of the Lambs is a mistake that many people make. As Scott himself puts it, Hannibal is more of a sequel to the characters of SotL, not a sequel to the film itself. Hannibal introduces new things that Silence left untouched. To many people, this change makes Hannibal unfaithful to the original. In my opinion, the best sequels are the ones that tread new ground. It is probably due to the rarity of these sequels that a series original is always quoted as being the best.

Anyway, Julianne Moore does a great job of bringing Starling back. I'm glad that they could find a suitable actress to replace Foster. Hopkins as expected, is a joy to watch from start to finish, he dominates every scene he's in with the same fashion that made him so great in SotL. The rest of the cast were very strong too. I was a little disappointed that Gary Oldman's unique talent of portraying bad guys was wasted on an unrecognisable guy in a rubber mask, but that was a minor setback.

Yes, the film is quite gory. Gore doesn't offend me much, but one scene near the end was quite hard to stomach (more on that later). The film was quite a tense affair, despite the large manhunt, Hannibal keeps his cool and allows us to do all the sweating. Ridley certainly brought a few directional techniques from his previous movie, Gladiator. There were lots of slow downs and camera effects that Gladiator fans should feel at home with. And as usual, Hans Zimmer provides a great soundtrack.

***The following paragraph contains SPOILERS!!***

The one part of the movie that left an ugly taste in my mouth was the dinner scene near the end. It seemed unrealistic for Paul to remain alive, let alone conscious, with the top of his head sliced off and his brain exposed. Since my first viewing it has come to my attention that this is possible. Exposing the brain obviously doesn't kill people, otherwise we wouldn't have brain surgery. Paul manages to stay conscious because of the heavy dose of morphine that Hannibal pumped into him, if it weren't for this, Paul would have most likely died of shock, or would have at least fainted. However, this evidence still doesn't help much. The scene still feels way too unsubtle and exposed to deserve a part in this film.

Apart from the inconvinience mentioned in the above paragraph. Hannibal is still a solid modern thriller, try not to compare to SotL, and you're in for a treat. It is probably one of Ridley Scott's worst efforts, but it still has plenty of entertainment value. Rating: 8/10.
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Aliens (1986)
A Fantastic Blend of Sci-Fi, Action, Tension and Horror!
23 August 2001
Aliens is one of those very rare sequels that are viewed as better than the original by most people. It dares to do stuff that the crew of the original wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. This is what makes it stand out.

Ripley wakes up 57 years after her first encounter with the Alien. She learns that the planet visited in the original movie has been colonised during her slumber. Despite all her fears of the Alien, an unexplained yet understood inner motivation makes her return to the planet. Naturally under the protection of some bad-ass marines.

The cast of this movie is very strong and you can see why James Cameron casts many of these actors over and over again in his movies. Sigourney Weaver manages to show fear and aggression towards the Aliens. Michael Biehn does a good job portraying a character that keeps his cool, but also stays alert and focused. Bill Paxton is completely unforgettable as the cocky bad-ass turned panicky coward, Private Hudson. I won't go into detail with the rest of the cast, but they all give stellar performances.

The special effects of this movie are absolutely amazing. The film is 15 years old and manages to outshine most of the CGI-dependant movies of recent years. James Cameron's theory of motion over appearance works brilliantly. To make the Alien in the first film less human-like, they mostly concealed the beast in darkness, there were still one or two scenes where the Alien's presence was ruined with human motion. In the sequel, Cameron hired the talents of stuntmen and tried all sorts of tricks, the Aliens move so brilliantly that you have to suspend belief that there are actually humans inside. The film is also backed up with fantastic sets and makeup effects from industry expert, Stan Winston.

From start to finish, James Horner's soundtrack adds a new dimension of suspense and wonder. It was also great for fans of the original to hear tidbits of Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack mixed in.

Overall this is a fantastic film and a true classic. This movie deserves every ounce of hype it gets, it's tense, it's exciting, it delivers! Rating: 9/10.
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Flaws aplenty, but entertaining nonetheless!
20 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!!! First, I just wanted to say that I haven't yet had the opportunity to see the 1968 version and I'm not one of those people who prefer remakes over originals just because "the effects are better".

Anyway.. what can I say about this movie? I'll start on the positive side of things. It was very entertaining and seemed to actually have a bit of intelligence behind it, a rare (but welcome) combination in modern Hollywood. The makeup and special effects were absolutely stunning. The apes looked and moved like apes, yet effectively had the human characteristic of being able to distinguish the characters through face recognition. It made a great combination. This great imagery was backed up by impressive looking sets. Watching the two connect together, it was hard to believe these were human actors in ape costumes acting on a studio set, you get the full impression of a real world. The cast were good enough, Mark was convincing as a lost and puzzled human, the rest of the humans were appropriately primitive-like, Carter portrayed the human-sympathising Ari well and.. well Tim Roth as Thade.. he stole the show every time he appeared, his portrayl of the character echoed frustration and anger and his voice was more than appropriate. The film also had a well suited soundtrack, provided by music magic man, Danny Elfman. The direction throughout this movie was also very strong and of the usual Burton quality.

Anyway, onto the bad stuff. There were countless plot problems and issues that weren't explained either fully enough or not at all. The apes rode horses.. however, where these horses came from was unexplained. Mark kisses that blonde woman at the end (whose character is so insignificant, her name isn't even worth remembering) even though he only said about three words to her throughout the whole film, I have no idea.. was there supposed to be some sort of love triangle thing going on with Mark, Ari and the blonde? The part near the end with the chimp arriving in his pod was so coincidental that it just seemed completely unbelievable. The apes were scared of water, for some bizarre reason they couldn't swim, even though they are physically superior to humans. The apes are unable to cross water because they can't swim, so why can't they build a boat? I'm sure there were other plot issues too, but those are the only ones that I can remember. Now onto my comment on the ending, which, if you've seen the film is probably the part you've been waiting for. I warn you, if you haven't seen the movie, then do yourself a favour, don't read the paragraph below, it will completely spoil the almost remote chance that the ending will shock you in a positive manner.

Three words: what, the, hell? I've questioned myself over and over about how this ending could make any possible sense whatsoever. As Mark's pod landed and he walked up to the Lincoln statue I thought to myself "Hehe.. it would be funny if we find out that Mark's world is now inhabited by apes.. but then again.. the writers aren't that stupid.. are they?". I actually felt quite gutted the moment where we saw the statue's face, because the rest of the story (despite the plot problems mentioned) actually made sense. I've since heard lot's of interesting theories, but they've all had some sort of reason for not being correct. The most popular theory was that Thade repairs Leo's space pod and goes back through time to Earth and edits the world. First of all, Leo's pod is underwater and apparently the apes can't swim, so it is unaccessible to Thade. Also, even if Thade could get the pod, the apes don't have the technology to repair it. The pod was only big enough to fit Thade in, how could just one ape make such a difference? Finally, if apes did inhabit Earth instead of humans.. what would be the chance of the apes building a city exactly the same as Washington DC with a Thade memorial looking exactly the same as the Lincoln memorial? Pretty damn slim to say the least.

Anyway, final verdict: entertaining, but too many plot problems and an appalling ending. If the movie ended the second that Mark's pod takes off at the end, my overall opinion would have been better, let's just hope a sequel will come our way and remedy all our frustrations about that ending. Rating: 6/10.
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Not as bad as expected
7 July 2001
I've been playing Tomb Raider games on my PC since the start. I used to be an avid fan of the series, but four sequels on, the formula of the game has got very tired and overused.

I still remember three years ago reading in a magazine, news of an upcoming Tomb Raider movie. I refused to believe it, a ridiculous rumour, surely? More news was reported as time went by, disbelief followed. Then last year, I saw pictures of Jolie as Lara. Oh my God, they were serious. I was certain of its failure.

I downloaded the trailer. A pathetic trailer to put it lightly. It was the final step in convincing me... "this film will fail". The film was released, bad reviews followed, I was as smug as ever.

It was out of sheer boredom that motivated me to actually see it.

The final verdict? Not that bad. My low expectations probably fuelled my opinion to a more positive level. Don't get me wrong, I like my movies to have a plot, which was strangely absent in this movie. I guess I was just too much of a sucker for the brilliant action scenes. Angelina portrays Lara brilliantly and it was nice to see Red Dwarf's Chris Barrie on the big screen, although I feel he was kinda wasted, he has the potential of being a genuinely funny actor.

A 6/10 from me. The plot was the missing keystone of making this movie more of a success.
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