Reviewed by Uri Lessing
About a year ago, I was driving home from work and spotted a column
of smoke on the horizon. Letting my curiosity get the better of me, I
veered off my normal commute route and found myself parked a block away
from an abandoned apartment on fire. Kansas City firefighters were already
on the scene and three teams were quelling the blaze. The pure power of
what they were battling was stunning.
It was the first time I had ever seen firefighters working at an actual
fire, and I was blown away. I had an image of what these people did, but
to actually see it unfolding in front of my eyes was a phenomenal experience.
In that moment, reality cancelled out the fantasy.
Ladder 49 is one of a handful of films made in the last twenty
years that explores the firefighting career. It attempts to pay homage
to firefighters by following the career of Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix)
from the first day he enters a firehouse in Baltimore to a moment when
his life is put in great jeopardy.
While Phoenix desperately attempts to flesh out his character, John Travolta
revels in the pomp and circumstance. Travolta gains popularity when he
injects energy and sexuality into his roles, but his performance as the
stoic Captain Mike Kennedy is dull and lifeless. Both actors are weighed
down heavily by a very predictable story that has about the same amount
of depth as an article from Boys Life.
What is most disappointing about Ladder 49 is it does more to pay
tribute to the stereotype of the fireman than reality. Theres the
corny Irish flute that permeates every scene. When things are good the
firefighters are laughing it up at the firehouse, playing practical jokes
on each other, bonding at barbeques or getting drunk at the friendly neighborhood
bar. When things are bad, theyre stoically mourning the loss or
contemplating the maiming of a firefighter, and struggling with the worries
of their families.
Granted, these are some aspects of being a firefighter, but they should
not be the defining factors. To choose to be a firefighter is to choose
a life of stress, exhaustion and exhilaration. When one is in a profession
that provides a service that 99% of humanity wouldnt know how to
handle, it attracts incredible personalities and amazing stories. Ladder
49 does glorify firefighters but it doesnt offer any insights
to help us understand these heroes.
The tagline for Ladder 49 is Every Hero has a Destiny,
and this reveals to biggest flaw in the film. Firefighters dont
have destinies. They have a job and they do it damn well. (PG-13) Rating:
2; Posted 10/1/04
Reviewed by Deborah Young
Its hard to match the cute factor of animated characters like Shrek
and The Lion King. But cuteness alone begins to wear thin as minutes
Such movies can transcend mere cuteness if the screenwriters choose the
right words to put into the mouths of the characters and show the complexity
of the characters and story line. Funny one-liners or smart observations
not expected from animated creatures can take the characters from cute
to entertaining. Characters that represent a co-mingling of grouchiness
and glee, of silly and serious, can ascend from cartoonish to lovable.
The animated film Shark Tale definitely has the cute factor and
enough witty lines to elicit a few belly laughs. And the films story
is a classic: a have-not envies the alluring world of the haves and longs
to become one of them.
In this case, the main have-not happens to be a jive-talking fish named
Oscar (the voice of Will Smith). Oscar works in a whale wash, just as
his late father did. He scrubs the whales tongues, and hes
good at it. But he longs for the glamorous life at the top of the reef,
where he would be a somebody.
Oscars life begins to change when a shark, Frankie (voice of Michael
Imperioli), one of the sons of feared gangster shark Don Lino (Robert
De Miros voice), meets an untimely death. After Frankie dies, Oscar
decides to take credit for his death. The lie boosts Oscar to the esteemed
status of shark killer.
Frankies brother, Lenny (voice of Jack Black), becomes Oscars
co-conspirator in the lie because he wants a way to escape his unhappy
lot. Hes a vegetarian shark, an embarrassment to his gangster father.
The movie is full of allusions to gangster movies and pop culture past
and present. Oscar bops into the whale wash to the upbeat tune of the
70s song Car Wash. A large TV screen broadcasts
reports from newsfish Katie Current (with the voice of Katie Couric).
At the top of the reef, sea creatures party in a spacious room that has
a floor-to-ceiling lava lamp in its center.
Its great material, but at times it seems to be trying too hard
to be witty. The film also moves too slowly. There are too many gaps in
meaningful action, which might cause viewers under 10 years old to grow
a bit restless.
Shark Tale is aesthetically pleasing, with its muted blues and
sleek underwater architecture. And, it has an all-star cast of celebrity
voices that includes Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger and Martin Scorsese.
But the film seems to have an identity crisis. Its hard to tell
whether its creators were trying to create a childrens film or an
animated spoof for adults.
The film is certainly entertaining, but its not the fast-moving,
jest fest of a film like Shrek, and it lacks the multiple layers
of meaning needed to make it a timeless hit with audiences of all ages.
But it is pretty and, at times, darned amusing. (PG) Rating: 2.5; Posted
Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
IAre you in need of an antidote to the muckraking commercials from the
so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? If so, a new documentary by George
Butler (Pumping Iron, The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic
Expedition) may be just what the doctor ordered.
Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry focuses on the young
Kerry as well as other Vietnam vets who campaigned against the war after
returning to the US. Written by Joseph Dorman (who based much of it on
the book Tour of Duty by Douglas Brinkley), Going Upriver
is a heart wrenching and enlightening work.
Butler artfully combines harrowing war footage with talking head interviews,
home movies and film of Kerrys activities with Viet Nam Veterans
Against the War.
Among the notable participants are Brinkley, former Georgia U.S. Sen.
Max Cleland, former Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrook, Time
columnist Joe Klein and historian and former UPI Viet Nam correspondent
Also included are observations from Kerrys Viet Nam band of brothers,
as well as other vets who attempt to explain how their wartime experiences
changed their perspective and compelled them to voice their opposition
to the war.
Some of the most powerful moments come from a summit of Viet Nam vets
as they confess to wartime atrocities. Other footage focuses on vets throwing
away their medals and ribbons, and excerpts from The Dick Cavett Show
pitting Kerry against John ONeill, an ambitious Republican recruited
by the Nixon administration in an effort to discredit Kerry. ONeill
is now the driving force behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Some
things never change.
Perhaps most effective is Kerrys noted appearance before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee. His passionate but restrained and thoughtful
speech ably reflected the anguish felt by veterans who saw the wars
continuation as a colossal waste.
Going Upriver is the latest in a string of documentaries that attempt
to counter what many perceive as a domination of the Right in certain
media. It lacks the pizzazz of the work of Michael Moore (Fahrenheit
9/11) and the single-minded ideology of Robert Greenwald (Outfoxed,
Uncovered). It isnt flashy, hurried or overtly preachy...just
like Kerry himself.
Like those other films, it is unlikely to change many minds because too
few people (the ones most in need of the information) will ever see it.
Thats unfortunate, because Going Upriver is a skillfully
made and sincere attempt to set the record straight. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5;