Archive for September, 2004

Interesting Vignettes but Little Story in “”Ladder 49″”

September 29, 2004

The realities of life for firefighters–from working long hours, to diving into harsh environments to put out blazes and ultimately save lives–has garnered new, and possibly more, attention since 9/11. At least it seems that way, although not as many films (“”The Guys”” comes to mind) have taken the mantle of covering this topic. One new flick that does is “”Ladder 49″”, which was mostly filmed in Baltimore, MD.

First off, covering the story in this movie doesn’t serve much of a purpose, as there really isn’t one. Rather, much of the events that transpire are in a flashback from the protagonist, Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), as he lies trapped in a burning building after just performing a rescue. The floor gives way, and he falls 12 floors, leaving him barely able to move and to wait for his fellow firefighters to come to his aid, so he reminisces…Jack’s story starts with his first day at the fire house, where he is to be on rookie, or probation, status (or ‘probies’ as they’re called). He meets the, er, pantsless Capt.–Mike Kennedy (John Travolta)–and has a prank played on him by the other guys there, lead by Lenny Richter (Robert Patrick). Initially, Jack is a member of the Engine Co. (number 33), whose job is hose down, and eliminate the flames, as opposed to the Truck, or Ladder Company (no. 49), which performs the search and rescue missions. Morrison seems to be special, maybe because he’s the main character in the film, but anyway the Capt. and others take a special interest in him. Other firefighters who are (briefly) introduced include brothers Dennis (Billy Burke) and Ray Gauquin (Balthazar Getty), and Ladder Co. member Tommy Drake (Morris Chestnut). After getting acquainted with the aspects of firefighting, Jack meets a female–Linda (Jacinda Barrett–formerly of MTV’s “”Real World London””)–in a supermarket, with whom he subsequently falls in love, marries, has kids with, etc.The real highlight here is the fires, and the exhilarating thrill that is created of having to deal with an emergency, saving lives and that whole bit. The main fire–the one mentioned above where Jack falls 12 floors–looks visually impressive, and is especially recommended for theaters with good sound. The other, similar, sequences, look good on the big screen, including one set in a burning building on Christmas–which also hammers home the point that even on X-mas, firefighters work.As Jack gains more experience, he decides to join the Truck Co., despite the objections of his now-wife Linda, who is concerned about the added risks of this new position. He, on the other hand, looks to the ultimate fulfillment of saving lives, the chance to make a difference (it also helps that he doesn’t suffer from vertigo, either).[pagebreak]The other positive with this film, are the series of entertaining moments that show how Jack and his co-workers pass the time—whether it’s playing pranks on rookies, hanging out at Looney’s Pub (especially fun is when Jack introduces Linda to his buddies for the first time), and the baby “”shower””. “”Ladder 49″” also does underscore the risks of its characters’ job choices, with problems arising at any moment—and not just at work, but at home too.The downside of the movie, is, well, that there isn’t much of a story. There are lots of interesting segments, broken by the periodic return to the present to check on Jack’s situation, but no single story/plot. The viewer doesn’t get a chance to know the characters all that well, making it less meaningful when someone dies mid-way through, or another gets injured later on.On this note, little is revealed about Jack’s family–sure there is Linda, and later the kids–but aside from one line, he mentions little about his family, much less his life before joining the BCFD. Capt. Kennedy shows his photos of his father and grandfather (also firefighters), but little is mentioned about his background as well—save for an ex-wife. It’s nice that there is such camaraderie at the station, but the guys must have families outside there place of work (especially when we see Jack get married, and then scenes of his home life—and what a nice home he winds up having, water view and all).The thing to enjoy then, if seeing this flick, is all the entertaining moments, whether the scenes of battling blazes, or the bonding that goes on off-duty (especially at Looney’s). In addition, the movie does demonstrate the risks of the profession it covers.Otherwise, anyone looking for something more complex will not find it here. There is not much here acting wise–Phoenix does well as he always does, though Travolta is still hard to see as a fire captain–but then his not ‘seen’ too much actually (speaking of being seen, look for Baltimore’s real-life Mayor O’Malley to make a cameo).Then, for entertainment, and taking a glance at the firefighters on the job, and for providing a look at local landmarks, “”Ladder 49″” delivers, but for something more substantial…eh, visit the local fire house.Grade: B-EM Reviewby Andrew Haas10/01/04

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“”The Motorcycle Diaries””–Fun, Intriguing Ride Across a Diverse South America

September 29, 2004

Through numerous books, photos, magazine articles, T-shirts, various other paraphernalia, one can see the face of ‘Che’ Guevara. His name is synonymous with violent revolution, given against the backdrop of an era just as turbulent–the 1960s. People, when his name is mentioned, visualize a bearded, long-haired, beret wearing mug, or else see him holding some large weapon in his hand.

“”The Motorcycle Diaries”” (“”Diarios de motocicleta””), from director Walter Salles, does not depict this person; rather it shows Ernesto Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) as a 23 year old medical student in his native Argentina in 1952. At this point, he was a (relatively) clean cut, asthmatic young man who enjoyed rugby, and looked forward to traveling with his biochemist friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna). Early on in the film, the future revolutionary, nicknamed ‘El Fuser’ at this point, prepares to take time off from his studies–much to his family’s chagrin–to take a summertime trip up through South America with Granado, finishing in time for the latter’s 30th birthday.The trip starts out in Argentinean, with the two riding on their 1939 Norton 500 (a bike which they call “”the Mighty One””), riding past their native country’s plains and its farmers. They stop first at a fine estate in Miramar, where Guevara becomes re-acquainted with Chichina Ferreyra (Mia Maestro)–apparently their relationship is beginning to become strained, and so he has her promise to wait for him. After being at this fancy locale longer than expected, Granado gets antsy, and so the two friends continue their journey, with Ernesto receiving fifteen American dollars from Chichina (for a bathing suit for her, in case they get to the U.S.)–this last bit becoming a point of contention between the travelers.As they venture northward, they take a number of spills on their motorcycle, and try to finagle their way into people’s homes by claiming that they are great doctors (!). This ruse works, in a big way, in the town of Temuco, Chile, where the local paper–the Austral–announces that a pair of physicians, as in the two leads, are passing through. The local mechanic fixes their damaged hog for free, but things change for the worse when Guevara hits on the guy’s wife at the City Hall dance, and so the Argentineans are back on the road. Although the trip has its fun moments–such as when the pair get some Chilean girls to buy them wine and empanadas–there are more serious moments, as when Ernesto uses his medical abilities to help a dying woman. The real turning point in the film, and in a historical aspect as well, is when Guevara and Granado meet a Chilean couple in the desert. The latter’s experiences, first being forced out by land speculators and being chastised for their political beliefs (both are communists), and now searching for the mine at Chuquicamata, run by the Anaconda Mining Company.The group does reach the mines, and after the husband is picked for work by the foreman, Ernesto throws a rock at the truck in protest. At this point in the trip, the future symbol of Marxist rebellion becomes more politicized, choosing to talk to the indigenous peoples that he and Alberto encounter, and hearing their stories. These tales range from the present struggles of trying to get by economically, to focusing on what the Spanish conquistadors did to the Incas centuries earlier (a point realized when Guevara visits the ruins of Machu Picchu–which is then contrasted after by then-present day Lima, Peru).[pagebreak]The trip culminates with the traveling buddies helping out at a leper colony in San Pablo, Peru. After visiting Dr. Pesce (Gustavo Bueno), a local director of leprosy treatment programs, and supporter of leftist ideals, Ernesto and Alberto travel by boat to San Pablo. Once there, young Guevara is struck by the divisions in place, with the healthy–staff, including head Dr. Bresciani (Jorge Chirella), on one side of the wide river, and the patients living on the other bank.If nothing else–and how one feels about ‘Che’ and his place in history may affect the viewing of this movie–“”The Motorcycle Diaries”” provides a glimpse at the diversity of South America. This ranges from the wealthier south (Argentina) to the more impoverished areas of the north (Peru, Chile)–this falls along ethnic lines as well, with predominantly white sections in Argentina, and more indigenous populations in the northern countries. The leads also face geographic diversity, from the plains in their home country, to the Andes Mountains (they drive on snow covered roads–in summer!), to the arid landscape of the Atacama Desert (where they meet the couple headed for the mine), and the jungles near San Pablo; the movie was filmed in all these locales, rather than some set or place filling in (i.e. Canada:).In addition to the filming–it helps that there are plenty of nice landscapes here–the other strong point is the two stars, as Bernal and de la Serna make a team that ranges from humorous (such as when their bike keeps taking spills, or the gambling bit on the boat) to more serious moments, such as when Ernesto receives a litter in Valparaiso, or when he discusses his budding ideology, stressing the need for ‘armed’ struggle. Bernal does well as the compassionate med students with an increasing number of ideas, and de la Serna as the womanizing, the sometimes bickering but ultimately loyal friend to ‘El Fuser’..and later to ‘Che’ as well. Actually, one of the more interesting moments, in hindsight anyway, is how in Chile both Guevara and Granado are referred to as ‘Che’, as that is the slang term for Argentineans there (as Argentineans always seem to be saying ‘che’).Still, although the flick gives a hint as to the Guevara’s future, and his focus on the plight of indigenous people, and on South American unity, it doesn’t indicate his ultimate leanings toward radicalism, sometimes through violence (with which he’s often associated). It’s true that he speaks in favor of armed struggle in the movie, and there are moments where he’s quick to act, such as throwing a rock at the Anaconda Mining truck, or something he does late in the film. Still, he’s presented here as a regular upper middle-class med student, albeit a very idealistic one, and it would have been interesting to see how he decided to finally take up the mantle of armed revolution, in Cuba, Africa, and elsewhere.””The Motorcycle Diaries”” provides a ride that is sometimes fun, and gains many points for it’s look at the diverse people and places of the continent to our south. There is a feeling of authenticity here, of things being as they are, rather than contrived (sets, actors, and all)–and it certainly saves one a trip to South America too. From a historical standpoint, the film may not provide all the answers, but it does give a place to start.If nothing else, the movie, may even make one want to take their own journey–given the ability to take a long sabbatical.Grade: B+EM Reviewby Andrew Haas10/01/04

TVonDVD: A&E – From Bean To Persuaders: Cult TV For The Discerning Viewer

September 28, 2004

This week, A&E Video brings three new sets of cult favorites to a store near you. Whether you love gritty cop shows [

Origins: The Answer To The Great Question of Life, The Universe and Everything?

September 28, 2004

Beginning this evening, and concluding tomorrow night,

Nothing But a Man: Special 40th Anniversary Edition – Malcolm X’s Favorite Film

September 28, 2004

Michelle Takes A Look at “”Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence””!!!

September 27, 2004

I

13 Going on 30

September 27, 2004

The film was a great date movie. Though some might argue with me, think Big with Jennifer Garner in the Tom Hanks role. Its a great romp with a teen in a grown up body. Lots of fun for those who grew up in the 80’s, too, with some great period music and references.

The disc has the usual offerings. Commentary, Bloopers and the like. The obligatory music videos are not from up and comers, but classic 80’s tunes ‘Love is a Battlefield’ and ‘Jessie’s Girl’. A terrific look at the film’s stars in high school is also a lot of fun. You could do lots worse for an evening’s entertainment.

[b][color=0033CC]Film, extras, and overall = B[/color][/b]

TV Weekend: The New, The Old; The Good, The Bad – From ‘Joan’ to ‘Jack & ‘Bobby’

September 24, 2004

If I tried to tell you about this weekend

“Cellular”

September 24, 2004

“Cellular” is late summer mindless entertainment. A modern throwback to the 40’s films of the woman in danger. Instead of Joan Bennett, Joan Fontaine, or Barbara Stanwyck, we have Kim Bassinger being kidnapped and terrorized. Leave your brain at the door and jump on this rollercoaster of a thriller containing a good deal of humor.

GRADE = “B”

“Ladder 49”

September 24, 2004

“Ladder 49” is a long recruitment video for the Baltimore Fire Department. Excellent acting by the buildings on fire. Pedestrian story and script.

GRADES = Pyrotechnics/special effects – “A+”; rest – “C”