Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with 2 reviews of the upcoming firemen spectacular LADDER 49. The first comes from our main man in Chicago, Capone... Capone's a notorious fire-bug... You know the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Yep, that was Capone. Anyway, he's up first with his polyester suit and perfect hair! Enjoy!!!
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. First off, let me just say that I love fire. And you have to try really, really hard to make a bad movie about fire and firefighters. BACKDRAFT succeeded in this quest. LADDER 49 covers the subject matter in a far more palatable manner, but still finds plenty of time to rest comfortably in the time-honored cliches that are the stuff of films about heroes, real or imaginary. The ultimate reason I'm recommending LADDER 49 despite its hitting-you-over-the-head sentimentality and absolute lack of any real surprises in its story is that it doesn't feel the need to invent a villain the way BACKDRAFT did. The villains are fire, structure collapse, and death. These are villains enough for any film.
Director Jay Russell (whose previous head poundings have come from his films MY DOG SKIP and TUCK EVERLASTING) introduces us to search and rescue man Jack Morrison during one of the most incredibly shot blazes I've ever seen, a 20-story building that looks like every window has flames pouring out of it. Jack leads a team into the building to climb 12 floors where there are people in need of rescue. After the dramatic rescue, the floor collapses and Jack falls to a lower and less accessible level. His body is broken, he can barely stay awake, and his mind begins to think of the past, to his first day on the job as a probationary firefighter. LADDER 49 is essentially a collection of Morrison's remembrances as a member of the Baltimore City Fire Department. Right off the bat when he enters the firehouse, he meets Chief Kennedy (John Travolta), who is sleeping at his desk with a glass of whiskey in front of him and no pants on. When Kennedy wakes up, he's clearly drunk and barely able to walk. This is the beginning of an elaborate and funny scam on the probie that is effectively given away in the trailers, but it's still funny. And a repeat of the initiation gag is used to greater effect later in the film with a new rookie. You'll spot a few familiar faces among those in the firehouse: Balthazar Getty, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, all putting in credible performances as men who may not possess the best manners but are extremely good at their jobs. We know that some of these or other men will die in the course of the film, because without a death or two, we couldn't have very photogenic and moving sequences surrounding the funerals.
Every so often, the movie cuts back to Morrison struggling to stay awake and alive in the burning building, and the rescue teams working feverishly to get him out. Continuing with the flashbacks, Morrison remember meeting and eventually marrying Linda (Jacinda Barrett from MTV's "Read World: London"), who might be the only character that sees any noticeable change over the course of the film, which takes place over 10 years or so. Some of the characters, including Jack, experience moments of doubt about their chosen profession when they lose one of their own to death or injury, but without any clear means of resolving these issues, they simply end up back on the job a couple days later. So there. And for those of you who have grown tired of and frustrated with John Travolta lately, I'm afraid your troubles aren't over. Other than scenes where he's simply barking out orders to his crew, Travolta is completely unconvincing as the leader of these men. In one particular scene where he breaks up a fight between his men after a funeral, he gives them a high-volume talking to that is laughable thanks to his god-awful delivery.
As a lover of films that feature slow-motion fire-burning sequences, LADDER 49 gets an A-plus. The firefighting scenes are top notch stuff, and the primary reason I'm recommending the movie. Russell has broken new ground here with the way he shoots these sequences. I found myself wading through the narrative to get to the burning buildings. The filmmakers do a wonderful taking you inside different types of fires and rescue operations. Each one is unique, sometimes you can't see a thing, sometimes you're afraid to take a step for fear of the floor giving out, sometimes opening a door can result in flames in your face, and sometimes the danger isn't fire or smoke, as one character finds in one of the film's most painful to watch scenes.
Phoenix does a credible job here as a man who, although not exactly an alpha male, has trouble expressing emotions and often leans on his wife to do it for him, putting more pressure on a woman who already has to worry that every day may lead to her husbands death. As good as Barrett is here, I grew a little tired of her constant complaining every time Jack puts his life on the line. You married a firefighter, honey. Did you think he was going to become a librarian just because you squeezed out a couple of his kids? Jeez! (FYI--This is the level of emotion and subtlety you're dealing with in LADDER 49, in case you were wondering.) Overall, the quality and believability of the action scenes far outweigh the somewhat limited scope of the storytelling. With the exception of Travolta (who, despite his above-the-title billing, isn't really in the film that much), the actors elevate the material more than the writing does, which saves the film from utter ruin. The film opens October 1.
Next up we have a slightly less enthusiastic, but still not negative, review from the All Mighty Isis. Enjoy!!!
If you use this review, call me All Mighty Isis
This is my first review, so please bare with. I went in to this movie, hearing it was a tearjerker and besides that, I knew nothing else about it. Wait, I lied, it’s a tearjerker about firemen, that’s what I knew of this film. It opens with a group of firemen, including Joaquin Phoenix, climbing around a 20 story warehouse building which is engulfed in flames. They save a few guys, and then Joaquin is separated from his group. Not only is he separated, but a huge explosion leaves him immobile and unconscious. And this is where we begin the movie.
The premise is basically flashbacks; the first being the Rookie Fireman, Jack Morrison (Phoenix) arriving to his Baltimore Fire station for his first day on the job. We are introduced to the rest of the crew, including the Chief, Mike Kennedy (John Travolta). We are also introduced to the perfunctory initiation that all rookies, assuming they are Catholic, go through. (This is one of my petite gripes with the movie. It really runs with the Irish/Catholic Fireman stereotype.)
Next, flashback, Jack is grocery shopping with a fellow fireman when he meets his future wife, Linda (Jacinda Barrett). I have never seen this girl before, but apparently she was on MTV’s “The Real World”. It’s love at first site, and eventually they marry.
More flashbacks between various fires that the team take on, which show Jack’s becoming a more experienced fireman, and in his personal life, where he becomes a father. In between these flashbacks, we come back to Jack at the present, gaining a little more consciousness, and encouraged by Mike via walkie-talkie, to gather up his will and strength and move forward to plough his way through a wall. This wall is almost a guarantee to his safety and getting back in to contact with his team who are trying their damndest to rescue him.
The conflicted Jack, who has lost his best friend in one fire, and has been injured and close to death a number of times, has to decide whether he wants to still be the “hero” fireman, or to take a desk job and live to see his kids become adults. The conflicted Linda, and I don’t quite get this, doesn’t want Jack to do what he think’s is right for her and the kids, but wants him to do what he loves to do. In the same breath, she doesn’t want to see the tell-tale red car, the harbinger of death, drive up in front of their house. So, after they argue about this a few times, she says she loves him and loves him for what he does, and hence, he ends up flat on his back in this 20 story warehouse.
I am not going to share the end, because I am conflicted about it, so I’ll let you come to your own conclusions. I did like Joaquin, he did well with what little he was given. John Travolta, was very good at being John Travolta. I didn’t like the wife. I don’t know if it was the fact that she didn’t make me care about her, or if it was the fact that even though the movie was supposed to span at least 10 years, she didn’t age or mature one bit. John did, if it was a little graying at the temples; Joaquin did, both physically and mentally, but she didn’t. The only thing I noticed is that when Jack & Linda first met and were dating, her tits were all over the place. After she had kids, they (tits, not kids) hid behind a frumpy sweater. Ok, I guess I lied again, her clothes aged.
Some of the cinematography was incredible, the fire scenes were beautiful, you could feel the heat. And some of the scenes need to be yanked. Granted, this is still a work in progress, I am sure the scene where the boom is the star will be yanked, but the whole scene was shot at such a strange angle. There was another scene where there was a fight taking place and the camera was “shaking”. I get what they’re trying to do, kind of like the cameraman running along side someone who is running. This isn’t the desired effect they are looking for however. It’s just shaking, and it just looks like really sucky camerawork.
When it comes down to it, there was just no“story”. We did get to look into the lives of a close-knit firehouse, and how they spend a lot of time together, they scratched on the surface of how firemen tend to spend more time with each other than their families. This movie was made essentially to pull on our heartstrings, (which it didn’t do as much as I thought it would) and glamorize/sympathize with our Firemen. If after reading this review you are ambiguous about seeing this movie, you should be. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, but I can say in all fairness, it is just what I heard, a tearjerker about Firemen.