Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.

Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris

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Movie review

We've been through this fire drill

Published October 11, 2004

[Buena Vista]
Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) battles a terrifying apartment blaze in an effort to save a young girl, in Ladder 49.

Billy Norris
Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris

Ladder 49

Rating: PG-13 for intense fire and rescue situations, and for language

Summary: Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix)is trapped alone inside a burning building. As his comrades search for him, his mentor, Capt. Mike Kennedy (John Travolta), commands the operation and calms Morrison's nerves by radio. Morrison uses the time to reflect on his life and career: the trials of his upbringing in the firehouse, the camaraderie of the men with whom he lived and worked, and the personal lives of these everyday heroes. All the while, it is only a matter of time before the building collapses.

My view: Sept. 11, 2001, wasn't that long ago, so the heroics of the nation's firefighters are still fresh in our minds. By releasing a movie such as this, the filmmakers are, in a sense, paying tribute to those the men and women who protect and serve our country. It has been 13 years since the last firefighter movie (Backdraft, 1991), yet we have all read, watched and heard the true stories of these brave men and women during the past three years. So this effort, though noble, is untimely and a bit lackluster. Now, this isn't a bad movie. The action scenes are vivid and well-executed; it is obvious the time was taken to do it right. The cinematography is especially impressive. The cast is well-rounded and did a good job portraying the relationships between firefighters. Phoenix is definitely a standout as the seemingly doomed Morrison. On the other hand, the plot lacks depth and is fairly bland. Overall, despite the enticing action sequences, this film didn't have the "wow" factor that it well may have had before 9/11.

Recommendations: Take it or leave it.

Grade: C

Billy Norris, 16, is in 11th grade at Seminole High, and is a former member of the X-Team.

[Last modified October 8, 2004, 12:47:11]

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