A Movie A Day #279: The Ambulance (1990, directed by Larry Cohen)

Josh Baker (Eric Roberts) is an extroverted artist for Marvel Comics who meets Cheryl (Janine Turner) while walking around New York City.  Josh and Cheryl hit it off but when Cheryl suddenly collapses, she is picked up by a mysterious ambulance.  When Josh goes to the hospital to check on her, he is told that Cheryl was never brought in.  Soon, Josh discovers that people all over New York have been put into back of the ambulance and have never been seen again.  Unfortunately, nobody believes Josh.  Not the veteran NYPD detective (James Earl Jones) who Josh approaches with his suspicions.  Not the staff of the hospital.  Not even Stan Lee!  The only people willing to support Josh are an elderly investigative reporter (Red Buttons) and an inexperienced detective (Megan Gallagher).

Yes, Stan Lee does play himself.  While he had made a few cameo appearances on television and had previously narrated a French film, The Ambulance was Stan Lee’s first real film role.  Josh works at an idealized version of Marvel Comics, where the artists are well-paid, no one is pressured into producing substandard work, and Lee is an avuncular father figure.  It is the Marvel Comics that I used to imagine working at when I was growing up, before I found out about what actually happened to artists like Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Steve Ditko.

Idealized though it may be, the Marvel connection is appropriate because The Ambulance is essentially a comic book adventure.  It does not matter how many times Josh gets hit by a car or falls out of a window, he always recovers in time for the next scene.  When Josh does discover who is behind the ambulance, it turns out to be a villain who would not be out-of-place in a Ditko-era Spider-Man story.

The Ambulance is another one of Larry Cohen’s New York horror stories.  Like most of Cohen’s films, it is pulpy, cheap, and entertaining.  Eric Roberts is as crazy as ever and the movie is full of good character actors like James Earl Jones, Red Buttons, Richard Bright, and Eric Braeden.  The Ambulance may be dumb but it is always entertaining.



Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #14: Maggie’s Passage (dir by Mike Norris)

(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)


Maggie’s Passage is a film that I recorded off of Channel 58 on November 13th.  Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Channel 58 specializes in showing faith-based programming.  (Channel 58 previously aired both Island of Grace and The Encounter.  Right now, they appear to be in the middle of doing a Left Behind marathon.  If you’re reading this, Kirk Cameron, the check is presumably in the mail.)

The main reason that I recorded Maggie’s Passage is because it was filmed down here in Dallas.  As opposed to my friends who live in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto, it’s rare that I actually get to see my hometown onscreen.  I mean, sure, countless episodes of Cheaters have been filmed in Dallas but, for the most part, most movies about Dallas are actually filmed in Louisiana.  Even Dallas Buyers Club was actually shot in New Orleans!

(Incidentally, New Orleans looks nothing like Dallas.)

Originally released in 2009, Maggie’s Passage was directed by Mike Norris.  Mike is the son of Chuck Norris.  This led me to suspect that Chuck would make a cameo appearance at some point, perhaps standing outside of Club Dada or taking a selfie in front of the Big Red Courthouse.  But no, Chuck never shows up.  Instead, Maggie’s Passage is about a teenage girl named Maggie (Ali Faulkner).  When she was little, Maggie was adopted by Jenny (Janine Turner) and her husband.  After her stepfather dies, Maggie runs away from home and tracks down her birth mother.  After discovering that her birth mother wants nothing to do with her, Maggie ends up working on Harry Hines Blvd. for an abusive pimp.  When she finally escapes, Maggie is taken in by Grace (Sheran Goodspeed Keyton) and a group of extremely religious homeless people.  In almost any other film (like in Split Image, which was also filmed in Dallas), this would lead to Maggie becoming a part of a cult but, since this film was airing on Channel 58, it instead leads to a lot of talk about lost faith, redemption, and prayer.

I had mixed feelings about Maggie’s Passage.  There were certain scenes, especially at the start of the film, that brought back some definite memories of being a rebellious, scared, and out-of-control 16 year-old. When Maggie was wandering down the street with the Dallas skyline behind her, I definitely cringed a little because I not only knew the location but I knew the feeling as well.  In those early scenes, I sat there and I thought about how, if not for a few strokes of luck, I could have easily been Maggie.  Ali Faulkner is definitely a better actress than you typically expect to find in a low-budget faith-based film and Mike Norris knows how to tell a story cinematically.  Even though I knew it was a religious film, the first half of Maggie’s Passage never felt preachy…

Add to that, there was a scene where Maggie was walking along this bridge! This photo, by the way, was taken by our own Dazzling Erin Nicole!

Add to that, there was a scene where Maggie was walking along this bridge! This photo, by the way, was taken by our own Dazzling Erin Nicole!

But then Maggie met those homeless people and the whole movie went downhill.  Movies always tend to idealize the homeless and their living conditions (which, incidentally, does a great disservice to those who actually are homeless and who are too busy trying not to die to spend all of their time sharing their faith-based wisdom with every runaway white teenager who they happen to come across) and Maggie’s Passage took this tendency to the extreme.  Whenever I saw those good-hearted, enlightened, cheerful, and rather clean-cut homeless people talking to Maggie about what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, I found myself thinking about the guy who I always see defecating in front of the Frank Crowley Courthouse.  Or maybe the old woman who used to always approach me at Mockingbird Station, rambling about how the Vatican put a tracking device in her forehead.  Or maybe the guy who I saw camped out behind a Wal-Mart in Oak Cliff, struggling to sit up straight and surrounded by empty beer bottles.  These are people who really need our help and movies that sentimentalize their existence or portray them as being magical caregivers don’t do them any good.  In the end, Maggie may find God but the homeless are still living on the streets and the film doesn’t seem to see that as being a problem.

That said, I still appreciated seeing Reunion Tower on film.

Reunion Tower (picture by Erin Nicole)

Reunion Tower (picture by Erin Nicole)