Tag Archives: Triumph Films

The Ambulance (1990, Larry Cohen)

How can Cohen do such amazing New York location shooting, but not be able to direct whatsoever? His composition is a disaster, but so is every dolly and pan. Luckily, his script is decent and his cast is phenomenal. So, even with the direction, The Ambulance is outstanding.

While Cohen’s dialogue is occasionally a tad tepid, his plotting is unbelievably tight. He introduces characters in the natural flow of the story, never worrying late additions may be hostile to the audience.

The film has a bunch of fantastic performances but the two most important are Eric Roberts (as the lead) and Megan Gallagher (as his reluctant sidekick). Roberts maintains energy and enthusiasm throughout—every moment he’s on screen, he’s captivating. Even with a terrible haircut.

Half Gallagher’s performance is unspoken, just her expressions changing. She has great chemistry with Roberts.

Red Buttons has a nice part—excellent chemistry between him and Roberts. It’s too bad there wasn’t a sequel, given he gets along with Gallagher well too.

James Earl Jones also has a good part. He has a lot of fun. The next supporting tier is strong too. Janine Turner, Eric Braeden, Richard Bright, all good. Stan Lee has a nice cameo for realism’s sake (Roberts works at Marvel Comics).

The only bad performance is Jill Gatsby’s and the only bad technical aspect (besides the direction) is Jay Chattaway’s awful score.

I wasn’t expecting anything from The Ambulance; turns out it’s quite good. Roberts and Gallagher make it occasionally amazing.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Larry Cohen; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Claudia Finkle and Armond Lebowitz; music by Jay Chattaway; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Moctesuma Esparza and Robert Katz; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Eric Roberts (Josh Baker), James Earl Jones (Lt. Spencer), Megan Gallagher (Sandra Malloy), Red Buttons (Elias Zacharai), Janine Turner (Cheryl), Eric Braeden (The Doctor), Richard Bright (McClosky), James Dixon (Detective Ryan), Jill Gatsby (Jerilyn) and Stan Lee (Marvel Comics Editor).


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Screamers (1995, Christian Duguay)

Sometimes competency is a bad thing. Screamers is a fairly well-made–Duguay’s composition isn’t spectacular, mostly because the sets were all CG embellished so there was only so much he was actually shooting–but there are some excellent effects sequences. There’s some nice stop motion and then a great shuttlecraft liftoff. Duguay knows how to spend his limited budget to make the film look good. There really isn’t a genre of good lower budget 1990s science fiction because cheap CG ruined it, but Screamers could almost be a solid entry.

Except for the script. There are some really good ideas in Dan O’Bannon’s script–the stuff with Peter Weller and Jennifer Rubin being the last two people alive on a planet should have really been stretched out–but, for the most part, it’s pretty weak. It’s like O’Bannon (or maybe co-writer Tejada-Flores) had to keep taking out stuff to make it cheaper, less grandiose. They give Weller some really bad dialogue–just long and expository–and seeing Weller mull through it and pull it off is sensational. Almost the entire running time of Screamers could be spent wondering how no one ever got Weller a role for an actor of his ability.

The supporting cast is generally okay. Roy Dupuis and Andrew Lauer are both solid. Rubin’s got a rough character to essay and she runs a little too cold at times, but she’s mostly all right.

It’s not cheap enough to be chintzy. Should be better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Miguel Tejada-Flores, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Rodney Gibbons; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Perri Gorrara; produced by Franco Battista and Tom Berry; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Joe Hendricksson), Roy Dupuis (Becker), Jennifer Rubin (Jessica Hanson), Andrew Lauer (Jefferson), Charles Edwin Powell (Ross), Ron White (Chuck Elbarak) and Bruce Boa (Secretary Green).


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The Assignment (1997, Christian Duguay)

Since it’s Robert Ludlum week here at The Stop Button (actually it’s not, these two were a coincidence), I watched The Assignment, which is an unofficial adaptation of Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy. Again, I read Ludlum back when I was in junior high–maybe early high school–and I remember seeing this film and wondering why it wasn’t credited to him, since it lifts the major twist in the books. Googling reveals no answer and I suppose it is possible The Assignment–coming out of Sony’s now defunct low budget wing, Triumph Films–might have passed under the radar. Or not. M. Night Shyamalan is renowned plagiarist and I don’t think he’s ever been publicly sued. But Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass has certainly seen this film, because he lifted his lauded car chase from it.

Christian Duguay never made it. It would have been hard, given he directed the first two Scanners sequels, but he’s an excellent director. I remember reading–back around the time either this film or Screamers came out–he used steadicam for every shot. Not the shaky steadicam, the “realism” steadicam, just steadicam. The shots have mobility and urgency. He also used CG to allow for interesting camera movements (like crawling down the Wailing Wall). He’s an excellent director. The Assignment’s script fails him, but Duguay is fantastic. There’s a ten or fifteen minute action scene in this film–a long chase from foot to car–and it’s brilliant, one of the finest sustained action scenes ever produced. But even his domestic directing is good. It’s because of this direction–and the acting, more on it in a sentence or two–it’s so obvious The Assignment could have been better. It could have been, with the right script, the Manhunter of espionage movies. Instead, it just shows the super-budgets of Matt Damon’s Bourne movies don’t make them better films.

Obviously, the difference between The Assignment and the Bourne duo is easily identifiable. The Assignment was made for a rational, thinking audience interested in character development and… narrative quality. The script is poor, not bad. There’s a difference. The acting in The Assignment finally reminded me why I like Aidan Quinn so much (I managed to finally get his wavering accent from Blink out of my head). Quinn is fantastic in this film and the role requires him to cover an incredible range of emotion. He’s just great. Ben Kingsley does a good job too, but it’s really Donald Sutherland who has the most fun. I’m not sure how “good” Sutherland’s performance is in The Assignment, but he’s an absolute joy to watch. An actress named Claudia Ferri–who’s in nothing, of course–is great as Quinn’s wife. The acting is so good and there are some dialogue I can’t believe was in the script, you feel like the actors just had to be improvising because it fit their acting so well.

This film is another one where some creative handling of the timeline would help–starting in the middle of the story, not going linear and explaining everything. To some degree, with Quinn playing two roles, they trick the viewer, but it’s not enough. There’s not enough of a hook, or at least as good of a hook if they’d jumbled the timeline. Even though The Assignment has the writing problems, it’s still worth seeing. It’d be worth seeing for either Duguay or the acting alone, but with both… again, all it really needed a good script polish….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; written by Dan Gordon and Sabi H. Shabtai; director of photography, David Franco; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Michael Joy; produced by Tom Berry and Franco Battista; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Aidan Quinn (Annibal Ramirez/Carlos), Donald Sutherland (Jack Shaw), Ben Kingsley (Amos), Liliana Komorowska (Agnieska), Claudia Ferri (Maura Ramirez) and Celine Bonnier (Carla).


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