'Running on Empty' upgraded to Blu-ray, 'Scarface Mob' on DVD
Posted July 24
“Running on Empty,” an excellent look at Vietnam War protesters on the run, is making its Blu-ray debut.
“Running on Empty” (Warner Archive, 1988, PG-13, trailer). Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch and River Phoenix deliver stellar performances in this overlooked drama about a couple that has been on the run from the FBI since taking part in a fatal protest bombing some 15 years earlier. Now their son is a budding teenage piano prodigy, whose natural desire to live his own life may jeopardize the family’s freedom.
Directed as a suspense film by Sidney Lumet (“Network,” “The Verdict”), the story unfolds gradually and builds slowly as the family attempts to stay one step ahead of the law. But its complexities reveal a metaphorical exploration of the ’80s nuclear family that becomes quite gripping. Naomi Foner’s screenplay and Phoenix’s performance earned Oscar nominations. (The Blu-ray debut is available at wbshop.com.)
“The Untouchables: The Scarface Mob” (CBS/Paramount, 1959, TV introductions by Desi Arnaz and Walter Winchell). Elliot Ness (a taciturn Robert Stack) and his private FBI squad of “untouchables” go after Al Capone and his gang in 1929 Chicago, when Prohibition was in force but booze still managed to flow freely.
Based on Ness’ 1957 memoir and narrated by newspaper/radio personality Walter Winchell, this was a two-part episode of the “Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse” anthology series and was subsequently shown as a theatrical film titled “The Scarface Mob.” The show was controversial for its level of violence and Italian stereotypes, but nonetheless served as the pilot for “The Untouchables” 1959-63 TV series and was clearly the model for the 1987 film with Kevin Costner.
“Terror in a Texas Town” (Arrow, 1958, b/w, audio commentary, introduction, trailer, booklet). When Sterling Hayden’s father is killed, he uncovers a plot by a local bully (Sebastian Cabot) and his hired gunslinger to grab the oil-rich land surrounding his ranch. On the surface, this low-budget effort may seem like just another black-and-white B-Western that embraces all the genre’s tropes, but there’s something bubbling beneath the surface that is surprisingly cynical and perhaps metaphorical for the McCarthy era in which it was made. And where else can you see a showdown on Main Street with the hero shouldering a harpoon?
“Stormy Monday” (Arrow, 1988; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; audio commentary, featurette, trailer, booklet). This self-conscious, style-over-substance crime thriller is set in London, focusing on a jazz nightclub owner (Sting), one of his employees (Sean Bean) and two Americans, mobster Tommy Lee Jones and waitress Melanie Griffith. Jones muscles his way into a depressed urban area but Sting won’t sell, so he tries to set him up. Soon everyone is mired in criminal activities, though some things are not as they seem.
“Pulse” (Arrow, 2001, R for violence, in Japanese with English subtitles, featurettes, trailers/TV spots, booklet). After a friend’s suicide, some Tokyo kids find themselves haunted by images that seem to point to some sort of supernatural evil crossing over into the real world via the internet. It is an overlong, nonlinear exploration of isolation in the internet age, but nonetheless unnerving and fairly scary “J-Horror,” in the spirit of “Ringu” and “Dark Water.”
“Doberman Cop” (Arrow, 1977; not rated/probable R for violence, sex, nudity, drugs; in Japanese with English subtitles, featurettes, booklet). A cop from Okinawa (Japanese action star Sonny Chiba) investigates a murder in Tokyo in this adaptation of a manga story. He’s initially thought by local police to be a country bumpkin (his pet pig probably doesn’t help), but, of course, he proves himself to the big city detectives.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at email@example.com.