13 items from 2017
What a great sales hook — a feature film with a Bernard Herrmann music score that we hadn’t heard of. And one of the writers was Martin Scorsese, before Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets! But wait, it isn’t as simple as that. The new release is more than a little confusing. Its own ad copy first calls this Dutch production ‘obscure,’ and not four sentences later describes it as a ‘classic exploitation film.’
Blu-ray + DVD
1969 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame (should be widescreen) / 91 min. / Bezeten – Het gat in de muur / Street Date May 9, 2017 / 34.95
Starring: Alexandra Stewart, Dieter Geissler, Tom van Beek, Donald Jones, Elisabeth Versluys, Marijke Boonstra, Vibeke, Michael Krebs, Hasmig Terveen, Fons Rademakers, Victoria Naelin, Adrian Brine, Sara Heyblom.
Film Editor: Henri Rust
Original Music: Bernard Herrmann
Produced by Pim de la Parra, »
- Glenn Erickson
These fugitives on the run aren’t innocent young lovers. Still wanted for anti-war violence from years before, an ex-radical couple struggles to remain free just as their children become old enough to think for themselves. Screenwriter Naomi Foner and director Sidney Lumet’s fascinating movie is a sympathetic look at an untenable lifestyle.
1988 / Color / 1:85 enhanced widescreen / 116 min. / Street Date June 27, 2017 / available through the WBshop / 21.99
Starring: Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, Judd Hirsch, Jonas Abry, Martha Plimpton, Ed Crowley, L.M. Kit Carson, Steven Hill, Augusta Dabney, David Margulies, Lynne Thigpen, Bobo Lewis, Daniel Dassin.
Cinematography: Gerry Fisher
Film Editor: Andrew Mondshein
Original Music: Tony Mottola
Written by Naomi Foner
Directed by Sidney Lumet
1988 suddenly seems much farther in the past than it did just a few months ago. The small town high school in Running on Empty has a dedicated, classically trained music teacher on the payroll. He earns enough to afford a rather nice house. The public school system is not being undermined, with all the wealthy students going to new kinds of exclusive, alternative schools siphoning off public money. We all have our own ideas about what ‘making America great again’ means, I suppose.
It doesn’t happen any more, but we used to read about ex- radicals from the Vietnam War days surfacing to turn themselves in. Not that many were directly involved in violent acts, but some had lived for decades under assumed identities, while their wanted photos were posted down at the Post Office. Some of them tried to raise families.
“We are all outlaws in the eyes of America.
Everything they say we are, we are.
. . . And we are very proud of ourselves.”
— The Jefferson Airplane
Naomi Foner’s Running on Empty is basically a ‘what comes next?’ chapter in the lives of former political public enemies like The Weather Underground. An unusual family is on the lam. The parents are militant radicals from the Nixon years, who went underground when one of their bombs maimed a janitor. Now they are nearing their forties, and must move from town to town whenever they think the Feds have picked up their trail. The couple chose their life and has accepted the consequences, but where does that leave their growing children, who are likewise forced to live like gypsies under assumed names?
I should think that this good movie would have a tough time in today’s market. If the online mob harps on Wonder Woman for promoting non-traditional values, what would they make of a movie ‘glorifying terrorism?’ Half of America still wants to see Jane Fonda strung up by her thumbs, and death threats for ‘enemies’ singled out on the web are now routine. Our channels of information are so jammed with stories elbowing each other for attention, I don’t think anybody could rouse the general public to even consider the problems of this kind of fugitive. Who has time for scurrilous pleas for sympathy for ‘undeserving’ people, when the public responds better to patriotic pieces about veterans . . . or cute animals?
Always watching for signs of F.B.I. surveillance, young Danny Pope (River Phoenix) alerts the rest of his family through pre-arranged signals. Annie and Arthur Pope (Christine Lahti & Judd Hirsch) abandon their jobs, their belongings and even their dog and flee to a new state with Danny and their other son Harry (Jonas Abry). With new identities they start new lives. Arthur and Annie find off-the-books employment as a cook and a medical receptionist and the boys are enrolled in school with ‘previous transcripts on the way.’ We see the unusual preparations that must be made, with secret arrangements so that any family member can alert the others if they’re found out; we also see that the family is supported to some degree by a network of post-radical (or still radical?) sympathizers, such as a doctor (David Marguiles) who tends to political fugitives. But the Popes are cut off from their own families. Annie’s disapproving father (Steven Hill) can only see her in an extraordinary circumstance arranged by a third party. Potential trouble comes when former comrade Gus Winant (L.M. Kit Carson) drops by. He’d like to sleep with his old flame Annie, and is carrying guns in the assumption that Arthur will agree to rob a bank with him. But a more troubling problem is closer to home. Young Danny has inherited his mother’s musical talent, and his teacher Mr. Phillips (Ed Crowley) is encouraging him to apply to Julliard in New York. Danny is also stuck on Phillips’ teenage daughter Lorna (Martha Plimpton), a girl to whom he might be ready to commit. As far as Arthur is concerned, Danny can’t do any of those things because his first duty is to help his family in the undercover life. Annie doesn’t know what to do. If she leaves her son behind, she may never see him again.
Practically speaking, Running on Empty will only play well to a certain segment of the public. Are you the kind that sympathizes with draft deserters that fled to Canada, or the kind that wants to hand them long terms in prison? The Popes aren’t victims of injustice, at least not directly; they knew what they were doing when they went militant, and the injuries they caused can’t simply be dismissed as youthful idealism. They are also hopelessly associated with fanatics they inspired, like the Sla. And there’s no statute of limitations on armed insurrection. I think almost all of the radical fugitives that went underground are now accounted for. Some served prison time and others got off because courtroom prosecutions would reveal or publicize the government’s own illegal doings. Running on Empty dramatizes what might have been reality for just a few of these ‘outlaws in the eyes of America.’ Some radicals reportedly found it easy to live undetected while still on various Most Wanted lists. Others found ways to turn themselves in, square themselves with the authorities and re-commence academic lives interrupted years before to oppose the government. *
Running on Empty is a fascinating show, with a cast that clearly had to work hard to make their characters believable. Christine Lahti puts up with her bossy, security-minded husband. He himself gets drunk one night and starts shouting his real name loud enough to wake the neighbors. Judd Hirsch and director Lumet know that these can’t be ordinary people. He doesn’t try to make them Ozzie and Harriet types, somehow (sniff!) trapped by their youthful mistakes. No, they’re still promoting various Union and social justice causes here and there, although Arthur must back away whenever he becomes visible enough to appear in a news photo. Every year they celebrate a birthday to Sam, the man struck by their bomb. It’s not a joke, but a ritual so they won’t forget their crime.
At the center of the movie is the cult actor River Phoenix, who graduated briefly to good roles after his appearance as an adolescent space voyager in the fantasy film Explorers. Phoenix is excellent as Danny, a kid raised to never let down his guard. The show begins with Danny detecting a plainclothes tail and executing what must be ‘escape plan 9.’ The family is out of town in a matter of minutes. Danny’s a sensitive, smart guy. If he plays by the rules, he must keep himself a complete mystery to his new girlfriend Lorna. The boy is committed to his family, but feels the pull to go off on his own, where a decent future awaits. In a way, it’s not a situation wholly unique to these former radicals. This must happen all the time when someone breaks away from a strongly structured family, or a religious cult.
The movie’s tension level doubles when Danny takes the forbidden step of telling Lorna everything. How many of us living normal lives (well, reasonably normal lives) could trust our sweethearts with such a volatile secret: “I and my whole family are fugitives from justice. Anybody helping us is a potential accomplice. Just by letting you know, I’m putting you in legal jeopardy. Will you turn me in, or become a criminal with me?”
At this age Martha Plimpton might remind one of a teenage Lauren Bacall. A survivor of Goonies, she is featured in what I think is the best Cannon film, Shy People. Plimpton and Phoenix have several worthy melodramatic romantic scenes to play, and they’re excellent together.
With the ace director Sidney Lumet in charge the strange relationships seem credible, even when the flaky, reckless Gus Winant breezes through. The former radical patriot is now nothing but an outlaw bum. In a nice choice, Gus is played by L.M. Kit Carson, the original fake counterculture hero in the classic experimental faux-documentary David Holzman’s Diary. With dangerous idiots like Gus on the loose, the Popes can’t even consider themselves part of a noble creed. Some of their old colleagues are indeed armed and dangerous.
I don’t think the Popes would stand a chance of evading the cops in today’s security state. One can no longer simply find the name of a dead infant and apply for a new birth certificate and passport. The Popes aren’t hiding in a shack in the woods, but are out and about in the public, working and rubbing elbows with schools and doctors. I guess that back in the 1980s Arthur could become a cook and Annie a receptionist without references, but it’s less likely now, when one can’t buy bubble gum without leaving a data trail. Traffic and security surveillance cameras are now everywhere. Billions of smart-phone photos are taken at public gatherings, and routinely posted on the web. A high-level security agency could be (is?) scanning the web with face recognition software.
Sidney Lumet wrote that his movies Running on Empty and Daniel had the same theme: “Who pays for the passion and commitment of the parents?” This is an even-handed and insightful drama. Lumet made a wide range of great entertainments, and some of the best- ever ‘New York Jewish Liberal Movies.’ He’s also one of the few directors who could take on fundamentally controversial material like this, and continue to maintain a busy career.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of Running on Empty is a good encoding of what was already a very good Wac Mod disc from just two years ago. The improved picture and sound reveals the expected quality of a top Sidney Lumet product. The small town we see is very attractive, a political landscape completely different from the corporate/banking rapacious wasteland of last year’s Hell or High Water. ‘Radicals unselfishly trying to stop a war in 1971’ is still anathema, while Mr. and Mrs. U.S.A. now considers it justifiable for ‘radicals to selfishly try to rescue their ruined finances.’
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Running on Empty Blu-ray rates:
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? Yes; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 21, 2017
* I remember a major case from 2001. A radical who had evaded capture for thirty years finalized arrangements to turn herself in, after a delicate negotiation aimed at running her quietly through the legal system to let her get on with her life. She was reportedly not personally responsible for any violent acts, and under her assumed identity had worked for decades in a socially productive job. I followed her story for a couple of days in the newspaper . . . and then 9/11 happened. In the storm of security-minded post-attack chaos that followed, her story thread just vanished from the media-scape. I don’t have a clue what happened to her next. The timing couldn’t possibly have been worse for a former Enemy of the State.
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- Glenn Erickson
An admiring nod to ’60s dream siren Daliah Lavi! American-International leaps into an epic Jules Verne comedy about a trip to the moon, a good-looking but slow and unfunny farce that must squeak by on the goodwill of its cast of comedians. Burl Ives is excellent casting as P.T. Barnum, promoting a Greatest Show Off the Earth.
Starring: Burl Ives, Terry-Thomas, Gert Fröbe, Lionel Jeffries, Troy Donahue, Daliah Lavi, Dennis Price, Hermione Gingold, Jimmy Clitheroe, Graham Stark, Edward de Souza, Judy Cornwell, Allan Cuthbertson, Sinéd Cusack, Maurice Denham.
Cinematography: Reginald H. Wyer
Film Editor: Ann Chegwidden
Original Music: John Scott
Produced by Harry Allan Towers
Directed by Don Sharp »
- Glenn Erickson
Simon Brew May 9, 2017
With summer blockbuster season 2017 in full swing, and with Fast & Furious 8 speeding over the $1bn mark already, a bunch of filmmakers are furiously putting together their films for release this time next year (or thereabouts). Here, as things stand, is the state of summer blockbuster season 2018. We’ve veered towards UK release dates on the whole, but as always, things can quickly change.
Also, we’ve not included unnamed films: Universal, for instance, has reserved a slot for one of its classic monster universe movies, but not told anybody what it is yet. As more information pops up, we’ll keep this list up to date…
March Tomb Raider (March 16th)
Summer blockbuster season effectively kicks off in March in 2018, with the Warner Bros-backed big »
Director and documentarian Mark Hartley scores both a film history and comedy success with this ‘wild, untold’ account of the 1980s film studio that was both revered and despised by everyone who had contact with it. The ‘cast list’ of interviewees is encyclopedic, everybody has a strong opinion, and some of them don’t need four-letter words to describe their experience!
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
On a double bill with
Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Umbrella Entertainment (Au, all-region
2014 / Color / 1:77 widescreen / 106 min. / Street Date April 4, 2017 / Available from Umbrella Entertainment / 34.99
Starring: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, Al Ruban, Alain Jakubowicz, Albert Pyun, Alex Winter, Allen DeBevoise, Avi Lerner, Barbet Schroeder, Bo Derek, Boaz Davidson, Cassandra Peterson, Catherine Mary Stewart, Charles Matthau, Christopher C. Dewey, Christopher Pearce, Cynthia Hargrave, Dan Wolman, Daniel Loewenthal, David Del Valle, David Paulsen, David Sheehan, David Womark, Diane Franklin, Dolph Lundgren, Edward R. Pressman, »
- Glenn Erickson
Another offering of vintage East German pictures gives us all the pieces of a cinematic puzzle: Heiner Carow’s 1968 memory- movie of traumatic experiences in WW2 displeased the Communist authorities and was shelved… only to be cannibalized as a back-story for a new 1970 release aimed as a dig at West German values. It’s a fascinating comparison — an ideologically-challenged art film becomes a piece of well-produced propaganda.
The Russians Are Coming & Career
Defa Film Library
B&W / 2:35 widescreen / Street Date April, 2017 / available through Defa Film Library /
Cinematography: Jürgen Brauer
Film Editor: Evelyn Carow
Produced by Defa
Directed by Heiner Carow
Defa, or Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft was the film producing arm of the former Communist East German regime, that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. »
- Glenn Erickson
Broadway’s delightful — but wickedly accurate — satire of big business was brought to movie screens almost intact, with the story, the stars, the styles and dances kept as they were in the long-running show that won a Pulitzer Prize. This is the place to see Robert Morse and Michele Lee at their best — it’s one of the best, and least appreciated movie musicals of the 1960s.
1967 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 121 min. / Street Date March 14, 2017 / Available from the Twilight Time Movies Store 29.95
Starring: Robert Morse, Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee, Anthony Teague, Maureen Arthur, Sammy Smith, Robert Q. Lewis, Carol Worthington, Kathryn Reynolds, Ruth Kobart, George Fennemann, Tucker Smith, David Swift.
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Original Music: Nelson Riddle
Art Direction: Robert Boyle
Visual Gags: Virgil Partch
- Glenn Erickson
I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I can often spend hours upon hours trawling through iTunes looking for new movies to buy… Usually I’ll randomly come across a title I haven’t seen in years and use the “Cast & Crew” links to make my way down the rabbit hole to the more obscure side of Apple’s digital movie service.
Now whilst many will decry that iTunes is a terrible VOD service due to Apple’s desire to lock its audience to their platforms, if you have an Apple TV or iPad be aware – there are some truly obscure films hidden away in the depths of the vast collection of movies. Some of which have been made available in the UK for the first time since VHS and a Lot that have been added to the service in their original uncut form!
So, with »
- Phil Wheat
In the 1970s crime films morphed into sadistic vigilante fantasies about tough-guy heroes avenging terrible crimes against their families. Veteran noir director Phil Karlson directed the bruiser’s bruiser Joe Don Baker in a standard tale of violent vengeance, with the violence factor given an extra bloody boost.
Kl Studio Classics
Cinematography: Jack A. Marta
Film Editor: Harry W. Gerstad
Original Music: Pat Williams
Directed by Phil Karlson
Time for another curiosity review, of a grindhouse gut-basher from the 1970s — a subgenre I avoided when new. »
- Glenn Erickson
Sometimes it’s hard to put a fresh coat of paint on an old house. The colors can bleed through no matter how many new layers are added, giving the house a look of desperation from a block away. But sometimes the right paint is used, the restoration is done with love and affection, and the new owners actually care about their surroundings. Such is the case with The Night Stalker (1972), the ABC TV movie that took the vampire out of his crumbling castle and transported him to the seedier side of the modern day Las Vegas strip; and in doing so created one of the most endearingly reluctant monster hunters of all time, Carl Kolchak.
Originally airing as the ABC Movie of the Week on Tuesday, January 11th, 1972, The Night Stalker slayed the competition in the ratings, including CBS’s successful Hawaii Five-o/Cannon lineup. And I mean destroyed »
- Scott Drebit
Warning: if you’re not a Kate Jackson fan, today’s column may not work in your favor. Plus, we probably shouldn’t hang out. I first fell in love with Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty) when I was six. At the time, she was starring on Charlie’s Angels, along with Farrah Blah-Blah and Jaclyn What’s Her Name, but I think maybe I liked Kate best. Her long black hair, radiant smile, and raspy sing song drawl mesmerized me for the remainder of that show’s run. But for fans of horror, Kate worked with Dan Curtis on Dark Shadows, before landing one of the leads in Satan’s School for Girls (1973), producer Aaron Spelling’s venture into one of the ‘70s greatest capitalist ventures, Satanic Panic. It’s a fun romp; and spoiler alert - Kate is great in it. (She’s just the most, don’t you think? »
- Scott Drebit
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A quick look at the slinky sleight-of-hand involved in making movies about magic.
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Lugosi is a lot of fun but the real star of this movie is director William Cameron Menzies whose distinctive visual style graces every scene.
Question 2 of 10 2. Question
1953’s Houdini »
Stanley & Iris
1990 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 104 min. / Street Date January 17, 2017 / Available from the Twilight Time Movies Store 29.95
Cinematography: Donald McAlpine
Original Music: John Williams
Directed by Martin Ritt
There ought to be a place on a screen for every kind of film story. True, old movies fronted a mostly false consensus picture of the world, claiming that there was a ‘normal’ baseline for our lives. The reality of most social issues was ignored in favor of pleasant fairy tales where all conflicts could be solved on a personal level. After all, movies were considered entertainment first, and carriers of vital social truths maybe about 97th. But then and now, there »
- Glenn Erickson
13 items from 2017
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