Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag - RUNNING ON EMPTY (New to Widescreen) DVDs ""

Monday, January 12, 2015

Warner Archive Grab Bag - RUNNING ON EMPTY (New to Widescreen) DVDs

RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988; Sidney Lumet)
One thing that caught my attention almost immediately whilst rewatching this movie was the "Double Play Productions" company credit. Double Play is a production company run by actors Griffin Dunne and Amy Robinson. I just happen to adore several of the films they had a hand in so seeing that credit always makes me perk up. Double Play's credits include both John Sayles' 1983 film BABY IT'S YOU and Scorsese 1985 cult classic AFTER HOURS (which of course also stars Griffin Dunne). Amy Robinson originally started a company called Triple Play Productions with Dunne and also actor Mark Metcalf in 1977 and then later formed Double Play with just she and Dunne. Triple Play Productions was also responsible for another of my favorites - CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER - so needless to say I have a lot of faith in their nose for material to make into movies. All of this is leading up to me saying that RUNNING ON EMPTY is one of the truly terrific and yet truly underrated films of the 1980s. It got an early release on DVD in a non-widescreen format and languished that way for a cruelly long time so it's great to see it get a decent 16x9 transfer. So anyway, it all starts with the material and the production company and then you add in Sidney Lumet and this remarkable cast and you've got something that is honestly quite special. I remember having sort of forgotten about this movie myself by the mid-90s when I was fully entrenched in my video store days. It was brought back to my notice by one of my co-workers who was a die hard fan of the film and selected it for his "employee picks" shelf. It's funny how I sometimes can't recall what I did a few weekends back, but I have a keen recollection of what my video store compatriots had chosen as their employee picks. There's just something about the process of seeing them carefully place the movies they hold most dear into this special section that has always burned onto my brain I guess. So anyway, RUNNING ON EMPTY. It's a great movie and one of a few that River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton made together (another being THE MOSQUITO COAST which is also very good). RUNNING ON EMPTY though is one of the great showcases for River Phoenix's raw talent as an actor. Perhaps working with a director like Sidney Lumet helped bring out his best? Hard to say, but the material certainly lends itself to allowing Phoenix to kinda just exist as a young man and not have to add much in the way of stylization. DOGFIGHT is another example of a movie like this for the late Mr. Phoenix. He's really great here and has the lion's share of the screen time from this great ensemble (which Lumet as also excellent at putting together). The movie is also a nice platform for Judd Hirsch. Watch this movie and ORDINARY PEOPLE and you'll never think of him as the guy from TAXI or DEAR JOHN ever again. And last but certainly not least is Christine Lahti. She's also outstanding here and has many emotional scenes to carry in the movie and carry them she does so well. The whole ensemble just meshes quite well together. There's a really great scene that's just a bunch of characters washing dishes and singing along to James Taylor that exemplifies the  gently splendid nature of this movie. It's really nice to see it released in widescreen.


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