Good news, disc lovers: two of the half-year’s very best movies are out today on Blu-ray, and god knows, in the middle of a summer at the multiplex like this one, we need ‘em. On top of that, one of the great cult movies joins the Criterion Collection, and KL Studio Classics offers up high-def upgrades of two ace Westerns.
ON BLU-RAY/ DVD/ VOD
Green Room: This tense, claustrophobic thriller from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) is grisly, sweaty, creepy stuff, but it’s not all empty scares and thrills; his airtight script has the efficiency of a Swiss watch, from the economy of his transitions to the desperation of the conflict to the ingenious utility of the characters (and the bluntness with which he dispatches them). “This… is a nightmare,” one of them despairs, late in the proceedings, and the picture unfolds with the appropriate logic: no easy escapes, no tidy endings, only evil on the other side of a door, all but daring you to come out and dance. It’s a jolting firecracker of a movie, rendered all the more troubling by its unexpected echoes of a certain political campaign. (Includes audio commentary and featurette.)
Everybody Wants Some!!: Richard Linklater takes the shaggy, shambling vibe of Dazed and Confused from a 1976 high school to a 1980 college in this freewheeling and giddily entertaining hang-out comedy. It takes a while to lock in on his baseball-bro protagonists, who aren’t (initially, at least) the most likable group of guys. But they’re certainly authentic, and their shared-room negotiations, faux-philosophical discussions, and clueless strategies for wooing the fairer sex ring with a truth that’s far from period specific. And there’s something kind of wonderful about their openness, to new experiences, new cultural scenes, and the world around them in general, which is (after all) what college is all about. After the mature searching of Before Midnight and the narrative boldness of Boyhood, this is just Linklater having a good time — and it’s infectious. (Includes deleted scenes/outtakes and featurettes.)
Carnival of Souls: Lawrence, Kansas filmmaker Herk Harvey’s first and only feature often wears the pockmarks of its limited resources: flat acting, radio soap music, clumsy blocking, bargain basement production. Yet its creepy narrative and hallucinatory vibe turns those flaws into virtues, as Harvey uses stark black-and-white photography and an otherworldly oddness to tell a a genuinely unnerving ghost story (and, beyond that, a “who’s a ghost” story). He comes up with a fascinating mixture of existential art film and low-budget monster movie, filled with moments and images that will burrow into your brain and stay there. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, video essay, featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, and excerpts from Harvey’s industrial films.)
The Ox-Bow Incident: Fourteen years before 12 Angry Men, Henry Fonda starred in this first-rate William A. Wellman Western that plays, in retrospect, like a prequel – a courtroom drama, albeit one set around a Nevada campfire. Tightly composed and ruthlessly efficient (it runs a mere 75 minutes, and makes every one of ‘em count), this story of a rope-twirling posse hunting down the supposed killers of a local rancher turns into a nuanced – and far from dated – psychological snapshot of mob mentality and revenge-thirsty frontier “justice” (“The law’s slow and careless around here sometimes,” sneers one of its practitioners, “We’re here to see it speeded up.”) What begins as a hunt turns into a test of character during an uneasy overnight stay of execution, and Wellman puts across the tension and pressure of the terrifying scene via powerful compositions and a remarkable clarity of action and reaction. A mini-masterpiece. (Includes audio commentary, Fonda documentary, restoration featurette, and theatrical trailer.)
Yellow Sky: Five years after Ox-Bow, Wellman reteamed with writer/producer Lamar Trotti for another thoughtful Western (and an early bar scene is filled with echoes of Ox-Bow, in cast, location, and dialogue). They cooked up this ingenious frontier riff on The Tempest, in which a group of bank robbers headed by Gregory Peck find themselves in a desert oasis run by a wise old man and his spirited granddaughter. As with the earlier picture, Wellman excels at creating situations of tension and uneasiness, and while the rape-y overtones of the narrative are unsettling, the knockout photography, haunting use of sound (particularly in the grim closing scenes), and crisp gunfights are terrific. (Features audio commentary and trailers.)