With film critics and movie fans hyperbolically declaring It Follows the best horror movie in decades, this week’s best disc and streaming release is well timed — after all, that’s what everyone was saying about The Babadook when it came out, oh, six months ago. (Movie Twitter is not exactly renowned for its long memory.) Also this week, we’ve got two terrific releases from Criterion — one a long-time fave upgraded to HD, the other a heist thriller with an edge — along with a new doc on a cinema icon, and a new Blu-ray for one of the most unlikely success stories of the 1980s.
The Babadook : Even before the relentless titular monster shows up, writer/director Jennifer Kent has already created one of the most harrowing and unnerving pictures in recent memory — because she’s made a movie about (shudder) parenthood. But it’s not just a case of child-in-peril gimmickry; by setting her bone-chilling thriller in a recognizably real world, where everyday horrors wait at every bedtime and birthday party, Kent creates a mood where the terror of the Babadook is utterly credible, and thus all the more frightening. (Includes deleted scenes, interviews, a featurette, a short film, and trailers; also streaming on Netflix.)
Odd Man Out : This heist thriller from director Carol Reed appeared two years before his iconic The Third Man, and much of it plays like a blueprint for that picture. The gorgeous noir-tinged photography evocatively uses light and shadow to create a vivid nighttime cityscape, while the crisply executed foot chases through its city streets are suspenseful and fast-paced, yet never blur character or geography as so many lesser films do (particularly these days). Their key similarity, though, lies in their morality; this is no empty thriller, but a film where the ethical dilemmas of its central characters become the central subject — particularly in the stunning (and, then and now, shocking) final scene. (Includes interviews, documentaries, and a radio adaptation.)
I Am Steve McQueen : This 2014 tribute documentary aired on SpikeTV, and is thus occasionally infected by an element of macho worship and car fetishism. That said, it’s a fast-paced and stylishly executed portrait, getting at the roots of McQueen’s specific persona and chilly charisma, and taking apart how he slowly, methodically tore down his matinee idol image and walked away from stardom. There’s good stuff here for movie buffs (highlight: a thorough analysis and breakdown of how they did that iconic Bullitt chase), and touching memories of his last days from those close to him. Nothing revelatory, but an awfully good time. (Includes featurettes and a trailer.)
Sullivan’s Travels : Preston Sturges’ 1941 classic — his fourth great movie in two years, still a mind-boggling achievement — is often classified as a Hollywood satire, and while it’s certainly cynical about the town its creator called home (“But with a little sex?”), it’s less about that town than about the traps of artistic pretension, and the accordant quest for “authenticity.” (It can also be read as a quietly prescient indictment of rich, white privilege.) Joel McCrea is splendid as a pompous oaf of a comic filmmaker who tries to live the life of a common man and make the serious drama he thinks the world needs; Veronica Lake is a vision as the girl he meets along the way, and their snappy back-and-forth is pure pleasure. Sturges gets a touch serious himself in the poetically biting third act (You want the experience of the common man? You got it!), but the deservedly beloved ending both dramatizes and demonstrates the central message that comedy eases ills, both social and personal. (Includes documentaries, a video essay, interviews, archival audio recordings, and an audio commentary with Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean.)
Eddie and the Cruisers : A massive flop when originally released in 1983, Martin Davidson’s musical drama (new on Blu-ray from Shout, packaged with its ill-advised 1989 sequel) found its audience the following year via VHS and HBO (to such a degree that the spotlight song “On the Dark Side” became a top 10 hit nine months after the theatrical release). It’s not a great movie — the dialogue is boilerplate, the love story’s a stiff, and the Springsteen-esque sound of the ’60-era Cruisers is hilariously incongruent — but it’s got early appearances by Ellen Barkin and Joe Pantoliano (utterly convincing as a desperate would-be hustler) and paints a spot-on portrait of the then-burgeoning rock nostalgia circuit. Most of all, it’s sincere and genuine, unapologetically and unironically buying into its rock star/poet myth-making. (Includes trailer for the original film, and trailer, featurette, and interviews for the sequel.)