Blu-ray slight return: April Showers

Picnic at Hanging Rock / Affliction / The Crime is Mine / Madame Web

by Michael Bergeron

Madame Web also called Cassandra Webb is a paramedic/ambulance driver. “She’s not going room temp on my watch,” Webb categorically states as she weaves in and out of New York City traffic with the agility of a stunt driver.

The latest Sony Marvel film, released a few months ago theatrically, Madame Web was a low performer. But considering the pedigree of the overall franchise it would not be surprising to see a Madame Web related character pop up in a Marvel film some years down the road.

Madame Web Cassandra learns that she has a mysterious power of pre-cognition passed to her by her mother (who died during childbirth). She has foresight into the death of three teens that plays out in movie terms like a deja-vu. Cassandra has visions of events happening about 30-seconds before they actually occur.

There’s actually a mid-1950s Faith Domergue film (from England) called The Atomic Man where a scientist after being exposed to radiation can see “seven seconds” into the future. There’s also a ’60s spy spoof with a similar plot device titled Dimension 5. Neither uses the trope as well as Madame Web.

Actresses in their 20s, one who is the current “It Girl” Sydney Sweeney, pass for youngsters. There hasn’t been such a leap of age faith since 30-year-old Jeremy Piven played a college senior in PCU.

Madame Web is a very Pepsi film. Characters drink or hold Pepsi unless they’re gulping Mountain Dew. One character is even killed by Pepsi.

The 4K and Blu-Ray release on April 30 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment offers the usual featurettets, most with overlapping shots. But there’s one extra that really nails what “extras” are all about. Unlisted on the back cover menu Easter Eggs – The Many Threads of Madame Web offers a complex rendering of elements of the film in a concise manner.

The three-minute-plus featurette narraated by director SJ Clarkson literally illustrates tableaux settings from the film in comparison to the specific comic book where said images originated. Hats off are given to illustrators of certain scenes and how they influenced the movie. The supporting team of super women Web recruits are seen in their original introduction in varous Spider Woman comics. The first ever appearance of Madame Web was in The Amazing Spider Man issue 210, from November 1, 1980.

The powerful film from Paul Schrader, Affliction is one of his best.

A lawman in a small town finds his authority squelched by the town’s power brokers while at the same time a mysterious accident demands further investigation. Nick Nolte heads a stellar cast that includes Sissy Spacek and James Coburn (who won an Oscar for his role as an abusive father). Willem Dafoe, whose character is the voice-over narrator, only turns up midway through the film as a full fledged character.

There’s a scene where Nolte pulls an aching tooth that has been killing him the entire time; he pulls it with a pair of pliers and it sums up the self-inflicted suffering characters undergo in the cinema according to Schrader. Part of the magic of Affliction is how it presents the cloudy cinematography of Paul Sarossy intact.

The blu-ray release from Shout! Studios is sans extras. A very bare bones release right down to the eco plastic case.

The Crime is Mine, under the delightful direction of François Ozon, moves with the unblocked momentum of a screwball comedy.

A compelling French film set in the 1930s centers on two ladies, one an actress, one a lawyer, and both broke and about to be evicted from the apartment they share.

The actress (charming Nadia Tereszkiewicz) has an audition and before all is said and done the producer is shot in the head. Accused of murder her roommate (even more charming Rebecca Marder) becomes her counselor.

A showy trial results in her being found innocent having acted in self defense when she was being raped.

We’re not even half-way through The Crime Is Mine, which is loosely based on a popular French stage play from the 1930s.

It’s at this point that a faded silent era film actress (magnificent Isabelle Huppert) shows up and claims that she actually committed the murder. The movie occasionally portrays events as they would be seen if it were a silent cinema classic. Huppert’s character is based on Sarah Bernhardt.

Extras include deleted scenes and bloopers; an interview with Ozon; and a 40-plus minute Making of featurette that has plenty of behind the scenes angles that give a real sense to how movies are made. The Blu-ray release is courtesy of Music Box Films.

Picnic at Hanging Rock was elevated horror before elevted horror was a thing. Early Peter Weir film about a ladies academy in 1900s Australia and what transpires during an outing in the country, in this case a rock formation known as Hanging Rock.

The idea that people could disappear on a large rock formation might sound incredulous. After all, couldn’t they just look for them? Yet one time, true story, I was in Sedona and wile visiting Bell Rock someone mentioned a recent missing child who got lost on the rock and disappeared, maybe fell off or down a crevice.

As Weir thrusts the audience into a kind of mystery he also explores the nature that surrounds the picnic. Ants climbing on a piece of cake, shoes and stockings being removed to feel the grass on the ground more tactically. 

It’s like nature unwittingly puts a curse on encroaching civilization. A couple of kids go missing. Immediately the private school starts to have students withdrawn and economic pressures impede the economic growth of the community.

Tasteful performances include vets like Rachel Roberts, and then new comers like Jacki Weaver (as the academy’s maid). Picnic at Hanging Rock was released in 1975 and has been in constant rotation since.

Extras for the most recent 4K and Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection include an introduction to the film by film historian David Thompson as well as an on-set documentary that features an interview with Weir. Also included is Homesdale, an eerie 50-minute film Weir made in 1971.

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