Madame Web

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 4/30/24;
Sony Pictures;
Action;
Box Office
$43.82 million;
$34.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 UHD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence/action and language.
Stars Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott, Kerry Bishé, Zosia Mamet, José María Yazpik.

Campy at best, confusing at worst, but mostly tepid bordering on dull, Madame Web represents yet another misguided attempt to expand the live-action cinematic world of Spider-Man without actually involving the web-slinger. However, unlike the surprisingly popular “Venom” movies (who has his own following from the comics) and the unfortunate Morbius, Madame Web at least technically includes an appearance of Peter Parker.

The story takes place in 2003, which would make the film a prequel to the others if they are meant to connect to each other, and centers on Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson), a New York paramedic who becomes clairvoyant after a near-death experience. Her powers relate to mystical spiders in the Amazon jungle being researched by her mother (Kerry Bishé), who died giving birth to her in 1973 after being betrayed by another explorer, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), who was seeking the secrets of an ancient tribe of spider-people.

In the film’s present, the older Ezekiel, who now has spider powers, has a vision of being killed by three girls (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor) in spider-themed costumes. So he sets about hunting them down. In a moment of serendipity, he finds them all on the same train, which coincidentally Cassie happens to be on as well. When Cassie has a vision of his attack, she kidnaps the girls to protect them, setting her down a path of learning to understand her own powers and the secrets behind them.

Really, any attempt to describe the film doesn’t do it justice. It really has to be seen to be believed. Between Johnson’s aloof performance and a screenplay that buries itself in illogical plot threads, Madame Web is the kind of film that drinking games are made for, which should draw in any number of viewers curious to see if the film is as big of a train wreck its critical and box office response make it out to be.

Among the bonus materials included with the film’s home release are 26 minutes of rote behind-the-scenes footage spread across four featurettes: 

The seven-minute “Future Vision” offers a general making of the film; the nine-minute “Casting the Web” profiles the film’s stars; the five-and-a-half-minute “Fight Like a Spider” details the film’s stunts; and the five-minute “Oracle of the Page” delves into the influence of the Marvel Comics source material. Supplementing these is a four-minute featurette that points out numerous references to the comics.

Also included are a single brief deleted scene and a four-and-a-half-minute gag reel.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/1/22;
Sony Pictures;
Comedy;
Box Office $128.06 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for supernatural action and some suggestive references.
Stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Bob Gunton, J.K. Simmons, Bokeem Woodbine.

Somewhere out there, lost to the annals of time and space, is the ideal third “Ghostbusters” movie. While Ghostbusters: Afterlife might not achieve that lofty goal, the circumstances that led to its creation make it a valiant effort.

Following the 1984 original film and its 1989 sequel, plans for a third film eventually stalled out when the creative team couldn’t agree to a satisfactory story to tell. The 2014 death of Harold Ramis, who was one of the creative forces behind the franchise in addition to playing a key character, seemed to signal the end of attempts to continue the original storyline. The consolation prize for fans was the 2009 Ghostbusters video game, which franchise co-creator and co-star Dan Aykroyd referred to as essentially being a third movie.

In 2016 a third movie did come along, with director Paul Feig’s reboot of the original that severed ties with the continuity of the first two films, presenting a cast of talented female comedians whose characters invented the concept of and equipment for ghostbusting on their own, only to come across a villain who used similar equipment to summon ghosts. The remake, eventually dubbed Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, was largely rejected by franchise fans because it wasn’t rooted in a continuation of the lore, instead sticking original cast members into mostly awkward and bizarre cameos.

Then, director Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the 1980s movies, had a vision of a girl discovering ghostbusting equipment, leading her to discover her family’s legacy. This idea eventually germinated into Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a true continuation of the storyline from the original films.

The girl is Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who along with her brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), move to Oklahoma after their mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), inherits a derelict farm from her father, Phoebe and Trevor’s grandfather. While Callie tries to make sense of her father’s finances, Phoebe and Trevor discover their grandfather was one of the original Ghostbusters, who had settled in Oklahoma to combat supernatural forces that threatened to bring an end to the world. Along with some new friends and a teacher played by Paul Rudd, they take up his mission to avert the return of the evil forces.

Afterlife is far from a perfect movie and is at times almost too reverential to the 1980s films, with a third act that is essentially a re-creation of the end of the first film, relying more on nostalgia than originality. But it respects the lore, and that’s probably enough to earn the appreciation of longtime fans.

The “new generation” plot gives the younger characters an entry point into the mythology by making it a mystery for them to solve, which is a clever way to reintroduce the concept while also providing a touching way to address the absence of Ramis (though how it’s addressed in the film does raise a lot of questions that are left unanswered). However, longtime fans will see what’s coming from a mile away, as the retread elements of Afterlife really start to wear thin by the end.

In a way, this actually makes the existence of Answer the Call more infuriating, since its story arc of ghostbusting-like equipment being used to call forth the forces of darkness rather than stop them would have been a nice fit for a next-generation Ghostbusters movie and better served Afterlife. (In Answer the Call, the equipment isn’t ghostbusters gear per se, but similar hardware developed by a bad guy — the concept could have been adapted for a story about modifying ghostbuster tech).

So, what we are left with is a movie that is a bit of a double-edged sword. Up until some fan service in the third act, Afterlife works well as a standalone movie about a struggling family uncovering a lost legacy and learning who they are, playing more along Jason Reitman’s sensibilities as an indie filmmaker. But as a “Ghostbusters” movie, it’s more like a tribute band paying homage to the original, which might make it less appealing to viewers who don’t have the nostalgia for the 1980s films.

The Afterlife Blu-ray includes some thorough behind-the-scenes materials and a few featurettes aimed at the fandom.

The central making-of video is the 10-minute “Summoning the Spirit,” which starts with Jason Reitman’s concept for creating the film as previously mentioned, and picks up from there. Supplementary to this are a six-and-a-half-minute featurette about the visual effects.

For the fans, the eight-minute “We Got One!” looks at the many references to the earlier films layered into Afterlife. There’s also a six-minute guide to ghostbusting equipment, and a five-minute look at the return of the Ghostbusters’ car, the Ecto-1. The 10-minute “A Look Back” featurette offers a reminiscence with the surviving original cast members, while the four-minute “A Look Ahead” teases what might be yet to come.

Also included is a single deleted scene, running a minute-and-a-half, that offers a fun extension of a scene between Callie, Phoebe and one of the original cast members.

Freaky

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/9/21;
Universal;
Horror;
Box Office $8.99 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, and language throughout.
Stars Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Dana Drori, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Alan Ruck.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in Freaky, which combines the scares of a slasher film and the wackiness of a body-swap comedy to great effect.

The film goes to town on all sorts of tropes from horror films to high school and teen coming-of-age movies. Freaky the kind of movie that could easily end up being a cult hit.

It begins as any typical slasher movie would, with a psychotic killer nicknamed the Butcher (Vince Vaughn) stalking sex-crazy teenagers having a party. During the mayhem, he discovers the antiquities collection of one of the kids’ parents, and an ancient magical dagger calls out to him.

His next target turns out to be Millie (Kathryn Newton), a typical American put-upon teenager dealing with all sorts of angst, not the least of which is her father’s sudden death a year earlier and her mother turning to alcoholism to cope. So when her mother doesn’t show up to give her a ride home after the Homecoming game, the Butcher strikes, and manages to stab her in the shoulder with the magical dagger before Millie’s cop sister shows up to scare him off.

The next morning, Millie and the Butcher wake up in each other’s bodies. Since Millie was able to describe the Butcher to police, everyone now knows what he looks like, so she can’t just go walking around in his body trying to figure out what happened. But having the body of a teenage girl gives new life to the Butcher, who now has a free pass to fresh meat at high school, and ends up running afoul of all the same people who have been giving Millie problems.

Eventually, Millie is able to reconnect with her friends and convince them of what happened, and they learn about the dagger’s body-swap abilities, and that they have until the end of the day to reverse the process with another stab before the switch becomes permanent.

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The blend of supernatural hijinks with typical high school problems gives the movie some serious “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” vibes, particularly the way it serves as a revenge fantasy for dealing with all the troubles that pop up during high school, from bullies to mean teachers. The film finds a nice balance between tongue-in-cheek humor and some nasty gore.

Newton does a good job switching from meek teenager to killer on a dime, but the key to the film’s success is Vaughn, who has to take on the persona of a teenage girl. That’s why you cast someone like Vaughn for this role, since he’s no stranger to playing creepy, but has the comedic chops to pull off a convincing Millie.

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The Blu-ray includes a number of good bonus features, starting with the feature-length commentary by director Christopher Landon, who covers all the challenges of filming at an active high school during the winter in Atlanta with a shoestring budget.

Other extras include three deleted scenes running about five minutes in total, including a funny bit with a rideshare driver.

The two-and-a-half-minute “Split Personalities: Millie vs. The Butcher” featurette deals with Vaughn and Newton crafting their characters, while the three-and-a-half-minute “Crafting the Kills” dissects the variety of gruesome murders depicted in the film.

“Christopher Landon’s Brand of Horror” is a two-and-a-half-minute featurette about the director’s penchant for horror-comedy. Finally, the three-minute “Final Girl Reframed” examines how the film flips some common horror tropes about gender stereotypes.