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Review: Believing in one’s self is key in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

A Fantastic Woman (Blu-ray)


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Marina (Daniela Vega) is a young transgender waitress and aspiring singer. She and Orlando (Francisco Reyes), an older man, are in love and planning for the future. But when Orlando suddenly falls ill and dies, Marina is forced to confront his family and society, and to fight again to show them who she is: complex, strong, forthright, fantastic.

This is the compelling story of a woman who is basking in affection and acceptance one minute, and facing derision and bigotry the next. Though Orlando’s family appear to have all been aware of his relationship with Marina, they didn’t accept it and see his death as an opportunity to erase her from his history. However, they underestimate her love and strength as she refuses to allow them to dictate her last memory of Orlando. Informed by the real-life experiences of the transgender actress who began work on the film as a consultant, the instances of intolerance, hatred or just plain inappropriateness feel genuine as they’re dispensed by authority figures and the grieving family alike. The excellent acting from everyone involved makes this empowering picture incredibly engaging and, often times, infuriating.

Special features include: commentary by director Sebastián Lelio; and making-of featurette. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

A Wrinkle in Time (4K UHD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Disney Home Entertainment

Three celestial guides, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), come to Earth to share their wisdom and love with struggling eighth-grader Meg Murry (Storm Reid) as she journeys across dimensions with classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) and younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) in search of her father (Chris Pine), a world-renowned physicist who mysteriously disappeared four years ago.

In spite of the notable star power playing key roles in this picture, it’s still little more than an average children’s adventure filled with fantastical, quirky characters and a creative mix of vibrant colours. This means the key to entering the story is the kids. The adults of the picture are both prevailing and inconsequential. The celestial trio pop in and out for frequent costume changes, and to lend the occasional piece of advice. Conversely, Meg’s parents are integral to their journey, yet have very little to do with it. Perhaps because it’s adapted from a book, it feels somewhat incomplete. For the uninitiated, it’s difficult to grasp one of the many threads and hold on as it’s on to the next chapter before there was even time to become familiarized with the current one. The final act seems especially fragmented as the kids unceremoniously come face-to-face with the evil “IT.” Moreover, the abstract concepts and existentialism that infiltrate the middle section seems to stall the picture’s progression in favour of lovely but empty visuals.

Special features include: commentary by director Ava DuVernay; producer Jim Whitaker; co-writer Jennifer Lee and some of the production crew; deleted scenes with optional commentary; “A Journey Through Time”; “I Believe” music video by DJ Khaled featuring Demi Lovato; “Warrior” music video by Chloe x Halle; and bloopers. (Disney Home Entertainment)

Annihilation (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)


Paramount Home Media Distribution

Biologist and former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) is shocked when her missing husband (Oscar Isaac) comes home near death from a top-secret mission into The Shimmer, a mysterious quarantine zone no one has ever returned from. Now, Lena and her elite team must enter a beautiful, deadly world of mutated landscapes and creatures, to discover how to stop the growing phenomenon that threatens all life on Earth.

This is a fascinating film in which nothing is as it seems. The narrative jumps back-and-forth through the timeline: in the present, Lena is relaying what happened to the team of scientists with which she went in; the recent past is the extraordinary mission she’s detailing; and the more distant past is the flashbacks she has in The Shimmer of life before her husband’s return. Director Alex Garland is proving to be an expert in the genre of sci-fi suspense as he creates this intense world that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats and asking questions. All of the scientists recruited for the mission are women as they try to alter another variable and hope for different results. Inside the quarantine zone, things immediately become weird and they just get weirder… and more dangerous. And while there’s no clear-cut explanation for any of it, it doesn’t stop audiences from wanting to know what else may be out there.

Special features include: “Part 1 — Southern Reach”; “Part 2 — Area X”; and “Part 3 — To the Lighthouse.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Avatar — The Last Airbender: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)


Paramount Home Media Distribution

Katara (Mae Whitman) and Sokka (Jack De Sena), siblings and members of the Water Tribe, help Airbender Aang (Zach Tyler) master the four elements needed to become the Avatar — master of water, earth, fire and air.

Each season is named after one of the elements Aang must still master and then primarily consists of his quest to find a suitable master to teach him. As the first season is water, Katara is equally anxious to go to the North Pole and train with their sister tribe. Travelling on Aang’s flying bison, they cover a lot of ground; but there are also numerous stops to help people or avoid the Fire Nation, who are their fiercest enemies. Prince Zuko is determined to capture the Avatar in order reconcile with his father, who, in the meantime, has taken up a war with all the nations in search of total supremacy. While Zuko’s tea-loving uncle tries to soothe the prince’s anger, his sister embarks on a destructive quest against all enemies of the Fire Nation. The series’ sequel, The Legend of Korra, is equally appealing as these tales unfold in the midst of great turmoil and affection.

Special features include: commentary on select episodes; “Behind the Scenes Kung Fu”; “The Making of Avatar — From Real Life to Animation”; “Behind the Scenes: The Voices of Avatar”; “Ask the Creators”; original uncut anamatic; “Behind the Scenes with the Avatar Cast & Crew”; “The Making of Avatar — Inside the Sound Studios”; “The Making of Avatar — Inside the Korean Animation Studios”; Avatar pilot episode with audio commentary; interview with creators and M. Night Shyamalan; “Avatar Super Deformed Shorts”; “Escape From the Spirit World: Animated Graphic Novel”; “The Women of Avatar: The Last Airbender”; “Book 3 Finale Pencil Test Animation”; and “Into the Fire Nation at San Diego Comic-Con.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Escape Plan (4K UHD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

One of the world’s foremost authorities on structural security agrees to take on one last job: breaking out of an ultra-secret, high-tech facility called “The Tomb.” Deceived and wrongfully imprisoned, Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) must recruit fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to help devise a daring, nearly impossible plan to escape from the most protected and fortified prison ever built.

This movie uses an interesting concept to once again unite two of the ‘80s most prolific action heroes in much less violent roles — though they’re physicality is still required in some scenes. Ray has made a living identifying the cracks in fortified prisons, but this one is a whole other level of high security; however, making friends with one of the largest and most connected men in the joint is a good start to his escape scheme. The plan is incredibly intricate and time sensitive, rivalling any heist movie in its detail and precision. Moreover, the film has a very defined look that is sterile and harsh – very fitting for a prison picture – which has a sharpness further accentuated in high-def.

Special features include: commentary with director Mikael Håfström and co-writer Miles Chapman; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; “Maximum Security: The Real-Life Tomb”; and “Clash of the Titans.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

The Hurricane Heist (4K UHD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

As a massive hurricane builds, criminals infiltrate a U.S. Mint facility. Their plan: to steal $600 million and escape using a Category 5 hurricane as cover. But a treasury agent (Maggie Grace) and a storm chaser (Toby Kebbell) have a plan of their own, desperately racing against time — and the hurricane — to save the hostages and stop the thieves before their town is reduced to rubble.

This film combines the natural disaster with the heist movie, though the former tends to be the more dominant genre. As the good guys repeatedly attempt to thwart the criminals, the storm rages on indifferent to their presence. However, players on both sides of the law continually venture out into the gusting winds and flying debris, neither giving up on their goals — with, of course, one being far nobler than the other. Though the concept of merging the two types movies is interesting, the result is a slightly above average hurricane picture. Some of the more interesting elements are in the bonus features, where they illustrate how they utilized practical effects and how the actors were able to perform most of their own stunts. Moreover, there is an insightful interview with director Rob Cohen, in which he discusses the evolution of making a movie in Hollywood.

Special features include: commentary with director Rob Cohen; deleted scenes; “The Eye of the Storm”; “Hollywood Heist: A Conversation with Rob Cohen”; and VFX reel. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

I’m Dying Up Here: Season One (DVD)


Paramount Home Media Distribution

The series, executive produced by Jim Carrey, explores the struggles of “making it big” in the 1970’s L.A. comedy scene. Every night, a group of up-and-coming comedians wait to perform at Goldie’s, the hottest stand-up club in town. But first they’ll have to win over Goldie (Melissa Leo), who rules the Sunset Strip with an iron fist. Stand-up is a drug for these comedians, and they’re willing to sacrifice everything to get their fix. They brave the pain of sharing their innermost thoughts and darkest secrets, hoping that someone, anyone, will laugh.

This is a captivating series that finds the ideal balance between showing the characters telling jokes on stage to endearing audiences to each of them by delving into their personal lives. Being damaged is almost a prerequisite for being a comedian, so each performer is dealing with complex issues from unsatisfactory relationships to unsupportive fathers to prejudice to drug addiction to the everyday struggle to put food on the table. They vary so much from each other, yet they find community in their shared desire to make people laugh. Packing an unexpected punch into the first episode, the writing is phenomenal and the actors are all perfectly casted for their respective roles. This is definitely a show that should be on more people’s radars.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Jurassic Park: 25th Anniversary Collection (4K UHD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Dinosaurs once again roam the Earth in an amazing theme park on a remote island. These four adventures find man up against prehistoric predators in the ultimate battle for survival. Welcome to Jurassic Park.

Steven Spielberg changed the animatronics game when he made Jurassic Park in 1993. While many other directors were busy testing the limits of CGI for their creations, he was still pushing the envelope of practical effects to make one of cinema’s most memorable monster movies. As people have speculated what the results would be if scientists were able to clone prehistoric figures from recovered DNA, this franchise took that idea and ran with it for four films and counting. In the latest picture, Jurassic World, they believe they’ve learned from the mistakes of the first theme park and have opened a successful, high-tech dinosaur experience for thousands of visitors per day. Of course these ancient reptiles are unpredictable, and practically roaring off the screen in high-def sound and picture quality. It’s unfortunate the later films are relying more heavily on CGI, but it does allow for some pretty impressive dinosaur-on-dinosaur violence.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Return to Jurassic Park,” six-part documentary; making-of parts 1-3; “Steven Spielberg directs Jurassic Park”; “A Visit to ILM”; “Welcome to Jurassic World”; “Dinosaurs Roam Once Again”; “Jurassic World: All-Access Pass”; and storyboards. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Lodgers (Blu-ray)


Epic Pictures

A sinister presence confines orphan twins Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) to their home, and torments them as a punishment for their ancestors’ sins. When Rachel falls in love with an outsider (Eugene Simon), she grows skeptical and begins to rebel, desperate to escape the oppression and misery of the family curse.

The film is a striking, gothic ghost story that uses the gloomy atmosphere and even gloomier house to tell a dark tale with political undertones. Set during WWI, the narrative demonstrates there’s more than one way to become a pariah in a small town. The supernatural element of the story is skilfully executed and quite intriguing. In spite of knowing something haunts their domicile, its history and nature are not revealed to audiences until much later in the narrative. The family’s legacy is not difficult to guess, but how it’s kept somewhat ambiguous and woven into the tale is effective. Moreover, director Brian O’Malley doesn’t rely on jump scares; instead the focus is on the creepiness of the curse’s constant presence and growing dominion over the house. There’s also a fairy tale element as the rules their meant to follow to avoid upsetting the house’s other residents are remembered in a melancholy song both siblings know by heart… and one holds over the other to retain their loyalty.

Special features include: behind the scenes mini documentary; deleted scenes; and trailers. (Epic Pictures)

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Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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