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Review: Surviving doesn’t come easy in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

13 Reasons Why: Season 2 (DVD)


Paramount Home Media Distribution

This season picks up in the aftermath of Hannah’s (Katherine Langford) death and the start of the characters’ complicated journeys toward healing and recovery. Liberty High prepares to go on trial, but someone will stop at nothing to keep the truth surrounding Hannah’s death concealed. A series of ominous Polaroids lead Clay (Dylan Minnette) and his classmates to the discovery that Hannah wasn’t the only one to suffer at the hands of Liberty’s elite. When the whole truth is exposed, no one is spared the consequences.

By the end of the season, this high school unquestionably becomes the worst thanks to its entitled, cruel students and uncaring faculty. As each student takes the stand in an attempt to demonstrate how the administration turned a blind eye to bullying and physical assaults, Liberty’s lawyer turns each of their testimonies around to lay blame on the students for not being more explicit in their reports or just being mean to each other. In the meantime, Clay and several of the other kids on the tapes try to find supporting evidence that will deliver justice to Hannah by proving Bryce (Justin Prentice) is a serial rapist alongside some of his other teammates. Throughout the trial, more is revealed about Hannah, while her “ghost” pushes Clay to find the whole truth. Like the first, this season is another difficult one to watch as rape and suicide survivors deal with PTSD, addiction and another brutal rape closes the chapter.

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

A Dark Place (Blu-ray)


Shout Factory

Donny (Andrew Scott) is a small-town sanitation truck driver whose friendship with a young boy on his route leads to an obsession over uncovering the truth about the boy’s sudden disappearance. The more Donny recalls the boy’s kindness, the more he becomes consumed by the discrepancies with the sheriff’s theory that he just ran away … and as Donny investigates and analyzes, he finds a steady and surprising resistance that mounts until the whole town seems to be against him.

One of the things that makes this tale different from other similar ones is Donny is on the spectrum, appearing to have Asperger Syndrome. As a result, his obsession with solving the case causes him to break the law and put himself in danger as the consequences of his actions do not permeate his need for the truth. Regardless of how many times he’s warned off the investigation, he cannot stop. Most of the town seems used to Donny’s questions and demeanour, but those who are worried about him also give him dangerous leads to follow. Scott is convincing in the role, though the cover-up and the narrative’s commitment to it can be somewhat irksome.

Special features include: featurette; and trailer. (Shout Factory)

Apollo 11 (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Elevation Pictures

A look at the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon led by commander Neil Armstrong, and pilots Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

There have been a number of fictional movies made, depicting the momentous occasion on which man first stepped on the moon; however, the behind-the-scenes footage pieced together in this documentary provide a perspective the public has never seen. In the hours leading up to the launch, the tension is palpable; from the control room where dozens of massive computers are prepared for launch to the dressing area where the weight of the mission sits heavy on the three astronauts’ shoulders and expressions. Meanwhile, this is contrasted with the carefree tailgaters barbecuing and playing during the lead-up. None of the footage is necessarily unexpected, but it does drive home the significance of that day, and the emotions inside and outside the rocket.

Special features include: “Discovering the 65mm.” (Elevation Pictures)

Arctic (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Elevation Pictures

A man (Mads Mikkelsen) stranded in the Arctic after an airplane crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown.

Since the man is primarily on his own, there’s very little dialogue in the picture. However, the emphasis is on survival and the treacherous journey on which he embarks. He’s obviously trained in survival techniques; however, there’s little indication of exactly how long he’s been stranded there, what his background is and who else may have been in the plane. Deciding to travel north to potential help is a matter of necessity, though how much longer he would’ve waited where he was is uncertain since it was relatively safe and secure. This is a tale of courage and endurance in which audiences connect with the main character and his hardships in spite of knowing very little about him.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Story Behind Arctic”; and Mads Mikkelsen featurette. (Elevation Pictures)

Big Brother (Blu-ray)


Well Go USA

A former soldier (Donnie Yen) is recruited for his toughest mission yet — teaching a class of teen delinquents. As he kicks his way into their school and home lives, it becomes clear that his unconventional teaching style might be just what they need.

This is essentially a more comedic version of Dangerous Minds, set in China. In spite of having no teaching experience, Yen’s character is clever and determined to help his students succeed. Consequently, he ignores the teacher’s handbook in favour of more unconventional techniques to get through to them. Zeroing in on his five most troubled pupils, he sets to work on improving their home lives so they can focus on schoolwork. It’s not until the end that it’s revealed to the audience why he’s so invested in the school and its students. In the meantime, Yen gets to take on a room full of MMA fighters, while also showing his lighter side when rolling with the kids’ pranks.

There are no special features. (Well Go USA)

Black Hawk Down (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In 1993, an elite group of American Rangers and Delta Force soldiers are sent to Somalia on a critical mission to capture a violent warlord whose corrupt regime has led to the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Somalis. When the mission goes quickly and terribly wrong, the men find themselves outnumbered and literally fighting for their lives.

This film is based on a real-life event, recounted first in newsprint and then in a book by Mark Bowden. Some of the characters are based on a singular person, while others are an amalgamation of several men. Interestingly, a large percentage of the cast are UK actors, though everyone does their best to do right by the survivors and the fallen. The mission is almost an immediate disaster as they’re quickly outnumbered and divided with many men getting killed or too injured to fight. The length of the film — more than two hours for either version — feels necessary to accommodate as much of the story as possible in as realistic a manner as permitted. However, it’s often difficult to follow and a lot to take in, particularly as the high-def images enhance the grisly injuries.

Special features include: theatrical and extended versions of film; commentary by director/producer Ridley Scott & producer Jerry Bruckheimer; commentary by author Mark Bowden & screenwriter Ken Nolan; commentary by Task Force Ranger Veterans; deleted & alternate scenes with optional commentary; making-of featurette; The History Channel® presents: “The True Story of Black Hawk Down”; PBS presents: “Frontline: Ambush in Mogadishu”; “Designing Mogadishu”; production design archive; storyboards with optional commentary; Ridleygrams with optional commentary; “Target Building Insertion: Multi-Angle Sequence” with optional commentary; Q&A Forums: BAFTA Motion Picture Editor’s Guild & American Cinematheque; Jerry Bruckheimer’s BHD photo album; title design explorations with optional commentary; “Gortoz A Ran – J’Attends” music video performed by Denez Prigent & Lisa Gerrard; photo galleries; theatrical poster concepts; TV spots; and trailer. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Earthquake [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)


Shout Select

When the most catastrophic earthquake of all time rips through Southern California, it levels Los Angeles and sends shockwaves through the lives of all who live there. Now strangers must become saviors as the city struggles to get to its feet before the next terrifying aftershock hits.

This was originally a motion picture event in 1978, which basically means it’s much longer than necessary — though the ability to watch it in “Sensurround” at the cinemas may have served as a bit of a distraction and earned the picture an Academy Award for best sound. Without going into too much detail about the strength of the earthquake, the movie preys on people’s fears that “the big one” could wipe out all of Los Angeles. Consequently, slowly but surely that is what happens as the unsafe skyscrapers crumble with each tremor. However, stars like Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy and Lorne Greene do their best to keep the city — and the film — from falling apart.

Special features include: audio interviews with Charlton Heston, Lorne Greene and Richard Roundtree; “Sounds of Disaster”; “Scoring Disaster”; “Painting Disaster”; isolated and additional TV scenes; and still galleries. (Shout Select)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

What began as an unlikely friendship between an adolescent Viking and a fearsome Night Fury dragon has become an epic trilogy spanning their lives. In this next installment, the heroic pair finally fulfill their destinies; Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as the village chief and ruler of Berk alongside Astrid (America Ferrera), and Toothless as the dragon leader of his own kind. As the Vikings and dragons of Berk face their darkest threat yet, the evil Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), Toothless discovers his soulmate, Light Fury, which will test Hiccup and Toothless’ bonds of friendship like never before.

One of the best things about trilogies is they inevitably provide an ending that hopefully ties up any loose ends and satisfies audiences. That’s not to say it’s always a happy conclusion or the one viewers hoped for, but it does have a sense of finality. Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) are taking things slowly, much to her father’s chagrin. There’s very little of the mushy stuff in which most teens engage; instead, they share a fairly mature understanding and respect for each other. Toothless’ love story is far more engaging — not to mention they couldn’t be more adorable together. Grimmel and the poaching narrative are a bit dark for an animation still primarily aimed at kids. Grimmel’s weaponized dragons are especially frightening as they’re like nothing seen before and prove to be dangerous opponents. This is a fitting end to an exceptional and touching film franchise, balancing tears with joy as the best goodbyes are known to do.

Special features include: commentary with writer/director Dean DeBlois, producer Bradford Lewis and head of character animation Simon Otto; alternate opening with intro by writer/director Dean DeBlois; deleted scenes with intros by writer/director Dean DeBlois; DreamWorks shorts: “Bilby” and “Bird Karma”; “How to Voice Your Viking”; “Creating an Epic Dragon Tale”; “How I Learned from Dragons”; “Brave Wilderness Presents: Nature + Dragons = Awesome”; “The Dragon Sheep Chronicles”; “A Deck of Dragons”; “Growing Up with Dragons”; “The Evolving Character Design of Dragons”; “Drawing Dragons”; “Epic Villain”; “Astrid’s Whole Dragon Trilogy in 60 Seconds”; and “Welcome to New Berk.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Isn’t It Romantic (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

New York City architect Natalie (Rebel Wilson) works hard to get noticed at her job, but is more likely to be asked to deliver coffee and bagels than to design the city’s next skyscraper. And if things weren’t bad enough, Natalie, a lifelong cynic when it comes to love, has an encounter with a mugger that renders her unconscious, waking to discover that her life has suddenly become her worst nightmare — a romantic comedy — and she is the leading lady.

Not everyone enjoys stories about well-coiffed people falling in love, drifting apart then coming back together for an epic on-screen kiss. But setting aside the blame for unrealistic romantic expectations, these pictures can serve as moving escapism that doesn’t disappoint when it follows the formula. Cue this film, which decides to have fun with the formula by pointing out some of its more ridiculous elements. From the unlikely pairing because they really have nothing in common to the steamy foreplay that skips to the morning after to the unexpected song-and-dance numbers, Natalie’s experience highlights everything that is wrong yet so enjoyable about romantic comedies. The result is a parody that is also a rom-com in the best possible ways.

Special features include: deleted scenes; and “I Wanna Dance!” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

The Seduction (Blu-ray)


Scream Factory

L.A. anchorwoman Jamie Douglas (Morgan Fairchild) has it all: a glamorous career on a top-rated news show, a luxurious house in the hills, and a devoted young admirer named Derek (Andrew Stevens). But when Jamie rebuffs his romantic advances, Derek becomes an obsessed stalker who plays out an increasingly psychotic courtship with the frightened newswoman. Soon he is threatening every part of her life, secretly watching even her most intimate moments. Her tough-talking lover (Michael Sarrazin) can’t console her. A by-the-book cop (Vince Edwards) can’t protect her. But Jamie is far from helpless … and ready to fight back with all the weapons at her command.

This is one of those movies that begins on the premise that stalking and obsession are harmless and akin to flattery. Yet, it’s obvious from the extremes Derek has gone to to gain access to Jamie that his passion could become dangerous at any second. Her lover is rightfully concerned, but beyond beating the guy up when he comes across him, there isn’t much else he can do either. The real failure is the cop’s rejection of their pleas and the lack of anti-stalker legislation that would compel him to interfere. While this is meant to be a heroic tale in which Jamie saves herself, in a contemporary context it points more to the system’s failure to take threats against women seriously.

Special features include: commentary by producer Irwin Yablans, Bruce Cohn Curtis and writer/director David Schmoeller; “Beauty and Strength”; “The Seducer”; “Flashbacks”; “Remembering The Seduction”; “Remembering the Locations and Production”; “Remembering The Seduction and The Law”; still gallery; TV spot; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)

The Upside (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)


Elevation Pictures & Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Recently paroled ex-convict, Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) strikes up an unusual and unlikely friendship with a quadriplegic billionaire, Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston). From worlds apart, Dell and Phillip form an unlikely bond, bridging their differences and gaining invaluable wisdom in the process, giving each man a renewed sense of passion for all of life’s possibilities.

This is a remake of the 2011 French film, The Intouchables, which in itself can be somewhat annoying, but is saved by the talented performances of the lead actors, including Nicole Kidman. The basic premise remains the same, but Hart and Cranston are able to bring their own flavour to the picture. Their chemistry is terrific and while the role presents a particular challenge for Cranston, it allows Hart to demonstrate his skills for the more dramatic. In spite of its subject matter, this is unquestionably a feel-good movie infused with humour that frequently lightens the mood in what would otherwise be an uncomfortable situation.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Onscreen Chemistry: Kevin and Bryan”; “Creating a Story of Possibility”; “Bridging Divisions”; “Embracing Positivity”; “Presenting a Different Side of Kevin Hart”; gag reel; and theatrical trailer. (Elevation Pictures & Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

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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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