High-Def Digest's Essential Picks: June 2014

Posted Mon Jun 30, 2014 at 04:00 PM PDT by
Lego Essentials

Every month, dozens of Blu-rays hit shelves, littering stores with High-Def temptation. New releases, catalog titles, complete TV seasons, and elaborate box-sets all vie for attention, and with so many worthy releases targeting our wallets, choosing which discs to spend our hard earned cash on can be rather tricky. To make things a little easier, we here at High-Def Digest thought it might be helpful to bring you our top three must own recommendations for the month.

From important classics to contemporary blockbusters, these are the discs that we consider to be the absolute cream of the crop. High quality releases with great video, audio, and supplements, these are the Blu-rays that are truly worth every penny.

Last month we spotlighted a science fiction examination of relationships, a quirky deep sea adventure, and a raunchy comedy series' grand finale, be sure to check out the Essential Picks for November 2012, December 2012, January 2013, February 2013, March 2013, April 2013, May 2013, June 2013, July 2013, August 2013, September 2013, October 2013, November 2013, December 2013, January 2014, February 2014, March 2014, April 2014, and May 2014.

This month, we're covering a totally awesome animated film, an absorbing HBO series, and a highly influential musical comedy.  Please be aware, that if you haven't already seen them, there are some spoilers for the discs listed.

If you can only buy three titles that hit Blu-ray in June, here's what we suggest you pick up, starting with the most essential...

'The Lego Movie: Everything is Awesome Edition' - Awesome is a word that gets thrown out a lot. So much so, that it has almost lost all meaning -- but there really is no better way to describe 'The Lego Movie.' Funny, smart, heartfelt, beautifully animated, and effortlessly entertaining, the flick is just... well, totally awesome! A perfect fit for all ages (not just 4-12), the movie offers a thoughtful and witty celebration of creativity, all set to a tune that will have you humming for days. Even if you don't want to.

Through a smart and silly sense of humor, the filmmakers use the world of Legos to create a story that manages to champion the strengths of individuality and community at the same time, offering kids (and adults) a well-rounded message that finds a healthy middle-ground between the two often unnecessarily contentious ideas. There's even some light political undertones (the bad guy goes by the not so subtle name of President Business) and meta commentary on story structure, but at its core this is really just a fun adventure full of action, comedy, Morgan Freeman and... the dreaded Kragle! And all of this excitement is given kinetic form through some fantastic CG animation that lovingly replicates the style and personality of stop motion "brick movies." The writers use the Lego world to their full advantage and come up with many clever gags, cameos, and references to Lego history and quirks. Likewise, the animators are able to get a surprising amount of expression out of the simple character designs, and the cast led by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson, and Will Ferrell is fantastic, breathing amusing life into each adorable minifigure.      

'The Lego Movie' is the cinematic embodiment of all things awesome, single-handily restoring meaning to the word. It's got heart, explosions, an incessantly catchy song, and Batman! Add in a genuinely touching message about imagination that offers just the right amount of sentimentality, and this is family entertainment at its best. The Blu-ray from Warner Brothers features demo worthy video and audio, and a healthy assortment of special features -- resulting in a must own release that is... what's that word again? Awesome! You can pick it up here!

'True Detective: The Complete First Season' - While most serialized TV shows follow one main story and cast over multiple years, several series are now taking on an anthology approach, tackling just one plot and set of characters every season. HBO's 'True Detective' falls under this category, enabling the writers to tell a self-contained mystery that has the texture and rhythm of a great novel. With a definitive beginning and end, the show weaves a haunting and thought provoking examination of good and evil, shining a faint light of hope upon the utter darkness of despair.

I'm still not quite sure what the hell Matthew McConaughey was talking about in his Oscar acceptance speech, but if continually chasing his future self leads to performances like his turn as Rust Cohle, then I hope he never catches himself. Run wild, future Matthew McConaughey! Run like the wind! Joking aside, the actor really is amazing here, and Rust's brooding philosophizing is one of the show's defining elements. Likewise, Woody Harrelson perfectly complements McConaughey's intensity with a more down-to-earth but equally engaging portrayal of Marty Hart. Of course, the actors' performance aren't all that makes 'True Detective' so special. Though I didn't get a chance to mention it in my full review, the series' score and song selections by T Bone Burnett are simply masterful, expertly engendering an isolated and haunting mood that always feels authentic and visceral. The complex writing is also incredible, and the very structure of the plot proves to be quite impressive in its own right. Told throughout three distinct time periods, the show often plays around with the idea of truth and perspective. Though Rust and Marty might tell their stories one way in the present, when we see the actual events play out in flashback, there are notable discrepancies, and the specific elements they choose to omit or lie about create an enlightening juxtaposition between fact and fiction.   

Fully captivating from its first frame until its last, 'True Detective' takes audiences on a powerful and disturbing journey through the angels and demons of the human soul. An esoteric tale of good versus evil deceptively wrapped into a police procedural, the show offers a unique and refreshingly finite form of small screen storytelling, bringing a satisfying sense of closure to audiences once the screen goes black. The Blu-ray release features a stellar technical presentation and a worthwhile collection of supplements. Next season will involve a completely new case and cast of characters, and while I'm looking forward to seeing what the producers come up with, they are going to have a hell of a hard time topping what they've accomplished here.  You can pick it up here!

'A Hard Day's Night (Criterion)' - While the art form is easy to take for granted now, at one point the music video as we know it was seen as a radical and innovative concept. And the blueprint for the medium can be found in every shot of Richard Lester's 'A Hard Day's Night.' A highly influential piece of unconventional filmmaking, the movie helped usher in a new relationship between images and popular music -- and it all begins with a mob of rushing fans chasing four seemingly ordinary lads from Liverpool. 

Of course those four young men really couldn't be further from ordinary, and as The Beatles they're responsible for some of the music industry's most enduring hits. Also, they prove to be pretty damn funny. Playing versions of themselves, each band member reveals a playful and occasionally cheeky personality that helps take viewers through a series of random bits of surreal humor and faintly satirical observations. And while the comedy is all quite amusing, it's the filmmakers' treatment of the musical performances that is really noteworthy. Rather than burst out into melody as part of the story, the songs happen rather matter-of-factly and don't usually have much if anything to do with the actual narrative. Instead, they provide a more loose association with the tempo and mood of the runtime. Likewise, some of the music sequences don't actually feature the band singing on-screen at all, and while these choices might not seem like a big deal now, in 1964 they were quite groundbreaking. Furthermore, the high-energy compositions, wild camera movements, and unconventional editing choices all work together to create a prototype for an entire generation of MTV videos.

First available on a Canadian import Blu-ray from Alliance, this Criterion edition offers a substantial upgrade in every category. Though we do lose a few featurettes from the previous disc, the supplements included here are comprehensive, and the video transfer is a huge improvement. Likewise, we get three fantastic audio options, including a great 5.1 remix. Basically, this is the perfect flick to watch on a hard day's night, and this release is an absolute dream come true for Beatles fans. And really, who isn't a Beatles fan? You can pick it up here!

So, there you have it. While there are many titles worth picking up this June, those are our top three must own recommendations. We'll be back next month with three more essential picks, but for now, what do you think of our selection? What are your choices for June's must own titles?

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Tags: High-Def Digest Essential Picks, Essential Picks, Fun Stuff, Steven Cohen (all tags)