High-Def Digest's Essential Picks: January 2016

Posted Mon Feb 1, 2016 at 12:10 PM PST by
essentials january

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 groundbreaking sci-fi series, a very tiny superhero, and an impossible mission. Be sure to check out the Essential Picks for November 2012December 2012January 2013,February 2013, March 2013, April 2013May 2013June 2013July 2013August 2013September 2013October 2013November 2013, December 2013, January 2014February 2014March 2014April 2014May 2014June 2014July 2014August 2014September 2014October 2014November 2014,December 2014January 2015February 2015March 2015April 2015May 2015June 2015July 2015August 2015, September 2015, October 2015, November 2015, and December 2015.

For January, we're covering a harrowing trip to the "Red Planet," a heart-pumping crime thriller, and an inspiring true life story... in 3D!  Please be aware, that if you haven't already seen them, there are some SPOILERS for the discs listed.  

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

'The Martian' - The late, great David Bowie once asked the world through song, "Is there life on Mars?" And now, thanks to director Ridley Scott and writers Andy Weir and Drew Goddard, we finally have an answer. Yes. Yes there is. And it's a person. A person who looks a lot like Matt Damon. But he might not be alive for long, and his only hope… is science! An effortlessly entertaining and gripping tale about survival and extraterrestrial potato farming, 'The Martian' is easily one of the year's most enjoyable films, turning a mild-mannered botanist into a genuine big-screen badass.

Based on Weir's novel of the same name, Scott and company transport audiences to the surface of The Red Planet where a lone astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), has been stranded. Through his harrowing struggle to stay alive, we bear witness to the man's inspirational ingenuity, highlighting his scientific knowledge and keen problem solving abilities as he remains determined to survive against all odds. But as miraculous as his solo skills prove to be, he must eventually also rely on help from his Earth-bound crewmates and NASA back at home -- demonstrating both the power of the individual and the power that comes from working together. And despite how dire his situation becomes, Watney and the filmmakers always manage to keep one potentially life and film saving trait alive: their sense of humor.

As the climax culminates in a beautifully dramatic image of Watney literally tangled up together with his rescuer (Jessica Chastain), both desperately clutching hold of each other within the vacuum of space, the director gives perfect visual form to the film's rousing humanist themes. Thankfully, whether in 2D or 3D, this Blu-ray release from 20th Century Fox preserves that visual form wonderfully, along with 5-star audio. Funny, heartfelt, suspenseful, and genuinely educational, 'The Martian' reminds us of the nearly impossible feats that human beings are capable of accomplishing… and the seemingly limitless applications for duct tape.       



'Sicario' - Throughout most of 'Sicario's runtime, Benicio Del Toro's enigmatic Alejandro skirts toward the periphery of the narrative, slowly navigating the edges of the film, making his presence known without drawing too much attention, like a calculated predator circling his prey -- until suddenly, he pounces. And in that moment, the film's true scope finally comes into focus. A dark crime thriller marked by continuously building suspense and momentary bursts of visceral action, the movie weaves a pulse-pounding narrative about wolves and the so-called sheep that get in their way.

Entrenched in a violent plot dealing with Mexican drug cartels and illegal government operations, the story follows an ethical FBI Agent named Kate (Emily Blunt) who finds herself struggling to do the right thing while everyone else around her clearly has different plans -- plans that involve shooting first and asking questions later. And at the center of that trigger happy dynamic eventually emerges Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), an ambiguous figure on Kate's task force with an agenda all his own. The manner in which the man's true mission and true nature are slowly revealed becomes paramount to the film's ultimate success, and Del Toro turns in one of his best and most quietly unnerving performances. Blunt also does excellent work as the determined Kate, and Roger Deakin's gritty cinematography achieves a certain guttural lyricism, guiding audiences through the script's perilous drama with striking images. 

Complex, thrilling, and impeccably crafted, Dennis Villeneuve's 'Sicario' ultimately reveals the subject of its title (which translates to "hitman"), offering a fittingly ambiguous and tense conclusion that leaves a lingering impression. Lionsgate has included a stellar technical presentation with a strong Dolby Atmos soundtrack and worthwhile special features, making this a must own disc worth devouring for any hungry wolf.  


'The Walk' - Though I've gotten a bit better over the years, at the end of the day, I'm still rather afraid of heights. Just approaching the ledge of a tall building sends a shiver down my spine, so, it should go without saying that high wire walking has never been on my list of active hobbies. But after watching Robert Zemeckis' 'The Walk,' I now feel like I've almost experienced the real thing. And almost is more than enough for me. A moving testament to impossible dreams and impossible dreamers, the movie tells the true life story of Philippe Petit's famous walk between the Twin Towers -- successfully balancing emotion, humor, and drama across a cinematic wire of magic and spectacle.

Despite being directed by the man responsible for two of my favorite films ('Who Frame Roger Rabbit' and 'Back to the Future'), I must admit that 'The Walk' had quite a bit going against it before I finally sat down to watch it. Namely, unavoidable comparisons to James Marsh's Academy Award winning documentary 'Man on Wire' (which covered the same material), and… Joseph Gordon-Levitt's silly French accent. Thankfully, the filmmakers manage to mostly overcome these two potential roadblocks, creating an engaging biopic that evolves into a breathtakingly unconventional heist flick. One where the main culprit doesn't wish to steal anything at all. Instead, he just wants to suspend a wire across two 1,300 foot tall buildings and walk across it. No big deal, right? Throughout it all, Zemeckis maintains a whimsical, almost fairy tale like quality, playing up the inherent magic of his subject with clever cinematic touches and awe-inspiring visuals. Speaking of which, the climactic walk among the clouds is truly breathtaking, and is sure to elicit a genuine feeling of vertigo in acrophobic viewers like me.

Fueled by a reverent sense of awe, 'The Walk' becomes a stirring celebration of passion, dedication, and that rare breed of dreamer who is willing to risk everything to make the impossible possible. Marked by gorgeous, demo worthy 3D cinematography, exceptional audio, and solid supplements, this disc is easily one of January's must own titles. And please don't even bother trying to argue that with me… the carrots are cooked!     



So, there you have it. While there were many titles worth picking up this January, 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 January's must own titles?

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