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 biopic about a gangster, a biopic about a civil rights leader, and a biopic about an American soldier. 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, May 2014, June 2014, July 2014, August 2014, September 2014, October 2014, November 2014, December 2014, January 2015, February 2015, March 2015, April 2015, and May 2015.
For June, we're covering a groundbreaking TV series, a fantastical animated adventure, and an action-packed spy flick. 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 Wire" The Complete Series' - Cops and robbers. They're tried and true stock television characters -- fodder for endless detective procedurals and sensational action series. As seen on most TV shows, these two sides of the law are clearly delineated by black and white distinctions of right and wrong. The police are the heroes, and the criminals are the bad guys, and there's little in between the two besides a string of whizzing bullets. Thankfully, HBO's 'The Wire' is not most shows. Through its masterful five season run, the series shines a light on one city's social, economic, and political struggles, turning every cop, robber, politician, addict, lawyer, teacher, blue-collar worker, and reporter into an actual human being -- complete with complicated motivations, sympathetic hardships, and devastating flaws, tapping a cinematic wire right into the heartbeat of Baltimore.
Led by David Simon, the writers craft an unprecedented sense of realism while still creating an utterly riveting story. Every nook and cranny of the city is examined, drawing an intricate portrait of the systematic failings of government and society. The series carries the depth and texture of a novel, allowing every episode to build the plot, weaving a larger narrative that unfolds over five years. Each season takes on a new socio-economic topic while still organically evolving the central story and core group of characters introduced in episode one. From the drug trade on the streets, to political corruption in city hall, to the public school system, and the news media covering it all, 'The Wire' tackles every cog in the machine, putting a tragically human face on each piece of the puzzle.
Since the show finished its run in 2008, the series has been universally praised to such a seemingly unrealistic degree by various critics, that I was actually dreading writing about it. After all, there really is nothing left to say that hasn't already been said. Every bit of hyperbolic praise is warranted, and then some. Though there is some controversy regarding the aspect ratio change on these discs, creator David Simon seems to be (mostly) satisfied with the high-def results (click here for a lengthy discussion about the trade-offs involved with the switch to 16:9 from the man himself). For all intents and purposes, this is the Blu-ray set that fans have been waiting years for. In fact, this is not only the month's absolute top must own title, it's one of the format's most essential releases period, and one of the small screen's greatest achievements. This is a series so good that it can legitimately commandeer HBO's famous slogan purely for itself. It's not TV… it's 'The Wire.'
'Spirited Away' - Though I've come across snippets of his work here and there, before sitting down to watch 'Spirited Away' this month, I had never actually seen a Hayao Miyazaki film all the way through. I know… it's motion picture blasphemy, right? But believe me, I wasn't proud of this fact, and now that I've finally watched one of the great director's animated masterpieces, I'm even more ashamed that it's taken this long. Filled with an unbridled sense of imagination and an effortless air of magic, the movie offers a stirring adventure marked by heartfelt storytelling and bustling personality, easily rivaling anything a certain mouse-eared studio has ever produced.
Using classic fairy tale conventions as his jumping off point, the director takes us down the rabbit hole, transporting the film's frightened young protagonist, Chihiro, into a spirit world full of dangers and wonders. As she is forced to navigate these uncharted (and potentially living) waters, Chihiro slowly grows as a person, overcoming her fears through inner strength and the bonds of love and friendship. At its core, it's really a very simple and familiar tale -- but the particulars of Miyazaki's approach are wonderfully unique. The movie carries a slightly atypical episodic rhythm and an increasingly fun and inventive mythology, creating a gradually fleshed out universe of gods, demons, witches, spirits, dragons, and monsters that remains easily approachable yet still distinctly Japanese. And to realize all of the story's overflowing creativity, the movie employs an utterly breathtaking animation style. Packed with an exquisite attention to detail, every frame of the runtime is worthy of being hung on a wall. Each character and location is brimming with unique personality, bringing a fantastic level of emotion to their movements and faces. Though subtitles or a dubbed track are of course essential for fully appreciating the narrative, the animation is so captivating and expressive on its own, that the movie would likely remain engrossing even with the audio on mute. But then you'd be missing out on the amazing sound design work, and charming vocal performances, and stirring music, and…
Thanks to 'Spirited Away,' I now feel like my eyes have been opened up to an entirely new world of animation, and like a certain no-faced spirit, I'm hungry for more. Very hungry. With exceptional video, audio, and supplements, this Blu-ray release is top-notch all across the board, making it an easy buy for any fan of fantasy storytelling. A family film suitable for all ages, this really is a true gem of the medium. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an entire decades-spanning backlog of Miyazaki classics I need to watch.
'Kingsman: The Secret Service' - In his 2010 comic book movie, 'Kick-Ass,' director Mathew Vaughn adapted a Mark Millar graphic novel into a subversive, postmodern, action-packed superhero flick that twisted the genre in amusingly fun (and violent) ways. In his 2014 spy movie, 'Kingsman: The Secret Service,' the filmmaker does the exact same thing, but this time for the espionage genre… and the results might actually be even more entertaining. Funny, exciting, and marked by a biting satirical edge, the movie offers a 21st Century spin on retro Bond conventions, fully bringing 007 into the smartphone era.
'Love Actually,' 'Pride and Prejudice,' 'Nanny McPhee,' 'Bridget Jones's Diary,' and 'Mamma Mia!' These are all films that feature actor Colin Firth, and while they are all perfectly fine movies… none of them particularly scream "action star." And yet, in 'Kingsman' that's exactly what Firth becomes. Yes, that's right. That charming Brit from all those rom-coms your mom loves so much can actually kick some ass -- and he always manages to look rather classy while doing it. Seriously, the man impales someone and still comes off like a gentleman. And much more than just a vehicle for Colin Firth's surprisingly impressive physical prowess, the film is also home to Samuel L. Jackson talking with a lisp, a deadly henchwoman with blades for legs, exploding heads, an adorable pug, tailored suits, and tons of spy gadgets. Really, what more could a genre movie fan need? What's that? You want Mark Hamill? Fine, here's here too!
Every year the industry becomes more and more crowded with comic book adaptations, and though I've become increasingly jaded by these sometimes lazy efforts, 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' is the real deal through and through. For those squeamish to violence, this might not be your particular cup of tea, but this is easily one of June's coolest Blu-ray releases. Thanks to an engaging ensemble, fantastic action sequences, and clever writing that is both juvenile and sophisticated all at once, I'm now genuinely excited for this flick to launch a full franchise of sequels… even if bad-ass Colin Firth will have to sit future installments out. But even if his time in the 'Kingsman' universe is up, I really hope the actor takes a cue from Liam Neeson and decides to keep punching things on screen. It would be the gentlemanly thing to do.
So, there you have it. While there were 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?