Posted Thu Mar 31, 2016 at 10:25 AM PDT by Steven Cohen
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 powerful investigative thriller, a seductive coming of age classic, and a stirring espionage drama. 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, May 2015, June 2015, July 2015, August 2015, September 2015, October 2015, November 2015, December 2015, January 2016, and February 2016.
For March, we're covering an awkwardly heartfelt coming-of-age series, an Italian Neorealist masterpiece, and an epic show fueled by ice and fire. Please be aware, that if you haven't already seen them, there are some MAJOR SPOILERS for the discs listed.
If you only buy three titles that hit Blu-ray in March, here's what we suggest you pick up, starting with the most essential...
'Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series' - High school. A time full of awkward changes, constant confusion, unruly emotions, misguided rebellion, and continual reinvention, the transition from freshman year to senior graduation is a period rife with embarrassment, discover, joy, and frustration. And in Paul Feig and Judd Apatow's 'Freaks and Geeks,' these everyday growing pains are turned into ample laughs and unashamedly sweet musings. Fueled by the writers' own experiences, the series carries a rare sense of unassuming truth, providing a generous helping of humiliating comedy and affecting drama -- even if it did only last for a single season.
Nerd, burnout, jock, overachiever, bully, cheerleader -- chances are we all fit into at least one of those categories during our formative high school years, and the characters in 'Freaks and Geeks' are no different. The now famous cast -- including James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine, Martin Starr, and Busy Philipps -- runs the full gamut from dork to "cool guy," but the true genius of the show rests in its ability to expand beyond the limits of those labels. By ostensibly boxing its ensemble into categories, the series ultimately reveals how they don't actually fit into any boxes at all. Through school dances, first kisses, house parties, dodgeball games, fake IDs, and Dungeons & Dragons, the show follows its protagonists as they survive one teenage rite of passage after another, never losing sight of the show's central, painfully honest sense of humor.
In reality, we are all geeks. And we are all freaks. And the moments we endure in those stumbling teen years stick with us, informing our evolving adulthood with lingering scars, cherished memories, untold secrets, and bittersweet nostalgia -- bonding us all together through the shared experience of growing up, warts and all. More so than any other series that I've seen (or movie, for that matter), 'Freaks and Geeks' taps into those nearly universal pangs of adolescence, resulting in one of the most effortlessly relatable, endearingly entertaining, and heartwarmingly honest shows ever made. This complete series box set is an absolute treasure trove for existing fans, with great video, audio, and supplements. And if you're not a fan yet, then this release is the perfect way to enjoy this gem of a series for the very first time. More than just March's top must own release, this is one of the most essential TV shows on Blu-ray period. And, on a somewhat related personal note, it's taken me 29 years on this earth, but I finally played D&D for the first time a few weeks ago. Sir Kevan the Paladin might not be ready to slay dragons with Carlos the Dwarf just yet, but my broadsword does pack a mighty punch!
'Bicycle Thieves' - Under the right hands, films have an ability to reflect reality -- to evoke a level of emotional truth in their images that ties directly to society as a whole or even a viewer's own personal life experiences. At their most powerful, films can truly connect with us. A defining example of Italian Neorealism, Vittorio De Sica's 'Bicycle Thieves' is full of such power, weaving a delicately human tale of isolation, desperation, and deep empathy. Through the movie's deceptively simple examination of impoverished plight, the director elaborates on the larger, cyclical nature of human suffering and affection, revealing the beautifully understated power of pure, honest filmmaking.
Concerned with presenting "life as it is," Italian Neorealist movies deliberately avoid manipulative stylistic techniques in favor of a more stripped down storytelling aesthetic -- and 'Bicycle Thieves' is one of the movement's purest examples. With a simple narrative focused on the struggles of the lower class, a mostly functional shooting style, a reliance on real locations instead of studio sets, and a cast primarily made up of non-professional actors, the movie acts like a genuine checklist for Neorealism. Thankfully, this last attribute ends up paying off beautifully, as both Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola end up turning in powerfully natural performances. The latter non-professional actor was just seven years old when the film was shot, and he ends up completely stealing the show as he stumbles to keep up with his father, evoking smiles and tears with his expressive reactions. The film's devastating climax is especially noteworhty in this regard, and Staiola's distraught emotions result in one of cinema's most powerful moments.
As the film reaches its distressingly ironic conclusion, the plurality of the movie's title is finally explained, creating a simple yet absolutely gut-wrenching finale. Not just one of the best films in the Italian Neorealist movement, 'Bicycle Thieves' ranks high among the greatest films ever made. Thankfully, this release form Criterion treats the title with all the respect it deserves, offering a great restoration and some strong supplements. Though Antonio and Bruno may end up forever disappearing into an anonymous sea of fellow struggling souls, the movie itself remains a singular work of art -- one that easily sticks out in any crowd.
'Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season' - With its extensive ensemble and intricate web of storylines, 'Game of Thrones' can often feel like several different shows wrapped up into one -- following numerous characters spread all over the map. This level of separation has been most evident when it comes to the "Mother of Dragons" herself, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Amassing an army across the Narrow Sea, the would-be queen of Westeros has essentially had no interaction with the rest of the show's primary protagonists, slowly building anticipation for that fateful day when she finally crosses paths with one of the series' other main characters. In season five, that fateful day finally arrives, presenting a much welcomed "gift" that fans have been waiting for, while helping to elevate some of the season's more uneven elements.
When Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) stands before Dany in the fighting pits, the moment almost feels surreal. For so long, the Targaryen ruler has been relegated to her own isolated narrative, but with this milestone, long gestating storylines are finally starting to intersect, ushering in a new phase in the show's overarching plot. And the interaction between both characters does not disappoint, resulting in a rather amusing conversation over wine. Other major developments come fast and hard in the final four episodes as well, picking up speed after a relatively slow start in the season's first half. The White Walker battle and full introduction of the Night's King at the end of episode eight is now easily a series highlight, and the moment when Daenerys finally rides atop one of her dragons at the end of episode nine has been a long time coming. With that said, it has also been a moment that I've been quietly dreading, as said visual could have easily come across as horribly cheesy. Thankfully, despite some slightly iffy VFX, the sequence works beautifully, capturing all of the awe and grandeur that it demands.
Though more inconsistent than previous efforts in the show, it's these big moments that end up making season five another must own release for the series. Of course, a gorgeous video presentation, demo worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and a plethora of interesting supplements certainly don't hurt either. The apparent "death" of Jon Snow can't help but feel like a slight fake-out (yes, this show is bold enough to kill off anyone, but there's just too much story left to clarify with his character for there not to be some kind of twist coming), but that final scene still makes for a powerful cliffhanger. Season six premieres on April 24, so binge-watchers better pick this up quick if they want to catch up in time. And for those already up to date, feel free to dissect and overanalyze the trailer below. I know I have -- is that Targaryen armor I see?!
So, there you have it. While there were many titles worth picking up this March, 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 March's must own titles?
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