High-Def Digest's Essential Picks: October 2015

Posted Fri Oct 30, 2015 at 11:30 AM PDT by
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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 post-apocalyptic thrill ride, a speedy action flick, and an endearing fairy tale. 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, and September 2015.

For October, we're covering the end of a groundbreaking TV series, a 90s animated classic, and an engrossing horror show.   Please be aware, that if you haven't already seen them, there are some MAJOR SPOILERS for the discs listed.

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

'Mad Men: The Final Season, Part 2' - Who is Don Draper? Throughout its seven season run, that's been one of the central questions resting at the heart of Matthew Weiner's 'Mad Men.' An impeccably dressed, impossibly charming, brilliantly creative, and devastatingly handsome protagonist, he's one of TV's most alluring characters. And yet, he's also a lie. A superficial mask hiding much deeper flaws. A manufactured idea of success. An advertisement for a man. A promise a poor, unhappy little boy made to himself. But that little boy still lingers, trapped somewhere under all those perfectly tailored suits, beneath the haze of cigarette smoke and the alcohol drenched breath and the lipstick stained collars, struggling to find lasting happiness in a world convinced that all we ever really need is more. A groundbreaking drama steeped in 1960s culture and effortless style, the series tackles the ad business with entertaining personality and existential ambiguity, crafting a masterful examination of manmade artifice -- both material and emotional.

Wrapping up most plot threads with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion, the show's final season sees the characters deal with dramatic professional and personal transitions. Most of these arcs climax with fitting ends for the beloved ensemble, including hopeful outlooks for Peggy, Pete, Joan, and Roger. The road getting us there wasn't always flawless (Betty's storyline started out so strong but really lost its way over the years), but these final seven episodes really do a great job of culminating what Weiner and company have been building over the series' entire run, adding in a few more insights about evolving social trends, perspectives, biases, and struggles while never losing sight of the characterizations and relationships that made the show so addictive to begin with. 

So, who is Don Draper? In trademark 'Mad Men' fashion, the show never really definitively answers that question, choosing instead to leave audiences with the lingering taste of ambiguity… and Coca Cola. But that enlightening final shot and final advertisement both speak volumes, heavily implying the ultimate role and purpose that Draper chooses for himself -- whether it leads to fulfillment or not. Offering a fitting end to one of contemporary television's most influential and consistently absorbing dramas, this Blu-ray is a clear must own set -- and for customers looking to purchase the entire show, Lionsgate has also released a Complete Series Collection with exclusive supplements… though sadly a can of Coke is not included.        



'Aladdin: Diamond Edition' - Everyone has a favorite Disney film from their childhood. For some, it might be 'The Little Mermaid' or 'The Lion King.' For others, it might be 'Beauty and the Beast' or 'Cinderella.' But for me… it's 'Aladdin.' First released in theaters when I was five years old, this tale of "street rats," princesses, and improvising genies never fails to make me smile. Beautifully animated and bursting with character, the flick remains one of the studio's most enjoyable and exciting efforts, taking audiences on a memorable magic carpet ride. 

Action, adventure, musical numbers, and the soothing vocal talents of Gilbert Gottfried… what more could a film fan want? Well, how about Robin Williams playing an all-powerful genie who really likes to riff? Like I said, there's a reason why this is one of my childhood favorites. From the moment the opening "Arabian Nights" sequence hits the screen, the movie takes viewers into a genuine Cave of Wonders full of charming characters and catchy songs. Hell, even Aladdin's carpet is bursting with more personality than the sidekicks found in other inferior animated flicks. And speaking of animation, the work done here is simply gorgeous, with fluid movements and stunning detail -- including some cool CG flourishes that blend surprisingly well. And in addition to all of the high-flying fun, there's even some thoughtful themes dealing with true worth and love beyond material riches… and there's also a monkey in a fez!  

There really isn't anything better than a healthy dose of childhood nostalgia presented in glorious HD. And much more than just a fond memory from my youth, 'Aladdin' manages to hold up remarkably well. Led by some great animation and an iconic performance from Robin Williams, the movie continues to delight, and this disc will now allow a new generation of kids to enjoy the adventure. With a stellar technical presentation and great supplements, this release really is worthy of its "Diamond Edition" status. In other words, this Blu-ray is a genuine wish come true!           


'Penny Dreadful: The Complete Second Season' - Yes, I know that October includes the release of two of the year's biggest blockbusters, but 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' and 'Jurassic World' have already received plenty of attention -- and though entertaining, both were a bit disappointing in their own ways. With that in mind, I'm going to use this last slot to highlight one of the month's most overlooked (and appropriately spooky) titles. Merging characters and mythology from various 19th century works of horror and genre fiction, 'Penny Dreadful' tells an absorbing tale of demons, monsters, and the human soul -- creating a gothic drama that probes deep into the darkest corners of the imagination, where dream and nightmare walk hand in hand.   

While season one of 'Penny Dreadful' was quite effective in its own right, that first batch of episodes was subject to some notable flaws that kept the series from cementing its place among TV's top shows -- particularly when it comes to pacing. With season two, however, showrunner John Logan demonstrates a much better handle on serialized storytelling, offering a comparatively accelerated rhythm that never sacrifices the show's trademark sense of methodical dread. To this end, the season's overall "Nightcomers" arc proves to be far more satisfying and richly textured than the previous year's vampire plotline, leading to an engaging primary antagonist who knows exactly how to make life hell (quite literally) for our eclectic group of heroes. And what a complicated, flawed, and captivating group of heroes they reveal themselves to be. Iconic figures like Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and his "monster" (Rory Kinnear) are used to great effect, layering the story with a lyrical sense of somber romanticism and brooding philosophy. Likewise, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, and Reeve Carney continue to do great work as The Wolfman, Sir Malcolm Murray, and Dorian Gray respectively. 

But much like in season one, what truly makes 'Penny Dreadful' so special is the singular presence of Eva Green as the demonically possessed Vanessa Ives. I don't want to get too hyperbolic here, but Green really does turn in a fearless and hypnotically captivating performance (especially in the riveting flashback episode). Able to subtly transition from vulnerable to dangerous with deceptive ease, the actress creates a character constantly wrestling with the monster inside. And though her role was a bit thankless last year, co-star Billie Piper now joins Green to become one of the series' most enthralling aspects, turning the reanimated Lily into the season's most terrifying development. Creepy and visually stunning, the show has now surpassed other small screen genre efforts like 'American Horror Story' and 'The Walking Dead' to become the best horror series on TV, easily making this set one of October's must own releases -- even though it doesn't have any dinosaurs.     


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

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