High-Def Digest's Essential Picks: September 2015

Posted Wed Sep 30, 2015 at 12:10 PM PDT by
essentials september

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 pulse-pounding medical drama, an eye-opening documentary, and a blood-curdling horror series. 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, and August 2015.

For September, we're covering a post-apocalyptic thrill ride, a speedy action flick, and an endearing fairy tale.  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 September, here's what we suggest you pick up, starting with the most essential...

'Mad Max: Fury Road - 3D' - "Show, don't tell" -- it's one of the most common adages frequently hammered into aspiring writers of all disciplines, but more so than other medium for narrative, it's a concept that only film can truly realize. And yet, many movies often forget this seemingly simple notion, reverting to an over-reliance on dialogue, narration, and exposition to weave their stories. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' is not one of those movies. Using pure cinema as its fuel, the film becomes an audacious exercise in visual storytelling that eschews typical narrative conventions in favor of a uniquely visceral form of filmmaking… and lots and lots of explosions.  

One long chase scene. That's how many viewers have described the movie's blissful insanity. And really, at its core, that's a pretty damn accurate description. From the minute the runtime starts, we hit the ground running and never really stop. But there is much more to this action-packed approach than just mere adrenaline. Rather than empty stylistic bravado, this feature-length pursuit organically and economically weaves in a genuinely engaging story, primarily using its visuals to develop plot, emotion, and characters with very minimal dialogue. Despite the script's complex post-apocalyptic setting, Miller is able to convey all of the strange intricacies of his world almost purely through images and interactions without ever taking his foot off the gas pedal. Instead of a title card or lengthy conversations explaining the backstory and politics of Immortan Joe's citadel, we are able to gather all we need to know by watching the man and his people in action, conveying the eccentricity, madness, motivations, and unique details of this hyper-saturated wasteland and its inhabitants without ever actually explaining any of it in words. Likewise, the deceptively simple narrative is also home to some rather powerful themes related to freedom, control, identity, and survival. And wait, did I mention the explosions?!  Featuring some of the best vehicular set pieces to ever grace the silver screen, the movie is simply a feast for the senses, and the heavy use of practical effects brings real weight to all of the mayhem.

Through George Miller's visceral approach to storytelling, 'Mad Max: Fury Road' proves that when properly motivated, visual action and spectacle can become substance. Yes, this film may in fact be just one long chase scene, but through that chase the director shows us a world brimming with excitement and depth.  Marked by a fantastic 3D presentation and a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, this Blu-ray release is an absolute must own for any film fan, home theater enthusiast, War Boy, or lowly blood bag.       


'Furious 7' - If a series wants to survive for seven-plus movies, some form of reinvention is not only inevitable but downright necessary. Such is the case with the 'Fast and the Furious' franchise. After abandoning its humble street racing roots long ago, the high-octane film series has gradually become a genre explosion of big-screen action, crime caper thrills, and spy-flick fun. And with its latest installment, the cast and crew offer one of the most exciting (and fast and furious) entries yet. Likewise, it also happens to be one of the most satisfying and emotional as well, channeling off-screen tragedy into a genuinely heartfelt tribute that somehow balances tear-jerking sentiment with skydiving cars. 

Filled with fast vehicles, big guns, sexy women, sexy men, exotic locals, and plenty of physics-defying stunts, the movie has everything the franchise has become famous for… and it's all dialed up to eleven. Sure, the plot is a bit over-bloated and messy, and the runtime is often rather ridiculous and cheesy, but even at its most ludicrous (or should I say "Ludacris"), the flick is always entertaining and well executed, finding just the right tone to make it all work. Likewise, the returning cast members all continue to share amusing chemistry, and newcomers Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, and Jason Statham all fit in nicely. That later addition proves to be especially inspiring, and seeing Statham take on fellow bald, big-screen tough-guys like Vin Diesel and The Rock is kind of badass. Not content to just ramp up the action, the film's emotional component is also amplified with several nostalgic callbacks, archive footage from previous entries, and a heartfelt conclusion that respectfully honors the series' late star Paul Walker. 

Family has always been a big theme in these movies, and now with over a decade of history in front of and behind the camera, the filmmakers are really able to evoke this long lasting bond like never before. With big stunts and big emotion behind the wheel, 'Furious 7' is a blockbuster action flick with an unashamedly sentimental heart. Coupled with a great technical presentation and solid supplements, this disc easily earns a spot as one of September's essential releases -- especially if you are a fan of big, bald action stars.     


'Cinderella (2015)' - How many times can the same story be told and retold before it loses all its luster? Well, if that story happens to be an enduring fairy tale like 'Cinderella,' then the answer might be infinitely... especially if Disney happens to be involved. With their latest take on the treasured classic, the studio once again brings the iconic glass slippers to the silver screen, but this time they've taken a live action approach. Beautifully shot and elegantly directed, this new version remains remarkably faithful to the original animated movie -- maintaining the magic and wonder we've all come to expect. 

Skillfully channeling his penchant for Shakespearian drama into the whimsical world of fairy tales, director Kenneth Branagh brings a sensitive and graceful touch to the proceedings, filling the screen with gorgeous imagery and stirring emotion. And though the plot stays very close to the narrative beats we are all familiar with, the filmmakers update and enhance the story in several subtle yet important ways. The opening scenes introduce us to Ella as a child during happier times, allowing viewers to meet her parents as they help to instill the values and fortitude that will become paramount to her developing arc. Likewise, though still appropriately sinister, the Wicked Stepmother is given just enough depth to keep her from becoming a one-dimensional villain, letting a few key lines and pangs of emotions reveal her flawed motivations. And while the film never abandons the old-fashioned romance of the original, the Prince and Cinderella are placed on much more equal footing here. To this end, the story delicately expands its scope beyond the decidedly outdated trope of a girl dreaming about a man sweeping her off her feet, into a more empowering tale about courage and kindness.   

Subtly breathing three dimensions into its classic storybook characters while still keeping the original fairy tale's endearing simplicity intact, this new version of 'Cinderella' is a lovely family film. With a strong cast, enchanting visuals, and hopeful themes, the movie proves that some stories truly are timeless. Thankfully, the Blu-ray itself features a stellar technical presentation and a wonderful 'Frozen' short film, ensuring that each and every aspect of this release is simply magical.   


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

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