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 cinematic love letter to carefree youth, a beautiful animated adventure, and a punk-rock horror thriller. 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, February 2016, March 2016, April 2016, May 2016, June 2016, and July 2016.
For August, we're covering a visually stunning Disney adventure, a thrilling noir comedy, and a classic buddy flick.
If you only buy three titles that hit Blu-ray in August, here's what we suggest you pick up, starting with the most essential...
'The Jungle Book' - When it comes to directing, creating a fully believable world on screen is rarely an easy task. And when that world happens to require building a life-like, photorealistic jungle populated by talking animals all within the confines of an LA soundstage, some real movie magic is in order. Thankfully, Disney and director Jon Favreau seem to be in no short supply. Brimming with heart, this live-action/CG take on 'The Jungle Book' manages to breathe palpable life into its visually stunning artifice, blending innovative cinematic technology with good-old-fashioned storytelling to transport audiences into a gorgeous land filled with adventure, danger, and singing bears.
To be honest, I was initially put off by the movie's extreme use of CG to create its sets and animal characters. Early on, actor Neel Sethi (who plays Mowgli) seemed oddly out of place compared to his surroundings, and the computer generated animals' facial performances appeared slightly off. But, once my eyes adjusted to this unique style, the undeniable beauty of Favreau's chosen aesthetic quickly revealed itself and the movie's various elements began to coalesce seamlessly, creating some absolutely draw-dropping imagery. And thankfully, the simple yet gripping narrative beneath these gorgeous visuals proves to be just as rich. Taking their inspiration from Rudyard Kipling's original stories and the 1967 animated film, the filmmakers do a great job of expanding the drama, weaving a rather engaging adventure about self-discovery, growth, family, and friendship. Likewise, the vocal performances from stars like Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Scarlet Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Idris Elba are all bursting with personality, helping to make each intricately rendered animal feel real -- even when that animal happens to be a giant monkey who sounds just like Christopher Walken.
Though it might rely on state-of-the-art computer wizardry, 'The Jungle Book' is packed with classic Disney magic, imbuing its breathtaking visuals with equally affecting soul. A thoroughly enjoyable remake, this is an entertaining adventure for all ages. And with an exceptional technical presentation and solid supplements, this Blu-ray is a simple bare necessity for all film fans.
'The Nice Guys' - What kind of people are Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling)? Well, if the title of writer/director Shane Black's latest noir comedy is to be believed, then they're 'The Nice Guys.' But few things in any good mystery flick should be taken at face value, least of all titles. And in this case, "nice" might not be the most accurate adjective. Prone to drinking, cheating, lying, fighting, and even killing, the lovably flawed pair are capable of their fair share of decidedly unpleasant actions -- and yet deep down, both might secretly fancy themselves heroes. Fortunately for them, they happen to be in a Shane Black flick. And it turns out that in a Shane Black flick, heroes don't actually have to be nice at all.
With its winding plot, the screenplay hits all the right detective story beats with stylish energy and a killer sense of humor, checking off all of the director's recurring trademarks -- including a missing girl, witty banter, and even a scene set during Christmas. But as involving as the actual narrative is, what really makes 'The Nice Guys' so special, are the guys themselves. Playing off each other beautifully, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling become an unexpectedly perfect comedic duo, with Crowe taking on the more competent straight(er) man role and Gosling tackling the more overtly foolish part. In fact, Gosling virtually steals the show, displaying a surprising gift for physical comedy with impeccable timing. To this end, most of the film's funniest moments occur when March attempts, but invariably fails, to pull off something slick and cool, with Black sharply undercutting the character's fleeting bravado at every turn. Together, the actor and director turn frequent incompetence and accidental success into comedic brilliance.
Coupled with some exciting action scenes and a fun 70s aesthetic, the movie offers laughs and thrills in equal measure, perfectly balancing slapstick, smart dialogue, and genuine noir suspense. Though supplements are disappointingly light, the 5-star video transfer and audio mix are both stellar. One of the most entertaining flicks I've seen all year, this Blu-ray is a clear must own... and stuff. Err, I mean, this Blu-ray is a clear must own. Period.
'Midnight Run' - How long does it take to get from New York to Los Angeles? Well, if you travel by plane, roughly six hours. If, however, you happen to be traveling by plane and then train and then bus and then stolen car while escorting a seemingly mild-mannered accountant who happens to be wanted by bounty hunters, the mob, and the FBI -- well, it could take considerably longer. A quintessential action comedy led by one of the genre's greatest odd-couple pairings, 'Midnight Run' continues to prove that memorable chemistry, entertaining performances, smart writing, and strong direction are all well worth a little extra travel time.
Much like the previous title on this list, the movie's success mostly hinges on the relationship between its two leads -- Robert De Niro as bounty hunter Jack Walsh and Charles Grodin as wanted accountant Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas. And while that might seem like a rather bizarre coupling on paper, the actors' clashing temperaments end up contrasting perfectly, resulting in an effortlessly amusing and increasingly affecting friendship that plays to both performer's strengths. On that note, the filmmakers let their bond slowly evolve over the runtime, peppering in some healthy laughs, solid drama, and potent action scenes as the two attempt to make their way cross-country in one piece. Add in a punchy Danny Elfman score, and fun supporting turns from Joey Pants, Dennis Farina, and Yaphet Kotto, and the movie easily cements itself as a genre classic.
With this Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Shout Factory's new "Shout Select" imprint, fans get a new and improved video transfer along with two audio mixes and a nice assortment of supplements. The disc might not carry a $100,000 bounty on its head, but the release still easily makes this month's "most wanted" list, offering an enticing reward for any cinephile.
So, there you have it. While there were many titles worth picking up this August, 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 August's must own titles?