Friday, December 20, 2013

Sean’s Holiday Gift Guide - The Top Ten Blu-rays of 2013

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
top-tenMaking a top ten list of Blu-rays is always a difficult thing for me to do.  The fact that there’s so many excellent releases that I haven’t seen yet just makes it even harder because I know a lot of them would be on my list, not to mention that the year isn’t over yet and I still have more movies that I haven’t even reviewed yet.  Plus, I’ve spent most of the year focused on just watching the movies I need to review so there’s a stack of movies that I’ve bought that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet.  So with that in mind, I’ve decided to make a list of the Top 10 Blu-rays that I’ve actually seen and most likely reviewed, and another list of Blu-rays that I probably would have included on this list if I had seen them.  For my top ten I’ve decided to rate them based on a variety of reasons including: my affection for them, their audio/video quality, and what kind of special features were offered.  I’ve also grouped several of them together to free up slots because if I added every awesome Star Trek set that was released this year they would take up most of my list and they are all equally good.  That being said, all of these movies would make excellent holiday gifts:
vincent price collection10. The Vincent Price Collection - As someone who doesn’t like slasher films, it may seem odd that I couldn’t wait to get this box set of Vincent Price’s movies, but these aren’t the usual gory slash-fest films that I despise.  I don’t need to see someone’s eyes snatched from their head, or to see them get impaled, disemboweled, or any other gruesome fate.  For me, I love movies that focus on building suspense and atmosphere instead.  I want to see someone running for their life down some rain-slicked cobblestone streets that are lit by gas lamps as the killer follows behind them while the fog enshrouds the city like a malignant presence.  It’s scenes like these that I love, and Vincent Price’s Gothic horror movies deliver that in spades.  Shout Factory has done a great job on this set as each of the movies offers excellent video and audio quality and the extras are also very very good.
bruce-lee9. Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection - When I heard that this Bruce Lee Legacy Collection was coming out, I knew that I had to see it since he is my favorite martial artist.  Let’s be honest here…Bruce Lee’s name is synonymous with martial arts.  It’s now impossible to think of any form of martial arts without thinking of him.  That’s really impressive if you think about it as who else has that kind of name recognition in their profession?  Secondly, I can’t think of anyone who worked as hard to be the best at what he did than Bruce Lee.  All you have to do is see him in action to be amazed at how fast, accurate, muscular, and badass he was.  To call it comprehensive would be to damn it with faint praise as I can’t imagine a more packed set than this. Not only do you get four movies but you also get hours and hours of extras that are so extensive it will take you days to watch them all.  This reissued set offers much better video quality than the previous set that was briefly released and fans will be very happy that Shout Factory went to the effort and expense to provide the best possible set for all of Bruce Lee’s fans.  There will never be another person that can match Bruce Lee’s skills and this set is a fantastic tribute to the man and his life’s work and it’s highly recommended!
MonstersUniversityBlurayComboArt-1608. Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University - Monsters, Inc. is a great family film that is enjoyable for all ages.  It’s colorful and has cool monsters in it for the kids, but there’s also plenty of humor that parents can appreciate too.  The story is pretty original and the cast is fantastic in their roles.  If you judge Monsters University as a standalone movie, it would fare pretty well as it’s light and fun, but when compared to the original it does pale somewhat in comparison.  I’m not sure audiences wanted to see Mike and Sulley go from being best friends to hating each other for most of this movie, especially when they know how it’s going to end.  It was great seeing the characters again but I will still keep hoping for that sequel to Monsters, Inc. where we can see what happened to Boo and what happens next for Mike and Sulley, because not knowing how it’s all going to end makes movies a lot more enjoyable. These Blu-rays are reference quality on every count with fantastic video and audio quality as well as an amazing 3D presentation. The extras are top notch and certainly live up to its “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” name.
Disney_Peter_Pan_Diamond_Edition7. Peter Pan – Peter Pan is without a doubt, one of Disney’s finest efforts and it’s just as magical today as it was back in 1953 when it was released.  The animation is superb, the characters are interesting and well defined, the songs are catchy and memorable, and the voice actors were perfectly cast in their roles, especially the main players of Conried, Driscoll, and Beaumont.  This is one of only three Disney movies to benefit from having all “Nine Old Men” as supervising directors and it shows. Every aspect of this film shows the care, characterization and attention to detail that these animation legends were famous for. This is a timeless tale that is just as wonderful today as it was long ago.  There’s a reason that even today, the Peter Pan ride is one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland, as it still can transport audiences to a magical place and time as both the film and the ride are able to renew their sense of wonder with each viewing. Peter Pan is one of Disney’s best movies and it’s been restored so well that you’d swear that the movie was just released last year.  The audio and video quality is stellar and the extras are also excellent and do just what they should do – they give you a look at how much work went into making the movie and the evolution of its production.  We get all of that and even more and fans will be very happy with this final result.
IronMan3BlurayCombo6. Iron Man 3 - The Iron Man franchise ushered in a new Marvel renaissance and launched a whole new universe that served as the foundation for all of the movies that followed it.  Iron Man not only set up all the rest of the Marvel movies, but it also made the entire gamble feasible when it became a commercial and critical hit. Looking back on just how important that movie was to Marvel, it’s amazing that they had the fortitude to trust in Jon Favreau’s decision to cast Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark considering his earlier issues that almost sidelined his career.  Their faith has paid off more than they could have possibly imagined as each Iron Man movie has been a huge success, culminating with The Avengers which is now the third biggest movie of all time.  In each case, Downey’s Stark has been the linchpin to that blockbuster success and with Iron Man 3, Tony Stark’s arc over all of the movies has come to not only a satisfying close, but also an exciting look into a possible new future for the character.  One of the amazing things about this film is how much it feels like it’s come full circle and how it has something of a finality to it.  That’s emphasized by the final line of dialogue in the movie and the following clips from all three Iron Man movies during the end credits.  The fact that the film ends the way it does by leaving you wondering how it could continue after this ending is a testament to the brilliance of the script and the fact that Marvel is willing to trust in Black’s instincts.  Not to mention their absolute faith in Joss Whedon to be able to still find a way to integrate Iron Man into The Avengers: The Age of Ultron.  I can’t say enough good things about this film as I think it was one of the year’s best and one of Robert Downey Jr.’s finest performances.   Iron Man 3 is a fantastic film that’s full of humor, action, and smart character development that really builds on the previous Iron Man movies.  The Blu-ray is almost as good as the movie with its flawless video and audio quality but it should have had a lot more extras.
skyfall bd5. Skyfall – I’ve been a big fan of James Bond since childhood when my Dad introduced me to the films. When he let me know that there were other actors who had played Bond before Roger Moore, I was skeptical about any of other Bonds would be as good as Moore. That is, until I went back to start at the beginning of the series and saw the one and only Sean Connery. That was all it took.  I devoured the entire series and realized that I was more of a fan of the earlier ones – a concept that I would have thought impossible beforehand.  I’ve liked each actor who has played Bond and with the spectacular debut of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, that tradition has continued.  As much as I love that movie, the follow up of The Quantum of Solacewasn’t as good and then because of MGM’s bankruptcy we had a long wait until the next installment – Skyfall.  As much as I hated the long wait, it’s obvious that that extra time benefited the movie as it had a strong script, a great director with Sam Mendes taking the reins, and the casting of Javier Bardem as the film’s villain which was a masterstroke.  The end result is an action-packed movie that offers a more complicated Bond and it’s his most personal story yet.  We finally get a glimpse into how his past made him the man he ended up being and the very happy return of the original Aston Martin DB5. While Casino Royale and Quantum seemed to deliberately try to keep the franchise’s legacy at arm’s length, Skyfall seemed to embrace it which was what I waiting for.  Skyfall may be Craig’s third appearance as Bond but it’s the first time that he felt like he’d grown into being the Bond we know and love.  The Blu-ray is first-rate as the video and audio quality are amazing and the extras are substantial and fun.  I can’t wait for the next movie!
dyke-cover-e1378192156945-160x1604. The Dick Van Dyke Show Seasons Four and Five - The “Dick Van Dyke Show” is one of the finest television comedies of all time. The show’s amazing casts’ crack timing combined with some razor sharp writing made for a one of a kind series.  Few shows have enjoyed the longevity of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and even less have been as influential and loved as it.  It was perfectly cast and it made its stars Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore into household names.  Van Dyke would go on to star in movies and later more television shows and Mary Tyler Moore would create her own show which ended up being another classic favorite.  Reiner would go on to make some great movies and become an author.  Image Entertainment has done a great job restoring this show for fans and I can’t say enough about how good it looks.  While the audio isn’t up to today’s standards, it’s still acceptable and clear and the special features are all excellent and varied.  Even after all of these years, this show still stands out as one of our finest moments in television which is even more apparent in this age of reality television.  If you’d like to see an extremely funny show that combines wit, slapstick, vaudeville, singing, dancing, and non-stop jokes, then you should check out these sets right away!
mary-160x1603. Mary Poppins – 50th Anniversary Edition – It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for this movie  to be released on Blu-ray as it’s one of my favorite movies in general and my absolute favorite live action Disney movie.  Starring Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in her Academy-Award winning role, and all of the iconic toe-tapping songs including “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” Mary Poppins also serves as the best example of The Sherman Brothers’ musical genius as every song in this movie is a classic.  I’ve gotten to watch it on Blu-ray but haven’t reviewed it yet, but take my word for it that it’s a fantastic set.  The movie has never looked or sounded better than this and I’m glad that another Blu-ray can come off of my most wanted list.  All of the earlier extras have been ported over from the DVD and there’s some new ones that tie into Saving Mr. Banks.  If you haven’t seen this yet, you need to stop what you are doing and check this out the way God intended it to be – on a high definition Blu-ray!
StarTrekTNG_S52. Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Complete Season Four and Five/Star Trek: Enterprise – The Complete Second Season - This was the year of Star Trek on Blu-ray as we got three incredible Blu-ray sets this year that included two from The Next Generation and two from Enterprise (not to mention Star Trek Into Darkness). There are deaths, departures, arrivals, and lots of personal growth to go around for Seasons Four and Five of The Next Generation.  For the first time, we get a more in-depth look into the families of Picard, Worf (Michael Dorn), Data (Brent Spiner), and Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby).  Because of that focus, this season began the show’s serialized story-lines from this point forward which made the show even better.  That combined with more character development than had ever been seen on a Star Trek show, really changed the paradigm of the show and should have put it in contention for some Emmy awards.  Episodes like “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Family”,  ”The Nth Degree”, and “Q-Pid” just to name a few all were worthy of awards for this season.  By season five, Star Trek: The Next Generation was on a roll and even  with the passing of creator Gene Roddenberry during the season, the show was still running on a high note.   The cast all had their roles down cold and the writers had perfected writing intelligent stories that combined action and comedy along with thinly veiled commentaries on what was happening in society at the time.  The second season of Enterprise  was a lot better than the previous one and from this point forward, it got better with each passing year. After finally escaping from the standalone episode mandate, Enterprise began crafting story arcs that really improved the show. If they had been given the chance to work out some kinks like Next Generation did, they too could have been just as popular and maybe would have had their own movies too.  If you’ve seen the awesome Blu-ray sets for the Original Series or the previous Next Gen sets, then you know just how awesome this set is.  These shows have never looked or sounded better and I can’t recommend them enough.   Not only are these seasons among some of the finest anywhere on television, but these Blu-rays are also first rate with fantastic video and audio quality and some killer extras that really help you get the big picture of how the show came about and why it was so successful.  These extras are the among the best I’ve seen and a huge reason why I love these sets.  I really wish other shows were given this much love and respect.
the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey bd1. The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition – I’m on record as loving The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, (you can read all of my reviews on this site), and the Extended Trilogy came in at #2 on one of my previous Top Ten lists.  Normally that would have been #1 any year but that year it went up against the Star Wars Sagawhich was about the only thing that could have beaten it and even then it was very close.  Despite not really enjoying novel of The Hobbit, I still hoped for the best since Peter Jackson had returned to direct it.  I was the most excited about the third installment, There and Back Again which would be the bridge between the The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings. So when I saw The Hobbit in the theater, I liked it but nowhere near as much as the original three movies.  There were too many dwarves to care about, it took way too long to get where they needed to go, and it just didn’t have the same magic as the Lord of the Rings movies. Not that that stopped me from buying the theatrical cut when it arrived on Blu-ray (I even splurged on the 3D version), and then later got this extended edition too.  So you may be asking why would I buy a movie twice that I had mixed feelings on and then even made it my number one pick for the year? The simple answer is that while I liked the movie but didn’t love it, the video, the audio, and especially the extras made up the best overall Blu-ray package this year. Honestly, the extras on this set are so good that they alone would have earned a spot on this list even if the rest of the set sucked.  That’s how strong they are.  If you’ve seen the LOTR sets’ extras then you already know what a treasure trove of goodies await you.  I’m even more excited about next year’s entry of The Desolation of Smaug which was much much better than The Hobbit and more in line with the feel of the previous trilogy.
Honorable mentions: Buster Keaton’s Go West/Battling Butler, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: 25th Anniversary Edition (Review), Wreck-It Ralph (Review), The Producers: Collector’s Edition (Review), The Fugitive: 20th Anniversary Edition (Review), Lincoln (Review), Schindler’s List (Review), Prisoners (Review), and Farscape: The Complete Series 15th Anniversary Edition (Review).
There’s a ton of movies that probably would have been on this list if I had only seen them on Blu-ray including: Man of Steel (Review), Safety Last!, Pacific Rim (Review), Fast and Furious 6, Robin Hood: 40th Anniversary Edition, Willow (Review), The Right Stuff, The Wolverine: Unleashed Extended Edition (Review), Seconds: Criterion Collection,  and Star Trek Into Darkness (Review).

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