Blu-rays of the Week
Alien Anthology (Fox) – The original Alien Quadrilogy DVD set filled nine discs with four Alien films, alternate cuts and a bonus disc of extra material. This Blu-ray set adds more: the six-disc Alien Anthology comprises everything available from earlier releases and adds a new wrinkle: “MU-TH-HUR mode,” an interactive experience linking material on the films whichever disc you’re watching. Real fans will willingly wade through its 60 hours of special features, but it’s how awesome the films look and sound on hi-def that’s the main selling point. Ridley Scott’s Alien, with its dingy, claustrophobic look; James Cameron’s action-packed Aliens; David Fincher’s dark, depressing Alien 3; and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s creepy Alien Resurrection come to vivid life, along with our heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her foe, the ultimate in inhuman evil.
Toy Story 3 (Disney) – The second Toy Story sequel (and first since 1999) falls victim to the Godfather III curse: a belated and misguided attempt to resuscitate a lucrative franchise. The simpleminded story of our favorite toys wondering what Andy will do with them when he leaves home for college is an excuse for Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, et al, to meet new friends. The voice cast (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles are joined by Ned Beatty and Michael Keaton) is as good as ever, but the movie has a whiff of desperation. Pixar’s always-bright visual scheme pops off the TV screen on Blu-ray; Disney’s four-disc set includes two Blu-ray discs, a standard DVD and digital copy of the film. Bonus features include the cute Pixar short Night and Day, featurettes, interviews and interactive games.
DVDs of the Week
Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan: In Session (Stax) – In 1983 in Canada, a blues legend and an up-and-coming guitarist hosted a musical summit. This stirring CD/DVD release chronicles the rich jam session between Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who not only trade riffs and solos but also quips and respectful comments. The tunes run the gamut from King’s “Call It Stormy Monday” to Vaughan’s first hit, “Pride and Joy,” and the DVD includes three songs that didn’t make the CD: “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Texas Flood,” and the stirring closer, “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” This release is music history in the making, as these two giants (Vaughan’s career took off soon after their meeting) never shared a stage again, and they died two years apart: Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990, while King passed away of a heart attack in 1992.
Winter’s Bone (LionsGate) – Jennifer Lawrence’s fiery lead performance as a teenager looking for her deadbeat dad while dealing with the local criminal element in the seedy Ozark mountain town where she and her family live dominates this absorbing if familiar drama. Director Debra Granik creates a plausible atmosphere of dread and loneliness but often substitutes style for substance, like in the too-pat final shot, which desperately wants to be iconic. Still, Granik is a true directorial talent who coaxes superbly unactorish performances from her large and unknown cast. But it’s Lawrence who single-handedly makes this tense story watchable until the end. Extras include Granik’s commentary, a 50-minute behind-the-scenes feature and deleted scenes.
CDs of the Week
Paul McCartney and Wings: Band on the Run (Concord Music Group) – Sure, there’ve been umpteen re-releases of Sir Paul’s classic 1973 album, but this one finally gets it right. CD One contains the entire nine-song album, remastered and sounding better than ever; CD Two contains nine bonus tracks, including “Helen Wheels“ (part of the original album in the U.S., but nowhere else); and the DVD contains music videos for “Band on the Run,” “Mamunia” and “Helen Wheels”; footage of the band in Lagos, Nigeria, where they recorded the album; footage of the famous cover shoot; and “One Hand Clapping,” an unreleased (but highly bootlegged) in-studio documentary from 1974 featuring obscure but worthy tunes like “Soily“ and “I‘ll Give You a Ring.” All McCartney fans will grab this, but there is a small quibble: all 18 songs could have easily fit onto one CD, which would bring the price down.
Szymanowski: Song of the Night (Deutsche Grammophon) – Polish composer Karol Szymanowski wrote some of the most shimmeringly beautiful music of the first half of the 20th century (he died far too early at age 55 in 1937), and two of his most characteristic works are on this gorgeous disc by the Vienna Philharmonic with ageless conductor Pierre Boulez on the podium. Christian Tetzlaff gives a superlative account of the ravishing solo line of the First Violin Concerto; its unusual structure (a long first movement followed by a short cadenza) holds no pitfalls for Tetzlaff or Boulez. Symphony No. 3, or Song of the Night, follows: Szymanowski’s ecstatic choral music has never sounded more enthralling than in Boulez’s reading. At 48 minutes, the CD could have been nicely rounded out by another symphony or the Second Violin Concerto. At least there’s a second disc featuring Boulez interviews in English, German and French.