This week’s roundup features the 4K/UHD release of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and the latest season of “Westworld” as well as Blu-ray release of John Huston’s “The Night of the Iguana” from Warner Archive.
4K/UHD Releases of the Week
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Warner Bros)
Despite its pedigree—a screenplay by John Hughes and a cast of reliable comic actors—this 1989 sequel to “Vacation” and “European Vacation” is as bumpy a ride as the first two entries, with similar ratios of satisfying to cheap laughs as the Griswolds attempt to have a happy holiday gathering despite seemingly everything going wrong. Chevy Chase does his usual sometimes funny, sometimes not shtick, with good moments from Beverly D’Angelo, Brian Doyle Murray, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Diane Ladd and the otherwise forgotten Nicolette Scorsese. The 4K image looks solid; lone extra is a commentary by D’Angelo, director Jeremiah S. Chechik, Randy Quaid, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, and producer Matty Simmons.
Westworld—Complete 4th Season (Warner Bros)
Fans of “Westworld” think the series went off the rails during its fourth season, and to an extent, they’re right—jumping forward several years (twice!) and setting much of the plot in a recognizable Manhattan (with the High Line in evidence) is a detour from previous seasons. On the other hand, since it has always taken sharp narrative curves, season four could be considered par for the course. The always humanizing presence of both Thandiwe Newton and Evan Rachel Wood keep things grounded, along with the dazzling-looking settings, which mesmerize even more in 4K. All eight episodes are included on both three UHD discs and three Blu-rays; hours of extras comprise making-of featurettes and interviews.
In-Theater/Streaming Release of the Week
In the Court of the Crimson King—King Crimson at 50 (DGM)
For a half century, guitarist Robert Fripp has created his own niche in rock music annals with prog giant King Crimson, which has gone through many iterations over the decades; yet, no matter who else is in the group, Fripp is the constant, focused on the music even at the expense of his relationship with other members. Toby Amies’ candid documentary tactfully explores that delicate balance, as we hear from Fripp and current and former band members like Ian MacDonald (who died earlier this year), Adrian Belew, Bob Bruford and Tony Levin to present a compelling warts-and-all look at the creative process, with great musical moments both onstage and in rehearsal.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Christmas Eve (Naxos)
Although this opera by Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov isn’t among his most well-known, Germany’s Frankfurt Opera has given it a high-wire production by director Christof Loy, which was filmed last winter. The fantastical plot is business as usual for Rimsky, whose music often sounds ravishing, especially when sung by Julia Muzychenko as the heroine Oksana. Conductor Sebastian Weigle leads the orchestra and chorus in a focused and sumptuous performance. As always, there’s excellent hi-def video and audio.
Christmas Concerts (SWR Classic)
These two holiday concerts by the SWR Vocal Ensemble, “Silent Night” and “Christmas Carols,” were respectively recorded in 2017 and 2018 at the properly solemn confines of the Gaisburg Church in Stuttgart, Germany. Led by conductor Marcus Creed, the vocal ensemble—with its soloists often splendidly taking the lead—beautifully sings such perennials as “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” along with other seasonal music by such composers as Britten, Howells, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Mahler and Schumann. The Blu-ray video and audio look and sound sumptuous.
The Night of the Iguana (Warner Archive)
In John Huston’s spirited 1964 adaptation of a rambunctious Tennessee Williams play, Richard Burton chews the scenery as T. Lawrence Shannon, a former priest turned tourist guide leading a group to Puerto Vallarta; he’s being harangued by stern Judith Fellowes (Oscar-nominated Grayson Hall), who believes he’s trying to seduce her 16-year-old niece, Charlotte Goodall (a very “Lolita”-like Sue Lyon). Along for the ride are a gleefully effervescent Ava Gardner as Maxine Faulk, an old friend who might become a new flame, and a properly dowdy Deborah Kerr as spinster Hannah Jelkes. The hi-def transfer makes Huston’s B&W images really pop; extras are on-set and retrospective featurettes.
Star Trek Discovery—Complete 4th Season (CBS/Paramount)
In the fourth season of the latest Star Trek spinoff series, USS Discovery captain Michael Burnham heads the crew that tries, in a post-cataclysm environment, to help rebuild the United Federation of Planets. These 13 episodes provide enough of the familiar space drama to satiate even the most finicky Trekkie, while the performances of Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Anthony Rapp as scientist Paul Stamets can be recommended to all viewers. There’s a very good hi-def transfer; extras include on-set featurettes, deleted scenes, audio commentary and gag reel.
DVD Releases of the Week
Blonde—The Marilyn Stories (Film Chest)
With the release of Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde,” in which Ana de Armas makes a heartbreaking Marilyn, Monroe is once again getting media attention, hence this three-disc set that brings together documentary and fictional accounts of her life, career and untimely death. Of the features centering each disc—2001’s biopic “Blonde” with Poppy Montgomery, 1991’s “Marilyn and Me” with Susan Griffiths and 1976’s “Goodbye Norma Jean” with Misty Rowe—the most interesting is the latter, exploitative but anchored by Rowe’s quite sympathetic portrayal. Extras are a 1986 documentary; Marilyn’s first TV appearance, on “The Jack Benny Show” in 1953; and a short doc, 1967’s “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe,” narrated by John Huston, who directed her at the beginning and end of her career, in “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Misfits”; but beware, the video quality is pitched somewhere between VHS and DVD.
Amazing Grace—Country Stars Sing Songs of Faith and Hope (Time/Life)
Time-Life’s latest massive boxed set is this behemoth, which is made up of 10 discs of more than 150 performances of spirituals and other gospel songs by some of country music’s biggest stars, from George Jones and Loretta Lynn to Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire. Among the classic tunes they perform are “Amazing Grace,” sung by both Jones and by Josh Turner; “Coat of Many Colors,” sung by Parton; and “How Great Thou Art” by McEntire. In addition to the memorable live performances, many enticing extras include two DVDs of Opry Gospel Classics, including rare archival performances by Johnny Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Charley Pride, Porter Wagoner, and more; interviews with the likes of Vince Gill, the Oak Ridge Boys and Statler Brothers; bonus performances; and a 36-page collector’s booklet.