Top Picks: 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' on DVD and Blu-ray, Broken Bells' album 'After the Disco, and more
Pink Martini collaborates with the von Trapps for the album 'Dream a Little Dream,' PBS focuses on the Western aspect of the conflict in 'Civil War: The Untold Story,' and more top picks.
The Civil War’s Western front
If you can rattle off the key battles of the US Civil War – Gettysburg, Antietam, Bull Run (Manassas) – get ready to up your game. Civil War: The Untold Story breaks historic new ground by focusing on the Western Theater, the land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, where the Civil War was won ... and lost. This five-hour documentary series tells the stories of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and other battles. It also sheds light on the far-lesser-known roles of African-Americans – both as slaves and free soldiers. It begins in April on PBS. Check local listings.
Spring as jazz fusion
Fusion jazz trio The Bad Plus release their realization of Stravinsky’s famous – and, in its day, infamous – The Rite of Spring. Technically brilliant and evolutionary, this update on a classic brings new insight into the rhythmic fireworks at the heart of one of the most influential pieces of the last century. It is a sonic treat for both jazz and Stravinsky lovers, and is available from Sony Masterworks.
Von Trapp Family, still singing
As the movie “The Sound of Music” nears its 50th anniversary, pop orchestra Pink Martini’s collaboration with four great-grandchildren of Capt. Georg Johannes and Maria von Trapp, Dream a Little Dream, is a fitting tribute. “Sound of Music” fans will be satisfied with the new renditions of “Edelweiss” and “Lonely Goatherd,” and the album contains a variety of songs in different languages and styles while maintaining a dreamlike quality through the harmonizing vocals of Sofia, Melanie, Amanda, and August von Trapp.
It’s even easier to watch riveting documentaries with the new channel Opus Docs, created by the distribution company The Orchard. The Orchard is making documentaries, such as the Emmy-nominated “War Don Don” (about the trial of a Sierra Leonean war criminal), available free of charge on its Opus Docs Hulu channel four to six months after the movies have been released for purchase on sites such as iTunes. Users can also access trailers and additional movie footage on the Opus Docs YouTube channel.
Broken Bells’ second album, After the Disco, is a tightly produced musical nod to the new wave era – all synthesized smoothly with a bright harmonic groove. Too slow for disco, it’s a soft sway on the dance floor. Producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and James Mercer, a vocalist for The Shins, juxtapose melancholic lyrics with jangly, upbeat melodies. “Holding On for Life” channels Bee Gees harmonies while 1980s glam inevitably fades in “The Remains of Rock & Roll.”
A hobbit and a dragon
The second installment in director Peter Jackson’s latest film trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, will win over die-hard fans and newbies alike. Hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) gets to face off against one of the great movie dragons of all time, and a spider sequence shows Jackson at his gross-out best. “Smaug” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray April 8.