DVDs of the Week

Ugandan genocide and a grunt's-eye view of WWII.

The Last King of Scotland

Fox, $29.99

Long one of Hollywood's finest actors, the Oscar-wining Forrest Whitaker has been held back by one simple, ugly fact: There just ain't that many juicy roles for a huge black man with a funny eye who wants to play more than gangstas. Given a crack at Uganda's charismatic lunatic despot Idi Amin, Whitaker sinks his teeth into the role the way Amin chomped on long pig. He's perhaps the best screen villain since Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, and this film suffers that one's central flaw: Every scene without the bad guy falls flat in comparison. But don't blame James McAvoy, who plays the Scottish doctor drawn into Amin's inner circle. Any movie, after all, should be about its most interesting character. JORDAN HARPER

Overlord

Criterion, $39.95

For this one-of-a-kind World War II drama—a cult favorite made in 1975 but unreleased theatrically here till last year—director Stuart Cooper spent three years combing Britain's Imperial War Museum for archival footage, then used it to tell the fictional story of a single British soldier's fateful path to the D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944. With genius cinematographer John Alcott (Stanley Kubrick's frequent collaborator), Cooper shifts effortlessly from the close-up on one cog in this vast machine to history's telescopic view. Black-and-white dramatization merges with chilling clips of the war being waged: Much of the footage—of bomber shadows rippling across rooftops, of a massive rocket-powered wheel hissing and lumbering through the surf toward shore—rivals war poetry in its horrific grandeur. Excellent extras include a commentary by Cooper and star Brian Stirner, and Cooper's striking short film A Test of Violence. JIM RIDLEY

Phantasm

Anchor Bay, $19.98

It's time to recognize the schlock auteur who brought the world the dumb fun of Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep, and the Phantasm series, and this loaded disc is a good place to start. What Don Coscarelli lacks in skill and artistry, he makes up for with originality: floating killer metal balls and killer dwarves and killer topless ladies and killer creepy old men and killer...And what he lacks in witty dialogue and good actors, he makes up for with boobs and blood. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but horror fans will delight in the special features alone: docs, interviews, and a commentary track with the director and stars. The opening trailers, mostly for Coscarelli's other films, are worth a rental alone. JORDAN HARPER

Sleeping Dogs Lie

First Look, $24.98

Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait takes a subversive concept (honesty is overrated) and marries it to an outrageous scenario (a woman's family learns that she once, uh, performed for a dog) to create...a romantic comedy? Well, sort of. Like Goldthwait's underrated Shakes the Clown, Sleeping Dogs stakes out territory in the land between black comedy and drama. But Sleeping Dogs plays it much straighter than the alcoholic clown movie. Yeah, blowing dogs is a matter custom-made for cheap laughs, and in the first five minutes Goldthwait goes for them. But then the film settles into a fairly serious exploration of the value of secrets. In fact, Sleeping Dogs' biggest fault may be that it's occasionally a little too serious. Goldthwait also delivers a rambling, charming commentary in which he talks about filming on a shoestring budget and wonders who the hell would care to hear him. JORDAN HARPER

Smokin' Aces

Universal, $29.98

With its bullet-riddled plot and smirkin'-aces cast (Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keys, Andy Garcia, and Jeremy Piven as the small-time thug they're all looking to off), Joe Carnahan's movie plays like an oily, time-killing, made-for-Showtime version of Ocean's Eleven, sans the class or cleverness. Piven, ratcheting up his Entourage shtick with week-old stubble and a Vegas suite full of hookers, doesn't even seem to be having fun. Only Jason Bateman, in a few seconds of screen time, gets the joke—which is to say, only he finds it buried beneath the skank and stank. As for the extras: The alternate ending's ridiculous, the deleted scenes are superfluous, and Ben Affleck can't shoot pool for shit. ROBERT WILONSKY

Other Releases

From the Cartoon Network, The Venture Brothers: Season Two might someday inspire a movie, like their Aqua Teen Hunger Force brethren. Also from TV (That '70s Show), Laura Prepon turns serial killer in Karla. And even better from TV, Garry Shandling has dusted off and added many extras to what he calls Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show, which includes 23 episodes from his old HBO series. Besides Overlord (above), other fine Criterion releases this month include Jules Dassin's 1947 prison flick Brute Force (starring Burt Lancaster) and Mathieu Kassovitz's 1995 La Haine, quite prophetic about France's racial tensions today. The Dirty Dozen and Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon are now on Blu-ray format, making your old discs totally obsolete! In a sign of summer (or Spider-Man 3, coming May 4), eight minutes have been added to a new cut of the last Spidey picture. She may not get a do-over for The Reaping, but the modest success of Freedom Writers should keep Hilary Swank off the bread line a while longer. Fine acting and viewer discomfort are guaranteed in Notes on a Scandal, even if the film suffers a bit from its blame-the-dyke (Judi Dench) acid aftertaste. English stage pros also abound in The History Boys, a piece of filmed theater that's almost better as home viewing.

dvd@seattleweekly.com

 
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