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New DVDs: ‘Last King of Scotland’

Also new: ‘Smokin’ Aces,’ ‘Freedom Writers,’ ‘Notes on a Scandal’
/ Source: The Associated Press

“The Last King of Scotland”The soft-spoken Forest Whitaker came out of his shell in an explosive way, winning the best-actor Academy Award for his magnetic and frightening performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who remains a perversely respected figure among the subjects he tormented. The film presents a fictionalized personal relationship as Amin is seen through the eyes of an adventurous Scottish doctor (James McAvoy), initially enticed by the ruler’s forceful charm, later a horrified witness and victim to his brutality. The DVD has seven deleted scenes with commentary from director Kevin Macdonald, who also offers commentary for the full film. A behind-the-scenes segment features Whitaker discussing the extensive research and preparation it took to play Amin, and the disc has a documentary on Amin’s rise to power and how the filmmakers went about re-creating his reign. DVD, $29.98. (20th Century Fox) Read the review

“Smokin’ Aces”

(L to R) Bodyguard Sir Ivy (COMMON) confronts his boss, sleazy magician Buddy \"Aces\" Israel (JEREMY PIVEN)
(L to R) Bodyguard Sir Ivy (COMMON) confronts his boss, sleazy magician Buddy \"Aces\" Israel (JEREMY PIVEN)Universal Pictures

Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta lead a big, bloody ensemble cast in this over-the-top comic crime thriller about a slick stool pigeon and the low-lifes trying to bump him off. Jeremy Piven plays the title role, “Aces” Israel, a magician placed in protective custody after he agrees to testify for the FBI against the mob, with Affleck, Alicia Keys and a huge roster of other rogues trying to cash in on the $1 million mob contract placed on Aces’ head. The disc has deleted scenes, outtakes and an alternate ending, a featurette on stunts and special effects and a segment on writer-director Joe Carnahan, who also teams with his editor and some of the actors on two commentary tracks. The movie is available in a standard DVD disc and a combination disc with both the high-definition HD DVD and standard DVD versions. DVD, $29.98; HD DVD combo disc, $39.98. (Universal) Read the review

“Freedom Writers”

In this photo provided by Paramount Pictures,  Hilary Swank  as Erin Gruwell in  \"Freedom Writers.\"  (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures/Jaimie Trueblood)
In this photo provided by Paramount Pictures, Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell in \"Freedom Writers.\" (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures/Jaimie Trueblood)Jaimie Trueblood / PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Hilary Swank stars in a feel-good classroom drama based on the true story of idealistic teacher Erin Gruwell, who inspired her students at a violent, racially divided school to express themselves with pen and paper. Swank’s Gruwell battles skeptical school bureaucrats, her own doubting family and entrenched biases among the youths, who gradually bring out their inner poets as they find kinship by sharing stories of their own harsh lives. Along with a handful of deleted scenes, the DVD has segments on Gruwell’s real-life story and the many students who benefited from her writing program. Swank joins writer-director Richard LaGravenese for commentary. DVD, $29.99. (Paramount) Read the review

“Notes on a Scandal”

Past Oscar winners Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett each scored fresh nominations for this dark drama about a flighty new teacher and the twisted veteran educator who preys on her young colleague. Dench is a scary old spinster who discovers that her school’s art teacher (Blanchett) is having an affair with a student, the older woman seizing on the transgression to extort devotion and intimacy from her new “friend.” The DVD has a making-of featurette and a segment on the two compulsive characters including interviews with author Zoe Heller, whose novel was the basis for the film. The disc also has commentary from director Richard Eyre and a series of short background segments produced for the Web on casting, the screenplay, the characters and other behind-the-scenes matters. DVD, $29.98. (20th Century Fox) Read the review

“Spider-Man 2.1”

In preparation for the superhero’s new big-screen outing with next month’s “Spider-Man 3,” the filmmakers release an extended cut of “Spider-Man 2” that adds about eight minutes of footage. The 2004 sequel pits Spidey (Tobey Maguire) against Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), a brilliant scientist who’s turned into a villainous maniac after an experiment leaves him with huge metal tentacles grafted on his body. The two-disc set has a behind-the-scenes featurette, a Spider-Man trivia track, a look at the movie’s visual effects and commentary from producer Laura Ziskin and screenwriter Alvin Sargent. And there’s the obligatory sneak peek at the next movie. DVD set, $19.94. (Sony) Read the review

“Overlord”The 1975 film from director Stuart Cooper blends real footage from the World War II era with a fictionalized account of a 20-year-old draftee as he goes through basic training and braces himself physically and mentally for the coming rigors of the D-Day invasion in 1944. The DVD features commentary with Cooper and his star, Brian Stirner, along with two vintage 1940s films by the British Ministry of Information, “Cameramen at War,” a tribute to the men documenting the conflict, and the propaganda film “Germany Calling.” The disc also has a photo essay in which Cooper chronicles how he was influenced by the images shot by legendary photographer Robert Capa. A 32-page booklet has essays on the film and diary excerpts from a novelization of the movie that came out at the time of release. DVD, $39.95. (Criterion)

TV on DVD:

“Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show” — Fans who want every episode of Garry Shandling’s 1990s series spoofing late-night talk shows apparently will be disappointed. After season one came out in its entirety, fans will have to make do with this best-of compilation of 23 episodes on four discs drawn from all six seasons. DVD set, $49.95. (Sony)

“Larry King Live: The Greatest Interviews” — A three-disc set rounds up some of the talk-show host’s biggest on-air encounters, with such names as Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Marlon Brando and Christopher Reeve. The set also has King’s chats with the last seven U.S. presidents. DVD set, $34.98. (Warner Bros.)

“George Lopez: The Complete 1st & 2nd Seasons” — The comic star plays a factory-line worker adjusting to management life when he’s promoted to a white-collar gig. The sit-com’s first 28 episodes are packed on a four-disc set. DVD set, $39.98. (Warner Bros.)

“Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy” — The second seasons of Ron Howard and Henry Winkler’s “Happy Days” and its spinoffs “Laverne & Shirley,” with Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams,” “Mork & Mindy,” with Robin Williams, arrive in a threesome of four-disc sets. DVD sets, $42.99 each. (Paramount)

“Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Sixth Season” — Angela Lansbury returns as the mystery writer who solves real crimes in her spare time. A five-disc set has all 22 episodes from year six. DVD set, $49.98. (Universal)

Other new releases:

“Thieves Like Us” — Robert Altman’s tale of Depression-era outlaws starring Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall leads a rush of 1970s and ’80s films from the MGM vaults. Also making their DVD debuts are “True Confessions,” with Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall; “Pulp,” starring Michael Caine; and the prep-school comic drama “The Chocolate War.” DVDs, $14.98 each. (MGM)