The good and the bad for Forest Whitaker

Times Staff Writer

Forest Whitaker has a DVD double-header today: "The Last King of Scotland" (Fox, $30), the political thriller that garnered the actor a passel of awards, as well as a tepid ghost story, "The Marsh" (Sony, $25), a waste of his talent.

Whitaker's award streak included an Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for his turn as treacherous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "Scotland." Whitaker's immoral Amin initially captivated citizens of the African country and -- in the movie -- a young, ambitious Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) who becomes one of his advisors.

Viewers can look forward to seven deleted scenes that include the alternate opening, with a young Amin in 1948 engaging in a boxing match in the jungle, an above-average behind-the-scener and a mini-documentary on Whitaker. Methodical commentary from director Kevin MacDonald, the grandson of Michael Powell's filmmaking partner, Emeric Pressburger, rounds out the disk.

Releasing "The Marsh" on the same day as "Scotland" smells like a ploy to cash in on Whitaker's Oscar-elevated profile. Whitaker underplays his role in this derivative ghost story as a paranormal expert trying to help a children's book writer (Gabrielle Anwar).

Previous Oscar winners Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett engage in a ferocious battle of wits in the provocative "Notes on a Scandal" (Fox, $30), which earned each actress another nomination. Dench plays a calculating teacher who finds herself attracted to another instructor, Sheba (Blanchett). With passable behind-the-scenes matter, director Richard Eyre provides literate commentary.

"The History Boys" (Fox, $28) mesmerized theater audiences in London, swept Broadway's Tony Awards last year but "History" didn't repeat itself in the film. Extras feature an entertaining video diary of the international theatrical tour and a featurette on turning the play into the movie. Director Nicholas Hytner is a lively guide, but writer Alan Bennett is a snooze.


Also new this week

"Larry King Live: Greatest Interviews Collection" (Warner, $35): Celebrating his 50th year in the business, the CNN host offers an impressive array of clips -- one of the strangest: Angelina Jolie showing King the vial of then-hubby Billy Bob Thornton's blood she wore around her neck.

And: Freedom Writers" (Paramount, $30); "Off the Black" (ThinkFilm, $28); "Smokin' Aces" (Universal," $30).


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