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DVD Zone: May 2007

| April 27, 2007

Smokin’ Aces


Picture if you will Ocean’s Eleven with a mob hit at the center of the plot instead of a casino heist. Now amp up the gunfire and mayhem, and you get Smokin’ Aces.

Aces follows the outline of having several divergent characters, each supposedly experts at what they do, yet all somehow screwing up their jobs royally.

Everyone’s gunning for Buddy “Aces” Israel, a Las Vegas magician about to turn states evidence against Sin City’s top mob boss. Although Israel’s show is supposed to be the top draw in Vegas, the illusions he performs in the film would hardly get him hired for a child’s birthday party.

As the federal agents tasked with bringing him, Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds play your standard, black-suit-and-tie film G-men: Liotta as the fatherly pro, Reynolds the brash underling.

Of course there’s a $1 million price put on Israel’s head that brings out all manner of hit teams, both high tech professionals and low- rent bounty hunters. In this group we get cameos by Ben Affleck, a hilarious turn by Jason Bateman, and Alicia Keys in thigh-high stilletos. Ocean’s Eleven‘s Andy Garcia even turns up as the FBI director, valiantly trying to affect what one assumes is a southern accent, yet failing miserably.

The film turns on “Entourage”‘s Jeremy Piven as the coked-out and paranoid Israel, who spends most of the film in a bath robe mumbling incoherently.

Aces would have been better served by trimming a couple of characters. And, although the plot twist at the end is telegraphed throughout so that you’ve figured it out about 15 minutes in, when it arrives you still don’t see the necessity of it.

The disc features an alternate ending that doesn’t change the ultimate climax, just shoots it in a different way. There’s also other deleted scenes and an outtake reel.

If you like high-powered weapons going boom and chandeliers going crash, you’ll probably find Aces an acceptable diversion. If not, you’ll probably want to skip it.

Film: *** Features: **1/2

The Last King Of Scotland
20th Century Fox

In 1971, former British army officer Idi Amin seized power of Uganda in a military coup. Although welcomed and celebrated at the time by the Ugandan people, Amin’s paranoia and obsession with holding power led to the deaths of more than 300,000 people until the end of his reign in 1978. While serving in the British military, he gained an affection for all things Scottish, even aligning himself with the Scots who wanted independence from England, going so far as to call himself “the last king of Scotland.” Hence the film’s title.

The Last King Of Scotland creates the fictional character of Amin’s personal physician, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), to take a Gatsby-like look at the man and his personality, and to try to put a human face on one of the most brutal dictators in history.

Several liberties are taken with the actual facts of Amin’s regime, such as the circumstances surrounding the death of one of his wives — still a topic of much speculation. What is known is she did have an affair with someone, yet for the film, the affair is with Garrigan.

Forest Whitaker of course won an Oscar for his portrayal of Amin. While he does have a few scenes of quiet introspection, for the most part he plays the part as a ranting, spitting lunatic that is most commonly associated with Amin. Don’t get me wrong, he does a great job with it, it just seems too one-dimensional to be Oscar-worthy.

The disc features deleted scenes and documentaries on the real Amin and Whitaker’s preparation for the role.

Film: ***1/2 Features: ****

Also Available . . . If you want to see the real Idi Amin up close and personal, check out director Barbet Schroeder’s General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait (The Criterion Collection). Shot in 1974 with Amin’s full cooperation at the height of his reign, General is of course self serving, yet shows how the dictator could be charming and terrifying at the same time. It’s a fascinating look at the man who could be loved and reviled with the same fervor.

— Timothy Hiatt

Category: Columns, Monthly

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