- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney, $29.99 for one-disc DVD, $34.99 for two-disc DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray) — Disney’s hugely popular franchise is keeping the musical alive for a new generation — even if this latest installment doesn’t have much in the way of memorable songs. Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman and the rest of the young cast graduate from East High, but not before making one last musical. A new generation of Wildcats is set to take over when they’re gone — both in the story line and, one assumes, the franchise.

The single-disc edition includes just the theatrical version of the film and the cast goodbyes. The two-disc DVD includes that plus an extended version of the film, a sing-along feature, bloopers, deleted scenes and some featurettes on the prom that takes place in the film. It also includes a digital copy of the film you can watch on your computer or portable device. The Blu-ray edition, a three-disc set, includes all that plus a couple more extras. Best of all, you get both the Blu-ray and regular editions in that set.

The bloopers are pretty lame — these gorgeous girls don’t seem to be willing ever to look silly. The deleted scenes are worth watching, though. There’s a great one in which Sharpay (Miss Tisdale) is asked to the prom — except Sharpay doesn’t wait to be asked for anything. Because the over-the-top Miss Tisdale and the over-the-top Mr. Grabeel, who plays her brother, were the best things about the movie, it’s nice to see more of her.

The film’s young fans will enjoy the cast goodbyes, as the actors and actresses say farewell to the series that made them stars. “The end was pretty emotional. But I didn’t cry,” Mr. Efron declares. We then see a shot of him wiping away tears as he hugs his pals. “We’re all going to move on from it completely different, better people,” says a very grounded-sounding Mr. Bleu.

I Served the King of England (Sony, $28.96) — Jiri Menzel’s very first film, “Closely Watched Trains,” won the Oscar for best foreign film 40 years ago. That film was a comedy-drama based on a story by Bohumil Hrabal about a young man oblivious to what’s going on around him in World War II, German-occupied Czechoslovakia. This film, Mr. Menzel’s latest, is a comedy-drama based on a novel by Mr. Hrabal about a young man oblivious to what’s going on around him in World War II, German-occupied Czechoslovakia. That certainly doesn’t mean the newer film isn’t worth watching. “I Served the King of England,” the Czech Republic’s official Oscar entry last year, is a singular gem, a surreal but serious exploration of the dangers of ignoring the political for the personal.

The film stars Ivan Barnev and Oldrich Kaiser as, respectively, the young and old Jan Dite. The older man, just out of jail, reflects on his life as a young waiter who spent all his time dreaming of how to use his charm to get money and women. This farce is like a ballet on film, elegantly choreographed to the classical music that Prague has always loved.

Amadeus: Director’s Cut (Warner, $35.99 for Blu-ray) — “Amadeus” isn’t just one of the best music films of all time or even one of the best biopics. It’s simply one of the greatest films ever made. Now the glorious Prague interiors and exteriors, the colorful costumes and, of course, the miraculous music can be heard and seen in high-definition, as “Amadeus” comes to Blu-ray. Don’t expect miracles with the picture and sound, though. The movie was made in 1984, so it wasn’t filmed or recorded digitally. The film, which won eight Oscars, including best picture, still looks and sounds better than ever, though. The soundtrack is here in both Dolby Digital and Dolby TrueHD.

“Amadeus” doesn’t tell a strictly factual story about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but it offers more truth about genius and its mysteries than just about any other film. It works so well partly because it’s told not from the perspective of the great composer, but from that of one of his rivals, a man who understands Mozart’s genius but can’t understand why God has chosen such a silly man as his vessel. How can angels speak through the voice of a vulgarian? Tom Hulce plays Mozart, while F. Murray Abraham provides the film’s center as the guilt-stricken Salieri.

Sadly, there’s not much new here in terms of extras: the commentary by director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer, who adapted his own play, and the making-of documentary are both excellent but were already on the regular DVD’s director’s cut release. There is a bonus CD containing music from the film, though, as well as a handsome 35-page booklet with comments from the filmmakers, trivia and pictures.

A History of Violence (Warner, $28.99 for Blu-ray) — Warner is also introducing to Blu-ray this masterful genre film, which brought Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg’s name back to the mainstream. Viggo Mortensen stars as a small-town diner owner whose past might not be what it appears. Extras include a commentary with Mr. Cronenberg, eight scene-by-scene examinations, a deleted scene with commentary and, most intriguing, a look at scenes that were shown internationally but were considered too violent for the United States.

Kelly Jane Torrance

“Miracle at St. Anna” (Touchstone, $29.99 for DVD, $34.99 for Blu-ray) — Like all his films, director Spike Lee’s latest movie looks great; subtle and not-so-subtle camera moves heighten the tension and add to the drama. Unfortunately, “Miracle at St. Anna” suffers from several fatal structural flaws.

First and foremost among them is Mr. Lee’s constant digressions from the plot: flashbacks to the embarrassment of a quartet of black soldiers at the hands of Southern racists; jump cuts to their incompetent, racist American commanders; a subplot involving a noble Nazi who may be the most sympathetic character in the movie outside of the main quartet. They come so frequently that, in retrospect, it’s hard to remember what the soldiers were trying to accomplish.

There was something about getting lost behind enemy lines and trying to find safe passage home; there was something about capturing a Nazi to find out about enemy battle plans; there was something about protecting a boy whose village had been massacred (even though none of the protagonists actually knows the village was massacred).

Or perhaps the digressions are the plot. Perhaps Mr. Lee simply wanted to remind us, yet again, that America’s past is riddled with racism. He certainly doesn’t care about moving the plot along. By the end of the film, it’s not even clear what the titular miracle was.

The extras on “Miracle at St. Anna” — a pair of shorts that look at the experiences of black GIs in World War II — continue that meme; Mr. Lee is less interested in celebrating the exploits of the Buffalo soldiers than getting them to dish on how much America hated them and how their contributions have largely been excised from the history books.

Sonny Bunch

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