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DOOM Stating that Doom is probably the best of the numerous flicks based on a video game ranks as the feeblest praise imaginable. It's akin to noting that benign genital herpes is the best sexually transmitted disease to acquire, or that strawberry is the best-tasting Schnapps flavor. Still, in a sub-sub-genre that has subjected us to the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil, we'll take our favors where we can get them. Doom rips off Aliens at every turn (at least its makers steal from the best), as a group of military grunts find themselves combating vicious creatures at a manned outpost in outer space. Led by the gruff Sarge (The Rock), the outfit consists of the usual stock characters: reluctant hero, nervous novice, perpetual whiner, wisecracking black guy, monolithic black guy, and so on. And, of course, there's a pretty lady scientist (Rosamund Pike) to mollify red-meat moviegoers by functioning as eye candy to go along with the expected quota of guns 'n' gore. For a good while, director Andrzej Bartkowiak actually attempts to make a real movie rather than just a video game simulation: There are some character conflicts in the mid-section that spark the proceedings, and Bartkowiak opted to go with old-fashioned monsters (read: guys in cool costumes) rather than using the expected crutch of shoddy CGI. But eventually the movie runs out of steam, pretty much at the point when Bartkowiak finally succumbs to the project's video game genesis (the final slaughter is filmed from the POV of the grunt doing all the shooting). The ludicrous hand-to-hand skirmish that ends the film further sours the deal. HH

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO It's been seven years since the delightful swashbuckling adventure The Mask of Zorro hit theaters, and the lengthy interim suggests this follow-up was largely an afterthought on the part of Columbia Pictures. Maybe so, but at least nobody can accuse it of being hastily put together to cash in on the success of the first film. In fact, considering how long it's taking Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to find a suitable script for their ill-advised Indiana Jones sequel, one wonders why they didn't snatch up this property and modify it to their needs -- it certainly exhibits the proper measure of breathtaking adventure and dramatic derring-do. Set approximately nine years after the conclusion of Mask, this finds Don Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) having trouble shedding his day job as Zorro in order to spend more time with his lovely wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and rambunctious young son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). External pressures force the couple to split, with Alejandro drowning himself in booze and Elena taking up with a Frenchman (Rufus Sewell) who's clearly up to no good. But once Alejandro learns of a criminal plan that threatens not only California but the rest of the nation as well, he steps back into his role as the other Man In Black, receiving some unexpected help along the way from his own kid. The presence of Anthony Hopkins (who played the original, aging Zorro in the first film) is sorely missed, but Banderas and Zeta-Jones remain a sexy and spirited screen couple. Their fiery passion, combined with some solid action scenes, results in an undemanding good time. HHH

STAY Don't they mean Stay Away? Stay is a pretty ironic title for a film that will be hard-pressed to keep audience members in their seats for even 15 of its pretentious minutes. Skewing closer to tripe like The Butterfly Effect and The Jacket than twisty gems such as Memento and Mulholland Drive, this movie mind-bender stars Ewan McGregor as Sam Foster, a psychiatrist with a formerly suicidal patient as his girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and an intriguing new case study under his care. That would be Henry Lethem (The Notebook's Ryan Gosling), a disturbed artist who plans to commit suicide on his 21st birthday, which is only a few days away. Desperate to save his moody charge from doing anything so drastic, Sam scours New York City for clues on how to help his young patient. But clearly, nothing is as it seems, as Sam repeatedly bumps into people who are supposed to be dead, experiences overwhelming instances of déjà vu and further subjects himself to strange sights usually reserved for people on strong hallucinogens. Even if the mystery at the center of Stay wasn't fairly obvious from the get-go, it isn't enough for a movie to simply play a game of "Gotcha!" with viewers -- there has to be an internal logic at work at all times, as well as a sense that something's truly at stake. Stay fails on both counts, though film students might at least derive some pleasure from the film's technical exuberance (it's like an experimental student film gone wild). Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) and scripter David Benioff (25th Hour, Troy) are both gifted practitioners of their form, but here's an example of when two positives do equal a negative. H 1/2

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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