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Limitless, Potiche among new home entertainment titles 

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994). The working definition of a word-of-mouth hit, Four Weddings and a Funeral opened modestly stateside in the spring of 1994, not reaching the #1 slot until its sixth week. It ended with an impressive $52 million in the U.S. coffers, still just a fraction of its monstrous $245 million international take. It's that rare romantic comedy that deserved its riches, given its penchant for avoiding brain-dead formula almost every step of the way. Hugh Grant (in his star-making performance) plays the congenial British bachelor who begins to question his own philosophy on life after he starts to fall for a charming American (Andie MacDowell) he keeps bumping into at the title events. The script by Richard Curtis is by turns poignant, observant and wickedly funny, and the note-perfect supporting cast includes Kristin Scott-Thomas, Simon Callow and (as a befuddled priest) Rowan Atkinson. This earned two Academy Award nominations, for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Curtis, director Mike Newell and producer Duncan Kenworthy; three making-of featurettes totaling 45 minutes; and five deleted scenes.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: ***

JUMPING THE BROOM (2011). Screenwriters Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs start with familiar material: the developments that occur when the families of Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) and her fiancé, Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso), finally meet on the weekend of the wedding. Sabrina's family, repped by her brittle mother (Angela Bassett), is wealthy and living in a Martha's Vineyard mansion; Jason's family, fronted by his loudmouthed mom (Loretta Devine), is lower-middle-class and stuck out in Brooklyn. Under the auspices of Pastor T.D. Jakes (who produced the film and appears as Reverend James), director Salim Akil and the writers juggle a wide range of characters and subplots, and to their credit, they fumble very few of them. Until Devine's overly protective parent is unfortunately turned into the film's closest thing to a villain during the third act, all of the characters are allowed to be believably flawed, allowing us to see the right and wrong on both sides of each issue being presented. The tension between the mothers is palpable, and there are several relatives and best friends on hand to provide comic relief (Mike Epps is particularly pleasing as Jason's laid-back uncle). Jumping the Broom is no Soul Food, but as a worthy seriocomedy about African-American family dynamics, it's nourishing enough.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Akil, Patton and Alonso; a 24-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; and a 6-minute piece on the African-American tradition of jumping the broom.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

LIMITLESS (2011). For a film about a drug able to turn its user into a genius, Limitless isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the box — or the smartest movie in the DVD store, as it were. Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a struggling writer who gains possession of tiny pills that, after ingested, allow him to write an entire novel in the course of four days while learning to play the piano and mastering a couple of foreign languages on the side. It turns out that this miracle pill unlocks that mythological 80% of the human brain that we don't use, so Eddie decides to put his newfound intelligence toward becoming a good capitalist. But things aren't all rosy for our upwardly mobile protagonist, as he's pursued by dangerous men and the pill's side effects are starting to take hold. The philosophical ramifications of suddenly becoming the most intelligent man on Earth are largely ignored, with the peeks into Eddie's beautiful mind simply conveyed through saturated color schemes and letters tumbling down from the rafters. Still, pushing aside the ridiculous ending and a few risible moments strewn throughout — a skating-rink sequence, Eddie lapping up blood Cronos-style, co-star Robert De Niro pretending to be interested in anything other than his paycheck — Limitless is a fairly entertaining thriller, and viewers aware of its limited appeal beforehand will probably enjoy it the most.

The Blu-ray contains both the PG-13 theatrical version as well as an unrated cut that runs a whopping 47 seconds longer. Extras include audio commentary by director Neil Burger; a 12-minute making-of short; and an alternate ending.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

POTICHE (2010). A Continental cousin to those plucky British comedies in which working-class peons struggle against their bourgeois employers (recent example: Made in Dagenham), the French romp Potiche is primarily an excuse for audiences to once again spend quality time with those two titans of Gallic cinema, Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Set in 1977, this finds Deneuve cast as Suzanne Pujol, the trophy housewife of a right-wing chauvinist (Fabrice Luchini's Robert Pujol) tyrannically running her late father's umbrella factory into the ground. With the gentle prodding of the town's Communist mayor, Maurice Babin (Depardieu), the workers go on strike to demand better hours and better wages, a protest that eventually leads to the agitated Robert being confined to bed rest for a lengthy period of time. As someone is required to take over running the factory, Suzanne ends up assuming the position. Yet unlike her dictatorial husband, the increasingly assertive Suzanne is willing to talk, listen and make compromises, and before long, the factory is far more successful in her progressive hands than it ever was under Robert's fascistic fist. Adapting a play originally penned during that era, writer-director Francois Ozon has made a film that is only lightly interested in tackling any major sociopolitical issues. True, the story charts Suzanne's rise from submissive housewife to freethinking feminist, but Ozon's top priority is making sure everyone is having a breezy time both up on the screen and in the audience. Luchini's sputtering provides some comedic madcap elements, Judith Godreche and Jeremie Renier offer an easygoing contrast as the Pujols' grown children (she's conservative, he's artistic), and Ozon himself serves up some nice visual touches (dig that fuzzy phone!). As for Deneuve and Depardieu, their willingness to just show up on the set and allow themselves to be filmed is reward enough, methinks.

DVD extras include a 72-minute making-of feature; six minutes of costume tests; and two different theatrical trailers for the film.

Movie: ***

Extras: **

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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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