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Déjà Vu, Phantasm, The Queen

DÉJÀ VU (2006). The most recent effort from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott is movie porn for the electronic media set, a techno-thriller deeply in love with its own hardware. It's also a disappointment, a high-gloss action film that grows increasingly silly as it introduces each new wrinkle in its spiraling plot. Although the decision to stage a massive disaster (the bombing of a ferry) in the heart of Katrina Country will strike many as an unfortunate lapse in judgment, it's these early scenes that prove to be the most compelling, as ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) uses his wits to stockpile various clues that will lead him in the right direction. The film is so accomplished as a straightforward thriller, in fact, that it feels obtrusive when it starts focusing on satellite spyware and even time travel. By the time Carlin climbs into a time machine, you realize that a Marty McFly cameo might be the only way to salvage this dreary plunge into preposterousness. No such luck.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Scott and Bruckheimer, making-of featurettes, and deleted scenes.

Movie: **

Extras: **1/2

PHANTASM (1978). Yes, the flying sphere -- the one with the nasty habit of drilling into people's heads and draining them of blood and brain matter -- is a nifty creation. Yes, The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) makes a decent horror film icon, especially when he turns "boy" into a six-syllable word ("Booooooy!"). And yes, there's something to be said for a movie that starts as a typical slasher film and ends up involving hooded dwarves (they look like Jawas) forced to work as slaves in another dimension. But here's one cult classic that's always left me cold, largely due to writer-director Don Coscarelli's flagrantly unimaginative staging and, aside from The Tall Man, a cast of characters every bit as dull as those found in a typical Friday the 13th sequel. This was a hit on the midnight movie circuit, but give me Romero or Raimi any day.

Simultaneously with Phantasm, Anchor Bay Entertainment and Starz Home Entertainment are respectively releasing two other Coscarelli titles: the 1993 sequel Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead and the 1989 adventure saga Survival Quest, featuring early career appearances by Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener.

DVD extras on Phantasm include audio commentary by Coscarelli and cast members, a half-hour documentary, deleted scenes, and a Fangoria TV commercial starring Scrimm.

Movie: **

Extras: ***

THE QUEEN (2006). Whether or not one agrees with a character's declaration that the royal family is comprised of "freeloading, emotionally retarded nutters," it's fascinating to watch these upper-crust Brits play out their own sordid soap opera in this wicked -- and wickedly good -- show that takes a highly dubious premise and somehow turns it into one of the best films of last year. Set mostly in the days following the death of Diana back in 1997, it focuses on the reactions of Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and the rest of the royal family to the tragedy as well as the efforts of newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) to take control of the situation. It sounds like so much dreary sensationalism, yet because Stephen Frears' direction is nimble and Peter Morgan's script clever and resourceful, The Queen never bogs down in any potentially problematic areas. It manages to be both respectful and critical of the monarchy, a double-edged viewpoint that neatly reflects the attitude of the characters themselves. Mirren's performance is a thing of beauty, but Sheen admirably keeps pace with his formidable costar in this majestic entertainment. Nominated for six Academy Awards (including nods for Frears, Morgan and as Best Picture), this earned the Best Actress Oscar for Mirren, adding to the 26 previous prizes she had already collected for the role.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Frears and Morgan, a separate audio commentary by British historian and author Robert Lacey (Majesty), and a making-of feature.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: **1/2

W.C. FIELDS COLLECTION, VOL. 2 (1934-1941). It's been 2-1/2 years since Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the first collection of The Great Man's comedies, but avid fans can now relax with the debut of this follow-up compendium. As before, the box set contains five Fields romps, and while the overall quality may not match that of Volume 1, this still contains a few classic films and numerous classic routines.

You're Telling Me! (1934) provides the package with a frenzied start, with Fields as an inventor who hails from the wrong side of the tracks; it takes the aid of a foreign princess (Adrienne Ames) to endear him to the town's bluebloods, whose reluctance to embrace him is fueled by his antics on the golf course (in a legendary comic sequence). The Old Fashioned Way (1934) casts him as the Great McGonigle, a shyster who operates a traveling theatrical troupe. There's too much emphasis on the play-within-the-film, though watching Fields spar with Baby LeRoy is a hoot. Man On the Flying Trapeze (1935) is one of Fields' most beloved efforts, with the actor playing Ambrose Wolfinger, whose love for his daughter (Mary Brian) helps him endure constant abuse from his browbeating in-laws (not to mention the reception of four parking tickets in a row). Poppy (1936) is the only dud in both volumes, with con man Eustace McGargle (Fields) trying to pass off his daughter Poppy (Rochelle Hudson) as the rightful heir of a valuable estate. Fields is fine as always, but he's frequently yanked off the screen to make room for thudding musical numbers and a dull romance between Poppy and a stiff suitor (Richard Cromwell). Finally, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) is Fields' revenge on the industry that at this point was abandoning him. It's a nonsensical tale in which the actor (playing himself) tries to sell a studio executive (Franklin Pangborn) a screenplay packed with non sequiturs, flights of fancy, and a great gag with Fields diving out of an airplane to catch up with a bottle of booze which he accidentally dropped out the window.

DVD extras include a vintage TV documentary and theatrical trailers.

You're Telling Me!: ***1/2

The Old Fashioned Way: ***

Man On the Flying Trapeze: ***1/2

Poppy: **

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: ***

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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