The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (NR, 2009, Dark Sky Films)
Don’t look now, but Cthulhu, the tentacled god who ruled over horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s creations, is real and making a comeback. Worse, if Cthulhu’s minions can commandeer an ancient relic before it’s delivered to Lovecraft’s only living relative (Kyle Davis as Jeff), mankind is doomed. And worse than that? Jeff is a lowly cube rat who can’t muster up the courage to accept a date with a cute co-worker, much less save humanity. Isn’t that always the case? No matter. The road to making a great nerd-saves-the-world movie is littered with failed attempts that are too cute, too trite or victims of some other imbalance on the dork/hero scale. But “The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu” uses some excellent character design to avoid the usual traps. Jeff’s a coward, but his disgruntled cynicism never lets the meekness get too far. His best friend and eventual cohort (Devin McGinn as Charlie) provides a nice complement by balancing a loud mouth with a child-like willingness to believe in Cthulhu’s rise the instant a mysterious stranger presents it to them. “Lovecraft’s” supporting characters provide similarly pleasant surprises, and if you believe in the art of characters endearing themselves by unleashing a torrent of expletives while under extreme duress, prepare to be charmed. “Lovecraft’s” special effects definitely fall on the low-budget side of the fence, but the action is fun, and the script is too smart and funny for something like effects to even matter.
Extras: David/McGinn/director commentary, extended scene, pencil test (with commentary), photo gallery.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (R, 2010, Sony Pictures Classics)
People love to give present-day Woody Allen an extraordinary amount of flak for sticking to what kindly can be called a formula and not-so-kindly dismissed as a hollow imitation of the movies he made when the formula was new. “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” won’t soften the criticism one bit: It’s yet another movie, narrated by Allen, in which various people (Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas and others) display various degrees of life- and love-related dissatisfaction and use those feelings to admirably, passionately but mostly rather foolishly dig their feet into a whole new proverbial ditch. The thing about “Stranger,” though, is that while it isn’t revolutionary in any remotely imaginable way, it most certainly is pleasant. Allen breaks no ground and changes not a hair on film convention’s head, but in taking unhappy people with unseemly solutions to unpleasant problems and making them likable, their situations amusing and their actions backwardly uplifting, he demonstrates why sticking to what he does best isn’t such a bad thing at all. “Stranger” is light but intelligently, genuinely fun the whole way through, and there’s something to be said for a writer in his element telling these kind of stories with this much confidence. No extras.
William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (NR, 2010, Oscilloscope)
There’s no way — nor is there any need — to know for sure, but one gets the impression that the late William S. Burroughs was a little less interested in talking about himself than everybody else was. “A Man Within” takes accessible, traditional measures to detail and discuss the life Burroughs lived, the work he did as a voice of his generation, and the doors his work allowed him to kick down even when his own discomfort may have given him pause. As biographies go, it’s satisfyingly informative and achieves that rare documentary air of telling a straight story while also chasing tangents and whims in clever ways when the opportunity presents itself. But the most interesting thing about “Within” may be the story it shows rather than tells. “Within” features glowing interviews with a number of people — Patti Smith, John Waters, Jello Biafra and numerous others, famous or otherwise — who either enjoyed personal relationships with Burroughs, shared his stage as contemporaries, or walk in the shadow of his influence. But it also features a number of interviews in which Burroughs himself recounts the same history like a man who, if inflection means anything, has either remained humble or simply grown bored with telling the same stories. Meaningful or not, intentional or not, the contrast paints an amusing picture of the difference between admiring someone and having to be that someone every day of your life, and it’s simply one more layer of insight atop of a movie that has insight spilling out of every side.
Extras: Deleted scenes, home movies and other additional footage with Burroughs, music video, Patti Smith reading of “Psalm 23 Revisited,” director Q&A, liner notes by David Byrne and Richard Hell.
For Colored Girls (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
If you take your movies personally — and, in particular, if you’re an image-conscious man who takes portrayals of your gender personally — a viewing of “For Colored Girls” will certainly make you cringe if it doesn’t make you howl. “For Colored Girls” is based on the 1975 play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” which itself was structured around 20 poems about the obstacles African-American women face in life, love, work and elsewhere. “Girls” the movie tells stories about a number of women (Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine and numerous others), and the script liberally mixes in creative liberty with verses from the poems. The execution on the concept is clever. But it isn’t very graceful, and if anything that happens in the first 50 minutes doesn’t convince you that “Girls” isn’t even going to try to portray the other gender objectively, one character’s impossibly bizarre personality transformation at around the hour mark — followed by something even worse 10 minutes later — leaves the notion completely in ruin. “Girls” never sits at a loss for energy despite a runtime that breaks the 130-minute mark, but the spirited energy of its early going gives way to a tearjerker paradise as the minutes tick by. You may be entertained, but full-blown alienation, for any number of reasons, is just as likely a prospect.
Extras: Interactive behind-the-scenes documentary, two additional behind-the-scenes features, image gallery.
Stag Night (R, 2008, Ghost House Underground/Lions Gate)
Bachelor parties have a knack for going south, and after groom-to-be Mike (Kip Pardue) and friends (Breckin Meyer, Scott Adkins, Karl Geary) get kicked out of a club, jump a subway turnstile and then hassle two women (Vinessa Shaw and Sarah Barrand) on the train until a series of events leaves them all stranded under a subway tunnel, this is a pretty shining example. Problem is, when this almost universally unflattering introduction ends, it takes most of “Stag Night’s” storytelling motivation with it. As expected, there’s more trouble in this subway tunnel than a lack of exits — namely, a group of bandits who kill people for some reason. We don’t really find out the reason, nor do we find out why there’s a whole society of people living underground who fear what appear to be disfigured but human monsters. “Night” takes us on a chase as our heroes, who range from generically unlikable to painfully vanilla, try to search for an out and evade these villains who chase and try to kill them for some reason. If you think that sentence sounds plain, you now know what the movie looks like. “Night” has a couple of creepy parts, but it’s mostly a horror-by-numbers waste of an interesting setting, and when it gets back to coloring in its story with nine minutes to go, the twist is so unfortunate that you might wish it just stuck to fizzling out of memory instead.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.