One of the surprise worldwide box-office successes of the 1980s was “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” a South African slapstick comedy that leads new movies on DVD this week.
“The Gods Must Be Crazy II” (Sony Choice/DVD, 1990, PG). This sequel to the hilarious hit “The Gods Must Be Crazy” (1985) follows hapless Xi (pronounced “Key”), a gentle bushman in the Kalahari Desert (played by N!xau), as he is forced to again approach “civilization” when two young children from his tribe are inadvertently kidnapped by ivory poachers.
Writer-director Jamie Uys has a talent for sweet, gentle comedy and a keen eye for slapstick timing, and if this one isn’t quite up there with the hilarity of the first, it’s still quite funny and endearing. (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“Modern Romance” (Sony Choice/DVD, 1981; R for sex, nudity, language). In his second writing-directing effort (after the faux documentary “Real Life”), Albert Brooks stars as the ultimate neurotic, repeatedly sabotaging his relationship with his on-again, off-again girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold). The film also skewers the movie business with lots of inside gags.
On the romantic side, this is a dark comedy, and Brooks isn’t afraid to portray his character as alternately charming and irritating, resulting in a film that is only on-again, off-again funny. In his later pictures Brooks still played neurotics but managed to soften his own characters to make them more appealing. (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“The Face of Love” (IFC/DVD, 2014, PG-13, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurette, trailer). This multi-layered, albeit offbeat, romantic melodrama is about a woman (Annette Bening) who has been widowed for five years but is unable to move on when she meets a man (Ed Harris) who appears to be her late husband’s exact double. This causes old feelings to surface and a relationship begins. But as they become closer she realizes he will eventually discover why she was drawn to him. What to do? Bening and Harris are excellent, with solid support from Robin Williams and Amy Brenneman.
“The Last Days” (IFC/DVD, 2013, not rated, in Spanish with English subtitles, trailer). A strange pandemic has brought about widespread agoraphobia so that people can’t bear to go outside or be in wide-open spaces. If they do venture out, they die of a sort of heart attack, dubbed “The Panic.” An engrossing, surprising twist on the post-apocalyptic sub-genre of sci-fi and horror movies, a Spanish-language film set in Barcelona with a more uplifting ending than viewers will expect.
“A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (Lionsgate/DVD, 2014, not rated). Lifetime cable-TV movie produced by and starring Whoopi Goldberg as the matriarch to a dysfunctional family. When she learns she has only a short time to live, Goldberg tries to bring her adult children and grandchildren together, despite their differences and myriad soap-opera problems. Cast includes Ving Rhames as Goldberg’s estranged husband, Mekhi Phifer, Kimberly Elise and Anika Noni Rose. Based on the novel by Terry McMillan (“Waiting to Exhale,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”).
“Northern Light” (Icarus/DVD/On Demand, 2014, not rated). Cinema verite documentary follows families hit by the recession in the north woods of Michigan, where winter is especially harsh and they pin their hopes on a $10,000 prize for the annual 500-mile snowmobile race (which arrives late in the film). Beautifully photographed but slow and observational, a film that requires patience from the audience as it allows us to get to know its players (who seem surprisingly oblivious to the camera’s presence, even in agonizingly personal moments).
“Under the Skin” (Lionsgate/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014; R for nudity, sex, violence, language; featurette). Scarlett Johansson stars in this very dark, moody sci-fi art film as an alien in human clothing, or rather an alien in human skin (often unclothed), who drives around Scotland picking up disenfranchised men to seduce and turn into puddles of goo.