Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel star in "News of the World."
Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel star in "News of the World."

News of the World (Universal, Blu-ray or DVD, PG-13, 118 min.). “News of the World,” directed and co-written by Paul Greengrass, is a meticulously-made period movie that gets all the details right, but only has an occasionally interesting story and misses the opportunity to present more of Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd’s unusual profession that Tom Hanks plays so well. Luke Davies co-wrote the script, which is based on National Book Award Finalist Paulette Jiles’ best-selling novel.

The setting is 1870 Texas, five years after the Civil War. Kidd fought in that war, but now travels the South, reading stories from newspapers to those without access to news for a dime admission to his performance, because that is just what his readings are … performances, such as the one about the person who was buried too soon. This wonderful bit of performance comes at the very end of the film. Previously, we only get less than a handful of short bits of Kidd delivering the news, although during one he kind of ferments a revolt.

Capt. Kidd – no pirate he – is played by a bearded Tom Hanks in what one could call a warm-blanket performance. It is all cozy. The film reunited Hanks with Greengrass as he also played the title character in Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” a much more engrossing film that earned six Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture. Greengrass also has directed three of the “Bourne” films.

While traveling from Wichita Falls, Kidd comes across an overturned, destroyed wagon and a corpse hanging in a tree. However, there also is movement in the bushes, which turns out to be a 10-year-old girl (Helena Zengel as Johanna), the daughter of German immigrants who were slaughtered by the Kiowa Indians six years previously. Johanna, now called Cicada, was raised by the tribe as one of their own and she mostly speaks in their language, which Kidd does not know.

Kidd finds Indian Agency papers that outline Johanna’s story and indicate she has an aunt and uncle living in Castroville, Texas, 400 miles away. When the army will not take custody of Johanna, Kidd decides to bring her to her relatives rather than wait six months for an Indian Agency officer to arrive at the fort. Johanna, initially, is very much a wild child, but, of course, the two begin to bond during their journey.

As the film settles into a road trip, there is one action highlight, as three lowlifes, led by Almay (Michael Angelo Covino), attack Kidd and Johanna with guns blazing in a rocky area, after Kidd rebuffed their efforts to buy Johanna. It is a well-stage action piece. (By the way, none of the movie was shot on a soundstage.) Later, the pair are captured by Mr. Farley’s (Thomas Francis Murphy) men. Farley has set up his own kingdom in Erath County (a slight change on “earth”), including a newspaper filled with “fake news” that he wants Kidd to read to his mob.

The film was shot in New Mexico, with cinematographer Darius Wolski capturing some wonderful natural vistas. The appealing score is by James Newton Howard. Both Wolski and Howard have received Oscar nominations for their work here. The film also received Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Achievement in Production Design.

Extras include audio commentary by Greengrass and seven deleted scenes (11:16), including an encounter with some black people crossing a river and a nice moment of levity between Kidd and Johanna that the film certainly could have used. There also are featurettes on the two main actors (7:01); the Western action, including learning to ride a horse and staging a wagon mishap and the shootout (7:37); a look at Greengrass (10:59); and a look at the Kiowa and their authentic representation (3:57). Grade: film and extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Once Upon a River (2019, Film Movement, DVD, NR, 92 min.). This also is a semi-road movie based on a same-named, best-selling novel, this time by Bonnie Jo Campbell. The film is written and directed by Haroula Rose, a musician and actor, who has only directed shorts and for one television series previously. The story centers around 15-year-old Native American Margo Crane (a wonderful Kenadi DelaCerna in her debut), who sets out along the Stark River in Michigan to find her mother (Lindsay Pulsipher as Luanne), who abandoned her and her father (Tatanka Means of TV’s “The Son” as Bernard Crane) a year ago.

Margo’s journey is sparked by a tragedy in which she had a hand in making and involving her father’s lecherous half-brother Cal Murray (Coburn Goss), who nonetheless is married with several kids and unfortunately lives right next door. The Murrays basically run the town of Murrayville and the year is 1977.

Early on, Margo’s prowess in shooting and hunting is shown, so she is capable of living off the land as she starts her journey. That journey offers Margo little happiness and lots of disappointment, but also the chance to grow as a person. Most of her encounters are with men, and underscores her reliance on men. She does have a nice encounter with a traveling graduate student (Ajuawak Kapashesit as Will), with whom she shares a meal and then he gives her a ride for a couple of days. Will introduces himself as, “I’m a Cherokee from Oklahoma. People who came to this country and took over, they never intended for us to survive.”

The other significant encounter is with an elderly man (John Ashton of the first two “Beverly Hills Cop” films as Smoke), whom she saves by helping free him from a fall. Smoke, whose best friend is Fishbone (Kenn E. Head), has emphysema and requires oxygen, yet smokes constantly. Smoke gives her a place to stay for a bit, to forestall his being sent to an assisted-living facility as his daughters wish.

The only extra is a lengthy (29:58) look at the film’s music, including the score by Death Cab for Cutie’s Zac Rae and songs by J.D. Souther, Rodney Crowell, Bill Oldham, and Rose and Peter Bradley. Several full-length performances are included, among them “Damage” by Crowell, “Younger Than Your Eyes” by Souther and “Rachel’s Song” by Rose and Bradley. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extra 2.5 stars

The Road to Mandalay (2016, Myanmar/Taiwan, Film Movement, DVD, NR, 108 min.). The third road movie is more about the lives of two illegal immigrants once they arrive in Bangkok, although it begins by showing the journey of the woman (Wu Ke-Xi as Lianqing, 23) from Myanmar to Thailand, including a crossing of the Mekong River. The scene is one of several in which writer/director Midi Z has the camera stationary and lets the action come into the frame. The shot is from the midpoint of the river and gradually a raft carrying Lianqing and her oarsman comes into view and toward the camera.

We next see Lianqing set ashore, where, after paying the raft man, she gets a motorcycle ride to where she meets up with five other refugees, who are then taken by truck past a road checkpoint – thanks to the frequently seen “special paper,” that is money, tucked inside a folded newspaper. One of the male refugees gives up his seat in the front of the truck so that Lianqing does not have to ride in the trunk.

He is Guo (Kai Ko of “Mon Mon Mon Monsters”), who, it turns out, will be staying with his sister, who is friends with Hua, one of the girls Lianqing initially stays with. The two become intertwined with each other’s lives, such that they are eventually called boyfriend and girlfriend, yet they scarcely ever even touch each other, let alone have sex. Mostly, they ride along seated silently next to each other.

Lianqing gets a job washing dishes as a restaurant, but longs desperately to get a work permit so she can get a more glamorous job. Guo tries to get her to work at the fabric factory where he works, because she would not need a work permit and the pay would be better. After being arrested as an undocumented worker when the restaurant is raided by police, she is fired and does indeed go to work at the factory. (Note that the film often shows the corrupt nature of authority. In addition to all the monetary bribes, when the restaurant owner goes to bail out his workers, he is told he cannot smoke because it is a government building. When they all go to the next room, three of the policemen start smoking his cigarettes.)

Without dwelling verbally, the film does show the often-harsh conditions for workers in the factory, who must put in a lot of overtime. This actually is the most fascinating part of the film. However, it also contains one of the film’s several baffling scenes. When one of the workers breaks his leg in an accident, not only does his girlfriend have to sign paperwork accepting the company’s payout for medical costs and a pledge not to sue for more, but for some unknown reason, Guo and Lianqing also are made to sign the document.

Lianqing and Guo’s strange, unconsummated relationship enters strife over Lianqing’s insistence that she must get a work permit and proper papers. Guo feels it is an unnecessary expense, and at one point, he is proven right as they are hoodwinked. Later, the film suddenly rushes to an ending that makes no sense, and is gross. It spoils the whole film.

The film won the Feodora Prize for Best Film at Venice and was nominated for numerous awards at prestigious film festivals, including the Golden Horse Film Festival, the Asia-Pacific Film Festival and the Hong Kong Film Awards.

The only extra is the Chinese short film, “On the Border” (14:59), directed by Wei Shujun, which is about a Chinese teenager of Korean descent, who lives in a Chinese border village, but wants to emigrate to South Korea. Grade: film 2 stars, extra 1.5 stars

Breaking News in Yuba County (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or DVD, R, 96 min.). This funny black comedy definitely recalls the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” with its tale of people who are not as smart as they think they are falling deeper and deeper into the muck with every decision they make. By its end, the body count is really mounting as many of the characters will have no time left to rue their decisions.

The backdrop of the film is the ongoing story of a missing girl, Emma Rose, hyped almost daily on Gloria Michaels’ TV show. Michaels is played by Juliette Lewis (“Natural Born Killers,” “From Dusk Till Dawn”). Overall, the film has quite the cast, loaded with familiar faces.

When Sue Buttons (Allison Janney of “Juno,” TV’s “Mom”) discovers her husband (Matthew Modine of “Full Metal Jacket,” “Cutthroat Island”) is cheating on her – on her birthday, which he has forgotten, no less – she interrupts him and his paramour (Bridget Everett as Leah) in their motel room. Banker Karl’s heart gives out and Sue buries his body and belongings beneath an adjacent playground. Looking for a bit of celebrity, instead of being ignored all the time, self-help tape listener Sue decides to claim that her husband has gone missing and, like the young girl’s case, she decides all-out publicity is the way to go. She initially is helped in this by her half-sister Nancy (Mila Kunis of “Bad Moms,” “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” TV’s “That ‘70s Show”), a reporter for a local TV news show who is desperate for a story to bring her into the spotlight.

Meanwhile, the missing Karl, it turns out, was being forced to launder money for Chinese bowling alley owner Kim (Keong Sim) and the latest batch of $3 million has disappeared with him. Working as muscle for the gangster is his daughter Mina (a fine Awkwafina of “Crazy Rich Asians”) and Ray (Clifton Collins Jr. of TV’s “Westworld,” “Veronica Mars”). Their “former” partner in crime is Petey (Jimmi Simpson of TV’s “Westworld”), who is Karl’s brother.

Also in the cast are Regina Hall as Det. Harris, T.C. Matherne as her partner Office Jones, and Wanda Sykes as Rita and Ellen Barkin as Debbie, owners of the store where Petey works. Rita is enamored of guns and wants to be a gangster. Rita helps Petey rob a mall jewelry store to raise the $20,000 ransom for Karl that Mina demands, when Petey falsely accuses her and Ray of kidnapping Karl. And on it goes, with everything tied down by Janney’s performance.

The film was directed by Tate Taylor (“The Girl on the Train,” “The Help”) from a script by Amanda Idoko. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

Isle of the Dead (1945, Warner Archive, Blu-ray, NR, 72 min.). Produced by low-budget horror maestro Val Lewton and directed by Mark Robson (the locally filmed “Peyton Place,” “Bright Victory,” “The 7th Victim”), this is one of the lesser films in Lewton’s canon. Strictly speaking, it is not a horror film at all, although bits of it are atmospheric and an otherworldly creature is at least talked about.

Boris Karloff (“The Mummy,” “The Bride of Frankenstein,” Lewton’s “The Body Snatcher”) stars as Greek Gen. Nikolas Pherides, whose men have just won a victory in the first Balkan War. Nearby is a Greek island that contains a burial site, where Pherides wife was buried some two decades earlier. Pherides rows over to visit her grave, accompanied by Boston Star reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer of “Those Enduring Young Charms,” “Pan-Americana”).

When they arrive, they discover the grave site has been damaged, with all the caskets broken and the bodies missing. Hearing a woman singing, they go to explore and find a house occupied by Swiss archaeologist Dr. Aubrecht (Jason Robards Sr. of “Casey Jones,” “Ship of Wanted Men”), who tells him the tombs were raided by greedy villagers 15 years earlier, in part because he was looking for artifacts. As it is near dark, Aubrecht invites the two men to stay the night.

Also in the house are Aubrecht’s housekeeper, Madame Kyra (Helen Thimig of “Cry Wolf,” “Cloak and Dagger”), and guests British diplomat St. Aubyn (Alan Napier of “Island of Lost Women,” “Batman: The Movie,” TV’s “Batman” as Alfred), his ill wife Mary (Katherine Emery of “Strange Bargain”), Mary’s servant Thea (Ellen Drew of “Christmas in July,” “The Monster and the Girl”) and traveling English businessman Andrew Robbins (Skelton Knaggs of “The Paleface,” “Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome”).

All are forced to stay isolated on the island when septicemic plague claims one of them as a victim that night and arriving Dr. Drossos (Ernst Deutsch of “The Third Man,” “The Golem”) declares they must quarantine, with hand-washing and social distancing urged. Nonetheless, others will fall victim to the plague.

Meanwhile, those in the house divide into two camps, with lots of faith versus science discussions. Kyra speaks of an evil presence and casts suspicion on Thea as a possible Vorvolaka, a vampiric spirit that takes over a person. Shades of one of the tales told in “News of the World,” Mary has been subject to near-death spells in the past and, indeed, she is prematurely buried here.

A fine bonus is an audio commentary by Dr. Steve Haberman, a screenwriter and film historian, that discusses, among many other things, Karloff’s “monster” career and this film’s moody cinematography by Jack MacKenzie (“The Return of Dracula,” and a lot of TV, including the series “State Trooper,” “Mike Hammer”). Grade: film 2.25 stars; extra 2.5 stars