DVD reviews: Scorched earth

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Joe (Nicolas Cage, left) grapples with a deputy (Jonny Mars) in “Joe.”
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‘Joe’ finds some nobility in the heart of an antihero

This week, we begin in rural Texas:

Joe

3 stars

Rated R, 117 minutes.

Available June 17 on DVD and Blu-ray. Available now in various digital download formats.

In this compelling drama from director David Gordon Green, Nicolas Cage plays the volcanic yet authentic Joe.

Green also uses several nonprofessional actors in telling the story of Joe and his crew. (Look for entertainer Lico Reyes, a Denton regular, in a small role.) Joe’s crew works illegally for him, poisoning trees in order to clear a forest.

Tye Sheridan plays Gary, a teenager who asks Joe to hire him and his shiftless father (Gary Poulter). Later, Joe sees the father abuse Gary. But Joe remains silent until further violence stirs him into the action that propels the latter parts of this violent film.

Green craftily pulls his viewers into this dangerous vortex, but Joe is a story of revenge, and in this environment, everyone always has a grudge against someone.

DVD extras: commentary, an 11-minute “making of” featurette, two deleted scenes and a 16-minute featurette on the film’s source novel (screenwriter Gary Hawkins adapted the story from the book by Larry Brown).

*

The Cohen Film Collection releases a pair of controversial titles from renowned director Costa-Gavras to DVD and Blu-ray. Both bristle with his rapidly paced stories.

Capital (3 stars) This topical 2012 film examines a power struggle during the recent financial crisis. Sour-faced Gad Elmaleh plays Marc, a CEO at a major French financial firm. With ruthlessness, and a slice of black humor, he fends off an American takeover bid, engineered by equally stern hedge fund manager Dittmar (Gabriel Byrne).

Rated R, 114 minutes.

DVD extras: cast and crew interviews and a 19-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette with Elmaleh.

Amen (3.5 stars) Costa-Gavras’s 2002 film takes place mostly in the Vatican during World War II. German SS officer Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur) learns about the Nazis’ ongoing extermination campaign. He tries to inform Pope Pius XII but is met with resistance and denial. Actor Mathieu Kassovitz plays Riccardo Fontana, a young Jesuit priest disillusioned by the actions of his church when he futilely tries to intervene.

Not rated, 132 minutes.

DVD extras: commentary, and an excellent hourlong 1996 BBC documentary on Pope Pius XII.

*

No Clue (2 stars) Amy Smart stars as Kyra in this broad comedy about mistaken identity. She hires Leo (Brent Butt, who wrote the script) thinking he’s a detective. She wants him to find her brother, so Leo teams up with buddy Ernie (David Koechner). Director Carl Bessai uses his willing cast to deliver some unsubtle laughs.

Not rated, 96 minutes.

DVD extras: commentary and a 12-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.

*

The Warner Archive Collection releases a pair of 1950s films, notable for different reasons.

Jump Into Hell (2 stars) In 1955, this Warner film might simply have looked like a quickly made, low-budget war movie with a C-list cast. Seen today as still one of the few films to deal with its subject, it comes across as a more apparent anti-Communist screed slanted to give the best, if false, interpretation to one of the most pivotal battles of the 20th century.

Sixty years ago this spring, Vietnamese forces surrounded the French army at Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam. France’s eventual surrender ended its involvement in Vietnam but opened the door to America’s further entanglement.

Jump Into Hell follows four men who bravely, or foolishly, volunteer to go to an already imperiled Dien Bien Phu. Director David Butler, from a script by future best-selling novelist Irving Wallace, fleshes out the quartet’s unexceptional personal stories with flashbacks.

Butler also clumsily integrates war footage, which may or may not be from Dien Bien Phu. Probably not. The American actors speak in embarrassing French accents, and every French act is painted as noble. The architect behind Vietnam’s victory, master strategist Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap (who died in October at 102), receives only lip service.

*

Violent Road (2.5 stars) The plot of 1956’s Violent Road loosely resembles that of the taut classic Wages of Fear (1953) and its American remake Sorcerer (1977).

A group of misfits volunteers to drive three trucks through rough California mountain terrain while carrying a combustible load. Brian Keith plays Mitch, the rough, tough lead driver who assembles the crew.

Howard Koch, better known as a producer (The Manchurian Candidate, The Odd Couple), directs, squeezing as much tension as possible as the men face various obstacles. Not surprisingly, not everyone makes it out in one piece.

Not rated, 86 minutes.

*

Wheels on the Bus: A Day at the Farm The three episodes of this animated treat for kids star mischievous monkey Papaya and his friend Mango the toucan. Kids learn about healthy living and farm animals. The Who’s Roger Daltrey voices Argon the Dragon.

Not rated, 36 minutes.

*

And, finally, from our TV arrivals:

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Carl Sagan’s original 1980 TV series receives an update of sorts with this recent, widely watched program. Taking Sagan’s original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage for inspiration, directors Brannon Braga, Bill Pope and Ann Druyan have fashioned a more modern series aimed at contemporary audiences.

That means the infectiously exuberant astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson serves as host and narrator, voicing scripts explaining the universe’s origins, its intricate workings and how discoveries over the years have aided our knowledge. He also covers the scientists along the way who helped our understanding, along with a personal tribute to Sagan.

Using impressive special effects and more animated figures than droning experts, the series covers the field’s major events and its distinguished figures: Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, Alhazen, Robert Hooke, William Herschel and many others. Tyson keeps it light yet interesting, making each of the 13 episodes, on four discs, enjoyable.

Rated TV-PG, about 11 hours.

DVD extras: commentary on the first episode, “The Cosmic Calendar”; an interactive look at the history of the universe; the 42-minute featurette “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey — The Voyage Continues”; a featurette showing Sagan at the Library of Congress dedication, and more.

*

Major Crimes: The Complete Second Season The 19 episodes of the sophomore season of the popular TNT police procedural come on four discs. Spun off from The Closer when Kyra Sedgwick departed, this series sees Mary McDonnell settled in smoothly as Capt. Sharon Raydor, the head of Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division.

Most of the former crew still hangs around throwing barbs at each other: Lts. Louie Provenza (G.W. Bailey), Andy Flynn (Tony Denison), Mike Tao (Michael Paul Chan) and Julio Sanchez (Raymond Cruz). The series has benefited from female additions: Kearran Giovanni as Detective Amy Sykes and Nadine Velazquez as Deputy District Attorney Emma Rios. Graham Patrick Martin returns as teenager Rusty Beck, an eyewitness to a murder and kept under personal protection with Raydor. In addition, the season sees its share of mysterious murders and shady characters.

Not rated, 13 hours, 20 minutes.

DVD extras: Eleven minutes of deleted scenes, and two featurettes: “Personal Conviction” (24 minutes) and a look at the arriving season three “Behind-the-Scenes: A Look Forward” (five minutes).

*

Also available Tuesday on DVD: The Attorney, Ernest and Celestine, The Final Member, The Lego Movie and The Machine.


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