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Blu-ray slight return: Apocalypse edition

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Black Like Me (Video Services Corp. 12/11) comes with two discs, one with the groundbreaking 1964 film and another with a one-hour doc on the author of the source book John Howard Griffin. Griffin was a music student in France, WWII broke out and he joined the French underground, then escaped to England, but soon went blind from previous injuries, then had a family, then miraculously regained his sight ten years later, then went undercover with the aid of drugs and a skin treatment that turned his skin black and traveled through the Jim Crow South as a black man in order to write a first hand account of prejudice. The film proper stars James Whitmore and depicts his first-hand experience of everything from learning to shine shoes to receiving the hate-stare. Vignette in style, we follow Whitmore as he goes from town to town, more than a few times being picked up as a hitchhiker resulting in complicated interactions with the drivers. (Some of the actors driving are Will Geer, Denver Pyle and David Huddleston in early roles. Other co-stars include Roscoe Lee Brown and Clifton James.)

Black Like Me works as both an exploitation style film as well as a social message genre film; its beats ring true even 50 years later. The themes and ideas take the front of the stage and not the fact that Whitmore doesn’t look black, something about his eyes and the fact that Griffin used drugs that changed the pigmentation of his skin. Despite a great make-up scheme the film doesn’t work on that level and yet what a compelling piece of cinema it is. Down every street are potential friends and condescending enemies, down every alley are thugs and stalkers. Every scene depicts some strata of society, as it existed then and by reflection how things stand now.

Red Hook Summer (Image Entertainment 12/21) finds Spike Lee working with a small budget in an indie style. A young boy from an upwardly mobile family in Atlanta spends the summer with his grandfather who’s a bit of a religious zealot and a high-ranking priest. There are some great speeches and surprising twists, like when the preacher man stands accused of a previous breach of morality.

Lawless (Anchor Bay, 11/27) needs another look-see. The disc contains extras that explores the actual prohibition-era moonshine family the film’s based on and also reminds the viewer of the dynamics of cast members Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, the latter two who also star in the upcoming Zero Dark Thirty.

Cosmopolis (Entertainment One, 1/1/13) merge the definition of two words and takes place primarily inside a limousine. The director is David Cronenberg and he explores the enclosed space like only a great director can. Source novel by Don DeLillo concerns a Wall Street melt down seen through the eyes of a young trader who conducts business from his citadel constantly-moving office, and Cronenberg updates to take into account recent protest movements. Starring Robert Pattinson the film co-stars a who’s who of foreign and contempo actors (Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Paul Giamatti. Jay Baruchel, many more). The real treat here are the extras: a making of doc that’s longer than the feature and Cronenberg’s wise commentary track.

Sometimes A Great Notion (Shout! Factory, 12/18) was directed by Paul Newman, based on the sophomore book by Ken Kesey. A superb cast includes Newman, Henry Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, and Lee Remick in this tale of an Oregon lumber family. The transfer is superb bringing out the colors, textures and moods of 60s film stock.

All of the discs were viewed on Blu-ray except for Black Like Me, which was on DVD.

- Michael Bergeron

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