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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Politics > History > Government > Law > Art > Drama > Journalism > Racism > Science > Technology > Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2011/Sundance Select/IFC Blu-ray)/Black Like Me (1964/VSC DVD Set)/Surviving Progress (2011/First Run Features DVD)/We Can’t Go Home Again (Don’t Expect Too Much) (1973/Nichola

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2011/Sundance Select/IFC Blu-ray)/Black Like Me (1964/VSC DVD Set)/Surviving Progress (2011/First Run Features DVD)/We Can’t Go Home Again (Don’t Expect Too Much) (1973/Nicholas Ray/Oscilloscope DVD Set)


Picture: B-/C/C+/C     Sound: B-/C/B-/C+     Extras: B/B/B-/B     Films: B/C+/B/C+



Here are four new titles that deal with social issues and alternative views worth at least a look if not more…



Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2011) is the remarkable story of the political activist and artist of the title (pronounced I Way-Way) who was part of a new openness from China that brought him to New York City where he became both an artist and a man who participated in protests going back to supporting those who paid a big price for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.  Instead of just leaving things at that, he became more self-aware and by the time he returned to his home country, was unhappy enough with how the government handled the results of a devastating earthquake that he decided to start to chronicle it.


Unlike a country like the U.S., China does not do much of this and if it does, it usually keeps whatever information it obtains as secret.  Weiwei intended to not allow that and in this fine documentary that goes back and forth between his present and his past, we see the rise of an advocate for the Chinese people against the still-communist country whose success may be great, but is being undermined by some inability to change and adjust to the future.  It is also a rare look at world politics by default and is one of the surprise documentary releases of the year.


I will not say much more and even if I did, the situation is ever-changing, but he and his supporters are on the Internet and this amazing story is far from over.  In the future, Weiwei will be seen as a groundbreaker for a future China or a man who did his best to make things better and almost succeeded.  We’ll see which.


Extras include an Interview piece, Trailer, Deleted Scenes and full feature length Filmmaker Commentary.



Based on a real life story, Carl Lerner’s Black Like Me (1964) tells the story of a man (James Whitmore as John Howard Griffin) who, unhappy with racial segregation in his South, decided to investigate just how bad it can be by using chemicals, pills and other disguise methods to pretend to be African American, chronicle everything that happens and write about it.  A bold exercise in journalism, especially then, he is lucky to be alive considering what was going on at the time.  Despite being in practical “blackface”, Whitmore is actually very effective here and if anything, the resulting story rings as true as ever with the recent (and especially latterly, forced) retro-racism and blatant hate in our political discourse.


Also impressive is the supporting cast including Al Freeman Jr., Roscoe Lee Browne, Will Geer and Clifton James, plus nice location shooting make this a well-written, well-paced narrative worth (re)visiting, even when some parts have dated.  Unfortunately, the most important parts have not and it was a brave film to make at the time that is never exploitive, condescending.


Extras include a booklet with illustrations (including the original theatrical poster) and an excerpt from John Howard Griffin’s biography Reluctant Activist by Robert Bonazzi, while a bonus DVD gives us the hour-long Uncommon Vision: The Life & Times Of John Howard Griffin.



In a cycle of documentaries looking at our future in possible trouble, Mathieu Roy & Harold Crooks’ Surviving Progress (2011) asks us to consider the cost of progress and if it a way we cover up things going badly, if it also a way we tell ourselves such “progress” at any cost is worth it.  Running 86 minutes, it is an intense look at the downside of all this and how it could cost us our whole world if we are not careful if more responsible adults do not step up and fix things, as well as prevent what has grown to be a very long list of abuses only accelerated by recent obstructionist politics.


Martin Scorsese wisely Executive Produced this with the producers of The Corporation and though a few points did not work for me, I was in agreement with most of what this release had to say and is as underseen as it is under-recognized.  I would like to see this one catch on, the sooner the better, and strongly recommend it.


Extras include a Round Table on the film, Scorsese introducing the film at its New York Premiere and Extended Interviews section.



Finally we have Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again (1973), made after so many major Hollywood productions including Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without A Cause, Ray is one of the great, gutsy filmmakers and he decided like many great directors (think Brian De Palma and Robert Altman) to work with student filmmakers on the rise and try to make something different than what they were making to begin with.  In this case, a multi-screen, counterculture look at how he sees a Communal way of life working.


On the one hand, it will recall work by Andy Warhol and even Godard’s Maoist period, but Ray is also trying to break up the idea of the single frame by overlapping several images at once to make a new kind and sense of cinema which would have been more impressive at the time pre-mass media video era.  This is more like a documentary than a narrative and is interestingly different than his previous works and that of many of those making counterculture cinema at the time, but it also still has a tendency to run on (like watching Warhol’s Sleep in all 8 hours), but the point is to communicate the experiences seen by having the viewer watch it the long way.


That may work for some more than others, but it is honest filmmaking and he was making a point that holds up 40 years later.  Now you can see for yourself.


Extras include an illustrated booklet with two essays on the man and his filmmaking, while a bonus DVD adds two extended, separate interviews with Jim Jarmusch and Bernard Eisenschitz, 1977 Camera Three profile of Ray, a piece on Ray unfinished 1977 film Marco, rushes from Marco and a dream sequence with and directed by Ray from the Wet Dreams anthology called The Janitor.



The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Never is a combination of various formats from standard definition digital video, analog video and newer HD shooting and it is the best-looking of the four releases here, though the others might be able to compete in Blu-ray form.  Progress is here in an anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image and shares the same kind of video sources.  Black is here in 1.33 X 1 and anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 versions that are a matter of preference and come from a nice print, but these are older transfers and detail is a bit soft throughout in both cases as this is the second releases of the film on DVD.


That leaves Home with a mix of anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image and 1.33 X 1 images throughout.  That means it is also softer than expected, but is lucky to survive at all.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is on Never and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Prop Logic works well here) on Progress are the sonic champs here with their share of location audio issues and older monophonic audio.  Home has lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that is recently mixed and sounds almost as good, but the recordings show their age and the film’s budget limits.  That leaves Black with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono that sounds a little more compressed than it should.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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