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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Politics > Industry > History > Biography > Poverty > Witch hunt > Spying > Whistleblower > WW > Braddock America (2013/First Run Features DVD)/CitizenFour (2014/Radius-TWC/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Message From Hiroshima (2015/Cinema Libre DVD)/Rosie O'Donnell: A Heartfelt Stand Up (2015/HBO/Warner Ar

Braddock America (2013/First Run Features DVD)/CitizenFour (2014/Radius-TWC/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Message From Hiroshima (2015/Cinema Libre DVD)/Rosie O'Donnell: A Heartfelt Stand Up (2015/HBO/Warner Archive DVD)

Picture: C+/B-/C/C Sound: C+/B-/C/C+ Extras: C-/B/C/D Main Programs: B/A-/B-/B-

PLEASE NOTE: The Rosie O'Donnell DVD is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Here is a very strong set of new documentaries on history and politics, concluding with a stand-up comedy release that goes into some of the same territory.

Gabriella Kessler & Jean-Luc Portron have teamed up to deliver a remarkable, untold story most of the US media has been to cowardly to address with Braddock America (2013), the vividly true story of how the center of U.S. steel production (et al) in the town of Braddock, Pennsylvania became the ugliest of ugly casualties in the vicious 1980s Ronald Reagan-era (still in progress?) dismantling of the country's industrial base to kill unions, contract the economy (contrary to capitalism's benchmark premise of perpetual expansion and wealth surplus, the real and only true 'magic' from hard work) and worse as part of a permanent war campaign against the Middle Class, labor, working class, poor, helpless and (re-)stigmatization of being poor. In Braddock's case, they have been a target of such efforts by certain haters who want to erase their legacy (and them)... and inconvenient truths in U.S. history.

From the propaganda, one would think the country showed up pre-formed and Reagan was put there to run it (by God and/or select corporations?), but this town and its people interviewed here kill that myth. Unions, great hard working people, science and technical innovation is what made the country great, not political myths. I have to confess I was able to witness the rise and fall of all this having grown up nearby, so when the amazing people who stayed behind and did not abandon the town tells their sad, honest, heartbreaking, vivid, brave stories that are often so personal that it will shock anyone who has not sold out their humanity, you can believe it.

Then came that 'we don't need you' mentality popular with those who want to make all political opposition of they're greedy interest disposable, rendering them without rights, opportunity, a voice, a government looking out for them or the better future The Constitution guarantees. Those citizens of Braddock not only believed in the American Dream, they are proof it worked with the hardest of hard work that built some of the greatest communities ever known anywhere. Then it was gutted out.

Among the many stories is about The Pittsburgh Blacklist, made by the wealthy who did not want anyone to build unions, build pride or ask for more money form the ultra-rich who became more so from industry in Pittsburgh and Braddock among the industrial areas around there. Sadly, though the industries changed, that list still exists today as Right wing interests have tried to change the voting blocks of democrats to republicans over the last 35+ years... still failing to succeed. That in itself is testament to how ingrained real pride and the real truth is with people around the area.

We also see one hospital purposely (recently) abandon the area to the point they don't even leave the building behind to be reused, but implode it so they can wipe away their association with the area (a new competitor has opened a smaller medical facility since this was released) and the popular Mayor John Fedderman is never interviewed or noted much (he announced he was running for State Senator as we posted after many years there) and the program concludes with a visit to a nearby popular pizzeria called Vincent's (only brushed upon) that serves the famous thick, THICK Vinnie Pie that is the closest to a Pittsburgh or Braddock pizza that the area has ever produced. The business has since been rebuilt when the late Vincent's daughter took over after the party leasing the company drove it into the ground, but that (or anything else here) does not date any of the key points here one bit. Braddock is a town that has been worked over and dumped on endlessly since 1980 and has perservered, albeit in very rough shape, but it is there and whop knows what has been loss in such perpetual hatred. You never know where the next great person, great idea, innovation or regular citizen with a life & world-changing thought is going to come from. By doing this to any town, the U.S. kills itself as a nation.

The only extras are Original Theatrical Trailers for similar-minded First Run releases like The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, reviewed elsewhere on this site.

So if you prefer no more innovation or breakthroughs and like everything as it is, dull, backwards, science-denying and killed-off of any energy, enthusiasm or better future and culture, how can you keep it that way if you are up to no good? Laura Poitras' CitizenFour (2014) has part of the answer. In the 1970s when President Carter won office, he ended many a surveillance program, fired a bunch of CIA & other intelligence people (which came back to haunt him when they worked to get Reagan in by any means necessary) and U.S. citizens were sick of the country trying to be the world police, especially after the messes of Vietnam and Watergate. When Reagan returned, so did the programs, with experiments continuing with every administration starting with George H.W. Bush. So where did this lead?

According to a corporate computer expert working for a corporation who was working with the CIA, Edward Snowden, too many officials in a post-9/11 U.S.A. decided to throw out the Constitution and create a worldwide set of cyber programs to spy on just about anyone in the world. Tapping into most communication company’s servers and other records (usually with their 100% cooperation and pathologically lying to all their customers/citizens about it) was done in the name of fighting terrorism, yet attacks still happened (like the Boston Marathon, showing what a lie the premise of breaking these laws are) and instead have been about secretly watching people they may not like for whatever reasons. Are they afraid of that new idea, new union leader, new person demanding living wages, justice, undoing mad financial inequalities partly caused by psychopathic corporate/billionaire tax exemptions, new protective laws for the environment, etc.?

When the specifics of the story broke, I was not surprised because I knew some watching was going on because of how certain politicians took advantage of post 9/11 events as all governments do in crisis, but this was ridiculous, scary to many (it should be) and outrageous overall as the mostly invisible watchers could manipulate, hurt and even kill anyone they did not like, change history, stop ANYTHING they did not want to happen and to say what has happened is beyond what even George Orwell had come up with in 1948 is an understatement.

Of course, Snowden is still in hiding (asylum from the Russian Government at this time) but has done the world a favor. My only issue, which he addressed here remarkably, is that he claims they made sure no one was hurt when the documents (massive in number as they are) when they were released. If true, he IS A HERO, something many have been afraid to say. This is especially true because of the war on whistleblowers who need strong new laws to protect them when they protect people and the country.

There is more to say, but I will wait until the Oliver Stone film comes out (if he can ever shake off his Any Given Sunday supercoma!) and STRONGLY RECOMMEND you see this film because the fix is in like never before and needs to end!

Extras include the New York Times talking with Poitras about the film & situation, Dennis Lim joining her for a similar Film Society of Lincoln Center program, Op-Doc The Program Poitras made with the NY Times and Deleted Scenes.

Masaaki Tanabe's Message From Hiroshima (2015) is the latest documentary to look at the aftermath of one of the two (the first two nuclear-ever) bombings that finally ended WWII and Japanese Imperialism. Narrated by George Takei, many survivors are interviewed, the ugly aftermath recounted and for the first time I remember, the pre-bombed city with all of its shops, homes, gardens and the like rebuilt in CGI animation showing a life so peaceful and even happy, you'd never know WWIi was going on with sword-wielding, suicide fighters and flyers joining with Nazi Germany to torture, mutilate and kill the Allies at all costs.

For the stories we are told, it is sad and as one woman towards the end rightly says even a world war is a ridiculous excuse to drop such bombs, we get insight into a lost world that no rebuilding could regain. Let's hope it never happens again.

Extras include an interview with the director and a Photo/Stills Gallery.

Finally we have Rosie O'Donnell: A Heartfelt Stand Up (2015), which might have been an outright comic endeavor, but between her controversial stances from the end of her hugely successful daytime talk show, to debates with Right-wingers in the open public arena to her private life in the news and tabloids, I knew this one would have a dark side and I was correct.

She looks a little worn, but talks if her now-grown children, has funny anecdotes about that side of her life, gets political at times, then gets to how she barely survived a deadly heart attack so bad, she is very lucky to be alive. As always, she knows how to communicate with a large audience but without the need to be as upbeat as she was in her 'Queen of Nice' years gets to the 'real politic' of what has been happening to her and us since leaving the limelight. At a solid hour, it was worth the revisit.

There are no extras.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on CitizenFour looks good, but has some motion blur from the newer footage and offers low definition and mixed HD archival footage, yet it looks the best of the entries here. The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Braddock has solid new HD footage and nice vintage video and especially film footage throughout, even when rough, though the same frame on Hiroshima is the softest on the list for whatever reason despite the HD shoot and CGI recreations of the city before being bombed. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Rosie looks better despite some softness simply because most of it is just tracking its star talking, joking and the like.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on CitizenFour is also the best-sounding, though much of this is talking, interviewing, older audio and location audio. Thus, don't expect much sonically, but this is usually decent. The DVDs offer lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 save the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Braddock, but it is Hiroshima that actually has volume and fidelity issues. Hard to pinpoint why, though.

To order the Rosie O'Donnell Warner Archive DVD, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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