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Category:    Home > Reviews > Special Interest > Geography > Travel > States > Documentary > Autobiography > History > Politics > Crime > Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011)/Windfall (2010/First Run DVDs)

Aerial America: New England Collection (Smithsonian/Inception Blu-ray)/Ethel (2012/HBO/Warner Archive DVD)/Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary (2013/First Run DVD)/NO (2012/Sony Blu-ray)/Killing Lincoln (2012/Fox Blu-ray)/The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011)/Windfall (2010/First Run DVDs)


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



PLEASE NOTE: Ethel is only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.



Now for a new round of documentary releases, mostly political…



The one exception is the seven-episode Aerial America: New England Collection from The Smithsonian Channel that shows great overviews of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Like the Visions Of series, the footage rarely touches ground, yet has some fine images to show and facts to share, though there are a few more ground shots here in comparison.


This single Blu-ray from Inception Media manages to fit everything on a single 50GB disc well and though there are no extras, you get almost 280 minutes of some of the finest shots around.  For more from the same series, try the Pacific Rim Collection release we covered at this link:






Now for the political section…



Rory Kennedy’s Ethel (2012) is a terrific documentary where she interviews her mother. the widow of Robert Kennedy in a very thorough covering of both of their lives and the legacy and family they built through triumph and tragedy.  Running a somewhat tight 97 minutes (this could have gone on and on, but they had to have limits somewhere), as her mother talks about events, issues and ideas she has likely not discussed for years and even decades.  She offers some rare insight enhanced by a treasure trove of rare film and even video clips throughout and all of it is so well edited together that it never gets boring.


That also makes it another key release on the Kennedy Family and a priceless piece of history worth going out of your way for.


The only extra is the interview featurette A Conversation With Rory Kennedy, but it is very good, short and to the point.



When I saw Stephen Vittoria’s documentary Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary (2013) was coming to DVD, I figured we would finally get direct answers about how he is a cause celebre for the Left, someone who has been labeled a ‘deadly Communist” as well as a ‘hero’ and most importantly, that he was a political prisoner in U.S. hands.  What was the truth?


Well, you never find out within the actual documentary because it is too busy being condescending to the viewer, glorifying Mumia Abu-Jumal instead of explaining his situation and shockingly operates as a bad example of Agit-Prop-style propaganda insinuating all kinds of things against the U.S. Government without ever stopping to explain itself, going off subject in all kinds of ways, giving extended philosophy lessons that also distract from the story and almost making the subject into some kind of God figure, intentionally or not.


To be talked down to like this is insulting, but that is how this tends to operate and it also implies that if you disagree with its point of view, you are ignorant, dumb, idiotic or a racist part of some problem or worse.  As for how revolutionary Mr. Abu-Jumal is, either the makers did a bad job of cherry-picking his work (how is he writing all this material behind bars when he is supposed to be in jail anyhow?), the many quotes are very predictable, obvious and in line with Left Wing politics.


Maybe those who support him are desperate for the old days or that their dated philosophy could somehow be revived, but it failed ultimately in the 1980s because it could not stop The Reagan Revolution (which I am no big fan of) and even made that movement possible.  However, the ultimate question still remains: why is he in jail and did he really kill a police officer?


The one major extra is a featurette entitled Manufacturing Guilt, which attempts to explain the case and has all the possible information oddly missing form the main program.  Instead of glorifying the subject, it explains how he was driving a cab one night and came across a bad scene where said officer was killed, then explains how the killing was not as police described and that he was arrested and convicted for murder with the Death Penalty, which has been removed since via misconduct.  So what really happened?


Mr. Abu-Jumal was a great reporter who turned down big money to go mainstream and was being rejected for more work, so he had to become a cab driver.  Back in the 1960s, he had become a member of The Black Panthers and unlike some of the head members, was not as anti-woman as some were reported to be.  Along with his blunt journalism, he became a target of the illegal COINTELPRO government program to go after anyone in the political counterculture.  Long after that program was exposed and ended, it is apparent there is a much larger vendetta between those who are Left Wing and Right Wing, one that is highly personal so to some extent, we could say Mr. Abu-Jumal is a political prisoner, but it is not as simple as he was this non-political African American male with no enemies who was carted away and framed for totally racial reasons.  Yet that is the illicit appeal to pity this documentary and the Free Mumia movement has been too much about as if people are idiots.  How populist.


Mr. Abu-Jumal has the right to say and do what he wants within the law, which was the case in the years leading up to the night of the shooting he likely did not commit or he would have been under arrest for some other crime.  He might also be free if this event had not all been so politicized by both sides.  Who killed the officer?  If it is another person (or another man as this short explains), he should be in jail or in jail as well, but this event has been so tainted by both sides that any truth has been killed, which is the more disturbing story not told in either program.


With friends like these, no wonder he is still a political prisoner, which begs the question, are some of his elite supporters exploiting him?  The main program and short are a weird bait-and-switch to me that are not politically honest, so that makes this release suspect on some levels, so know that if you see it.  I also was not happy with the racist and counter-racist tone of it all.  What a mess.



Pablo Larrain’s NO (2012) is an Academy Award Nominated drama with Gael Garcia Bernal as a man asked to create a campaign to get violent totalitarian dictator General Augusto Pinochet out of power after so many awful years in Chile.  With pressure from the international community and within the country, Pinochet felt the need to legitimize his power and with his yes men, went through with the vote thinking he was absolutely going to stay in power.  But it would not be that easy.


You see, the democratically elected President Salvador Allende was thrown out of power in 1973 and things have not been well in Chile since, as Patricio Guzman’s The Battle Of Chile well explained and you can read more about at this link:




Many felt it was the West (read U.S.) getting involved where it should not have and Guzman followed up with a second documentary entitled simply Salvador Allende (2004) which you can read about at this link:




NO makes for a fine companion piece to those works and is not bad in showing us what it must have been like in the atmosphere of fear in which the vote happened.  My only complaint is that it is shot on low-def video throughout and only its artistic status justifies a Blu-ray release.  Performances are not bad, the script is decent including seeing the endless promo films made for the campaign (most of which were not used) that become to repetitive that it becomes a sick joke.  The ending is also clever, but in the end, this is not as effective as I had hoped despite all effort sand some well-used stock footage.  Still, it is worth a look.


Extras include a Q&A piece with Bernal at a film festival and a feature length audio commentary track by Bernal and Larrain.



Adrian Moat’s Killing Lincoln (2012) is based on a weird book by co-written by the questionable Bill O’Reilly (made more questionable by some of what we see here) that wants to ignore the racism of President Lincoln’s time as we are given odd personal reasons for his killing that do not gel, even with Tom Hanks narrating, often on camera.


Along with Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott producing, none of that made me buy what I was seeing and as compared to Spielberg’s Lincoln film, I did not buy much of this at all and Hanks is in front of the camera too much, as if the facts and substance are lacking and this was based on a whole book?  So what?  That does not make it believable.  This runs a very choppy 96 minutes and is not recommended.


Extras include an on camera O’Reilly interview featurette, five promotional featurettes, a Making Of featurette and a feature length audio commentary track by Screenwriter/Executive Producer Erik Jendresen.



Chad Freiderichs’ The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011) is the other very strong entry on the list, an amazing, underrated look at the truth behind the rise and fall of housing projects, the insane planning that ruined many lives and how people who did nothing wrong to anyone have been stigmatized through no fault of their own.


The story actually begins in The Great Depression when housing is so bad and areas in the city so dilapidated that the government on all levels starts to come up with plans to have new housing that helps people help themselves.  So many people were in trouble that the housing was to help everyone from the poor to the middle class and this was at a time when U.S. cities all over were industrial.  These would be racially segregated (a bad sign of things to come right there), but it would help.


Post-WWII, as people started migrating from the South and the like to big cities, no one expected trends like flight of capital to the suburbs and the slow decline (staring in 1950) of industry in major cities.  That is how housing projects become so associated with poor people because they were left to fend for themselves and the rest of the story is as modern as it is familiar.


Freiderichs decides to use the St. Louis, Missouri locale of the title to epitomize what happened to such projects nationwide and how this particular one became particularly noted as a failure with poor-people bashing, blatant racism and stupid, elite ideas that the “modernist designs” of the buildings failed as if people were not even living in them.  To expose the problems, he interviews many of the former residents and the stories they tell finally give us the real story of what happened.


At first, the buildings were terrific for their use, clean, well-kept and well-designed with plans to keep them that way, but funding them only with the rent money and nothing else would eventually cause a slow decline for all such places and crime, violence and despair would quickly follow.  Money interests made sure of that once it became a poor-people only proposition, but those who tell their stories here bravely have priceless things to say.


We see how the place was really nice to begin with like any other apartment building opening.  People have some great memories, but then we also get some awful stories like the white woman who tells of a child who was about to get married until the other family found out they lived in the white section of Pruitt-Igoe (Igoe was the white half) ending the engagement and with instant accusations that maybe they were part African American.


The stories get uglier and uglier, plus St. Louis was especially hit badly by the 1950s shifts so it is the epitome of how ugly the situation became nationwide in what we can be certain are more vital, untold stories.  The buildings still stood during The Civil Rights Movement, but it was too late to save them and they had gone so bad that they were slowly imploded until they were all gone in a short matter of time.


Other standards to live the included no men in the house, as if there was a bread winner (men usually were that at the time), then they could afford to live in paid, private housing.  Welfare laws aimed at helping children were backfiring.  Initially, you could not own a TV or have other luxuries, so bureaucracy joined racism, sexism and poverty stigmatisms to ruin anything good that could come of such places in the long term.  Politicians took credit when they were built, often eliminating slum buildings and private business made money, sometimes under suspicious circumstances.


There is also a nice, healthy amount of archive footage that really delivers in what is one of the best stand-alone documentaries I have seen in the last few years and one that is a must-see as a priceless piece of American History that more than a few would like to forget, but that we must never forget because it says so much about how great this country can be and how avoiding mistakes and rejecting prejudice is the only way to maintain a sustainable America in the long run.  I hope we see many more works from Mr. Freiderichs and soon!


Extras include a tour of the site today and what little is left of what was built, priceless Additional Interviews, a terrific half-hour 1969 film set in Pruitt-Igoe from Director Steve Carver entitled More Than One Thing that was a priceless source for this new documentary and an exceptionally excellent feature length audio commentary track by Director Freiderichs that is a must-0hear after seeing this remarkable documentary!



Finally we have Laura Israel’s Windfall (2010), n interesting look at the idea of wind power as progressive.  You see giant ultra-modern windmills all over the place, on TV, in movies and even Rachel Maddow has a promo for her show and her MSNBC Network in which she talks about how we will never run out of wind and how good it is for energy and our environment.  That was also the impression residents of Meredeth, New York had, so some signed on to have these in their neighborhood.


However, these simple, positive moves turned out to backfire when it turns out that the downside of these mills from the chemicals used to their abandonment and disrepair if said companies choose to cut and run on them are among the issues and ideas examined here.  There was even a suggestion that they are older models and in 20 years would be obsolete!


No matter what is correct or not, we need wind power and this documentary brings up these issues in a very timely manner and apparently before the concerns hit the mainstream.  This is really good, though the editing and some things said overlap, but I recommend that you see this at least once just the same.


Extras include a text filmmakers’ biography, Resource Guide, Bonus Interviews and Footage.




The 1080p 1.78 X 1 AVC @ 36 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Lincoln and 1080i 1.78 X 1 image on Aerial are evenly matched ads the best presentations on the list as expected being two of the three Blu-rays, though Aerial has a slight, narrow edge.  NO is here is a 1080p 1.33 X 1 presentation that usually offers analog videotape-looking, newly shot footage that is an odd choice for the format, with some of the filmed stock footage being the default highlight of the playback.  Odd, but that is how it is shot and it hampers it somewhat.


That leaves the DVDs all with anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 images that are as competent as NO and though obviously offering limited definition, look good in their presentations.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Lincoln may be talky and dialogue/narration-based with a limited soundfield, but that is enough to make it the best audio performer here, even over the often monophonic-on-purpose DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) Spanish 5.1 lossless mix on NO.  Aerial has lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 that is mostly narration-based with some music, so it too is limited in its submissiveness, but is nicely recorded just the same, while Ethel has the same kind of Dolby sound configuration, but more of a variety of sound.


The rest of the DVDs have lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound that, but Windfall has the poorest sound, it is a little harsh and shrill on the edges, with music too loud and everything else not as loud as it could be.



To order Ethel, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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