‘Evolution of a Criminal’ and ‘Vessel’ Top This Week’s Home Picks


Most people don’t get to see documentaries until they arrive on a home video platform of some kind, whether it’s DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, iTunes, TV, Netflix streaming, etc. Join us every Tuesday for a look at what documentaries and reality programming is recommended by myself and other contributors to the site. As always, if you know of something we missed or should be aware of, drop us an email or a note down below.

Here are our ordered picks for January 13, 2015:

1. Evolution of a Criminal

[Now Streaming Free via PBS] — I fell in love with this at the New Orleans Film Festival last year, and the fondness is surprising and partly unexplainable for me because it commits so many crimes of documentary (the laws broken are those in my head, of course). Director Darius Clark Monroe is a talking head in his own film, he employs fairly unnecessary reenactments, and about two thirds through he reveals that in a big way the doc is actually about the making of the doc. Added up, all these elements become one of the freshest takes on the personal doc genre.

Dan Schindel also ranked this film one of best of the Los Angeles Film Festival last year. Here’s what he wrote then: “This movie takes the Sarah Polley approach to personal investigation, only instead of tangled family history, Darius Monroe explores how and why he robbed a bank 10 years before. Without ever excusing his actions, he tries to make sense for himself, the people he talks to and the audience how he, a model student, was set on a path towards becoming ‘the bad guy.’ Almost everyone Monroe talks to appears at least slightly dazed at the nature of the project, but they talk to him nonetheless, and the result is a can’t-look-away dialectic.” (★★★★)

2. Vessel

[Now Available on Vimeo On Demand] — I caught this feature debut by Diana Whitten at a few festivals last year, and while I wasn’t initially a huge fan, it has really grown on me. The first time I saw it, I took it for a simple issue film, a lengthy advertisement for the organization Women on Waves. But it’s more a character portrait of the organization’s leader, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, and how complex her life is as the face and embodiment of her project to provide abortions in international waters to those in nations where the procedure is illegal. The politics and compromises and struggles and failures and successes of and by the organization and how it’s more about an idea and awareness than action is also fascinating, a look at non-profits that turned my cynicism around after such docs as Pink Ribbons, Inc. and Fatal Assistance. Also, with further viewings I’ve really appreciated the music by T. Griffin and Heather McIntosh and the animation by Emily Hubley, Emily Liu and Hsin Pei Liu. (★★★★)

Also available on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube.

3. Expedition to the End of the World

[New to DVD via Virgil Films] — Yep, still pushing this one hard. But why not have two docs set on ships in a row? This entry previously appeared in an earlier Home Picks. This doc is #4 on my person list of the best docs of the year and the kind of adventurous nonfiction cinema I wish was made more often. Daniel Walber gave it a positive review here, but I’d like to share a bit of my own from Film School Rejects: “When a movie as magnificent as Expedition to the End of the World comes along, it’s hard to find the right words to describe it. Awesome comes to mind, but that sounds so broad. […] The title of the film refers to both the edge of the earth as well as its demise, and yet the journey in question is hardly one of alarm. Just as the physical end of the world is an illusion, given that it’s not flat, the temporal terminus is just a point somewhere amidst the infinity. Expedition to the End of the World follows a group of explorers sailing toward the North Pole along the Northeast coast of Greenland, a trip made possible only recently thanks to global warming, in order to study the newly exposed environment on every level. Scientists aboard the schooner Activ include a geologist, a geochemist, a marine biologist, a zoologist, an archaeologist and a geographer. There are also artists along for the adventure, aside from the filmmakers, which provides for some of the doc’s deepest discussions, on art versus science and ultimately how each is important for our understanding the universe.” (★★★★★)

Also available on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo On Demand and Vudu.

4. Kon-Tiki

[Celebrating its 65th Anniversary] — This Oscar winner from 1950 is here because January 13th was the 65th anniversary of its original premiere in Sweden, but also, hey, why not have a third film set at sea on this week’s list? Documentaries don’t get more thrilling in an action and adventure sense than this record of explorer/filmmaker Thor Heyerdahl’s raft voyage across the Pacific Ocean. I still haven’t seen the recent Oscar-nominated dramatic remake, because why would I? It’s just reenactments. I’ve seen the real deal on film already. (★★★★★)

Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video, Google Play, Hulu Plus and iTunes.

5. Convento

[Now Available on Vimeo On Demand] — From my list of the six best documentaries of the 2011 SXSW Film Festival at Cinematical: “The joy of this film comes more from its subjects than the work of director/cinematographer Jarred Alterman, though it is a beautiful film. It takes us to a 400-year-old monastery in Portugal, where a peculiar family of Dutch artists now lives. Most interesting is son Christiaan Zwanikken, whose creations are like mechanized taxidermy inspired by Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” video and maybe Blade Runner (I also referred to the sculptures as skeletal Muppets). Also seen are his ballerina mother and animal-loving brother, as the doc poetically explores dichotomies such as natural remains and man-made trash, ancient and futuristic settings, life and death, knights and robots. At only 50 minutes long, it’s also commendable for not overstaying its welcome, while also not trying to fit the temporal confinement of an Academy-recognized short. (★★★★)

Also available on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu.

6. Persistence of Vision

[Now Available On Limited Edition DVD] — I keep forgetting to include this as a Home Pick, probably because I keep overlooking it since it’s not available on Amazon or anywhere else that I typically look for new releases. But Kevin Schreck’s doc on Richard Williams and the very long production of his animated feature The Princess and the Cobbler is a remarkable chronicle of an amazing story. And I hope you all can get a copy before they run out to see for yourself. Here’s part of my review at Movies.com: “the technical quality here isn’t much, but the interviews are more than serviceable. With Williams refusing to participate (or ever talk about the film since it was taken from him), the story comes from the mouths of his collaborators, and they provide plenty of details on the good and bad of working on this would-be masterpiece over many years. Williams does appear through a great amount of archive material, which is mixed with a treasure trove of making-of scenes and footage of the original film and clips of the final product (originally released by Miramax as Arabian Knight). Because it takes place over the same period, it’s a good complement to The Pixar Story and Waking Sleeping Beauty, but it’s also very depressingly reminiscent of Lost in La Mancha, the documentary of Terry Gilliam’s unfinished film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. (★★★★)

Bonus features:
• Original 1992 workprint of Richard Williams’s The Thief and the Cobbler in its entirety
• Q&A with director Kevin Schreck recorded at DePaul University in Chicago
• Q&A with The Thief and the Cobbler animator Steve Evangelatos at the Vancouver International Film Festival
• Montage of pencil tests and rough animation from The Thief and the Cobbler
• 8 deleted scenes
• 4 international TV clips
• Original Persistence of Vision international festival trailer

7. 21 Years: Richard Linklater

[New to DVD via Breaking Glass Pictures] — Last week we included Linklater’s Boyhood in the Home Picks, so now here’s a documentary about the filmmaker and his work — before Boyhood, that is — through anecdotes by his stars and peers, including great interviews with Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke in particular. Here’s part of my review at Film School Rejects: “21 Years doesn’t really seem interested in getting to know Linklater as a person. The doc, directed by Michael Dunaway (whose day job is film editor at Paste magazine) and Tara Wood (whose IMDb acting listings include an uncredited extra role in Linklater’s The Newton Boys), does not feature the man in any form other than quotes taken from interviews and some older footage […] An interesting thing to consider with 21 Years is Hawke’s statement, commenting on a nonfiction film Linklater did on University of Texas coach Augie Garrido (Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach), that all documentaries are self-portraits. This is indeed a piece of reflection, as much a celebratory doc on what Linklater is to Dunaway and Wood as it is to the talking heads on screen, only unspoken and through editing, but I wouldn’t go that far with the idea. But I also wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a portrait of Linklater either. It’s fitting that the last thing said in the film, by [Billy Bob] Thornton, is about how Linklater the man is just some guy, not deserving of a film about himself. His career, though, is another matter.” (★★★)

Also available on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

New to DVD [and/or Blu-ray]:

'21 Years: Richard Linklater' (Gravitas Ventures)

21 Years: Richard Linklater [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Film School Rejects review]

Angels and Aliens: The Fall of Man

Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution

Bigfoot in Europe: Sasquatch Encounters Abroad

The Case Against 8 [Nonfics rating: ★★; Nonfics review]

Charlie Gracie: Fabulous!

Culture High

Deep Purple: Into the Fire

Duane Michals: The Man Who Invented Himself

Eat: The Story of Food

Expedition to the End of the World Tshirt

Expedition to the End of the World [Nonfics rating: ★★★★/★★★★★; Nonfics review; Film School Rejects review]

Finding Fela [Nonfics rating: ★; Nonfics review] [Also on Blu-ray]

Genesis: Sum of the Parts [Also on Blu-ray]

Great Estates of Scotland

Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler


Ice Age Giants

Ice Cold Gold Season 1

'Keep On Keepin' On' (Radius-TWC)

Keep On Keepin’ On [Nonfics rating: ★★]

King Leopold’s Ghost

Kiss: Black Diamond

Monster Madness: The Gothic Revival of Horror

Prince: In His Own Words

The Rolling Stones: Midnight Rambler

Rye Coalition: The Story of The Hard Luck 5

Soccer Shrines Vol. 1

Soccer Shrines Vol. 2

Soccer Shrines Vol. 3

The Story of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: So It Goes

Take Back Your Power

Taylor Swift: The Story of Taylor

To Catch a Comet

Unbreakable: A Story of Hope and Healing in Haiti

The Wages of Spin

The Wages of Spin II: Bring Down That Wall

Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis?

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Sky Soldier

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

9 Muses of Star Empire — Amazon

'The Case Against 8' (HBO Documentary Films)

The Case Against 8 [Nonfics rating: ★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon, iTunes

Cold War Roadshow — Amazon

Daughter — Doc Alliance

Deflating the Elephant — Vimeo On Demand

Evolution of a Criminal [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — PBS

Genesis: Sum of the Parts — iTunes

George — Fandor

Ghost Adventures Vol. 13— iTunes

Keep On Keepin’ On [Nonfics rating: ★★] — Amazon

Klansville U.S.A. — Amazon

The Last Station — Doc Alliance

The Lifeguard — Doc Alliance

Money For Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon, Vimeo On Demand

'Mr. X' (Carlotta Films US )

Mr. X — Fandor

Naomi Campbel, It’s Not Easy to Become a Different Person — Doc Alliance

Patriocracy — Vimeo On Demand

Propaganda — Doc Alliance

Timoteo’s Fabulous Ragged Circus — Doc Alliance

Vessel [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Amazon, iTunes, Vimeo On Demand

Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis? — Amazon

The Women and the Passenger — Doc Alliance

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

jodorowsky's dune

Wednesday — 1/14

4:50am: Jodorowsky’s Dune [Starz Edge]

8:00am: Bears [Starz Edge]

2:25pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Flix]

10:30pm: Inside Job [Pivot]

'Newburgh Sting' (HBO)

Thursday — 01/15

1:00am: A Place at the Table [Pivot]

3:45am: Soul Power [Starz Edge]

10:00am: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

1:00pm: The Yes Men [Epix 2]

2:00pm: The Newburgh Sting [HBO 2 East]

3:00pm: Money For Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve [Al Jazeera America]

5:00pm: The Newburgh Sting [HBO 2 West]

5:30pm: Inside Job [Pivot]

'Last Days Here' (IFC Films)

Friday — 01/16

4:00am: Winged Migration [Outdoor Channel]

7:30am: Shut Up and Play the Hits [Epix 2]

10:45am: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Next East]

12:00pm: Last Days Here [Showtime Next]

3:05pm: Tyson [Starz in Black]

10:00pm: Tyson [Starz in Black]

11:30pm: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime 2 East]

11:35pm: How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) [Starz in Black]

Finding Vivian Maier

Saturday — 01/17

2:30am: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime 2 West]

4:00am: Grizzly Man [Outdoor Channel]

5:45am: Kings Point [HBO 2 East]

7:10am: Bears [Starz Kids & Family]

7:55am: Tyson [Starz in Black]

8:45am: Kings Point [HBO 2 West]

1:45pm: Bears [Starz Kids & Family]

2:55pm: How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) [Starz in Black]

3:00pm: Elevate [ESPN Classic]

8:00pm: Bears [Starz Kids & Family]

Paris is Burning promo

Sunday — 01/18

12:15am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime Showcase East]

2:00am: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

3:05am: Paris is Burning [Flix]

3:15am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime Showcase West]

1:00pm: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

1:00pm: Elevate [ESPN Classic]

6:35pm: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime Showcase East]

9:35pm: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime Showcase West]

Codeblack Entertainment

Monday — 01/19

3:00am: Pearl Jam Twenty [Palladia]

10:30am: Mondays at Racine [HBO Signature East]

11:00am: Free Angela and All Political Prisoners [BET]

1:05pm: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime 2 East]

1:30pm: Mondays at Racine [HBO Signature West]

4:05pm: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime 2 West]

5:30pm: Gideon’s Army [HBO East]

8:00pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Next East]

8:05pm: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime 2 East]

8:30pm: Gideon’s Army [HBO West]

9:00pm: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

10:00pm: Louis C.K.: Hilarious [Epix 2]

11:05pm: Finding Vivian Maier [Showtime 2 West]

Nas: Time is Illmatic

Tuesday — 01/20

2:00pm: Best of Walt Disney’s True-Life Advetures [BYU-TV]

6:10pm: Standing in the Shadows of Motown [Movieplex]

11:30pm: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime 2 East]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.