‘The Roosevelts,’ ‘Salesman’ and ‘The Final Member’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Roosevelts DVD

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 September 16, 2014:

1. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

[Airing on PBS, Streaming Free on PBS.com and New to iTunes and DVD] — Although I’m only as far into this weeklong miniseries as the TV airings have allowed, I have to go ahead and recommend it. Obviously, anything from Ken Burns deserves our attention anyway, but with this one he’s again tapping into relevant histories for our time. The complexities and achievements and failures of the presidencies of Theodore Rooevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt should be considered by any political person today. The life stories (including Eleanor Roosevelt’s) are, comparatively, a bonus. Especially in the first episode, which had me on the edge of tears and then on the edge of my seat — with powerful storytelling via the usual basic Burnsian style of a few historian talking heads and a lot of photos. At least there’s eventually some film footage of these guys, as well. The second episode is a little less entertaining, but it’s still riveting stuff, which we can also learn a lot from. Catch up online for free here.

Bonus features on the DVD and Blu-ray include deleted scenes with an intro from Burns, a look at the making of the series and much more.

2. Salesman

[New to Amazon Instant Video] — If there’s one movie I wish I’d included in my top 10 of all time for Sight & Sound, it’s probably this 1968 classic from Albert and David Maysles that follows Bible salesmen into their motel rooms and into potential customers’ homes as they attempt to peddle the Good Book. There may not be a better look at the human soul nor a better portrait of a profession in all of cinema.

Also available on Hulu Plus, iTunes and on DVD via The Criterion Collection.

3. The Final Member

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — Not sure about this documentary on a museum for animal penises and its wait on its first human specimen? Let Daniel Walber’s ★★★★ review convince you. Here’s an excerpt: “the rare combination of humble and uproarious that so rarely succeeds without some degree of Nordic involvement. Its strength lies in the trust [directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math] place in their subject, confident that the men at the center of the narrative are inherently charismatic enough to drive a narrative. Other documentaries often fail because they spend either too much or too little time developing character, which can alternately alienate or bore an audience. The Final Member is just right.”

Also available on Google Play, Vudu and DVD.

4. Casting By

[New to DVD via First Run Features] — This doc, about casting directors, especially Marion Dougherty, is mainly a necessity for movie fans, but who isn’t one of those? Here’s an excerpt from my review at Film School Rejects: “Documentaries on Hollywood and filmmaking are both common and easily sellable these days to a broad audience of movie fans. We’ve seen docs on directors, screenwriters, cinematographers and editors, and eventually we’ll probably have one on best boys. We cinephiles will eat up every last one simply for more unheard tales from the industry on our favorite artists and films. It’s not often that they’re as filled with context and deeper, unifying histories as Casting By is, however, and though the advantage here is likely that it’s so concentrated on a single figure, that alone wouldn’t [have to] get results as entertaining and crucially discerning as this. If you’re at all interested in film history or Hollywood anecdotes, it’s more than a must-see. It’s a brisk, breezy, enjoyable and often endearing educational experience.”

Interviewees include Martin Scorsese, Arthur Hiller, Norman Jewison, Richard Donner, Peter Bogdanovich, Woody Allen, Jeff Bridges, Bette Midler, Al Pacino, Diane Lane, John Travolta, Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Robert Duvall, Cybill Shepherd, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and an emotional Burt Young. Also, Taylor Hackford, who kind of comes off as the film’s villain.

Also available on HBO GO and DVD.

5. Manakamana

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — The latest from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab (Leviathan) is not kidding with the sensory part of their name. Not only does this film, of pilgrims riding a cable car to or from a temple in the mountains, engage the senses of sight, sound and, in one section, taste, it also involves a sense of curiosity, a sense of realization, a sense of time, a sense of history, a sense of culture, a sense of religion, a sense of goats and, I’ll say it, a sense of tedium. Here’s more on the film from Daniel Walber’s ★★★ review: “Like Leviathan, Manakamana avoids all external context, which in this case even includes everything that happens outside of this enclosed space. The result is either rigorously fascinating or hopelessly boring, depending on how you like your ethnography.”

6. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

[Television premiere is this Thursday on CNN] — The latest from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost trilogy) is not his best work, but there’s so much to it that you’ll have a difficult time not getting something out of it. Whitey is focused, as the title suggests, on the trial of Boston’s most notorious gangster of the modern era (he’s the basis for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed), yet it also has to give us the contexts of Bulger’s life and the background of organized crime in Beantown. It sort of goes down a rabbit hole thanks to the complicated and uncertain levels of police and FBI corruption linked to the story, and that can make it both fascinating and frustrating if you’re expecting a straight case. DVR it and watch it at least twice.

Also available on DVD and Blu-ray.

7. Ivory Tower

[New to Amazon Instant Video and iTunes] — Andrew Rossi (Page One) directs this doc about the rising costs of higher education and student loan debt. We got our resident PhD candidate, Landon Palmer, to take a swing at it. Here’s part of his ★★★ review: “Offers an informative, impassioned and timely overview of the current crisis in a remarkably accessible and organized manner. It is this year’s Inequality for All: a useful primer and a thorough introduction to a large, complex topic that has profound implications for many, many people living in the U.S.”

Also available on Google Play, Vudu, YouTube and DVD and Blu-ray.

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

Burt’s Buzz [Nonfics rating: ★★★] [Also on Blu-ray]

Casting By [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Film School Rejects review]

The Cocktail Guide

Disconnected: Connecting With Teens in the Digital Age

Emancipation Road

Evergreen: The Road to Legalization

Fuck the System

Geto: The Historic Jewish Ghetto Venice

James McNeill Whistler: The Case For Beauty

The Mighty Humble Blueberry

New Jersey’s Red October

One Direction: Reaching For the Stars Ultimate Collection

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] [Also on Blu-ray]

Royal Cousins at War

Secrets of Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Stained Glass Windows of the Shenandoah Valley [Blu-ray]

To Be and to Have

Ultimate Survival Alaska Season 2

The World at War 100th Anniversary Commemorative Edition

Yukon Men Season 2

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Evergreen: The Road to Legalization

The Final Member [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review]

Manakamana [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review]

Next Year Jerusalem

When I Walk [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review]

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

91 Bullets in a Minute — Amazon Instant

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case — Amazon Instant, iTunes

The Desert of Forbidden Art — Amazon Instant Prime

Dream Tower — Amazon Instant

Fight Church [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review] — PBS

Italy’s Mystery Mountains — Amazon Instant

Ivory Tower [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon Instant, iTunes

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch — Amazon Instant

Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself [Nonfics rating: ★★★] — Amazon Instant

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — PBS

Salesman [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] — Amazon Instant

Sirius — Amazon Instant

Starring Adam West — Amazon Instant

Wonders of the Universe Collection — Amazon Instant

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

Wednesday — 9/17

2:30pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO Signature East]

5:30pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO Signature West]

11:35pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO Signature East]

Thursday — 9/18

2:35am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO Signature West]

9:00am: Unraveled [The Movie Channel Xtra]

10:55am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Family Zone]

6:30pm: I Am Divine [Showtime Showcase]

9:00pm: Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger [CNN]

Friday — 9/19

12:45am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Family Zone]

1:00pm: Gideon’s Army [HBO2 East]

4:00pm: Gideon’s Army [HBO2 West]

Saturday — 9/20

2:10am: The Sid Saga Parts 1–3 [TCM]

3:45am: A Well Spent Life [TCM]

4:30pm: Hot Pepper [TCM]

7:10am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Next]

12:30pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO East]

3:30pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO West]

Sunday — 9/21

6:30am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO Signature East]

9:30am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO Signature West]

3:05pm: Rize [Showtime Showcase]

Monday — 9/22

3:00am: Last Call at the Oasis [Pivot]

12:05pm: I Am Divine [Showtime Showcase]

1:30pm: Last Days Here [The Movie Channel]

2:30pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 East]

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

5:30pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 West]

11:00pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Family Zone]

11:50pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 East]

Tuesday — 9/23

2:50am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 East]

8:25am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO Signature East]

11:25am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO Signature West]

1:10pm: Last Days Here [The Movie Channel Xtra]

11:00pm: I Am Divine [Showtime 2]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.