If you like documentaries, this is your week, as a number of fascinating subjects are deftly explored on newly released DVDs.
“Soundbreaking” (Athena, 2016, three discs, eight episodes, featurettes, 20-page booklet). This is an excellent documentary miniseries that aired recently on PBS about musical innovations of the past century, a potentially dry subject that is brought to life with humor and wide-eyed recollections by many of the innovators themselves in a format that is nonlinear and highly entertaining.
More than 150 interviews were conducted over the past five years for this project with loads of major participating music stars and producers, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Martin, Elton John, Roger Waters, Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Annie Lennox, Willie Nelson, Questlove and too many more to name. Music fans will find themselves in heaven, but even those with just a passing interest will find much to enjoy.
“Time for School 2003-2016” (PBS, 2016). This feature-length documentary, 12 years in the making, follows five children from, respectively, Afghanistan, Kenya, India, Brazil and Benin, from their first year of school in 2003 through their hoped-for 2016 high school graduation. Can they overcome obstacles that include war, poverty and gender discrimination to complete their basic education? It was inspired by the Millennium Development Goal of “Education for All,” a United Nations push to give children around the world free primary schooling.
“Willie Velasquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice” (PBS, 2016). An hourlong profile of Mexican-American activist Velasquez, a butcher’s son from San Antonio whose grass-roots movement to get out the Latino vote resulted in more than a thousand voter-registration drives in 200 cities. He founded the nonpartisan Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project before his life was claimed by kidney cancer at age 44.
“A Chef’s Life: Season Four” (PBS, 2016, two discs, 10 episodes). This PBS reality series follows Vivien Howard — head chef and co-owner with husband Ben Knight of the Chef & Farmer restaurant in Kinston, North Carolina — as she collects recipes and stories. This season, Howard travels to New York and writes and releases her first cookbook.
“NOVA: 15 Years of Terror” (PBS, 2016). This hourlong documentary episode of “NOVA” looks at the 15 years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, how terrorism has changed and how it’s changed us, with a specific focus on crowd-sourced violence in the age of the internet.
“NOVA: Super Tunnel” (PBS, 2016). A massive construction project beneath the streets of London is the subject of this hourlong documentary. The Crossrail is a $23 billion endeavor to link a new metro line with existing systems, which entails burrowing 26 miles of tunnels without damaging historic buildings.
“The Wild Life” (Summit, 2016, PG, featurettes). Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” rejiggered for small fry and told from the viewpoint of the animals that populate the island where Crusoe and his dog find themselves stranded. This is a Belgian-French animated feature dubbed in English.
“Don’t Breathe” (Sony, 2016, R for violence and language, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes). This is a very scary tale of a trio of young inner-city Detroit thieves (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto) that pick the wrong house to burglarize. They’re sure the blind veteran (Stephen Lang) that lives in an abandoned neighborhood will be a pushover, but he’s anything but. Co-writer/director Fede Alvarez ratchets up the suspense to an unbearable degree. (We’ll forgive the digression into “Cujo” territory).
“The Intervention” (Paramount, 2016, R for language, music video, bloopers). Four couples gather at a posh lakeside vacation home for a weekend, but one couple is unaware that it’s actually an orchestrated intervention where the other three couples will suggest they get divorced. Actress Clea Duvall makes her writing/directing debut with this ensemble comedy-drama, a riff on “The Big Chill” for 21st century 30-somethings. Duvall co-stars with Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Natasha Lyonne and Jason Ritter, among others.
“Brief Encounters” (Acorn, 2016, two discs, six episodes, featurette). Penelope Wilton (of “Downton Abbey”) is one of the stars of this comedy-drama series about four women in 1982 England who begin selling intimate items to their friends and neighbors, which is scandalous in some corners but helps the foursome become savvy entrepreneurs. (The show was canceled at the end of this first season.)