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Netflix

Defense attorney Kathleen Zellner (right)
Netflix

Documentary

Making her case

In Season 2 of Making a Murderer, a defense attorney re-examines the evidence used to convict her client

It’s been three years since Netflix released the true crime docuseries that sparked nationwide debate over corruption in the criminal justice system. Now Season 2 of Making a Murderer finds Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, still behind bars serving life sentences for the 2005 murder of Theresa Halbach.

Wisconsin authorities argued Making a Murderer’s first season was one-sided and left out key information. The most important information being that Avery’s sweat was found beneath the hood latch of Halbach’s car. Making a Murderer’s Season 2 sets out to answer that question and others by once again combing through the evidence as Avery and Dassey’s lawyers appeal their convictions.

Leading the charge is Steven Avery’s new defense attorney, Kathleen Zellner, a lawyer famous for overturning wrongful convictions. Zellner wants to prove that Avery and Dassey didn’t kill Halbach, but she also wants to find who did.

Throughout Season 2, Zellner becomes more private investigator than attorney and replaces Steven Avery as the protagonist. Zellner’s team re-creates multiple crime scenes and consults forensic experts on every piece of evidence used to convict Avery and Dassey: the blood samples found in Halbach’s car, Halbach’s cremated body, that DNA under the hood latch, and more.

The extensive time spent on this science makes the 10 new episodes feel like 10 CSI episodes and less like a documentary. Since the Halbach family still understandably refused to participate in Making a Murderer’s Season 2, calling the show “crass entertainment,” the episodes feel more one-sided than the last and seem focused on proving Avery and Dassey’s innocence rather than questioning the criminal justice system.

Still, the series can provide valuable insight into the criminal justice system and the minds of defense attorneys and prosecutors. Whatever audiences conclude about the guilt or innocence of Avery and Dassey, the series shows the consequences of sin are vast and far-reaching. Whoever took Theresa Halbach’s life also left a wake of other victims.

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National Geographic

Alex Honnold in Free Solo
National Geographic

Documentary

A perfect climb

Free Solo is a sweat-inducing but beautiful documentary

Someone with a fear of heights probably shouldn’t go review a documentary about Alex Honnold climbing the agonizingly smooth, 3,000-foot face of El Capitan without a rope. For whatever psychological reason, I have loved watching Honnold’s free soloing videos.

Free soloing means you climb by yourself without ropes or harnesses or any other assistance. As someone in the film Free Solo (in limited release Sept. 28, and then going wide) put it, free soloing is like an Olympic event where you either win a gold medal or you die. The documentary contains a small handful of curse words.

El Cap was Honnold’s lifelong dream, and a National Geographic film crew followed him over two years as he undertook his feat. It’s a boggling, warm, funny film that leaves you in awe while also thoroughly addressing the ethics of risking your life in such a way.

“Look, I don’t want to fall off and die either,” Honnold says in the film.

Honnold was in the audience at the New York premiere, so we all knew he made it. But I still sweated through my shirt watching the climb, and the audience gasped and held hands over mouths. It’s a movie to see on the big screen.

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The Big Lie/D’Souza Media

Victoria Chilap as Sophie Scholl
The Big Lie/D’Souza Media

Documentary

Death of a Nation

A look into the Democratic Party, past and present.

Al Gore did not invent the propaganda film. Fake-news flicks date back at least to The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 racist drama that conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza credits with revitalizing a nearly kaput Ku Klux Klan. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, screened the silent picture at the White House, D’Souza points out in his new documentary, Death of a Nation (rated PG-13 for thematic material and language).

As one-sided as Michael Moore, but more solemn, D’Souza aims to prove the political left’s favorite labels for President Donald Trump—“fascist” and “racist”—come closer to describing the political left. And always have. Drawing on historical records, interviews with academics, and material from two of his recent books, D’Souza explains that racism has existed at the Democratic Party’s core since its founding, and remains entrenched in progressive politics today.

The 20th century’s worst villains, D’Souza also alleges, took their cues from Democrats. For example, the Nazis modeled their exclusionary Nuremberg Laws on southern Democrats’ segregation policies. In fascism, the state tightly controls industry and commerce, and is the ultimate arbiter of the rights of individuals. D’Souza maintains the Democratic Party and its influential allies (Margaret Sanger, George Soros) have voiced similar principles.

“How do we fight the tyranny of the left?” D’Souza asks. Trump is not D’Souza’s savior. Rather, D’Souza expresses his answer through a short dramatization of the life of Sophie Scholl, whom the Nazis guillotined in 1943: It was her strong Christian faith that guided her anti-Hitler activities.

A gospel choir closes the film with the final verse of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Christ … died to make men holy / Let us live to make men free.”

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