What to watch on Netflix: Week of 3/17

Matthew Ellmore/Staff Writer

Netflix offers a wide array of content for its viewers to watch, and it can be daunting to skim through its large collection to try and find something that interests you. However, there are some documentaries, series, and movies that are available on Netflix and that stand out from the rest. Some of them may be well-known, others may not. Hopefully, you can find something that interests you.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” (2019)

Based on the memoir by the same name, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is about William, a 13-year-old boy, who lives with his farming family in rural Malawi. When William begins to hatch an idea for a windmill-based water irrigation system, the hopes of his family and village start to rest on his shoulders. Although the main character of the movie is a child, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” never resorts to using a childlike aurora to its story. William and his family’s life are told with poignancy and depth. There are some predictable elements to the story, but film is much more than just an uplifting story of a child who helps his community. The film also sheds light on what life in rural Africa is like, especially in such a strenuous occupation like farming. There’s a constant conflict between members of William’s village and the government that is supposed to oversee them. When one member of the village attempts to call on the government to aid them during the upcoming famine, he’s met with violent force and total disregard. Another added detail to the culture of rural Africa is the way the film incorporates language. The majority of the film is spoken in Chichewa, the local language, with some instances of English. This added element may not feel like a big deal, but it’s one of the reasons why Netflix has been so successful. It can tell stories of rural Africa and its history, and those stories can be easily accessed by large audiences. Beyond just telling these stories, they are told with emotion, respect, and authenticity to culture. William’s story, and the food crisis in Malawi, which is still occurring, are powerful and important examples of the diversity that film can offer.

“After Life ” (2019)

“After Life” follows Tony, a man who begins to contemplate suicide after his wife dies from cancer. Instead of suicide, Tony decides to try and punish the world for his wife’s death by saying and doing whatever he wants to. When everyone around him starts trying to help him back to a normal life, Tony has to reevaluate his approach to life. Viewers who are familiar with star, director and writer of the show, Ricky Gervais, may be surprised by how different the show’s comedy is from his usual routine. “After Life” is a very dark comedy, filled with nihilism and harsh humor. As Tony dulls his pain with booze and heroin and by insulting anyone close to him, it can be hard for an audience to understand why they’re even still watching the series. But the way that Gervais writes the character of Tony is what makes the show such an effective comedy. Gervais never depicts Tony as self-pitying and he doesn’t pretend that his behavior is justified. He finds a fine line where viewers are still capable of feeling sympathy towards Tony. It’s uncomfortable to watch Tony berate innocent people and push his friends and family away, but there’s also some pity to be felt for him. There’s no one formula for dealing with grief and while it may be hard to reason with Tony’s behavior, his pain is still relatable. Gervais speaks to the dark and angry part of grief that few shows ever portray accurately. He paints these feelings with honesty and sincerity, showing that we don’t always have to be alone in our darkest times of grief.

“Studio 54” (2018)

Studio 54 was a Manhattan nightclub that had a large impact on the sexual liberation that took place in New York during the 1970s. The nightclub was only open for three years, but it managed to cement itself in history for its glamour and awe. It’s said to have defined the disco era and it offered a sense of acceptance to the gay and transgender communities that the streets of New York frequently rejected. With such notoriety surrounding Studio 54, it would be easy for the documentary to focus on the glory days of the club and the fame it achieved. This is only briefly covered, with the majority of the film dedicated to the birth of the club and the personalities of its two owners, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. Schrager is actually interviewed throughout the film, so the stories of the owners and their experiences while running the club are told from firsthand experience. Schrager gives specific accounts of the club’s creation, rise and demise, when the club’s owners were jailed for tax evasion. Besides Schrager, firsthand accounts are also given from employees that worked for the club during its rise and fall. Photos and videos from inside the club provide visual evidence to back up the aura that Schrager, past employees and historians all mention when discussing Studio 54. The club drew the likes of Liza Minelli, Michael Jackson, Liz Taylor and many more A-List celebrities of the late ’70s, which is evident in the grainy 16 mm footage. Hearing people talk about the magic of Studio 54 is one thing but actually watching the footage and the photos documenting it make the club feel otherworldly. Joy, glamour, love, and fun radiate from image to image and with Schrager’s input, it’s clear that the men who created the club loved it to the fullest extent. “Studio 54” tells the tale of a glamorous safe haven and the two men that were behind it.

Featured photo retrieved from Canva.