The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Lesser-known films soon to leave HBO GO: worth a watch?

4 min read

Droid Life


Staff Writer

HBO GO, the streaming platform paid for by UMW, is constantly adding and removing movies. Here are three leaving at the end of the month and whether they’re worth watching before they go.

Dracula (1979)
Rating: R
Genre: Horror/Romance

“Dracula” (1979) balances two plots, the first being Van Helsing, Seward and later Jonathan Harker’s quest to identify what is killing people around the asylum, and the second being Dracula and Lucy’s romance. One casts Dracula as a bloodthirsty villain, the other as a romantic lead. Overall, the film was more interesting to me as a horror-mystery film, with the romantic scenes being easily the most boring and confusing. Dracula’s parasitic influence on Lucy is at odds with the film’s romantic framing of their relationship.

Despite these bizarre choices in terms of plot and characterization, I enjoyed the film, mostly for its style. The movie bleeds atmosphere, from its long stretches of silence punctuated by occasional dialogue, to the closeups accompanied by John Williams-composed musical stings. From a graveyard overlooking the cliffs, to an asylum with architecture as off-kilter as its inhabitants, to the spiderweb-laden, candle-filled Carfax Abbey, the sets add to the gloomy, gothic environment. The limited palette (while still in color) and many nearly monochrome sets work in the film’s favor, creating a sense of timelessness that contemporary color schemes would have destroyed. While the mullets, anachronistic fashion and occasionally laughable special effects may mark it as a product of the late seventies, the cinematography and artistry in set design deserve a modern audience.

Rating: 3.5/5: worth a watch for fans of vampires, John Williams, and interesting cinematography.  Those looking for an action-packed romantic adventure can skip it.

The First Grader (2011)
: PG-13
Genre: True Story

“The First Grader” is based on the true story of Maruge, a Kenyan man who attended primary school at the age of 84. The film explores his history as a participant in the Mau Mau rebellion that helped free Kenya, including his imprisonment and torture by colonial British forces. The filmmakers were dedicated to authentically and respectfully representing Kenya: the film was shot on location, Maruge and his classmates were played by Kenyan actors and the production crew consulted numerous experts, including family members of those who survived imprisonment. While the film does occasionally veer into dangerous Oscar-bait territory, it’s never exploitative of its Kenyan setting and cast.

Visually, the film stands out on the HBO GO platform were dim, night and/or artificial light is the norm. Nearly every scene is shot in bright sunlight, bringing out the color of the wardrobe and setting. The rich palette and realistic sets make this movie visually interesting enough to make up for any shortfalls in the plot. While individual scenes, characters and dialogue are strong on their own, strung together they weaken: problems are just dropped without real resolution, characters disappear from the script and issues like tribalism are brought up and never mentioned again. Still, these issues are only noticeable under scrutiny, and the film hits all its emotional beats.

Rating: 4/5: a bright, emotional film for when you need your faith in humanity restored after a long day

Waking Ned Devine (1998)
Genre: Comedy

Picture “Weekend at Bernie’s,” but in a 52-person village in Ireland, and you’ve got the basic idea of “Waking Ned Devine.” When a man with no family wins the lottery and dies from shock, his neighbors impersonate him to claim the winnings. The film opens with a tense, suspenseful sequence as a man watches the lottery announcements. While some of the suspense likely came from knowing the lottery winner dies from the synopsis, the scene genuinely got my heart pounding.

Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. The film is two thirds of the way through before the main characters hatch their plot to impersonate Ned Devine, and most of the humor crawls by at a snail’s pace. The other subplots which include a love triangle between a pig farmer, a single mother and a playboy, and the friendship between a young boy and a visiting priest, fail to induce laughter or emotional connection. The most notable thing to say about the film is that its bizarre last 20 minutes and twist ending put “The Sixth Sense” to shame. While a few moments managed to make me snort and the cast is delightful, I would not recommend the film unless you’re a fan of slower comedies from the British Isles, or plan to turn it on for background noise.

Rating: 2/5: great background noise if you need that to do homework, a bit slow for a movie night