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Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys – Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

  • Dec 14, 2006
Pros: ........

Cons: .......

The Bottom Line: ____________

In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire? “

I’ve never been a teenaged boy so I can only go into this by the observation of my own sons when they were teenagers. I recognized so many things that they did, that I didn’t understand and now I do. Makes you want to be able to go back and tell them, hold on, it will be OK I promise you. But you can’t nor would it be right to. In order to form the person they are going to grow into they have to experience life’s little difficulties on their own.

“What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?”

Not everyone is as talented as Francis Doyle, whose beginning drawings are rough and crude but get better as his life, experiences, and time passes. Many changes come to him, changes that will make him a better person, a more complete person. The drawings, comic book figures that become the alter ego of these four young men, help them move through life and life decisions – not all of them are the best choices.

Partnered with his main co-conspirator Tim Sullivan, Francis and his gang rebel against the teachings of their strict catholic math teacher, Sister Assumpta. Although she tries to appear mean spirited, you still get glimpses of the feelings she really holds for these boys – pain and confusion and fear for their future and their souls. It doesn't help any when she is given their rough drawn comic book, which features her as ‘Nunzilla’ their evil nemesis.

“When thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand forged thy dread feet?
What the hammer? What the chain?”

Tentative sexual urges pulls Francis to lovely Margie Flynn, a fellow student. They find completeness in each other, exposing their inner souls and dreams, and a few awful secrets. As it is true when that first love interest intervenes, the evil green head of jealousy peeks forth from Tim. Just enough to let you know it exists but not really enough to cause a major problem …… until a particular situation arises and Tim makes an offhand comment to Margie’s brother that really could have been more disastrous than it turned out.

Overall the entire impression of the movie changes between laughter and pain. First experiences, stepping into the ‘grown-up’ world and still finding time to play air guitar with your friends. Finding wonder in life and finding despair in loss. While I generally don’t care for cartoon or animated segments thrown in the middle of a film, I found something pure in this one. It was a perfect vehicle to allow us inside the heads of these young men, discover the things they would never say or do in their human form. It leads to the wide-eyed wonder of a small child and the he-man attitude of the adult, protecting the species from destruction and death.

Peter Care directed the movie with writing credits to Chris Fuhrman for the book and Jeff Stockwell for the screenplay. Emile Hirsch, who I just met the other day in Gargantua was a finely turned out Francis Doyle. Pretty enough, inquisitive, caring, talented and secretive. Kieran Culkin played Tim Sullivan, from that bunch of Culkins. Although the movie revolved around Francis throughout, I felt that Culkin carried more than any other character in the movie. You see yourself, or a friend, in his part. You could identify with the entire crisis in his life, even understand his jealousy. Although always at odds in the movie, you see his character is actually drawn to Sister Assumpta in their love/hate relationship. Even though he rebels against the interference in his life and dreams, you still feel he wants and needs that structure, something painfully missing in his own homelife.

“In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dared its deadly terrors clasp?”

While mentioning Sister Assumpta, some felt the part was woefully under developed for a Jodie Foster performance and even that she didn’t carry the idea of ‘the evil nun’ forth through the movie. Personally I feel that was the idea from the beginning. Although she is strict, even demanding, at times, you feel she does see under the skin of these boys and often fears for their souls and their life. Through her interaction I felt she wanted them to strive for more, to push the envelope, to discover themselves. Even as she sees their failures she also sees their successes. Foster gave these boys a smidgen of ‘star influence’ but didn’t demand or expect the movie to revolve around her or her personna.

Vincent D’Onofrio was just about as uncaring and involved in these young mens lives as he could be. In fact, he seemed uninvolved in the entire idea of a ‘guiding force’ in these young people. When Francis comes to him with questions about sin, Father Casey more or less scoffs him off, almost dismissing his question as irrelevant. Then again, I think he also carried a spark of admiration and recognition with these boy and their pranks and antics, almost a remembered past and wish of his own.

Jack Richardson and Tyler Long played the balance of the Atomic Trinity force and best friends of Francis and Tim. Mostly on the outskirts, followers for sure, not leaders, they both ran from their choices and came forward when the time was necessary to protect their own butts. Much like the sideline friends that hang on the edge of your group, they are your supporting cast when you need them but aren’t always by your side.

It would be remiss of me to not mention Jena Malone, Margie Flynn in the movie, as a precocious young lady. A temptress, even forceful in her actions yet also a shy young woman discovering love for the first time. Already aware of how she can control not only the situation she is in but also the outcome of future actions.

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys won two awards for Peter Care – the BSFC for Best New Filmaker and Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature.

In a perfect world, these characters would be well rounded and developed, but much like the characters in The Virgin Suicides it would take away from the awe and mystery that surrounds the young. It would be presumptive to want more from this film, the very lack of character development gave it the edge that young people obviously feel. To give them perfect parts or characters with depth would erase the way life really is, not scripted or perfect. I learned a good deal from this movie and even remembered when I wanted to don my Wonder Woman cape and save the day a few times myself.

A nice selection of goodies on the DVD: audio commentary with Peter Care & Jeff Stockwell, Animated scenes collection, Audio commentary of animated scenes with Todd McFarlane, Anatomy of a scene, featurette, deleted scenes, cast & filmmakers interviews, trailer, gallery, interactive menus and scene selections, as well as audio selections (CC & foreign).

...."When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did He smile his work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee? "......


Thanks to William Blake for my Tigers (From The Tyger) …….


Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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review by . November 08, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
THE DANGEROUS LIFE OF ALTAR BOYS is not a film about the current Catholic controversies, so don't let the title steer you away from a throughly fine piece of movie making. As endlessly outlined in the other reviews, ALTAR BOYS is a story of how young boys deal with the world both within their narrow space of a small town Catholic school and neighborhood and with the greater obstacles of the world outside their sphere of influence. The film introduces a quartet of lads who seem to be heading us toward …
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A refreshing and honest portrayal of adolescent Catholic boys.The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boysfollows Tim (Kieran Culkin) and Francis (Emile Hirsch) as they engage in aimless vandalism and mockery--not from malice but boredom. Sadly, the theft of a religious icon and a plan to kidnap a cougar result in far more serious consequences than either boy intends. The authenticity of the characters and dialogue make the movie work; both script and performances are genuine and consistently surprising. Jena Malone, as a troubled girl who gets involved with Francis, is particularly good, but the whole cast (which includes Jodie Foster and Vincent D'Onofrio) does excellent work. In capturing both the harm and the good that teenagers can do,The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boystranscends the usual rebellious-kids storyline. The movie features animated segments that depict Francis's fantasy life, created by Todd McFarlane (Spawn).--Bret Fetzer
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Director: Peter Care
Genre: Drama
Release Date: June 14, 2002
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: November 5, 2002
Runtime: 1hr 45min
Studio: Sony Pictures
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