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The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys is kind of like a cross between The
Virgin Suicides and Stand By Me. Set in the 70's (featuring many cool
70's haircuts) in small town Georgia, the story focuses on Francis, a
14-year-old dreamer and troublemaker. He and his pals, Tim, Wade, and
Joey cope with life under the oppressive rule of one-legged nun Sister
Assumpta (Jodie Foster) at the Puritan Christian high school they're
unfortunate enough to attend.
One of their methods of escape is the 'The Atomic Trinity' comic book. Each of them have their own character with superpowers (such as The Muscle, Captain Asskicker and Skeleton Boy), battling against the tyrannical regime of Nunzilla/Pegleg (a gross caricature of Sister Assumpta). These fantasy stories make up the terrific animated sequences of the film. The cool thing is that they are not so totally removed from the reality of Francis, Tim, Wade and Joey.
The boys soon find their way into a lot of trouble though. After stealing the school's nun statue mascot the quartet plan to steal a cougar from the zoo and put in Sister Assumpta's office. A mad plan yes, but their determination and invention behind it is very clever.
Some scenes of the film are very emotional, so if you have soft spot you'll find it tough to get through the scene where Tim finds a dying dog by the side of the road or Francis reading a poem at the funeral.
Francis' relationship with Margie (the very cute Jenna Malone) also takes many curious and unique turns. The scene with the ghost watching them sleep was pleasingly weird.
Taken from the one and only book (posthumously) by Chris Fuhrman (a book I must get as soon as I see), The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys is attractively shot, wonderfully acted and definitely worth getting.
The DVD is in 1.85:1 widescreen (strangely non-anamorphic, though the region 2 version is) with Dolby 5.1 sound and a mild bunch of extras.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the Seventies, the fifteen years old troublemaker and leader altar
boy Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) and his three great friends, Francis
Doyle (Emile Hirsch), Wade Scalisi (Jake Richardson) and Joey Anderson
(Tyler Long), study in a repressive Catholic school, and they hate
their nun-teacher Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster). Francis has a crush
on Margie Flynn (Jena Malone), who has a dramatic secret in her life.
They like to write a comic book called 'The Atomic Trinity' and all of
them have an alter-ego in their superheroes: Brakken (Francis), The
Muscle/Skeleton Boy later (Tim), Captain Asskicker (Wade) and Major
Screw (Joey), with Sorcerella (Margie) joining them later. Francis uses
to fantasize reality with the fantastic situations the heroes face
against the evil Nunzilla/Pegleg, a dark caricature of Sister Assumpta.
The group plots an evil prank against Sister Assumpta, with tragic
"The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" is a surprisingly great original coming to age movie, one of the best I have ever seen in my life. The group of friends recalled me 1986 "Stand by Me" or part of 1981 "Four Friends" and the dramatic situation recalled somehow 1999 "The Virgin Suicides". The screenplay, alternating animation with film, is great: the boys escape and fantasize reality through their alter egos. The performance of the young cast is also excellent. Jodie Foster, as the severe teacher, and Vincent D'Onofrio, as Father Casey, magnificently complete this wonderful cast. I could never imagine Jodie Foster in such role. I highly recommend this great movie, much unknown here in Brazil. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Meninos de Deus" ("Boys of God")
I came across this indie gem one day at my local Blockbuster. I looked
at it and it seemed like it would be an o.k. way to kill two hours.
There was really nothing else in the videostore, so I decided to rent
it. Boy, am I glad I did. I really appreciated the movie and related to
it, after all I do go to a Catholic High School. 'The Dangerous Lives
of Altar Boys' is actually a great coming-of-age tale set in the
Catholic school setting of the 1970s. Just by reading the title I
thought it was about pedophile Catholic priests or something, but it's
really about two friends who are the altar boys at their church/school
and their adventures as they discover what's life is all about... or
their interpretation of it.
The two boys in 'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys' are Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch - The Girl Next Door, The Emperor's Club) and Michael Sullivan (Kieran Culkin - Igby Goes Down, Home Alone). They are two fifteen year old rebels that have a passion for comics and writing and illustrating their own. They despise their tough-as-nails and strict one-legged Catholic nun school teacher, Sister Assumpta (played by Two Time Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster - The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs). The two boys make themselves their own creative superheroes in their comic and have Sister Assumpta be the evil motorcycle peddling nun from hell that the two superheroes battle, along with the boys' other two friends who provide superheroes for their comic too. The film switches from real-life to the creative comic book setting during conflicts in the story, and I think that it's done very stylish and neat. The two boys rebel against their teacher and misbehave in front of her constantly, especially Michael (Culkin) who drives her absolutely nuts. The boys rebel by doing other things that the nun doesn't know about like, drink, smoke pot and steal and damage church property. The film contains some funny moments, and as the story unfolds Francis (Hirsch) becomes interested in the girl who lives next door to him Margie (Jena Malone - Saved!, Cold Mountain), a cool, nice, beautiful and independent girl with a deep and dark secret that challenges Francis. I won't give it away though.
There are many great aspects to this film. Most notably is the acting. Emile Hirsch is nothing short of incredible as the genuine misfit Francis and Jena Malone is equally as good as the sweet yet complex Margie. Jodie Foster is hysterical and always a pleasure to watch as the uptight Catholic school nun and 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent's' Vincent D'Onofrio has a somewhat small role as an interesting Catholic school priest who smokes like a chimney. The stand-out of the film however is Kieran Culkin. He is definitely the most talented performer in his family, and he gives an astounding performance as Michael Sullivan that puts him on the top of the list of the best child actors working in Hollywood currently. Culkin gave an equally amazing performance in Burr Steer's neurotic and darkly hilarious film debut 'Igby Goes Down' which was released the same year as 'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys'. Peter Care does a fabulous job with this, his feature film debut, and the valley's Todd MacFarlane (creator of Spawn) provides the comic book illustration for the animated scenes.
All in all this is a great coming-of-age movie, with a lot of heart and intelligence. It has some flaws like dragging a little towards the beginning, being a little unclear towards the end and having some freaky and unnecessary ghost sequence towards the middle of the film. I'd recommend this to anyone who attends Catholic High School because it is a great movie but it's also something you could relate to. Next time you are at the videostore and can't find anything to watch, maybe pick up 'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys'. Chances are you won't regret it. Grade: B+
MADE MY TOP 300 LIST AT #245
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is based on the bildungsroman novel
by Chris Furhman, who, unfortunately died of cancer during the revision
of his novel, which was later published by a friend. Judging by the
last chapter (although it is narrated from the first person point of
view of Francis Doyle), I assume that the novel is based on Fuhrman's
own actual childhood experiences and developed into a comic book of the
same title. Unfortunately, while both the novel and the movie are quite
good, the movie lacks some of the structure as well as more
significant, yet "controversial" images than does the film (for obvious
reasons on this latter point--they are catering to younger audiences
and pre-teen sex doesn't go over well with your always alert
conservative censors). Likewise, the novel, which is set in Savannah
circa 1970 and deals with heated issues of racism (and our characters
recognition of the fallacies of generalization). It was risqué enough
to develop a movie which contains among its characters a young school
girl who has not only engaged in an incestial relationship, but also
This is the story of four boys in at Blessed Heart, a Catholic School for Boys. Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) and Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) are figures that model Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (although Francis is ruled by considerably fewer rules than Tom's Aunt Polly reserved for her own boy). Tim Sullivan is the inspiration for the gang, living the credo that danger and trouble is their only defense against boredom. Partly, their only defense against the absurd rules of society and the meaningless ritual of adults (our character Tim is of the Holden Caufield variety), is a comic book (The Atomic Trinity) which the friends create, which parallels their various coming-of-age experiences with pranks and first love and so forth. Part of the screen time is shared with animated scenes of our comic book heroes at work.
Francis and Tim seem to differ on their goals, however. For Tim, his goal is the revolt against Sister Assumpta (Jodi Foster) who embodies most of the absurd rules as head of the Catholic School. For example, she is the one who confiscates Tim's copy of a book by William Blake (I think it was called 'The Creation'), and as such, is seen as an unruly censor. Tim is out to defy that absurdity. His character is the bildungsromane type more Francis. His character is much smarter, much more aware of his surroundings. But sadly, it is all he is focused on. As you see in the comic book scenes, he is the hero who is only concerned with bringing down the flaming skull, which is actually Sister Assumpta. Blessed Heart represents everything finds wrong with the world around him.
Francis, too, may be disgusted with the hypocrisy of the Catholic teachings and Blessed Heart in general, but his disgust with the world and likewise his concern is Margie Flynn (Jena Malone), his first true love. Flynn is an utterly sad character in a film where you might just expect boyhood pranks on unsuspecting authority. Flynn is a young quiet girl who attempted to kill herself because she thought she was going crazy and hated herself for an incestial relationship she carried on with her brother. Francis, through his real actions and through his comic book hero image, tries to rescue the frail Margie Flynn. She is the girl he is forever in love with, and her frailty may in part be part of the oppression he sees (like Tim). They don't tell much about her parents or brother in the movie, but in the novel, they are divorced and Donnie Flynn is a real sadistic creep, at least towards Francis and the other boys.
Margie Flynn is really a difficult character to endure, particularly for younger audiences, considering the circumstances. The story starts out like another 'Heaven Help Us' type (only more intellectual and much funnier) of Catholic School boys run amuck, but the introduction of Margie's character puts a weird spin about things. I'm not sure that they developed her character enough for this movie, although much of the focus within the Flynn-Doyle relationship was on Francis and not really Margie. Maybe if Emile Hirsch didn't always act so spaced out all the time, this aspect of the story might've been more effective.
Meanwhile, when the four boys's comic book is confiscated by Sister Assumpta, the boys (Tim in particular) get the idea that they're going to get retaliation on Blessed Heart and, in particular, Sister Assumpta (amongst all other things that they think need revolting against in that William Blake revolutionary sense that Tim abides by) by releasing a panther (in the novel, it was just a bobcat) into the school. By doing so, they would be declared the local legends of danger. This is going to be their mark of importance. This is when each of the boys start questioning their loyalty to this unofficial pact of a crusade for danger. Francis and Tim (the closet of the four friends), too, start questioning just how far they're willing to go because, their idea of importance changes. For Tim, it's all or nothing. For Francis, he's second guessing just how easy (and necessary) such a prank would be and also, is meanwhile, wrapped up in his own little world with Margie Flynn.
This is one of those coming-of-age films with young characters who have a heightened sense of self-awareness and such in the style of 'Stand by Me' and hell, even 'Fandango' and so forth. It's funny and it's sad. Overall, it's a pretty good movie worth catching. Live dangerously!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Young boys growing up and experiencing life while going to a Catholic school
is a fairly familiar story and when it ends I asked myself if this film had
anything new to offer. It doesn't but there are some effective moments and
performances that keep this from being a total disappointment. Story takes
place in the 1970's at a Catholic school called St. Agatha's and four young
boys are the central characters. Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) and Tim
Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) are best friends along with Wade (Jake Richardson)
and Joey (Tyler Long) and the four of them pull preposterous pranks against
their school and also collaborate on a comic book story that is called "The
Atomic Trinity". At school they are constantly being criticized by Sister
Assumpta (Jodie Foster) who is a very strict nun and one night they decide
to steal a statue from the school and instantly they are suspected of the
crime. Francis starts to date Margie Flynn (Jena Malone) and they get along
very well until she confides in him a very dark secret.
Margie tells Francis that she had an incestuous relationship with her brother and now he is unsure about how to continue dating her. He asks Father Casey (Vincent D'Onofrio) for some advice but doesn't get the answer that he is seeking. Meanwhile, Tim has devised a plan on tranquilizing a cougar and putting into Sister Assumpta's room but during this prank something horrible occurs.
This film is directed by Peter Care who has directed many music video's but this is his first effort with anything resembling a budget. Care does an adequate job of telling this story but the script lacks conviction in both plot and character development. Culkin is the king of all pranks and clearly doesn't take what is taught to him in school seriously but in one scene while carrying a dying dog he starts to yell about this animal not being cared for. This reveals a dark part of his persona but the script never dwells into it and we are left wondering about this part of him. The part of the plot about Malone and her brother seems a bit overwrought for the mood and tone and I never had a sense of what this film was trying to say. A film like "American Graffiti" could balance both comedy and drama but one of the flaws here is that this film does not do that well at all. Both Hirsch and Culkin are solid and Malone continues to show great promise but the script lacks focus with their roles in correlation with the rest of the film. Foster for the most part plays her part one dimensionally and uninspired and seems to just go along with what was written for her without developing the character for her own. The only originality comes from the film balancing both the live action and the animated sequences and it does a fairly good job of reflecting their inner most fantasies through their comic book stories. The films comedy isn't as humorous as "Heaven Help Us" and it also doesn't possess the dark tone and edge of "The Devil's Playground". This film attempts an emotional ending but with the lack of focus and conviction in the story it doesn't occur.
Group of Catholic schoolboys in the mid-1970s are obsessed with comic books, girls, and wreaking havoc on their most hated teacher, Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster, in a nun's habit, somewhat uneasily cast but still quite good). A surprisingly rich, rewarding film about adolescence puts other, more popular films in this genre to shame. The scruffy, nostalgic era is captured nicely, and the young players really shine. Spiked with wonderful animated sequences, the film failed to catch on with its target audience yet is otherwise intelligently crafted and often very moving. Foster also served as co-producer. *** from ****
"Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" is very similar to "Stand By Me," with the nice addition of a non-stereotyped girl and a stereotyped nun (played by producer Jodie Foster) in the mix. Young love is shown the sweetest I've seen in a long time (oy, I'm still apologizing to a certain boy in my head when he was so sweet to me at that age and I didn't know how to handle it; oh well, I didn't have a script based on a book to follow.) Emile Hirsch and Jena Malone are marvelous, especially with the very serious sides of their lives, though the lousy parenting is only vaguely shown with shouting. While the gambits of their crew are a bit unbelievable as they try to put fantasy into their real lives, their fantasy comic life through Todd McFarlane animation is a lot of fun (I was a fan of McFarlane's HBO series "Spawn.") I've never seen a super-hero with such sensitive eyes! (originally written 6/23/2002)
THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS (2002) *** Kieran Culkin, Emile Hirsch, Jena Malone, Jodie Foster, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jake Richards, Tyler Long. Funny and poignant coming of age story centering on two Catholic school adolescents (Culkin and Hirsch both superb) whose penchant for juvenile acts of defiance is only underscored by their innate desire to fit in and be loved while pitted against their arch nemesis, their teacher Sister Assumpta (a dourly cheeky Foster, who also produced the project), a one-legged harridan from Hell. Based on the novel by Chris Fuhrman and written by Jeff Stockwell and Michael Petroni, the film's strengths in storytelling are in its dynamic duo of troublemaking loners and are punched up with a wise peppering of Todd McFarlane's vivid animation depicting the boys' creative flairs as a Greek chorus to the plotline at hand. (Dir: Peter Care)
"The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" is one of the best books I've read in
awhile, so I was pretty stoked to see how it translated to film. The good
news is, this coming-of-age tale (revolving around the themes of first love
and adolescent mischief) remains faithful to its source, while expanding
(successfully, I think) upon what was written in the book. This worked very
well in Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World," but there are times in "The Dangerous
Lives of Altar Boys" where the tone threatens to go from comedy-drama, to
flat-out drama, to flat-out comedy. It always manages to regain its
balance, though. The story revolves around Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) and
Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin, who's very good), altar boys with a comic-book
fixation and a resentment of authority (represented here by Jodie Foster's
peg-legged Mother Superior); also on hand is Francis' love interest, Margie
(Jena Malone), who reveals herself to be a complicated, tragic
As far as revisiting adolescence is concerned, "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" is accurate, funny, and even sad. However, it suffers from an over-emphasis on close-ups during key dramatic scenes, and the lead performance of Emile Hirsch is surprisingly weak (when he emotes, it looks exaggerated and fake). Overall, though, this is pretty good. 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is probably my favorite book of all time. Jena Malone is unbearably cute. This was without a doubt the most disappointing moviegoing experience of my life. Kiernan Culkin and Malone both turned in good performances, but the movie was lacking in too many areas to mention them all. Bottom line, read the book, or rent this movie in a few months (if you can find it) only to admire Jena Malone and the fairly interesting animation from that guy who did "Spawn." The character interaction was horrible, the story was muddled and unrealistic, and what was an amazing novel is now a pointless movie...I've been wanting to make a film out of this book for years, and now its been done and destroyed. It's a damn travesty if I've ever seen one.
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