THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Kieran Culkin, Emile Hirsch, Jena Malone, Jodie Foster, Vincent
Director: Peter Care
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: November 5, 2002
little advanced, don't you think?”
really, Sister. It's written
simply enough for a six year old.”
are the instructions for a handgun.”
share a few things in common with the young heroes of The Dangerous Lives of
Altar Boys. I went to Catholic
school in the 1970s. I escaped
almost daily into a fantasy world of adventure and super powers.
I even had a nun for a math teacher.
lacked their experience, but unlike Tim Sullivan (Culkin) and Francis Doyle
(Hirsch), I was a little more cautious about attaining it.
I could identify more with the somewhat hesitant Francis and his first
love and first kiss with Margie Flynn (Malone) than I could with the restless
Tim, who, as Francis points out, creates trouble for himself out of nothing more
past few years have seen a small but possibly growing number of intelligent and
thoughtful coming of age films, maybe in response to the endless stream of
brainless teen comedies that have been pouring out of Hollywood's garbage
chute. I can't quite rank this
one as highly as films like George Washington or Ratcatcher, but
it's still a far sight better and more daring than most adolescent fare being
the bold choice of using full-blown animation to represent not the
protagonists' fantasy lives, but their frustrations, their pains, their hopes
and fears. Tim and Francis and
their friends have been creating a comic book world for themselves, and in an
imaginative touch, those characters come to life in sequences produced by Spawn
creator Todd McFarlane. Sometimes
the segues between fantasy and reality are a little jarring, but I still applaud
the effort and the choice.
the boys' minds (and yes, they are altar boys), their strict teacher Sister
Assumpta (Foster) is their enemy; the embodiment of confinement and conformity.
“I fear for you souls,” she tells them, and she means it.
She's wise enough to see that with their behavior, the time may come to
make reckoning for those souls sooner rather than later.
movie philosophically presents adolescence as both a fun and a cruel time, which
of course, it is. Precious
innocence is lost, valuable experience is gained…it's a time of endless
possibilities that seems strangled by short-sightedness.
This film offers humor and heart in a wide berth of explorations for
which any one might have been enough for its own movie.
are moments we treasure, like Francis' first tender moments with Margie, and
there are moments that make us wince, such as Margie's terrible secret that
only gets fully revealed later on. There
are moments of laughter, as the way the animation depicts the boys' visions of
themselves and their authority figures, and moments of sadness that come in the
form of unexpected tragedy.
are moments we believe with all our hearts, and there are moments that don't
comfortably fit into what is otherwise a thinking person's movie about teens.
The ambition is there, however, with the courage to back it up, making it
easy to forgive a few missteps along the way.
At least they were steps taken with valor and not timidity.
really loved this cast, especially the three young leads.
Jena Malone continues to blossom into a formidable young actress, and
Emile Hirsch dutifully protects our emotional investment with his thoughtful
performance. But special mention
must go to Kieran Culkin, whose star continues to rise.
I think he's completely escaped the shadow of his more famous but
decidedly less talented older brother, and proves himself capable of great range
and contemplation of character.
Foster and Vincent D'Onofrio, both A list actors in their own right, are
content to put their talents to supporting use here, giving the film and their
young co-stars just the buoyancy they need to shine. This is a solid team effort across the board.
Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys isn't a perfect movie, but it's still a good one.
It mines for and manages to bring up a good deal of gold; we can excuse
the occasional rocks and gravel that comes up with it.
isn't the first screen pairing of Jena Malone and Jodie Foster…the former
played the younger version of the latter in Contact!
both video and audio, this is a tale of two films. The live action portion of Altar Boys looks perfectly
fine, if maybe a tad softer and less detailed than most major releases and more
of an independent film appearance. But
the animated sequences look top notch, with strong definition, bold colors, and
plenty of action for your player and monitor to sift through.
And though not mentioned on the box, rest assured, this IS an anamorphic
the 5.1 mix benefits from the animated sequences. While the majority of the picture is dialogue oriented, with
spoken lines clean and clear and a medium amount of dynamic range, the animated
action parts kick in with full audio glory, making dynamic use of front and rear
stage discretion and sending plenty of kick through the subwoofer.
You get the best of both worlds with this DVD!
is a well-loaded disc, beginning with a commentary track from director Peter
Care and writer Jeff Stockwell, who discuss the making of the picture, working
with the cast, the development from the original novel, and more.
A 5 minute promotional featurette doesn't offer much, so opt instead
for the “Anatomy of a Scene” special from The Sundance Channel…it's more
involved and gets us closer to the actors and creators.
disc also features a collection of the animated scenes together, with optional
commentary from Todd McFarlane, production notes, a trailer, two TV spots, some
deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, talent files, bonus trailers, and some
content for your DVD ROM. The comic
book styled menu screens are a nice touch as well.