Reviews by diogenes
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The Box of Delights (1984)
Based on the 1935 novel by John Masefield, this is perhaps the finest ever adaptation of a children's novel for a children's TV series on British television. A thoroughly boy-centred, thoroughly English story: suspicious foreigners, kidnapped choirboys, "the wolves are running", servants who know how to make a posset, Master Kay bonding with Herne the Hunter in a primordial English forest, a strange fusion of the Pagan and the Christian, the police presented as a bunch of incompetent fools who are good for nothing, and a Box of such delights....
Patrick Troughton (surely one of England's finest ever actors) adds gravitas to the proceedings, and Robert Stephens (another fine actor) hams it up beautifully as the evil Abner Brown. Kay Harker is wonderfully played by Devin Stanfield. Stanfield has a charm that is hard to describe, a sort of slight hesitancy in his gestures - perhaps something to do with his being on the cusp of puberty. Troughton was later to say of the young Devin that he believed that he was the boy John Masefield himself would have chosen to play the role of Kay. I think he was right.My Movie Rating: 10 / 10
Boy Slaves (1939)
RKO's hilariously inept attempt to come up with their own version of the Dead End Kids (one of the cast even looks like a rattier version of Bobby Jordan). The messy plot incorporates a great deal of moral earnestness, and the maudlin sentiment is laid on with a trowel. The boys attempt to reproduce the banter of the Dead End Kids, but it just comes across as weird. They meet Julian Clary driving a cart (no, really). The only thing to be said in favour of this film is that it really is so bad that it's frequently quite entertaining in its sheer maladroitness. Enjoy!My Movie Rating: 3 / 10
Burning Secret (1988)
Well, just to add my voice to the chorus of praise... This movie is essentially about a boy (Edmund, played by David Eberts) whose heart is broken by a man. All the actors (Klaus Maria Brandauer, Faye Dunaway, Ian Richardson) are completely wonderful, but David Eberts' performance is particularly outstanding. Add to this a gorgeous soundtrack, and an equally gorgeous setting and mise-en-scène, and you have the definitive version of Stefan Zweig's short story.
There was a German film (Brennendes Geheimnis, 1933) made of Zweig's story a very long time ago - and it was very good, and well worth watching. However, Andrew Birkin's film is so unutterably PERFECT in every respect that it is really impossible to imagine it ever being bettered. A masterpiece.My Movie Rating: 10 / 10
An utterly brilliant satire on Soviet bureaucracy, produced during the period of 'the Thaw' (roughly 1954-66) in the USSR. In the opening scene kids at a Summer camp are allowed to swim - but only in an area the size of a postage stamp and surrounded by netting, in order to avoid association with the local boys, who are alleged to harbour diseases. For breaking the rule of not associating with the local boys, Kostya (Vitya Kosykh) is expelled from the camp, but in fact remains on the grounds, with the other kids conspiring to keep his presence a secret.
Of course, kids in the west are now subject to far greater rules and strictures 'for their own safety' than was ever the case in the old USSR; making this satire as fresh and relevant as ever. A masterpiece of Soviet cinema. Very highly recommended.My Movie Rating: 9 / 10
Dva Lidi v Zoo (1989)
A fine comedy concerning the mischievous antics of identical twins. The cast are superb, the boys are completely natural actors, and the whole movie - and the boys - are an utter delight. Highly recommended.My Movie Rating: 8 / 10
The Escape Artist (1982)
Audiences were baffled by its choppy editing, but this is actually a stunning multi-layered poetic masterpiece, ultimately about the burning love of a boy for his dead father. Griffin O'Neal was just 15 when he played Danny Masters in this movie (though the film wasn't released for another couple of years), in a performance which John Holmstrom ("The Moving Picture Boy", p. 351) called "one of the screen's greatest boy performances". Watch out for former boy star Jackie Coogan as the owner of the Magic Shop, as well as performances from former 'Dead End Kids' Huntz Hall and Gabriel Dell. Unmissable!My Movie Rating: 10 / 10
Free Willy (1993)
A totally formulaic string of the most hackneyed clichés in boy-movies, as Jason James Richter struggles to save an animatronic whale from evil people who are trying to kill him for the insurance money. Not even Richter can prevent this movie becoming a bucket of steaming tripe. Entertaining only in that it is sometimes unintentionally risible (as in the film's climax). Maybe I'm just an old cynic...My Movie Rating: 4 / 10
With its right-on message that every child can excel at something, it is not surprising that this movie won a Unicef Award; though in truth the characters in this movie are rather too simplistic and stereotyped to be credible. What is fascinating about this film now is what it reveals about the cultural chasm separating 1981 from the present day. When Ivan's parents discover that their son's closest friend is a middle-aged man who operates cranes, and that he regularly visits this man out of school hours, they are merely bemused and a little surprised, but not hostile or suspicious, still less hysterical, as they would be now. The film thus stands as a sad testament to a more civilised and less febrile era. Alex Svanbjerg gives a highly creditable performance as Ivan.My Movie Rating: 6 / 10
A riveting tale of jealousy, hatred and unspoken desire between two boys thrown together by their parents' courtship. What is interesting is that, in comparison with the novel on which this story is based, the relationship between the two boys is imbued with much more of a homoerotic or 'homo-affective' subtext. The acting of the two boys is outstanding, and the film is without doubt a masterpiece.My Movie Rating: 9 / 10
Just Pals (1920)
A sentimental tale of two hobos - one a man, the other a young boy - who become inseparable. The adult hobo, Bim (Buck Jones), repeatedly insists on doing the right thing, but discovers each time that no good deed ever goes unpunished by the 'virtuous' townsfolk. Of course, eventually the townsfolk see the error of their ways, but not before nearly lynching poor Bim. The happy ending, however, makes this a rather banal morality tale, suggesting that goodness will always be rewarded in the end.
Still, if not exactly earthshaking, the film is pleasant enough; and Georgie Stone is charming as Bim's young comrade, Bill.My Movie Rating: 6 / 10
Just William (1994)
What really makes this production is Oliver Rokison, who turns out an astonishingly fine performance as William. Highly recommended.My Movie Rating: 8 / 10
Lost In Space (1998)
Truly, this must be one of the most dire movies I've ever seen. The 'dialogue' consists of a series of wearisome clichés (so much so that at first I thought I was listening to a wicked parody of bad action-movie dialogue). The narrative framework is pure cliché as well (the Earth is dying, etc.). The interaction of the characters is based around 'relationship issues', so we get a lot of moralising at the audience (fathers should make time for their children…yawn!). The cast play shallow, nauseating characters whom one dearly wishes to be killed horribly before the end. An awesomely bad movie, like listening to fingernails scratching a blackboard for two hours.
There are two or three catchphrases from the original TV series that are segued into the film (in at least one instance very clumsily). Otherwise this film has nothing whatever in common with the High Camp of the original TV series, and certainly has none of its charm.
The only thing one can say in favour of Jack Johnson as Will Robinson is that he's marginally less nauseating than the others - whilst displaying no noticeable screen presence or charisma.My Movie Rating: 1 / 10
Pelle der Eroberer (1986)
Absolutely wonderful film of the first volume (“Boyhood”, 1906) of the novel “Pelle the Conqueror”, by the Danish writer Martin Andersen Nexø (1869-1954). Pelle Karlsson (played by Stefan Schrader) emigrates from Sweden to Denmark, with his loving and affectionate father, Lasse (Martin Trettau). The film succeeds in combining social realism (the stark realities of farm life, the poverty and occasional cruelties of the labourers) with a sense of the pastoral. To have seamlessly combined these two aspects is a considerable directorial achievement. Stefan Schrader is utterly superb in the title role.My Movie Rating: 10 / 10
Now I'm going to stick my neck out and say that this is a BETTER film than "The Exorcist" (which was released around the same time). "The Exorcist" has a campy feel that makes it hard to take entirely seriously. "Joel Delaney" is much more cerebral and interesting, and includes a fascinating exploration of the religion of Santaría, amongst other things.
Twelve-year-old David Elliott is absolutely wonderful throughout. This film has only ever been released completely uncensored on an NTSC VHS tape, back in 1998.My Movie Rating: 8 / 10
Promis... juré! (1987)
Charming, unmissable comedy about the life of a French boy (wonderfully played by Michel Morin) and his interaction with his family and the other characters in his town during the Second World War and the Liberation.My Movie Rating: 10 / 10
Reg'lar Fellers (1941)
A rather poor movie with a messy, unconvincing plot, and paper-thin characters. The only good thing about this movie is Carl Switzer (Alfalfa) singing "The Last Rose of Summer", as only he could. Indeed, it's probably worth seeing the film just for that. This was Switzer's first film after leaving the 'Our Gang' series, and really his genius deserved so much better than the terribly poor script he was handed here.My Movie Rating: 4 / 10
Space Camp (1986)
Nauseating characters and a cliché ridden narrative do little for this movie. Add to that a plot which requires you not just to suspend disbelief, but sledgehammer it to death (NASA is willing to have kids sit in a space shuttle whilst testing its engines, a robot who's sufficiently intelligent to become friends with a human, and manipulate NASA's computers, but who does not realise that by sending a small child into space he is placing his life in grave jeopardy). The film has occasional moments of humour (Tate Donovan as Kate Capshaw walks past: "Great boosters!" - this would probably be censored out as 'sexual harrassment' or 'inappropriate' speech nowadays, such is the prudishness of our times). But otherwise there is very little to recommend this hopeless nonsense.My Movie Rating: 2 / 10
A delightful Norwegian fantasy. Martin Bliksrud has an elfin charm, and is utterly wonderful in the title role. Recommended.My Movie Rating: 8 / 10
Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)
This was the one which veered into fantasy horror, with man-eating plants, prehistoric lizard-like monsters, and giant spiders...and - believe it or not - it works! The shot of Boy (Johnny Sheffield) caught in the web of the giant spider, with the spider slowly approaching (and with Nancy Kelly somewhat ineffectually trying to free him), burnt itself into my memory as a kid. A very exciting Tarzan film, and a must-see for all Johnny Sheffield devotees. Highly recommended.My Movie Rating: 8 / 10
The first hour of this movie is the best, with Oscar Kennedy delivering a natural and delightful performance as young Nigel. A slightly older Nigel is played by Freddie Highmore in the last half hour. Unfortunately, Highmore has certain limitations as an actor, the main one being that he can't act. Instead, he is clearly of the 'less is more' school of acting and his 'acting' consists largely of standing around and not emoting, maintaining a completely blank expression throughout the time he is on-screen.
What redeems this last half hour to some extent is the hilarious plot involving a sort of arms-race in the kitchen between Nigel and his step-mother as each tries to win Nigel's father's heart by baking ever more perfect culinary delights.
Also recommended, Nigel Slater's entertaining autobiography "Toast: the story of a boy's hunger", on which this film was based.My Movie Rating: 7 / 10
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