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Reviews by diogenes

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39 reviews/ratings - 2 pages (20 reviews/ratings per page)

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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.

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 10 / 10
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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: Red StarRed StarRed Star 3 / 10
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Boyhood (2014)

There is no doubt that this film gets pretty dull. The problem is that the narrative revolves not so much around Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as around the adults - Mason's somewhat hippyish parents and particularly his mother's terrible choices of partner. Indeed, what is surprising is how little we learn in the first half of the film about Mason himself - what makes him tick, how he sees the world. Events in his life are sampled - such as his getting a severe haircut at the hands of his mother's latest beau - but these pieces are too fragmentary to add up to a portrait. There is therefore no psychological development, just a series of events in his external life involving his parents and (later on) his sometime girlfriends, in what appears a somewhat privileged, if disordered, upbringing. He seems to go from lacklustre child to boring young adult via uncommunicative emo, and at no point do we actually care about him in the slightest.

I will admit that on the technical side the film is very good. It is put together remarkably well and Mason's (and his sister's) growing up is almost seamless. And the adult actors are all superb. But since this film is not really about its nominal protagonist but about the people around him, it isn't in fact about 'boyhood' at all. A disappointment.

Don't Bother My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed Star 3 / 10
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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.

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 10 / 10
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Cesta z mesta (2000)

A very charming comedy (sort of), with some great characters (I loved the character of the granny!), and a lot of father-son bonding, as both father and son learn the virtues of a less frenetic pace of life in the country. The film also shows in an early skinny dipping scene that, in 2000, Czech film-making (and, presumably, the Czech cinema-going public) had yet to be infected with modern prudery. Michal Vorel is delightful as Honzík. Highly recommended.

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 8 / 10
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Cider With Rosie (2015)

Very poor indeed. The original novel has been totally occluded by modern ideology and modern puritanism. Archie Cox is far too old for the elder Laurie anyway - all the schoolkids look far too old to still be at school, especially as the school-leaving age was much lower a century ago than it is now. The scene where Laurie plays 'doctors and nurses' with a local girl has been replaced by a scene where the older Laurie plays the same game with a woman rather than a girl - and even then the woman keeps some of her clothes on. The whole thing is risible in its prudery. This film is nothing more than a sad testament to the decline of civilisation over the last 50 years. The 1998 version was fine, but the 1971 version is really the definitive version - absolutely perfect. No need to bother with this steaming pile of feminist crap.

Don't Bother My Movie Rating: Red Star 1 / 10
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Dobro pozhalovat, ili postoronnim vkhod vospreshchyon (1964)

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.

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 9 / 10
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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.

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 8 / 10
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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!

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 10 / 10
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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: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 4 / 10
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Gummi-Tarzan (1981)

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: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 6 / 10
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It Came from the Sky (1999)

Kevin Zegers gives a creditable performance as Andy, in this somewhat earnest, feelgood movie about Andy's parents battling with their guilt and grief over the brain-damage caused to their son by a swimming pool accident. If movies about shouty adults working through 'relationship issues' is your thing, then this film might be for you!

My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 5 / 10
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Je suis le seigneur du château (1989)

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.

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 9 / 10
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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: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 6 / 10
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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: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 8 / 10
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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.

Don't Bother My Movie Rating: Red Star 1 / 10
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The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

Well, all that one can say is that the boy (Cameron CJ Adams) is great - but the movie is a pile of syrupy, cloying, sentimental toss, an overdose of sugar that leaves you feeling slightly sick. Never mind. Watch it for CJ, and mourn the fact that he never got to read a decent script.

My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 4 / 10
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Oliver Twist (1933)

A catastrophically poor adaptation of Dickens' great novel. Besides the poor script and wooden 'acting', William Cowen's direction is astonishingly lackadaisical, making it difficult to watch the film in one sitting without falling asleep. Dickie Moore is miscast as an über-'cute' Oliver, with an obtrusive Yank accent. Altogether, like having to sit through a particularly ineptly performed school play. Of historical interest only.

Don't Bother My Movie Rating: Red Star 1 / 10
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Oliver Twist (2005)

I reckon that this is basically the definitive film version of Oliver Twist, at least so far. The only two other contenders would be David Lean's brilliant 1948 version and the 1968 musical film "Oliver!". The latter plays down the darker elements in the novel, so it cannot be considered definitive as a realisation of the novel - though of course in its own terms it is quite wonderful, and Jack Wild's Dodger is surely the greatest Dodger ever. As for David Lean's version, although it might seem sacriligious to suggest this, I think Polanski's film is just a shade better. The mise-en-scène itself is quite extraordinary - not even Lean managed to reproduce Victorian London quite so convincingly. You really feel as though the action is taking place in a vast city. Polanski has stripped away the extraneous elements of the story to concentrate on Oliver - but at the same time there are nice elements of the novel in this version that don't appear in earlier versions, such as the boy in the workhouse who says he's so hungry he might eat the lad in the next bed. So there is a sense here of a director who has really absorbed the spirit of the novel. And there is also a sense of a director who understands and truly appreciates boys (Polanski is himself the father of a son, who makes a cameo in this film as a boy with a hoop). Barney Clark makes an appealing Oliver - rather subdued, serious, and often frightened, but someone one can root for. It has to be remembered that in some ways the part of Oliver is the most difficult of all, because he is, ironically, the least well drawn of the characters in Dickens' novel. Arguably, the plum role for a boy actor is the Dodger, and Harry Eden makes a very decent job of this role. Lewis Chase deserves considerable credit for making the character of Charley really stand out. Ben Kingsley is absolutely fantastic as Fagin. (Why did he not get an award for this brilliant portrayal?) Yep, I think that this is, so far, the best film version ever. How Dickens would have loved it!

Must Watch My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star 10 / 10
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Oliver Twist (1997)

Well, this is a 'Disneyfied' version of Oliver Twist. Fluffiness abounds. There is nothing here that is authentically Dickensian. The attitudes of the characters are very much those of the 1990s, and the London of Dickens with its rich characters has been replaced by a chocolate box image. It's as though the director believed that it is enough to put people in funny Victorian clothes and give them funny hair-dos and funny hats and bonnets, in order to make them authentically Victorian. All the characters in this version are shallow, one-dimensional, clearly sorted into 'good' and 'bad' - and utterly uninteresting. Nothing is subtle; everything is laid on thick, just in case you didn't 'get the message'. So, for example, when Bill Sikes appears for the first time we get some menacing music just so you know that he's The Villain. Elijah Wood's attempt at a sort of cockney accent (it sounds more like an Oz accent to me) is up there with Dick van Dyke as one of the very worst. And although in other films Elijah Wood has displayed a certain amount of talent, it has to be said that in this film he rattles off his lines with about as much nuance as a man reading through the telephone directory. Besides which he looks, frankly, weird, with his overlarge eyes and chipmunk cheeks. He's no London boy, and is hopelessly miscast as the Dodger. With all due respect to the other reviewers, as Aristotle said, one swallow does not make a summer - and one highly personable actor (i.e. Alex Trench) does not add up to even a passably decent movie.

My Movie Rating: Red StarRed StarRed Star 3 / 10
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