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'December Boys'

Four Australian lads, who've spent most of their young lives in an orphanage in the middle of the outback, are offered a month's vacation at the beach. It's an experience that Sparky, Maps, Misty and Spit (don't ask) will never forget, though it's treacly enough that you'll wish you could.

The script piles trauma atop cliché – one character's dying of cancer, another can't swim (but must save a drowning friend) — and it helps not at all that the narrator is the story's least interesting character. Daniel Radcliffe plays the oldest of the boys, and watching him pout and moon around as a reedy, needy teenager — one without a lightning scar on his forehead — will have you marveling at just how protected he's been by the skill of those around him in the Harry Potter movies.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.