Tag: Robert Downey Jr.

Review And Contest: ‘A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints’

If a DVD release can be considered for “Film of the Year,” I’ve already got mine for this year. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is such a stunning and extraordinarily well made film that I am amazed I’ve not heard of it until now. First Look Pictures has released the movie in a new Limited Edition Steelbook along with some great extras.

“My name is Dito and I’m going to leave everyone in this film”

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is about two snapshots in the life of Dito Montiel (who wrote and directed as well as being the author of the book the film is based on), one in Astoria, Queens in 1986 and the other in the same place in present day. In the earlier time frame we learn that Dito’s formative years were very difficult, made survivable only by the group of close friends he spent his time roaming the neighborhood with and the young girls that orbited around them. Antonio, Guiseppe and Nerf are Dito’s family outside his home, with his Father, Monty, and Mother, Flori, providing the safe roof under which he sleeps every night. Very early on it’s apparent that Dito doesn’t necessarily fit in with the “rough and tumble” attitude of his friends and quietly yearns for something more, beyond the confines of the streets around his house. This becomes very evident when he latches on to Mike, the new kid at school from Scotland. Dito and Mike quickly hatch a plan to run off to California and start a band, something they keep to themselves. Complicating matters is Laurie, the girl that Dito falls into teenaged love with and his friends and family who don’t understand why anyone would ever want to leave Astoria in general and their neighborhood in particular. Eventually, a cascade of bad occurrences propel Dito down a path that is ultimately beneficial to himself, but destructive to those around him.


In the present day setting, Dito, now a successful writer in L. A., decides to return home after hearing his father’s health is rapidly deteriorating. At first, he is reluctant to go, probably afraid to see what he left behind. Eventually, it’s a phone call from Antonio that convinces him to make the journey. What’s interesting about that is, in their youth, Antonio was full of barely contained fury and was always quick to get what he wanted by violent threats and, when necessary, his fists or a weapon. Twenty years later, it’s Antonio’s quiet, pleading words from inside prison, possibly more powerful than his fists ever were, that convince Dito to go see his father. Once back in Astoria we see that, while time has marched ever onward for Dito, his surviving friends and family has remained emotionally trapped in amber at the moment he left. Encountering each person he left behind, Dito discovers that coming home may be harder than leaving.

“In the end – just like I said – I left everything, and everyone. But no one, no one has ever left me.”

The thing that really makes this film outstanding is the two actors who play the two versions of Dito Montiel. If anyone is uncertain about Shia LaBeouf’s acting abilities, then I strongly suggest you see this film as soon as possible. All your doubts will be swept away. I find it unbelievable that in all the awards that Saints was nominated for or won that there wasn’t at least one Best Actor trophy in there for LaBeouf. He completely lets go in his performance of Young Dito and shows a range and vulnerability that, frankly, I didn’t think he had. I really hope he gets more roles like this in the future. Robert Downey Jr. simply floored me. He actually has very few lines in the film, but he really does act his ass off. I’m sure having the person they were portraying being the same guy who scripted their scenes and directed them through those scenes really caused them to bring everything they had to this job. The supporting roles are also equally remarkable, the standouts for me being Channing Tatum (Young Antonio), Chaz Palminteri (Monty), Melonie Diaz (Young Laurie), Scott Campbell (Older Nerf) and Anthony de Sando(Frank). Really, though, everyone just excels in this film, especially improvising the dialogue to give a lot of it a very natural feel.


The special features include the requisite Deleted Scenes, but add to that by including an Alternative Opening and several Alternate Endings. While these are interesting to see in order to relish the performances, I’m happy they were left out of the film. Here’s where editors Jake Pushinsky (Columbus Day) and Christopher Tellefsen (Capote) prove their worth to the project. They made the appropriate choices here. Most interesting to me was the Making Of featurette, which is nearly as compelling as the film itself. Here we learn just what kind of long, rolling journey this story made from the novel to the film. Montiel is mesmerizing to listen to even when he just recounting adventures in casting. We also learn that the style of the film, and I’d rather you experience it in the film itself, may have originated in the mind of Montiel, but it’s cinematographer Eric Gautier (Into the Wild) that makes it shine. Gautier just seems to intuitively know where the camera needs to be to capture each scene not only perfectly, but in the truest sense. He also captures each time period with the perfect, yet complimentary look. One final note, you will love the soundtrack to this film, both the original score by Jonathan Elias and the use of 80s era music (KISS’ “New York Groove” anyone?).

Contest: All that’s left at this point is to strongly encourage you to see this film as soon as possible and we aim to help you with that. Pop Culture Zoo has two copies of A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints Limited Edition Steelbook DVDs to give away! Simply post a comment below by February 11, 2009 at 11:00PM PST. We will use a random number generator to choose two of you to win these DVDs. Note that these are Region 1 DVDs, so this contest is only open to US residents.

WINNERS! Thanks to the random number generator at Random.org we can announce that Mike and Lori T. are our winners! You will both be hearing from us very soon. Thank you to all who entered. Be on the lookout for our next contests!