A Guide to Recognising Your Saints (2006)

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Released 18-Jul-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of-B-Roll Clip
Alternate Ending-Four Alternate Endings and One Alternate Opening
Theatrical Trailer
Interviews-Cast & Crew-On Set
Interviews-Cast & Crew-Post Production
Interviews-Crew-AT The Movies Interviews Dito Montiel
Deleted Scenes
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 95:42
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Dito Montiel
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Robert Downey Jr.
Shia LaBeouf
Rosario Dawson
Chazz Palminteri
Dianne Wiest
Eric Roberts
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is the debut feature film by writer/director by Dito Montiel. This 2006 film was based on the successful 2001 memoir by Montiel of his early life in Astoria, Queens in New York.

The film had an unusual origin. Robert Downey Jr., (who plays Montiel as an adult) is a good friend of the director. When he read his friends memoir he was so impressed that he took it to Trudie Styler , the wife of Sting, who put up the money to make the film.

As said, Downey Jr. plays Dito Montiel as an adult. As the film opens he gets a call from his mother Flori (Dianne Wiest) telling him that his father Monty (Chazz Palminteri) has become very ill. Dito hasn't been home to visit the family for 15 years after leaving in a dramatic rush. Returning to the old neighbourhood brings back many memories.

The film exists in two time periods. Aside from the present day, we are shown the neighbourhood in 1986 when Dito was a young man. As a teenager he is played by rising star Shia LaBeouf, who has since become hot property with his performances in Disturbia and Transformers.

1986 Dito is a young man of gentle sensibilities trying to get by in a rough world. The film is essentially plotless following the events in Dito's life up to the point where he leaves Astoria. Palminteri and Wiest play the parents in the 80's sans old age makeup. Aside from the parents, Dito has his friends Antonio (Channing Tatum), Giuseppe (Adam Scarimbolo) and his girlfriend Laurie (played as a youngster by Melonie Diaz and as an adult by Rosario Dawson). Also thrown into the mix is a Scottish boy Mike who inspires Dito with the desire to quit the old neighbourhood. Interestingly the casting of Scottish actor Martin Compston as Mike necessitated a change of the characters nationality from the original Irish to Scottish.

Montiel makes a stunning debut with this film which manages to be both moving and gritty in a way that recalls early Scorsese. Part of the success is due to the strong performances with the dialogue rendered so naturalistically it almost feels like an improvised work. That has its upsides and downsides. At best the scenes ring true and crackle with life. At worst some moments seem to meander and lack any forward momentum. In particular, some of the early scenes with the young actors threaten to go off the rails as the profanity count rises. These scenes can also be quite difficult to decipher.

As Dito the older Downey Jr. brings his usual gravitas and world weariness. In doing so he continues to impress as a renaissance actor, a quality that continued over into his later work Zodiac. Palminteri is fine as the father who struggles to find the blend between intense love for his son while remaining the king of the castle. LaBeouf mines a quite intensity at odds with the volatile Antonio and the possibly insane Giuseppe.

Aside from the acting it is Montiel's direction that really makes this something special. He uses numerous techniques and styles to keep the viewer engaged, such as moments of dialogue written on the screen rather than spoken and actors speaking directly to camera. Notwithstanding that a lot of these techniques have been around for ages the film looks and feels fresh and exciting.

A Guide to Recognising Your Saints gained only limited release at the cinemas and barely caused a ripple perhaps due to the "Americaness" of the story. It is certainly worth checking out on DVD. It was the winner of the Best Director and Best Ensemble at the 2006 Sundance Festival and the winner of Best Film during Critics Week and the Venice Film festival in 2006.

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Transfer Quality

Video

A Guide to Recognising Your Saints was originally shot on 35mm film and at a 1.85:1 ratio. It comes to DVD in the same ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

For a low budget film A Guide to Recognising Your Saints looks pretty good. This is no doubt due to the quality camera work of Eric Gautier who also shot The Motorcycle Diaries. Gautier manages to capture the characters' faces with clarity and depth. Skin tones are excellent whilst at the same time maintaining that gritty documentary like feel.

The print quality is good and there are no technical defects to speak of. Interestingly, the director admits that he did not make a great effort to delineate the modern scenes from those set in 1986. He was more interested in giving the feel of the period rather than slavish adherence to detail. The main point of distinction is that the modern scenes consist largely of long slow takes whereas the 1986 scenes are frenetically shot and edited to convey the spirit of the time.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

The sound for A Guide to Recognising Your Saints is Dolby Digital 2.0 running at 224kbps. This is something of a disappointment as the region 1 version of the film features a 5.1 surround mix. In point of fact, the disappointment is not so much the lack of surrounds as the low bit rate of the transfer. This is a film with heavily accented, mumbled and overlapping dialogue and at least some of that problem may have been relieved by a better quality soundtrack.

As it is some of the 1986 scenes can be difficult to decipher although at least part of the problem is in the film making style.

Music is used to good effect in the film. The original music of Jonathan Elias consists of moody piano themes which actually serve to underline the poignancy of the film. The recorded music is a mixture of tunes most of which, strangely, don't date from the period of the film. A case in point is Back in the New York Groove by Kiss (Ace Frehley actually) from 1978, notwithstanding that it probably would not have been played much in 1986 it is still a good theme for the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

A Guide to Recognising Your Saints comes with an extra DVD of features.

Featurette B-Roll

The first one is B-Roll clip 1.42. This is a short scene of Montiel directing the actors in the scene between Downey Jr. and Wiest towards the end of the film. Although interesting its short length makes it overall value fairly minor.

Alternate Endings and Openings

The alternate opening clocks in at 3.54 mins. I went back to compare the two openings and truth be told the alternate is either just as good or perhaps better. It features more of Downey Jr. as Dito talking about his book. There are four alternate endings, one with an extended scene with Antonio and another with Downey Jr. reading in a spotlit chair. All are interesting.

Theatrical Trailer

The trailer for the film perfectly sets out the idea and spirit of the movie.

Interviews-Cast & Crew

There are three different interviews provided with this film. Firstly there are on set interviews with the cast members as well as producer Trudie Styler. All are interesting to watch once however they are extremely brief and give only a snapshot of the characters and the actors.

There are slightly longer post-production interviews with Robert Downey Jr., Chazz Palminteri and Channing Tatum and Trudie Styler and Dito Montiel. Downey Jr. explains how the project came about due to his friendship with Dito and Palminteri describes the joy of working with a first time director who is free and open to ideas. Essentially he says that a first time director has no fear. During the scene with Dito and Trudie Styler it is not hard to see that both struggled hard to get their way in the project.

The final interview is with David Stratton from the At The Movies programme. Whilst interesting it is really an eye opener in respect of the director and helps explain some of the deficiencies in the film. On a few occasions in the interview Montiel is asked a straight question. He responds by setting up a deep and meaningful answer then drifts off without the question ever being resolved. One such example is when asked to explain the book title. He tells Stratton that he had a book about the saints as a child but doesn't finishing explaining whether we are to see - his friends as the saints , his friend Mike O'Shea who leads him out of the Astoria or his mother and father who bring him back to the old neighbourhood.

Deleted Scenes

There are fourteen deleted scenes on the DVD which largely consist of extended versions of existing scenes. Some are merely variances of the scenes with and without music. The scenes are interesting to watch after watching the interviews with the cast and crew, in particular the director and producer. The feeling conveyed by both is that the film was changing on a daily basis and the film making itself was of something of a chaotic process. The impression of this and the deleted scenes is that there is perhaps several films which could have been edited out of the material.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 1 DVD contains the following additional features not present on the Region 4 DVD.

Commentary with Director Dito Montiel and Editor Jake Pushinsky Shooting Saints: The Making of "A Guide to Recognizing your Saints" Rooftop Scene Full Monty Interview Young Laurie Audition Played By Diana Carcamo.

The commentary track may be useful although for the reasons I pointed out above it may also be a source of frustration. However, adding in the 5.1 surround track probably tips the scales in favour of the Region 1 release.

Summary

A Guide to Recognising Your Saints is a vibrant and exciting drama by a first time Director which deserved a better exposure then it has received at the cinemas and on DVD.

The transfer is of reasonably good quality although the soundtrack has its limitations.

An extra DVD comprising almost 80mins of extras is a welcomed edition for the dedicated fan.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70 Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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