The Good

This is a great film. One of the best of year.

The Bad

I think the extras should have been grouped better in that portion of the menu.

Dito Montiel wrote and directed this very well made film about his life as a teenager in Astoria, Queens. In the film Dito (played as a young man by Shia LaBeouf and as an older man by Robert Downey, Jr.) is a kid of the neighborhood but it's apparent he wants something more. Hanging out with such friends as Antonio (Channing Tatum as a young man and played older by Eric Roberts) and Nerf (Peter Anthony Tambakis), Dito seems to find his escape outlet with British foreign exchange student Mike O'Shea (Martin Compston). These two guys talk about performing in a band and one day going to California. However, it seems like just being from this neighborhood you're bound to get in fights, and Dito constantly has to contend with some thugs from another neighborhood.

Mixed in with all this are girls and Dito's parents (played by Chazz Palminteri and Dianne Wiest) who he is very close with. However, many of these neighborhood ties can be suffocating, and it takes Dito losing some of his closest friends to realize that if he doesn't get out he's going to end up dead or worse. Filled with very personal stories from the real Dito Montiel's life, this movie is one of the best coming of age films to be brought to the big screen in a long time. It recalls such efforts as Mean Streets, Over the Edge and Suburbia.

Features

Commentary Track

I enjoyed this track because like a true Punk Rocker Dito says whatever is on his mind. He talks about the order of how things in the movie were shot, who his friends in the movie are, the community and the characters, and how much music inspired this film. While I really liked this, I was surprised that the audio wasn't mixed better. Usually on a commentary track, they will lower the sound a lot when people are talking. Sadly, there were a lot of times when I had to turn things up louder just to hear what Dito was saying.

Young Laurie Audition

Shooting Saints

This "making of" features interviews about how the film came into existence mixed with production footage. Dito talks a lot here, as does producer Trudie Styler and Robert Downey, Jr. Downey talks about championing the project, and how his friendship with Dito began after all the main things in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints happened. They talk about the tough process of making a film and there's a real nuts and bolts, independent spirit about this piece. I never felt like I was watching an EPK for the movie like I usually do on most DVDs.

Full Monty Interview

Alternate Openings/Endings and Deleted Scenes

6 "Alternate Openings/Endings" and 11 "Deleted Scenes" make up this section of the DVD. This is one of the best parts of the DVD because it gives you an insight into the creative process, and the many ways a film can be reworked before it is ultimately finished. Dito also offers up some commentary tracks to give ambitious viewers some more information about what they are seeing and why. It seems like only big budget films get to show off so many deleted scenes, but here, in this sea of extras it makes this personal film feel even more so.

Video

Widescreen. This film is edited in a choppy, fluid style that really works for the stories being told. When one considers that this is Dito Montiel's first film, I think it's incredible that that is the case. I never got the feeling that I was seeing a set dressed up. There is a documentary like quality that draws you into every scene, even if you don't fully understand why something is happening or a character is taking a certain action. This movie really works and on DVD it seems to have been compressed very nicely.

Audio

Dolby Digital. Close Captioned. The audio on this movie was conventional, but it also seemed to be a tad Altmanesque. Montiel didn't seem like he was trying to capture every word perfectly that his characters were saying. By no means did it sound like any of the characters were mumbling, but the movie moves from the first frame to the last. This is very much a dialogue film but I couldn't help feeling like the camera had simply caught these conversations, instead of having the conversations staged for the camera.

Package

Mixing shots of Chazz Palminteri, Robert Downey, Jr. and Rosario Dawson with the original one sheet of the younger Dito, Antonio, Nerf and Giuseppe, this cover is cool but I think they should have sacrificed star power and made it look more like a hardcore record. I can't fault First Look Home Entertainment too much as they're trying to sell DVDs, right? The back features some shots from the film, with a promo shot of a young Dito and Antonio as the main backdrop. There is a description of this movie, a Special Features listing, a cast list, and some technical specs.

Final Word

I really loved this movie.

I got a chance to screen a cut of the film before it came out in theaters. Then it was released and I found out that the ending was different. Dito and Co. have really put together a great DVD. Filled with a lot of extra scenes, alternative beginnings and endings, and even a thoughtful commentary track, they have turned A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints into an experience.

I was very personally moved by this film. I am originally from Queens, and had I stuck around there with my parents (we came to California when I was 4), I could have had a similar life to Dito's. Aside from the fact that we both seem to have gotten involved in the same music scene, this film has something for anybody who has ever grown up with a special group of friends. I review a lot of movies both theatrically and on DVD and it's rare when you come across something that you think is made just for you. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is definitely one of those films.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was released September 29, 2006.